Saturday, October 31, 2015

Paul's nose job

Paul Janman's latest short film, which you can watch at Vimeo, documents the attempt by a team of scholars and musicians to renew the venerable and endangered Tongan art form of tufunga ngaohifangufangu, or nose flute making and playing.

You may recognise 'Okusitino Mahina, the anthropologist and graduate of the 'Atenisi Institute whom I showed jamming on the fangufangu and arguing about the meaning of tapu in this 2011 post, and Kolokesa Mahina-Tuai, the museologist and curator whose subversion of Eurocentric art categories I celebrated last year in an EyeContact review and a blog post.

I'm very pleased Paul sent me a link to his new film, because I've needed an excuse, this morning, to turn away from the telly and the radio and the scenes outside my window. In our part of Auckland preparations for the World Cup final seem to have become oddly mixed with preparations for Halloween.

As their parents sit in parked cars listening anxiously to anxious pre-match commentaries on Radio Sport and half a dozen other stations, kids are wandering the streets wearing black, and tossing about plastic pumpkins and rugby balls. Black flags emblazoned with silver ferns and skulls flap from porches and postboxes.

With World Cup hysteria peaking, transtasman relations deteriorating to a point not seen since Trevor Chapple took up lawn bowls at the MCG in 1981, and Maori Wallaby Quade Cooper being once against accused of treason and sentenced to death on social media, it must be time for me to post a link to this old blog post, in which I tried to use the Oceanian genius Epeli Hau'ofa to defend Quade.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

TE Hulme at night

Since I'm supposed be the guest at the latest Write Night, a monthly event at Titirangi's Te Uru gallery where scribes 'discuss projects, seek advice' and 'eat biscuits', I've been thinking about the literature of the night. For me, TE Hulme's 'Autumn' is the finest night-time poem in the English language: 

A touch of cold in the Autumn night -

I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children. 

Hulme is the only man to have been expelled - or sent down, in the charmingly indirect parlance of the English - twice from Cambridge University. He was sent packing in 1904 after some mysterious 'boisterousness' at a party on the River Cam, then spent years wandering through the cafes and salons of Paris and the plains of western Canada, before producing a long, fragmentary manifesto called 'Cinders', which mixed pessimistic statements about the frailty and fallibility of human beings, vivid travel sketches, and calls for a way of thinking and writing that was 'dry and hard'. 'Cinders' earned Hulme a recall to Cambridge. He was expelled a second time when his love letters to a teenage girl were uncovered by that girl's father, who happened to be one of his teachers. The letters' dry and hard prose style alarmed the don. 

Oliver Tearle thinks that TE Hulme was the first modern poet in English, and he's quite possibly right. Along with his mate Ezra Pound, Hulme inveighed against the beautiful imprecision of the late nineteenth century. The two modernists poured DDT over the luxuriant plantations of Swinburne and Tennyson, and raised austere Japanese stone gardens on the ground they had ravaged. 

Learning from the haiku writers of Kyoto as well as the telegraph operators of America, Hulme and Pound replaced extended passages of narrative and explanation with unexplained and therefore exhilarating leaps from one object or event and another. Decades before the internet was a twinkle in the eye of Steve Jobs, they had already mastered the hyperlink

Like so many ferocious innovators, though, TE Hulme had a secret, and perhaps subconscious, love of the past. The severe shapes and surfaces of his poems can't hide his affection for the English landscape, and for the poets who have celebrated that landscape. 'Autumn' seemed shockingly short and coarse when it was published in 1909, but the poem helped renew a pastoral tradition that had become exhausted in the late nineteenth century, because it found fresh images for old conceits. The contrast between a healthy countryside and a baleful urban world, which Raymond Williams and William Empson have identified as essential to English pastoral poetry, informs Hulme's picture of a ruddy-faced moon and pale 'city' stars. 

By the time he volunteered for frontline duty in the First World War, Hulme had decided that he was a 'sort of a Tory', and had become friendly with the neo-royalist, anti-democratic Action Francaise movement.  

The author of 'Autumn' was blown apart ninety-eight years by a German shell. His comrades had heard the weapon's whine and dived to safety. Hulme, who had a half-finished manuscript about modern art in his pocket, had been too busy thinking to move.  

I don't mourn Hulme in quite the same way I mourn other great poets who died in World War One, like Isaac Rosenberg and Georg Trakl, because if the author of 'Autumn' had lived long enough he might well have followed Ezra Pound into the ranks of Europe's fascist movement, and tarnished poems like 'Autumn'. 

