Kiwis and sheep

“Altogether too many sheep” was George Bernard Shaw’s lasting impression of New Zealand. Yet, with the 2011 Rugby World Cup now in full swing, it is about time its host country was known for more than just its ovine obsession (current estimates suggest there are nine sheep per Kiwi). Indeed, once you are no longer confusing Kiwis (New Zealanders – note the Capital Letter) with either the kiwi (flightless bird and national symbol of New Zealand) or the kiwifruit, you can be certain that there is a wealth of largely unknown facts about this country to uncover:

  1. New Zealand is not ‘right next to’ Australia. In fact, whilst they both lie ‘Down Under’, New Zealand is as far east of Australia as Moscow is of London.

  2. New Zealand may be particularly devoted to sheep but its large contingent of other creatures ensures that less than five percent of its population is human.

  3. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwenuakitanatahu. Yes, it is not North Wales but New Zealand, and specifically a hill in the Hawke’s Bay region, which lays claim to the world’s longest place name still in use.

  4. It is thanks to New Zealander Colin Murdoch, inventor of the child-proof bottle cap, that we invariably spend hours unscrewing the medicine jar. Equally ingenious was fellow kiwi Ernest Godward, who put that essential crinkle in hair-pins to prevent them from falling out.

  5. Still, maths is not this nation’s forte: the famous Ninety-Mile Beach on the North Island of New Zealand is in fact only sixty-five miles long.

  6. New Zealand has won the most Olympic gold medals per capita.

  7. Along with Denmark and Canada, New Zealand is one of only three countries to have two official national Anthems (God Save the Queen and God Defend New Zealand).

  8. One in five deaths in New Zealand is caused by tobacco smoking.

  9. 22% of New Zealand’s residents were born overseas.

  10. For each New Zealander, the country produces 100kg of butter and 65kg of cheese each year.

In other words, that dot near Australia is neither a dot nor, relatively speaking, near. Its supposedly uber-fit, sport obsessed populace is in fact comprised of fat-loving smokers. It exudes talent but cannot count…

Ok ok, so perhaps such conclusions are as erroneous as the typical ‘Kiwi’ stereotype. (I, for one, wouldn’t want to experience the wrath of the All Blacks.) Nevertheless, it is clear that New Zealand, despite being a Commonwealth realm, remains somewhat of an enigma. We might share the same Head of State in Queen Elizabeth II but the former British colony, with the exception of the disastrous Christchurch earthquake earlier this year, has continued to feature only subliminally on our radar. Hopefully, next time you tune into the Rugby World Cup, New Zealand will evoke images beyond simply Kiwis and sheep.

Amedea Kelly-Taglianini

PHOTO/vtveen