Thursday, July 09, 2020

For empty plinths

A lot of Pakeha think that warmongers & land-grabbers are the only forebears we have, but history's more complex than that. At the Spinoff I've suggested four nineteenth century Pakeha heroes who could be elevated to empty plinths.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Five theses on the non-existence of the present

1 Wars are fought first in the imagination. The invasion of the Waikato was planned in Auckland; the city's toponyms record its guilt. Pt Chevalier had a firing range; the suburb is named after a top marksman. On nearby Meola Reef a dummy Maori pa was built; soldiers shelled and sniped at it.

2 The photo was taken in the German port of Kiel in 1916. It shows mines being loaded onto SMS Wolf, a raider headed for the Pacific. In April 1919 Edward Whare & two friends were riding down a beach near Raglan. They spotted a strange object, stopped. The smoke column was seen miles away. The war had taken its last victims.

3 Events metastasise. In 1863 imperial troops moving through Ramarama's puriri forest were ambushed & gunned down by Waikato guerrillas. 80 years later Private Bryan Sharp fled from nearby Ravensthorpe convalescent hospital, hid in a remnant of the ancient forest, & shot himself.

4 On an autumn night in 1948 two men - one imaginary, one real - were killed at Auckland's Town Hall. Joe Burns, a professional Canadian-Hawai'ian boxer, lay still after being smashed by local fighter Tommy Downes. Burns' real name was Peni Latinidavetalevu. He was not a pro.

Latinidavetalevu was an illegal migrant from Fiji. He had stowed away on a ship to Auckland & created Joe Burns, complete with a publicity photo & stories of US fights. Fijian police saw the photo & recognised him. He would have been arrested, had he survived his fight.

5 Auckland had a blood moon last month. I don't like that phrase, nor the overproduced photos of the event. Neither can convey the peculiar sense of intimacy I felt, as I looked into the ruddy face leaning over Glen Eden's rooftops. TE Hulme died in 1917, but he saw my moon:

A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Suddenly his mind went blank



Cities smoke, statues collapse, & the oranges in our yard swell & brighten. The indifference of nature is both frightening & consoling. The kids try to knock the oranges out of the tree with sticks. I want to watch them rot & fall of their own accord.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Listen to the bishop

As a few articles in the media show, I've been busy arguing that Akaroa's Bully Hayes restaurant and Bar should change its name, and was pleased to find today that the establishment's owner, Wayne Jones, now agrees with me. Jones has rethought the name, and has issued a gracious and generous statement. 

I talked about the issue today on Radio New Zealand. 


I've had a few angry messages from conservative New Zealanders who seem to believe that the Pacific slave trade is a mirage created in recent years by 'woke academics'. I don't think the phrase 'woke academic' fits John Coleridge Patteson, the first Anglican bishop of Melanesia & the William Wilberforce of the Pacific. Patteson died fighting the slave trade.
Patteson ran the Melanesian mission in Auckland & later Norfolk, where young men were trained in Christianity & various trades. In the 1860s he began hearing terrible stories from them, of 'catch catch boats' & stolen villages. Patteson began to write & speak against the slavers.

Thanks to the Anglican church's Project Canterbury, we can now access some of Patteson's denunciations of slavery. They make sad reading, with their accounts of canoes run down & their passengers seized, & islanders made to sign contracts they could not read.

Patteson travelled through the Pacific collecting stories of slave raids. Imperial administrators and some his superiors in the Anglican church began to resent his detailed and withering reports.
Patteson was a brilliant linguist, who eventually learned about a dozen Melanesian languages. He became steadily more sympathetic towards the region's indigenous cultures, & argued against missionaries' attempts to impose Western dress & manners on them.
In 1870 Patteson was recovering in Auckland from exhaustion when he realised that a schooner called the Lulu, a boat funded by Auckland's business elite, had arrived with 27 ni-Vanuatu slaves. Patteson began to campaign against the introduction of slavery to NZ.
Slavers hated Patteson, but knew he was popular on many islands. They began to dress up as him, so that they could lure victims aboard their boats. These masquerades & their continuing violent raids may well have led to Patteson's death.
In 1871 Patteson landed alone on Nukapu Island, in the far southeast of the Solomons. He was slain. Nukapu had recently been raided by slavers. Huge memorial meetings were held for Patteson throughout NZ; resolutions against Pacific slavery were passed.
Britain responded to Patteson's death by sending the HMS Rosario to Nukapu, via Auckland, where its crew played locals in the first international rugby game in NZ's history. The HMS Rosario shelled Nukapu, & armed men stormed the tiny atoll. Dozens of islanders died.
Patteson is revered as a martyr today by many Melanesian Anglicans. For anyone interested in learning about the Pacific slave trade, biographies of Patteson & his own writings are invaluable. It is sad that, nearly 150 years after his death, some still don't hear his message.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Akaroa's slaver



