Saturday, July 29, 2017

Direen by drone

I'm looking forward to watching Simon Ogston's biopic of Bill Direen at the Film Festival next Friday, and to seeing Bill play live in West Auckland next Saturday.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brash's ugly facebook

Karl du Fresne is upset at the left. The Wairarapa-based journalist has used his blog to link the recent anti-globalisation riots in Hamburg with the alleged ill-treatment of Don Brash here in New Zealand.
According to du Fresne, Brash and the Hamburg police are both victims of the 'self-righteous rage of the left'.

Brash is the frontman of Hobson's Pledge, a group set up last year to campaign against Maori seats in parliament, Treaty settlements, and all Treaty-based legislation. Hobson's Pledge can be seen as the successor to Treatygate, the campaign that John Ansell, another former Act Party personality, fronted back in 2012. Like Ansell, Brash has held public in country towns and placed expensive ads in the mass media. Like Ansell, he is struggling to win the public's attention. The audience for a widely advertised meeting in Rotorua was small and unenthusiastic.

In a recent post to facebook, Maori activist Joe Trinder described Hobson's Pledge as a 'hate group'. Karl du Fresne thinks such a description is outrageous. He argues that Hobson's Pledge was founded to 'promote the concept of equality before the law, regardless of ethnicity'. When he uses the term 'hate group' Trinder is trying, du Fresne complains, to put Hobson's Pledge on the 'same level as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party'. Du Fresne complains about some of the comments that appeared beneath Trinder's facebook post. Some commenters threatened Brash with violence; others suggested that Hobson's Pledge billboards should be torn down.

Karl du Fresne has obviously been paying careful attention to Joe Trinder's facebook posts, but I wonder whether he has visited the facebook page run by Hobson's Pledge. The page's anonymous administrators have made hundreds of posts, and attracted thousands of comments. If du Fresne scans some of the posts and comments, then he might find his belief that Hobson's Pledge stands for equality hard to sustain.
On  June the 11th Hobson's Pledge posted this image, which originally appeared on a facebook page called Southern African Memes. Like much of the material on Southern African Memes, the image is designed to call up fond of memories of the era of white minority rule in Rhodesia and South Africa, and to contrast the supposed golden age of apartheid with the present.

Between 1965 and 1979 Rhodesia's white community, which never numbered more than three hundred thousand, enjoyed political and economic power over more than six million blacks. Rhodesia's white regime barred blacks from voting and from most high-paying jobs, and restricted their ability to move about the country. Blacks and whites were forbidden from marrying and lived in separate neighbourhoods of the country's towns and cities. Cinemas had separate entrances for blacks and whites and restaurants had different rooms for diners with different skin colours.

Not surprisingly, Rhodesia's black majority protested the status quo, and in the 1970s waged a guerrilla war against their white masters. A deal brokered by Britain ended white minority rule, and in 1980 Robert Mugabe took power. The Rhodesian agricultural production that Hobson's Pledge celebrates was achieved with the help of indentured black labour. After the war began, the white regime deliberately kept grain and other foods from parts of the country where the guerrillas had most support, creating widespread malnutrition.

Robert Mugabe is a despot who has brought misery to many of his people. But Hobson's Pledge's suggestion that the white Rhodesia that preceded Mugabe era was somehow a pleasant place is fantastic. It is hard to see why an organisation dedicated to equality would seek to glorify a state based explicitly on racism.

The predecessor of Hobson's Pledge also seemed to have a soft spot for Rhodesia. The website of John Ansell's Treatygate campaign featured a long article by one of Ansell's supporters, the Dunedin anthroposophist Colin Rawle. Rawle's article insisted that Rhodesia 'was a success story by any yardstick', and lamented that it had been 'destroyed' by the same sinister forces that were advancing an 'anti-white' agenda in New Zealand.

When it hasn't been advertising white Rhodesia, the Hobson's Pledge facebook page has been promoting local white supremacists. Hobson's Pledge has offered a link to the website of Martin Doutre, the promoter of the theory that New Zealand was home thousands of years ago to a technologically advanced white civilisation that was later conquered by the ancestors of Maori. Doutre is a Holocaust denier and an admirer of the British neo-Nazi David Irving.

