The End of the New Zealand Dream
by J.R. Kuwanski
Since arriving back in my homeland of New Zealand I have felt a pressure to analyze my feelings towards this awkward South Pacific atoll. Apart from the inane observations (that it’s warmer than the UK, more humid and there are Polynesian people) a few realizations did come to me. One was what appeared to be the lack of any coherence in the culture, making my task of assessing it a difficult one. The nature and identity of this place is so diffuse and ambiguous it is difficult to put a finger on.
A drive to Henderson to complete my UK visa paper work seemed to confirm this suspicion – vast areas of simply unused land. Not in some kind nature reserve ‘unused’, but simply a chaotic and random allocation of property development ranging from the Immigration Center itself to Chinese superrettes to quarter acre housing developments – and no relationship between the three.
The culture, in a discussion with a friend, was made analogous to a dish that entailed spaghetti bolognaise wrapped in a tortilla inside an apple pie. There was plainly no congruence, no common bond. It seemed that, in one way or another, a various range of people found themselves on this land at the bottom of the world and were merely doing what appeared to be obvious – getting a job and filling in the rest with whatever came easiest – namely a house, wife and kids.
The people themselves seem to wander in a state of bewilderment, of passive confusion. There is no guiding common style, ethnicity, lifestyle or relations between people. There is no coherence, dare I say it, no community whatsoever.
It was around this time that I realized that any New Zealand story, a national story, that I had previously and desperately clung to was in fact nothing more than an antiquated and outdated myth – to be packaged, stamped with a silver firm, endorsed by Sir Edmund Hillary and sold to the highest Chinese bidder. While I am aware that most national narratives are myths (the American dream, the British way and so on), it seemed that the NZ narrative was replaced with nothing. The American dream was replaced with a vast beauty of counter culture, music, literature and film. The British way was replaced with a vibrant combination of ethnicities and unique outcomes of Caribbean-South Asian and British fusions1. But the Kiwi dream, the narrative of two peoples, the quarter acre block, the batch, the unionized job was replaced with, well … nothing. Just an unintentional hogwash of indebted people who are concerned with petty pragmatics (rent or a ridiculously over-priced mortgage), if anything at all, and no real desire of communal living.
When living in Wellington a few years ago I felt, at times, that I was part of some movement, part of something. The Clarke administration had battled back the vulgarities of the 80s’ and 90s’ right wing reforms and a sense of becoming a progressive community within the South Pacific was emerging. A new national identity forged and represented by the new music (the dub-reggae-jazz-funk) of Fat Freddy’s, Solaa and Opensouls, and a resurgence of NZ film and literature demonstrated by Taika Cohen, Emily Perkins and others. Interest free loans, Working for Families, Creative New Zealand funding were both reflecting and producing a nation that wanted to be something more than a cash cow for rental properties and walking tracks.
But now the dream seems to have well resided and J.K profoundly represents the new movement. No universal message, no grand narrative, just hollow clichés, bad dressing and a vomit inducing accent. ‘More roads, more cheap imports and more tax cuts please’ is now the mantra. And the aged euphoria of that hopeful era now seems crass and contrived. Fat Freddy’s songs on reflection seem to be nothing more than excessively long and mundane horn section, and impersonations of Flight of Concords are as heinous as those of Austin Powers. But there is no resistance from the populous, and I guess that is my point. The NZ narrative and art seem to be a crust of self-creation, completely non-reflective of real life and NZ culture. Underneath the crust is nothing – just vacuous urban sprawl. There is no substance behind the songs, the films, the writing. The nation either lives in cultural voids of Asian eateries like Balmoral or Botany downs, or pseudo communities like Grey Lynn that have now become no more than a t-shirt and a suburb of Ponsonby. Urban sprawl takes hold and before you know it you’re living in a two person apartment in Flat Bush so close to your Korean neighbours that you can hear their tamagotchi. For validity of your existence you can pop down the road (2 km) in your dihatsu to visit Mitre 10, Hell’s Pizza or an ice skating rink.
Ofcourse this is all justified in minds of the citizenry as they are getting on the property ladder, and therefore making life meaningful. For when you’re 45 one may be able to get a three bedroom place in Epsom. And goddammit by the time you retire you may be able to remortgage for a lifestyle block in Albany. This is all part and parcel of Auckland city. Well more non-city. The fact is everyone wants all the good aspects of a city: jobs, services and so on, but no-one is willing to actually live like they’re in a city. God for bid Aucklanders vote for substantial public transport, centralized housing or capital gains tax.
The NZ dream, come myth, of a quarter acre, a back yard, a batch and trips to the beach is now reserved for the elite few. This privileged oligarchy has managed to buy up all the land and rent it back to the population, at ridiculous prices. And because everyone is so hooked on the mortgage opium they buy it! Fight tooth and nail to buy it! And soulless urban sprawl, spiritless chain stores, shopping malls, and faux communities follow. No more know your neighbour, no more local butcher, no more regular working hours – just chasing the property dragon whichever way how. While John and his mates enjoy a kiwi sav and a weekend at Omaha.
And maybe that is perhaps the New Zealand dream. Land at all costs. Home ownership and a mild climate at all costs. At the cost of culture, community, scenery, markets, public transport, travel, spirituality … society. Simply living to own. And an ice cream at Devonport once a year.
 I guess I am really exclusively referring to London here. The rest of England is a morbid sh**hole.