October 2008


This was maybe our fourth attempt to see this film, and having finally made it I think the only thing to say about this film is “go and see it”. It’s a subtle and fascinating documentary that, while not cinematic history, is a loving tale of the sort I think we’d all like to tell about someone we’ve known and loved.

The tale centres on Puhi, a Tuhoe woman born at the turn of the C20th deep in the Ureweras, and who eventually marries a son of the prophet Rua Kenana. The director, Vincent Ward, visited with her in the early 1980s on a naive mission to find some “authentic Maoris”, and captured a set of film that he gradually unravels for us, and brings us all into a deep acquaintence with Puhi.

And I loved it. In the telling of this story we are all brought close to a mystical world mostly lost to modern European culture, a world where explanations take many shapes, and where there are many things we simply cannot explain. It is a world where an old woman walks the boundary between life and death, and to whom the cost is the near-constant loss of life of those she loves most dearly.

It’s a fascinating watch. Ward uses the 1980s camera brutally as a young man. His lens is intrusive, capturing deeply significant events that his 21-year-old experience does not fully understand. The fear of an old woman. Her son’s ongoing battle to maintain his sanity, he having crossed the line into the world of the dead and paid an inevitable price.

All these events are wrapped in the history of the Tuhoe and the ongoing barbarism acted out upon them by the colonial government, injustices that carry on to this day, and which Puhi was near the centre of. Ward is unaware of this as a young man, and this tale is his redemption, to search out the hidden meaning and uncover it for us in a methodical penance.

It’s an understated film of untold depths, and one I recommend you go see.

Crazy. In the dream I was reading a newspaper and the headlines read:

Occam’s Razor-Gang takes to Bureaucracy: Public Servants cut in half

And I was looking at it thinking, “somewhere, this might make sense…”.

I was lamenting the loss of ‘the old fire’ here the other day, so I thought that I’d take time out to try and blog a little in ‘the old style’; less considered, less from the comfort of home, and little more drunken.

I’m sitting about in a pub waiting about for a mate to turn up, and it seems like the perfect opportunity to knock out a few words. 

Trouble is, what to write about? With the movement into the public service the old love of lambasting political figures has disappeared (to be honest, I’ve actually become extremely cynical about the whole thing), and I’ve promise myself not to become one of those expectant fathers who spend the better part of their time talking about their impending lifestyle change.

So… I’ll leave it at that.

NO! WAIT!

SINK the HIKITIA

God, I’ve been wanting to write this post for ages. Every Sunday we walk past this damn tub on the way to the Waitangi Park Markets, and it’s been making me increasingly angry.

So I need to ask the question, why in the hell is this thing sitting rusting in our harbour?

I’ve a sneaking suspicion that it is linked somehow to the sentiment people have for the Bucket Fountain. It’s a horrible object that people secretly hate, but pretend they love because it’s been around *forever*, and therefore deserves to be spoken about in slightly reverential tones. And I can accept that. Except… Wellingtonians have only had access to the waterfront for a few years. I do not remember people getting excited about this wreck when I lived here in the 1990s for example. This suggests that the attachment much be recent.

But WHY? Damn this thing is ugly. It’s a great, big, floating, piece, of, crap.

I can also accept the argument that it’s much loved by youngsters. And who wouldn’t love a giant antique boat covered in rusty sharp edges to play on when they’re a wee tacker? 

The trouble is, the youngsters aren’t actually allowed on it. Why? Because it’s some kind of hazard. And I agree. It is a big, barnacle and mussel-covered hazard that should be taken out of the water and put into a park where it can be maintained and have kids climb all over it. That, or dynamited. 

I’m inclined to think the latter would be better.

Now I know that the bleeding-heart historical preservation societies out there would like to keep this massive pile of crap right there in the harbour because, well, because it’s “historical”. Oh, and because it’s a “working boat”. To which I say, “bullshit it’s a working boat. In two years the bastard has barely moved. If it was working it would have had it’s sorry arse performance-managed out the goddamn door and down to Work and Income to slowly molder and fret about the glory days.”

Actually… Looking at the state of the old crapper, this might have already happened. Doesn’t work. Sits in one spot for ages. I covered in warning signs. Never gets out and about. Is obsolete technology and not useful.

You do the math.

So join with me in shouting, SINK THE HIKIT!A! And do Wellington a big favour. If Kerry can’t do anything else more useful than build freaking roads, at least she can make a few pedestrians safer from falling iron.

Photo by Rick

Photo by Ricky Maynard

One of the highlights of the Labour Day weekend was to get out to Pataka in Porirua and see the Ricky Maynard exhibition. And it was well worth the trip.

One of the lasting impressions of my interaction with Aboriginal people is the abiding sense of loss imparted to successive generations.

Unless an individual is brought up in a strongly traditional cultural setting then they are in large part carry all the negative aspects of being Aboriginal, meaning they’re black and the absolute bottom of the totem pole, but few of the positives, such the cultural understandings that give meaning and pride to lives.

What culture does for people is gives them something concrete and worthy to hang their hat on. Italians and Greeks in Australia have cuisine for example, meaning they can contribute something unique to the nation that elevates their social status. As their group has moved closer to the mainstream they are able to recall their parents or grandparents cultural lessons and lean on them, even making capital of that culture, both social and financial.

But Aboriginal people have had that taken from them by force, deliberately, over as many as six generations.