If you're in Titirangi tonight I'd love to talk about TE Hulme with you over a biscuit or three. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New Zealand's road of refugees

[Paul Janman, Ian Powell and I enjoyed visiting Otahuhu last Monday night to talk with locals about the film and book we're making, with the help of Len Brown, about the Great South Road. Here's an adapted excerpt from the book.]

Last March the New Zealand Herald published an article by Rachel Smalley called 'What a Civil War would do to New Zealand'. In an effort to make her readers empathise with the refugees who are fleeing Syria's conflict, Smalley tried to imagine how a similar war and refugee crisis might look in New Zealand. She described a conflict beginning in Wellington and then spreading, in a matter of months, to other cities. After the leafy suburbs of Auckland became a battlefield, middle class refugees began filling the city's parks.

Smalley's article was accompanied by an image that showed shacks clustering beneath the classical facade of Auckland's museum. The parkland around the museum had become a refugee camp. Tiny kids dragged pitchers of tapwater through the mud; a man leaned weakly on the roughly hewn fence around his shack; smoke from a campfire or a missile strike rose in the distance. The unnerving scene had been created by splicing together a photograph of Syrian refugees in some anonymous camp and an image of Auckland's beloved museum.

At the beginning of her article, Rachel Smalley admitted that civil war and a refugee crisis are 'hard to imagine in New Zealand'.

But Aucklanders do not necessarily need to look abroad to consider civil war, and the refugees who inevitably flee from civil war. The Great South Road that connects Auckland with the Waikato has been a route to war, and a highway for refugees. Although the refugees who travelled the Great South Road lack official memorials, and are seldom mentioned in history books, they sometimes gather at the edge of Aucklanders' consciousness, and they haunt the texts of several of the city's greatest writers.

On the 9th and 10th of July, 1863, young men rode from central Auckland to six Maori villages - Ihumatao, Pukaki, Mangere, Patumahoe, Tuakau, Pokeno, and Kirikiri - on the city's southern fringes, and read aloud a proclamation from George Grey, the governor of the colony of New Zealand. Grey's statement denounced the Maori kingdom of the Waikato as a threat to the British Empire, and demanded that all Maori living in Auckland either declare their loyalty to the empire or else leave the district for the Waikato.

Three days after Grey had sent his proclamation out on horseback, a British army crossed the Mangatawhiri, a creek that flows into the Waikato River near Mercer, and that in 1863 marked the northern border of the Waikato Kingdom. The Waikato War had begun.

A year and a half before he had written his proclamation, Grey had begun building the Great South Road to connect Auckland, which was the headquarters of his administration as well as the seat of the colonial Pakeha government, with the northern edge of the Waikato Kingdom. The road had been laid by British soldiers, and in July 1863 those soldiers waited in a redoubt in Pokeno, a few miles from the Mangatawhiri Stream.
In 1863 most of the Maori inhabitants of South Auckland had complex genealogical and economic relationships with the Waikato peoples and their king Tawhiao. To swear loyalty to the British queen, when the queen's army was preparing to invade the Waikato Kingdom, would mean betraying kin.

In his book The Maori King, John Gorst described the delivery of Grey's proclamation to the Maori villages of South Auckland, and the subsequent abandonment of these villages. At Kirikiri, a village in the hills above Papakura, the 'old people showed the most intense grief' at leaving their houses and cultivations. At Pukaki and Mangere, ancient villages beside the Manukau harbour, looters arrived as soon as Maori had gone: 'canoes were broken to pieces and burned, cattle seized, houses ransacked, and horses brought to Auckland' and sold.

Some South Auckland Maori fled their villages by waka, travelling down the Manukau harbour and across an ancient portage to the Waikato River. Many, though, fled south, on the same road that the British had built for their war.   Mohi Te Ahiatapu, the chief of Pukaki village, went south with his people on the eleventh of July. On the sixteenth of July the Daily Southern Cross reported that 'one hundred or one hundred and fifty' of the Pukaki Maori had arrived in Papakura.

