Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Martians, landships, and other irrelevancies

Dear Paul,

 I know I'm supposed to be searching, in a relentlessly methodical manner, for images that we can use in our movie about the Great South Road, and avoiding what I think I may have called, with appropriate scorn, 'fascinating irrelevancies'. It is amazing, though, what fascinating irrelevancies one can find, apparently by accident, during even the most motivated, methodical search of that Borgesian archive, Papers Past.

This image appeared in the Auckland Star in 1940, a year when escapist fantasy was perhaps a necessity for New Zealanders, and for many other peoples besides. The caption read: 'If human beings live on Mars, they would have to have enormous chests to hold outside lungs and hearts...they might also be very hairy'. Martians and their more elegant cousins, Venusians, are surprisingly common guests of both Victorian and early twentieth century New Zealand papers.
Here's a photograph that turned up in the New Zealand Herald on the 2nd of October 1936, together with a caption explaining that it showed 'a Mr L Beavis of Silverdale' attempting to sail his ship, which was named the Israel, from Auckland to Wellington. Beavis apparently wanted to raise money for a more seaworthy vessel, so that he could bring God's good news to benighted corners of the Pacific.

I haven't looked at any statistics, but I suspect that the 1920s and '30s were a time of heightened religiosity in God's Own Country. Widows and parents of some of the seventeen thousand local men killed in the Great War crowded into new spiritualist and pentecostal churches, straining to hear messages from their loved ones through the murmur of glossalia, or rolling on the ground after being spiritually  'pole-axed' by the British Israelite healer-preacher AH Dallimore, who created hysteria at an overloaded Auckland Town Hall decades before the Beatles.

In Man Alone, his picaresque novel about loneliness, rioting, and road trips in the Great Depression, John Mulgan describes the unemployed men who were exiled from pubs and hearths of suburban Auckland to that high, thickly forested ridge known as the Waitakere Ranges, where they were made to work with picks and gelignite on a half-finished, cruelly named Scenic Drive, and to sleep off their exertions in tents raised over roadside mud.
No suffering is evident in this image from 1936, which was produced by the magical and mechanical process called posterizing, and thus lacks both the jaundiced colour that cheap paper acquires in old age and the weary ambiguity we associate with the colour grey. The vehicles on a newly-completed section of Scenic Drive look immobile: the sunshine, which has been strengthened by posterizing, holds them as securely as a bleb of kauri gum or jar of aspic holds a flock of long-dead immortal insects.

Sorry. I'll get back to work.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Richard said...

Fascinating irrelevancies. The last paragraph sounds a bit like the prose of Perec in 'Life, A User's Manual'

I recall going to Piha in the 50s and vivid in my memory (apart from Lion Rock) were the corrugations on corners on the unsealed roads, so that my fathers even then very old car used to "judder" and shudder as we turned. It was a big drive out there. I haven't been out that way for years.

I liked that book by Mulgan a lot. I starts a bit slowly but really gets going after the riots. One of the great books for me.

10:57 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard, Scenic Drive, where Mulgan's miserable buggers worked, runs along the ridge at the edge of the ranges, and Piha Road and other artery flow away westward off it. There's a real literary history to the Scenic Drive, I'm discovering: Robin Hyde lived close to the road-in-progress for several weeks in 1937, after abandoning the lodge where she'd lived voluntarily at Oakley hospital and finding a guesthouse in the mists. She banged out the whole of A Home in this World, which reads like a long prose poem to me, while she was high in the Waitakeres.

11:13 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Fascinating to read, in that huge and apparently somewhat unreliable biography The Book of Iris, that Hyde initially thought of jumping on the Tofua, the slow boat that linked Niu Sila to tropical Polynesia in the 1930s, after making her hasty exit from Oakley. What might she have written in a place like Tonga?

RAK Mason rode the Tofua to Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga in 1930, and seems to have had a marvellous time.

11:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I have to admit the part after he murders an old man I think then heads into the bush I found the best.

I haven't read 'A Home in this World'. And only part of her strange book set in China (as it was overdue at the library).

