Topic: A Proper Kiwi by Ruth Plank

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A Proper Kiwi by Ruth Plank is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

For 56 years it’s been my good fortune to live in New Zealand-Aotearoa. At the tender age of twenty I first set foot on Queen’s Wharf, Wellington, on a cool and early September morning. The SS Captain Hobson, the ship that brought me here along with 500 others, was anchored offshore overnight and as I looked at the lights shining all over the city, tears fell down my cheeks.

A group of shipmates, all around my age - though I was the youngest - gathered on the deck and leaned over the rails. One of them noticed my tears and asked what was wrong. Gulping a couple of times to clear my throat, I whispered, “I’m crying because it’s so lovely.”

Before leaving England I had been given scant information about this new country, but my first impressions, which never altered, was that this was a beautiful country.

There were no friends or family to greet me, but I was called to the purser’s office where a gentleman from the Labour Department informed me that a job had been found for me at the Wellington Technical College (now Wellington Polytechnic) where I would be employed as a clerk-typist in the office. With only sixpence to my name, work couldn’t come soon enough.

When I received my pay the following Thursday I was astounded and most happy to receive my first wage: eleven pounds a week. Six pounds a week more than my previous job in London.

Although language presented no problem, being English, there were many things I had to learn. Plenty of words had different meanings, which I found confusing. Like hooray when leaving someone. It took me a while to realise that hooray meant goodbye. And grouse when girls spoke of handsome boys. Grouse to me meant a bird in the Highlands. Lorry became truck, field became paddock, and so on, but I soon got the hand of it.

How difficult it must be for people from other countries who didn’t speak English to learn the complexities of the English vernacular.

In England, if I were interested in any sport at all, it had to be soccer. The lads in the hostel where I lived played most weekends and a few girl friends turned out to cheer them on. Until I came to New Zealand I’d never even seen a rugby ball, let alone a rugby game. I couldn’t understand the rules and didn’t take much interest in the game.

That is, until I was married with three children, two of whom were boys. At the tender age of six my little darlings began to play rugby in Christchurch’s Hagley Park. Our family turned out early on mist winter Saturday mornings when the frosted grass stood upright like sharp needles to watch the little boys play New Zealand’s favourite games. I was so proud of them both.

On one occasion a reporter turned up. He wanted to ask the boys how they liked the game. He took one look at my youngest son and beckoned him over. Up ran the little boy, puffing slightly, red cheeks glowing. The reporter asked him one or two more questions before the kid interrupted quickly with the words, “Is that all? Can I go back and kick the ball again now?”

Parents within hearing distance fell about laughing as the reporter said, “Sure, boy, away you go and have a good game.” This interview was reported verbatim in the interview and remains in our scrapbook to this day.

My sons continued to play rugby and later in their lives I joined them in front of the television to watch test matches between the British Lions and the All Blacks. This brings me to the point of this story because now my loyalty was sorely tested. Whom should I cheer for? If I shouted excitedly when the Lions scored a try the boys gave me an evil look and said I should support the All Blacks because I was a New Zealander like them.

Not having the heart to tell them I kept quiet about my citizenship status, or rather, my lack of it, and began cheering on the All Blacks even though in my heart, I silently cheered the lions. But in spite of watching many games with my sons I never completely understood the rules.

Over the next few years there were times when I felt I should become a naturalised citizen of New Zealand instead of merely a permanent resident, particularly as all my children were born in this country. Some years ago we went on holiday to the top of the North Island and it was there, sitting by myself on a beautiful beach that I decided I should become ‘a proper Kiwi’. Somehow I never got around to doing anything about it. One reason for the delay was because it cost about $300 for the privilege. (It has now risen considerably.)

Now moving right along to when I was living alone following the break-up of my marriage. (No violins here, please.) I met a nice man who was sports mad, particularly when it came to the game of rugby.) Not long after we met there was an important test match and I agreed to go to a friend’s house to watch it with him.

Yawn, yawn. I was so bored yet I wanted to spend time with this man so it was worth it, really. Later I confessed I wasn’t that interested in rugby, so in future he would watch rugby while I read a book or watched a DVD. Until...

The Rugby World Cup 2011 was held in New Zealand. By this time, after living here for so many years, I now wholeheartedly supported and watched when the All Blacks played, not flinching when the Brits got beaten, though I did feel a bit sorry for them. The semi-finals were thrilling, but the final - well, what can I say? It was nail-biting, edge of seat, nerve wracking stuff and I became thoroughly absorbed in every mind-blowing moment. It wasn’t the most exciting game, so my man explained; but the French and the All Blacks played as if their very lives depended on it. The country was on edge until, at the final moment, the All Blacks won the game and all New Zealand celebrated with them.

As for me, it was the defining moment when I knew for sure I had to become ‘a proper Kiwi’. I mentioned my plan to my son Philip, who said, “Would you really like to do that, Mum?” My reply was “Yes!”

“What about if Graham, Karen and I pitch in and organise that for you for Christmas?”

“Lovely!” I said, and we left it at that.

Today the cost is near $500, but I do think it will be nice to have a flash certificate that states I’ve been naturalised, that I’m a New Zealand citizen, and which makes me a proper Kiwi.



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