The refugees had loaded 'fifteen or sixteen' drays with their goods, and were 'driving fifty or sixty horses' before them. After stopping at Kirikiri, Mohi and his people continued south to the temporary safety of the Waikato.
After crossing the Mangatawhiri and advancing a short distance in the second half of July, the British army did not resume its push into the Waikato Kingdom until the end of October. In a letter to the British War Office, General Duncan Cameron, the commander of the invasion force, blamed the pause in his campaign partly on the exodus of Maori from Auckland to the Waikato. So many refugees had taken to the Great South Road that the wagoners who supplied Cameron's troops moved at an embarrassingly slow rate. John Gorst talks about the road becoming 'thronged', as 'armed men of every description, from the veteran British soldier to the raw colonial shop boy, shouldering his musket for the first time' had to share the route with 'refugees from Pukaki, Mangere and other places'.
Gorst reports that, as they travelled down the Great South Road, Maori refugees 'became alarmed' by the 'martial array' moving in the same direction. The refugees had, he notes, 'good reason' to feel alarmed. Many of them would cross the Mangatawhiri safely, only to be overtaken by the Pakeha army, as it pushed south into the Waikato at the end of 1863. Their drays and herds would be plundered by the advancing soldiers, as their houses had earlier been plundered by the settlers of Auckland.

Some of the Maori who remained in Auckland after hearing Grey's proclamation also became refugees. A week check after the reading of the proclamation, four hundred armed men raided the village of Kirikiri, where they arrested the chief Ihaka Takanini and twenty-two of his relations.

Ihaka Takanini had neither declared his loyalty to Queen Victoria nor fled to the rohe of Tawhiao. He had for years gained mana and money by mediating between the colonial government and Auckland Maori, and he may have hoped once again to play peacemaker. But the colonial parliament in Auckland had just passed the Suppression of Rebellion Act, which allowed the indefinite imprisonment without trial of any Maori suspected of disloyalty to the queen. The Takanini family were locked in the Otahuhu military barracks for months, where many of them died of disease, then exiled to Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Ihaka Takanini is buried on the island.

Refugees fled north as well as south during the Waikato War. After the crossing of the Mangatawhiri in July, supporters of King Tawhiao began a guerrilla war in South Auckland. They crossed the Waikato River in small waka, made smokeless camps in the forests on both sides of the Great South Road, and ambushed wagonloads of soldiers and munitions bound for the Waikato frontline.

Tawhiao's irregulars also raided the clearing that Pakeha settlers had burned from the bush. They stole cattle, dismembered farmers with tomahawks, and fired their muskets at the specially reinforced walls of the settlers' churches. Women and children began to flee up the Great South Road to the safety of Auckland; husbands and fathers followed them, leaving their cottages and hayricks to burn.

In August 1863 the Otago Daily Times published a letter that lamented the way that 'the tomahawk' had 'obliged...harmless unsuspecting families' to 'flee their homesteads in South Auckland'. The letter urged South Islanders to come north and help to defend the Great South Road. By the end of 1863, though, the guerrilla war in South Auckland had petered out, and settlers were returning to the area.

In 1864 the British army won a series of battles, the Great South Road was extended deep into the Waikato, and thousands of Tawhiao's followers fled south across the Puniu River, into the region of bush and hills that has become known as the King Country. Until the middle of the 1880s, when Tawhiao made peace with the colonial government, the Puniu would be, like the Mangatawhiri before it, a frontier between Maori and Pakeha law.
The King Country quickly became a refuge for Maori at odds with the British Empire. The rebel prophets Te Kooti and Te Mahuki, who preached that resistance to the white man was commanded by Jehovah, retreated from colonial soldiers and police to the King Country. Scores of Te Kooti's followers from the eastern parts of Te Ika a Maui established a village at Otewa, near Otorohanga, a few miles south of the Puniu River.

In 1876 a young man named Taurangaka Winiata escaped from Auckland down the Great South Road to Tawhiao's realm. After being suspected of killing Edwin Packer, a Pakeha who had been working alongside him on a farm in Epsom, Winiata had fled to a cave in Kohimarama, where he hid for several days, then began a furtive journey south. At Mercer he crossed the Mangatawhiri, which was now spanned by a bridge; at Rangiriri he drank in the hotel that had risen beside the great pa General Cameron's army stormed in 1863. Dozens of police and pro-government Maori volunteers pursued Winiata; once a couple of policemen almost caught him, but he was able to hide in roadside scrub.

After Winiata crossed the Puniu River and was given sanctuary by King Tawhiao, the colonial government offered a reward of five hundred pounds for the capture of the refugee. Winiata's heavy, neatly bearded jaw and small dark eyes appeared on WANTED posters that were posted in pubs as far south as the Wairarapa.

In the winter of 1882 a half-caste Maori named Robert Barlow walked his horse through the Puniu River, rode to Otorohanga, where Winiata was living, and stayed up all night drinking rum with the fugitive. The next morning Barlow arrived at Kihikihi, a fortified village just north of the Puniu, with a hungover Winiata tied to the back of his horse.

