A entertaining but sometimes incongruous view of modern New Zealand

In the early 1960's, a freshly qualified history graduate from Yorkshire called Austin Mitchell tried to get a position in English academia, but unfortunately was obviously not brillant enough for one of the British universities, so he applied at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand which promptly accepted him as a lecturer in English History. He spend a good ten years in this socialist paradise that was sixties New Zealand and wrote a book about it, the appropriately called "The half-gallon quarter-acre pavlova paradise" that terribly upset the nation, as it painted New Zealand in a rather unflattering light: a backwater full of naive little englanders which closes at 5 pm.

Austin Mitchell returned to the UK in the early seventies and became a Labour MP and all around good guy. In 2001, funded by New Zealand's TVNZ he returned to the antipodeans to see what had changed, and documented his findings in a 3 hour TV documentary and a similar named book.

I was living in NZ at the time of his travels through the islands, and remember that he was viewed with suspicion, but as he was a real MP from the Motherland, he had access to all the political leaders and important figureheads who gave him a update of what happened since the 1970's.

Back in the UK I read the book because I wanted to familiarise myself with New Zealand's recent History, and Mitchell does it pretty well: he he is a good observer without any respect for Kiwi lore and demi-gods and describes current New Zealand society very well. When it comes to political history, he takes a step back and lets the politicians talk about the incredible transformations that happened during the eighties from the inside, just interspersed with the occasional rude remark.

The book got horrible reviews in New Zealand, mainly because it portrayed prominent members of NZ-society that have been interviewed a tad too often, it told stories that had been told too often and obviously did the bloody pom have no respect for New Zealand and its inhabitants at all.

Exactly this fact makes it a fun and entertaining read for all Non-Kiwis: it gives us a witty and sharp characterization of contemporary New Zealand and the political shifts it has undergone in the last 30 years.

Great Stuff!

Austin Mitchell: Pavlova Paradise revisited, Penguin Books, 2001