Conspicuous

While I have been conspicuous by my absence, New Zealand has been conspicuous for all the wrong reasons.

New Zealand is the place I call home. It is my country of birth, the place where my wife was born and the birthplace of my children.
In my limited time on this planet I have seen my share of other countries, differing cultures, other climates and all sorts of topography. This country, Aotearoa New Zealand, is no more beautiful, no more stunning, no more astounding, no more scenic or friendly or inspiring or great or just plain cool, than any other. What the land of the long white cloud has to offer, is accessibility.

These shores are a grouping of small islands-although not as small as we like to imagine-slotted away at the wash created by the confluence of the Tasman Sea and the mighty Pacific Ocean. To get here, even with thanks to the convenient wonders of air travel, is no mean feat. We really are at the bottom of the world.
Thing is, once here, everything these shaky isles have to offer really is right there at your doorstep.
Beaches galore, often just metres from your back door. White sand beaches at that. Mountains and forest and bush and sand and surf and sun and tempestuous storms and blazing scorchers, each and every day is different from the one previous and all is available within minutes, or a mere hour or two on the road.
You can hunt, you can fish, you can swim, you can walk and hike and trek and you can camp and you can dine out and surf and catch a movie or a play then dance the night away and if you are careful, you can pack most of this into just the one day. And night.

Nature abounds. Tourism seems to be the logical answer, from wine tours to bungy jumps and all in between. Aside from all of that of course, is the people. New Zealanders, Kiwis, are a pretty gregarious bunch, an open and honest group. A diverse group? Perhaps not so much but more so, despite our refuge access stats sadly lacking in comparison to the rest of the globes nations.
I’m not gonna get political, nor do I mean to be a glorified tourism brochure. Next year might be the time for political commentary but I am one of the great apathetic masses, so whatever I have to say on Beehive goings on will be lip-service at best. As it stands, my eldest doesn’t think I have a clue what ‘woke’ even means.
However, I will lament the lack of open eyes.

It would be harsh to say, seemingly yesterday, that no one picked an earthquake coming. Just like it would be cruel to suggest someone, somewhere, somehow, should have known Whakaari/White Island was about to pop. Christchurch suffered and still does and now it is the turn of Whakatane, a pretty, quintessentially sleepy seaside NZ town, to shed collective tears. As we do too, across the nation.
Of course Christchurch, a place I have heard referred to as the ‘Village of the Damned’ has suffered through even more pain and hurt. I never used to understand why New Zealand’s second largest city is tagged with such a moniker but I am beginning to get it now.
How much can you throw at the one place, the one grouping of people, before they break? For Christchurch it seems a case of bring it on.

Coming from Dunedin, I never liked the place. I was conditioned that way. Territorial prejudices aside, I don’t like how bitterly cold the place gets in winter, I don’t like the road layout, the lack of hills, I am not a fan of their rugby team and that wind!
As a young man visiting the South Island’s major metropolitan center, I was often struck by a sense of aggression. Statistically, as a young male on the streets of an urban center at night, there is a chance this is will be the case no matter where you are. But, Christchurch gave me reason to feel on edge.
Contrast that with the response to the twin tragedies the town has suffered and you would have to say first impressions don’t always last.
One disaster those damned villagers couldn’t avoid.

The people of Christchurch, of Whakatane, the folk on the West Coast who have endured the collapse of not only a mine, but the repeated collapse of their roads, have done it all with a grit and perseverance so Kiwi, that resolve deserves to be as cliched as our clean/green image, the perception of rugby as religion and our No. 8 wire can do attitude.
Heroes everywhere you look. People doing what they do best. To me, that is the thing, during a testing year, few years, which stands out the most.

People. Normal, boring, neighbourly, everyday heroic people.
Naming them wouldn’t be Kiwi. Even if I did, even if we already know their names, they will brush it off. After all, didn’t they do just what every one else would do? Weren’t they just doing their jobs? Catch phrases synonymous with this cloudy island nation of late.
Each and everyone one of us really is that hero. The old bloke next door, your mechanic, the night shift shelf stacker at the local supermarket. A given place, a given time.
At each place, on each occasion, when Kiwis have been asked to step up, we do it without fail. Without fail.
The failures come when our Prime Minister, Jacinta Ardern, is bagged for hugging emergency response personnel on the scene in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. There is blame to be apportioned when low brow Kiwis pop out of the woodwork to applaud and encourage the actions of madmen with automatic weapons.

Through it all, the year has drawn to a close with the sun making its presence felt, the beaches beckoning, birds chirping and bees buzzing. Same old same old.
At home, I have 3 kids showing the signs that a year in New Zealand’s education system is tiring. The remaining one is blissfully unaware, enviably young.
The drama, the tension, the frightening reality of the world, thrust upon sleepy white sand shores, seems to have had little or no effect on the lives of our four semi-rural children.
It’s hard to tell how affected kids are by the things which move their parents, their teachers, wider society. It washes in but I suspect, in many cases, it washes over.
Thank goodness.
Surely they feel the ‘vibe’. Surely our children feel the emotional content of such tragic events, even if at the time, they don’t understand why.
The hope is, following generations will be more empathetic, will have a greater compassion and understanding and consequently, more foresight.

As the year winds down, chilling as the air temperature warms, what was your big takeaway?
For me, I was struck by how diverse we are becoming as a people and how difficult it is for some to accept that. I was surprised by how much young people feel, despite being somewhat removed.
Sadly, I was not surprised by how non-plussed many people can be.

