Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The forgotten dead?

New Zealand is a nation of mass graves. Beside St Johns church in Drury, the first Anzacs to die in battle - four white Australians & four Pakeha, slain in 1863, soon after the invasion of the Waikato - share the same plot. The volcanic earth fills their mouths like black bread. I wrote about the first Anzacs for The Spinoff.

Footnote: I just left flowers for the victims of the 1863 Anzac invasion on the stone at Drury. The obelisk has traditionally been ignored by the RSA, but this Anzac Day poppies have mysteriously appeared on its white slope. History is an accumulation of ironies. Saint Johns was a fortified frontier church, a tribute to and tool of Anglican imperialism, a settlers' refuge during Maori guerrilla raids. Now, after the death of the last white parishioner, the church is being used for Maori-language services. A carving celebrates its reinvention. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Running the blockade

I've written about Allen Curnow & his blockade of the Pacific for The Spinoff. Curnow was a great poet, but he was also, like most great poets, a dark magus.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Malo Mark

Malo aupito to Mark Amery, who has mentioned my essay about the Seleka Club and the fundraising exhibition for Seleka at Small Axe studio in his weekly roundup of art events for The Big Idea, and encouraged his readers to help out Seleka.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The ignorance factor

The Ministry of Education has rejected a plea for the New Zealand Wars of the 19th century to be made a compulsory part of the history curriculum at our schools. The Ministry says local school boards should decide whether or not the wars are taught on their campuses. Entrusting such a decision to Pakeha-dominated boards in redneck towns and suburbs is like giving responsibility for science education to the local branch of the Exclusive Brethren.

Back at Rosehill College in the '90s the school board gave our seventh form history teacher the choice of spending a term on either Elizabethan England or the NZ Wars. She chose to take us back to the Elizabethan era, despite the fact that our school was close to scores of historic sites from the Waikato War - imperial redoubts, Kingitanga pa, churches with reinforced walls and bullet holes, sites of guerrilla ambushes, and graveyards where soldiers lay. What a waste.

I have talked to hundreds of New Zealanders about the Waikato War, as part of my research for Ghost South Road, the book I'm publishing soon with photographers Paul Janman and Ian Powell. I've noticed a huge gap between Maori and Pakeha knowledge of the war. Most Maori know at least the outlines of the conflict, and many can give detailed accounts of battles, and produce artefacts - old cannon shells, photographs of warriors - that are held as taonga by their whanau.

A few Pakeha, especially older people who were born in this country, know about the Waikato War, but the big majority have an encylopaedic ignorance of the conflict. Some of them have told me that the war was fought in the fifteenth or sixteenth century; some have insisted that it was a fight between rival Maori iwi, and had nothing to do with Pakeha; others have claimed that the fighting occurred in the years before 1840, and was brought to a close by the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Waikato War is by far the most important event in New Zealand history. Without it, New Zealand would not be a unified nation, the dairy industry would not exist, and Auckland would still be our capital city. The ignorance of Pakeha about the foundational event in their country's history is not healthy, especially when it is set beside the vivid and bitter memories of Maori.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, April 02, 2018

Tiny ferocious creatures

Last week I went with Aneirin and his classmates to Waikumete Stream, the Nile of Glen Eden. We leaned into our reflections and panned, not for gold or garbage, but for macroinvertebrates: for creatures as strange as the syrphid, which has a tail the shape of a syringe, and the salmonfly, which might be a dragon miniaturised by some mad scientist.

A plastic shopping bag, puffed with trapped air, leaking azure slime, floated by. 'Look, kids' I heard myself saying. 'That's a jellyfish, Glen Eden's unique freshwater jellyfish species.' The kids whooped, forgot their macroinvertebrates. Their teacher glared at me. Biology and metaphor do not mix well.

We poured the macroinvertebrates into a bowl, a world. The creatures began to lunge at, to bite each other. We watched, as fascinated as we were helpless. The creatures seemed as noble & pathetic, in their tiny ferocious rivalries, as Maoist sects or Tongan churches or debaters on twitter.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]