|A Change of Plan|
What on earth was I thinking? I of all people should've known better than to make such confident pronouncements of forever cherishing every moment in New Zealand. After all my experiences, another disastrous setback had to be around the corner somewhere.
When I wrote the last chapter, I had secured a 2-month contract working for Telecom NZ and more recently moved into an excellent flatshare in a beautiful location on Auckland's North Shore, making the long journey to work more than worth it for the amazing views and atmosphere; it was a completely informal setup, flatting with 2 brothers and a sister (from a mixed Maori/Pakeha background) with no formal agreement. I had felt sufficiently at peace with the relaxed ways of Kiwiana to enter into this sort of arrangement - bad mistake. After only a week-and-a-half, I got up earlyish on a Sunday morning to find the female representative of the family waiting for me in her dressing gown with a melancholy look on her face. "I've got some really stinking news for both of us I'm afraid, Matt," she said. It could only mean 1 thing, so I asked her simply to confirm what I already knew - that a family crisis had arisen which meant I had to move out. Specifically, my hosts' aunt had been hospitalised for what looked set to be a long time, leaving their 16-year-old cousin with no family in Auckland other than them, but needing to stay there in order to complete his school education. The 1st thought that flashed through my mind was something along the lines of the immortal declaration of the great British TV hero Blackadder, upon realising he has to go 'over the top' in the trenches of World War I: "I think the phrase rhymes with 'Clucking bell!'" Naturally, though, my actual reaction was simply to make myself that most English of fixes - a strong cup of tea. Fortified, I immediately accepted this catastrophe as my cue to leave New Zealand and go over to Australia ahead of schedule. To put it bluntly, I had surrendered myself to Kiwi laxity and it had ferociously bitten me in the posterior.
In all honesty, a very small part of me had felt for some time that I'd outstayed my welcome in the country. Therefore, although there remained a few parts of the South Island that I had hoped to retrace my steps to visit before leaving, I now knew I couldn't afford to dither. Bringing forward my flight to Sydney, on the phone to British Airways after work the next day, proved much simpler than I originally expected, and thank goodness - for my flatmates' behaviour that evening (2 days before eviction) made me realise I had in fact had a lucky escape. The eldest of the bunch, who co-owns the property with his Matamata-based parents, was celebrating his 23rd birthday, so he went with his girlfriend and siblings to a restaurant. Under normal circumstances, I would not have expected to be invited along to what was obviously meant to be a family celebration; however, under the circumstances as they were, it was arguably the very least my hosts could do in order to apologise for messing me around in such a big way (and yes they were my hosts, since the lack of a formal agreement made me their paying guest as opposed to their tenant). It is surely no exaggeration to say that the overwhelming majority of respectable British families putting a Kiwi through the same thing, would compensate by taking their guest out for an all-expenses paid dinner at a luxury restaurant - never mind inviting them along if they were going out for dinner anyway, short of footing the bill. What's more, it had been the siblings' Pakeha mother who responded to my 'Flatshare Wanted' advertisement in the 1st place and later instructed her daughter to give me the bad news as soon as her Maori sister-in-law was hospitalised; and this woman did not see fit even so much as to send me an email apologising for the inconvenience. This outrageous lack of manners, so far as I was concerned, represented the ultimate rejection of the British values upon which modern New Zealand society was founded. There may be no Maori word for 'Sorry,' but I've got news for you lady, and indeed for those many Pakeha who have forgotten their British heritage: YOU ARE NO MORE MAORI THAN I AM - GET OVER IT!
Even more disturbing was the daughter's explanation of why the situation had been allowed to materialise in the 1st place, i.e. why no formal provision had been made for her cousin: "It's a whanau thing," she said - whanau being the Maori word for family - referring to the understanding that Maori families will always informally count upon, strictly demand of and willingly offer the protection of that sacred institution, no matter what the cost may be. She did nonetheless concede that looking after a 16-year-old would inconvenience her and her brothers. So, a Western nation which gave so freely of its dearest blood in the fight against tyranny, still has an element which - while very much integrated into Western society - is incapable of shaking off archaic, non-religious bonds of stifling obligation which fly in the face of liberty at the speed of light? Let us be clear in this instance that liberty does not simply mean civil liberty or freedom of speech (see previous chapter), but personal liberty on every level - freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of worship, and freedom to live your life as you please within only the rule of law and the laws of science. If, dear reader, my ultra-conservative libertarian stance is a bit much for you to stomach, and you believe I need to be reminded of that famous diplomatic saying - 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do!' - then listen well as I explain why that phrase is totally inapplicable here. 1stly, like Christ's urging of the people of Judea to "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," it reminds us of Ancient Rome's lawful title as an imperial power - the status pertaining to Britain in this context. Secondly and most fittingly, hard as it may be to believe, undoubtedly the greatest treasure in New Zealand's natural history is the fact that one of the massive volcanic explosions which formed Lake Taupo, in AD 181, was almost certainly the cause of the blood-red sunset recorded by the scribes of Rome at this time; and although it was to be nearly 3 more centuries before Rome fell, in retrospect we can nonetheless see the event as a portent of some kind - foretelling the fact that the British Empire would stretch much farther than the Romans could ever have hoped theirs to.