In the US & UK monuments celebrating slavery are coming down. The people of Bristol have thrown the statue of their slaver Coulston into the sea. Here in NZ we have a popular restaurant & bar whose name is a tribute to the most notorious of all the Pacific's slave traders.
Akaroa's Bully Hayes Restaurant & Bar takes its name from the American slaver, sadist & pedophile who preyed on the islands of the Pacific for years, from bases in Apia & the Marshall Islands. Hayes stole islanders & sold them to the plantations of Tahiti, Fiji, & Queensland.
Hayes raped many of the girls & young women he abducted. In his meticulous book The White Pacific, African American scholar Gerald Horne shows that the slaver was protected by high-placed relatives in Washington DC.
The website of the Bully Hayes Restaurant & Bar includes a short account of Hayes' 'colourful' career. Hayes' exploits during the Otago gold rush are noted, but not the slave raids that are still remembered with sorrow on islands across the Pacific.
I ran into Hayes & the restaurant that honours him when I was researching my book The Stolen Island. I was amazed that anyone imagined Hayes a romantic, even admirable figure. Now would be a good time for the restaurant to rethink its moniker.
Here's the website for the restaurant & bar. Here's their facebook page. I imagine that many New Zealanders would feel reluctant to eat and drink at the place, if they knew that its name celebrated pedophilia and slavery.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The ruin


We spent the long weekend with my brother-in-law, who has resettled in the Kaipara. We watched his old American neighbourhood burn on TV, then walked into the hills to look for kaka. A black fungus covered the trunks and branches of manuka and kanuka, so that they resembled victims of forest fires.
On the way home we stopped at Warkworth's cement factory. New Zealand's factories are its ruined abbeys. They commemorate our Sutchian era of economic nationalism, an era of indigenous car plants and tariffed electronic, an era ended by neo-liberal politicians as ruthless as Henry VIII. Like the mutilated monasteries of England and Wales, Warkworth's factory is beautiful because it represents defeat.

The apocalypse does not belong to science fiction. It is an ancient genre, present in the foundations of English literature. A medieval Briton wrote 'The Ruin', in which he described the wrecked Roman city of Bath as the work of giants who had suffered pyrde (fate). 'The Ruin' survives in a fire-damaged manuscript. I enter the poem at Warkworth's cement works.             

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Cult of the wild

Auckland museum's hosting the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Its images are big, glossy, dramatic, & alienating. They depict nature as sublime & wild: as something that can either be admired passively or else contaminated by humans. I longed to see a brambled culvert, a tree hut, a hedgerow with a letter box: some sign that humans & the natural world existed in the same universe.
The notion of nature as wilderness was mercilessly deconstructed by the late great NZ naturalist Geoff Park. Park noted that the idea of preserving pristine wilderness away from humans only developed in Europe during the Industrial Revolution, when the filth of factories and cities destroyed swathes of countryside. In other times and places, humans had assumed they could live together with the natural world, and find ways to use it without destroying it. Park showed many of NZ's nature reserves were established through the expulsion of Maori from land they had sustainably used for centuries. By depicting nature as something far away and completely inhuman, the photographers on show at Auckland museum perpetuate the 19th century ideology Park criticised.
And it isn't just the show's ideology that is outdated. The photographers have more in common with 19th century painters of sublime landscapes, like Caspar David Friedrich, than they do with the artists of the 21st century. They seem completely innocent of all the innovations in modern visual art over the past century. It is as though Arbus and Strand and Eggleston never existed.
I turned away from these deep and meaningless images, & revisited the museum's Pacific galleries, whose artefacts show how humans can integrate rather than alienate themselves from nature.