They live out the back of Greymouth on a lifestyle block – rough, broken country which has been milled, gold mined, pine forested, milled again, a few paddocks, some gorse and blackberry, some native forest regrowing… There’s a mix of housing in the area. People often start with a house bus or caravan and long drop, add a container, a shed, a pole house, solar panels… On some blocks there are proper houses. There’s a creek and a pond, frogs and goats, deer and pigs, kereru and hawks. He runs his own business at the property and has built a workshop. It’s the best building on the land. They live in an old bus but there are pole shed living quarters on the way. A mate in need is parked up in another bus; otherwise he’d be homeless. They live frugally.
He gets enough work and pays his taxes. The newspaper doesn’t bother them, nor the television, the cellphone works up at the bus and they avoid the council. They’ve converted an old washing machine into a generator that keeps the batteries topped up in winter. She gardens, tends to the land and to grandchildren who often come and stay in order to have a break from some convoluted family situations. The river’s a bit wild at the moment and causing some erosion and they need to do some stop bank work but that would involve resource consent. They’re anti 1080 and anti-vax and live/have a notion of freedom which would be hard to pin down, except that they probably don’t like the state. The state, in turn, is a difficult concept once you get past customs, the military and the police. Some would see it as the bureaucracy, each branch of which has its own trajectory: health, education, welfare, DOC, DIA, MBIE… they all have their rules and regulations, whereas these people just want to get on with life. That concept can, in turn, be difficult if you break a leg or need a stent put in or a tumour removed or get too old to work…and there’s the road to be maintained and the supply chain for the business. It gets messy quite quickly. But at least there’s space here and some distance, a sense that on their own land they can set the rules, or forget about rules. The 1080 and anti-vax reaction is a reaction to, on the one hand, their land being occasionally ‘bombed’ and on the other, their bodies ‘invaded’ – by the bureaucracies. All the scientific arguments in the world won’t remove that feeling.
A colleague criticizes their individualistic outlook. They have no solidarity with their fellow citizens and have reverted to a form of extended family subsistence. Developing world people want out of the extended family entrapment. They want the freedom that state provision brings: when you’re unemployed you get a benefit rather than being reliant on family; children can go to school and have choices; when you retire there’s the pension rather than being beholden to family; when you’re sick there’s health care – and so on. These people want it both ways. We all want it both ways, I respond. Empires come and go, and this one is obviously decaying, and always we return to that most stable of human institutions, the extended family. And isn’t whanaunatanga a current virtue? They pay their taxes and he is a fire service volunteer. If there were a civil disaster I think they’d be pretty useful.
And then there’s the quagmire of the parliament occupation, which is lasting longer than expected. The mainstream media, after the initial hit job, are trying to comprehend; the citizens of the capital are outraged – this is an invasion of untouchables; the PM grieves for the children involved; the police complain that there don’t seem to be any leaders or organisers to negotiate with (but that was considered a virtue in the Occupy Wall St movement); an academic is pilloried for suggesting that someone go and talk with them; a local tells me with a sigh that her sister is taking them scones and there is obviously a lot of invisible support… Above all, what do they want? It seems that some of them have lost their jobs and are unlikely to be able to get another one as long as the vaccine mandate remains. This is bigger than not being able to go into a café, so anger is understandable.
And it is a muddled situation. How long will the mandate last? Hasn’t it already done its job in persuading the majority to get vaccinated? So when will it be lifted? One day. Just have to get through the next few weeks? Months? Depends on the modelling. This is all about statistics? The team of five million a bell graph? Images swirl. Eight hundred cases? They locked down Auckland over four cases. But that was before the vaccine. And the second. And the booster. The booster might become mandatory. What? Well, when we look into the percentage effectiveness… and there’re always the vulnerable, they’re the bottom line. Regulations produce absurdity…There’s a shortage of nurses but some already working here can’t get a permit to stay. Farmers have been saying for months it is obvious they can isolate needed staff from overseas on their farms. If you’re vaccinated you might not get symptoms and therefore you’re more dangerous because you don’t know. But how do you know? Get tested. But they don’t want people without symptoms requesting a test. We won’t change our mind again about opening up. Really? Ten days isolation will do. How about seven? Maybe, if the supply chain’s threatened. Places of interest? I don’t read about them anymore. I’m over it. It’s all a game and I can’t be bothered playing it. But there could be twenty thousand cases. The contact tracing system will go crazy. People will do their own tracing. We’ve got this app. Why didn’t you have it from the beginning? Wearing masks all day is bringing back acne for twenty year olds. Remember the cabinet minister losing his job for going on a bike ride? The parliamentary lawn is going to be a mess and Trevor Mallard remains a bogan. Protests are always confusing. Look at ’81: communists, Methodists, feminists, lesbians, tino rangatiratanga advocates, gangs, Muldoon, Gleneagles, apartheid, rugby union, rugby supporters, cities, regions, police brutality… Don’t you dare compare this with that. You need to take the Trump influence seriously, Steve Bannon is hovering over God’s Own, there are chalk drawings of nooses…they’re not wearing masks, this could be a super spreader… NZ First have appeared out of the woodwork… They’re full of conspiracy theories…But the local minister believes in people being possessed by demons and he is a progressive voice on Council…And what about belief in the virgin birth?…Scoop have received a manifesto which is not official – We have come together and we are in agreement that the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act and all the orders and mandates made under that legislation must be revoked immediately… Really, you expect us to take that seriously? We give up our freedom for the greater good. Jacinda’s learned to frown and smile at the same time, an essential skill for a Prime Minister. And a parent of difficult teenagers.
A neighbour comments, Labour’s dug itself a bloody great hole. Who can I vote for next election? I probably won’t vote. I suspect that could well be the result of letting epidemiologists and bureaucrats (I know a few and they’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer) run the country: that feeling of invasion…all the scientific arguments in the world won’t remove the feeling.