A couple of months ago the Northern Advocate ran a front page article about the supposed discovery of ancient Welsh skulls in the Northland countryside. The article credited Noel Hilliam with finding the skulls, and said that Hilliam was working with Martin Doutre and Kerry Bolton, the former secretary of the National Front and this country's most prolific neo-Nazi writer. Historians, northern kaumatua, and other journalists quickly pointed out that Hilliam has no academic training, and noted Doutre and Bolton's white supremacist views; the Northern Advocate dropped its article, and was later reprimanded by the Press Council for not checking Hilliam's weird claims before it published them.

The facebook page of Hobson's Pledge followed the controversy over the Northern Advocate's article closely, and repeatedly expressed outrage at the paper's critics. 'Where has freedom of speech gone?' the Hobson's Pledge page asked on July the 12th, after the Press Council had reprimanded the Northern Advocate.

It is curious that an organisation campaigning for equality would want to promote and defend the work of Martin Doutre, Kerry Bolton, and Noel Hilliam.
It is not only the posts at the Hobson's Pledge facebook page but the comments beneath them that make me sceptical about the group's commitment to equality. All too often these comments are schoolboyish expressions of racism toward Maori. This remark was made by Derrick Storey on June the 27th, in the aftermath of New Zealand's America's Cup victory:

The reason the America's Cup was so successful was because there were no Maori involved. Don't go and stuff it up by accommodating to their whims and tell them to piss off...There was a lot of Kiwi ingenuity, Blood, Sweat and Tears that went into winning the America's Cup and notice the overseas commentators referred to our team as the Kiwis or Team New Zealand. Not once did I hear the team referred to as Maoris or Team Maori. 

Derrick Storey hasn't been criticised for this comment or any of his other, similar comments by the administrators of the Hobson's Pledge facebook page. On the contrary, Hobson's Pledge has on occasion shared Storey's own facebook posts with its readers.

Karl du Fresne is right to criticise the commenters on Joe Trinder's facebook page who urged violence against Hobson's Pledge. Don Brash and his comrades have a right to free speech. But after looking at the self-righteous rage on Hobson's Pledge's facebook page, I can understand why Trinder has dubbed Don Brash's outfit a hate group.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The disappearing lake

I had promised to register Countryside Island, which was created in the wilds of Drury by Friday night's flood and soon explored, flagged, and named by my sons, with the Geographical Board. By Sunday afternoon, though, the lake that framed the island had disappeared.

Kendrick Smithyman had a bit to say about disappearing lakes:
You follow me: I talk of what we have
and have not, of a sandhill lake
which comes and goes. Or maybe, came and went
since when I was last probing there
forestry men and engineers intent
on reform were then debating
how best to right an aberrant nature. 
Maps could not properly cope
with it. It was offence to natural
justice, natural right, and law. 
It came and went. Worse, it was essential
when not existent. Boundaries
tentatively it had, often flouted.
It had? Check my legal fiction.
Rather, they had. Sometimes three lakes flaunted
themselves, sometimes two, or only
one, or none. Not only sands were on move, 
lake dissolved, moved, reappeared,
will dwindle, again quicken. In remove
a presence, in presence a fact
substantial, insubstantial form
no less? This play with arid words,
dry as lake beds where cloudy midges swarm
until extinguished, dunes made
to conform to rational order and
rabid, but useful, their surgent pines
established turn to increase wayward sand...

Friday, July 21, 2017

Moriori in school

Here's a question for everybody involved in the education industry. I was contacted by MacKenzie Smith, who is studying Pacific journalism at AUT and writing an article about the treatment of Moriori history at Kiwi schools. For a long time many Kiwi kids were taught a mythical, nineteenth century version of Moriori history, in which Moriori were presented as the dark-skinned original inhabitants of New Zealand who were driven to the Chathams and then exterminated by Maori.

The myth of the Moriori as a pre-Maori people was dispelled amongst scholars in the 1920s, after the anthropologist HD Skinner visited the Chathams and proved that Moriori were a Polynesian people who had the same background as Maori but had developed a unique culture on the Chathams during centuries of isolation. But the myth persisted in popular imagination, and was reinforced by an article in an issue of the New Zealand School Journal that was used as a resource by teachers for decades.

