Arriving in New Zealand a few years ago, I was transported back in time to having no van, knowing no-one, in an unfamiliar place and five months in which to do something, anything – I just didn’t know what. Within a charmed four hours I found and acquired my faithful steed, Thelma – a 1981 Toyota Hiace – and throwing my surfboard and camera inside, it was with no small degree of trepidation I set off south from Christchurch.
It’s an idyllic situation, one that people tell me time and time again that “I’m so lucky to be able to do”, and yet they’ve never done it themselves. It’s incredibly introverted to start with – avoiding cities, towns and any significant congregation of people. Left alone in vast open spaces, there is nothing but my Self, thoughts, fears and feelings to accompany.
It was after three weeks of self-imposed exile that I found myself at an idyllic park-up spot outside of Kakanui, overlooking a beautiful left-hand point. I got talking to a couple up for the weekend from Dunedin, and soon the warm kiwi hospitality was extended and when I rolled into town a few weeks later I looked them up – well, I was going to but before I had a chance I bumped into Regan in the supermarket.
And so I was introduced to Free the Sheep. There was no question of what it was, it just summed up and expressed something I had been wrestling with since leaving my job, my life as it was. It soon became a common cry as a greeting, a parting, an explanation to the mysterious, a summary to the unending and a reason to keep on keeping on. I liked the logo too, at first not seeing the silhouette of a face as if it were shouting the words FREE THE SHEEEEEEEP!!!
It duly got graffiti’d onto Thelma, surfboard and anything else possible. A soundtrack emerged, soulfully (yet at times admittedly quite off key) recorded late nights in the basement of Mark’s place. FtS was infectious, becoming symbolic of finding a way, seeking a balance and answering unasked questions – but how to describe it, how to summarise what “it” was, remained a challenge.
Essentially, the reason for this was that it is subjective – it means different things for different people, but the common thread is of a sense of choosing, of making our own choices in our own lives whilst conforming to / living within the given framework that cannot be altered. Leaving Dunedin eventually, I wasn’t about to leave FtS behind and so it was that I took it with me on the rest of my travels in NZ, the van shouting to all that saw her to get their sheep free. It amazed me how people related FtS to their own lives, ambitions, situations and found within it inspiration, confidence and motivation to make the choices they want without overly relenting to conformity.
FREE THE SHEEP!