Thursday, January 30, 2020

The myth of guiltlessness


Driving home from the beach through Whenuapai, we came across a crowd of middle-aged men swaying excitedly in the heat waves from low-flying jets. The air force was training its pilots in corkscrew landings, intimidating flyovers. The huge grey birds roaring over us might be about to evacuate IT workers from the diseased city of Wuhan, or rescue soldiers from a besieged base in Iraq. We stopped and climbed out of our car and leaned into the hot, petrol-scented winds of history.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Secret stuff

In this era of self-promotion & obsession with fame, has the creation of a secret language, an unbreakable code, become a radical, even subversive gesture? Over at the online art journal EyeContact I've written about the uncracked codes created by Velvet Underground founder Angus MacLise, New Zealand painter Allen Maddox, & the indigenous people of Rapa Nui, whose elegant carved rongorongo tablets have been driving would-be decoders mad for more than a century.

Thursday, January 09, 2020


It's 1921. Britain has lost the war in Ireland; the army that defeated Germany a few short years ago has been humiliated by a volunteer force of potato farmers, members of the despised Celtic race. In Canada, infuriated imperialists burn down a series of Catholic churches.

In New Zealand, the Protestant Political Association is holding rallies in cities and towns, to warn Kiwis that the Catholic church is an agent of both Satanism and the Soviet Union. In 1923 the PPA's leader, Howard Elliott, will tell a Dunedin meeting that his organisation has a 'platform closely resembling that of the Ku Klux Klan'.

On the 19th of March anti-Catholics rally in Grey Lynn. Late on the night of the 20th of March, the suburb's convent begins to burn. A man is seen hurrying off down the street, just as the flames begin to rise. Kids scream and flee; an elderly nun shimmies down a veranda post to save her life. Bishop Cleary gathers the Catholic community in the ashes of the convent. Cleary has no doubt: his flock has suffered a terrorist attack. The attack on St Joseph's Convent has been largely left out of accounts of New Zealand's past. I'll be discussing it in my forthcoming book on white supremacism.