'Wednesday's Children' and the 'Starkie' novels are the one that were great I found. She was ahead of her time - one of the few to emapthise with Maori and so on. She was an astute journalist and in that she had a great sense of humour. She had a tough time - I did read a series of essays about her which were very good. It took me a while to appreciate her work.
It is really sad she committed suicide. Brasch tried to help her you know. Brasch did a hell of a lot for literature and for artists. He was wealthy but gave large sums of money (then anonymously) to many artists and writers (I believe). She died the same year as Thomas Wolfe. She was clearly a genius.

11:52 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I just missed picking that biography at a local op shop. I must get a copy. Yes Mason went over there. I showed Ted the drawing my father did of Mason. Under it it says: "Strange bugger."

But she headed for China and survived. In 'Dragon Rampant' there is something of Ballard's (of Empire of the Sun) sense of the neo-surreal about China at the time. Characters and places are vivid but it is hard to find a coherent path through it. That I think was her special idiomatic way. She was an original seeing the world in a very unique way.

Courageous in a way also. Traveling all that way alone. Amazing. She might have got stuck in Tonga. But she may have been happier there perhaps, although I think she had deep inner disturbances if that is the right term, and a lot of tragedy in her life.

12:00 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

It'd be fascinating to see that drawing of Mason, Richard, and also to know what occasioned it. I guess that your Dad might have bumped into Mason on the Great South Road? I was looking up the site of the Mason homestead, Kohatu, on the road.

9:37 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I intended to include that and other of my father's art on EYELIGHT (some is already on there: e.g. his own self-portrait is beside Parmigianino's (naturally an association with Ashbery's great poem), and my own "Rembrandtian" photographic self-portraits etc)

There isn't that much of what he did but he knew both Mason and Fairburn (who he encouraged to take up art, and he did: Fairburn had said: "I wish I could paint like that." My father said, partly in politeness: "I wish I could write like you."

He had an exhibition ca 1934 I think (I saw a review of it but my brother took it and lost it, it was in the NZ Herald, his name was Leslie Stuart Taylor so it might be in that archive). His art was good but more or less realistic or impressionistic. But Mason was the only person to buy one of his paintings at the time.
He gave many others away for presents I believe. He did a lot of sketches of Auckland ca 1928 - 1930s.

He knew Mason was a communist. In the protest years, I was arguing about (Vietnam war etc) politics (he would later read books such as the biography of Nixon, or articles in the New Yorker about asbestos or other things).

In the 1950s, too most people, the United States and Britain were the two hugely sucessful nations: the rest of the world was quaint but relatively backward and the USSR was a dark, sad, gloomy, and a threatening place. The US was the place. (But there were a few counter-examples).

I wondered where Mason was from. In his poems he is sometimes walking past Penrose. I thought he was from somewhere near there. After my father brought home a book of Mason's poems I used to read through those poems night after night and I think they had a deep effect on my later writing.

But politically: his comment was that while Mason was left leaning he would never have been involved in the kind of "madness" of the protesters, as he was an educated man. He and my uncle were not interested in communism, they admired professional people.

I suspect that, had he been unable to stay as a "professional worker" (an Architect) he might have committed suicide: he looked down on mere workers, they had their place and were human, but he was not of them, he believed. He had worked and made his way up.

His brother, my uncle, was an agricultural scientist, and was quite wealthy as he was the manager of a large chemical company for some years.
My cousins were engineers etc and quite wealthy. Liberal but not communists or socialists as far as I know.

So he admired his poetry but didn't associate it much with Socialism or unions etc He like the Maori language but felt that Maori were incapable of doing much unless in a group, they worked well in teams, was his insight.

(It's hard to believe now, but there were very few Polynesian or Maori people around Panmure in the 50s or even the 60s when I was growing up. There were a few, but I never saw one Pacific Islander until I was about 21. This was a white area almost exclusively and some Maori were over in Eastern GI. Separated, by policy I think.

It was a different world in many ways!

Talk to your parents before they die as once that has happened the memories they have are gone. There is much I simply don't know or understand about my parents, and there are many regrets. Those "carefully caught regrets"....

11:17 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for that very interesting comment Richard. I'll e mail you soon about the research Paul J and I have been doing into Mason, the Great South Road, and a large cave...

9:35 am  
Blogger Richard said...

