Tit for Tat

When it comes to sheep farming, it is hard to beat the New Zealanders. For every million New Zealanders
there are nine million sheep. A few months before I came to New Zealand the pages of its newspapers were filled with stories about a wonder sheep. His name was Shrek. He was a merino clever enough to have eluded his shepherds for six years. When he was finally re-captured, he was sporting a cloak of wool that looked like the train on Grace Kelly's wedding dress. When Shrek was shorn, the wool harvest weighed over 60 pounds, enough to make suits for twenty hefty men.

The New Zealanders pay for their success. They are the butt of Australian jokes.

Q. How does a New Zealander find a sheep in the wilderness?
A. Exquisite.

The New Zealanders give tit for tat.

Q. How did it happen that only the finest citizens immigrated to Australia?
A. Each one was vetted by a judge.

The rivalry between Australia and New Zealand is a teasing and taunting rivalry, a thoroughly masculine affair. Each nation tries to out-macho the other. Why? Probably because each nationality is a bit envious of the other's origins. The New Zealanders would have welcomed a bit of larceny in their progenitors, the Australians a bit of respectability.

It is instructive to look at the history of Australia and New Zealand from the point of view of larceny vs. respectability. Australia was founded by criminals who couldn't tell a sheep if it jumped up and bit them. In the first five years of their existence they nearly starved to death. New Zealand, on the other hand, was populated by skilled labor. The lists of New Zealand settlers are dotted with trades like barber, farmer, baker, doctor. This was a country founded by people who knew what they were doing and how to go about it.

Some 150 years later look at the results. There is nothing in New Zealand, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, to match the Sydney Opera House. On the other hand, there is nothing anywhere else in the world to match New Zealand's decency as a government toward its citizens. Health care is considered a right, not a privilege. Lawsuits for human activities susceptible to error, like driving a car, are forbidden. Firearms are illegal. All this has produced about as stress-free a society as it is possible to have in the developed world.

What is the take home? Apparently, whether you know how to slaughter a sheep or garrote a toff, it doesn’t matter if you are thrown onto a frontier 10,000 miles from home and told to live or else.

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