Image: The annual Surf to City race near Invercargill / Ben Mack
Just sit back for a moment. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Auckland? Tall buildings? Overpriced lattes at Ponsonby Road cafes? Heavy traffic? Rude people who think they’re better than everyone else?
Now think about Southland. What comes to mind? Open spaces? Cows? Extremely conservative and/or religious people who aren’t very well educated and dislike immigrants and racial minorities?
Here’s a shocker: they’re all stereotypes. And, as we know about stereotypes, they’re utter bullshit.
But here’s the problem with stereotypes: a lot of people believe them. And that has led to animosity in modern Aotearoa.
About a third of Aotearoa’s population lives in Auckland alone, and if you add Wellington and Christchurch, about half of everyone who lives in New Zealand lives in just three cities. While that might naturally breed a certain insularity and/or self-centeredness, we need to be aware that the other half of the country doesn’t live in those cities. Recognising the equality of the other half… sound familiar?
Just because someone lives in Bluff, Blenheim, Paraparaumu, Kawakawa or elsewhere doesn’t mean we should make assumptions about why they live there. Not everyone who lives in such places lives there because they lack the opportunities to move elsewhere – some people genuinely want to live where they do, and are proud of that fact.
I personally lived in Invercargill for about a year, and while I found the conservatism of many residents to be incredibly at odds with my own liberalism, I came to respect the people who lived there, and was surprised that many of them were much more worldly than I had assumed; in other words, I learned not to judge based on preconceived notions.
As with any form of diversity, geographical differences can be a source of cultural enrichment. How boring would life be if we all lived in identical cities, forming some kind of uniform urban population? Just as much as a conversation with an overseas traveller can provide us with an entirely different perspective, so can a chat between an Aucklander and a rural Otago-dweller. For example, did you know that there’s a small town in the deep south called ‘Nightcaps’? Or that former national park Te Urewera in the eastern Bay of Plenty has been granted legal personhood?
Nightcaps and Te Urewera probably don’t come up often in conversation in Auckland or Wellington, but the people of the deep south and the far east have their own unique stories. If we spent more time actually talking to and learning about each other, perhaps we could kick some of the reductive stereotypes into touch.
In a country as geographically blessed as Aotearoa New Zealand, we should celebrate our differences. Sure, bustling Auckland or rural Eketahuna may not be your cup of tea, but there are wonderful things about both if you just look beyond the surface.