Why violent death stalks the shores of paradise

New Zealand's pioneer spirit has been perverted, says local writer Susan Hancock

What is happening in New Zealand? As expatriates - myth has it that expatriates now outnumber inhabitants - we think of New Zealand as an idyllic place. Going home, we congratulate ourselves on belonging to a country where nature and culture seem so much in harmony - if you can blinker out the increasing resentments of the Maoris at the injustices that have been done to them.

Harder to ignore are the massacres - five since 1990, all but one in the countryside - that have erupted through the complacent surfaces of New Zealand life. One, maybe two, can be put down to individual madness and to chance. But five? Are we looking at some kind of national psychosis? Or is it that history does right itself, and that somehow the wrongdoings of the past are working themselves out?

The most recent of these episodes seems to suggest another, more practical explanation. Until this weekend Raurimu had been famous only for the Raurimu Spiral, one of the steepest railway lines in the world. It's a place where the affluent stop over on their way to the ski slopes. I suspect it is now going to become a symbol of the difficulty that is afflicting New Zealand life, under the surface of affluence, where rural isolation and the despair of unemployment are making their mark.

I don't know if all the perpetrators of these New Zealand massacres were unemployed, or marginalised by mental illness. I do know that anxieties about soaring unemployment and the engendering of a permanent underclass in a country that once prided itself on the strength of its rural economy and the abundance of its social welfare system are now prevalent. The Reserve Bank, commissioned by the government, has, in the last few years, brought inflation to its knees; it has also brought numbers of New Zealanders to theirs.

The Governor of the Reserve Bank, Don Brash, recently said to me that if he were out of work in a small town he would be able to think of something to do - something in the way of small business, he meant, not taking up a gun and demolishing your family. New Zealanders now carry more guns per capita than do Australians or the British.

In these small settlements it is the weight of changelessness, the fixity of life as you stand watching while the economy, for others, expands and affluence recedes, leaving a man with a sense of the inflexibility of his own horizons. In these circumstances, perhaps, family life, which is all you have, becomes intolerable: all of these massacres have begun at home. It may be time to rethink the social consequences of policies that lead to such individual isolation and despair.

New Zealand was, from the 1840s through to the 1970s, a country that took conscious pride in its Utopianism - a place where a hard-working white man, a pioneer, could create out of the bush a place for his home and family; a place where by felling and clearing he could make his mark. New Zealand towns were never cities, self-sufficient entities, but centres where a rurally prosperous economy did its business and enacted its commerce.

Since the open market economy began to dominate our national thinking, however, we have traded our ploughshares for swords. It may be to some that the gun seems the only way to make your mark. The alleged killer of Raurimu was found unarmed in a field, naked, like King Lear.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'