Verity Johnson: Growing up as a Kiwi - our changing childhoods

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Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

The other day, I realised that we've had cows in the garden for the past six years, and I've never milked them.

The fact it took me so long to realise should give you an indication of my rural credentials. As does the fact that I couldn't think of a reason why they wouldn't need milking.

Unless they were modern art.

Apparently, as an exasperated farm-owning friend explained, male cows don't need milking. And apparently I don't even own cows. I own heifers, which I always thought was a nickname for Hugh Hefner. And I doubt he's in my garden. (Although if he is, I could finally outshine my neighbour, Kim Dotcom, who's had a tank, a giraffe, and the SAS in his.)

I was listening to the radio yesterday, watching Dad pimp the pohutukawa tree into giraffe shape, and listening to a lady wax lyrical about her family holiday.

Apparently her kids are off with farmer friends burying pigs and milking goats.

It's that season. Parents are sighing nostalgically for childhood summers on the farm, bottle-feeding lambs, making orange jam and giving pigs bubble baths.

You guys have been packing us off somewhere remote, determined that us young things get a taste of our earthy roots, less we get swept away by a tide of trim latte foam.

And most of my friends like the rural break. They see their grandparents, go outside, do, you know, rural things. Generations bond over feathers and mud. Except that there are a growing bunch of young people, like me, who don't have this rural retreat. I've never touched an animal that wasn't a pet (although I held a parrot at the zoo once). I've never been to a farm. I hadn't even seen the sea until I was 12.

I'm one of the ever-growing number of young people who moved here at 10 or 11 from overseas suburban Big Smokes.


We're the in-between generation, the
hyphenated generation; Chinese-Kiwi,
English-Kiwi, Indian-Kiwi. We're New
Zealanders, but not as you know them.
Our childhoods were concrete coloured.

Auckland is no stranger to my kind. According to a report released by the Royal Society this week, in the 2013 Census it was found that one in four New Zealanders were born overseas. Not only that, but it predicts that the contribution migration makes to population growth is likely to increase in size and importance, and we will see New Zealand become a country with multiple national identities.

So there are going to be lots of people like me, young Kiwis who spent their early years in the sprawls of suburban Shanghai or London.

We're the in-between generation, the hyphenated generation; Chinese-Kiwi, English-Kiwi, Indian-Kiwi. We're New Zealanders, but not as you know them.

The dream of rural bliss is one of the fault lines in our new identity. A lot of us come from suburban settings. We're the children of skilled migrants, who are more commonly found in the urban sprawls of Jaipur or Birmingham. Our childhoods were concrete coloured.

So when we meet home-grown Kiwis pining for the fiords, we don't know what to say. We suddenly feel very lost. Very foreign.

We can't join in conversations about the first time we caught a kingfish or sneaky cuddles with Milky Way, our childhood pet lamb.

It's a bit lonely.

The problem is that it's a deeply ingrained part of what it means to be a Kiwi. Just read all our great poetry; the rugged outdoors are never more than a stanza away.

Once upon a time, it would have been true that all Kiwis had a deep affinity for the countryside. But the country's moved through the ages, and on the way it's picked up a bunch of new recruits. People who are more at home with subways than sheep shearing. For us newbies, it's hard to find any rural affection.

I'm sure I could love animals, mud and green solitary hills if I'd grown up with them. But a childhood of glass, chrome and plastic-wrapped vegetables means its hard to be comfortable touching a dead chicken. It's not that we don't want to love it, we just can't. But we're not going away — Kiwis like me are staying. And when we have kids, we're not going to be giving them the rural upbringing so common among my friends.

This means that what's at the heart of being a Kiwi is going to change. Of course there will still be a rural flavour. But there's going to be less of it. Is it a bad thing? Is knowing your broadband speeds not your cattle breeds really less worthy? I don't think so, but I would say that. And in any case, I don't think it's a question of good or bad. It's just what's going to happen.

- NZ Herald

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