Monday, 31 December 2012


I was suddenly on the edge of a precipice
so random - unexpected - reading someone else's life
and confronted with my own.

She was in my head. Behind my eyes. Sitting.
I was shocked into knowing/ not knowing.
I was weeping.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Cigarette Duet & The Emperor of All Maladies

The Cigarette Duet - Princess Chelsea

I am reading my way (I am about halfway at this point) through an incredibly interesting and riveting, very educational, superlong book called The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddbartha Mukherjee. I love long, well-written, scientific-type books aimed at ordinary people like me. This is the story of cancer, a chronicle of an ancient disease, writes the author, a history of humankind's involvement with the disease, and a biography of this awesome illness. In fact, cancer is not just one disease but many and in the past scientists have sought "the cure" for cancer seemingly like a search for the holy grail.

And one knows that in a book like this one is going to come up against one's demons. Such as cancer in children. The reader is confronted with heartbreaking histories of the attempts of doctors attempting to cure very sick children, in the past it seems more like madness, trying to find cures at any price, on the bodies of very sick people including children. For the greater good? Something we can only decide in our own minds as we read but this author manages a difficult balancing act in the writing. Not ghoulish, not over-emotive, but not overly distanced from the realities being portrayed either.  I was impressed.

More personally for me is when we get to the smoking/cancer correlations. It seems to have taken a long time before doctors, scientists, and politicians accepted the correlation between smoking and cancer. Many of us older folk will remember that dawning awareness through the sixties and the seventies. I remember my father stopping smoking in the early seventies even as I, fool that I was, began the habit. I think my father had watched a programme on the telly which showed smokers lungs blackened with tar. I didn't see that programme, I was out somewhere, probably getting up to no good.

What he may have seen on the telly would have been something like this description detailed in the book.

"A man of careful words, Auerbach was a widely respected lung pathologist who had recently completed a monumental study comparing lung specimens from 1,522 autopsies of smokers and non-smokers.

Auerbach's paper describing the lesions he had found was a landmark in the understanding of carcinogenesis. Rather than initiating his studies with cancer in its full-blown for, Auerbach had tried to understand the genesis of cancer. He had begun not with cancer but with its past incantation, its precursor lesion - precancer. Long before lung cancer grew overtly and symptomatically out of a smoker's lung, Auerbach found, the lung contained layer upon layer of precancerous lesions in various states of evolution - like a prehistoric shale of carcinogenesis. The changes began in the bronchial airways. As smoke travelled through the lung, the outermost layers, exposed to the highest concentrations of tar, began to thicken and swell. Within these thickened layers, Auerbach found the next stage of malignant evolution: atypical cells with ruffled or dark nuclei in irregular patches. In a yet smaller fraction of patients, these atypical cells began to show the characteristic cytological changes of cancer, with bloated, abnormal nuclei often caught dividing furiously. In the final stage, these cell clusters broke through the thin lining of the basement membranes and transformed into frankly invasive carcinoma. Cancer, Auerbach argued, was a disease unfolded slowly in time. It did not run but rather slouched to its birth." (p258,259)

After 33 years of smoking, my lungs are probably looking pretty sick.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Scent of Rosewater: A New Zealand Bride in Iran - Anna Woodward Swinburn

This is really a love story, a truthful and moving and quite educational story, and a beautiful and elegant book.

It is also an interesting and sympathetic look at Iran and the people of Iran during the time of Ayotollah Khomeyni's leadership of that country. Anna writes simply and gracefully of the wonders of Iran both old and new, and the rich culture of the Iranian people.

How it all came about: Anna, while overseas in the UK on her OE (kiwism for overseas experience) met Bijan, a handsome Persian from Iran. After living together quite happily for a number of years in England and in New Zealand, Bijan became increasingly worried about his family back in Iran. He had been parted from them all through the hard times of the revolution that had taken place there, and the difficult years that had followed.

Anna and her family, knowing the importance of family ties in his culture, supported his decision. Unfortunately, what none of them realised what might happen, did happen, and it was on the very day that Bijan flew away that the war between Iran and Iraq exploded, and once Bijan set foot in his own country he became trapped. His passport was removed because all young Iranian men between the ages of fifteen and thirty were forbidden to leave in case they were needed for war.

My friend Maryfaliha (if she ever reads this) may be interested to know that Bijan's father was a Kurd. Several centuries earlier a number of Kurdish families had been persuaded by the great Shah Abbas to leave Kurdistan and settle, in return for land grants, in the north-east of Iran. They were to be a buffer of warriors against the Turkmans, who for centuries had plagued plainsmen by carrying of their livestock and women.

Anyhow, Bijan tried to escape Iran but was thrown into prison. Another attempt would have cost him his life. So Anna finally went to him, after two years of waiting for her visa to come through. This book is the story of her life in Iran with Bijan, her learning of a new culture and of how she coped with life in Iran, and the people she met and learned to love. She learned to speak Farsi and married Bijan while she was in Iran.

After he turned thirty Bijan was given his passport back, and the couple returned to New Zealand. Later Anna was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer (in 1991). She was to die in June of 1993 with Bijan by her side holding her hand.

Realising how important the project was to Anna, her mother, Mary Woodward, from a not-quite completed manuscript, took on the task of completing it, using notes and letters and diaries of Anna's.

This book was published in 1998 by Shoal Bay Press.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

My Anti-Smoking Rant 2007 - 2012

Just now, as I was sitting here in front of my computer I happened to look up and outside of my house on the footpath in front, I saw a young girl - she looked all of about 13 maybe - lighting a cigarette. It made me shudder.

It is quite some time since I had an anti-tobacco rant but because I saw her, and because right now I am in process of deleting all my remaining Multiply posts I offer edited versions of past essays with update.


I started smoking when I was sixteen. I had already left school for a year, I had a 'steady' boyfriend and all my friends smoked, my boyfriend smoked, his friends smoked, my parents smoked; in fact it seemed like everyone around me had fags hanging out their mouths except me. So it wasn't that I especially needed to smoke or even that anybody pressured me to smoke, it was just that I felt like such an idiot back then, not smoking.

I was addicted from the first cigarette.

The book, Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking is not the flashest written book by a long shot. It is not even overlong. In quite simple terms Allen Carr discusses smoking as an addiction, how this particular addiction works to keep the smoker under control so that they keep on smoking, and then by following Allen Carr's instructions, how the smoker can stop smoking successfully.

