Now is the South Island’s chance to embrace its destiny and become the hermit kingdom it was born to be, argues George Driver.
The old world is gone, we are told. In the words of Covid-19 modeller Rodney Jones, for the last 18 months, we have “lived in echo of a prior world that doesn’t exist”. But the new world sounds vague and scary. It seems to involve living with a deadly virus and its related restrictions – masks, testing, distancing, press conferences – indefinitely.
But for us in the South Island, there could be another way. Sir John Key was right when he said we need a coherent plan to provide absolute and unshakeable certainty about the future. He was merely wrong about the direction of travel. The Covid-free isle still has an opportunity to keep basking in the pre-pandemic world. The team of one million still has a chance to silently and selfishly slip away and take the baton of the smug hermit kingdom, the Cook Strait our impenetrable fortress wall.
Us southerners have been ridiculed for our backward ways for decades – but with the future uncertain and frightening, the past can be our strength. Being backwards can be our way forwards. Let’s dock the Interislander in Picton, close the ports, put the clocks back to 2019 and live in the glow of the old world once more.
We can embrace the title of the North Korea of the South Pacific. Tim Shadbolt can be our Supreme Leader, presiding over a government of benevolent confusion. Cromwell’s Michael Laws can be the Minister of the Good Old Days. Bluff’s bus-loving councillor and talkback host Marcus Lush can be Minister of Transport. Nadia Lim can take the health portfolio. The Christchurch wizard can be our Minister of Finance, Defence and Climate Change.
We can have a summer circle-jerk of ultra-domestic tourism. We’ll frolic along our Great Walks without the frenzied bookings and stroll Queenstown’s deserted promenades in peace.
There is little to lose. Who needs beach baches when you have holiday cribs? Who needs Auckland’s Queen Street when you have Frankton’s Remarkables Shopping Centre? Who needs Wellington’s Cuba Street when you have Takaka’s Commercial Street? Who needs Hamilton when you have Invercargill? Who needs Palmerston North when you have Gore? Who needs Tauranga’s retirement villages when you have Nelson’s retirement villages? Who needs Te Urewera’s wilderness when you have Te Anau? Who needs Napier’s art deco buildings when you have Ōamaru’s Victorian precinct? Who needs Ohakune’s giant carrot when you have Cromwell’s giant fruit? Who needs TVNZ when you have Channel 39? Who needs Cape Reinga’s feral dogs when you have the Canterbury panther? Who needs Mike Hosking when you have Michael Laws? Who needs James Cameron when you have Peter Thiel? I could go on…
But the best case for secession isn’t about what we have, but what we won’t have. The glorious old world is defined by its absences. There will be no more MIQ and talk of leaky borders because there will be no more visitors at all. No more 1pm briefings, push alerts, or alert level changes. No more figures on case fatality rates, vaccination rates or herd immunity. No social, physical or emotional distancing. No masks or hand sanitiser. No modelling, contact tracing or tracer app scanning. No comorbidities or booster shots. No more circular debates about vaccine targets and action plans. No more talk about Scott Morrison’s cave. In fact, no more Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson or Sir John Key. No Covid Plan B.
No Tarras International Airport.
No All Blacks, Black Caps or Silver Ferns, just Otago versus Canterbury in every sport again and again and again.
No more stories about how Sweden, Singapore, Denmark, the UK, Sydney, Melbourne and Alabama are doing. The news will be only the Regions pages of the Otago Daily Times, where children rear lambs to be judged at A&P shows.
No more worrying if my daughter will one day ask me “what was it like before coronavirus?”
It will be a Bloomfield and Baker-less existence in a Country Calendar kingdom called Te Waipounamu where it’s 2019 for ever more.