Since the 1980s Moriori have been agitating for their history to be presented realistically in schools, and in 2011 the Ministry of Education announced that it was changing the treatment of Moriori in school curricula.

Mackenzie Smith wants to know whether much progress has been made in the presentation of Moriori history in our schools. Are teachers getting it right? Is the old myth clinging on in places? Is the subject even being discussed? Send your answers to Smith at

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Talking with Sio about Saipele

[It is Visesio Siasau's birthday today. Here's a poem I wrote for him. It describes the talk-filled walks Sio and I used to take along Nuku'alofa's warm, gloriously shabby waterfront at dusk. 
I learned about Saipele, the magician and carpenter of Niutao, from German anthropologist Gerd Koch's amazing book Songs of Tuvalu. Sio once spent weeks in Tuvalu, after the Tongan naval vessel he had ridden there ran out of petrol. He used that time to investigate the archipelago's culture.]
July the fourteenth, Nuku'alofa, six o'clock.
Rain falls like closing credits
over Vuna Road. A Chinese shop fades, one flour bag
at a time. Norfolk pines and ironwoods melt
down into the darkness. We are still walking
on Salote's wharf, walking back and forth
through puddles of fishemen's piss, walking fast
and talking about Saipele, 'last believer
in the old gods', adept
of turtles, initiator of Gerd Koch.
Saipele taught Koch where to aim
his notebook, the stub of his pencil, the snout
of an 8mm camera. He warned the German
against eating octopus, squid, turtle.
Together they stopped the tide off Niutao,
shoaled and emptied the lagoons, extracted lightning
from a silent cloud. Tuvalu cannot afford the wood
for sculpture, but before Koch left Saipele slew
a pandanus tree, and carved his first
his last masterpiece. Saipele, you are saying, saw the turtle
inside the tree: the swell of its back, its fin-feet, its tiny eyes.
The creature was waiting for his blade.
Dirty water laps the wharf edge
pedantically. Pangaimotu floats on the harbour
like a dead octopus. 

Maori as a global tongue

After one hundred and forty-seven years, Auckland Grammar School, one of the most prolific factories of the city's elite, has gotten around to hiring a teacher of te reo Maori. Conservative Pakeha are predictably horrified by this supposed concession to 'political correctness'. For conservatives, Maori is a 'dying language', which is only spoken by about three percent of Kiwis, and has no following beyond our shores. 
Advocates of te reo Maori need to make the point that it is very much an international language. Maori is effectively a dialect of a single great Polynesian tongue, which is spoken from Rapa Nui in the east to Hawai’i in the north to Nukuoro in the far west of the Pacific. 
I took classes in Tongan last year, and noticed how many of the words had corollaries in Maori. Anyone who counts to ten in the two languages can see how similar they are.
When the New Zealand speakers of Samoan, Tongan, various Cook Islands tongues, Niuean, Tuvaluan, and Tokelauan are added together, then they easily comprise the second largest language group in New Zealand. Almost one hundred thousand Kiwis speak Samoan alone. 
And the Polynesian language is only one part of the vast Austronesia family of tongues, which includes Malay, Bahasa Indonesian and even the Malagasy language of Madagascar. A third former who learns a little Maori can set him or herself up for learning one of hundreds of other languages later on.
Edward Tregear's Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary, which was published in 1891 and sometimes reads like an antipodean Finnegans Wake, is full of Malay, Micronesian, and Malagasy words as well as their Polynesian descendants and cousins. One hundred and twenty-six years later, it is about time New Zealanders caught up with Tregear, and recognised the international dimension of te reo Maori. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pictures from the front

Paul Janman and his comrades arrived at the Mangatawhiri, the old frontier between imperial Auckland and Tawhiao's Waikato Kingdom, on the evening of July the 11th, and crossed the stream at dawn the next day, on the one hundred and fifty-fourth anniversary of the invasion of the Waikato. Here (click to enlarge them) are some photos Paul sent north from the frontier, along with a couple of images from his bus journey back to the metabolising city.  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Good old-fashioned journalism

Kirsty Johnston quoted me in her article 'White Rage finds outlet in alt-right', which she published yesterday in the New Zealand Herald alongside a much longer piece called 'How New Zealand's alt-right movement plans to influence the election'.

