Originally published at scoop.co.nz
As New Zealanders we like to think of New Zealand as our ‘Godzone’; that little piece of paradise and a nation of animal lovers, outdoorsy types and friendly down-to-earth people. It’s our own Hans Christian Andersen version of our lives.
It’s about as unrealistic as Snow White was pure. Every year 525,000 New Zealanders are harmed in family violence. Animal abuse is reportedly on the rise.
The SPCA has to deal with around 60 000 animals through their door every year and 14 000 animal welfare complaints . From a feline serial killer in South Dunedin, to pigs beaten to death with metal bars in North Canterbury and live sheep with their eyes plucked out in Manawatu, New Zealand has got animal abuse covered.
But this is no recent phenomena. New Zealand has a history of violence toward each other and animals that can be illustrated beautifully in the little remembered occurrence of the ‘slaughter protest’ of 1978.
In 1978 farmers in Invercargill planned a ‘protest’ against the local slaughter house that was striking. They had a back log of ‘old ewes’ who were deemed ‘useless’ (despite the years of making money off their woolly backs).
The farmers claimed they did not have enough to feed the ewes, who had become straggly and malnourished. So they ran them down Dee Street, Invercargill, herded them into a Victoria Street section and slit their throats with butcher’s knives. All 1300 of them.
The Southland Times was clear about the reason.
“ The protest slaughter is seen as one way of bringing home to the public, farmers’ frustration at being unable to get their stock killed because of industrial disruption in the freezing industry.”
With so many other ways to bring home their frustration they had to choose that one. They could have used signs and picketed down the street. They could have ‘sunk a stubby’ and thought a bit longer and harder about their plan. They could have behaved in a civilised manner and ‘humanely’ destroyed the animals who were suffering from starvation.
Instead, the animals became the victims of the farmer’s anti-union anger. They engaged in what they called ‘civil disobedience’ which amounted to nothing more than mass animal cruelty. The sheep were lined up and killed without stunning, in full view of each other’s suffering and horror. A crowd gathered to watch.
It was a blood bath and the day has now been nicknamed ‘Bloody Friday’.
Now, I was only five years old in 1978. I was too busy cuddling my toy lamb and believing the myths being told about Old MacDonald’s farm to even begin to imagine such a travesty. So I am going to make up now for my lack of voice then.
You see, despite the obvious cruelty done to these poor sheep, the farmers were later hailed as ‘heroes’. That would have confused my childhood self. In my childhood books heroes were people who saved others and fought the good fight, they saved the innocent from evil. Not the other way around.
Yet, despite the horrific evidence, these farmers still hold reunions to celebrate the day that put an end to the troublesome unions and striking by freezing workers. In 2013, 200 people gathered at the Invercargill Workingman’s club for the 35th anniversary of the protest. At the gathering they were praised and congratulated by former Alliance Group operations manager Anthony Forde (now Prime Range Meats chief executive).
Despite this sheep slaughter occurrence being 44 years old it tells a story about our cultural heritage and values as a nation.
We are a small isolated nation in the South Pacific whose colonial values reflect 250 years of ‘living off the land’. To achieve this we had to destroy the Maori political economy and force rapid social change. We had to supplant the natural biodiversity with pastures and foreign animals. And all the while we had to frame this in terms of being ‘heroes’.
We’re not heroes. And, until we fully face the truth about our heritage, we never will be.
Our pigeons are coming home to roost. The global market has expanded and overuse of the land through farming is causing environmental degradation. And animals still suffer terribly at our hands, as recent footage of dairy cruelty and other reports of animal cruelty shows us.
Recently we sent sheep not just down the streets of Invercargill but overseas to Saudi Arabia to suffer a prolonged death worse than the ones endured by the Invercargill mob. And there are plans to send more.
The blood-lust in Invercargill all those years ago brings home the hard reality of animals trapped in our brutal economic system. Treated as mere objects of exploitation, a liability when conditions no longer favour their dollar value, in disregard of their living, breathing sentience and their ability to suffer pain.
I still have the cuddly lamb from 1978. Its older and more beaten up now – just like me. But I still love it. I just don’t love New Zealand anymore. It’s time to grow up New Zealand and face the truth of our violence like an adult.