Allen Carr himself was a smoker, smoking for over thirty years and smoking his way through up to one hundred cigarettes a day, an amount which even I can self-righteously find incredible, but when, as a smoker, you read his story and his instructions for stopping smoking and know that if he can do it you can do it too, the whole idea becomes at least credible to you. This is not some posh doctor pontificating from some high-up pedestal, telling you, the smoker, how bad you should feel about yourself. This is another human being just like you, who has fought the same demons that you are now girding yourself to fight and reaching out a hand to show you how. That's part of why the book works.

Smokers are not actually idiots, (well maybe some are, but most aren't). They all know, even if they won't admit it, that smoking is expensive and unhealthy. Most wish they had never started. Smoking is a drug addiction just like alcohol addiction or heroin addiction. Being addicted means that a substance is controlling you and your behaviour. It means that no matter how you run your budget the biggest priority of a smoker is always making sure that there is enough money to run the addiction, even at the expense of your family and the people you love. In this respect a smoking addiction is no different from any other addiction. It still amazes me how much more money I have to spend on basic things now that I should have been able to buy all along. I am feel so much richer.

Actually it still amazes me that I am not still smoking too, and the fact that I am not smoking is down to this book by Allen Carr. "The object of the book" wrote Carr, "is to get you into the frame of mind in which, instead of the normal method of stopping whereby you start off with the feeling that you are climbing Mount Everest and spend the next few days craving a cigarette and envying other smokers, you start off right away with a feeling of elation, as if you had been cured of a terrible disease."

"If you follow my instructions, you will be happy to be a non-smoker for the rest of your life" reads the blurb on the back of my copy of the book. It's true too. I have been a non-smoker after reading this book since the 2nd of February 2007 and I do not feel 'deprived". He does indeed offer a unique method without scare tactics which focuses on removing the psychological "need" to smoke.

There is a political side to all of this.

Most support structures around now, (government-run or otherwise), that exist to encourage people to not smoke any more, focus on supporting a smoker to "give up" the terrible vice. They wind up subsidising the nicotine drug in another form such as nicotine patches or gum.  Allen Carr argues that this is why they have such a low success rate. A smoker "giving up smoking" in this manner only ends up feeling "deprived". Moreover, the unwitting smoker who may not only be failing to 'give up' smoking is also in danger of becoming addicted to wearing a nicotine patch or chewing on the nicotine gum during their working hours. In effect they may become doubly addicted.

All this may well raise some interesting thoughts about the politics of governments and corporates and the way in which pharmaceutical companies are gradually wresting the nicotine industry from the tobacco companies in western countries at least. Allen Carr touched on these ideas in the book as well and on the website.

So nicotine doesn't disappear from the shelves. You just find it on different shelves.


Imagine selling a product where you know every user will eventually die sooner than they would have otherwise because they use your product. And in the nature of Capitalism you are working to expand your customer base and 'grow' your company and your profits. How do they sleep at night?

In the most appalling acts of cynicism and greed for profits above all else, these companies like British American Tobacco now target young kids in African and Asian countries. In these countries the number of smoking-related deaths are expected to double in the next twenty years. The tobacco companies want the young ones addicted because they will take longer to die from smoking related diseases than older people so they will be customers longer. Its evil.

Tobacco exacerbates poverty. The World Health Organisation (WHO) tells us that “tobacco and poverty are inextricably linked. Many studies have shown that in the poorest households in some low-income countries as much as 10%, (and the rest - in some households it will be a much higher percentage, depending on the price of the cigarettes and tobacco in each country), of total household expenditure is on tobacco [and therefore] there is less money to spend on basic items such as food, education and health care. In addition to its direct health effects, tobacco leads to malnutrition, increased health care costs and premature death. It also contributes to a higher illiteracy rate, since money that could have been used for education is spent on tobacco instead.”

Even more insidiously tobacco is also contributing to world hunger because it diverts prime land away from food production. Land that has been destroyed or degraded to grow tobacco has effects on nearby farms too, decreasing even more food production. As more forests are cleared to make way for more tobacco plantations then the soil protection those forests provided is lost and the soil is more likely to be washed away in heavy rains. This leads to more soil degradation and failing yields. Large amounts of wood are used to cure tobacco leaves and tobacco uses up more water, and has more pesticides applied to it, further affecting water supplies. The hard cash earned from this “foreign investment” is offset by the costs in social and public health and the environment. In effect, profits are privatized; costs are socialised. They make the money, the rest of us throughout the world pay the costs.


For Hone Harawira, now leader of the Mana Party here in Aotearoa, Tobacco Production and Marketing is a Colonisation issue. In a speech he made in 2006 he said:

 "Liberals will say though that smoking is about Maori people making choices. But I say no. HELL NO!!! Smoking is a part of colonisation. Tobacco has had its day in America and Europe, and now they are looking for other places to conquer; places like Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and now China. They're colonising places even America can't get into. And smoking ain't a choice; it's a disease. And just like the flu came with colonisation, so did tobacco. In fact, at the launch of the 2001 Maori Quit campaign, even the Prime Minister admitted that smoking came with the coloniser.

Addiction to cigarettes is also part of institutional racism, because tobacco companies use their structures, their policies and their practices to oppress our people in the same way as government agencies have. These companies are owned by white people driven by a lust for profit. They have no conscience about selling a product that kills our people, and in case you don't believe me, here's a quote from a Tobacco Company Executive who said: "We don't smoke this shit - we sell it. We reserve the right to smoke it, to the young, the poor, the black and the stupid."

Hone pointed out that there is untold money spent on debating and on legislating the health warnings on cigarette packets, and then restrictions on points of sale, and then on smoke-free workplaces, and then smoke-free bars. Hundred and thousands of hours and millions of dollars are being poured into smoking cessation programmes as well. What this has done is to simply create one industry to manage another.

Which is so true. Back to Allen Carr who argued that instead of nicotine addiction decreasing through all those smoking cessation programmes what was actually happening was that pharmaceutical corporations were taking over control of the nicotine substance from the tobacco companies. Probably the same rich guys have money in both. Allen Carr stated:  "Many of those who championed NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) as an aid to quitting are now backtracking. Nicotine, they argue, should now be administered to addicts, not as a means of quitting the drug, but merely as a “safer alternative” to smoking. So, the objective of nicotine treatment is soon to become a long term (in other words lifelong) maintenance programme with a variety of nicotine products provided for addicts to use for the rest of their lives."

Thereby keeping those companies in the money forever. Oh goody.

Nicotine is a poison. No matter how you wrap it up, no matter how pretty the package, it is still a poison. All they are talking about here is making a more socially acceptable form of a drug so that non-smokers won't be bothered by cigarette smoke. I cannot see any other benefit.


In Aotearoa/New Zealand the current government has agreed in principle to introduce a plain packaging regime for tobacco, subject to the outcome of  a consultation process. The consultation process closed at 5pm, 5th of October 2012.

