Oceania / Global
An Antipodean Martin Luther King and New Zealand on a go-slow.
Founder of John Wardle Architects
Which country do you think has the best brand image and why?
India. Its scale, vast population, cultural variance and all-pervasive evidence of history conveys a complex image of this great society.
Which country would you like to see get a brand makeover and why?
Iraq. This “makeover” must surely be the most difficult undertaking as the society is so divided and the public infrastructure so ruined. History can always provide inspiration – archaeologists remind us of the creative culture of this part of the world.
“And you think I am going to sit back? Sorry, I am not yielding to anybody, because this is as much my home as yours.” The Aboriginal activist addressing a public meeting on Cape York, on the far north tip of Queensland, may not sound as though he is channelling Martin Luther King, but like King, Noel Pearson is a powerful orator and his refusal to tolerate oppression is sparking a revolution. Educated in both traditional and “white man’s” law, his influence outstrips that of any other Aboriginal leader.
Warren Mundine, leading New South Wales Aboriginal land-rights bureaucrat and past president of the Australian Labor Party, says: “We have communities where the social and moral infrastructure has collapsed and to rebuild that is a massive job.”
The grandest plans are no good, however, unless hitched to a wagon, argues Pearson. Over the past seven years he has drafted corporate and political allies to his cause of shifting the Aboriginal mindset from self-destruction to self-improvement.
When the federal government recently announced it was sending police, army and medical teams into central Australian communities to protect children from rampant sexual abuse, Pearson was quick to defend the intervention. Indeed, his fingerprints were all over the measures, announced just two days after Canberra received a report from his Cape York Institute calling for an end to “passive welfare”. Under the Pearson plan, families would have welfare frozen if children were neglected or did not go to school. The government took action, linking welfare payments to school attendance and ordering compulsory child health checks.
Pearson has many Aboriginal critics but says, “I will argue till kingdom come about the correctness of these positions and the need for action.”
With an eye on the big opportunity, ambitious New Zealanders are discovering that what once was seen as a national handicap – the country’s old laid-back pace of life – is now a marketing tool with international appeal. The “slow” movement has arrived on the islands. Although it fits nicely with the “100 per cent pure” slogan Kiwis use to sell everything from meat to eco-tourism, some might ask whether slow (once called dull) is still the dominant way of life.
This new appreciation for slow is clear on a road trip from Auckland to the Bay of Islands which always used to be uneventful, if you discounted the fraying of tempers as sluggish traffic wound its way north on the narrow, one-lane highway. No need to factor in cultural or gastronomic diversions, there were none, so the notion that one might deviate specifically to savour the delights of a “slow-town” was, frankly, laughable.
Matakana used to be a sleepy backwater 10 minutes off the main road north – a place to buy bait, beer, and home-slaughtered meat. Slow? You bet. These days, thanks largely to the calculated efforts of ex-Auckland property developer Richard Didsbury and his wife Christine, Matakana is not just a spot on the map, it’s a branded destination.
Every Saturday, the Didsbury- designed farmers’ market attracts thousands of visitors who spill out into the Didsbury-revamped main street where cafés and shops offer lattes and “speciality retail”. The Didsbury vineyard is among those featured on the wine trail along the heavily promoted Matakana Coast, although in the words of the rather tetchy local blogger Nathan Torkington, “Matakana doesn’t have a coast, it has a shitty little muddy river chocked with soil runoff from the farms that line it.”
Along with an eponymous “all-natural” malt lager and a (Didsbury-driven) arthouse cinema, Matakana has also recently acquired something else: a roundabout to help manage all the (slow) traffic passing through what a delegation of Italians recently certified as New Zealand’s first “Cittaslow”.