Taurangaka Winiata was put on public display in Hamilton, before making a journey back up the Great South Road to Mount Eden prison. One rainy morning at the beginning of August the former refugee slowly asphyxiated in the prison yard, as a damp rope refused to snap his spine.
Robert Barlow's bounty hunt was celebrated by Auckland's newspapers. In a portrait published by admirers at the Observer, Barlow stares calmly, even sleepily, at his sketcher; his shoulders are wide and his huge chest threatens to break the top button of his jacket. Only a few days after Winiata's death, Barlow visited Alexandra, another fortified village on the frontier of the King Country. Inside the Alexandra Hotel he encountered some Kingites who had crossed the Puniu to drink; one of them raised a glass, and toasted the 'kahuru (traitor) Barlow'. When Barlow went to the hotel's stable to retrieve his horse someone fired two bullets at him; the first missed, and the second ripped his waistcoat. A squad of police escorted Barlow up the Great South Road to the safety of Auckland. The bounty hunter bought a farm at Mangere with the reward he earned for snaring Winiata, but he soon died from a mysterious illness that many Maori blamed on makutu.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, an Auckland pensioner named Valerie Sherwood became obsessed with Taurangaka Winiata. She prised police records and court transcripts from chaotic colonial archives, collated newspaper articles, consulted and contested oral traditions, and eventually argued, in the thesis that earned her a Masters Degree from the University of Auckland, that Winiata had never murdered Edwin Packer. Packer and Winiata had been friends; police had never questioned a Pakeha who was observed running from the Epsom farm shortly after Packer's murder. Winiata's flight down the Great South Road to Tawhiao's relict kingdom was proof enough, for Auckland's papers and jurors, of his guilt.

By the 1930s the wars between Pakeha and Maori were more than half a century in the past. The colonial state had extended its authority through New Zealand, and the Puniu and Mangatawhiri were obscure creeks rather than international frontiers. In the first years of the '30s, though, refugees once again began fleeing from New Zealand's largest city.  Some walked down the Great South Road into the Waikato; others lingered in shabby camps close to the old frontier of Pakeha settlement.
The new refugees were almost all Pakeha males, and they had been driven south by unemployment and hunger, rather than war. In the three years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 New Zealand's economy shrank by a quarter. In a country of one and a half million, one hundred thousand men were soon jobless. The conservative government of George Forbes and Gordon Coates offered some of the unemployed an income - in 1931 Pakeha men got seven shillings a week, while Maori men got three shillings and nine sixpence a week - but demanded that they work for it.

Some unemployed men were able to do 'relief work' in the towns and cities, but others were made to fence farms or clear bush or lay country roads, and had to relocate to speedily and shoddily constructed 'relief camps'.

In November 1931 Michael Joseph Savage stood up in parliament and read extracts from a letter he had received about conditions at a relief camp in Ramarama, on the southern edge of Auckland. The twenty-six inmates of the Ramarama relief camp had been told to reroute the nearby Great South Road, so that it went around rather than over a low hill, and had been issued with a few handheld scoops and wheelbarrows to help them accomplish this task. The Ramarama men were expected to wash in cold water drawn from a local stream and to sleep in tents, on bunks made from sack stretchers and straw. After Savage's intervention several journalists and an archbishop visited the Ramarama workers, and heard their pathetic demands: wooden floors for their tents, books to read in the evenings, a ration of tobacco.

In April 1932 members of the Unemployed Workers Movement rallied on Auckland's main street to denounce their pay and conditions. Jimmy Edwards, the leader of the Unemployed Workers Movement, stood on a bench outside the Town Hall and started to address the crowd; a police approached him from behind and batoned the back of his head. While Edwards lay in hospital unemployed men fought and disarmed the police, then smashed most of the windows on Queen Street.

After unemployed men had rioted in a series of New Zealand towns and cities, the Forbes-Coates government passed the Public Safety Conservation Act, and announced that jobless urbanites unwilling to resettle in rural relief camps would lose their benefits. In his history of the Great Depression in New Zealand, Tony Simpson argues that the government decided to isolate troublesome unemployed men in remote parts of the countryside, where they could be collectively punished.
By the time Forbes and Coates were defeated by Michael Joseph Savage's Labour Party in November 1935 thousands of men were labouring in camps far from their homes, and thousands of others were wandering from town to town, begging for work and for meals from farmers and hoteliers. John A Lee remembered that in the early 1930s New Zealand's 'country roads were thronged with young men' who had been 'starved out of town' by Coates and Forbes.

