Aotearoa, boats and conflict
For a dusting of islands peering precautiously from the abyss of the lapiz lazuli Pacific dew we Antipodeans have a thing for the showy and the grandiose. The Shaky Isles perhaps by name but in modum operandi we New Zealanders just might be the archetypal metaphorical Dr Jekyll slash Mr Hyde of Oceania.
In order to spare any blushes from any expatriates out there, let me make the declaration. We are all scientists and at times rather nutty ones at that. From the classic World’s Fastest Indian story of Burt Munro out gunning those oil veined Yanks, to Michael Fay professing that the same feat could be replicated in an elitist regatta where the only other element essential to surmounting a formidable Americas Cup yachting campaign is to possess the finest array of attorneys in the Suing Capital of the civilised world. Sadly, litigation may just be our Achilles Heel as multiple court of arbitration suits against Sam’s Solicitors have concretely proved.
We’ve inherited our stiff upper lip from Britannia and nobody likes a sooky sod. We like to conceive of ourselves as a squeaky clean little Commonwealth club affiliate, straight laced and compliant in every facet of our essence. Our razon d’etre seemingly being our duty to repudiate the preposterous notion that there could well be a chink in our lily white armour. A noble kind of Ned Flanders if you will on a neighbourly salvation escapade of good will nose poking.
Yet, beneath the thick nationalistic mascara there lies a Sleepy Hollow in our midst. In spite of our virtuous self-righteous demeanour and revelations of our sanctitude heathen often trumps brethren in our realm of Holiness.
It appears that our patriotic legions are now coming under assault from all four fronts and our artillery is just too outdatedly jaded to muster up any form of collective resilience. Our moral crusade has now encountered Moorish resistance and that we have retracted from fending the faltering fort to retreating from it at a stampede. The rambling melange of verbal spillage at this instance has assuredly encapsulated where I’m heading with all this evangelical, puritanical, d.i.y, vessel idolatry mumbo jumbo.
For beyond our fearless rugby footballers, we have an infectious hydrophilic obsession with anything that floats. Far from luminescence and enlightenment boats have not always been the bearer of good tidings. Only the car threatens our amorous passion for the boat. After all, until Benz, Ford and bitumen resin surfaces entered our lives, how else would anyone or anything else arrived here. It’s only natural given the twiddling of thumbs while TEAL now Air NZ was still an idea that was a solid century away from getting off the ground.
Ports have long been regarded as the rex invictus gateways to our small extension of the Imperial court. The lure of trade and a sound harbour to drop anchor had the ability to either make or break the fortunes of the quaint Kiwi village over time. If Europeans had felt haughty about their mercantile feats around the meagre Mediterranean then this pride would undoubtedly be pegged back a notch over their extended sojourn with their Southern Seas recipients.
For Polynesian voyaging across the greatest aquatic basin on the face of the Earth surely makes European seamanship come across as rather second tier. They were the initiators of the Anthropocene epoch in New Zealand ending the avian reign which had once predominated this bemusingly quirky landscape.
While ethnic vilification is far from my mind it would be blase to overlook the initial impact these inauguralhominids had upon a land whose ecosystem was ill prepared for their debarkation. As with any anthropic specie, agriculture and the pursuit of protein along with sexual procreation are the driving acts behind ones’ existential grounding. Once here, the ancestors of our Maori had convictions of staying. This was when things started to go haywire environmentally speaking.
Enigmatic as our indigenes were, our gregarious Maori nonetheless unleashed their own unquenchable raid upon nature’s very hospitable pantry. While we pakeha (white man) are indeed culpable of our own misdeeds the Maoris exerted their own form of massacre upon the flora and fauna of Aotearoa. In particular, via the debaucherous cleansing of swathes of bush for agricultural crops like kumara harvesting not to mention their acquired appeal for dodoishly defensiveless birds. Swans, geese, ducks and the mighty moa were all on the Maori menu come tucker time.
