Saturday, July 13, 2019


Modern consciousness is medieval. Reports in our newspapers repeat narratives told by campfirelight centuries ago. Recently police went searching through a Northland wood; they found a meth lab, guarded by huge sodden ferns, and a missing man.

The man's family had declared him missing; they had no idea he had a secret lab, a secret life, in the bush. Out there, away from the panoptic gaze of townsfolk, the man turned from an ordinary citizen into a drug-making monster. The transformation is ancient.

For centuries Europe's witch hunters were tormented and titillated by stories of Satanic sabbaths, of men and women sidling away from their villages, and gathering, in moonlit forest clearings, to win occult powers with orgies and other offerings. Witches were ordinary people transformed by trees, night, secrecy.

The obsession with witches' sabbaths found its way into early European accounts of Pacific religions. In his book The Savage South Seas, E Way Elkington gives a gothic account of ni-Vanuatu men meeting in the jungle to drum and dance through the night.

The New Zealand Herald's report on the missing man and his meth lab is structured like an inquisitor's report on a witches' sabbath. The man entered the forest, shed his social identity, was possessed by evil, and used occult technology to produce a poison he planned to bring back to civilisation. He was, is, a witch; he will be tried, condemned.

Friday, June 28, 2019


I've done a piece for The Spinoff and Newshub about the anti-Indian hysteria that convulsed New Zealand in 1920, a year that saw a military expedition to Fiji, ethnic cleansing in North Island towns, and the formation of a Kiwi KKK.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Whitening New Zealand

Chris Trotter doesn't think that New Zealand has ever been a white supremacist nation; on twitter I've been disagreeing with him, and posting a few old newspaper articles. Pete George has made our conversation into a blog post.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Notes from Drury

No one loved the troughs, not even the cows, who would slurp the stagnant water then gape ardently at the clear flowing surface of the fenced-off creek. But after the farm was sold and subdivided the troughs lost their function. They became artefacts, as uselessly beautiful as the wells of a vanished medieval abbey.
Time is a river that flows everywhere, said Marcus Aurelius. But my father's room, at the back of the farmhouse, is a dark rock that water hurries around. A Tripe and Onion Club tie, a paint-splattered, pearl-shaped AM radio, a ripped Golden Kiwi ticket: the objects the room stores are long dead, immortal.
We hadn't visited the farmhouse since that unnaturally warm autumn. The yard's crocuses still opened, like yawning mouths, as doomed bees carried their burdens of tribute. Now it was winter. Silver bees fell from a cloud, clung to the bedroom's glass as though it were the side of a hive.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Three photos from an old file

I step into the photo, which is labelled Pioneers Bar, East Tamaki, 1980. I can smell the cigarette butts that have fallen like petals into the potted plant by the bar. I can smell the piss and flat beer in the carpet. I close my eyes. I inhale my childhood.
Clifton Firth may have photographed my paternal grandparents, though I am still to find the image. He was a Marxist modernist famous, and well rewarded for his shots of Auckland's industrial architecture and its bourgeoisie. If you wanted your freezing works or your Remuera debutante daughter photographed, then Clifton was your man. About 1967 Clifton's daughter Ann commandeered his camera, and shot her siblings playing about a half-built Paremoremo prison.
In 1960 these technicians posed at Otahuhu's telephone exchange. There is an ease, a confidence about them. They can read the wires of the vast machine; they are, were, masters of modernity. Now their machine is lost, their skills old folklore. Today's cyber gurus have inherited the technicians' smiles.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Weirder and weirder

Image result for alt right nz
I don't enjoy thinking about the alt-right, but since the March 15th attacks in Christchurch I've been keeping an eye on some of the movement's local members. I talked about the history of white supremacism on Radio New Zealand's Black Sheep podcast, and I've been tweeting updates on the increasingly weird fantasies of alt-righters like John Ansell, the former National and Act Party ad man whose long-standing fear of 'Maori supremacism' is now complemented by some serious paranoia about Muslims.

Ansell and hundreds of other Kiwis have convinced themselves that the March the 15th atrocities were a 'false flag' operation, and a pretext for the Ardern government to crush civil liberties.

Today Pete George, who has been blogging about the far right for years, has incorporated a couple of my tweets into a post about the increasingly crazed rhetoric of the alt-right.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Forgetting Melanesia

In a piece for EyeContact I've asked whether Auckland museum's white supremacist past still haunts its Ancient Worlds gallery. The gallery is supposed to represent ancient agricultural civilisations, and it includes exquisite artefacts from Egypt, Sumer, Greece. But there is no mention of Melanesia, the place where humans first created agriculture, & where for tens of thousands of years they have maintained complex & successful societies.