In the 'Dominion', the long and angry poem that he wrote in the winter of 1935, ARD Fairburn made the relief workers into symbols:

Backblock camps for the outcasts, the superfluous, 
reading back-date magazines, rolling cheap cigarettes, not mated;
witness to the constriction of life essential
to the maintenance of the rate of profit

The hero of John Mulgan's novel Man Alone wanders hungrily across New Zealand, then asks for an unemployment benefit and finds himself in a relief camp on the edge of Auckland, laying a road through mud. Mulgan's protagonist joins the demonstration in Queen Street, smashes a few windows, is chased by the police, and escapes from Auckland by stowing away on a train bound, significantly, for the King Country.

CK Stead grew up obsessed with Man Alone, and in 1971 published his own version of Mulgan's classic. The hero of Smith's Dream is an Aucklander who becomes disillusioned with civilisation after his marriage fails. Smith abandons Auckland and secludes himself on an island off the Coromandel, where he grows vegetables and a beard and listens to classical music on his transistor radio. But the right-wing dictatorship that has taken over New Zealand decides that Smith is a communist guerrilla-in-training, rather than a melancholy hermit, and brings him back to Auckland for torture and interrogation.

Travelling in a secret policeman's car up the Great South Road and southern motorway, Smith studies billboards covered in the curiously mystical slogans - AFFIRM! and CREATIVE RESPONSE! - of the dictatorship, as well as a sign with the legend WELCOME TO THE CAPITAL. Auckland is now the seat of government, just as it was in 1863.
Smith eventually outwits his captors, and escapes from Auckland a second time, walking down the Great South Road to freedom, and meeting cows 'with beautiful pre-Raphaelite eyes' and a lascivious cowgirl on the way. He becomes a reluctant member of the armed resistance to the dictatorship, and makes a return journey up the Great South Road in a horizontal position after being ambushed and gunned down by dictator's secret police. In 1977 Roger Donaldson turned Smith's story into Sleeping Dogs, the first local feature film to make it to the movie screens of the northern hemisphere.

In the 1970s and '80s, many Kiwis saw Smith's Dream and Sleeping Dogs as almost contemporary stories, rather than visions of any far-fetched or far-distant future. As he battled with trade unions, Maori nationalists, and anti-apartheid protesters, National Party strongman Rob Muldoon was sometimes compared to the dictator in Stead's book. In 1981 Stead himself was arrested by the police, in the famous protest against apartheid and Muldoon that took over Hamilton's Rugby Park.

Muldoon did not become a dictator, and New Zealand did not become a venue for guerrilla war in the last decades of the twentieth century. Smith's Dream has remained a vision of a possible future, rather than a prophecy fulfilled. But like John Mulgan's Man Alone, Stead's novel is unnerving partly because of the way it reprises, perhaps half-consciously, some of the characters and dramas of the nineteenth century. With their flights south from Auckland to freedom, Johnson and Smith are latter-day Winiatas; with its liberated zone south of Auckland and its guerrilla raids through the bush, the resistance that Smith joins recalls Tawhiao's movement.

Although the wars between Pakeha and Maori have received some official acknowledgement and public attention in recent years, the refugee crises that accompanied them remain obscure. We remember warriors like Von Tempsky and Rewi Maniapoto, but we have neglected men like Mohi Te Ahiatapu and Ihaka Takanini, who had to lead their peoples into exile, rather than battle. We raise monuments over old battlefields like Rangiriri and Orakau, but not over the remains of evacuated villages like Kirikiri. The refugees from British law who sought the King Country in the 1870s and the economic refugees who took to the Great South Road and other routes in the 1930s go uncommemorated. It is not surprising that, when she set out to write about a refugee crisis in New Zealand, Rachel Smalley turned to alternative history, rather than to real events.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Orwell, Trotsky, and the TPPA

Several years ago I sat down with Kiwi publisher Brett Cross to plan a local edition of George Orwell's great and greatly misunderstood novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell died in 1950, which meant that Ninety Eighty-Four and the rest of his oeuvre could not be freely republished in Britain until 2020. In New Zealand, though, the copyright on a text expired fifty years after its author's death, which meant that Orwell had been fair game for publishers since 2000.

Brett was founding a new publishing imprint called Atuanui Press, which would be dedicated to important writing from the past, and he was looking for material. I wanted to show the relevance of Orwell's masterpiece to twenty-first century New Zealand by writing an introduction and set of annotations that linked its themes to laws like the post-9/11 Terrorism Suppression Act and events like the police raid on Tuhoe Country in 2007, the confiscation of Jimmy O'Dea's trousers, and the multiplication of shopping malls in Auckland (Ninety Eighty-Four is, after all, a satire of Western consumerism, as well as Stalinist tyranny).

