Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Crowding the road

Steve Braunias called me the other day to explain that he'd just walked down a section of the Great South Road, in the hope of finding inspiration for next month's issue of Metro. After returning from his walk and popping on the internet, Braunias had discovered that Paul Janman and I have been talking about filming a journey down the Great South Road for the last six months or so, and have documented some preliminary forays.

It is hard to feel proprietorial about an arts project based around a journey down a road, when so many people, both in New Zealand and elsewhere, have written about or painted or filmed their jaunts along country lanes or highways or urban thoroughfares. British writers are famous for taking to the road: William Cobbett's rides through counties torn apart by enclosures and industrialisation in the early nineteenth century, Edward Thomas' walks down tranquil Sussex byways in the years before World War One, and Iain Sinclair's demented orbit of the M 25, London's ring road, in the dying days of Blairism all make irresistable reading.

New Zealand, too, has its tradition of what we might call the road text. John Mulgan's canonised Man Alone describes the wanderings of a glum English immigrant down the roads of a Depression-era New Zealand. Although Man Alone is a novel, its author was a fanatical walker. The literary scholar Rod Orange discovered the extent of Mulgan's researches after he stepped out of his study, put on his boots, and hit the Desert Road and the rough byways of the Kaimanawa Ranges, in an effort to trace the route of the protagonist of Man Alone. After what must have been a good deal of huffing and puffing, Orange found that Mulgan's descriptions of the backblocks and back roads of the central North Island were extraordinarily accurate. At about the time Mulgan was beginning Man Alone, a young socialist and feminist named Elsie Locke crossed the Waikato River from her native Waiuku and headed down the paper roads and stock races of the area sometimes known as Limestone Country. In the days it took her to travel south from the Waikato to Raglan harbour, Locke encountered Maori communities still innocent of the English language and the cash economy, as well as vast sheep farms ruined by ragwort, gorse and the global financial crisis. Locke wrote her journey up nearly five decades later in Student at the Gates, an impressionistic account of the miseries and pleasures of life in 1930s New Zealand.

In the 1960s the octogenarian AH Reed made a series of walks across New Zealand, travelling first from North Cape to the Bluff and then from the western to the eastern extremes of Te Ika a Maui. Reed was a self-advertising, and therefore tedious, ascetic, who spent his nights in a sleeping bag with his head halfway out a window and began his days at six o'clock by loudly chanting Methodist hymns and eating a bowl of cold porridge. Editors at his firm were instructed to purge all the manuscripts they handled of expletives and references to alcohol and gambling.

Reed's prose style was about as exciting as his lifestyle, but he managed to sell thousands of copies of books like From East Cape to Egmont on Foot at Eighty-Six and The Happy Wanderer: a Kiwi on Foot. Perhaps the elderly Reed's odysseys interested New Zealanders for the same reason that Rolling Stones tours interest us in the twenty-first century. Even if Reed saw and did nothing particularly noteworthy on his walks, the sheer fact that he survived them, at his advanced age, may have seemed both commendable and somehow consoling. As he strode down tarred highways, guided by well-wishers to whom he offered hymns and improvised sermons, he may not have faced high water or landslides or loneliness, but he did continually risk a heart attack or stroke.

As Steve Braunias and I swapped stories of our adventures on the Great South Road, I was alarmed to realise that he possesses something of AH Reed's passion for exercise. When Braunias told me that he'd walked, on a single rainy day, from Greenlane all the way to Manurewa, I thought guiltily of the afternoon I recently spent sitting on a couch near a pleasant rural section of the Great South Road, drinking beer with Paul Janman.

Paul had wanted me to travel by Shanks' Pony over the Bombay Hills, visiting on the way the eroding redoubts the British army raised alongside its road to the Waikato, but after we had spotted an old couch sitting under a macrocarpa in a quiet valley I had convinced him that we ought to learn from the casual, blokey aesthetic of trashy television programmes like Sports Cafe, and sit down to have a couple of drinks and improvise a dialogue. The masses were tired, I told Paul, of earnest scholars in cardigans puffing down the camera and pouring out facts and figures: they wanted something less intimidating. I don't think I actually believed my arguments, but that couch looked very comfortable, particularly in comparison to nearby Razorback Redoubt.

As a result of my urgings, the following piece of footage lurches from a leisurely couchside chat to a montage of images made by William Temple, the Victorian Cross winner and incompetent photographer who unwittingly captured some of the unpleasant realities of the 1863-64 war against the Waikato Kingdom:

Anti Travels in the Ararimu Valley from Public Films on Vimeo.

