About 150 years ago a whole bunch of English folk got really sick of the hellhole that was London in the mid-19th Century, and set their dreams on a burgeoning young country in the South Pacific. Filled with romanticised ‘natives’, clear skies, and land for the grabbing, New Zealand was pretty much exactly as far away as you could get, and so those who left knew they were leaving for good, and said goodbye to their old lives forever.
Fast forward to the here and now and we’ve got that migration happening in reverse, not just geographically, but socio-economically. Instead of the less fortunate folks leaving on a steamer in the hopes of a more prosperous life in the unknown islands, it’s the best and brightest of NZ jumping on a plane to the long-studied ‘motherland’ – but in an odd reversal of fortunes, we leave in the hopes of doing just about anything for any money and living in any state imaginable.
This concept of the ‘motherland’ is an odd one, and one that seems to be generational. Back when we all adored the royals and had pennies and spoke the queen’s English on the news, I think it might have meant something. Now the royals are so far removed from our everyday life, and we have such de facto political freedom from the monarchy, that the Commonwealth seems just a nicety of figureheads, a throw-back to the old guard.
So what do we actually get from it in terms of Immigration? Putting aside those who have British near-ancestry or passports (damn you all!), as they have different rules, the straight-up, mixed breed, boring old British-ish Kiwi like me gets two years living and working in the UK, one time only, all in one go, between the ages of 18 and 31. You also get a swift and merciless kick out of the country when that clock ticks down to that precious last second.
Comparing this situation to that of an EU citizen is galling: we can only contribute to the economy, and cannot harm it, as we pay income tax and national health services tax, but are unable to draw unemployment or other benefits. If you can’t afford to live here, you gotta get out. On the other hand, EU citizens get virtually the same rights as Brits, so they are actually capable of being a drain on the economy, AND they can stay forever. Considering how much longer the Commonwealth has been in place and the fact that it represents the last vestiges of the British Empire, it pains us colonials to be so tossed aside.
So why do we keep coming? Yes this place is fantastic, and I feel more fantastic in it – but is that the city or is it the broadening horizons of travel? I push myself to make the most out of my life here and that has made my life better, but why couldn’t I do that at home? There is undoubtedly so much to do here, but then I hardly thought to go to shows, plays, museums, galleries, historical houses, castles, markets, fairs or just to the park to enjoy the sunshine when at home.
There is absolutely something addictive and engaging about this city and right now I never want to leave. But what I hope is that when I get the boot, I can somehow bring home with me that je ne sais quoi that calls us all to the ‘motherland.’