I also wanted to advertise some of our homegrown works of Orwellian fiction, like Craig Harrison's neglected 1970s novel Broken October, which imagines a civil war between Maori guerrillas and a dictatorial neo-colonial state, and MK Joseph's The Time of Achamoth, which takes its readers to a time travel station run by British special forces out of a particularly desolate corner of the King Country.
The demands of other projects meant I ended up postponing my New Zealand edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four. I'm pleased, now, that I kicked the project to the kerb, because the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that the Key government has just helped to negotiate will strengthen the grip of copyright on books and on other cultural artefacts like movies, songs, and computer games. Under the terms of the TTPA, a text will be bound by copyright until seventy years after its author's demise. Ninety Eighty-Four and the rest of Orwell's texts will be out of reach until at least 2021. A small publisher like Brett Cross could never afford the fat fee that the managers of Orwell's estate would demand for the right to republish one of his books.

Warner Brothers and other big players in the American entertainment industry lobbied hard for the extension of copyright during TPPA negotiations. These companies own the rights to many of the world's great movies, songs, and television programmes, and want to collect royalties for as long as they can. Warner Brothers has even suggested that copyright should last a century after an author's death. Complicated corporate-driven legislation means that books often take a long time to throw off copyright in America. Ninety Eighty-Four won't be free to republish there until 2044. In 2009 American Kindle users had their copies of Orwell's masterpiece wiped.

Some defenders of posthumous copyright claim that it 'protects' the dependents of an author from the depredations of the free market. Authors should certainly have the right to royalties from their work while they live, and perhaps their families have a right to an income for a couple of decades longer than that. When copyright on a text lasts for many decades after an author's death, though, it often ends up generating royalties for people with a very tenuous connection to the author, and very little interest in honouring that author's work and worldview.

Before his murder in Mexico in 1940, the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky left the rights to some of his writings to his allies in the American Socialist Workers Party. During his exile in Mexico Trotsky had acted as a mentor to the SWP, and members of the organisation had helped publish and sell his texts. In the decades after Trotsky's death, though, the SWP slowly declined in size and importance. Former members complained that the party's leadership had become avaricious and corrupt, and was spending the royalties from Trotsky's texts and other revolutionary classics on luxury apartments. When the internet era arrived, and cyberactivists tried to add Trotsky's works to a burgeoning online archive of Marxist writing, the SWP threatened to sue them for breach of copyright. I don't think Trotsky would have been amused.

Chris Trotter offers some other reasons to oppose the TPPA here.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Barry Lee on the red underground

Last July Paul Janman and I talked with Radio New Zealand's Justin Gregory about the communists who printed their proscribed newspaper The Peope's Voice on a secret press in a South Auckland cave in 1940. Paul and I discovered the communist underground during our research into the history of Auckland's Great South Road.

Since then Paul and I been contacted by a veteran Auckland speleologist, who reckons that we got most of the facts in our story right, but led Justin Gregory to the wrong cave. There are dozens of grottoes of varying shapes and sizes in South Auckland's lavafields, and the speleologist has promised to read us to the forgotten cave where he thinks the communists had their printery. I'm looking forward to that expedition.

Paul and I have also heard from Barry Lee, a veteran of Auckland's left-wing scene. Like Richard Taylor, Barry was an activist in the Progressive Youth Movement in the early 1970s; later he was a member of the Communist Party of New Zealand, and an editor of The People's Voice. More recently Barry has been researching, and intermittently blogging about, the radical history of his hometown.

Here's the very interesting message that Barry Lee left on this blog:

I was very interested in the Radio NZ item “Communists in caves”. I had not heard of that particular site. However there were a few comments I have, having spent a lot of time talking to people from that era. The illegal paper was produced in at least 3 centres – Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. I think there was a means of sending articles or statements around.

Later in Auckland it was printed by Dick Wolf, a plasterer, who carried a duplicator in a luggage box at the back of his car and went to a room or shed behind a house in Waikowhai where he printed it (others had typed the stencils). This lasted until the occupants of the house must have got cold feet and he arrived one night to find himself locked out. I am not sure where they went after this.

In Wellington it was produced by Arthur Jackson-Thomas, his wife Fi and Fi’s sister (I think here name was Bessie, who later became Sid Scott’s secretary). They had rented a house on farmland up the Hutt Valley from a minister, on the grounds that Bessie was recovering from a breakdown, where they produced the paper and then delivered it to Wellington. Kerry Taylor’s thesis says it was up the Kapiti Coast but Arthur and Fi always talked about being well up the Hutt Valley.

