Poppie Johnson: Being a ‘local’ is about giving back


OPINION: Are you local? It’s a question that most of us will get asked at some point – whether for discount drinks at the bar, a percentage off purchases at an outdoor store, renting a flat or enrolling our kids in school.

It begs the question, though, what makes a local and how do we define a sense of belonging and of ownership to a place?

Does being a local mean that you grew up here?

Is it because you have lived here for a set number of years?

Does home ownership confer this hallowed status upon the lucky few?

Or is it more sweepingly inclusive than that – are you a local just because you live here?

Perhaps, being a local is not about how long or where you live but rather what you contribute to the community.

We have a spectacular community here – full of global opportunity and a very cosmopolitan feel but with a relatively small proportion of residents.

That’s what makes ‘local’ a thing – I bet no one in Auckland gets asked if they are local.

There’s a lot of global rhetoric around immigration, around national identities and isolationist policies that are intended to protect the nationals of one country from the dangers that immigrants may bring.

It was a contentious issue in the US elections, the same drivers have led to Brexit, and the French election was fought on the same battle grounds.

Closer to home, Australia’s policies are having a direct impact on Kiwi tertiary students who will no longer be eligible for domestic fees.

And we are not immune – this issue has already raised its head in our election year and if there’s one thing guaranteed in Kiwi politics it’s that an election year brings out the issue of immigration and Winston Peters will be banging that drum.

Some of the most valued contributions to New Zealand society have been from immigrants. The rhetoric needs to shift, away from the detrimental effects of net migration to the positive benefits of shared culture and a global community.

In Queenstown there are many community organisations that rely on volunteers and on goodwill.

In many cases these are supported by immigrants, by people who have chosen to live here.

I’ve met people who have moved here from overseas and who volunteer for Happiness House, the Wakatipu Youth Trust, the volunteer fire brigade, LandSAR, St John’s, Scouts and the Salvation Army, to name just a few.

In some cases they have gone out looking for volunteer work before they have even secured employment.

We’re lucky here in Central Otago, there’s a database, Volunteering Central, where you can see what organisations are available to help and where your skills could best be put to use.

It’s a sign of a healthy community where so many organisations exist to help others.

Of course, there are other, less structured ways to contribute and these are just as valid.

It doesn’t matter what you do, just that you do.

So perhaps being a local is not about where you come from or how long you have been here but about whether you have given back to the community.

Next time someone asks if you are local, take the time to think about what you have contributed, then look them in the eye proudly and say ‘Yes, I am’.

Poppie Johnson is a Wakatipu High School English teacher