IF YOU stand close to the large shiny spherical sculpture on the Whanganui riverfront boardwalk, you can see yourself reflected alongside the winding shape of the river's path that has been cut into the metal.

The reflected image is eccentric but charming.

This is who we are.

Whanganui is a town that carries its past status as a city like a dishevelled queen, carrying a battered tiara in one hand and a handbag full of promises in the other that tell tales of the colonial arrivals and the lives of Maori along the awa that define this place.


On other days the town sparkles in the sun, polishing up its confidence and potential as a community that knows it has all the benefits of being small enough to care and big enough for ideas to grow.

At the Saturday morning River Traders market, I encountered an acquaintance. He was standing on a corner between stalls.

We exchanged greetings.

I asked if he was waiting for family or a friend.

"No, I have been in this spot for about an hour. I haven't moved but I have spoken to dozens of people, friends, wider family members and a few strangers who come from other places, foreign countries.

"It is true," he said, "if you stay in one place long enough the world will come past and say hello."

This is a point worth making with visitor or new residents - we do friendly with a swagger.

Mind you, if perchance you say something unflattering about someone it is bound to be to a relative/friend of the person you have just critiqued who knows all the children - and grandchildren - of the soon-to-be-offended party - so "conversating" requires some diplomacy.

On the plus side, new people bring new ideas - see Exhibit A: The word "conversating" was introduced to me by a recently arrived big city refugee.

I felt the need to immediately use it in a sentence ... It is conversational gem worth polishing until you can see your face in it.

I would like to add another new word into our linguistic repertoire - "un-Newzealandish".

This was the term used by an artist to describe his work, but it struck me as another way to view who we are.

It is a definition by proxy, it describing something we think we do not have when, in fact, we do but do not name it.

The United States has the term un-American.

It is a placebo word - people swallow it even though it is simple a sugar-coated pill intended to cure anything that lacks the fully-loaded weapon of patriotism.

In the UK people don't say "that's un-British" because that would not be cricket.

New Zealanders do bust with pride whenever we beat the world at sport and there was a time, now past, when we also exalted in our ability to lead the world in the vote for women and care of the disadvantaged.

Is that last comment un-Newzealandish?

We are small islands at the bottom of the map and there is a world of influences out there that require equal attention.

Rather than regarding this has a diversion from our own navel gazing perspective, we should embrace all the world has to offer.

I think we can do that here in Whanganui. It is a place that, like Dr Who's Tardis, is much bigger on the inside.

-Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a Whanganui-based writer, musician and social worker - feedback: tgs@inspire.net.nz