• Peter Lyons

Why Cool little New Zealand must Chart its own Course.

"Don't leave home till you've seen the country" was a famous marketing catch phrase from the 1980s. I discovered New Zealand in my late twenties. And I am a native. I had done my OE. I hated coming back after several years away. It seemed such a dull small boring place. No one was interested in my overseas adventures. I was expected to get a job, marry , settle down , buy a house, have kids. Get real about life. I've never "settled down." I don't want to. Life's too short.

I ended up working in the bush in Australia for several years. I worked for Outward Bound as a senior instructor. I used to spend several months in the bush training army officer cadets from Duntroon military academy.

It was during this time I discovered my own country. A friend and I decided during a break to hitch around New Zealand. We stayed at a backpackers in Picton. We met a group of lovely Swedish ladies. They were not charmed. Andy and I slept on the verandah. The following morning we awoke slightly jaded. I heard an elderly local lady on the pavement lamenting that she wanted to rent her Morris Minor car for ten dollars a day. She had a parrot on her shoulder. Somewhat eccentric. I immediately leapt up and said I would take it. A verbal agreement was sorted. I fell in love with this country after years of overseas travel. I have never lost that affection.

Andy and I travelled from Picton to Westport to Greymouth. We arrived in Greymouth just as Pavlova backpackers was setting up. This was the late 1980s. The first ever busload of backpackers was about to arrive. Andy and I offered to cook a big feed for them in return for free beer. It was a great hazy night.

We stayed at the famous Hilton hotel in Blackball. Coal mining country. The place where the labour movement started in New Zealand . I came to appreciate my own country's rich history. I have learned much more since. We have a fascinating history, well told by our historians. Great reading in quiet times.

We traveled down the West coast through the gorgeous Haast pass into Central Otago.

We eventually arrived in Dunedin. Dunedin is a gem of a city. A living museum of our country's history. A city that still embraces the Scottish enlightenment love of education. I would later spend many years in Dunedin. I have written for the Otago Daily times for almost twenty years.

I am a legally blind man. I can't drive. I have criss-crossed this country many times, often using my thumb. One thing I have come to realise about cool little New Zealand is that we are unique. We are different from the rest of the world . There are some amazing people here. We aren't perfect but we have a huge array of talent and skills. Too often we worry about what the rest of the world thinks of us. We adopt their ideas and ideologies as a result, particularly in our economic policies. We fail to adapt these ideologies to suit our own unique society. We are now being given this opportunity, in a very strange way. We need to come up with our own unique answers to suit us.

We are lucky to live here. We produce our own basic needs. We produce the essential foodstuffs, and toilet paper. We cover both ends. We are politically cohesive compared to many other nations.if we are cut off from the rest of the world for a while we may realise how lucky we are to live here.

We seem to obsess about what the rest of the world thinks of us. A huge cultural cringe. We need to lose that. There is nowhere else I would prefer to be in the world right now. We are in a unique position to lead the rest of the world. But we need to plot our own course. It's going to be tough but let's stop thinking the leadership will come from elsewhere. It's not there. We can do this together. We have the resources and talent and leadership to make this much easier for ourselves.

Peter Lyons (M.Comm) is a regular columnist for the Otago Daily Times, teaches scholarship-level Economics and an author of several New Zealand economic texts. His inspiration often comes after a dram of whiskey. Just one mind you. So if you're ever stuck in a room full of economists, grab the seat next to him. For a conversation peppered with wit, wisdom and weirdness.

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