Until recently Maori were indignant at government pleas to cease the carnage of wood pigeons to satisfy their dietary desideratums. Even hipster mod and swanky greeny Maoris couldn’t help but cringe. Clearly a case of old habits dying hard, if you catch my drift? And even if it had the guile to escape the cauldron it still had to find a way to endure with habitat obliteration. Like the Haast eagle. A big so grand it made the bald eagle seem like a budgerigar.
Nor should it be forgotten that they too did not come to this new land without bringing their own plethora of pestilence. The Polynesian rat or kiore also found the smorgasbord of ground trampling little birds a rather irresistibly appetising entree. The Maori waka indeed was a Trojan horse which very nearly came within inches of rocking the ornithological world. And that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of colossal collateral damage. Yes, boats, waka, whatever were very bad. But there were more to come.
Now Europeans beckoned wanting to dock their boats for a piece of their Kiwiana conniving thug duggery. After an unabashed flagellation of our natives for their utter lack of piety towards God’s toils, that our first nation inhabitants should be pleading for penance. However, before we absolve the sins of others perhaps we should first beg to be pardoned for our own. For if we ashen descendants were in to enter the confession Chamber, our atonement would depend upon a brutally honest concession to multiple degrees of guilt.
For Europeans in the 19th century weren’t lounging around the Pacific taking in the sights with mariners sipping away of pina colladas. No it was resources that drove them, the search for another type of New World which had brought Old Powers like Spain infamy. A new product that if not gold would bring riches untold like the tomato, cacao, coffee bean or even tobacco. Places where landed estates could be set up to keep pace with the European hunger for cotton and cane. Scientists seeking notoriety and a scoop for their pompous periodicals, anthropological minions seeking to sinisterly sneer down on what they perceived to be a lesser breed of mankind.
Above all it was about European flexing muscle against European, the French, the Brits and even the Dutch whose frightful first encounter with the Maori was suffice for them not to care for another in 1642. The Maori may have rued the fruition of a bond with those enterprising Dutchies but they got a second bite at the carrot later when the whalers and sealers came to town.
These men, for they were overwhelming male dominant packs, saw New Zealand as a kind of free for all opportunists get rich quick paradise. A place where you could pretty much park up ship and do whatever you wanted whenever you wanted. Maori sentiment surely must have been as colourful as the characters now on their shorelines. However, there was one commonly shared concurrence. These drunken bumbling snowy coloured beings had things and things Maori wanted dearly. Adzes, hammers nails and other tools were quite remarkable for Maori along with leather goods and Western garbs.
What made it worse that Maori were prepared to sell their souls to acquire these devilish desires. Temptations that backlashed tribes on an unprecedented scale as crops and food for reserved for the needy white fellows. Then there were the other foreign ills of alcohol, guns and ammo that really set the native for a falloff monumental proportions from grace.
If Anglo conquest of Aotearoa can be summoned to one stroke of Imperial evil genius it was surely by way of trading muskets with Maoris and then urging them to go and purge themselves. Sweet and snappy. For the Anglo Saxon man was a cut above the Dutchman or the Froggie. For unlike their Continental contemporaries the Pommies were well aware that while the Maori warrior could foot it with the best infantrymen on terra firma he couldn’t match their ships, guns and glorious goodies. Heck, they even used ships to cut down other Maoris around the still to be christened state and even went on a kontiki to plunder Moriori in the Chathams. Steel, guns and boats may have facilitated the new found Maori mafioso panache to wack off their other brown adversaries but “sleeping” with the enemy was a bad calculation. For lonely Caucasian men women were as coveted an item as sweet potato and boar and the commodification of sex brought disease and social decay.
An irreparable legacy which lead future native encountering Europeans to perceive them as a materialistically shallow facile swindle. Early European attitudes were unfavourable to say the least. American observers branded the lawless congregations at the wild wild Bay of Islands as the Hell Hole of the Pacific. The French pipped to the post by the British envoy on the Britomart took on Maupassantian view towards the site of ships by staying on them in order as to not acknowledge their existence.