The Ministry of Health is now analysing the submissions and working with other government departments including Treasury, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to prepare a report back to Cabinet before the end of the year. A summary of the submissions will be placed on the website of the Ministry of Health following the decision of the Cabinet. There were 292 individual submissions. In addition more than 20,000 people and organisations expressed a view on the proposal through pre-printed postcards, letters, and petitions.

Unsurprisingly British American Tobacco aren't happy. They argue that plain packaging is an infringement of their intellectual property rights. “Packaging is an important element of any company’s intellectual property. A government prohibition on a company’s right to use their own intellectual property constitutes property removal and sets a disturbing precedent for businesses throughout New Zealand. “If government is prepared to do this today, are the next logical steps to force alcohol, fast food, salty or sugary products into plain packs as well?” said Susan Jones, BATNZ’s Head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs.

Frankly, Susan, I don't give a damn. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Te Tangata Rongonui Korero

Kia ora koutou.

At the end of our year of Te Ara Reo Maori (The Path to the Maori Language), we were required to write and present (korero) a speech completely in te reo Maori, no less than three minutes long, in front of our class, with "props" such as pictures or powerpoint.  Below is my speech which I presented on Tuesday just past.  For this post, I have interspersed with some explanation.  The pictures shown are pictures which I used on my powerpoint.

   Tane Mahuta, the largest Kauri tree still living in Aotearoa. His roots are in the earth, his branches reach to the sky.

The speech begins with the whaikorero (the first paragraph you see) which was written for us.  It means "The first word I have to say, I send to the Creator.  He is the beginning and the end of everything.  To the ancestral house that stands here I greet you.  To the sacred earth that lies outside, I greet you also.  To those that have passed on, go forth, go forth, go forth.  Go to the home that our Creator has constructed for all of us.  Leave the deceased to be with the deceased.  To all of us, the living gathered here, greetings greetings, greetings to you all. 

Ko te kupu tuatahi ki te kaihanga.  Koia ra te tiimatanga me te whakamutunga o ngā mea katoa.  E te whare tu nei, tēnā koe.  Ki te marae e takato ana ki waho rā, tēnā koe.  Ki ngā mate, haere, haere, haere.  Haere ki te kainga i whakaritea e tō tātou kaihanga mō tātou katoa.  Rātou te hunga mate ki a rātou.  Tātou te hunga ora e huihui mai nei.  Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

The next part is my pepeha, describing where I am from.

Ko Aoraki te maunga.  Ko Waimakariri te awa.  Ko te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa te moana.  Ko Martha Ridgway te waka.  Ko Ngāti Pakeha te iwi. Ko Elizabeth Odell tōku ingoa.

Me and my children circa 1996

This part tells my whakapapa.

Ko Lawrence Patrick Odell tōku matua.  Ko Eveline Rollinson tōku whaea.  I te taha o tōku whaea, ko Albert Rollinson rāua ko Clara Bailey ōku tipuna matua.  I te taha o toku matua, ko Stanley George Odell rāua ko Eileen Ross ōku tipuna mātua.  Ko Jenny Odell tōku teina.  Ko Geoff Odell tōku tungane.  Ko Justin rātou ko Melissa, ko Joseph, ko Jacob, ko Christopher āku tamariki.  Ko Caleb rātou ko Mya, ko Kade, ko Skye āku mokopuna.

 The first thread of my family arrived in Aotearoa in 1840 on a ship (waka) named the Martha Ridgway (the three masted ship left of the flagpole)

I te taha o tōku matua, ko James Wright raua ko Hannah Austain oku tipuna mātua.  I haere rāua ki Aotearoa, ki Whanganui-a-tara, ma runga waka Martha Ridgway rāua, haere ai. I taenga rāua i te marama o Whiringa-a-rangi, kotahi mano, e waru rau, e wha tekau.  Ko James rāua ko Hannah tekau ma iwa ana tamariki. Ko Sarah Anne Wright ānā mataamua.  A te rua tekau ma iwa o Hakihea, kotahi mano, e waru rau, e whā tekau mā tahi tōnā rā whanau. Ko ia te tangata tuatahi i whanau mai i Aotearoa o tōku whanau.

In the next part of our speech we had to talk about a famous person. I chose to korero about Metiria Turei, co-leader of the Green Party Aotearoa, a woman whom I highly respect.  

Ko te kaupapa o tōku korero ko tetahi tangata rongonui ko Metiria Leeanne Agnes Stanton Turei.

Ko Richard Ropata Eruera Turei tōna matua. Ko Janice Lake tōna whaea.  I te taha o tōna matua, ko Te Oti Rangitekaiwaho Turei rāua ko Agnes Piupiu Taputoro ōna matua tipuna.  I te taha o tōna whaea, ko Len Lake rāua ko Gwenda Lake ōna mātua tipuna.  Ko Warwick Stanton tāna hoa rangatira.  Ko Piupiu Maya Turei tāna tamahine.

Ko Tararua ko Ruapehu ōna maunga.  Ko Ruamahanga ko Whanganui ōna awa.  Ko Takitimu ko Aotea ōna waka.  Ko Rangitane, Ngati Kahungunu, ki Wairarapa ko Ati-hau-nui-a-Paparangi.  Ko Ngati Moe ko Wainuiarua ōna hapu.  Ko Papawai me Upokutauaki ōna marae.

A te tekau mā toru o Hui-tanguru, kotahi mano, e iwa rau, e whā tekau tona rā whanau.  Nō te Papa-i-oea ia. Kei Otepoti tōna kainga inaianei.

He Paremata tōna mahi.  Ko tōna umanga hei arahi toranapu Kakariki.

I ako ia te kowaruwarutanga o te ture i te Wananga o Tamaki-makau-rau, katahi ka poutoko ture tōna umanga Simpson Grierson. I tenei wā, he kaitauko ia mo nga hunga kore mahi me ngā tangata whai pānga, katahi ka tumuaki ia i Te Iwi Māori Rawakore o Aotearoa.  He kaiwhakangahau tōna mo te rōpu Random Trollops.
I te tau, kotahi mano, e iwa rau, e iwa tekau mā toru, he kaiwhakauru ia i te McGillicuddy Serious Party, kotahi ka, kotahi mano, e iwa rau e tekau ma ono, he kaiwhakauru ia te Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.

I te tau, e rua mano, i uru ia ki rōto i te Pāti Kakariki, katahi ka, i te tau, e rua mano mā rua, i uru ia ki rōto ki te Paremata, ā muri i tera, i te tau, e rua mano mā iwa, Metiria rāua ko Russell Norman he kaiarahi rāua mo te Pāti Kakariki.