In Christchurch it was produced for a time by Alec Ostler, son of a Judge. He was jailed for about a year after someone took the typewriter, which had a bent key, in for repair.

I am surprised you say there is only one copy existing. I know Bert Roth and Jack Locke (father of Keith) spent a lot of time looking for copies. There may be some in University of Auckland special collections or the Turnbull. Finally, the People’s Voice was produced under that name into the late 1980s, when it became the Workers’ Voice and later Socialist Worker. 

Barry Lee

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The inescapable politics of rocks

When Paul Janman flew to Wales recently he thought he was leaving behind, for a few weeks at least, the politics of rocks. 

As he worked with me on a book and a film about Auckland's Great South Road, Janman had spent hours in the Bombay Hills, on the southern edge of Auckland, where a handful of rocks sit on a strip of land between the road and the newer southern motorway. 

For geologists, these rocks are the unexceptional, randomly positioned detritus of an ancient volcanic eruption. For a set of right-wing political activists and conspiracy theorists, though, the rocks are known as the 'Bombay Obelisk'. According to Martin Doutre, the author of a frequently baffling tome called Ancient Celtic New Zealand, the obelisk was an ancient astronomy, and its carvings of snakes and runes  offer dramatic and irrefutable evidence that a technologically sophisticated European civilisation had established itself in New Zealand many thousands of years ago. 

Doutre's opinion has been publicised loudly and persistently by the Franklin E Local, a giveaway magazine published a few kilometres from the obelisk in Pukekohe. When Maori TV ran an investigation into the Celtic New Zealand theory and the links between its proponents and the neo-Nazi and criminal fraternities, Doutre brought reporter Iulia Leilua to the obelisk, so she could have a firsthand experience of the glories of this country's ancient white culture. 

Because we believe that history is made with fantasies and hallucinations, as well as facts and artefacts, Paul and I are devoting some of our book and film to the strange story of the Bombay obelisk. Paul and cinematographer Ian Powell have taken photographs and shot footage of the obelisk and its environs, and last year they showed off some of these images at the Papakura Art Gallery. 

Paul and I have in the past linked Martin Doutre and other proponents of the Celtic New Zealand theory with the anxiety many Pakeha Kiwis feel about their place in the world. Thousands of miles from their European motherland, surrounded by alien flora and the earthworks of ancient Maori pa, some Pakeha have sought comfort in imaginary histories that grant them indigenity. 

When Paul Janman reached the imperial motherland recently, though, he made a disconcerting discovery. After crossing the world, he'd found himself witness to another angry argument about another group of stones. Here's a message Paul sent me, shortly after arriving in the land of his ancestors:

Bore da Scott, (Good morning in Welsh...)

I am in remotest Wales and the most exciting thing that has happened to me this week is finding myself in the middle of a local archaeological conflagration over whether or not the inner circle of bluestone at Stonehenge came from ancient quarries near our village. Some English archaeologists have suggested they do (I saw them talk at a pub tonight) and they have baited the local Welsh nationalists with the thought that this may be evidence for an early Welsh invasion of England! This thesis is hotly contested by a local intellectual who also makes candles up the road in the Gwaun valley. Our village is called Newport, Pembrokeshire. The Welsh name is 'Trefdreath'. The purported quarries can be seen here. This site is about 6km southeast of our village. 

This guy is the main dissenter against the theory stones that came from here. Either way, the controversy has given me great food for thought about my personal relationship to these ancient rock outcrops as well as to crackpots like Doutre and even the movement of stones from Uvea to Tonga. Attached is a picture of me and our ancestral mountain Mynedd Carningli - the Mountain of Angels - quite a weird and exciting place that I am filming avidly. 
Hwyl fawr am nawr (pronounced 'huel vawur am nawur', it means goodbye for now).

It is not hard to imagine a political context for the arguments Paul reports. Wales' pro-independence party Plaid Cymru took nearly a fifth of the votes at the last election to the country's assembly, and has been encouraged by the recent massive gains of Scotland's nationalists. Like their Scottish counterparts, the Welsh nationalists argue that England has for centuries dominated its Celtic neighbours in the British Isles. The nationalists' critics consider this sentimental nonsense, and charge that, far from being English colonies, Wales and Scotland have been equal partners in the United Kingdom and were equal partners in the British Empire.