All these ponderings on the conflict between Maori and British values did, of course, give me a very interesting contextual launchpad for my trip to Australia, whose treatment of the native Aboriginal people was for nearly 200 years far more telling of the traditional relationship between conquerors and conquered than was the case with the British settlers and the Maoris across the Tasman Sea, where the Treaty of Waitangi did at least give some recognition of native title and citizenship rights - a disparity clearly visible today in the far smaller proportion of Aboriginals integrated into modern Australian society and the larger proportion living in poverty. However, even as I prepared for my imminent departure while staying at the YHA backpackers, once again back in the comparatively depressing bustle of Auckland City Centre, I was much preoccupied with a far more fascinating matter in the far more familiar domain of constitutional affairs: the reiteration by New Zealand's most (in)famous investigative journalist, in a newly-published book, of an old argument of his - now backed by new research - that New Zealand's entire constitutional framework is technically illegal.
Ian Wishart's Absolute Power is a no-holds-barred exposition of the corruption and constitutional railroading which have made New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark the most powerful politician in the Western world - in terms of what she can do to her own country. The main text contains several profoundly disturbing stories which, at moments, seem to put even Silvio Berlusconi to shame in the corruption stakes, and it lays to rest any doubt that Clark is a lesbian in a marriage of convenience (which, as Wishart justly points out, the people do have a legitimate right to know about since it constitutes an undeclared personal interest in the Civil Union legislation that she rammed through Parliament) - not to mention her views on families and parenting, alternating between downright sordid and borderline anarchist, extending so far as to outlawing the smacking of children by their parents. [This was particularly interesting to consider in light of what happened to me with the flatshare, for it is rather surprising that a premier possessed of such an interventionist stance on families had not long since made it legally obligatory for single parents to formally provide for their children in the event of death or long-term illness.] In his conclusion, the author explains what lies at the root of the problem: his belief, apparently shared by many constitutional experts, that upon New Zealand's final declaration of independence from Britain - with the NZ Constitution Act 1986 - the government of the day illegally seized the old imperial power for themselves instead of legitimately vesting it in the people via referendum. Therefore, says Wishart, the New Zealand Parliament does not have anything resembling a public mandate to legislate, and a succession of British governments share the blame for this state of affairs - having devalued the fundamental significance of the nation's independence by granting it in several stages over a period of 130 years. Furthermore, the author and some of his sources believe the problem to exist also in Australia and Canada, citing the 1999 Australian Republic Referendum - in which the people of Australia rejected both the abolition of the monarchy and the chance to ratify their nation's existing constitution - as evidence that the less authoritarian Aussie government understood its precarious constitutional position.
I pondered away at those intriguing propositions during my last few days in the country (aside from a 4-day stopover before flying on to Chile to begin the final leg of my travels) before going over to Sydney on 31 May. The still mundane nature of my work - not to mention the typically Kiwi propensity of my colleagues to turn the simplest of things into 'Mission Impossible' - made me all the more glad to be leaving. My conversations with 1 person in particular - a 20-something-year-old from a theatrical background - were most telling: my attempts to diplomatically explain my frustrations with Kiwi laissez-faire prompted him to accuse me of 'New Zealand-bashing,' to which I responded by pointing out that I had at least made the effort to immerse myself in New Zealand's culture unlike the vast majority of backpackers who treat her as nothing but a booze-soaked adventure paradise. "It IS a booze-soaked adventure paradise!" came the reply, and this was not the 1st time I had heard a New Zealander speaking so derogatively of their beautiful country. One should not, of course, attempt to take much if anything from the views of 2 or 3 people in terms of how confident a young nation has become in its own identity, except for the fact that everyone agrees on one thing: the overwhelming majority of Kiwis certainly do prefer backpackers to bungee-jump, sky-dive and binge-drink their way through the country within a short space of time, leave and never come back - as your average Kiwi Experience passenger does; and this, it is fair to say, certainly does betray the widespread rejection of British values (in the parent/child analogy) as a rebellious front for a young adult's severe lack of self-confidence in his or her independence. A great shame indeed for the nation which 1st gave women the vote, and produced not only the 1st man to conquer Everest but also the 1st man to split the atom (Lord Rutherford of Nelson). I set off for Australia hoping to find a stronger sense of nationhood prevalent in a younger nation.
