Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, April 30, 2017

I wept singing the National Anthem

Looking down on Sawyers Bay, Port Chalmers and the mouth of the Otago Harbour. The community I love.
Coming down "My" mountain at about sunset.
The golf course opposite our house.
Main Street Port Chalmers. 
The actual "Sawyers Bay" - New Zealand is a nice place to live.
In New Zealand we have ANZAC day. It is held on April 25th every year and communities across Australia and New Zealand remember those who have died in wars. The day marks the day when Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. That battle was a major disaster with scores upon scores of casualties and eventually the troops withdrawing. 

There are dawn services held, but my wife and I attended the mid-morning local Port Chalmers ceremony held in front of a monument and flagpole in the main street of Port Chalmers. Standing there we found that people about us did not sing the hymn, "Oh God our help in ages past." Then just about the last thing in the service was singing the National Anthem. Again a few more, but not many sang it. I love the New Zealand national anthem. Generally only one verse is sung, but I sometimes use it (without the third verse) as a hymn/prayer in a Church service. 

English version

God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific's triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.
Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.
Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host,
God defend our free land.
Lord of battles in Thy might,
Put our enemies to flight,
Let our cause be just and right,
God defend New Zealand.
Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our free land.
From dishonour and from shame,
Guard our country's spotless name,
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.
May our mountains ever be
Freedom's ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our free land.
Guide her in the nations' van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.
As the gathering sang the National Anthem, my wife and I began to sing well, thinking we at least should do our bit, since many about us stayed silent. I unfortunately was so moved by the anthem and what it stood for that I choked up. I teared up just now listening to You Tube versions of it. Why? It is not the remembrance of dead soldiers that moved me. What is it that moves me? I have been stewing on what it could be. 
I have decided that it is love of my country and what it, ideally stands for. But the sadness comes from the fact that in my life time the NZ values that I grew up to be proud of have, in my view, slipped.
When I grew up we learned to be proud of the egalitarian nature of New Zealand. The class system of England had been left behind, and New Zealand was a place where fairness for all was a basic value. That is not so much the case now. The gap between the rich and the poor has expanded. Money talks too much in politics. The "system" favours the rich.
I grew up proud of our democratic tradition. We were the first in the world to grant the vote to women. Politicians were people of integrity who could not be bought, and who you could generally think of as seeking the "common-wealth" of all. I see politicians now telling lies and getting away with it. There have been dodgy dealings, and the appearances of dodgy wheeling and dealing exposed in our political arena. I have seen leaders feathering the nest of their rich mates.  They often turn the blame on the poor for the costs to tax payers, when often corporates have been the biggest tax dodgers and bludgers of public money. You are much more likely to be chased, and charged for benefit misappropriation, than rich corporates are of being charged for default of taxes for much bigger amounts.  Often they are forgiven, while beneficiaries are the scape goat.
We were proud of our social security system, our public health system and our free education systems. Lately all these have been eroded, and the first questions surgeons ask if you need an operation is, "do you have insurance?" If you don't, waiting lists are massive. Mental health care is, frankly, collapsing.
All of this, with globalisation and technology change brings real hardship for people. There is a shortage of affordable housing, with sad stories of families living in garages or cars. There are few manufacturing jobs available, with lots of people at the bottom of the heap living lives with little hope. This in turn leads to alcohol and drug problems, illegal activities and downward spiraling lives.
Alcohol abuse, binge drinking and resultant issues are a growing problem in New Zealand. 
I worry about the fact that we have no real moral roots or anchors. I wonder about the values people buy into as expressed in our TV programming. 
I could go on with depressing perspectives. I still love this country and would not live anywhere else. I must say too, from my Night Shelter, Christmas Dinner and Habitat for Humanity experiences, there still are many down to earth generous caring people out there, who give freely when they are made aware of a need. New Zealand still is better in most areas than many places in the world.
I think my sadness is, that I am coming to the end of my time, and I am deeply aware of the suffering of many people in NZ, and that New Zealand is not as "nice" a country as when I grew up. Everyone hopes they will leave a better world for following generations, and I don't think I can say that. I have given my life to making a difference for good, and will still do that, but I know that when I die, there will be heaps of problems for following generations. I am just not sure we now have the resilience, or the basic ideals to tackle them. Scratch the surface of New Zealand and I see the same values as those expressed by Donald Trump existing, and those values will not solve the problems the world is facing. I sense what Victor Frankl called, an "existential vacuum" problem, people with little meaning in life.  

It may well be that I was naive about the New Zealand I grew up in, and look at it with rose coloured glasses? There have been positive advances in the way we see things. We are more tolerant of diversity now. Somehow we have to get back to that "common-wealth" ideal, and away from the individualism, and dog eat dog tendencies I see. I weep because I see people, at all levels of society, struggling to cope in life. In our beautiful country, it ought not be that way.