Sunday, May 04, 2014

Building bombs

Paul Janman and I have been building bombs. 

Sitting in a small room at the back of his Onehunga cottage with the blinds drawn, we've been carefully placing a series of artefacts - old newspaper clippings, DVDs with flickery footage from pirate television stations, coins stamped with the visages of overthrown monarchs, toy soldiers with hands hacked off, statements from the Committee for the Reconstruction of Space and Time on Pig Island - inside magnetised airtight containers which will be hidden - under paving stones, or in the branches of trees, or on the undersides of foot bridges, or behind the counters of pliant retailers - up and down the Great South Road.

Rejecting the term geocaching, which has been used to describe the practice of placing mysterious packages in public places, Paul calls our products 'conceptual bombs'. Our bombs are designed to provoke different ways of thinking about the places in which they are stashed. 

Visitors to the Papakura Art Gallery's A Sense of Place exhibition, which opens on Saturday the 10th of May, will find, alongside works by the likes of Laurence Aberhart and Robin Morrison, a table covered in maps, photographs, and descriptions of the Great South Road and a computer adorned with GPS readings that will guide them to our bombs. We want the finders of our caches to follow geocaching etiquette, and replace our items with treasures that others can discover. 

Here's a description of one of the ten sites we will be targeting next week, and a list of the materials we are stashing there. 

Southdown and the Ruins of the Future

In the twentieth century Great South Road communities like Papatoetoe and Otahuhu became centres of a thriving, self-consciously proletarian culture, as workers at railway workshops, factories, and slaughterhouses formed trade unions, joined left-wing political parties, and created a range of sporting clubs and arts associations. The area was sometimes called 'the working class university of New Zealand’, because of the ferment of worker education and political debate. 

In the 1940s the Workers Education Association's left-wing theatre club sold tickets to its shows at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops. At about the same time, Hone Tuwhare was writing his first poems on the sides of the workshop's railcars. In the 1960s and '70s radical political organisations like the Communist Party and the Socialist Action League would sell hundreds of copies of their newspapers outside the factories of Otahuhu, and hold large street meetings in Papatoetoe on Friday evenings.

In the late eighties and the nineties, though, successive governments pursued free market policies that globalised the New Zealand economy and deindustrialised South Auckland. The railways were privatised, tariffs were cut on imported goods, and many factories closed their doors. 
 The leaders of colonial and early twentieth century New Zealand had dreamed of creating a hypermodern 'better Britain' in the South Seas, by using industrial technology to reorder landscapes and add value to exports like milk and timber. Distinguished visitors to these shores, like British royals and American generals, were offered tours of the steel-bright interiors of new milking sheds and freezing works. 

As New Zealand was deindustrialised, the needs of the finance and tourism sectors of the economy were prioritised, and a new national image was created. Today industrial heritage has become an oxymoron, and tour buses steer resolutely for profitable wildernesses like Fiordland and the Ureweras. New Zealand is promoted as a clean, green paradise, rather than an industrial paradise, and New Zealanders are presented as a gentle race of hobbits, rather than as muscular shearers and steel workers. 

Many of the factories and freezing works and railway workshops that grew up around the Great South Road in the decades after World War Two have become ruins, and memorials to an alternative vision of New Zealand society. The AFFCO freezing works in Southdown was first closed down and then targeted by arsonists. 

In 2011 a team came from Hollywood to New Zealand to scout locations for a movie set in Japan just after World War Two. The director of The Emperor decided that the burnt-out freezing works in Southdown perfectly simulated the bomb-ruined Tokyo of 1945, and shot a number of scenes there. In the space of a few decades, Southdown has turned from a vision of a utopian future into a post-apocalyptic cityscape.

Contents of the Southdown cache, hidden in the ruins of AFFCO freezing works: 

A copy of Singing in the Slaughterhouse, a chapbook of poetry that Richard Taylor produced while working at Hellaby's Freezing Works, which is located close to AFFCO in Southdown. Richard was inspired by the working class autodidacts at Hellaby's and at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops, where he also worked for a time. He remembers being given literature against the Vietnam War and copies of the People's Voice, the paper of the Communist Party of New Zealand, while working in Southdown, and of being introduced to the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre by one of his co-workers.  

Clippings from various socialist newspapers sold in Southdown, including the People's Voice, the Worker's Voice, and Redletter, describing industrial disputes at sites beside or close to the Great South Road, like the strikes at the Nissan auto factory in the 1980s and the occupation of the AFFCO freezing works in 1937 by employees demanding a shorter week. 

A child's plastic hammer.

A still from Ian Powell's footage of the old site of the Otahuhu Railway Workshops. 

A DVD with the much-banned video for 'AFFCO', an anti-meat industry anthem by the vegetarian post-punk band The Skeptics, along with footage shot by Paul Janman of the 2012 march in solidarity with Auckland's striking waterside workers. 

