There’s something about my homeland that is unparalleled. Perhaps it’s that it is the first country to glimpse the sunrise each day. Perhaps it is the remoteness from the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s the abundant landscape in glossy brochures. Nope, that’s not it. New Zealand holds memories, familiarity and a sense of belonging for me. The New Zealand government has recently launched a campaign called The New Zealand Story aimed at businesses to show just how great our wee little country really is. Despite the business purpose, it gives a peek at our national pride. It makes us forget fierce regional rugby divides and come together as one people.
I experienced this feeling on my last trip back home. Our 777 aircraft passed through a very long white cloud. The grey metal beast emerged from the sky, flying over a green checkerboard that is surrounded by immaculate beaches. We touched down on home soil and the feeling grew stronger. Our friendly bus driver checked if we had any mates missing before we departed for home. There was a child on board but surprisingly no screaming. There were snorers in the seat in front catching zzz’s. Fantastic views of middle earth were just beyond my grasp. Spring lambs bounded about in dewy paddocks that sat pronounced against a baby blue sky with stretches of clouds drifting above. We passed Mount Taupiri where the legend Billy T James is buried. All that was missing from the experience was a mince pie from the corner dairy, and you can get one when the bus stops. This is home. This is what it is all about.
I know the country intimately, from the Coromandel beaches to the mighty peaks of the Southern Alps. I know the people will be laid back, practical and friendly everywhere you go. We say hello in lifts, we live customer service, we are proud to be a part of such a great country. We invented some great things, bungy jumps, jetpacks and pineapple lumps. When travelling overseas, people ask where you are from and I proudly reply: New Zealand. It doesn’t matter that they do not know where it is, that we are some remote pairing of two little islands and lots of tiny ones that have been cobbled together, that it takes at least three hours by plane to the closest neighbor, Australia. It doesn’t matter that we are the youngest country on earth and we don’t have rich history dating back thousands of years.
We embrace the history we do have, we unite as one group of people, we fight for what we believe in and hold our politicians to account (Rainbow Warrior protests, involvement in international peacekeeping, first women to get the vote). Kiwis love to travel. Politicians trivialise the exploitative nature we possess and label it the ‘brain drain’ but sometimes you have to leave in order to appreciate your own back yard. When we return from our Kiwi OE, we all say the same thing every time: there’s no place like home. And there really isn’t. Not by a long shot.
Go the Kiwi’s Black Caps for the win today, kia kaha!
I am standing in a giant wicker fruit-bowl looking out onto a lush green field on the edge of the school grounds. We’re not supposed to come here without a teacher but it’s after school now and Mum’s around somewhere. Kids are swarming around, hoping to stand out from the crowd and be selected. This time luck was on my side. The determination is etched into the small faces of my sister, my friend and I. We start to hover over the field and the kids’ bobbing faces become smaller. A roar sounds above my head and I duck instinctively. The pilot is pulling on the gas and sending us skyward. I’m terrified. All I could think was: ‘oh golly gosh, my hair is going to catch fire’.
This memory flashes back as I gaze into the Melbourne sunrise and watch hot air balloons saunter across the sky. It reminds me of home. Balloons floated into town at the same time every year, just as summer gave way to autumn. The mornings were crisp with dew covering the grass. They used to fly over the house and we’d run outside and wave. Sometimes, when they were flying low, they’d wave back at me. Once, a balloon landed in a field across the road. We went straight over and had a chat, of course. It turned out there was a film crew shooting footage for a television show. Their host was famous and I was immediately star struck. She was all very professional despite the rather sudden landing across the road from my house. I trotted back home with autograph in hand.
At the end of our city’s annual Balloon Festival, we would have a Night Glow. It was quite an event, too. I loved it, large Bunsen burners glowing orange into oversized pillows against a pitch black autumn sky. The atmosphere was consistently jovial and there was plenty of delicious food to accompany the entertainment.
Back to my experience as a nine year old in the hot air balloon, a treat every kid coveted. It was the highest honour a nine year old could be bestowed. Bragging rights were guaranteed. And I was inside a balloon. Except We only made it a few metres from the ground. I still got my magical moment in a balloon. I smile at the memory. Not a hair on my head was scorched in the process either.