He wahine ātaahua a Metiria.  He wahine pukumahi ia.  He tino koi hoki tōna hinengaro, he ngākau māhaki. He arahi tōrangapu tino kaha ia.  He pango ona makawe. He pakaka ona karu.  He waha tōna korero. He nui tōna menemene. He rua ōna waewae hei kanikani.

We end with a whakatauki (proverb).  I chose the whakatauki below which means " Follow your dreams, if you have to bend or bow, let it be to a lofty mountain."

"Whaia te iti kahurangi ki te tuoho koe me maunga tei tei." 

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Monday, 19 November 2012


inside every woman is a sappho loving her own
image. let us say then, for the sake of argument,
that i am a mirror. and that in me you see yourself.
why do you suppose i live behind locked doors?

inside every woman is someone's little girl gone
bad or mad. this is what she told me and i believe
it to be a truth.
and inside every woman is a scribe wanting to
set the record straight.

in rooms and cells up and down the country women
whose throats are dry, who are unable any longer
to speak, pen notes to themselves. they tell tales.
and in the night, in the deep part of the black
night the women come and go, doing a soft shoe
shuffle. walking down valium alley heads bent
and penitent. keeping an eye out for angels and
the night nurse riding his charger. and in the
night when the corridors sting with silence they
come and go, lulling each other. eyes zipped wide,
they go in file down librium mile and back.

and in one-roomed flats and beazley homes they
sit in locked lavatories scribbling fast in time
to children. they write poems on tables littered
with crumbs and jam to the beat of the AM band.
they record the songs of all the women in the
each one an image of her sister.

Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark.

The first time I came across Mike Minehan was in 1992 after I had left the hospital finally and come home with my twins. It was a cold June that year (winter in NZ of course) and I was completely focused on my two new little boys. I had no time for anything but feeding and changing it seemed, and when the wee lads were finally sleeping I would rush around getting the housework (especially the laundry). For company I turned on talkback radio and there was Mike, her slow careful voice creating a community amongst her listeners. It was probably the nicest chat I have ever come across. Outside was dark and cold, inside we were caught up in the cosy world that Mike created. Once when an old lady rang and said she was listening from her bed because it was her only way to get warm, Mike and her husband John Blumskey took firewood round to her the next day. We knew this only because the old lady rang that night insisting on telling the rest of us about their kindness.

I later found her poetry book, Embracing The Dark, (from whence came the above poem) and bought it.

I believe (although I cannot verify this) that her first marriage was to an American and she lived in the US for a time. This is an excerpt from a very long poem...

 san francisco bay blues

... a young girl i lay in the arms of a man old enough
to be my father and he played me like a harp.
he dressed me in fur and fine wool. he placed
a diamond on my finger and signed a contract.

i married an old man who steered ships by the
stars but who never managed to navigate my harbour
of silences. he said i was his lorelei. the song
i sang lured him onto the hard rocks of his own
despair. i was a siren killing him with lyrics
he had no stomach for ... in a tongue he could
not master...

... and a letter arrived from Saigon.

i did the dishes and cut my hair and burned rags
and incense for days. i bought max factorand
prince matchibelli. i opened an account at magnins.
i trimmed my toenails and shaved under my arms
with a remington. I stocked up on steak and whisky.
I read newspapers and watched merve griffen. i
bought a nightdress instead of fires and changed
the sheets. i hid my poems in an old shoebox and
dusted off the piano.

and the old sea dog who was tired of fighting
wars, returned, to talk of battles and bombs
and saigon bars and dance hall girls with long
black hair that fell about their faces like a
veil. brown eyed girls who lay down for sailors
on american flags and watched napalm blister the
river and light up the city.

and when i lay in his arms i smelled smoke. as
i lay loose in his arms i smelled death. he slept
on my breast heavy and spent and as old as sin.
and as i watched his slack mouth open to snores
i thought of other breasts his wet lips had suckled
in my absence, the brown bellies he has seeded
in his truancy from my bed. his moist tongue
tipping as he probed smaller ears than mine and
how this was the way of things...

Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark
Much later I realised that she had once joined that famous New Zealand poet James K Baxter at his commune at Jerusalem, Aotearoa/NZ. I think this was after she returned to NZ from the US - after her divorce. She gave birth to his son. (He of course, was married to Jacqui Baxter at the time - another man who had no idea of not straying). She wrote about this experience many years later in James K Baxter: An Intimate Memoir - O Jerusalem (2002)

What happens

... He says in a manner of speaking he has,

'Look sister' and she does. Into her heart and his and she thinks she
might follow where he beckons and listen to the music of his language,
his words, and find a place for her soul's rest, for a time, somewhere
up there in the hills he speaks of and this becomes a decision and she
makes it there ...

Mike Minehan (2002) excerpt from James K Baxter: An Intimate Memoir - O Jerusalem.
Getting back to the Sappho thing, I think this short and succinct poem is one of my favourite poem of hers.


one morning i woke &
told god to bugger off
i packed his bags &
gave him a one way ticket
& a cut lunch
i swept the cave &
lit a fire
invited some women to share a meal

we sang & told tales till dawn

Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Free Lunches Cause Delinquency

A recent Campbell Live investigation showed kids at schools in poorer areas went without lunch far more often than those in wealthier suburbs.

Research by the Ministry of Health shows roughly 20 percent of Kiwi households with children run out of money for food.

BUT Aotearoa New Zealand's Conservative Party leader, the christian millionaire Colin Craig , has now been reported on TV3 News saying that there should be "no free lunches" for children sent to school without any lunch of their own.

He would clearly prefer they starve, I suppose.

What our mean, nasty Mr Craig reckons is that the research showing children that go without lunch don't learn as well is "missing the point". He would prefer the "delinquent" parents be charged the "cost of rectifying their bad behaviour" (thereby adding to the income stress I guess).

"The issue is not whether lunchlessness is detrimental to learning," he says. "Rather the issue is a parents’ duty to provide for their children." Goodoh.

Furthermore the very rich Mr Colin Craig believes providing lunches in schools will encourage "delinquent behaviour"! Really! Oh I see, he means the evil, poor parents' delinquent behaviour, not the children.

"While free lunches sound appealing," he says, "they are actually a way by which the Government enables the continuation of delinquent parenting. Such proposals are an unwitting, well meaning, but destructive response."

Twenty percent of our nation's households are, therefore, according to him delinquent. I don't think so, Mr Craig. Rather they just don't have enough money. By the time they attempt to pay their skyrocketing rents and drip-feed the skyrocketing powerbills from their ever-diminishing wage packets and under-subsistence benefits, what happens is that there just isn't enough money for food.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What I Did on Saturday

I didn't know these pictures were being taken. It was John Kelcher who was taking them; he is our Waimakariri spokesperson for the Green Party and stood as a candidate in the last election.