I talked with Johnston on the phone when she was preparing her articles, and was impressed by the depth and duration of her research into New Zealand's far right. She created a fake social media profile, infiltrated the fora where white nationalists lurk and chat and share jejune and anti-semitic memes, and later interviewed a series of self-proclaimed admirers of Nazi Germany in the cafes of Auckland. When I learned that two of her interlocutors were Chinese I remembered the multi-ethnic Nazis who struggled through the mud at Ardmore airport a couple of years ago, as well as mixed race fascists who tried to seize Samoa at the beginning of World War Two.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The feel of history

In 1969 a young German artist visited a series of European nations that the Nazi military had invaded and occupied a few decades earlier. Anselm Kiefer carried a Wehrmacht uniform in his suitcase, and regularly donned it. He photographed his uniformed self in front of old memorials and the sea, and invariably gave the camera a stiff-armed salute. 

When Kiefer exhibited his self-portraits in a gallery, under the title Occupations, many of his countrymen were perturbed. He was accused of fascism, of irredentism, of anti-semitism. The artist defended himself by saying that he found the refusal of postwar German society to discuss the Nazi era intolerable. 

Kiefer explained that, when he dressed in a German uniform and gave a fascist salute, he was trying to understand history physiologically. Frustrated by academic history and by the cynical silence of his father's generation, he sought to enter into the past directly, by forcing his body into the materials and postures of the 1930s and '40s. 

And a series of influential survivors of Nazism came to the defence of the young artist. They considered his photographs less insulting than the reticence about the past that the political and cultural elites of West Germany affected. 

I thought Anselm Kiefer and his desire to experience the past physiologically on Saturday, when I joined a small group of Aucklanders who were walking down the Great South Road to remember the invasion of the Waikato Kingdom in 1863. When I joined them, the marchers were passing through Papatoetoe. They hoped to reach Drury by the end of Sunday, and then to push on to Pokeno, close to the border of the Kingdom, on Monday night, ready for the one hundred and fifty-fourth anniversary of the invasion on Tuesday. 
To walk over the same territory as the armies and refugees of 1863 is to seek a closer, more physical understanding of the past. Saturday's rain had made the berms of South Auckland muddy and rutted, like the road that Irish and Yorkshire soldiers struggled to build and defend. The way south through Papatoetoe and Manukau was punctuated by pubs and liquor shops, the descendants of the taverns and bootleggers' stills that promised exhausted and frightened troops relief. As I shivered through the rain I wondered at the toughness of the soldiers on both sides of the war, who marched through forests of punga fern during storms and slept on wet blankets in blockhouses and raupo whare. 

A broken-down Ford escort had stopped traffic on one of the Great South Road's tributaries. As smoke wafted from its bonnet, a tow truck driver waited and revved his engines. I imagined knife-wielding, opportunistic local farmers clearing the road of broken-legged carthorses, as soldiers and refugees waited in the mud of 1863. 
This year's walk was a largely unpublicised trial for what the group hopes will be a regular and well-attended jaunt. The Manukau Courier ran a report, and Paul Janman took the photographs reproduced here. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Where the beach needs reconstruction

We spent a splendid day and night recently in St Kilda, where battered palm trees look out at the storms of the Southern Ocean, the wind methodically strips an imported beach of its sand, sandstone churches left by Melbourne's first settlers hunker down behind art deco apartments, and bohemians and junkies live in boarding houses and council flats sprinkled amongst old workers' cottages bloated by the renovations of hipster IT workers and bankers. 

St Kilda's strange combination of seaside bonhomie and wind-lashed bleakness reminded my wife of some of England's seaside towns, and when I walked on the beach with kids I kept remembering Paul Kelly's great song 'From St Kilda to King's Cross'. Kelly begins the song by describing the excitement of leaving his hometown for the glamour of Sydney, but ends feeling homesick, and wanting to swap 'all of Sydney harbour, all that land and all that water' for St Kilda's unfashionable seaside. 

