But nowhere is this more important than in the uniforms and names of our national sports teams. Adhering to this naming convention, with it’s limited vocabulary, has led to an inventive, if largely slapstick branch of New Zealand humour.
The origin of our national sporting colour, like so much of New Zealand popular culture (binge drinking, repressed homosexuality, domestic violence), can be traced back to rubgy.
The first sports team to represent New Zealand internationally was the 1st XV rugby squad that toured the United Kingdom in 1905. Their formidable talent, combined with a low maintenance, easy-wash uniform, led the British press to dub them the ‘All Blacks’. Following the success of the tour, the colour quickly became a badge of honour back home, forever associated with international recognition – very important for a small, insecure country determined, at every opportunity, to ‘put itself on the map‘.
A menacing colour, black also fitted well with the ‘hard’ image colonial New Zealand men at the time had of themselves, and of many of their women.
And, like my wife said shortly before she left me, “Once you go black, you can’t go back” (she was talking about shoes, right?). So important, now, is black to the All Blacks, that it has taken on an almost superstitious ominence. Forced to wear marl grey against France, during the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks choked. Well, it was either that, or they were just a bit soft in the head.
In the years since 1905, other sporting codes have adopted the national colour that, technically, isn’t a colour. Only, with a limited number of permutations for which the word ‘black’ can be mangled into a pun, the names of some of New Zealand’s national sports teams have begun, at times, to sound more like a parody of themselves.
- The Black Caps – not so much ‘caps’ these days as ‘crash helmets’, but in fairness, they are sometimes black – even if they’re worn by sissies.
- The Black Sticks – field hockey, a sport that doesn’t even deserve the effort of coming up with a witty reference.
- The Black Sox – we’re not sure if the New Zealand softball team actually wear black socks, but if they did, with white trainers, it would be, like, a major fashion faux pas.
- The Ice Blacks – (see ‘field hockey’, above)
- The Tall Blacks – somebody please give the guy who came up with the name for the NZ basketball team a job writing for Radiradirah
- The Black Cocks – yes, the badminton team actually called themselves this.. for about a month.
There are two notable exceptions to this rule.
Women’s sport - which, as everybody knows, isn’t really sport – has tended to follow the convention of naming themselves after Ferns. We can only assume this is because women like to be difficult. It was begun by the most popular women’s sport in New Zealand, Netball – a sport best described as basketball for women who like to grunt. Over the years other sporting codes followed suit, except, interestingly enough, the butchest of all women’s sport, rubgy (I know, gross right?), who endeavoured to keep a hairy foot in both gender camps by calling themselves the ‘Black Ferns’.
The All Whites is the chosen name of the New Zealand soccer team, which has done little to help dispel the popular notion in New Zealand that soccer is still just a game ‘played by poofs’.
Although the ethnic mix of the All Whites is, fittingly, all white, the All Blacks are not, by the same logic, all black. Far from it, actually. For while some of the best talent in the team comes from New Zealand’s Maori and Pacific Island population, the majority are still honky Canterbury farmers.
In fact, during the 1960 tour of South Africa, Maori were deliberately excluded from the national side, in deference to the host nation’s enlightened and ‘not at all likely to fail’ policy of apartheid.
The irony of sending an all white rugby team to South Africa, and calling them the ‘All Blacks’, is not lost on New Zealand history. It is just one of the many classic bloopers of our distant, and usually unrelated ancestors, over which Maori & Pakeha banter good naturedly – like Irish men in a pub discussing the fastest snail – instead of getting bogged down in an endless cycle of apology and blame. It is New Zealand’s good humour on these topics that demonstrates such an impeccable record of race relations. No, really. Seriously.
Other such classics include;
- Whitey owns the beaches now, nyah nyah nyah! (Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004)
- What’s the (Bastion) Point?
- Can I have your autograph? Just kidding, it’s a legally binding treaty! (Treaty of Waitangi)
- Look, I’ve got your nose! (and by nose, I mean Auckland)
- Four seats on the council? I thought you wanted four sheeps! Sorry, Flossie’s already moved into her new office. Oh well. Lamb kebab anyone?