As far as I can tell both of my parents' families came to New Zealand to find a better life and escape the UK's entrenched class system.

Dad's mother's family were working class Irish Catholics. He was a soldier and the family lived in Newtown. At the time it was certainly a working class suburb. Like many New Zealand families they lost two sons in WWI: One on the battlefields in France, the other to shell shock.

My paternal grandfather's family were some of the first settlers in Wellington. Dastardly land agents had sold them property they had no right to sell and all but one of the entire family were duly killed on the banks of the Hutt River. The only survivor had ridden in to Thorndon in Wellington to get more beer. I love that beer is responsible for my soul roaming the world today.

My mother's parents came over in the 1920s. Lil's family were from London's East End. She was one of 12 or 13 children, and apparently her mother Rose spent most of her days at the pub. Who can blame her? Her father, who owned a row of houses in London, sold one off each time he needed more money for booze. I rather feel my great grandparents' genes run strong through my veins.

Advertisement

My maternal grandfather, James Herbert Moulder, was brought up by his hard Victorian grandparents. They were ashamed that their son and daughter-in-law had died of consumption so for years they claimed they had died in a motorcycle accident. It was a tough upbringing for James. He was deaf in one ear from smacks to the side of his head, administered by his stern and violent grandfather.

James and Lil moved to New Zealand to find a better life. They arrived in time for the depression. My Mum speaks about her father with so much love and adoration. She talks of him walking for miles each day to work on the roads, so his family could live and eat. All and all my forebears came to New Zealand for a better life and to escape a class system.

I imagine the same story is repeated up and down this country. Those of us of European descent are, in general, a stoic and hardy bunch whose working class families struggled to save, and then ventured on horrid ships for weeks and weeks to reach the bottom of the earth.

Were they insane? They may well have been, but good God they were a formidable bunch. Not only did they work like dogs to save for the ship fare, in steerage no doubt, but they had to survive the trip, then survive and thrive in a new country. The people that immigrated here back in the day, were tough hard working people with a dream: To start afresh on an even playing field.

I'm not sure, and no-one is really sure, why Maori travelled all the way from Hawaiiki to the furthest of the Pacific islands. There are so many theories. I spoke at length to my colleague Stacy Morrison about all the possibilities: Did the biggest and hungriest get off first in Hawaii? Then did everyone else move on down through Rarotonga and then further on down here, to Aotearoa? Was the migration fast or a slow? Did it take months, years or centuries? Were Maori looking for fertile land? Were they looking for a fresh start? Were they themselves escaping a class system? We don't know, but we are sure that to make it here in a waka, they were tough, resilient, strong, relentless, and adventurous too.

So here we are. It's 2016 and we find ourselves in a situation quite similar to the one many of our great-grandparents despised: A class system. It can be argued that this is history. This always happens, despite politics and religion. Capital collects in small, tight pockets, poverty flourishes in large, billowing pockets.

I'm not sure why, but as I pondered over the state of the world I did feel sad, especially for my forebears and perhaps for yours. I felt sad for those hopeful souls who actually believed coming away from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, The Netherlands, Greece, Italy, The Baltics, and beyond, meant eternal prosperity in a country without class. Where you didn't have to put up with "your lot" or have "betters".

Would James and Lil be happy with what they'd find now, decades later? Would Andrew Haggerty-Gillespie of Thorndon, Wellington, and the Chance family of Newtown, marvel at how much their houses would fetch today? Would many of the Maori that continued on the waka have felt more empowered had they stayed in Rarotonga with land they still occupied and owned, without argument? I don't know.

I do believe there is an irony, though. Not unlike that in The Land of Oz (as in Dorothy and the wizard, not Aussie) where, at the end of the day, nothing really changes. No individual or geographical move can make life fair. Even if you travel through time and distance to find a promised land you eventually realise "milk and honey" is for some, while the rest just get what they got back on the streets of the East End.