A CD with various number codes transmitted from super-powerful radio stations deep in Russia during the Cold War.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coordinates: 73°48′26″N 54°58′54″E / 73.80722°N 54.98167°E / 73.80722; 54.98167.

8:11 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I'll go along with that as long as you all vote for John Key!

At the time I was once "reprimanded" by a woman who was in the CP for voting National (my idea, not original I since found out) was that the worse things got the better (for "the struggle") so to speak...

A small correction re 'Singing In The Slaughter House' it was put together in 1990 and I did recall working at Hellabies. The "singing" was a young Maori fellow who wanted to be a singer and had a song he recorded and took to Lou and (forget the singer). I took him there. Then I wrote a poem referring to events in Yugoslavia, that is re the long, terrible and confusing war there. So there was the larger slaughter house of war in general and Vietnam etc to the first Gulf War and Yugoslavia and the actual singing so it does refer (indirectly) to those days.

The meat industry is problematic, I've been reading books by J. M. Coetzee who is against meat consumption (I think) he certainly brings issues related into his books such as 'Elizabeth Costello' and others: one I'm reading now called 'The Childhood of Jesus Christ' which indirectly refers to it.

Those films are very dramatic: the fire bombing of Tokyo was not good - but of course the Axis firebombed Britain (but two wrongs don't make a right): the Railways was a very educational experience for me for sure it was there I was given the book 'Rape of Vietnam' by Harold Slingsby which completely changed my views of things. I copied the whole book out by hand (in 1969 I hadn't heard of photocopying, so that didn't occur to me) and memorized a lot of it. I had more or less supported the status quo until then and it kind sent me "mad" with indignation perhaps - and more recently I bought an edition of that from the U.S. What I used to do was show pictures by the British Medical society of the terrible injuries from burns and bomb destruction caused by the US bombing which included anyone and anything (hospitals, villages, schools) - they had done the same in Korea.

I also used to speak at Union meetings to workers about the Vietnam War.

Were the freezing works as bad as in your other film? Not really, but there are real issues I now think - so pass that on to Cerian I do think more about such issues now, although I remain a meat eater. I can see her views now esp. in the light of some other ideas in various books (as well as Coetzee's ideas).

However, while there is one political poem in there, and I did write a number of such (some with satire) it was round the time of that book that I started "moving away from politics as such.

Recall how Rosemary Menzies was passionate about that war? Somehow though those direct poems seemed to miss the mark. There is a point where such passion or concern can turn into rhetoric (that can seem wooden or overdone). (She was ill recently I think and did a lot for poetry by the way. )

9:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:21 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Hone told me how he wrote poems on he side of the railway wagons (everyone used to scribble nonsense on them) and someone asked him:

"Who do you think you are, Shakespeare?"

He replied: "Who'se he?"

We both laughed at that as, as he told me, he DIDN'T know at that time. He soon caught up though. I used to read the poetry of R. A. K. Mason almost every night, it obsessed me as a teenager. Mason (I didn't know) was a trade union man and a Marxist who influenced Tuwhare in poetry and politics.

9:23 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

And of course "singing" means "writing poetry" while 'Rome burns' so to speak, so at least three meanings in the title.

9:26 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard,

thanks for that background to your nobly-titled chapbook. Paul talked with Rob Tuwhare, Hone's son and literary executor, on the weekend, and Rob confirmed that Hone did indeed write some of his earliest poems on those railcars at Otahuhu!

7:17 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Well, I had stopped writing. My writing career lasted about 4 years or really from 1967 to about a few months into 1969. I sent one story (started only as a description of the freezing works) which you know about. But when I got "into" politics I saw that, rather than literature, as being the "way" (I don't mean parliamentary politics). My ex wife had 'No Ordinary Sun'.

But in 1969 I wrote on the wagons, but not poetry, just rubbish. I did a bit of writing around Ponsonby - I once chalked a poem on the footpath on College Hill starting from an (cigarette, Pal Mall I think) advertising sign that was there. All I can recall was the start: 'Gold Bold...' Also following X I started some political poems and wrote out some poems that I showed people but slowly I just stopped. People seemed to like them, but I cant remember any of them (the odd lines I still use from poems written say 1965-68 or so and some of those find their way into EYELIGHT.

On that, re Rob, I saw he "liked" my announcement of the last post I did on EYELIGHT. For my birthday I got a book voucher and the only thing good I could find (it was valid for Paper Plus and Whitcoulls I think) was a collected edition of Hone Tuwhare's works.

I didn't know him personally, just came across him occasionally and once heard him read at the University (his poem re MacAlister's statue I think it is - well read and a good poem). That was in 1990. Very nice man, someone I feel I could relate to more than some of the academics I came into contact with.

I did have a chance to meet Mason and I regret not taking it up. There is a kind of line from say R. A. K. Mason, to Hone Tuwhare and maybe to Bob Orr. Something like that. Maybe Tuwhare was influenced by Brecht's poetry. I wrote some of my "early" poems (ca. 1989) inspired by some of Brecht's

Despite what is said about Brecht I think his contribution to literature and drama is vital and significant.

