Saturday, April 21, 2018

Running the blockade

I've written about Allen Curnow & his blockade of the Pacific for The Spinoff. Curnow was a great poet, but he was also, like most great poets, a dark magus.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Malo Mark

Malo aupito to Mark Amery, who has mentioned my essay about the Seleka Club and the fundraising exhibition for Seleka at Small Axe studio in his weekly roundup of art events for The Big Idea, and encouraged his readers to help out Seleka.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The ignorance factor

The Ministry of Education has rejected a plea for the New Zealand Wars of the 19th century to be made a compulsory part of the history curriculum at our schools. The Ministry says local school boards should decide whether or not the wars are taught on their campuses. Entrusting such a decision to Pakeha-dominated boards in redneck towns and suburbs is like giving responsibility for science education to the local branch of the Exclusive Brethren.

Back at Rosehill College in the '90s the school board gave our seventh form history teacher the choice of spending a term on either Elizabethan England or the NZ Wars. She chose to take us back to the Elizabethan era, despite the fact that our school was close to scores of historic sites from the Waikato War - imperial redoubts, Kingitanga pa, churches with reinforced walls and bullet holes, sites of guerrilla ambushes, and graveyards where soldiers lay. What a waste.

I have talked to hundreds of New Zealanders about the Waikato War, as part of my research for Ghost South Road, the book I'm publishing soon with photographers Paul Janman and Ian Powell. I've noticed a huge gap between Maori and Pakeha knowledge of the war. Most Maori know at least the outlines of the conflict, and many can give detailed accounts of battles, and produce artefacts - old cannon shells, photographs of warriors - that are held as taonga by their whanau.

A few Pakeha, especially older people who were born in this country, know about the Waikato War, but the big majority have an encylopaedic ignorance of the conflict. Some of them have told me that the war was fought in the fifteenth or sixteenth century; some have insisted that it was a fight between rival Maori iwi, and had nothing to do with Pakeha; others have claimed that the fighting occurred in the years before 1840, and was brought to a close by the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Waikato War is by far the most important event in New Zealand history. Without it, New Zealand would not be a unified nation, the dairy industry would not exist, and Auckland would still be our capital city. The ignorance of Pakeha about the foundational event in their country's history is not healthy, especially when it is set beside the vivid and bitter memories of Maori.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, April 02, 2018

Tiny ferocious creatures

Last week I went with Aneirin and his classmates to Waikumete Stream, the Nile of Glen Eden. We leaned into our reflections and panned, not for gold or garbage, but for macroinvertebrates: for creatures as strange as the syrphid, which has a tail the shape of a syringe, and the salmonfly, which might be a dragon miniaturised by some mad scientist.

A plastic shopping bag, puffed with trapped air, leaking azure slime, floated by. 'Look, kids' I heard myself saying. 'That's a jellyfish, Glen Eden's unique freshwater jellyfish species.' The kids whooped, forgot their macroinvertebrates. Their teacher glared at me. Biology and metaphor do not mix well.

We poured the macroinvertebrates into a bowl, a world. The creatures began to lunge at, to bite each other. We watched, as fascinated as we were helpless. The creatures seemed as noble & pathetic, in their tiny ferocious rivalries, as Maoist sects or Tongan churches or debaters on twitter.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, March 30, 2018

My local ruin

Heritage New Zealand has lately annoyed the nation's philistines by championing the preservation of that masterpiece of brutalist architecture, the former Teachers Training College in Karori. 
Perhaps I can interest Heritage New Zealand in the preservation of Pepperwood Mews, one of the most spectacular examples of Auckland's leaky buildings aesthetic and a Glen Eden landmark. 
Since 2004 the Mews has been evacuated, looted, squatted, and tagged. Its windows have the dark blank stare of war widows. 

When Auckland Council funded Pepperwood Mews, it talked of a housing crisis. The building soon began to leak; tenants moved out; the homeless took councillors' rhetoric too literally, and began to squat. Police removed them, but their urine and vomit stains and tags remain, as quaintly obscene as the murals unearthed at Pompeii.
Apart from being a masterpiece of leaky building aesthetics, the Mews was site of the longest robbery in NZ history. In 2011 a team of orange-vested men laid out cones, spent months moving purposefully in and out of the Mews. They stole everything, including doors & sinks.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Quigley's withdrawal

[Quigley - I chose to represent him with a single name of my own invention - is another veteran of the Great South Road who hasn't made it into my forthcoming book. I wrote up one of his adventures; the publisher has mollified me by promising to use it in his promotional material for the book. I believe that Quigley is currently enrolled in that most august New Zealand institution, the methadone programme.] 
Quigley was withdrawing; so were thousands of other Aucklanders. It was six o'clock, and the traffic on the Great South Road and the Southern Motorway had coagulated.

As it waited on an on-ramp, Quigley's Vauxhall shivered like a junkie queuing for methadone. Rain sweated down the track mark on his windscreen. The red light at Greenlane was a tablet, fifteen milligrams of aprotinin.
By the time Quigley reached the pharmacy it had been closed for an hour. He leaned his forehead against the pane. 
The big bottles of opiates sat in the distance, on the top shelf, close to the ceiling, like the most sacred gods in a temple. Below them were the rungs of lesser medicines: the cold cures, which had been useless since they lost their pseudoephedrine, ointments meant for stinking feet, antipyretics with names like ketoprofen, nimesulide, names that sounded like rare and deadly diseases.
As he left through the hole his boot had made, Quigley noticed the blood. It covered the white tiles of the pharmacy in bold but clumsy strokes. It was his note of apology. The roads were dark and empty, waiting like veins. He drank a bottle of opiates, another, and steered back down the Great South Road, back onto the Southern Motorway.
Quigley drove down the motorway, into his head. The Vauxhall was a blue pill, Sevredol. His neural pathways flared; the lamp posts blurred. Now he was dissolving, dispersing, speeding down off-ramps, side roads, flashing capillaries...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Another hero of the Great South Road

[There's a distressing number of wonderful people who haven't made it into my forthcoming (May the 17th; final proofing at the moment) book about the Great South Road. One of them is Stowell. This is a fragment of his story. I'll post tomorrow about another hero, whose name is Quigley.]

Stowell refused to resent his task. He knew that the other photographers at work on the calendar had tickets to Rotorua, to Queenstown, to Haast Pass. He imagined Renee and her Canon EOS, the wide dopey eye that ogled and flashed models and rugby players’ wives, as a chopper dragonflyed them over the mountains, as it landed on a glacier. He imagined the after-shoot party in the ski resort, moonlit snow out the windows like free cocaine. He saw Chris in Rotorua, getting a few lazy shots then wrapping, and heading out on the lake for lunch.

He had no ticket, no room in a resort. He had been sent to the Great South Road, to Takanini Strait. The editors wanted an ‘urban’ shot, to sit amongst the glaciers and lakes and geysers, to make, through its very dullness, its ugliness, the rest of the calendar resplendent.

But Stowell refused to resent his task. Anyone could photograph the vulgar architecture of the Alps, Rotorua's erotic mud. Takanini roundabout, though, required discernment, craft, inspiration. He wiped the drizzle from his camera's lens, in the careful way a father wipes tears from a son's eye, then knelt again. The puddles on the Great South Road resembled a series of silver trays, abandoned by distracted waiters.