Freesteel Blog » New Zealand – Dunedin Living
New Zealand – March (parts) 2001
We spent most of our “inactive” time in Dunedin. There is one city more southerly on the South Island, called Invercargill. English people, on seeing these names on the map, take this as evidence that it must be “very Scottish” down there because the weather is also known to be similar. In fact, the area has as much to do with Scottish culture as Birmingham, Alabama does with the midlands. If there ever had been a connection, it was lost five generations ago. In spite of New Zealand being a “new” country (constitutionally speaking), many families have been there a long time. Since the growth of Dunedin and its district, Otago, occured during the 1860 gold rush, well before the availability of global communication, ties with the homeland would have been lost. It’s hard to remain Scottish when it takes six months to get a letter back from your grandmother, and you certainly aren’t going to remember how she speaks when there is no such thing as a telephone.
The best thing we did was join the Underwater Hockey Club at the local swimming pool. This game is taken more seriously than at home, with people playing in teams with the correct number of people, sometimes with a referee. Back in Liverpool we play it with all the discipline of boys kicking a football around on the street, with the neighbours complaining about the likelihood of you smashing their pool tiles, I mean front windows. Here, the pool was properly set up with an even depth and a special set of dividers bolted to the floor. The club was even sponsored by a pub, which we would therefore have to go to for after game drinks. I didn’t think much of the pub at first with its sports TV and its rugby banners everywhere, but grew to like it after I had visited other pubs for comparison. Also, I leant the right beer was Otago Strong and that I should never drink more than two pints of it in an evening.
When University term started, we tried joining the student clubs. The “tramping” club was a huge organization with many people and cliques, and a whole procedure for organizing trips. The signing up sheets for the trips each stated what experience level was required for participation and how many days they would last. The trips were so numerous and exotic sounding that Becka was beside herself with frustration because she couldn’t go on all of them. When we didn’t do any of them in order to work over the weekend and make up for lost time, she was as unhappy as if she had missed six different trips to the wild west coast walking up mountains, rather than what could only have been one out of six.
The diving club was a much more sensible option since I know the game well enough to account for any level of bullshit. A tank of air will last 45 minutes at 15 metres, and that is a good baseline. All other associated activity is to be minimized. I do not know how far I could walk across an unprescribed mountainous landscape with a heavy rucksack, or how many hours it would take to become enjoyable, if ever. Also, the town dive shop, to which the club is affiliated, offers gear, training and tells you where to dive. The outdoor walking gear shop, to which the tramping club was affiliated by the fact that most of the committee were employed there, just sells gear and a few maps and tells you that you are wasting your time unless you go for at least a five day treck across extreme rivers in the pouring rain.
As a consequence, we did much more diving than anticipated, and much less tramping than Becka had hoped for. The fact is we didn’t really need the tramping club because there is a government body called the “Department of Conservation” that is in charge of walking, setting up trails, huts, and publicising them. In Britain, the only department that comes close to them in efficiency is the Department of Roads (wrongly known as the Department of Transport). In Britain there’s always enough money for a new road, and to get old roads fixed promptly if they are still popular. Private land or the fact that it is a nature reserves is never a problem when the flow of cars is involved. The Department of Conservation appears only to use permits for census taking (how many people are visiting a particular area) or to limit the numbers when a track becomes so over-popular that there would be nowhere to sleep. For example, the Milford Track (so named because it leads to Milford Sound, which in turn was named by the explorers after Milford Haven in Wales). Generally, their job is to encourage recreational walking. The more people visit the landscape, the more likely it is to be conserved because they know it exists. Also, it’s why the tourists come to NZ. DoC in NZ does have more of an idea of what it is doing than the UK Department of Roads which, although it sounds simpler, the facilitation of road transport and the free circulation of traffic is entirely pointless if you have just flattened and rendered unliveable in large parts of the city you were supposed to have served. At least when the Department of Conservation puts in a new trail, it knows it will look like an utter fool if the place gets consequently trashed by, say, a well placed burger franchise.
Back in Dunedin we settled into a wholesome routine of Becka cycling to work in her borrowed office on her borrowed computer, and me staying at home to program through the internet. Then we’d phone and agree to meet for lunch in new cafe whenever we found one. The exchange rate was three NZ dollars to the pound, so everything was pretty cheap. If we had taken notes, we could have put together a comprehensive guide for eating out in the city (not including McDonalds, KFC, etc which a) don’t need reviewing because they are supposed to all be the same, and b) don’t serve food). The best lunch was the Curry Box on George Street (with such a junk-food looking sign it took us two months to get round to it) and the best pudding was the cheesecake a block away in the Fuel Cafe. The student food outlets weren’t very nice, except for the Hare Krshna chickpea curry lunch in the Student Union for three dollars.