We (me with the old lady white hair) are at the Agricultural & Pastoral (A&P) Show at Rangiora on Saturday just gone with Keep Our Assets petitions, anti-fracking postcards (for people to take and post to politicians), Green Party and Anti-Fracking merchandise, and Green Party bookmarks and Green Party balloons to give away. Everything was being held down by wee rocks because there was a bit of a gusty nor-wester blowing.

I'm in exalted company right now chatting with Eugenie Sage, Christchurch-based Green Party MP, who had come out with us and was walking amongst the crowds helping getting petitions signed. This is the second time now, that she has come out with us and it is lovely having her because she is such a genuinely nice person and so very knowledgeable. I was very impressed watching her field from a variety of people on anything from decriminalising marijuana to (unsurprisingly) the Asset Sales programme and what the Green Party think are better economic alternatives.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Working Class Heritage

This is a repost from Multiply. It was originally an album post so I've had to edit the pictures pretty drastically. 

Lane Walker Rudkin

Yesterday, while in Christchurch for appointments, we found ourselves in the Sydenham/Addington area near to Lane Walker Rudkin (LWR). LWR is/was a very old clothing manufactory in Christchurch. In days past, while more educated girls were funneled into becoming teachers or nurses (suitable occupations for young girls before they married and had children of course), working class girls were funneled into shop work or became machinists in clothing factories. LWR was probably one of the largest employers of young girls and women in Christchurch.

I left school at 15 and went the shop girl route at Beaths Department store in the city centre but years later, from around 1989 to 1992, I did my stint at LWR. In the time I was there LWR was making the Canterbury brands, Adidas, Jockey etc among many other things. I worked in the Jockey part, sewing on crutches on jockeys for about 6 months and then attaching neckbands to T-shirts for the rest of my time there.

I was working here when the Employment Contracts Act (1990) was brought in by the far right wing National government who (having pledged to be nicer than the last lot) went to even further extremes to make low income working peoples' lives a nightmare. The Employment Contracts Act effectively broke unions and took away national awards, thereby driving down people's wages. This was made easier by the fact that the National Government had already cut benefit rates.

Our Jockey department was called to a meeting by our flash manager who had never ever bothered to learn any of our names - in fact he normally never spoke to us at all. He passed by us with his nose in the air. However this day, he was all affable. This day he was all set to explain to us the greatness of the new Employment Contracts Act (1990) legislation, which he said was the most far-reaching legislation since Richard John Seddon's (King Dick) employment laws of 1894. We are apparently supposed to be awed by this, I think, he clearly was as he stood there before us in his flash designer suit. The tie he was wearing probably cost a fortnight's wages for a machinist.

Richard Seddon's 1894 legislation, for those who care, outlawed all strike action by workers, their only form of power, instead allowing all boss/worker disputes to be settled by an Arbitration Court. Sounds okay until you realise that the Arbitration Court almost never ruled in favour of the workers. Well heck, they were all bosses too, weren't they.

The LWR group was bought by businessman Ken Anderson in 2001. LWR was placed into receivership in April of 2009 and the Christchurch operation was closed in November of 2009. I am not sure what the extensive old buildings have been used for since but on the 22nd of February 2011 they were clearly hit hard.

Don't be misled into thinking I am feeling particularly sad about this. LWR was not a nice place to work and I was very glad to leave.

Someone said that nature clearly doesn't like red bricks and is determinedly working hard to rid Christchurch of all the offending bricks. Many old red brick buildings (like LWR) have had their red bricks painted over but nature/earthquakes will still find them out.

Note: 18/10/2012 LWR has since been totally demolished.

Burke Street/Ruskin Street

We turned the corner from Montreal Street into Burke Street and entered a different world. No obvious major 'quake damage here although there were some windows with cracked glass. Forget the big buildings everyone is discussing - should they be demolished or not - what about the Christchurch historic heritage - here is workers historic heritage - still here and still dynamic and beautiful as well - a juxtaposition of miniature housing dating from the Victorian Age (one imagines thin bowed women in rollers and raincoats heading to the factory to work long hours on the sewing machines) side by side with newer housing dating up to the present day. All small, all with a tale to tell.

Under the towering eucalyptus tree we found this wee cottage (you can only see the roof) with an equally tiny "caravansei" in the front garden. It has to be an artist who lives here. Whoever it is they seem to be following an African/Arabian theme - the custom-made gate has centered on it and a window of the cottage features camels (not showing on pic, sorry). Note also the birds (flamingos?) cut out from the corrugated iron fence.

Remember that song, "Little Boxes". It must have been written for this wee house which hopefully has seen better days.

Over the road, this sweet little cottage, like something out of a story book I think. Still small in scale like the other cottages on the street but seems to have captured a bit more land, and a clever gardener has made the most of this, giving the impression of sweeping lawns within mature trees and shrubbery.

Pure Kiwi Victoriana. The car and trailer show clearly the small size of this wee cottage, the colour of which made me think of sunshine and apricots and oranges.

We came to a public space with a pathway leading from Burke Street through to Ruskin Street, a street of similar scale. Native grasses, dry creek bed which probably acts as a drain/soak pit when it rains and very solid wooden seating. Plus kiddies play area. Nice.

 A stone tablet informed us that we had stumbled onto something called the Literary Streets Heritage Trail (we later discovered that this had been in development prior to the earthquakes). Passionflowers featured on the tablet were to be a theme of the walk and are a link back to the old Addington Cemetery.

 Not a very good picture, really I just took it to remind me of the information. (As you do). And until this moment I hadn't heard of John Ruskin. There was a statue of John Ruskin but I didn't get a picture of that, just this old plaque. Anyway the plaque tells (because I am not sure if you will be able to read it on the picture) that John Ruskin was a pre-eminent critic of Victorian art and society. His philosophy expressed an extreme love of truth which prevailed over beauty, and through which, he saw, the decline of art as part of a general cultural crisis.

Therefore, in the face of the Industrial Revolution (I'm finding all this quite relevant on a small working class working street) his book, "Stones of Venice", (1853), was a warning to modern Britain. To Ruskin, the Gothic style (how fitting for Christchurch which, until now, has had so much Gothic-style architecture) possessed an inner moral quality that represented a finer, more upright society and means of production. It permitted freedom, individuality and spontaneity among workers, exposing the beauty of beauty and truth withing Nature and God. He compared the Gothic style to the Renaissance style of soulless factories (where we started from with LWR) of mechanical production and division of labour. These denied workers the spiritual element of creation by estranging the producer from the products of their hands, thereby enslaving the worker.

