This week I read a story on Fairfax that said we're too obsessed with sport in this country and it defines us as a nation.

Right now, it's about yachting and it's about rugby. Team New Zealand, the All Blacks. And I'm right behind that.

But do we celebrate more than that?

What 'does' it mean to be a New Zealander? What defines us?


Sport is a big one, I agree with that. And I love the way the nation sits up when the All Blacks play, or when Team New Zealand is foiling its way to victory in Bermuda.

But what else defines us?

The woman who raised this issue is a graphic novelist. Her name is Sarah Laing, and she's involved in a writers and readers festival this weekend.

She says that New Zealand writers and artists don't receive the funding, support or celebration that their work deserves.

And she talked about the author Eleanor Catton who won the man-booker prize.

In the article, Laing said "it's kind of crazy....for the yachting people they're planning town parades, but for somebody to win the biggest prize in literature, nobody would think of having a parade"

And she's right. We did make a fuss of Catton at the time, and we make a fuss of our thespians and the likes of Peter Jackson, but we are heavily defined by what we do in a sporting sense on the world stage.

I like to think that we're the little country at the bottom of the world that punches above its weight in a sporting sense, but also in innovation, in the arts and economically.


Yes, on a small budget and with a small team we can beat the might of Oracle. And there are many people to thank for that but chiefly it's the clever, clever folk who designed that boat.

Our rugby team can roll the English and the French; we dominate the springboks and have done for some years now. And on the world stage, at the Olympics, we can run and row and throw and swim and cycle our way to the top of the podium.

But how else do we define ourselves?

Our landscape? New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We were the first country in the world to give women the vote, too. There's our anti-nuclear stance. The small fete of conquering mt Everest in the 1950s. Ernest Rutherford who split the atom. Sir Charles Hamilton and his engineering brilliance that led to the development of the modern jet boat. And there are thousands of others, of course.

But do we define ourselves as a sporting nation and is that at the detriment of some of our other great successes? Does Sarah Laing have a point? Do we value the arts, our great innovators and our major successes on the world stage to the same degree that we value our sporting success?

Or is sport what we do? What we are? And what is truly means to be a New Zealander?

Rachel Smalley hosts Early Edition on Newstalk ZB