Welcome to the land of the long white lie ...

New Zealand has spent a lot of time immersed in myths of our own making. Myths are a form of "folk delusion" - a comforting idealised view that has no basis in reality.

This may sound a bit "the-end-is-nigh", but the nigh has been and gone. The latest news to burst our bubble is a world map of wilderness areas - and we are not even on it.

Yes, you mutter, we are often left out of world maps and it is probably just an oversight by the editors.

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Nevertheless, being left of a map of wilderness regions of the world is a blow to the New Zealand myth factory because for years we have lived in the delusional believe that NZ is a forested paradise when, in fact, most of it has vanished as human actions have destroyed the natural landscape.

Whenever I travel through South Taranaki I am reminded that not long ago the area was covered in forest.

Now it is pasture and farmland with a few solitary trees leaning in the winds which rush unimpeded across the land.

The myth of a forested NZ has been sustained by a desire to see ourselves as an untouched land of rivers, forests, lakes and shoreline. It has been a dangerous delusion - the myth has blinded us to the reality of the damage that has been done to the environment.

Some have tried to alert us to the future consequences but the strength of this myth has meant their words have been ignored.

Now the myth is being demolished bit by bit as people find to their dismay that our rivers, streams, mountains and oceans are no longer safe for swimming, native birds are threatened with extinction and that industrial scale farming is a disaster.

This should not be surprising. We are a nation build on myths and delusions.

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The notion that colonisation was benign has been taken to pieces by historical accounts of the loss of land, language and mana for Maori with enormous consequences that echo on down the generations.

The myth that we are an egalitarian people unaffected by notions of social class is now redundant as we see the widening rift between those with money and influence and those struggling to put food on the table to feed their kids.

Again, this myth has held us in its thrall and now it is a social crisis because we have hoped it would just go away.

We live in a country where some women and girls struggle to afford the basic requirements to manage their periods and their dignity, and children need to be given breakfast at school because their families cannot afford food.

We have suicide and family violence at levels we should be ashamed off.

We need to ditch the myth that we are some sort of paradise. We need to roll up our collective sleeves - there is work to be done and hiding behind delusional national myths and living in the land of the long white lie is no longer an option.

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