Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: We're a melting pot of cultures

31 comments
Mt Roskill is one of New Zealand's most multiculturally diverse habitats. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Mt Roskill is one of New Zealand's most multiculturally diverse habitats. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Growing up in Mt Roskill in the 1960s and 70s I was dimly aware, in my own childish way, that I was not living in the most exciting place in the world.

The most notable thing about the suburb was the unusually high number of conservative Christians and storefront churches.

Subdivisions spread and the population grew but failed to bring in its wake such advanced facilities as a library, cinemas or restaurants. It was almost uniformly white, with a few Maori safely tucked into pockets of state housing. The best thing that could be said of it was that the bus stops were top-notch.

Now, Mt Roskill is one of the country's most multiculturally diverse habitats, home for instance, to the country's first Ethiopian restaurant. Proximity to Auckland International Airport seems to have resulted in immigrants getting this far and no further.

And as far as I can tell, the people of Mt Roskill are right into it. From the latest migrants to those who have been there 50 years, they appreciate that this melting pot enriches everyone's lives and is forging the identity of a new multicultural New Zealand that their children will take for granted.

At last count it was home to more than 54 nationalities.

Although many of that number are from Asian nations, a survey by the Asia New Zealand Foundation had discovered that two-thirds of people — presumably not Asian people — say they knew little or nothing about Asia.

Yet this country has had a significant Asian population since the mid-19th century. For 100 years, starting in the 1860s, Asians, however defined, were New Zealand's third largest ethnic group.

As historian Tony Ballantyne showed in his brilliant book Webs of Empire: "New Zealand is and has always been a society that contains a complex and hybridised mix of racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious communities."

That Asians are now seen as exotic and mysterious by so many is the result of a quirk of our history that had decided that this is a nation of two halves — Pakeha and Maori — and some time ago wrote Asians out of the national story, relegating them to mere footnotes.

The reason some people find, for instance, Chinese-language restaurant signs unsettling is that they threaten our cosy bicultural view of ourselves. Asians, according to this mindset, should confine themselves to Lantern Festival and Diwali and keep their heads down the rest of the year.

New Zealand is not a bicultural society — one in four Aucklanders is Asian, according to some estimates. It is a multicultural society with a special position afforded to the tangata whenua. Only by recognising that context can each culture properly respect the tower. It's a little easier in Mt Roskill — people just have to look next door.


It was reported this week that South African athlete Oscar Pistorius is facing his "biggest challenge yet" in a Cape Town courtroom. Perhaps given the uncontested circumstances — that he shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp — reports on the trial should avoid using the language of heroic narratives, as though this were another sporting contest.

Busily not making political capital out of the royal visit this week, several politicians pointed out that they were not making political capital out of the royal visit and criticised the Prime Minister for making political capital out of the royal visit by hosting it in an election year. A pity they didn't realise that 2014 was an election year when the royal visit was announced. Then they could have got their cavilling over without looking as though they were making political capital out of the royal visit.

- Herald on Sunday

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 20 Aug 2014 19:26:57 Processing Time: 565ms