Across the Tasman, a stimulating year of news

If it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain, our colleagues in New Zealand walked the line in 2016. By Tom Hunt. Cartoon by Rod Emmerson.

New Zealand’s 2016 news high water mark came, pink-tipped and wobbly, from stage left.

The dildo-turned-missile slapped across Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce’s left jowl, leaving no physical mark but marking 2016 as the year of news lunacy.

Dildo-thrower Josie Butler, protesting New Zealand’s part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, could never have guessed that day in February that her unlikely saviour was already a dot on the horizon.

It was the US election of Donald Trump — a vocal opponent of the Partnership — that all-but-certainly achieved what no dildo could.

Back in those moments on a rainy day in Waitangi — the quintessentially-Kiwi “goodo”, the chuckle, Butler being led away — two things happened.

Joyce would forever be remembered as “that dildo guy” and journalists around New Zealand reached for a drink.

No other news in the year would matter.

The news of 2016 was a trip through weirdness which did not discriminate on age.

Even a 7.8-magnitude quake which lifted the seabed at touristy Kaikoura in mid-November and closed a section of New Zealand’s main highway seemed somehow like a replay of the far-deadlier 2011 Christchurch quake – 185 killed then, two now.

The news of 2016 was a trip through weirdness which did not discriminate on age.

Children were hit at a Wellington school in the prosaic streets of suburban Miramar, where teachers were locking pupils in cell-like seclusion rooms for misbehaving.

Around the same time, police used the guise of a drink-driving checkpoint to get names and addresses of elderly people leaving a perfectly legal euthanasia meeting on a mid-Spring afternoon. Soon, little old ladies with no immediate plans to die were getting a visit from police.

“It’s for your welfare,” police said.

“F… off (or words to that effect),” the old ladies said.

“It’s war,” a euthanasia campaigner said.

It is yet to be revealed what an independent police review and a court case will say.

Cartoon by Anna Crichton.

Illustration by Anna Crichton.

New Zealand’s gods too were touched by the madness. Losi Filipo was a name few had heard but a rising rugby star. The 17-year-old Wellington Lions player would be an All Black, but early one morning he assaulted four people — two of them women. One of his victims was knocked unconscious and stomped on the ground.

Losi’s initial discharge without conviction was overturned and eventually his “chilling act of violence” was recognised for what it was and he was sentenced to nine months’ supervision, while his career was left in tatters.

But Losi had the last laugh. A switch of his blue check shirt and it was his brother who was chased down the street by a pack of media outside the court in Wellington.

The incident only added to New Zealand rugby’s annus horribilis, which included an All Black apparently having sex in a Christchurch toilet stall and Hamilton team The Chiefs booking a stripper who said she was touched inappropriately. The end-of-year celebration was aptly named Mad Monday.

As New Zealand rugby’s year limped lamely to its close, the All Blacks were crushed by Ireland in Chicago, bringing to an end the national team’s Tier-One world-record run of 18 consecutive victories.

Bucolic, hobbity New Zealand rolled over at times and bared its vile underbelly.

An ongoing Faces of Innocents journalism project had been grimly, diligently detailing child abuse and homicide when its award-winning team got another face to add to the list. Baby Moko — full name Moko Rangitoheriri, aged 3 — was staying in a home while his mother cared for another child in hospital. During two cruel months he was kicked, thrown, dropped face first on the floor, bitten, stomped on, and had faeces rubbed on his face.

As 2016 trundled to its sometimes horrible but mostly farcical end, dildos entered the scene again, this time via an advice column in police rag Police News.

When he arrived in hospital his face was so badly swollen, it was impossible to open his eyes. His beating was so severe his mother struggled to identify him in the hospital morgue. There were marches and protests after his killers’ charges were downgraded from murder to manslaughter.

Through it all a strange farce played out. New Zealand, the Government said, had no real housing crisis, but those actually trying to buy their first home knew better. House auctions became a strange mania as prices went up and up and, with an undercurrent of racism, Asian investors were widely but probably wrongly blamed.

Whatever the cause, families sleeping in cars in New Zealand’s biggest city didn’t look good.

As 2016 trundled to its sometimes horrible but mostly farcical end, dildos entered the scene again, this time via an advice column in police rag Police News. An officer wanted to sell sex aids on the side. What should he do and could he do it? he asked.

The advice was sage but, it turned out, entirely farce. A reporter called the magazine to find out more: who was this moonlighting cop and what, exactly, was he selling?

“Um,” came the response, “we, ah, kinda made it all up.”

Tom Hunt is a senior reporter at The Dominion Post based in Wellington. He usually covers breaking news, ranging from escaped bulls to murder to middle-of-the-night earthquakes. You can catch his sporadic tweets @tomdom76. Rod Emmerson is the editorial cartoonist for The New Zealand Herald. Anna Crichton is an award-winning illustration based in Auckland.