After all that, something pretty down Ruskin Street.

 We met this nice old bloke who was raking up leaves from his front lawn. He told me a friend had made him this butterfly one time. His house had just a few cracks (note the masking tape on the window pane) and of course he had lost his chimney but the powers that be were bringing him a heatpump sometime soon.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Being Poor in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs. 
Being poor is getting angry at your children for asking for all the crap they see on TV. 
Being poor is buying an $800 car because it’s what you can afford, and then having the car break down on you, because there is not an $800 car in New Zealand that is worth a damn. 
Being poor is hoping your toothache goes away. 
Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours. 
Being poor is going to the toilet at school so you’re last to go get your lunch box and no-one wants to swap their lunch food with you anyway. 
Being poor is living next to the motorway. 
Being poor is living under power pylons. 
Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last. 
Being poor is wondering if your well-off brother is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help. Being poor is pre-owned toys. 
Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house. 
Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt. 
Being poor is stealing meat from the shops, frying it up before your Mum gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway. 
Being poor is Salvation Army underwear. 
Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you. Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your Salvation Army bought shoes when you run around the playground. 
Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning. 
Being poor is thinking $10.80 an hour is a really good wage. 
Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you. 
Being poor is working an overnight shift under florescent lights. 
Being poor is finding the letter your Mum wrote to your Dad begging him for the child support. 
Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw. 
Being poor is believing passing a WINZ Training Course actually makes a bit of difference. 
Being poor is people being angry at you just for walking around in the local shopping mall. 
Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your pre-school children. Being poor is the police bursting into the house right next to yours. 
Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes. 
Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited to someone’s home for dinner. 
Being poor is a footpath with lots of brown glass on it. 
Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk. 
Being poor is needing that 35cent raise. 
Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home. 
Being poor is six dollars short on the power bill and no way to close the gap. 
Being poor is crying when you drop the MacDonald’s Cheeseburger on the floor. 
Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone anywhere and people still call you a bludger. 
Being poor is people being surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid. 
Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy. 
Being poor is a six-hour wait in the hospital emergency waiting room with a sick child asleep on your lap. Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t already owned. 
Being poor is picking the 10xpack of two minute noodles instead of the single pack because there is two free packages in the 10xpack. 
Being poor is having to live your life with choices you didn’t realise you’d made when you were 14 years old. 
Being poor is getting tired of people expecting you to be grateful. 
Being poor is knowing you’re being judged. 
Being poor getting is a box of crayons and a $1 colouring book from a community centre Santa. 
Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every drink machine as you walk by. 
Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on a roof over your head. 
Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won’t listen to you begging them against doing so. 
Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away. 
Being poor is getting a $200 pay cheque advance from a company that then takes $250 when the pay cheque comes in. 
Being poor is a lumpy futon bed. 
Being poor is knowing where the nearest shelter is. 
Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you would choose to live like that. 
Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor. 
Being poor is seeing how few life options you really have. 
Being poor is running in place. 
Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

Polynesian Navigators

This book was one of my main resources when I first wrote about Polynesian navigation on the now-defunct Multiply site. The information about the picture of the coconut sextant and description of how it was used came directly from this book. I was, and remain, absolutely fascinated by the navigational and exploration skills of the people we now know as Polynesian, and the tools they used. On Multiply this all became a three part blog plus the book review; what is posted here is severely edited, selected highlights.

In the above book Tom Davis tells of his childhood in Rarotonga, about his education in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and how he became the first Cook Islander to qualify as a doctor; how he then returned as a "Doctor to the Islands" (the title of his first book) in 1945; and how he became the first Cook Islander to attend Harvard University, arriving there in a typically Tom Davis way - by sailing his small yacht from New Zealand to the USA. He headed medical programmes in Alaska and the Himalayas, managed medical research for a US consulting firm, qualified as a space surgeon and had a leading role in developing the US space programme.

In 1971 he returned to the Cook Islands where he became involved in politics and was Prime Minister there from 1978 - 1987. He was awarded the Order of Merit of Germany in 1979 and knighted by the Queen of England in 1980. Sir Tom expresses his views clearly, and admits what he failed to achieve or wished he had done differently. His power of description, as in handling a ship in a storm, is tremendous. In later life he also wrote a couple of books (including the one pictured above, obviously), coached a Cook Islands boxing team, and built an ocean-going canoe/waka.

"A navigator," said Tom Davis (Pa Tuterangi Ariki), "is travelling in an upside-down bowl of the sky sitting on the sea. It is full of clues as to the direction and the maintenance of that direction. The (modern) compass has blinded most of us to their existence and how they may be used."

 Polynesian Navigating Tohunga often would use a a sextant (titiro etu) made from a coconut shell cut across at a slanting angle with a hole at the low end, and a notch at the top end, and a number of holes encircling it. These sat above a wavy line representing the ocean and underneath an arch of ten stars evenly spaced. The coconut shell was filled with seawater to the ring of the holes. Coconut oil was used to preserve the surface tension of the seawater and, (within reason), to prevent leakage from the ring of holes.

Tom Davis spent some time in working out just how one of these was actually used. It turned out that the gourd instrument performed as a "Star Latitude Sailing method to "run down" one's destination, which is the same as a Sun Latitude Sailing method. One did not need a chronometer, nor did one need a declination table because all star declinations are fixed... All one has to know is that a particular altitude of star obtained by the titiro etu put's one's canoe on the same east west track as one's destination. Keep the canoe on that track and one will run into one's destination" (Tom Davis).

So "what we have" (writes Sir Tom), "is an artificial horizon built into the instrument, just like a bubble sextant. Now peek through the eye hole to the object hole or notch higher up and on the other side of the instrument. Wiggle the instrument around until one sees the star in the object hole. Follow it by intermittent sightings as it ascends until it reaches it's highest point...

Now look at the status of the artificial horizon. In this example, both the the destination and the reference star are to the north. If the seawater of the artificial horizon is above that of the ring of holes directly under the object hole, the canoe has not yet reached a point directly east (or west as the case may be) and one must continue one's course. Alternatively, if the star is below the object hole when the sea water is in line with all the holes, we also have not reached the latitude of our destination.

When the star is in the object aperture and the water of the artificial horizon is in line with all the holes of the ring of holes, one has reached that point where the canoe can be aimed directly east (or west...) and the destination can be 'run down

Europeans are used to text and to drawings, such as those that are used in our own maps and navigation charts, thus most people influenced by European symbols and a pen-on-paper written tradition, would probably fail to recognise the object pictured as a navigation chart.