Then again it could just be a case of French and Yank sour grapes. The idea of Canadianesque Nouvelle Zealande, quelle horreur! No we much preferred the idea of welcoming in those Brits, they loved NZ in an entrepreneurial manner that was hard core. Britain received our booty with open arms. Our fine hardwoods for shipping, our soil to offload the overflowing masses it could no longer provide for and of course as a logistical satellite for the Pacific. To teach the world like that famous Super Tramp song with the staple 3 Rs along with a good dollop of Vitamin Bible.
Noble the savage may be but not worthy of the right to retain their customs nor their language. Of course, we were above and beyond all else the oceanic craff that put mutton on British tables for over a century while our wool kept them as snug as a bug in a rug in the winter. Timber was toppled and waterways were violated as millers, tanners and planners each vied to be remembered by any fashion feasible as settlements sprang up like mushrooms covering the freshly cleared barren landscape. In an ironic twist of fate we too unwittingly sent the European centres of influence a parting adieu card in the form of barnacles and clams that have now acclimatised to their new European habitat.
Boats also were the carriers of our willing soldiers who prescribed to Barthian notion of bloodletting in the name of honour and sacrifice for King and for country. Boer War, WW1, WW2 not to mention our later shifts in allegiance to Yankee Doodle Dandy a hard pill for some parochials to swallow. Yet it was just as much about keeping the trade boats filled with carcasses of mutton as it was about sending over blindingly misled cannon fodder. In spite of its cult agrarian status, a great deal of blood and environmental carnage has only eventuated in an ecosocietal abattoir of unfathomable proportions. The butcher still exists he’s just now even bigger than he was before.
From naissance to adolescence, the boat allegory chimes and chops through the fluvial mask of the New Zild’ner. A vessel paradoxically floundering through the seas unsure of its tacts and jives for like the shipmates we are caught between the conventions of unquestioning manipulation and mutinous uprising.
Far from being a charmed voyage du plaisir the NZ craft is rocking wildly in increasingly uncertain choppy waters. The preaching’s of one boat one people largely falling upon deaf ears are we come to terms with the unimaginably inconceivable notion that we and our pose of shipmates frequently diverge. And agree to disagree on a number of facts indeed. Far from it for us all to concur with that old sexist adage that she’ll be right or that everything’s just peachy for some of us recognise that it bl**dy well is not for not everybody likes the boat that they find themselves floating upon.
Nothing polarises NZ quite like the little boat piece of iconographical symbolism the ultimate border between the haves and the have nots. After all, getting on a boat or owning a boat insured one could profit in this scattered state with access to commuting to jobs, health centres and ports for mercantile profiteering. Is it any surprise I ask you that Auckland, our famous City of Sails, became the powerhouse of the NZ economy? Anyone who dreams of ever being someone shares the collective fantasy of a yacht at the docks and sailing through the Hauraki Gulf come the weekend. For that whom has the dinghy has every other thingy.
In a period where NZ is consistently moving away from the “Classless myth” the boating fallacy aptly fits the present NZ context. In spite of efforts to universalize and popularise the activity the honest truth the boat exemplifies the widening gap which while once clandestinely parted NZ is surging ahead with societally surgical precision.
It is rather similar to our farming fallacy, lamb consumptive fallacy and our social welfare fallacy. Not all of us are privileged with the best access to sound healthcare and education so how can we expect to afford lamb chops or Sunday roast yet alone pay the rent. But to own a substantial plot of paradise one with not only some sheep, a view and a jetty, please. It’s clear that not all Kiwis are sailing their way towards their aspirations.
Given this communal partition, it’s unsurprising that boating lexicon and jargon has created heated verbal parlance. This raging hot banter has often been directed towards the financial costs of regatta related state funded follies which the public deems to be a sn’hobby. This appears to the overriding consensus which surfaces periodically every 4 years when the coffer draining America’s cups rears it hideous upper crust head. Given the social injustices and financial struggles which riddle the land, the populace, at least the lower strate, object profusely at the gambling of public assets on a corporate curiosity.
