Meaning of the Song
The song expresses appreciation for the beauty of New Zealand, respect for its past and a hope for its future. It was created as one man's attempt to express some New Zealand values highlighting some things that are special about our culture and who we are.
The title 'Just by Heaven's Door' was inspired by the Dave Dobbyn song 'Slice of Heaven', which was once used as the feature music for a wonderful ad showing New Zealand's natural beauty and attractiveness as a tourist destination. In the words, the 'heaven's door' also refers to the fact that New Zealand is right on the dateline - one of the first places in the world to see the dawning of a new day. The 'Under Southern Cross' locates New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere. This is where we are.
The green fields, ferns and forests, the white of snow-capped mountains and clouds and beaches, the blue of the sea and sky: to me these epitomise the natural beauty of our country. 'God's own country' or simply 'Godzone' is a common nickname for New Zealand, coined by Thomas Bracken in an epic poem describing New Zealand's magical beauty. The nickname was popularised by Prime Minister Richard Seddon. The nickname is also appropriate since this was the last major part of the world to be discovered and settled: until then God had it all to himself! So in the poem New Zealand is described as a hidden treasure (taonga) - hidden by geographic location and by 'the long white cloud' until discovered by Maori and latterly by Europeans.
The phrase 'Two ancient peoples' refers to Maori and British, peoples who had lived separately for millennia, each with their own distinctive cultures. It is really something special about this country that it was not imposed by conquest or invasion but formed by a treaty between friendly nations. Certainly there was conflict before and after that - New Zealand has never been entirely peaceful since man first set foot on these islands. But overall the history of New Zealand has been relatively peaceful and I am optimistic that this peace can grow. 'Covenant' means a sacred agreement, like a marriage, that should be honoured. Although the Treaty meant many things, its most enduring legacy is the lives of tens of thousands who were born as a result of intermarriage. After the Treaty, thousands came to this land from many different countries of the world, in search of a better life both materially and socially. Those who come with a good heart to see this country prosper and grow, and to grow along with it, are welcomed.
What is special about the character of New Zealand's culture? One strong kiwi value is a sense of justice and egalitarianism - a fair go for everyone. We value the relative freedom from corruption in our government, businesses and courts, compared to other parts of the world. We strongly value personal freedom and the right to be an individual, with individual conscience. And of course everyone wants prosperity. Also, to borrow the biblical phrase, we value 'faith, hope and love'. New Zealanders honour those who are trustworthy and loyal - who keep faith with each other and are true to their convictions and their word. We honour compassion, kindness and love: for example we don't allow vast sections of society to live in abject poverty or repression, as in some countries. And despite the prevailing cynicism I believe we have reasons to be optimistic as a nation and as individuals - to have hope for a brighter future.
The first New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, were overwhelmingly free men and women who came to this land in search of a future better life. We do not exactly know what motivated the Maori settlers, but it is clear that many Europeans came to escape poverty or discrimination based on class or religion. Racial prejudice has been a harder barrier to overcome, especially for Chinese and Indians and Pacific Islanders as well as Maori. But generally we have evolved a society where people are respected for their hard work and achievements and much less negative attention is paid to race.
Those early settlers had to be inventive and self-reliant. This was partly because the land was far from manufactured goods, and partly because labour was not cheap. Almost everyone aspired to be a homeowner rather than a hired labourer. So we became a country of independent do-it-yourselfers, with the image of the hard-working kiwi battler. But we never lost sight of the value of helping one's mate at times, and working together in teams for the common good. This was especially the case on the sports field - notably in Rugby. The team aspect of life was strengthened by the communal values of Maori and other ethnic minorities.
Perhaps it's a result of being a small nation of immigrants, but very many New Zealanders are outward-looking, with a global perspective. We are determined to compare ourselves, and compete with, the best in the world. We honour those who, by their hard work and character, earn the right to represent us overseas. The phrase 'we'll honour those who work hard' does not have a downside: it does not mean we dishonour those who are truly unable to work, nor that we should turn into workaholics. But it does mean that anybody in New Zealand can earn the respect of their peers by doing a good job at what they do. Those who support others are also highly valued as part of the team. The phrase 'serve with pride' refers partly to the Armed Forces, and official services such as Police, Fire and Ambulance, and the many others who assist our communities. But it also refers to the fact that New Zealand is a nation where 'Jack is as good as his master', and there is little or no stigma attached to serving others. Rather, people who put in the effort, take a pride in their work and contribute to society, are respected by their fellow New Zealanders.
So this is 'our place to stand' - our turangawaewae - our place to belong and where we are able to stand and express our opinions and our differences while respecting each other's right to be called a New Zealander.
New Zealand is our homeland. Let us build it and treasure it.