This particular navigation chart is a replica from the Marshall Islands. Cowrie shells represented the relative positions of islands, while curved and diagonal sticks showed swell and wave patterns. Today, these objects are mainly sold as tourist souvenirs, but these ancient navigation aids were once vital for island hopping between the one thousand and more islands that make up the Marshalls group. The charts were not carried on board, but were meant to be memorised. They were also used to record collective knowledge and were useful in training young navigators.

The origins of the peoples of the Pacific can be traced back to the landmass we now know as mainland Asia. The migrations of Polynesian peoples are particularly impressive considering that the islands that were settled by them are spread out over great distances. The Pacific Ocean covers nearly a half of the Earth's surface area. Within a few centuries between about 1500 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6000km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. It is in this region that the distinctive Polynesian culture was developed.

Then from about 300 CE, this developing and restlessly moving Polynesian people spread out from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to the Cook Islands, Tahiti, the Tuamotus and the Marquesas Islands. Sometime between 300 and 1200 CE the Polynesians then discovered and settled on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). This is supported by archaeological evidence as well as the introduction of flora and fauna consistent with the Polynesian culture and characteristic of the tropics to this subtropical island. Around 500 CE Hawai’i was settled by the Polynesians and around 800 - 1000 CE Polynesian people travelled to and settled in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Polynesian double-hulled Waka: The addition of sails to Polynesian vessels gave more power and allowed them to travel faster and further than with paddles. Two hulls gave stability and seaworthiness. This sketch of a double-hulled vessel was made by Abel Tasman in his journal while at Tongatapu in 1643.

In fact Polynesian sailors could sail rings around the sailing ships of exploring captains, Tasman and Cook. Waka were just so much faster and more efficient. In Anne Salmond's "The Trial of The Cannibal Dog" she describes how waka guiding Cook's vessels had to keep slowing down so that Cook and crew wouldn't get left behind.  Ocean-going waka could be stocked with provisions, laden with cargo, and carry up to one hundred passengers: they were ships in their own right.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Keep Him Out

I've been watching this issue unfold since it was first announced by the publicity and promotions company Markson Sparks! that they were bringing World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Mike Tyson, to Australia and New Zealand in November 2012 to speak about his life. Tyson is reported to have said, "I'm so excited to be visiting Australia and New Zealand for the first time. I have lots of friends there and look forward to meeting all my fans."

Sorry Mr Tyson but lots of people don't like you. Or what you stand for.

Normally convicted rapists wouldn't get a visa into Aotearoa/New Zealand but National MP for Waimakariri, Kate Wilkinson, had decided to allow for a dispensation for Tyson, but this dispensation was revoked on the 3rd of October after the youth charity which originally backed his appearance at the Auckland event no longer wanted to have anything to do with the visit. The promoters [apparently determined to inflict us with this unrepentant rapist] applied for a new visa after a second community group, the Manakau Urban Authority, said it would support the application in exchange for him talking to at-risk youth.

I'm fascinated (in a horrified way) with this take on Mike Tyson by one Michael Woods who writes, "he has done the emotional and spiritual reconstruction to the extent that his misdeeds are now seen as the missteps of wayward youth ... a time period which perhaps lasted a decade or two longer than the average tenure as a teen troublemaker."

Rape described as a misstep of wayward youth? Really? I would think describing rape as an act of brutal violence a more realistic appraisal.

I think Metiria Turei (co-leader of the Greens Party) states the position perfectly for New Zealand women. She says, "When Maori men endorse an unrepentant rapist like Mike Tyson, it hurts women. [Former Labour MP] John [Tamihere] and [Urban Maori Authority] Willie [Jackson] should be standing up for their sisters, mothers, and daughters and fighting to keep Tyson out. Tyson has repeatedly denied the rape he was convicted of in 1992 and continued to reveal hateful, misogynistic views about women. As recently as two months ago Tyson spoke about calling his one man show, which supposedly details how he has turned his life around, Boxing, Bitches and Lawsuits. He has joked about Sarah Palin being raped." Turei further argues, "When Maori male leaders tell young Maori that men like Tyson are role models it puts young Maori men, and the women they care about at risk. One in four women suffer sexual abuse and Maori women are even more at risk. John and Willie should be standing up for their sisters, mothers, and daughters and fighting to keep Tyson out. The Green Party believes in restorative justice, the ability for offenders to acknowledge the harm they have done and turn their lives around [but] Tyson has repeatedly denied the rape he was convicted of and reveals himself as an angry, violent man."

I'd like to make these points.

There are a lot of people out there in the world who do bad things to to other people, get convicted, and then get rehabilitated. I get that. I believe in rehabilitation. Most of the time I don't think enough is done to rehabilitate prisoners. But let's get just the rules clear. Mike Tyson got a dispensation purely because he is famous. Metiria Turei's statement makes it very clear that the jury should still be out on whether Mike Tyson is truly rehabilitated and repentant. It doesn't sound like it.

Another thing. I am quite sure we have plenty of rehabilitated criminals in our own country without bring some other country's rapist in. To motivate our youth. Words fail ...

Oh and by the way, Tickets to attend this awesome motivational speechifying from Mike Tyson were going to cos $69NZ. So our wayward Kiwi youth were going to have to have plenty of dollars to spare had this ridiculous charade gone ahead. Which it isn't, thank goodness. The second visa application has been denied.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Time To Leave ...

mawhera te awa, today I am sharing it with her

Every Monday just before 11am, she arrived at our office to do her two hour stint on the reception desk. She and her walking frame shuffled slowly up the ramp, her husband walking close behind to catch her if she stumbled. Then she'd wait, slightly impatiently, while he picked up the doormat, because she was unable to step onto it, and hold the door open for her. She always came in the door with a cheerful smile, "hi Iri, how are you, have we been busy today?" She settled down behind the desk, her husband bringing her a glass of water, "I'm alright now, you can go", she'd say to him. sometimes giving instructions about jobs she wanted him to do. Then he would go and sometimes I would be in a hurry with things I wanted to do so I would just leave. Other times I might hang about a bit and we'd chat.

She told me the story of her awesomely brave daughter who brought joy to people around her, yet had the bad luck to be stuck with a mental illness which made her own life a struggle and an endurance. This very grown-up, adult woman decided her quality of life was so badly stunted by the unasked-for illness that she wanted to leave. And, of course, our laws don't allow for us to receive assistance to complete our lives by our own decision. Even if we have a terminal illness we are expected to suffer every painful ragged raspy breath until our bodies finally give it up. If we have a non-terminal illness then our only respite might be when we can close our eyes and sleep. And wake up the next morning to continue life in a body that cannot respond to the commands our brain wants to give. Like get up, brush your teeth perhaps. Or a brain that doesn't work properly and spirals us down into the depths of despair, or up into irresponsible highs, or maybe we are tortured by mad, bad voices.