More boats on our waters are not only penny pinchers on our pockets. They are also burdens on our ecosystems. The ever surging bulge of boats along with the Armada of affluenza human cargo they port plugging up our mars has had an annually detrimental impact wherever they have embarked or disembarked. Fouling our water ways with fecal content, effluent, cleaning resins, fumes, paint particulate residue, fuel spillages and other hazardous chemicals and toxins. For the piece de resistance there was the additional icings of the invasively obnoxious didymo reed and other waterborn weeds along with the dreaded release of the swift breeding koi carp nuisance. These supplementary characters are providing our ‘DOC’ (the department of conservation) with a host of ecological nightmares equivalent to a Princess with a pea under the sheets.
Yet it is also the pauper boatless Kiwi who is paying the price for the skipper’s smug haughty avaricious disregard for anything other than their own gregarious shrug of the shoulders desire to self-indulge and binge at the cost of the public good. For in contrast to their narcissistic leanings NZwaters are the reserve of all NZ subjects. And yet the one without a boat repeatedly suffers the jeopardies because of those who brainlessly boat. For in spite of all the testimony from fisher folk, swimmers, paddlers, hikers, bikers, thirsty trampers, campers, hunters, kayakers and even tourists our waters continue to be treated like a labyrinth of latrines. Beyond our leisurely pursuits, this environmental trashing should be raising a few more eye brows than it presently is achieving.
Disturbingly, a great rift is already tearing at the delicate cultural fibres which already bind our two greatest Islands. For since it’s founding the Northerners have always seen the South as a treasure chest teasingly begging itself to be raided and dispossessed of her bounty. From her forests, to her gold mines, to her pounamu (jade) and her rich farming lands (and lesser Maori tribes to subdue) the South Island has always been a sitting duck for the Northern boats which took her plunder back North, to build the colony, to fight the NZ wars against the Savage and to convince New South Wales, London and the world to flood this new New World land of opportunity and plenty.
Build a navy, conquer the land and they will come. And come they did in abundant volumes swamping the South by way of the Ports of Lyttleton, Timaru and Port Chalmers Dunedin. Christchurch vying to be the England of the South while Dunedin converted itself into an Antipodean austral twin of Edinburgh. Little known to many, was the fact that the West Coast was once the most populous part of the entire. Now, like mustn’t of the South, it has been decisively neglected by the Northern forces.
And yet their dirty boats never cease in their noxious gift bearing. From the polluting of pristine sites in the Marlborough Sounds, Fjordland and Akaroa to the boats which rove her coasts with the intent of assertively stripping from her coasts and lands the assets which have historically been the backbone of the NZ economic force. From sheep meat to wool, fish along with the current booms in coal, carbons and crude, the South Island conquistador strategy to prop up the might of the North has been a resounding triumph. And as the wealth of the North has been built on the ashes of the South, it is now time for the boats at Picton to come yet again to deal with exodus of Southernlanders fed up with their raw deal.
Yes, boats have been critical to NZ evolution but they have also played a heavy roll in its destitution as well. Privateering from Peter in order to lavishly adorn Paul, either way boats have been instrumental in the process of nation building in the most oxymoronic manners. An economy reined by Princes in the North, fed by ships laden with goods from the plebe sordida stock from the South. The Boer War, 1905 All Blacks, Gallipoli, ’30s literary wave and the UK joining the EU played a big role in shipping and in our definitions of NZness.
However, in my view it was the first arrival of swathes of Ozzie miners in the West Coast during the Gold Boom and their larrikin nature and the feuds they managed to stir with natives, Maori and Asians that stirred Kiwis to willingly disassociate with the shortly to be founded Commonwealth of Australia. NZs did not appreciate this export and pride themselves to this day on being distinct from those unfriendly contentious Australian riff raff rabble.
Isn’t it time that the South also stood up and made its’ voices heard after years of Northerly boats and their disgusting desecration of the Island which has fundamentally given NZ its identity, heritage, global branding and street appeal along with it’s thriving Rock Star economy.