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We Have An Issue In New Zealand


We have an issue in New Zealand. It’s slippery and hard to pin down. it cannot be seen; like lacerations or broken bones. It’s not ugly on the eye. it does not require stitches or casts. There’s no map to get to it and the roads are unpaved and treacherous.

It hardly has a voice at all. We don’t like to talk about it. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And God knows, this ain’t nice. It hurts to hear. But the silence is deafening and gives no suggestions for our future. It lets the slippery thing fester. Behind bathroom doors and dark closets. We feel a shame to it. Our stoic pride rips our country’s heart from its chest. We stand alone in rain-drenched fields and pretend we don’t feel the cold.

She’ll be right, we say. But she’s not right. She hasn’t been right for a while.

I first saw it when I was fourteen. It was a teachers only day at school. I’d heard of a secret surf spot close to where I lived; a reef that was hard to get to. I decided to find it. There was a ground swell and the wind was offshore. My Mother went to a funeral that day. She left me the keys to the house. I jumped on my bike. It was warm but there was a bite to the wind. The clouds were scattered and the offshores whisked them like cotton across the sky.

I crossed grassy hills and hardly saw a soul. I came to the beach and rode to the foot of a cliff. It was sheer and jutted to the sea. The secret spot was on the other side. I left my bike on the beach and scaled the rocks. I walked until I lost sight of the beach. The wind picked up. It whipped my ears and threw needles at my face. The cliff was to my left. The sea was to my right. The sharp rocks were beneath my feet and it was quiet. I thought of death. I'm not sure why. It wasn’t something I'd thought about much at fourteen but it was there that day. It bathed in rock pools and swung from trees that clung to the cliff.

I looked up and saw the man. He was draped over a rock, like a jacket over the back of a chair. My mind played tricks on me at first. It tried to convince me of anything but the truth. He was a graffitied storm water pipe. He was a clothing store mannequin. He was a crash test dummy. He wore a white shirt. There was a purple shirt beneath it. Black jeans. One of his shoes had flown off on impact. It lay about twenty metres from his body. Blood and brain tissue lay like confetti beneath my feet. There was a deep gash down his side. He must have hit the cliff on the way down. It was his head that hit first. That much was certain. Whatever was happening in there was now silenced; he’d made damn sure of that. Every neuron, capillary and synapse that made up who he was lay stained across the rocks and washed out to sea.

I walked to the beach in silence. The police arrived. They asked questions. They stared at me beneath furrowed brows and wide-brimmed hats. A white station wagon pulled into the parking lot. A man jumped from it. He had short, black hair and stubble across his jawline. He ran to the sand. Looked frantically in each direction. He paced the beach. Ran hands through his hair. The police stared. They walked to the man and spoke to him. There was silence for a moment. They placed a hand on his shoulder and he collapsed into the sand.

His knees hit first. Then his head. Then he hit his fists into the ground. Over and over again. The screams came next. The gore was tolerable. The screams were not. The screams cut the wind and echoed off the cliffs. They humanized the battered body and rattled through my head. There were words inside his screams. They told me of his pain. They told me the bloodied body was his younger brother. His name was Scott. They’d had a fight. The worst they’d ever had. The man knew where his little brother was going. He'd driven as fast as he could. He was too late.

I was seventeen the second time I heard the screams. The boy sat next to me in home room at school. We got along. He had feelings for a girl. She had feelings for me. I was collecting my belongings from my locker one day. The girl ran to me. She collapsed. I caught her. I heard the screams again. I knew them well. You don't forget screams like that. There were words in her screams. Dark words that told a tragic story. The boy had hung himself. He'd left a note and his possessions to her. I had spoken to him that day. He'd seemed happy. He was glowing. He wore a Hawaiian shirt where he usually wore black. I told him he looked great. He smiled and told me he felt free.

I've seen others. I’ve heard the screams since. Colleagues and friends and family. Too many to go into. There's an issue in New Zealand. It’s slippery. It germinates in silence. It wears Hawaiian shirts and smiles. It’s young. Predominantly male. It thrives on whispers and backhanded comments.

Something hangs in the air in New Zealand. Every man for himself. Chopping down poppies for breakfast. An unspoken competition that follows us into our cars. We race each other to nowhere in particular. We shake fists at our fellow countrymen. Rush to beat them in grocery store queues. Avoid eye contact and keep our own cast at phones for justification.

We lie to ourselves. Pretend it’s not happening. Speak in euphemisms. It’s a dog eat dog world. I’ve never seen a dog eat another dog in my fucking life. Dogs hunt in packs. They work as a team. We're not like dogs. We could learn from them. We walk on egg shells and fear our own neighbour. Scared to grow. Scared to shine. Scared to speak.

I’ve often wondered if the outside affects the inside. If the isolation of our home islands at the bottom of the planet impacts our collective psyche. We become like islands ourselves. Parrot the nature of our homeland. Stand alone. Cut all ties. Get on with things. Don’t speak for fear of retribution.

We have an issue in New Zealand. Every shore needs a harbour. A channel for passing ships to reach safety. We need to soften the edges of our jagged cliffs and calm the seas of our rugged coastlines. To be kinder. To drop the facade. To keep our channel clear and be ready when the ship comes in.

We don’t need to compete. Not the way we have been. Meaningless competitions in which we lose in every way. We lose our cool. Lose our heads. Lose all sense of community. Be kind to your fellow countrymen. They’re in this with you. Alone on these islands at the bottom of the world. Far from the reaches of the rest. We have each other. God forbid we lose that.

We must know where to start. It can’t be feigned. Nor contrived. Nor rigged to a snag or trap. It must be deeper than that. If we are to learn to be kind to our fellow countrymen, we must first learn to be kind to ourselves. It needs to start from within. We need to be gentle on ourselves. To know we are human and celebrate our quirks and intricacies. To know the doubtful voice within us and love it despite the ridicule. It only fears for your safety. Love it despite this. Don't let It control you. Certainly don't let it control your actions.

We need to seek shelter. To bring our ship into harbour and know the channel has been cleared. To understand the community we are a part of and to know it offers a harbour of its own. One that welcomes, listens and thanks you for braving the channel.

The only sandbar is in our minds. It’s a fucking wild one. It sinks ships and drowns men. Be gentle on yourself. Don’t stare at the breaking waves and be blind to the channel beside it. It’s there. Beside the whitewash and ten foot waves. It will lead you to calmer waters. Use it. Be kind enough on yourself to find your voice. Use it to speak of your waves. They will listen. They will hear your pain and know it themselves. You’ll forge your own harbour one day. And others will feel safe to moor on your shores. Tame your own waves first. Create a channel. Let them in.

Don’t fret if you don’t make it the first time. The sea never stays the same. There are days when the waves could break bones and others when they will melt like butter beneath your fingertips. Push on. Reach the harbour. Find the ear that will listen. When it’s gone, be gentle on yourself. The waves might come again. Be gentle. And never give up on taming them.


New Zealand:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call

police immediately on 111.


• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7) SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) • YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email or online chat. • NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7) • KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7) • WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm) • DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 • SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666.


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call

police immediately on 911.

Crisis Services Canada

Tollfree: 1.833.456.4566


Distress Centre Calgary

Serving Calgary and surrounding areas Suite 300, 1010-8 Avenue SW, Calgary, AB T2P 1J2 Crisis 24 hours Main Crisis Line:(403) 266-4357 ConnecTeen: (403) 264-TEEN on line chat support: Business: (403) 266-1601 Fax: (403) 262-2512 email: website:

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