Having previously anticipated spending only 2 weeks in the country, I had made no plans beyond purchasing a bus pass to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road with Oz Experience (formerly owned by the same company as their Kiwi counterpart); so, mindful of warnings from friends that Australia is also very lax by British standards if not by Kiwi standards, it made perfect sense for me to 'go with the flow' rather than setting a strict itinerary. After looking at my travel options for the East Coast, it seemed that going all the way with Oz Experience was the best option, and their staff assured me that they do not encourage heavy drinking by night and sleeping through scenery by day; the fact that when it came to the core East Coast activity - sailing the Whitsunday Islands - they offered a wide choice of boats according to size and crowd type, rather than doing what Kiwi Experience would surely do and just block-booking the party boats all year round, seemed sufficient proof of their sincerity. In the meantime, with the Sydney weather sadly grey and wet, I had given in to my temptation to send an article-length email to Wishart confronting his appraisal of New Zealand's perceived constitutional crisis: I was naturally quick to praise his condemnation of the Clark Administration, but challenged his assertion that the British Parliament had been New Zealand's ultimate power source and that the New Zealand government therefore lost their right to govern on 01 January 1987 when the Constitution Act came into force; in actual fact, I argued, the power source has always been the Crown - 1st the British Imperial Crown and then the autochthonous New Zealand Crown - meaning it is only individual governments which require public mandates via elections, not Parliament itself via referendum. The author responded by saying he wanted to run my letter in his Investigate magazine but stood by his arguments. "Where did the New Zealand Crown come from?" he asked, insistent that the only way a new monarchy could be created in an independent nation without popular ratification would be through a military coup, and that since independence is by its very nature granted to the people of a dominion, only the people can legitimately authorise the continuation or disbanding of the status quo. In my response I conceded that some of what he said made partial sense but needed further clarification, and Wishart's failure to respond either to this or to a subsequent email led me to conclude that he had decided against running my letter after all. There was, however, to be a massive twist in the tale much later on.
I have to put my hands up and confess that, up to this point in my writing, I have doggedly stuck to the stereotype of Australia as 'the penal colony' when in actual fact of course it consisted from the late 18th Century to the end of the 19th Century of several separate colonies which were eventually settled by free men and women as well as convicts, and were federated into a single dominion in 1901. It was therefore with great fascination that I took a tour of the New South Wales Parliament to see how the great Westminster traditions and trappings are preserved well over a century following Federation - signifying the State Parliament's continuing role as supreme legislator for certain state matters, and the fact that its authority derives directly from the Crown and not from the Federal Parliament. Most entertaining of all was the experience of observing the State Premier's Question Time from the public gallery after the tour, watching him being roundly lambasted for having failed to prepare Sydney adequately for hosting the forthcoming World Youth Day - even to the point of the Speaker at one point being forced to say, "Would the Opposition Member kindly stop singing?" If only I could have known what relevance this musical interrogation would come to have for me.
After 3 days I flew up to Cairns to begin the East Coast leg with a trip to Magnetic Island, so named because Captain Cook had erroneously assumed the island to be responsible for messing up his compass as he charted the coast (the culprit was actually a large hill full of iron ore, situated just outside what is now Townsville, home of a major military base). It was at this point that I 1st started to get a sense of travel-weariness, the feeling that I had been on the road for too long, not to mention the fact that the routine of telling new groups of people about my experiences on an almost daily basis was becoming depressingly repetitive. The legendary 'Full Moon Party' on Magnetic Island confirmed what I had suspected since the nightmare on the West Coast of New Zealand, that my ability to enjoy large social gatherings had disappeared. Next item on the agenda was the Whitsundays cruise (once again with Cook's errors to thank for the name, this time the mistake of believing he had 1st sighted that part of the Great Barrier Reef on Whitsunday without regard for time zones), which was everything I hoped it would be and more - beautiful islands, fine weather, quiet and atmospheric boat - though I did find myself spending an awful lot of time in silent contemplation.