But of course all these fine details wont matter to the odd person who picks up (if any one bothers) 'Singing in the...' I used to sell it for a beer or $5! I had a lot, Mark McIvor helped me with those, as to this day I know virtually nothing about printing, publishing or editing etc

But your film looks as though it will be interesting in the way that Paul's other one was, complete with history and eccentrics, rather than the bilge put out by Hollywood (well a lot of it is); and Paul has an eye for people and ideas. That fire is the kind of thing you could use as a kind of recurring motif and fade away to the NZ Wars...whatever, or the strikes that took place at Hellabies, Westfield and Southdown and other places. You are right about Sartre, someone lent me 'Nausea' which I also read many years later (one of my favourite books), although also I was 'introduced' to Faulkner by a chap I met at the Railways. Charlie Baker, the ex Scottish army Seargent who had taught himself Marxism in the British Army was someone I talked with a lot. We used to arrive at the Railway Workshops about 7 am I think and have great breakfast. Charlie would be reading such as (in fact as I write I recall) a book about Sartre and his "existential Marxism" as well as say "The Arms of Krupps". He was deeply sincere but as with such passionate commos of those days there is sense of "destiny", hence the problem of rhetoric but I think that my potted version that they simply switched to Albania is, well it is too simplistic. I saw problems of a similar kind in all the political parties on the left in those days and in fact I predicted (and stated to, to complicate matters, "Maoists" [nor were these guys necessarily highly antagonistic to the Trotskyists, some might have been] who were in strong "dispute" with the CP itself) that China would move away from Marxism as such. But these are old echoes, old dreams...

8:15 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

To burden the Blog...I wrote one of my 'spontaneous' poems, not on the footpath, but on the road. So it's ghost remains. In those days we lived in Georgina Street.

8:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I met all kinds of people as from the mid 80s I used to go to a lot of Art openings. I recall talking to Fomison and other "famous" artists and also some very interesting characters who haunted such openings.Then there were writers who visited Auckland Uni (in the 90s) so I heard Grace Potiki talk about and read from her work as well as Maurice Gee (who talked about his interest in the "puritanical" sides of NZ society (his book 'In My Father's Den' is a great book (but the film is not much I thought), and Hone also read. At the time (a bit later David Mitchell turned up to lectures). There were others, some on the staff of AU, and some visiting poets such as Edwin Morgan who was very very good as a reader (and as a poet full stop).

Then I had done a "show" at the Little Maidment so I could recite my poem that ends:

"And the hand that holds a pen
Is as subtle as a billion flies."

I encountered Hone Tuwhare ca 1993 or 4 at an opening and I recited the whole poem to him, I was pretty drunk as usual in those days, and when it ended, he gave out a great laugh!

An ambiguous reaction! But the end of course is comic indeed (in a way). But, whatever, it is a privilege to have met (or heard lecture or read) such people.

8:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taylor voting for Key???!????

9:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A proper Marxist revolution would be one occurring in circumstances that were predicted by Marxian historical materialism. It says nothing about the outcome of that revolution, merely the circumstances under which it occurred and the forces that drive that revolution.

A Marxist revolution would be one driven by an internal crisis of capitalism that could not be resolved within the existing state superstructure. The rate of profit falls so low, and the economy becomes so capital intensive, that it becomes impossible for capitalists, even in the system of cartelized oligopoly, to realize much gain for themselves, let alone economic growth that benefits other classes. In otherwords, it would be a crisis of a terminal stage of the economic system, just like the crises of the previous feudal order, that enabled a decisive rupture in extant social and economic relations.

The growth, and then eventual stagnation of the capitalist economy, would unite workers against the system. When the alienation and degradation inherent in the division of labor reaches is no longer outweighed by the prospect of continued prosperity and hope for tomorrow, "false consciousness" can no longer be sustained, and so either one of two things occurs: reactionaries entrench the system, and it degenerates, or there is a revolutionary transformation.

Hence a Marxist revolution could be non-socialist in form. If Marxists prediected the triumph of Islamists in a revolution in a Middle Eastern country, then this would be a Marxist revolution.

7:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:40 am  
Blogger Richard said...

No I have to say I will probably wont vote for Key, but I'm not so impressed with Labour.

But how does anyone know who votes for what or who? You could be putting your trust in someone who says A but for a number of reasons believes be or in the case of voting people might simply either avoid saying who they support or lie - in cases where revealing what one votes for or what politics one has can mean the loss of a job.

For myself, I'm not opposed to all Labour (or even all National people) but it is very hard for someone, no matter how "idealistic" he or she is, to keep that integrity given the big money they get paid.

I'm perhaps not quite ready though to through out our democracy, with all its faults.

We have made certain basic progress, some of that is seen in E. P. Thompson's book 'The History of the English Working Class' and I believe there is a book titled something like 'A People's History of the United States' and so on.

So, we all live in hope.

11:08 pm  

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