We usually cooked for ourselves in the evening (eating out is too stressful and monotonous if you do it too much) and listened to the BBC Radio 4 Today program while we were eating to get our fix of UK news. We received this through the sound card of my computer dialed to the internet on a free call. Since we were twelve hours out, this came in between 6pm and 9pm, and we got to hear about all the misery of the Foot and Mouth disaster in England. News like that is much funnier when you’re not there having to suffer the consequences of being banned from walking in the countryside.
The shorter New Zealand radio news in the morning also covered the Foot and Mouth disaster too. Quite a bit of UK news got onto their network, which is strange when you consider that the whole of the world is between NZ and the UK. The NZ angle on it was that they could export more NZ lamb to the UK on account of the Foot and Mouth outbreak since the UK was in the process of burning all its livestock to save its lifestock. Of course, in the fullness of time, this is not what happened. All UK lamb had been exported to Europe because, apparently, it was the wrong size for UK people to eat. The UK then imports “fresh” lamb from NZ, as far away as possible, rather than from America, or Africa, or Asia or any of the miriad countries in between, because it is the right size. Foot and Mouth caused UK exports of lamb to be banned, so UK consumers had to learn to eat their own lamb, that which had not been burnt, regardless of its size. And nobody noticed the difference. It is a good question to ask why the so-called “free” market decides to export and import the same commodity from the same country in bulk, because clearly it is inefficient and alienates the producers from the consumers. On the other hand, an unregulated free market by its very nature favours monopolies, and the best way to establish and maintain them is to place the producers and consumers as far away as possible so that there is no way at all to bypass their monopolized channels of distribution and control.
While we were in Dunedin, NZ experienced two further globalization events which got into the news. The first was that all the milk marketing companies decided they were going to merge and form a national monopoly so as to have the power to compete in the global market. This plan had earlier been struck down by the equivalent of the Monopolies commision because that’s their job: to prevent monopolies whose point of existance is to rip off consumers. This time they were appealing to the farmers, the public and the government to be allowed to do it anyway because it was so economically important, regardless of what the domestic studies said. The government apparently conceded.
The second round of globalization concerned Monteith’s Brewery. This was the last brewery still operating on the West Coast of the South Island and it employed about 14 people in Greymouth. There is not much employment there anyway. Monteith’s beer is available in all major supermarkets in a dozen different flavours, and it prides itself on having authentic West Coast heritage. It even prints the words “West Coast” on the beer labels. You could spot a mile away that there was nothing very independent about it by the fact that it was so readily available in the supermarkets, those well-known bastions of fair competition. Sure enough, the actual owners of the brewery (some big company up in Aukland) decided to rationalize production and move it to a bigger factory in order to grow the brand. They sacked those 14 workers and closed the plant overnight. This was a mistake because New Zealanders were not as culturally educated as citizens in other countries, such as England, who already know that advertising is a mattress of lies (Fosters Lager, branded as Austrialian, doesn’t exist in Australia and is in fact brewed in London with delicious London tap water). We, in the UK, have been educated enough to understand that it is the prerogative of owners and employers to treat their workers like toe dirt, and it is nobody else’s business to tell them how to behave on what is their property.
A day later there was a spontaneous nationwide boycott of the beer, during which time people also discovered that most of the Monteith’s brand beer was already brewed in Aukland. The company managers therefore couldn’t understand what people were fussing about, them shutting down this small, unprofitable brewery, since most people had been drinking the Aukland beer anyway, proving that there was no noticeable difference in taste or quality. What was the problem?
When I left NZ, the factory had been reopened, under some recrimination, and may eventually wind up just as a museum employing a curator and a couple of cleaning ladies. I met some customers in the supermarket who believed that you could tell which factory had brewed the beer by the serial number on the bottle, and would purchase only the genuine West Coast produce. These were pretty scarce and took a lot of searching around the shelves to find. Even if this strategy worked, it was doomed because the supermarket stocking systems would not be clever enough to discriminate the types and restock accordingly, and they could easily change the serial numbering system any time they wanted to confuse matters. It is important that there is no choice.