Paul has coupled the photo montage with 'E Pa To Hau', a famous lament composed by a member of Ngati Apakura, a hapu that lived at Rangiaowhia, one of the richest areas of the Waikato Kingdom and the site of what was perhaps the worst massacre of the Waikato War. Near the end of the war, Apakura women and children took refuge in Rangiaowhia's church, only to have it set on fire by advancing Pakeha troops. In a poem written in 1958, when discussion of the the New Zealand Wars was very rare in Pakeha society, Kendrick Smithyman alluded to the market gardening economy booming in the Waikato before the invasion, and linked the slaughter at Rangiaowhia to General Duncan Cameron and Bishop Augustus Selwyn, the military and spiritual commanders of the invaders:

Never small mill’s grinding
nor peachgrove’s banding, not the beanvine’s blossom
should any wind’s blow turn or lessen.
None will simple occupation in their least defend
from the irregular cavalrymen descending
to let their soured guiltiness ripen
rot-red in a valley good days abandon.

How is it to fall from your God’s just hands
between clutching at your crop and the quick
stroke your reaper planned? How may these, their brown bodies cured
in unholy smoke, count the kindness you afford
them, Bishop? How, General, are your commands
to read lawful...

Smithyman's text has, for me, the same tone of majestic sadness as 'E Pa To Hau'.

Like the highways and byways the likes of Cobbett and Thomas travelled down, the Great South Road has run through many thousands of lives, and been the scene of or backdrop to thousands of stories. The Great South Road was built to help prosecute a war, but it has also been the route for wedding processions. It is a site for deadly crashes, and for boozy street parties. Anybody who records a journey down such a road has to find a way of coping with the incongruity of the different parts of its history.

As I watch Paul's clip, I am troubled by the transition from our jocular exchanges on a roadside couch to the menacing photos of William Temple and the lament of Ngati Apakura. I don't like the idea of creating a relentlessly bleak, determinedly humourless account of the Great South Road's history, but I'm not sure about the notion of prefacing William Temple with laughter and beer drinking, either. Perhaps Steve Braunias' piece for April's Metro will hint at an effective way of treating the complex and contradictory history of the road I grew up beside.

Twenty Steps Down the Great South Road from Public Films on Vimeo.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Jono said...

Scott, re your last paragraph, isn't that just how life is though? Just follow your natural inclinations and instincts and you will hit the right tone!

I plan on retracing the Ruapekapeka campaign march, probably next year. There are several marching camps somewhere between Kawakawa and the pa that have not been recorded, but are shown on several maps produced by the Brits, and are described in several reminiscences. One was accidentally burned to the ground by Frances McKillop when he was making coffee. At another camp (or possibly the same one), Walter Pengelley talks about their adversaries coming in to camp at night to sing and dance with their Maori allies and telling the Brits how far they could travel the next day before they would start being sniped and harrased. High drama, low humour, shits and giggles.

2:26 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:38 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Good Maps. I've actually read quite bit of Reed's book! I think what they liked about him was his honesty and eh was a kindly old fellow (he and his brother) and of course he was famous publisher.

Man Alone is hard to get into bit after the first chapter it is one of the great books for sure.

Smithyman's poem is quite beautiful but it is rather riddling as usual with Smithyman in the manner of the complex syntax of Dylan Thomas (he modeled some of his poetry (style or tone of) after him and also Marianne Moore in some of his books), But also it is rather like the ambiguous (and sometimes difficult, or mannered) syntax or style of John Donne where there are two subjects to his verbs etc Sometimes reading a poem by him is like working out a maths problem...but reading it through quickly it has a kind of beauty.

But what is 'E Pa To Hau'?

Good start to you film - good idea or chance - to be sitting on a couch!! I like the music you are using in your second clip - what is that music?

4:43 pm  
Anonymous truth teller 2000 said...

Hullo. The Waikato War took place in 1912-13. PC historians have backdated as part of their quest to prove the 'ancientness' of Mordi.

Mordi got here in 1897.

For more info see Franklin E Local or Uncensored.

9:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a load of nonsense that last comment. Some advice. If you stop thinking in terms of the clock and become fully aware that there the only reality is this very moment you will find that your mind will begin to stop being controlled by the clock.Present moment awareness allows us to see that time is not a product of a clock,an hour or a day or a week but this very moment.This moment is eternal time because it is always this moment.It allows us to be fully immersed in it and eradicates the thinking that creates the feeling that we should be chasing time or stalling time.Time does not move fast or slow.It is the thoughts governed by the clock that appears to move fast or slow.The clock is a useful tool of course to remind us to move to where we should be in our day to day lives but that's all it is..a tool.It is not time itself.Time is just an infinite single moment.If you want to choose how fast or slow time goes you are fighting a reality with an unreality.Just become aware of each moment and experience it fully and you will find that the clock time is no longer an issue.

12:21 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, your blog entries are a pleasure to read.

10:30 am  
Anonymous Steve Braunias said...

Hi Scott,
Steve Braunias here; dunno your email address, so hope Ok to post this, here, for your possible interest - it's from Rendell McIntosh at Alberton, in response to my Metro story about walking Great South Rd. As follows, a 21st Step Down Great South Rd ..

