Jim Hopkins: Trifling with tribunal our undoing

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A night of drama and tears as steam billows from Mt Tongariro. Photo / Alan Gibson
A night of drama and tears as steam billows from Mt Tongariro. Photo / Alan Gibson

This is what happens when you trifle with the Waitangi Tribunal. Tongariro erupts. The mountain speaks. No, more than speaks, it blows its top. It writes its umbrage large in fire and smoke and wrathful rumbles. And, suddenly, the roads are closed and there's ash all over the veggies and, within hours, making nature's outrage plain in every trifler's nostril, Wellington is reeking of sulphur.

Mind you, that's not very surprising. Wellington's always reeked of sulphur - it's the smell of people selling their souls to the Devil. Which is what you've got to do in that unsteady hamlet if you want to get ahead. In that sense, the Tongariro pong was basically just more of the same really, something else that got up people's noses.

And there's nothing that won't get up a Wellington nose at some time or other. The poor dears take offence more often than most of us draw breath. You can guarantee there'll be somebody in the bureaucracy, right now, peg on nose, busily drafting an amendment to prohibit any future unsolicited discharge of volcanic odours without full public consultation and a resource consent.

So, if the effects of Tongariro's conniption were felt only in Wellington, most of us would just say, "Serves them right", and go about our saintly lives. After all, we weren't the ones who trifled with the tribunal and roused Mahuika's ire.

But sadly, it's worse than that; much worse. Because the Olympics have gone pear-shaped as well. Things were going spiffingly there for a while - well, until Monday, anyway. Everything was hunky dory. The bee's knees weren't a patch on ours. We were kicking butt, whuppin' ass, cock-a-hoop, ruling the roost, top of the medal table, Number One on a per capita basis.

Not any more, though. The moment our mountain went Vesuvial, London turned to custard city; hopes dashed, forms unfilled, boxes left unticked, paperwork incomplete, putters put out, runners left behind, the wheels falling off our chariots of fire. Suddenly, that leathery lass, Matilda, was waltzing away with the medals and we were back in the pack again, pipped at the post, passed in the straight, no longer top of the charts, our bragging rights up in smoke.

And it serves us right, ladies and gentlemen. This is what happens when you trifle with the Waitangi Tribunal. When you trifle with the Waitangi Tribunal, you don't just upset thin-skinned judges who consider it "inappropriate" for any cheeky sods - including their employers - to ask important people like them if they could, possibly, maybe, finish their report a wee bit sooner than planned.

No, indeed not; because, as we now see all too clearly, when you trifle with the Waitangi Tribunal, you offend the spirits as well as the judges and bring smoke, sulphur, lamentation and clerical error upon yourself.

On our heads be it, folks. We let it happen. We allowed mere mortals to trifle with the tribunal. We are culpable.

But stay your shamefaced tears a while. For there's a bright side here, a silver lining in this cloud of ash. If nothing else, Tongariro has spared us some embarrassment. Suppose it hadn't erupted and we were still Numero Uno (per capita-wise) on the medal table. And suppose all manner of hale and hearty, fit and healthy folk therefore said to themselves, "Mein Gott, sacre bleu, zat iz ze country pour moi. Hey up, luv, 'appen we'll emigrate and live a mucho grande vida there."

Then, when these folk from many climes arrive, lured by our unassailable sporting prowess and a desire to share its benefits and rewards, they very quickly discover that while we may be terrific rowers, for example, in these here parts, we can't even sort out who owns the flaming water we scull on.

Instead, they discover - or would have if Tongariro hadn't done its thing - that our sporting successes aren't replicated in other, arguably more important areas of our national life. When it comes to getting on track, playing as a team and going for gold in those areas, we don't. Fractious, squabbling, ably abetted by divisive legislation and establishment intransigence, we've made a bugger's muddle of our own Games, ticking all the wrong boxes and missing more targets than a blindfolded archer.

Put bluntly, what we achieve in sport, we don't achieve in some of life's other events.

In fact, if shooting yourself in the foot was an Olympic sport, we'd be guaranteed to get gold. As we would for going round in circles and tying ourselves in knots - not to mention flogging a dead horse, tripping ourselves up, missing the point, losing the plot and going backwards fast.

At least Tongariro's ire has spared us that indignity. We needn't worry about new arrivals chortling behind our blundering backs. For now, at least, our secret is safe.

Guilty we may feel for trifling with the tribunal, yet that must stand as some small consolation.

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