I promise not to be so inconspicuous.

 

 

 

Praise

I am not a great follower of the media.
My family life, home life and work all take precedence over what is happening on a current affairs level.
It stands to reason too, the way news is accessed these days has changed. I have read and heard much of what is occurring on a day to day basis, long before the six o’clock news.

As it stands, we don’t have a freeview box or sky in our house. To watch the news, we would have to stream it but at that time of the evening, our main meal is being prepared and eaten. The world can be doing whatever it wants, Wifey and I have four growing mouths to feed and there is nothing which will stand in the way of a hungry child.

Like most people, I am a fan of the distracting escapism a good movie or series can provide. Music plays a big role in my life and forms, in large part, the entertainment I might seek at any time.
If ever I do access any given media outlet, it is usually to find results on, or to follow live, one sporting event or another. Sports is the other thing I find a valuable entertainment.
Late last week would have seen the end of the test match between New Zealand’s Black Caps and Bangladesh. Ok, the game might not have stretched that far, given the current form of the respective sides but it’s cancellation, for obvious reasons, was a sad way for our international summer of cricket season to end.

I work in a rural location. I don’t have access to the AM network and I don’t have reliable cell phone coverage for streaming purposes etc. I do have FM capabilities on my phone and over the last week I tuned to Magic Talk.
The station, previously known as RadioLive, is part of the Newshub collection and in the past has captured my attention, as much for it’s presenters and hosts as for content. I am a fan of the input someone like Marcus Lush has on our airwaves, found a guy like John Tamahere refreshing, whether I agreed with him or not.

Those names have gone, however I was pleased to hear the tones of Brendon Telfer when I tuned in to Magic Talk, sitting in for Peter Williams.
Telfer is an intelligent man, thinks before he opens his mouth and has a broad range of tolerant opinions. He is a broadcaster who has been in the business for many years and as such, is an opinion I trust and a voice I was able to find comfort in.
I love the energy and vitality Duncan Garner brings, even if I at times don’t agree with him, and the balance he gets from the likes of Amanda Gillies, someone I feel is one of the better broadcasters and journalists out there currently.

Sean_Plunket

And then there is Sean Plunket.
A strong, forthright, highly vocal and independent voice. A man I personally have struggled to like or listen to at times in the past.
Yet, conversely, he turned out to be the person who helped me the most to reconcile things over this last week.

I work alone predominantly. I have flora and fauna for company but can go days on end with little or no human companionship. I love it.
The problem with spending so much time on your own is the intensity your own thoughts can reach. Luckily, I have become very adept at moderating myself, tempering the type and direction my brain can travel. While it is fun to let the mind wonder and ramble, it can also be disconcerting and distracting.

Self moderation and tempering were just two of the traits exhibited by Sean Plunket, a man no stranger to courting controversy.
During his broadcasts, he was able to remain strong yet empathetic. He could lend a sympathetic and caring ear, take a breath, then be vehement.
I listened as the man crossed all sorts of emotional barriers, as we all were doing, yet he did it openly, in the public eye so to speak and he did so with a measure of reflective realism.
He was hurting, just like us and just the same as his colleagues. What a job they are tasked with, when the world suddenly crumbles around them and human tragedy is before their lenses, cries of anguish and fear and the wails of pain at he end of their microphones.
I have already praised the police, feel there is a need to strongly acknowledge the leadership of Jacinda Ardern, her government and the all the members of parliament. And now praise for our collective media.
Have we ever been so together?
We can thank that man for that.

Our media has played a key role in that leadership. Bipartisanship to the fore in our political realms and also in our newsrooms. Ego put aside, agenda’s postponed or cancelled altogether.
Plunket had the finger pointed at him. It didn’t take long for things to get personal, then political, despite the urging of the man himself.
Plunket stayed pious throughout but I fear was always fighting a losing battle. Hideous things were leveled at him as if his ilk, social commentators like him, somehow had blood on their hands, that he was as responsible if not more so, than the foul person who pulled the trigger many times over.

Through it all, Plunket, just as many others were doing, used his platform to spread a message of tolerance, of peace and love. He spoke of a commitment to togetherness, he stayed reasoned and calm, even as his voice cracked.
How the hell he stayed so strong ow any of our media representatives did, I really don’t know. One and all of them get my respect, from the sound dude to the camera operator to the presenter to the makeup people to the producers…a big heart felt thanks.

Sean Plunket sounds like a smoker. He sounds like he is not a bloke I might have a lot in common with. He sounds like a guy I would end up arguing with.
I reckon he is a guy who will buy me a beer, half way through that argument. He will gladly accept one in return and I think, if I saw him in that same bar a week or so later, we would be at it all over again.
A beer, a debate, even an argument.
A shake of the hand, a laugh and a smile.

To Sean Plunket….
Not sure I could have done it without ya mate. Not alone like I was.
But I didn’t have to go far to find a bit of support. I just turned on the radio. How old fashioned, how quaint.
Of course, I spoke with my wife, other members of my family, my employers and friends. People just as lost, hurt and confused as I was.
I imagine there is a someone for everyone at times like this. The days we have been through as a nation over the last week, proved just how wrong the gunman got it, just how perverse the response to an act of terror can be.
How unifying.

Now is a time for reasoning. For conversations to take place.
I needed a voice to guide me, to moderate me, to help me. As much by coincidence as anything else, Sean Plunket provided that voice.
I will never forget that, as much as the events of the 15th are indelibly printed on my brain.

Thanks