I would never have got in now
Reflections on 50 years of living in New Zealand
It was shockingly easy to get into New Zealand in September 1972. I basically just wafted my passport at the immigration people and there I was: to all intents and purposes a newly minted New Zealander.
Can you imagine it now? A sixteen year old, accompanied by her 22 year old New Zealand boyfriend, just walking into the country and setting up life. Indefinite stay and all that. I can’t imagine the range of agencies that would be interested in having a slice of me. As it was, we quietly arrived.
I didn’t leave much behind. My father, with whom I lived, had signed a contract to run an electronics factory in Uganda for four years, essentially leaving me homeless. My mother barely coped with her own life as an alcoholic, let alone caring for me. My sister was living the hippy dream in London, working for the BBC (on extremely low wages) and certainly did not want to be saddled with a much younger sister.
I had been working since my 16th birthday, first in a bank in Surrey, then for a very trendy and famous music company in central London. I got paid eleven pounds a week and six went on rent, two on food and two on a commuter travel pass. It was fun but I barely scraped by.
I shared a single bed with my New Zealand boyfriend in a house full of New Zealanders. We had many ways of making ends meet, including disconnecting the electricity meter, which I believe was a rite of passage of those on OE in those days. I was slightly shocked, really, but it was welcome respite from the endless costs of living in London on low wages.
With wages so much higher here, and costs so much lower, we decided to come to New Zealand a week before my 17th birthday. Arriving in Palmerston North was a bit of a culture shock. The pubs were huge beer barns, there were virtually no restaurants and not much to do.
At the time the NZ Truth were running a ‘bash a pom a day’ campaign. It was low-key by today’s standards, but took the gloss off a little. I don’t think New Zealand was as friendly then as it is now. People were cool and it took a wee while to make friends.
The parents-in-law-to be were shocked that we intended to live together, but we stood firm. We got a pretty two bedroom flat and soon I had a job in an office around the corner. The bloke, a plumber, went back to his previous position. We earned around three times as much as in London, and had nothing to spend the surplus on.
Within twelve months we had saved the deposit for a comfortable three bedroomed house. We got married in 1974, when I was 18 (we had to go to court and declare I was essentially parentless) and our daughter was born in 1976. We built a house. Life was predictable and I made some friends, but was suffering from increasing anxiety which intensified after my child was born.
Eventually I went to see a counsellor, and we decided that, by leaving school early and coming to New Zealand, I had created a safe and secure life but had abandoned many other opportunities to do so. He challenged me to enrol in the big university (in those days free for all) across the river.
I have described elsewhere the problems I had getting there and back and studying with huge anxieties and massive panic attacks every single day. And also how worthwhile it was and the immense amount of learning I sucked in. I stayed at university through three degrees and then got a lecturing job in Christchurch. Later I got a fourth degree, in Law, under the fees-based regime which I had always opposed. It cost a fortune!
I also met lifelong friends, was introduced to doing work in the community (something I still do today), became political and moved on from my marriage. I became a New Zealand citizen in 1983. I would never live anywhere else. Nga mihi nui for all the wonderful years here and the fab life I have lived (and continue to live) (not time up yet).