Our whitest region

By Michelle Coursey

It is one of the districts with the least mix of cultures in the country: where 84 per cent of residents are of European descent, there is no marae, and people can count the number of Asian neighbours if they try.

Hurunui, a large district with just over 10,000 residents, is around 50km north of Christchurch, and boasts one of the highest concentrations of Europeans in New Zealand, along with north Otago district Waitaki (which includes Oamaru).

In comparison, Auckland has a resident European population of only 54 per cent - the rest is a melting pot of 8 per cent Maori, 13 per cent Pacific people and 24 per cent Asian.

Not only that, but more than half of school-aged children in Auckland are now non-European, showing a continuing trend of multi-culturalism in the ever-growing city.

Overall, New Zealand is still dominated by those of European descent, with 68 per cent European, 15 per cent Maori, 7 per cent Pacific, and 9 per cent Asian residents.

But there are pockets, particularly rural South Island territories, which are overwhelmingly European.

Population and migration studies expert Ward Friesen, a lecturer at the University of Auckland, said there were two main reasons these districts had such high European populations.

"It's partly because of where the indigenous people choose to live - in the South Island there are not many Maori; and secondly, it's where the migrants don't go.

"The migrants that are visibly different tend to settle in bigger cities."

Friesen pointed out that Auckland had two-thirds of the Asian and Pacific migrants entering the country, with people settling in clusters of others from their own community.

There had been some filtering down of Asian and Pacific people since migration increased during the 1990s, but mainly to medium-sized cities rather than rural areas such as regions like Hurunui and Waitaki.

Amberley resident and Hurunui district council worker Naomi Woodham said the towns in the largely rural, farming area looked quite European, with all the names of the towns - Amberley, Culverden, Cheviot - coming from British settlers.

She said bigger cities, such as Christchurch, "had a commitment to biculturalism". "It's not that we don't, but there's not much need. We have our own difficulties in trying to get input from Maori, to get people to take part in consultation." There is not a single marae in the district.

"When the Census figures come out, and say there are a certain number of Maori or Asian people, people know who they are. ... because there are so few."

Hurunui district mayor Garry Jackson said the addition of a Thai restaurant in the main street of Amberley showed the changing face of the town.

"It's not changing to the extent of the multi-cultural social changes that are going on in the likes of Auckland... Over time it will change, probably like everything else in New Zealand it happens in Auckland first and gradually spreads out."

There were groups of Japanese school students who visited the area for short stays, and a five-star hotel planned for the region. Young people also took opportunities to leave the area for holidays or business, so they had a broader understanding of what was happening outside their district.

"The numbers are a reflection of our history and our heritage and our roots - and the roots are essentially what would have been known in another day as traditional, rural north Canterbury," Jackson said.

He also said there was a Maori element in the area - "There are still the same cultural influences, even though the numbers look different from other parts of New Zealand."

Moeraki Maori resident Koa Mantell said the Waitaki area had a small Maori population who were largely invisible due to Ngai Tahu Maori often having lighter skin.

She said the most noticeable difference between a city like Auckland would be the colour. "We have Maori come down here and ask where all the Maori are, when you're walking down the street."

Mantell's work in health services had shown that having smaller numbers of Maori meant their specific health concerns and problems could be overlooked.

"Maori have the same problems and conditions as those up north, but they are sometimes not valued for what they are here, because of the number of us."

While Jackson was excited about the cultural cross-overs in Hurunui, Friesen said the places that had the biggest problem with immigration were often those with the fewest number of migrants.

"I think there are still a lot of Pakeha who think that is the real New Zealand, the semi-rural small towns - mostly Pakeha with a few Maori - and the rest is a deviation... That's part of the problem, the conception that a real New Zealander is a white New Zealander."

Speaking of New Zealanders, Friesen also pointed out that the 2006 Census provided people with the opportunity to declare themselves a "New Zealander".

Statistics New Zealand has released data showing more people in the South Island ticked that particular ethnic box, and are more likely to live in a rural area.

Friesen said that with more than 11 per cent of people declaring themselves New Zealanders, the figures for European populations in areas like Hurunui and Waitaki could be even higher.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 18 Apr 2014 04:50:52 Processing Time: 1991ms