God’s Own Country, Godzone and Good Old New Zealand.
For a long time I never thought twice about where the word “Godzone” came from, knowing it was a contraction of ‘God’s Own Country’, assuming it was as native to New Zealand as the Kiwi itself. Not ‘native’ like the Kiwi-fruit, of course, which is the Chinese Gooseberry, a native to north-central and eastern China; or the Kiwi-people, who are all immigrants, but like the Kiwi-bird. It’s native authenticity is in its pre-historical existence, the rest is sociological, cultural, agricultural or territorial appropriation, I guess.
According to Wikipedia, the origins of the phrase God’s Own Country are in describing the Wicklow Mountains near Dublin around 1807 and the county of Surrey in England thirty or so years later. From there it has been used to describe other parts of the UK, most notably Yorkshire, and other places like the United States, Australia and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Having lived in Surrey and visited the mountains near Dublin, I can imagine why it is. In both cases it is highly probable that its use stems from the awe inspired by nature and landscapes. An exception might be its use from the 1980s by the Tourism Development Corporation of the state of Kerala on the coast of the Indian Ocean in south-western India. There it is possibly more influenced by the Gods of the Hindu religion. Never-the-less, the spiritual element remains.
God’s Own Country, New Zealand
The earliest, published use of the phrase in New Zealand was in a book of poems by Thomas Bracken. An Irish-born New Zealand poet, journalist and politician, he is most famous for writing the poem God Defend New Zealand that later became the New Zealand national anthem.
His poem, “God’s Own Country”, appears in a book from 1890 and again in the book Lays and Lyrics: God’s Own Country and Other Poems from 1893. It caught on locally and was popularised by the New Zealand Prime Minister Richard, “King Dick” Seddon of the progressive Liberal Party in the early 1900s. He used it as a motivating political slogan, much like “Drain the Swamp” or “Lock Her Up” although slightly more positive and hopefully with more longevity.
Godzone, New Zealand
Apparently the term “Godzone” is a true, blue, Kiwi invention, made in New Zealand. According to The Godzone Dictionary by Max Cryer, the term “Godzone” was coined by the New Zealand poet and journalist Allen Curnow. Under his pen name Whim Wham, the earliest reference I have found so far was in his poem ‘Open Your Mouth and Shut Your Eyes’, published in the New Zealand Herald on 16th May 1953.
God’s Own Country, Thomas Bracken
Here is the original poem, in all its glory. To appreciate it fully you have to place it in the context of its time. Tarawera had recently erupted and the Maori or New Zealand or Land Wars had just ended. But aside from that, it does fill you with awe at just what a beautiful country New Zealand was back then.
Give me, give me God’s own country! there to live and there to die,
God’s own country! fairest region resting ‘neath the southern sky,
God’s own country! framed by Nature in her grandest, noblest mould;
Land of peace and land of plenty, land of wool and corn and gold!
Where the forests are the greenest and the rugged mountains rear
Noble turrets, towers, and spires, piercing through the ambient air;
Rising to the gates supernal, pointing Godwards through the blue,
When the summer’s sunny splendours tip them with a nameless hue,
And the gusts of winter gather snow and sleet and mist and cloud,
Weaving many a curious mantle, many a quaint fantastic shroud.
Oh! the mountains of New Zealand! wild and rugged though they be,
They are types of highest manhood, landmarks of a nation free.
Pleasure-ground of the Pacific! brightest region on the main!
Land of many a rushing river, verdant valley, fertile plain!
I revisit thee in fancy, all thy wonders rise once more,
Once again, enthrall’d, I listen to old Tongariro’s roar;
Tarawera roused to fury, belches forth his molten wrath,
And a host of fiery demons dance along his flaming path,
Boiling cauldrons, foaming geysers, lakes whose bosoms leap with fear;
Well and truly it is written – “wonderland is really here!”
Shift the scene! Night grows to morning, morn soon ripens into day.
Lovely islands crowd and cluster in a bright and placid bay,
Silver ripples shimmer softly on the bosom of the deep;
And the mountains see their faces, for the wind is fast asleep.
Bay of Island! bay of beauty! who would dream that such a place
Should have been a scene of slaughter, man ‘gainst man, and race ‘gainst race;
Yonder, in the little churchyard, mouldering tombstones sadly tell
Tales of valour and of honour, records of how brave men fell
In the sacred cause of duty; thanks to God, those days are o’er,
And the old race and the new race now are enemies no more.