Maynard’s exhibition is one of the better captures of that sense of lose. He has three sets of photos shown, and I’ll admit to being shocked to realise that one set is of a group I worked with in St. Kilda. The second set is a series of remarkable portraits such as the one above, in which the lined and weathered faces of Aboriginal people of the Wik Clan are captured in their glory, the antithesis of our beauty-obsessed and superficial society. But it’s in the photos depicting men mutton-birding that he’s found his heart of the tragedy that overtook Aboriginal people.

The mutton-birders are the descendants of a small number of individuals placed on the Bass Strait islands after the genocide of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Clans. In a series of systematic attacks these people were exterminated by settlers and convicts, with the survivors “rescued” and dumped unceremoniously on a set of wind-swept and barren islands “for their protection”. It is a dark and sorry chapter in a 150-year history of such events in Australia.

What the photos spoke to me was the separation of these people from their culture and their past. They mutton-bird these days as a link to their predecessors, and it is a tradition of sorts, but one empty of the deeper rites and ceremonies enjoyed by Aboriginal people in the far North of the country. It’s hard to see why these people are more indigenous than any other person who might have been brought up in Tasmanian, and it is the doubt sowed in the viewer that acts to further undermine the Aboriginality of the individuals depicted, making that viewer complicit in the ongoing destruction of that identity.

It’s a great set of pictures, and one highly recommended.

Look, I know it’s been days since this particular and despicable bit of racism happened, but it’s been grinding on my conscience and I simply can’t stay quiet any longer. I know about the Code of Conduct and I know that the election period is not a time when someone like me should be making any comment at all. But, I figure I’m not actually able to vote for the guy directly, so hitting out at a right-wing sonofabitch doing something this appalling should pass beneath the radar. Or at least I hope.

Once again, I know that this is inappropriate, but so are this guy’s actions. Racism is a very serious issue in our society, and when someone who is considered an influence on how we do things here in New Zealand makes an outright racist gesture like this you have to speak up. If you normalise this type of action among your political leaders then you pretty quickly get to the point where the man in the street sees it as acceptable. As it is we have young Kiwis all over the world mimicking this type of thing, and seeing a prominent right-wing leader having a wee go as well reinforces to them that it’s also ok to do it at the pub, or at sports matches, or in the street. And frankly, I’m fucking sick of it. Who the hell does this guy think he is? Not only is he making himself look like an ass, he’s embarrassing everything about the culture and people he’s mocking.

I mean, do you think it’s alright? Do you? Do you think it’s ok for a political leader of any ilk to do something like this and we all just sit back, act chillaxed, and say, “meh”?

Because it is not alright goddamnit. Every single time a mainstream leader does something like this it undermines everything that minorities have fought for over the last 50 years. And they should know better. Doing something like this reminds minorities just what their place in society really is. Something to be mocked and talked down to. Something to patronised. A culture to be appropriated and dragged out on stage in a clumsy display that embarrasses both them and the person performing the act so incredibly badly.

So I’m speaking up and saying that enough is enough. I’m taking a stand here on this blog and saying that none of us. Not you. Not I. Not anyone should take this sitting down. We must speak up. We must raise our voice and shout down the conformists and the apologists. We must raise our voices and say NO!! This cannot be allowed to happen. Other right-wingers might think it’s OK, but the Left has to take a stand and must a stop to this disgraceful and shameful behaviour immediately.

So I need you to join with me and put a stop to the likes of the a photo so disgraceful I had to hide it over the jump. SO SHOUT IT OUT WHEN YOU READ IT!! (more…)

It occured to me this afternoon that there is a superlative Kiwi insult. I heard someone use it a few days ago and it’s rankled me ever since, because it’s ubiquitous but superbly subtle.

And the word is ‘pathetic’.

Describing someone as pah-thetic, but done in just the right tone, is a serious insult, and is not to be trifled with. It sums up everything that a good New Zealander is not. It makes a person seem like they’re not in control of their own destiny, it makes them fawning or weak, and it makes them seem beneath sympathy.

The word is also easy to use without impact. For instance I’ve heard political leaders using it and they can’t convey quite the same derision an ordinary person does. This appears to be because the more you know the subject of the insult, the deeper it cuts.

So I’ve spent the last few days wondering, how would a Kiwi increase the impact of a superlative adjective like this?

Maybe, “sheer pathetic”.

When I originally read this book I intensely disliked it, and it was only on a punt that I read Shriek: An Afterwood, but a second attempt has come up trumps.

Veniss is a dystopian future world that covers the world with a massive city, a premise that’s not entirely new, but is twisted in this novel by the presence of a geneticist called Quin. The 3-Act story revolves around the un/witting interaction of three main characters of the mad scientist, and is more akin to a Frankenstein-style horror than a straight scifi. And despite a terrible first Act I enjoyed it as such.

Without giving the story away, the presence of Quin and his creations presents interesting questions about the role of people and their behaviour in the world, and is probably supposed to be a direct commentary on our treatment of each other and animals. But… it’s buried pretty deep.

Otherwise, the novel follows what is probably a Vandermeer motif of the “brother-sister-other” love triangle similarly to Shriek. So that’s probably something to watch should he publish further books. Likewise the superficial “overworld” and the mystical underworld. Vandermeer appears to have something of a penchant for dividing the world into the haves and have-nots, but represents them in in a markedly different way to classical fantasy traditions like “elves” and “dwarves”.

Am actually looking forward to further books.

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