Thursday 21 November 2019

Kate Rowan: New Zealand, an unexpected world-beater

15 December 2012; Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt during a post-match press conference. Heineken Cup 2012/13, Pool 5, Round 4, Leinster v ASM Clermont Auvergne, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Vern Cotter

For some Irish people, without even knowing it, last weekend had a distinct Kiwi flavour. Many of us watched the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, shot in New Zealand.

Many others saw Leinster’s European hopes slip further away thanks to Clermont Auvergne’s clinical performance at the Aviva Stadium. Head coaches Joe Schmidt and Vern Cotter are products of New Zealand.

But New Zealand has much more to shout about than just global rugby dominance and hirsute heroes of the big screen.

There now may be commemorative Hobbit coins considered legal tender but taking a look at New Zealand’s everyday banknotes helps to open eyes to what else the country has given the world.

Many a mountain climbing aficionado will tell you that the first man to scale the summit of Mount Everest along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay; Edmund Hillary was a Kiwi. The Auckland native, who passed away in 2008, adorns the five dollar note.

The ten dollar note tells just as compelling a story with the image of Liverpool-born Kate Sheppard, who was a leading light of New Zealand’s women’s suffrage movement. In 1893, it was the first country to grant universal suffrage.

Despite the nation’s rather macho image with farming and rugby playing such a prominent role, these roots of women’s rights continued to strive. It was the first country to have women simultaneously holding its three top positions of power with then Prime Minister Helen Clark along with Governor General Silvia Cartwright, and Chief Justice Sian Elias in 2001. In 2005 the trio was joined by Margaret Wilson who became the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Take into account that Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, that means that five highest offices of power were all occupied by women between March 2005 and August 2006, a remarkable global first. Add to this that during this period the largest listed company in New Zealand, Telecome New Zealand also had a woman at the helm, with Theresa Gattung.

This is not the only area of political equality, where New Zealand is a trailblazer. In 1999, it was also the first country to have a transsexual member of parliament when Georgina (formally George) Bayer was elected.

The area of Maori equality is something else New Zealand is proud of but can be contentious. With the signing of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, guaranteed Maori the right of citizenship alongside New Zealanders of European heritage. Despite this seemingly progressive legislation at the time the Maori continued to lose land even as the twentieth centaury progressed.

On a much more frivolous note, jogging, bungee jumping and the referee’s whistle are all Kiwi inventions.

Keeping with the theme as New Zealanders as innovators, the 100 dollar note bears a portrait of Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics who is acknowledged as the first person to split the atom in 1917. Rutherford was the son of Scottish farming stock.

Many argue that the pioneer spirit and the poor conditions European emigrants fled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries urged the country’s newest residents to become particularly focused towards providing cutting edge education for future generations.

So much so that education has become a major export. Aspects of the current Irish primary school curriculum, particularly in the areas of maths, history and geography have been adapted from Kiwi models.

So, even as our children learn, a little influence from that island nation at the other side of the world is subconsciously distilled within their growing minds.

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