The Judaean Census held around 3AD, during which the Holy Family left their home in Nazareth and travelled to Joseph's birthplace of Bethlehem, was a model of bureaucratic efficiency compared to the farrago that has just gone by that name here.

But then, Herod the Great, who the Gospels say ordered the biblical Census, is reputed to have run a pretty tight ship in general.

Last Sunday I realised I hadn't been sent an access code. I wasn't the only one in my area.

I called and it arrived as promised the next day. Many people would not have called. So much for the rural north.


In Opotiki, the day before the Census, access codes were being delivered in a last-minute rush. The district library stayed open until 8pm to help people fill in their forms.

Too bad if you forgot to take, or still didn't have, your access code.

Meanwhile, in the wilderness of Westmere, in at least one housing development where properties had been renumbered since their inhabitants moved in, for reasons still mysterious to those inhabitants, access code notices had also failed to appear.

When we had a functioning postal delivery service, it was much more likely that a national mail drop could successfully take place. And often did.

So much for the medium; what about the messages?

Many were struck by the question asking: "Can you see mould in any part of this dwelling that, in total, is larger than an A4 sheet of paper."

Perhaps this should have followed another question: do you know the size of an A4 sheet of paper? Many people don't.

We were left better informed about the nature of mould, however: "Mould can be black, white, green, brown, red, etc."

Faced with the query about whether she could wash herself all over, one daughter asked: "Who wrote this question? Barney the dinosaur?" Perhaps. Although the question about how many conservatories there were in the home was obviously written by Agatha Christie.

The same daughter struggled with the question about how many hours she spends in her main job. She's a hard worker but she doesn't have a main job. Many people don't in 2018.

The questions were out of synch with contemporary life in other areas, too. The strict binary gender classification was an anachronism.

Atheism was categorised as a religion. The fact it's not a religion is why many people are atheist.

The ethnicity option "New Zealand European" was an insult to Pākehā and Māori alike.

One older couple I spoke to said they had decided not to bother doing the Census because "they're not really interested in a couple of dusty old people now we're on the shelf".

It wasn't just older people who struggled with the nitty-gritty of the Census. A quick ask-around of millennials produced a variety of responses, ranging from bewildered to bewildering.

Among the first was one who said she thought she wouldn't be doing it because she wasn't really living anywhere at the moment, having just exited a flat.

Reminded of the importance of the exercise, she decided perhaps she could do it from her dad's place since that was where she had her stuff stored.

Another said she didn't do it because: "I don't believe in politics."

I'm guessing she didn't vote last September because she doesn't "believe in statistics".

When I suggested the Census — although not without a political subtext — was mainly about other things, she replied: "Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to", so we left the discussion there.

I'm sure there will be many interesting results from the Census. I'm not sure how many of them will be accurate or useful.