1975: What is a New Zealander?
December 29, 2018
I kept this quote from 1975 where new newly elected Prime Minister answers the tricky question of what a New Zealander is. As we see, it’s not ethnic or racial but civic. I’m not sure that he wasn’t a hopelessly naive product of his times for thinking this…
Macdonald: Mr Muldoon, if you could visualize an ideal settler for New Zealand nowadays, what would he be like?
Muldoon: I don’t think it’s possible to produce a streotype New Zealand settler because we are a very mixed community today and, in essence, the ideal settler could be from many races and many countries, any one of them. But the essential is that he comes here prepared to be a New Zealander, regardless of his racial or ethnic origin; he comes here prepared to be a member of the New Zealand community. That is, I think, the one essential.
In other words, he comes here prepared to live as a New Zealander, look outward from New Zealand rather than say ‘I am a Scotsman who happens to be living in New Zealand’.
I take the view that the world is made up of many different cultures and subcultures. I disagree with Carl Sagan who once remarked, “an extra-terrestrial visitor would not really think that our different cultures are all that different…” At any given moment in time they are very different.
Human cultures are cycling through the same phases, certainly, but at different speeds and different levels of advancement. Some die along the way as evolutionary dead-ends. Cultures are frequently splitting off into sub-cultures that may survive be mainstream. The lifespan of a particular culture is like continental drift or perhaps an ice berg, especially to conceive of them colliding with one another sometimes to bounce and sometimes to merge. A given culture is as different as any plant or animal from any other plant or animal; There is huge diversity!
Individuals and their identity live on the surface of these floating islands of culture and are bound to them. As long as a person lives they will try to perpetuate that culture, all the more so if they are not self-examining. If they physically relocate to a new island they will yearn for their home and try to re-create it wherever they go in time or in space.
Boxing Day, 1879: Irish Catholics vs Irish Protestants riot and fight in New Zealand streets. They are re-creating the conflict from their old country. Many of the instigators were said to be fresh off the boat; Ref. Disco.
New Zealand has been created by all these individuals and their competing and colliding and synthesising memes. It is on a particular course, it has a core identity that each new person born here adopts and tries to perpetuate as a New Zealander. It’s a sort of group project everyone who lives here is working through together. Beneath all our differences of methodologies and goals, New Zealanders are trying to complete particular cycles within a particular society. We would like for this to continue and not be terminated by some invasion or mass migration but welcome contributors to the existing Project New Zealand.
Muldoon did not try to define what that project is, few of us ever do get so high-minded as to even think it should be. Those of us who try to map where we have been so far in our history don’t get much attention, fewer still who try to plan where we are going to. That’s an example of what’s core about Project New Zealand- we are not very self-reflective. Like any other culture, or Project, or continental plate, we all think we should survive and keep percolating and that the world should be impressed with our little brew. We would remind others of the inventions and people and attitudes and foods and songs etc we have been able to contribute to the planet.
Mr & Mrs Gock, Chinese New Zealanders who saved the ‘kumara’ from black rot by creating and then gifting a resistant strain. So much diversity in this yet so Kiwi; Ref. Herald, 24/12/2018
We think of ourselves as having plenty more to offer and that what we come up with could or should storm the world and that it will thank us for it! Of course, all cultures think that of themselves. And all cultures say, like Muldoon, that any migrant is welcome who can join in and contribute to our existing project and be one of us. For most cultures the only ones who can are restricted by religion, race, and ethnicity, or you don’t get in. One thing about New Zealand is we have never* defined our can that way. Everyone gets a Fair Go. So that’s one thing you can say about what a New Zealander is, and Muldoon said it.
Ref. NZ Herald story, 13 Dec 1975; Iain Macdonald
* Except for that time the Liberals put a poll tax on the Chinese