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

David Garrett on Frank Sargeson's crime

David Garrett's peace plan for the Middle East and fondness for eugenics have previously been topics for discussion on this blog. Here's an exchange I had with Garrett at Kiwiblog the other day, in the wake of the government's decision to allow for the quashing of convictions under the anti-gay laws that existed in New Zealand before 1986. Yes, this guy was an MP and a confidant of members of cabinet once. 
I heard some old queer on National Radio last night lamenting the “lives wrecked” by the cops raiding “gay venues like saunas”…I was an assiduous reader of “The Truth” back in the day…there were plenty of stories about gays being picked up for propositioning people – granted those “people” were often plain clothes cops – down at the local cottage [gay slang for public toilets], but I don’t ever recall stories about raids on gay saunas, let alone private houses where two gay boys were going at it…
I think I will go for the chocolate fish: half a dozen of them for anyone who can provide a link to a prosecution for gay sex at someone’s private house…
You must have missed the raid on Westfield sauna in Auckland in February 1980. Thirty men were taken by the police in a glare of publicity. Eight were later convicted under anti-gay laws.
Norris Davey, later known as Frank Sargeson, was convicted of indecent assault in Wellington, 1929. The full details are in Michael King’s biography of Sargeson but there’s a link to the conviction here. [The police broke into a boarding house and arrested him and his partner.]
Well you won’t get them…the Sargeson case had already been discussed…In addition, you do understand the difference between a BOARDING house and a private dwelling? The boarding house in question was probably a known nest of gay boys…
So a police raid on a private residence ending in the arrest of consenting adults doesn’t count when the address is a known ‘nest of gay boys’, David? And presumably you erased the memory of the spectacular raid on Westfield sauna because, after all, that place was a nest for gays as well, and thus fair game for the police?
It’s fascinating to see how social conservatives have moved from justifying anti-gay laws to trying to pretend these laws were ineffectual and went unenforced. Back in 1986 the country’s social conservatives led a large and angry movement which insisted that these laws and their enforcement was the only thing that stood in the way of the collapse of civilisation. Now they seem to be keen to forget those arguments, and to try to erase the persecution of gays from our history. I don’t think they’ll be successful.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Tyranny in a democracy

The government has announced a scheme that will allow men with historic convictions for homosexual acts to apply for pardons. Before 1986 homosexuality was illegal in New Zealand, and as recently as 1980 police raided a gay sauna in Auckland and arrested thirty men, eight of whom suffered convictions. 
There’s no appreciable difference, in ethical terms, between the persecution that gays experienced in New Zealand for many decades and the persecution that political dissidents and intellectuals suffer in totalitarian states.
A famous victim of New Zealand’s anti-gay tyranny was the writer Norris Davey, who was arrested for having sex with another man in a Wellington boarding house in 1929 after police broke into their room and caught them in the act. Sargeson and his partner were convicted of indecent assault; the other man was sent to jail, but Sargeson avoided jail after his uncle promised to keep him in isolation on his King Country farm for a couple of years. 
After this period of ‘rehabilitation’ Davey changed his name to Frank Sargeson, moved to Auckland, and started a new life. But he always feared identification and persecution as a homosexual, and he was understandably secretive about his relationships and paranoid about the police for the rest of his life.
Before 1986 many gay men like Sargeson had to live in fear of arrest and exposure, in the same sort of way that the inhabitants of dictatorships must live in fear. The legal persecution of homosexuals in New Zealand shows how a state can act tyrannically toward a minority even in the midst of a reasonably open and democratic society.
There’s a parallel between anti-gay laws and the Suppression of Tohunga Act, which was passed in 1907 and forbade Maori from practicing their pre-Christian religion.  The first people prosecuted under the Act were a Whanganui healer named Paku and his wife. A Pakeha woman named Mary Curry who offered herbal remedies for various complaints to Maori patients was the next to go to jail. 
I doubt whether many twenty-first century Kiwis are aware of the blunt attacks on basic freedom rights – the right to sex with another consenting adult, the right to practice whatever religion one chooses – that are part of the history of their country. But if we remember that police once burst into the bedrooms of consenting adults, and that Maori healers were once sent to prison, then we can be vigilant in defence of our liberties today.