Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Egalitarianism in NZ going, going gone...

My grandson - gotta get back to see him. 
My daughter in law and grandson sent me best wishes. 
Borrowed pic of Careys Bay view.
Careys Bay Historic Hotel.
Egalitarianism a part of who we are.
I have recently read a book on the history of our national identity. One of the prized things about New Zealand culture as it evolved was our egalitarian nature. In the early days our treatment of "the natives" while not as good as it could have been, was far in advance of most colonial nations of the time. We were the first to give women the vote. When our rugby teams went overseas to play the across-the-board make up of our teams was highlighted, where as in England rugby was played by the elite. When our soldiers fought alongside other nations overseas the egalitarian nature of our military was often noted. A farm worker could become an officer, higher ranks listened to the voices of lower ranks and there was a general respect across the board. In lots of areas of life, the new colony's settlers happily discarded the class systems and elitism of the countries from which they had come. In the '70's when I moved to Australia I noticed an elitism and racism there  I was not used to in New Zealand. 
Egalitarian TV gone...
This morning my wife took me around to the local Careys Bay Historic Hotel and we sat at a sunny table enjoying a beautiful view of the bay and the harbour.  I sat very strategically so that I could enjoy the sun, enjoy the view but with a turn of my head watch the televised New Zealand vrs England Cricket Test just starting in Auckland.  For USA readers a cricket test match lasts for five days. Each team has two innings and scores runs. Often they still end in a draw because the two teams have not completed their two innings or scored more runs than the other. In this particular series there have been two test matches played, and they have ended in a draw. (They were both rain interrupted) I love watching cricket if I have the time which seldom happens. I came to really appreciate the nuances of cricket when I coached school boy cricket years ago. There are short versions of the game... one day (50-overs - an over is when the bowler bowls six balls) or 20-over versions, which are faster and more entertaining than test cricket. But test cricket is the pure form of the game where I still enjoy the battle of the minds, skills and endurance that goes on. To me each ball bowled is entertaining - the bowlers mind, skill and strategy pitted against the batsman's abilities and wisdom. I watched the game and decided since I am on sick leave and in recovery mode I could come home, turn on the TV and enjoy the cricket - here was the opportunity I most often cannot take. I came home, and flicked through the free to air channels and nowhere could I find the cricket match. I realised that the Hotel TV was on a Sky channel which I would have pay for. I do not get much time to watch TV and even on Sky much of it is repeats and rubbish so I refuse to purchase it. Not long ago in New Zealand free to air TV played cricket matches... not now! The richer folk can watch but not me! New Zealand egalitarian values are being lost.
Housing...
Owning your own home and section has for a long time almost been seen as a human right in New Zealand. It was seen as the ideal for New Zealanders. When we began Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin I went with another committee member to visit our mayor. We wanted to introduce him to the aims of Habitat for Humanity, which saw home ownership as important. This smiling right wing mayor (who has since died) listened in a patronising fashion to our carefully thought out presentation. He then said something like, "That sounds fine, but house ownership for the average person is no longer going to be New Zealand's lifestyle.  Landlords will own houses or apartments and the average person will rent all their lives.  That makes economic sense." Well it does if you are a landlord! I disagree with him, I think the powerlessness and vulnerability in renting is unhealthy. But he was right, that indeed is the direction that New Zealand is headed. Pretty soon house ownership for the average kiwi will be unattainable, an elite group will hold the housing stock and the power that goes with that.
Health care....
The guys in my hospital room were discussing this. All of us were of an age when it was just assumed the state would provide adequate health care. Medical insurance was a luxury only the very rich would have, it was not really essential. But each of us had found that could no longer be assumed.  When it was obvious I needed surgery the first question I was asked was, "Do you have private cover?" "No" ... "Well then it is at least a six month waiting list." If you are not under some private medical insurance now there are ever increasing waiting lists for treatment. I get a sore knee and have had x-ray's taken.  I asked the doctor if there was anything that could be done. His reply was "If you have private medical insurance - yes, but other wise nothing. You are not crippled yet."  A few years ago you would never have heard such a statement. There is one health system for the rich and another, much lesser one for the poorer. Once our health care was much more egalitarian. 

In my life time, the egalitarian nature of our society, which was very much a part of what New Zealand is all about, has been eroded away, and is being further and further eroded. I think this is sad. 

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