The cave in Wiri? I went into one about 1980 or so when I was on the Post Office (C & M) and with a certain Rarongan NZr we ventured in a short way. My sister did a lot of caving. And in clearing out the books I had I have a smallish collection of caving books.

In Panmure about 8 years back I used to go to the quiz nights, and this group calling themselves 'The Spelunkers' took all before them! That's how I learnt the word 'spelunker' which one can add to 'speleologist' (excessively keen caving person) and such impressive words such as 'espionage' or 'philatelist', and your favourite (the one for a flagologist which I cant recall.

Thanks to the spell checker, except for typos or deliberate mispelling (which in US spelling which seems to be the one I encounter all the time on my computer) is 'mispeling' (the Yanks have one 'l' - and they are obsessed with correctness like whether one uses an 'em' dash and other detailia - forgetting how languages and spellings constantly change)) for effect, or archaisms, one can, with the added aid of Wikipedia be ridiculously well educated these days!

11:29 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I bet Smithyman - well he was as in his poem about Waitomo that Matt Jackson read when they had a memorial to Smithyman - I got there a bit late but got a copy of that poem of his they did.

Talking on here is public but while when I was younger I might have been pretty paranoid about it it is one of the few ways to get through and as one gets older time seems to truncate and some things seem less important...

None of which saved poor old Rolf Harris who was another victim of nature's "the power of the horn" or in Dawkin's phrase, he is expressing "the selfish gene". I myself think the women all left it a bit late to put the boot into the old chap.

It's like kicking an old dog twenty years after he failed to pick up a duck from a swamp...

I digress as always.

11:35 am  
Blogger Richard said...

'Is it perfume from a dress,
that makes so digress'

11:36 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

You bastard - you've been in!

Did you know communist outlaws were using the cave in 1940?
I've been trying to link them to Mason. We need to interview you about your expedition!

7:48 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Ho! We only went in a little way. I was with one Tony who was later sacked for siphoning petrol. He was a kleptomaniac but he got a job straight away! He was a nice fellow except for that tendency. I could never bring myself to siphon petrol as I feared getting it in my mouth...He was seen by a woman who wanted him to put him back into the Government van, he refused!

One day he and another guy and I went into town to watch Caligula on full pay! That was the day we noticed petrol was pissing out near the carb end (we had a dual petrol / gas [CNG] system for a while). But I cant recall much about the cave. My sister as I said did a lot of caving with her partner who is an engineer. He would know a lot about it.

I didn't know about the communists. In those days it was probably dodgy to be a communist, at least openly, especially considering the 1951 strike reaction. There are all the rumours of caves across Auckland.

This could be as I imagine the hot gases from volcanic activity would "explode" in many directions literally cutting tunnels.

Might be someway to do that nowadays for a quick tunnel job so we can build an underground system throughout Auckland.

It was something we did on the impulse. Tony had heard about it. (Wiri has a lot of scoria rock as we put poles in some parts and in one case I had to use a popper gun and pull rocks out of the hole (6' deep) and I considered using explosives! But I didn't have a ticket. We also used those large "popper" guns on Hiabs to dig. But anything set into Wiri ground will be pretty solid.)

So I imagine the caves, by and large would be pretty stable although they might need some supports in case of a shake or whatever...

I may also be mixing up the times we worked on and around Mangere including the Mangere Mountain. There was a quarry nearby we worked at also...Long time ago!

A lot of funny incidents worthy of a Barry Crump.

11:57 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I had a look at that. It is strange the fear that there was then of communism, and there still is. It means that there may be some way it could happen. It nearly did in China. Cuba is a good example. There are other examples. The ideas are there. The persecution and reaction leads to possibility.

But the 'enemy' is in fact that Capitalism, in many ways, works (not for everyone, but enough that the alternatives don't seem so attractive).

How to bring together a very complex and varied group of people: how to avoid the errors of "revisionism" and in fact the move to near fascism in the Soviet Union and so on. Meanwhile the alternatives leave the people still virtually without any real power, which is why it is almost irrelevant who anyone votes for.
Voting and parliamentary "democracy" leaves the power in the hands of overpaid people who don't really care much except for the power and monetary awards.

In 1940 one can admire the courage of those communists. If only rocks could speak.

Workers of the world unite! People of the world, seize the power structures! Seize your world back: it yours, ours, not theirs.

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