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Saturday, 20 November 2010

Getting ready to return to Australia

So now it's our last day in New Zealand. Lin and I fly to Brisbane after tea, and the next morning to Cairns where we meet John and Annie and lead a day on political-management, then straight south again to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Launceston for further seminars before heading back to England on the 5 December.
As we arrived in New Zealand I wrote that 'The tags that my uninformed mind attach to New Zealand - the lamb and butter I've known in England all my life, Hillary and Tenzing on 29 May 1953, the All Blacks. the Maori, earthquakes and Lord of the Rings...' So what have I learned I couldn't have got from books and the internet? It's not that those sources don't figure. It's more about what seems to matter. To where my attention's been directed.
I'm an introvert; a cognitive learner, who looks at the words on a sign below the confusing painting hoping they'll spell out the abstraction on the canvas.
New Zealand's full of two kinds of the familiar - one imposed by globalisation's shrinking of distance making every shopping mall seems cloned to every other, obscuring place; going along with that the ubiquitous migration of capital to where labour's most accommodating and the state's made the best real estate offer. The second familiarity is one I regard with feelings quite the opposite of the apprehensions prompted by the first. That this country's weather, the terrain, flora and fauna that I've seen so far, and in some cases even the human imposition of fields and fences containing cattle, horses and sheep, so matches that of the Highlands - and yet doesn't. So that I view the landscape as in some dream that has warped time and space. Schist not granite pierces the grazed lawns amid broom and gorse. New Zealand flax - harakeke and wharariki - thrives amid more familiar greenery. Even in the spring chill, we glimpse epiphytes living on the trees, their trunks clothed in Spanish moss, and above the elder and the interloping willow climb the Tea Trees.  True blue vegetation colonises a foreign geology, the blackbirds' trills mingling with the chimes of the Bell bird and the creaking of the Tui.
But I'd known nothing of the seismic in New Zealand; nothing of volcanoes or earthquakes until Val, staying with us in Ano Korakiana, got a phone call from her son Lawrence in Dunedin on the morning of 4 September. "Oh yes" she said as she shared with us the news, slightly reassuring, calm, "Oh yes Australians call us 'the shaky islands'. Luckily it was in the early morning. No-one's been killed."

Aoteroa's active fault data base
The land is riven with fault lines. The place is distinctly unfinished. Yet when I was at school I'd not come across plate tectonics - a body of research and discovery as new as climate change science is now. Though he died in 1914 I'd not heard of Edward Seuss nor of his concept of Gondwanaland - a great conjoined landmass that separated into the component continents of my atlas. When I did begin to hear of this it sounded more like myth, not science.
So skylines here that seem at first glance like the hills of Scotland are, for us, odd shaped by the vigorous surge of a right-lateral strike-slip fault cutting across the entire length of South Island - a transform boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Indo-Australian Plate that created the Aotearoa's mighty southern mountains - glimpsed in delight as our Pacific Blue flight from Brisbane began its descent to chilly Dunedin two weeks ago, cousin Val waiting to meet and drive us to Halfway Bush via one of the steep roads that lead down to the centre of the city.
I visited Te Pape in Wellington, once called the Museum of Colonial History. There in the space reserved for great tableau versions - in English and Maori - of the somewhat rumpled remains of the original Treaty of Waitangi, a paper preserved in the New Zealand National Archives, I encounter the intriguing conundrum of the concepts of sovereignty in English and rangatiritanga in Maori.

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