New Zealand has changed and keeps doing so. Virtually all of it for the good. Even from France the report card is glowing. Unemployment half that of here. Compared to Spain and Greece with their tied 25% unemployed, we’re looking better than good.
Race relations have improved out of sight. Suddenly another sport, cricket, has united us. Farmer’s markets are now in every sizeable town. A few years ago there were none. They are flourishing not only because they meet customers’ demands, but more often exceed them.
At least a decade ago the Black Barn Market in Havelock North sold real whitebait fritters, home-made bread, and cakes. There’s a range of ethnic food in most markets. Ethiopian, anyone? Any number of Asian dishes on offer. Fresh fish, smoked fish, exotic vegetables, organic fruit, vegetables, meat. Eat hot smoked king salmon, New Zealand being the world’s biggest producer of this salmon breed, with free-range eggs poached to peaky perfection served on wholemeal toast. Select your own cereal, muesli, with home-made yoghurt. Roast lamb shoulder in pita bread. Pork belly sandwiches. Salad combinations that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
No market could get away with the inedible standard fare of the past: stodgy hot dog, dried-up sausage roll kept in a warmer, pies with more air space and thick pastry than meat, soggy chips splattered in blood-like “tommy sawse.” Kiwis have moved on, they’re more sophisticated in what goes down their gullets. Though that’s not a very sophisticated way of putting it.
A vast selection of breads is yours for choosing. Stalls sell garden plants. Musicians, some of high quality, entertain while you sip yet another example of the world’s best coffee available anywhere in inventive New Zealand. The stall vendors are genuinely friendly and so typically Kiwi they add extra warmth to your heart.
Many of our restaurants are world-class. Our drinking habits have changed. Ask people if they’ve seen a bottle of beer in the 750mm size. Or heard of a flagon. A jug of beer. Even beer might be an unfamiliar word to many.
“Sir, did you know pubs closed at 6pm until 1967?” Nah, get away with you. What was it like? “Nothing but nothing like this, sir. It was a swill. Men went from sober to drunk in the hour they had after work to drink on licensed premises.” My God, old man. Is that what it was like in your day? “No. Your day. About when you were born. That’s how far we’ve progressed in this, well, progressive little country. We’ve become way more civilised.”
Speaking to a business mate by phone the other day, he described Auckland and Waiheke Island as “going off”. That’s one third the population he’s done his take on. They’re going off. What a marvellous term. Can be applied to our World Cup rugby league Kiwis: They went off. 3 and a half years ago so did our All Blacks on home soil go off. At long last.
Our Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes made us proud. In her own category: Valerie. Her NBA player brother, Adam. Another super-special star in our adopted daughter, Lydia Ko. Lord, and there’s the extraordinary Lorde. A Man Booker Prize winner in Eleanor Catton who happens to be gorgeous to boot. The Black Caps. Oo-la-la, as they say here.
Our super-consistent Sevens under the amazing Sir Gordon Tietjens. Always our rowers, the passing of a giant in both rowing and business, Sir Don Rowlands. There is Mainfreight, our international freight company, home-grown, home-based diamond. Who else? Doesn’t matter. New Zealand is going off.
Conversely, mineral and oil-rich Australia is going through a hard time. Their currency has taken a huge dive. But I have never bought into this knocking our Aussie neighbours. It’s childish, counter-productive and negative. We’re mates, for gawd’s sake. And their economy will come roaring back, like our dairy prices will. And hundreds of thousands of Kiwis in both countries will again reap the benefits.
We consider an overseas holiday little different to our parents thinking a long weekend at the nearest beach was great. Got so blasé about air travel we now complain at every little petty thing not to our satisfaction. We should change that attitude. Flying across the world is still a privilege.
Kiwis have always punched above their weight because they had to. Mainfreight again: started with one truck, a few thousand dollars capital. Now they have annual revenue of $2 billion with 6,071 on the team worldwide. We have inventors, software entrepreneurs, boat builders, sailors, manufacturers, etc, who are world-class.
Our two little remote islands are going off. Don’t you love it?