Sunday, May 24, 2009

Canterbury Tales

I spent some time this afternoon in the Provincial Council buildings - now, pleasingly but bittersweetly, home amongst other things to a local franchise of the Belgian Beer Cafe: I drank some Leffe to the memory of the N.Z. Province of Canterbury (1853-1876), and nibbled some bitterballen... The motto of Christchurch - Fide Condita Fructu Beata Spe Fortis - had struck me as a noble one, but I wondered what the shade of Godley would make of the Establishment liberal Protestants now conducting the rites of civil religion, complete with lady ministers, in the de rigueur 19th C. Gothic cathedral his statue faces.
It riles me how historians, telling the tale of the victors, "of course" agree that centralism suited New Zealand, and the abolition of the provinces was "a good thing"; the reverse of course being true in Canada and Australia, but not I think solely on the usual grounds of "the tyranny of distance" - the Shaky Isles have their own distinctive regions, well and truly separated by geography quite fearsome. The modern-day Canterbury region has a larger population than Tasmania, and if it still had its own Parliament would be as effective (oh dear, what have I said?). I disagree fundamentally with unitary systems: they put too much power in the hands of the Central Government. How much better to still have 40-odd M.P.C.'s and a Superintendent...
Wandering round the streets of Christchurch this Sunday afternoon has been pleasant enough: the overcast skies and faint occasional whisper of drizzle is perfectly familiar to me from Tasmania, and the city doesn't look at all 'foreign' (but, after all, I am still in The Queen's Dominions). Earlier, Fr Clement opined that I don't have much of a stereotypical Australain accent (the spectrum does range from cultivated to general to broad), and this perversely pleased me, since being abroad has made me feel a bit anxious about people's perceptions - it's been a shock to think of being taken as "an Aussie" first, and New Zealanders can be ill-humoured about their trans-Tasman relations. However, seeing the two ANZAC memorials reminded me of shared blood; and of how in Australia we too often forget the second and third letters of ANZAC.
Passing through Victoria Square (having wended my way along the Avon River, past trees that I assume must be endemic, though my level of botany isn't up to identifying them - they were like trees in a Chinese painting, so twisted and gnarled), I was pleased to see a statue of the great James Cook, mapper and claimer of these islands, labelled Oceani Investigator Accerimus; and a statue of the great Queen Empress, under whose aegis New Zealand was settled.
Nearby, but to one side of the park, was a more recent Maori carven statue; earlier, I had been interested to see (and nearly purchased) a copy of the 1996 Ngati Tahu claims Act, whereby the Crown formally apologised to this, the Maori tribe of 80% of the South Island, for breaching its sacred obligations under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, and gave compensation, as previously agreed to by both parties. As an Australian, I felt strangely moved by this, which demonstrated the great difference between the state of what were once known as native affairs in my country and this. What a difference - in Canberra, "We say 'Sorry'" - mere words - whereas in Wellington, "this Act binds the Crown" - to anyone knowing British law, this is a most potent statement. (The Maori chiefs, despite probably not knowing what the consequences of the Treaty they signed, received the promise in Queen Victoria's name of all the rights and privileges of British subjects for their people: thus the long-sought eventual recognition of their lawful entitlements, many centring around the vexed question of land very shadily expropriated.)
Some humour: walking back to my quarters, I had the Anglican Cathedral on my left (as is fitting: Et ab haedis me sequestra), and to my right was a mysterious building, centrally located but tucked away and reticent as to naming its utility or purpose; but its separate doors for men and women revealed plainly that it must be the - Opus Dei HQ.

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