Time to embrace diversity

21:38, Sep 23 2012

In 2010 Venture Taranaki chief executive Stuart Trundle outlined a 2035 vision for Taranaki as 'a progressive, growing, westward looking province of national significance, renowned for its people, culture, talent, rich natural resources and desirable location".

I was recently part of a panel invited to discuss this vision and how Taranaki might reach out from its regional borders and take the lead for the rest of New Zealand.

The panel focused on four key themes, business, infrastructure, government, and society and culture.

I was asked to speak about society and culture.

Which got me thinking about Taranaki society and culture and made me wonder - what is it? Can you define such a thing for our province?

And would the rest of Aotearoa ever look to Taranaki as being a thought leader in society and culture?


I have to say my presentation might not have encouraged my audience, with some of my comments about how Taranaki can be viewed by the outside world.

I related the story of a friend of mine who lives in one of the major cities and once described Taranaki as having an image of a cultural backwater.

His view of it was of a place that cared only about dairy farming and rugby, where racism is rife and idiots spray-paint goats on the side of the road.

I thought this was a little rough (how long does it take someone to forget a story about a goat being spray- painted - and how did that make national news anyway?).

I realise one person's view is not representative of the rest of our nation, but it did get me wondering about how Taranaki might be perceived outside of Taranaki.

In anthropological terms, culture represents the range of learnt human behaviour patterns and includes things such as art, knowledge, belief systems and world views, morals, customs, and other habits acquired by people as members of society.

Taranaki does not have a single definitive culture. It never has.

Taranaki has many different cultures co-existing - sometimes harmoniously, sometimes not.

It has a majority culture (at least by population) which sometimes forgets that there are other world views in Taranaki that might not share the same outlook on life.

Within broadly homogenous cultures you have subcultures and different ways of behaving based on a whole range of experiences. Here in Taranaki we have our regional differences, from north to south, from inland to coastal.

We have little differences between towns.

One participant at the presentation described Taranaki as a small island within a small Pacific Island. Quite an astute observation, I thought.

The key point I sought to make was that the world is changing and if Stuart Trundle's vision of Taranaki as a cultural leader is to come true then Taranaki needs to be comfortable with the idea of diversity.

The global re-emergence of China and Asia as the centre of global economics will have an inevitable impact on New Zealand's societal and cultural makeup in the future.

As more and more of our people leave Taranaki and New Zealand, we will either need to train more of our own people to fill the gap or recruit more from places such as Asia.

Josh Cleaver, a member of the New Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, recently noted that we are good at promoting the tangible things about Taranaki such as the maunga, moana, dairy industry, oil and gas and engineering.

But he also noted we are not so good at promoting or truly embracing the cultural diversity that already exists in our region, and which has done so for more than 150 years.

I thought his comments worthy of reproduction here: 'For too long Taranaki people have believed that there are actual physical barriers at the end of their street and that the only people that are relevant are the ones next door to them. Though we cannot afford to lose all of this mentality, as it is what still makes us stand out from the major metropolitan areas of New Zealand, we do have to understand that there is a great benefit and real need to embrace what is past the end of the street.

"We have to be able to take what is good from somewhere else and see if we can adapt it into our own way of life and if we can what benefits it will bring.

"We need to also understand that people outside of our street are also looking at us to see what we do well and how they can incorporate that into their way of life.'

Taranaki Daily News