Few phrases, uttered by respected international media pundits, excite Kiwis more than; “This will really put New Zealand on the map…”
Long hiding in the geographical and cultural shadow of Australia (the 1980s, at the peak of ‘Crocodile Dundee-mania’, was a particularly dark time for New Zealand), Kiwis are forever searching for people, ideas or events to support – sometimes to the point of scary, national obsession – which might truly focus the eyes of the world onto our fledgling, self-conscious islands.
Edmund Hillary was perhaps our earliest ambassador of ‘do-they-know-who-we-are-yet?’, and as such was featured on every local piece of currency, had 35,000 streets and 80 towns named after him, and was honorary prime minister three times over.
In the mid to late 90s, our obsession turned to yachting, as we hosted the (at least what we thought to be) major international sporting fixture, The Americas Cup. Sadly, a cursory inquiry at the time with residents of 90% of the global population almost universally illicited the response, ‘The Americas What?’, or more likely, ‘Is that anything to do with football?’ (a real international sport). Even farmers in the south island had little idea New Zealand was competing in an event which had about as much to do with national sports team representation, as call center workers for the ANZ have to do with Australia and New Zealand.
But the zenith of of worldwide interest in New Zealand came in early 2000’s, with the arrival of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Finally, with the Hollywood seal of approval, the world would stop wrongly placing us ‘somewhere near Bolivia?’. But just to be sure, we painted LOTR movie posters all over the Air New Zealand fleet, and temporarily renamed the country, ‘Middle Earth’.
NB: there is also a campain to literally ‘Put NZ on the Map’ (see ‘New Zealand T-Shirts‘), by reinforcing to the world the geographical outline of New Zealand. This is a result of many embarrasing years for Kiwis spent shouting, angrily, at world maps which either, a) drop NZ off the edge, b) stretch it 170% in a north-east direction, or c) draw it as one, unrecognisable blob.