Sweep we round by Rangitoto, with his rough and rocky crest,
Grim old guardian of the gateway leading out to ocean’s breast;
Takapuna slumbers, deeply Waitemata opens its arms,
All its loveliness unfolding, circled by a hundred charms;
Fly we on to Taranaki, and ‘neath Taranaki’s shade we stand—
Taranaki, monarch of the mountains! bold, majestic, solemn, grand;
Rising from the pleasant pastures, climbing to the clouds alone
Peerless, and without a rival, proudly sits he on his throne.
It is morning in the summer, and the monarch is arrayed
In his pure white cap and mantle, which were never known to fade.
All the blue above is speckless, only one small cloud is seen
Sleeping on the mountain’s bosom, nestling ‘twixt the gold and green;
Now it seems as if awakening, slowly it begins to creep
Upwards in a spiral column, making for the summit steep,
But it fails to reach the apex, so it curls itself away
Round about the monarch’s shoulders, like a silken scarf of grey;
And the East flings out its glories on the monarch as he stands,
Crowning him with sparkling jewels, richly set in golden bands,
On we go by happy homesteads, on to Wanganui’s flood–
Oft where Wanganui’s waters, in the old time, stained with blood;
Now along the stately river flocks and herds o’er uplands graze,
Peace has swept away for ever traces of the warlike days.
Leap we o’er the hills and valleys to Poneke’s noble tide,
On whose swelling breast the navies of the Universe might ride,
Safely ride beneath the shadows of the mighty hills that keep
Watchful and ward against the tempests, born upon the outer deep.
Soar from island unto island, for were we to tarry here,
Tracing all the North-land’s beauties, we might linger for a year.
Fancy’s wings are swift and silent, o’er the sea and o’er the Strait–
Canterbury smiles before us, Ah! we have not time to wait;
Fly we o’er green pictures shining in their frames of spring’s new gold,
Fly we past the smiling homesteads, fly we over the field and fold–
Onward o’er the pass of Arthur! Magicland is drawing near–
Halt! the Gorge of wildest grandeur opens up its wonders here;
Look below; and gaze above us! was there ever grander sight?
Here is every shade of darkness; here is every tint of light;
Listen to the torrent roaring in the deep ravine below,
See the cataracts descending from their home among the snow,
See the pine and larch and rata climbing up the mountain walls,
Hearken to the tumbling torrents answering the distant falls.
Weird Otira! grand Otira; is there any other clime
That can show us such a picture, so entrancing so sublime?
Down the Gorge and through the valley, over floods that fret and foam,
As the rush among the boulders, hast’ning to their Ocean home;
Now the matchless forests open all their brightness on the scene,
And the gladdened eye is feasting on a hundred tints of green.
We must leave the lordly forest– “Stay, oh, stay,” the wood-nymphs sing;
“Stay, oh, stay,” the fairies whisper; “Stay, oh, stay,” the bell-birds ring.
Fancy will not fold her pinions; onward, onward we must go
Where Mount Cook in icy armour guards his pyramids of snow.
Fancy can outwing the lightning, fancy can outwing the wind–
Hill and plain and glen and valley soon are left far, far behind.
We are resting on the high land over New Edina’s town,
Wrapt in perfect admiration, looking up, and looking down—
Upwards at the wooded mountains, tinted now by opening day,
Downwards at the noble city, stretching round the lovely bay.
One short flight and we are sailing over Taieri’s plains of corn,
Now we cross the lonely ranges, painted by the brush of morn;
Wanaka and Manapouri pass before our wondering sight;
Hawea, in sylvan softness, fills us with a calm delight;
Wakatipu’s deep dark waters, walled by mighty mountains, raise
All our highest aspirations, till the soul is filled with praise.
Here the poet soon might gather subject for a thousand lays,
Here the artist might discover rich employment all his days.
God’s own country! God’s own country! we must hasten o’er the sea,
Filled with sweetest recollections of thy beauty; blessing thee,
Wishing thee all future greatness, bidding thee “Advance! advance!”
Fruitful land, and land of wonder, richest region of romance!
Mitre Peak, erect, majestic, slowly vanishes from view,
And the distant waves are moaning, as we cry “Adieu! adieu!”