Hopefully you will finish your walk? I enjoyed the first part but you do need to complete the journey – just as Bishop Selwyn used to walk the same route, from Judges Bay to the Bombay Hills or vice versa. If you get to the large old Puriri tree just before the Bombay Hills, alongside the road, near St Stephens College you will notice a stone cairn made out of rocks from the original school on St Stephens Ave with the inscription saying how Bishop Selwyn used the tree as his base for his overnight stay going to/coming from Auckland. The tree was saved by Gen Cameron when he cut all the native trees and established a line from Miranda across to the West Coast for redoubts to be constructed/open space to keep an eye on Maori coming north to attack Aucklanders.

Very few know of the existence of the saved tree, Bishop Selwyn’s stop over point, cairn, and links from the Aborginal Female Establishment which later became St Stephens School and Queen Victoria School and the former moved from The Avenue/later St Stephens Ave out to Bombay Hills in 1930s. The school was closed a few years ago. But if you venture in, during your southern stroll, you will see Taurarua on the main building – and the link from Taurarua/Judges Bay and one of first schools established in the country. There is a longer story due about if/when the St Stephens School will start again for Maori students but that’s another time. You have already mentioned St Stephens Ave into your article – if you want to complete the story/link between southern road/Maori defence line/tree/cairn/school and how you are tracing Bishop Selwyn’s excursions in the 1840s go for it.

4:17 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

As luck would have it, Steve, that memorial to Selwyn is only a kilometre or so from my family's Drury farm! It's also quite close to the so-called 'Bombay Obelisk', which I blogged about a year or so ago:

I had a schoolmate who lived on a farmlet at the back of St Stephen's: he told stories about boys running away from the institution and hiding from their pursuers in the trees at the edge of his family's property. The school had a bad reputation before it was closed, but I've become interested in its connection with Te Kooti. During his sporadic visits to Auckland on a schooner, the young Arikirangi apparently attended religious classes at the original St Stephens school, which was located in Three Kings.

Thanks to anon for the thumbs up, and to Jono for the sensible advice. Richard, the second Great South Road clip posted here rips its soundtrack off one of the short pieces the young Douglas Lilburn wrote after being inspired by the hills of Banks Peninsula. I thought it was clever of Paul to take a classic example of rural-oriented Kiwi cultural nationalist art - the sort of stuff Kendrick Smithyman used to refer to as the 'Canterbury myth of New Zealand' - and connect it with South Auckland. Brett Cross, though, suggested the music might be a little too pretty. He's a hard man!

4:58 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

By the way, Jono, I think someone or other would love to follow your Ruapekapeka march with a camera. I wouldn't be surprised if Paul Janman put up his hand - he's recently spent a bit of time in your neck of the woods, retracing nineteenth and early twentieth century history, and enjoyed it. You ought to flick us an e mail before you set off on the trek.

5:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:46 pm  
Anonymous James said...

The clips looks great. The plan is for something feature length right?

9:13 pm  
Blogger Richard said... could throw in some Stockhausen, Varese and our own Psakis or Gareth Farr. Some of Lilburn's (early stuff) is a bit trad. but he chimes with some of thee themes. Some "noise" music? Of course some contemporary pop etc could be factored into your epic.

I recall reading that about Te Kooti studying up here in Auckland. I just remembered that ofr some reason I know not my ex wanted my son to go to St Stephens. I also thought it might help him but he had to go for some kind of entrance exam. I had a bad feeling about the school...

I think it is crazy and cruel to send children to boarding schools and I think for many people public schools are bad. Home schooling might well suit many people much more.

My son attempted suicide after or while he was subjected to terrible bullying and taunting at Howick College and he has never got over it and suffered a lot of psychosis as result. The headmaster failed him, and blamed the terrible behaviour of his students on my son.

I have a friend who is a psychologist working in many schools in Auckland and he said "I can tell you which headmasters (mistresses) to avoid." (That is which schools - it is quite a lot). These psychos in charge of schools are a big part of the problem. I once did some relief teaching at Howick, Edgewater etc and I saw the incompetence.

I think our school system in NZ is overall a failure.

1:23 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Scott, you need to lay out hundreds of those couches (and throw in some Puriri trees with the Macrocarpas) along the route (as kind of markers - much as Amundsen did when he brilliantly conquered the South Pole and got there BEFORE SCOTT who was massively stupid and actually failed to get to the true South Pole all!!) - but like Amundsen you can conserve energy and move quickly by using MOTOR CARS (a kind of benign Blitzkrieg!) and taking lunch stops and beer stops on your couches. I would join you but age encroaches apace apace!

in THIS WAY you will conquer the GREAT SOUTH ROAD!! In the spirit of Amundsen the GREAT NORWEGIAN who FIRST got to the SOUTH POLE and SURVIVED and also found the North West Passage.

Also fight on with your beer and sausage roll stops in the spirit of Te Kooti and Tama Iti!

You will go a few better than Markus Lush yet!!

1:36 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of, Mr_ Bondoc and especially Penelope/Scifiguy/Tori/whatever have got to be the two biggest retards on that site with the jibberish they post! Those two need to be terminated from that website immediately!

5:40 am  

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