All this is apparently supposed to be character-building. Morality even. To what end, I ask? To be inspirational for some other healthy sod reading ridiculous inspirational emails or blogs, then going forth into our days to smell the roses? Really? Or to inspire some other struggling soul into carrying on her/his uphill struggle? I'm dammed if I can work it out.

Yes, I know there are people who, given a choice are happy to continue with life, no matter what brickbats are thrown at them. I applaud them, I really do. But it is about choice. It all hangs on that. It is about us all being considered as adults, able to make decisions about our own bodies, our own lives.

So, one day when in her twenties, and after a lot of very considered thought (and I think there had been at least a couple of previous attempts), the awesomely brave daughter wrote a long and beautiful letter to her family outlining what she was doing and why, "don't grieve for me" and walked out, into the Pacific Ocean.

I think this daughter must have been very like her mother. Pragmatic, down to earth and so very, very brave. Of course the mother grieved for the daughter, but she understood the decision. And respected it. This mother, this strong woman who relieves me in the office every Monday, has Multiple Sclerosis. Her father also had Multiple Sclerosis so she watched him die, watched him choke on his food, watched him struggle to breathe, watched him die in pain. And she made her decision. That when life became too onerous, too futile, when nothing would help anymore, then she would refuse further intervention. Right now, today, as I type, this is what she is doing.

She has refused any medication, she has refused a further surgery. She just wants to come back here, to the wee geriatric hospital in our town, to die. They are trying to do that for her, this morning. I am hoping she is on her way up here now.

It should be easier for her. At the moment of her choosing she ought to be able to finish it. Right then.

We don't get to choose to be born into this life. I think the least we can have is the choice to leave it, with dignity, if we want to. We do this for our pets. Why not people? If we have made a considered decision it should be respected.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


It is like this ...

you can take the girl out of Blackball
but you can never take Blackball out of the girl

it is my soul...

When I last returned

we crossed the upthrust mountains/the spine/the backbone
of the South Island - Te Waipounamu!

climbing uphill the coolgreybluebraided rivers flowing east
rolling down goldentussockclad mountains towards the Pacific Ocean ...

then/ drive through the small township of Arthurs Pass/ time
for a pit stop/ maybe lunch/ visit cheeky weka at the lookout/ don't feed them/
driving over the brandnew viaduct/

and then driving down this lushgreenbushclad leftside of the mountains
past sparklingbeerbrowm Taramakau tumbling westwards down the mountainside
to the Tasman Sea...

Ko Mawhera te Awa

The Grey River/Mawhera is about one hundred and twenty kilometres (seventy five miles) long. The Māori name for both the river and for the pa at the rivermouth was Mawhera, however in 1846 Charles Heaphy renamed it the Grey River, honouring the new Governor, Sir George Grey; the town of Greymouth now stands on the site of the old pa. In the following year (1846) the explorer Thomas Brunner "discovered" coal on the banks of the river, a few miles from the mouth, which later became the Brunner Coal Mine.

Twenty-nine kilometres (about eighteen miles from Greymouth) upriver to get to Blackball. We used to drive up to Ngahere, then turn left to get to the Blackball Bridge, a road rail bridge originally built for getting coal wagons across the river. Back in the day the bridge was opened by the then Prime Minister Richard (Dick) Seddon in 1903. If you could still drive over the bridge like we used to, you would do so and find the historic coalmining town of Blackball which sits on a terrace above the Mawhera/Grey River. Between the river and the town is/was a smaller bridge crossing the golden beerbrown Blackball Creek where George Cundy once discovered gold in 1864.

When we lived in Blackball there was still an old gold dredge on the creek and shingle tailings over which grew blackberry vines. My father would drive us down with buckets which we would fill with blackberries for making Blackberry Jam.

The town of Blackball was first begun around 1865 as a goldmining settlement. In fact, the one hundredth anniversary of the town was celebrated while we were living there. However, there was better gold to be found a few miles upriver at Moonlight. It was the opening of the coalmine in 1893 which saw the town grow and at its peak in 1928 there were 1200 people living there.

Blackball is most famous however for the "illegal" strike in 1908, (illegal because the Liberal Party led by "King Dick" Seddon had outlawed strikes), which became the subject matter for Eric Beardsley's novel Blackball 08 . The strike was in support of a half hour lunch break (crib time) which every other miner in the country was already getting. Ironically during the court case, the judge adjourned the court for an hour and a half lunch break each day.

The success of this collective action fired up the workers of New Zealand and the Red Feds were formed which, in time, developed into the Federation of Labour and the New Zealand Labour Party , and the Communist Party even moved their headquarters from Wellington (the capital city of Aotearoa/NZ) down to Blackball.

By we get to the nineteen sixties when my family were living in Blackball there was a population of only about four hundred people. Approximately eighty children attended the local primary school and they were divided between four teachers. I think my first teacher was the only woman in the town who was employed in paid work on her own account. This first teacher had been teaching this primer (new entrants) class for so many years that she had taught most of the kids' parents to read and write.

Other women involved in "earning a crust" were some wives working alongside their shopkeeper or publican husbands. Of course the Blackball and Roa coalmines were the main employers and women were not coalminers. Many of the women were involved in volunteer work and committees, really they were probably running the town..

which one is me?

I was just turning five and ready to start school when we first moved to Blackball from Taumaranui way up in the North Island. My father had been applying for jobs that were advertised in the Police Gazette (Mum really wanted to go to Christchurch) but missing out on them for one reason or another; after a while he just applied for any job that came up which was how he became the sole charge police officer in Blackball. His application was probably the only one.

It was a long journey in our big old Ford V8 car, my little sister got carsick (she never travelled well), and then we copped a stormy crossing over the Cook Strait on the inter-island ferry and my baby brother who had just turned one, was sick over his flash travelling outfit. In my memory we drove through sheets of rain all the way down the west side of the South Island and encountered frequent stoppages for road works through the Buller Gorge, which was at least a useful chance for one or both of our parents to haul us children out of the car for toilet breaks behind the ever present bush. One thing about the West Coast, there is never a shortage of handy trees.

Finally we arrived in Blackball. We had to stay at a local hotel while our house was still being cleaned and redecorated and the rats and mice eradicated. The house had been empty for about six months because the Blackball Police Station had been supposedly permanently closed, but the people of Blackball had been horrified at not having a policeman in their town and had protested so vociferously that the station was reopened. Which is where we came in ...