As with so many other things, my personal vantage point on this matter is quite unique; for if I were given one pound for every person who has assumed me to be substantially younger than I am, I would not have cause to be overly concerned about the amount of money I have had to borrow to fund my travels - I would indeed sleep easier dwelling on the financial issue even if the remuneration was limited to people who actually think me to be as young as 18 (at time of writing I have recently turned 26). In short, even as I watch the generational changeover unfold, growing increasingly mindful both of the responsibility of my generation to ensure that the stories of our forebears live on 3rd-hand, and of the need to respect the passage of time lest it catch up on us, it seems the people I meet will continue to assume that I do in fact enjoy the blissful ignorance of this new generation; while if my circumstances were sufficiently different to allow and indeed compel me to continue my travels long-term, then with increasing numbers of my contemporaries starting to settle down - i.e. getting married, buying houses - I would ultimately find myself becoming an unseen relic of the family military history lesson, as I already seem to be a relic of conservative Middle English values, further rendered obsolete through my necessary refusal to embrace the wonders of Facebook (for reasons which it would be self-defeating to mention here).
The great irony is that Australia, I think it is fair to say, has much more of an international reputation as a place to go for a booze-soaked adventure holiday, while New Zealand is the preferred destination for sophisticated sightseers; yet the reality, certainly as far as native perceptions go, is the reverse of the stereotype. That White Australians seem for the most part more confident in their identity than Pakeha New Zealanders, despite being more than 6 decades younger as a nation, may indeed be partly symptomatic of their widespread repression of the Aboriginals, and when I returned to Canberra I could not help but be struck by the sight of the indigenous people's permanent protest headquarters outside Old Parliament House - with the nearby statue of King George V defaced by stickers in the colours of the Aboriginal flag. We can of course hope that the recent official apology by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for mistreatment of Aboriginals marks another massive step towards a brighter future. If, on the other hand, that future also involves an Australian Republic (which Rudd has made it clear he favours), then matters could turn a little complicated.
Although I had long since given up hope of my lengthy email to Investigate editor Ian Wishart being published, I had continued to furiously puzzle away at all the issues concerned throughout my time in Australia. While killing time at the penultimate stop before arrival back in Sydney, Byron Bay, I thought up what seemed a perfect analogy to counter Wishart's core assertion that the severing of New Zealand's ties with the British Parliament had by definition to mean severing links with the Crown, and put this in an email to him. He responded by informing me that he had in fact published my original letter and had simply forgotten that I was out of the country (in true lackadaisical Kiwi fashion); more importantly, my letter had drawn an official response from the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, in relation to my defence of the monarchy as a check and balance, so I wasted no time in finding and responding to it. Needless to say, the republican leader's arguments were very unconvincing, most especially his attempt to use the 1975 Australian Constitutional Crisis - in which Governor-General Sir John Kerr successfully dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and his government after Whitlam refused to call an election in response to the Senate's refusal of supply - as a demonstration of how weak the Governor-General's position is. I soon found myself engaged in a very intense though civilised ongoing online debate with the republicans; but at the same time I was starting to come to terms with the fact that Wishart was right all along - he just hadn't explained his stance as clearly as he could have.
The fundamental problem, which the author hinted at but did not express in unmistakable English, is that for the people of a Crown Colony or Dominion to be made independent, they must be absolved of their loyalty to the Crown (which they can then reassert via referendum as the Australians effectively did in 1999, even if the same lack of a clear break in continuity lurked in the background). Clearly the Statute of Westminster did not accomplish this absolution, which means that the effect of the NZ Constitution Act 1986 was simply to convert New Zealand into a glorified British Overseas Territory in the guise of an independent sovereign state. Thus the gross imbalance which exists there is not the result of a rogue seizure of power, but simply of a massive constitutional muddle over whether or not that power actually exists, the result being that New Zealand Citizens are stuck in limbo - still technically British Subjects, but not enjoying the rights and privileges thereto. Wishart himself later conceded that this may indeed be the case in each of the 'Big 3' Commonwealth Realms, but sadly this concession came as an editorial response to what was supposed to have been a confidential email from me to him, which he published in the subsequent issue of his magazine word for word. Alas, dear reader, it would again be self-defeating for me to go into detail on this topic, except to say that the content of that email had the potential to prove very awkward for certain people involved in the debate. I now partially understand why people on all sides regard the journalist as a shameless radical; which is extremely unfortunate since there are very few libertarian advocates so staunchly conservative as he. In practical terms, though, the overwhelming conclusion to be drawn is that Helen Clark, despite having resoundingly swept away appeals to the Privy Council and many other instutions and manifestations of the nation's royal heritage, would not dare attempt to actually create a republic because this would open up a massive can of worms, exposing the state of flux which enabled her to become so unimaginably powerful. The likely elevation to government of the National Party later this year, while hopefully heralding a less dictatorial era, could ironically bring that scenario a step closer to reality, since leader John Key has stated that he will not rule out a referendum on abolishing the monarchy. In that event, the best thing we can hope for is that the referendum is more comprehensive than the Australian one in terms of seeking ratification for the constitutional framework, and that the people are sufficiently informed so as to understand the monumental significance of the exercise. A similar (if less messy) can of worms would also be opened if Australia finally became a republic, thanks to the people's aforementioned failure to ratify the status quo despite not wishing to change it - with the result that Parliament's lack of a public mandate lingers on to this day.
