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Grahame Sydney paints a new tourism strategy - "Let's play hard to get."

"If you're easy, no one wants you."

That was the hard hitting theme of a presentation in Queenstown from artist Grahame Sydney this weekend. "Let's make it harder to get here, not cheaper and easier."

Speaking to the 10th anniversary dinner of the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group, Sydney left no stone unturned in blasting what the renowned artist described as the corporate threat to the landscapes that New Zealand relies on for tourism and our own sense of place and identity.

"Our suburban sprawl is eating away the open fields, and from the air, turning what was natural grass into a uniform dark grey roofscape, a seemingly unstoppable devouring of the passages of peace and tranquility between settlements. We have traffic snarls, rampant irritability, and the magnificent Remarkables now boasting a foreground of an orange Megastore, the lurid sickly yellow of PakNSave, and the blood red Warehouse, where everyone gets a bargain."

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Grahame Sydney at the 10th Anniversary dinner of the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group. "Let's play hard to get."

Sydney also placed blame on the average New Zealander for not caring enough about what it being lost.

"Baldly put, most New Zealanders simply don’t seem to care much about the big issues with which one might expect an intelligent society to be engaged : concepts of The Greater Good – the things which are bigger than our own private needs and greeds, the questions which will resonate far beyond our own lifetimes, the decisions which will affect not us in the short-term, but those unborn descendants who will inherit the legacy of our  brief tenure."

art gallery

Pave paradise and put up a parking lot?

"If you’re easy to get no-one wants you. Well, the same applies when it comes to  recognising what it is you’ve got in any one region, like here. What makes this different to the rest ? What is here but nowhere else ?  What is it which separates us ? Makes us unique – and so desirable ? Certainly not ever more  tourists, nor hotels and shopping mall precincts and commercial zones – they’re the same in any town or city the world over. If you’re inside any of them anywhere in the world you wouldn’t know where you were by the way they look and feel and operate.  They have no discernible regional personality. They’re inseparable, neutral, characterless worlds unto themselves beyond the flavour of any nationality."

"Be hard to get, and the appreciative, high value customers will come, and they’ll love it all the more."

"We all can and do moan about what has been lost. What matters is what we do next."

"This region is being buried in tourists, but that’s not making the best of what we’ve got, or valuing it. Gross numbers don’t tell the story of sustainable success."

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Grahame Sydney's New Zealand - unspoiled, special and unique.

Grahame Sydney also highlighted that his early landscape paintings were becoming visual records of what is no longer there.

"Unexpectedly, many of those early paintings have experienced an altered interpretation: so rapid have the changes been  in this area, some of them are becoming historical documents, depicting a landscape and a rural culture now forgotten, dissolved in an acid solution of a very few years. Where then the visual palette was yellow and brown and brittle and dry, we now have irrigated, chemically-induced  green, an artificially promoted lushness defying the seasons and Nature’s intentions."

Crux has decided to publish Mr Sydney's speech in its entirety. It is a powerful commentary on the trends that are currently shaping both the physical and economic landscapes of the lower South Island. The contents are copyright Grahame Sydney and may not be published without his express, written permission.

Read the full Grahame Sydney speech here.

Read poet Brian Turner - "We need to wake up."

The Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group.


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  • Andrew Donaldson : 11/06/2019, 12:40 am (6 months ago)

    I've been interested in Grahame - and Brian Turner's - perspectives on landscape issues for many years, in my mind both are right on the money yet again. Having enjoyed the benefits of my roots in Central Otago and much of my life travelling I am struck by an observation that Grahame references - the tendency of New Zealanders to focus on price, not value - let's call it the Warehouse Syndrome. The more we flood our landscapes with the largest numbers of the lowest per night spend tourists the less the smallest numbers of the highest per night spend visitors will want to visit. We reduce the stunning visual ingredients to barely edible mush blighted by generic retail experiences designed to get the per night spend up. Let's face it - we have done this time and time again: exporting slabs of grey frozen meat vs chilled premium cuts, devasted rivers as a price to pay for commoditised products like milk powder by the tonne, selling trees not fine furniture. The more the world smashes its landscapes the more valuable what's left becomes - protect it and make better more sustainable margins as well as continuing to love living here.

  • Jules Tapper : 9/06/2019, 9:59 pm (6 months ago)

    What a great article and address. And Grahame some of us do care. After over 55 years in the travel and aviation business and after extensive overseas travel I would say this article is right on the money. We are at a tipping point right now and policies from now on will determine whether we enhance and protect or gradually destroy that which we hold dear or take for granted. Quality not quantity and a long term view with questions asking when is enough enough need to come into future planning determinations. And I don't believe I am being a nimby!