On 16 July, after a month-and-a-half in Australia, the time came for me to return to Auckland for my 4-day stopover before finally ending my Imperial trek and beginning the home straight of my travels. Unfortunately, the experience became a most painful one as I fell victim to 2 defective planes at Sydney and ended up landing almost 6 hours behind schedule. I learned there had been an engineers' strike in progress despite World Youth Day being in full swing - with the whole city packed to the rafters and the Pope present - which, combined with the dire state of repair the airport was in, made me understand what that Opposition Member of the NSW Parliament may have been singing about! Over the next few days, staying at the flat where I'd lived while working in the call centre all those months ago, I discussed the constitutional issues with a well-connected, historically-minded Maori flatmate, who said that in actual fact the problem runs much deeper - that the Treaty of Waitangi itself requires extensive clarification and ratification, and that the Maori people most certainly are entitled not only to British passports but to the legal enshrinement of their old ways & practices, even to the point where they can drive through Auckland City Centre without seatbelts on! Surely I am not now alone in wondering if Queen Victoria's men really knew what they were getting themselves in for in attempting to create their 'Britain of the Southern Hemisphere' while simultaneously acknowledging indigenous sensibilities. Still, I hardly think Gordon Brown would lose any sleep over it even without everything he's currently got on his plate, and nor do I believe it should be an issue for us to dwell on since we face the more immediate problem of the EU Reform Treaty being undemocratically rammed into existence despite its legality having been sent on a one-way trip to hell by the brave folk of Ireland. As if this were not enough, we now have the Lord Chief Justice and the Archbishop of Canterbury advocating the introduction of Sharia Law into the mix...
So now, at long last, the end is in sight. I bade farewell to Aotearoa on 20 July with a heavy heart, finding that in spite of all the emotional turmoil, in spite of a mountain of debt which would've daunted Sir Ed himself, and in spite of having been forced to do more U-turns than Mr Brown at No. 10 could manage in a lifetime, my lingering thoughts as the Santiago-bound plane taxied to the runway in the dark were ones of immense satisfaction, and gratitude to a country which inspired me in ways I could never have imagined. There was a massive lump in my throat as the plane took off in the pouring rain, which did the crying for me. I sincerely hope I will be able to return there one day, but for the time being my main concern is the realisation that I have come to passionate, sensual South America not only feeling travel-weary and lacking the appetite for partying, but as a far more reserved, private person than I was when I embarked on my travels. To make matters worse, reminders of how I stand alone as an ambassador for respectable Middle England are all around me. The lobby of my hostel in Buenos Aires, where I am sitting as I write this, contains a YHA International map which labels the Falkland Islands as 'Ilas Malvinas (Argentina),' and when I quietly remarked to a fellow Brit how inappropriate it was for an organisation like the YHA to acknowledge defeated claims to sovereignty, she started flapping off about how awful it is that Argentines are made to travel to the islands where their soldiers lie dead via Chile. Well, excuse me, but maybe General Galtieri should've thought of that before imposing his dictatorship on British soil! Worse still, an old housemates from university has recently moved to China; and when I told him he was a brave man going to live in a Communist state with so much blood on its hands, he responded by accusing me of being blinded by selective schooling - stating that the British Empire has more blood on its hands than China. Since Chairman Mao alone was responsible for more than 10 million peacetime deaths, and the repressive regime has continued since he died more than 30 years ago, that statement is so absurd it doesn't even bear thinking about. This sort of attitude is symptomatic of the widespread yet unfathomable belief that dictators can only be morally judged for murderous crimes committed outside their own nations: indeed, it is almost certainly the fact that the majority of Stalin's victims were Soviets, which allows his contribution to defeating Hitler - lower death tally & all - to partially rehabilitate him in the eyes of history; and as for Mao, the atrocities he committed amongst his people appear to have been swept under the carpet even though he made the Fuhrer look like a lamb. Of course we all know the British Empire had its faults, but can we really sit back and watch these dangerous revisionists label us perpetrators of genocide?
I will leave you to ponder that question for now, dear reader. Our next and final meeting will take place when I have returned home to England's green and pleasant land.
Chapter 4: Heart of Darkness | Chapter 6: Conclusion