Stonehenge was built four and a half thousand years ago, long before either England or Wales existed as cultural or political units. The monument nevertheless seems to have been drafted into arguments about Welsh and English history and identity. The defenders of Britain seem to want to discredit claims that the Welsh were a victimised people by suggesting that the ancient Celts were ranging aggressively over what is now England, and raising expensive monuments there. For their part, some Weslh nationalists seem offended by the notion that their very distant ancestors might have been primitive imperialists.

It is easy to see parallels between the attempts to use Stonehenge against the Welsh and the way that right-wing Pakeha use the notion of an ancient white civilisation against Maori. According to the likes of Doutre, the European colonists who supposedly thrived in New Zealand for thousands of years were eventually conquered, enslaved, and eaten by the ancestors of Maori. Far from being a people victimised by Euroepan imperialism, then, Maori are, in Doutre's strange universe, the imperialist victimisers of Europeans.

The anti-Welsh and anti-Maori arguments I've been discussing rely on some ironic assumptions. Both suppose, for example, that conquest and colonisation are bad things. But a century ago, during the era of British eminence that many opponents of Maori and Welsh nationalism idealise, wars of conquest and colonisation were seen as virtuous, and perhaps even divinely ordained, events. For Cecil Rhodes or William Massey, the alleged victories of ancient Celts and Maori would have counted in those peoples' favour, not against them. Imperialism and militarism became such compromised ideologies in the second half of the twentieth century that even reactionaries like Martin Doutre now attach their arguments to narratives of victimhood.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Who's to blame for John Wanoa?

John Wanoa was all over newspapers and television news bulletins last week, after he and a group of uniformed men raided an office in downtown Auckland and forced the men and women working there outside. After he posted footage of this 'eviction' online, Wanoa was quickly arrested and charged with trespass, forcible entry, and assault. 
Wanoa's been described in the media as a 'Maori rights protester' pursuing some sort of Treaty claim, but he is actually a paranoid eccentric who has borrowed conspiracy theories about ancient civilisations from the far right of Pakeha politics. 
When I encountered John Wanoa back in 2009 he was claiming to be Moriori rather than Maori, and was busy recycling a set of myths and stereotypes that had been the stock in trade of Pakeha rednecks for a century. I wrote this post about Wanoa's attempts to appropriate Moriori history. Wanoa responded with a series of decreasingly coherent messages. He told me about his plans to build a tidal power generator, and informed me that the famous stone statues of Rapa Nui are able to levitate and move about that island. 

More recently, Wanoa has taken to claiming descent from a technologically sophisticated civilisation that supposedly existed on Rapa Nui and in Africa thousands of years ago. He has also suggested that the Treaty of Waitangi historians and lawyers acknowledge is a fake document. According to Wanoa, a secret, long-suppressed version of the Treaty confirms his worldview and entitles him to political and economic control over New Zealand. Wanoa currently claims to be the king of New Zealand and Britain, and has somehow attracted followers in both countries (here's a surreal statement by a supporter in Brighton). 
I don't think it is a coincidence that right-wing Pakeha conspiracy theorists like Martin Doutre like to talk about elaborate and forgotten ancient civilisations on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, as they invariably call it, and that Doutre and co insist that the true version of the Treaty of Waitangi has been hidden from New Zealanders. 

Wanoa may soon find himself moving from prison to the Mason clinic, or some other psychiatric facility. When Clare Swinney, another New Zealand author of elaborate conspiracy theories, was committed to a psychiatric ward a few years ago, she condemned her treatment as politically motivated. In an interview with an American conspiracy theorist, Swinney described the hospital where she was treated as a 'communist' institution, and complained that the New Zealand government was attempting to brainwash her. Wanoa's supporters would probably be credulous enough to accept a similar claim from him.

John Wanoa has no more to do with Maori activism than Clare Swinney. Like Swinney, he's the victim of a subculture of conspiracy theory and paranoia that has flourished in New Zealand like some exotic and noxious weed.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, October 01, 2015

From Francis to Visesio

Spare a thought for the more conservative members of the Catholic church - for the folks who hold Latin masses in the Titirangi backwoods, smash up wiccan accessory stores at Glastonbury, and consider a progressive tax system a sin.

Over the last fortnight these folks have had to endure the dethroning of Tony Abbott, the man who sometimes seemed to think he was principal of a Marist high school, rather than Prime Minister of Australia. As if Abbott's fall were not enough, there have been the polemics against neo-liberal capitalism and warning about global warming delivered by Pope Francis during his tour of the United States.*

And now New Zealand's Catholic News has decided to celebrate the work of the heretical Tongan artist Visesio Siasau. Catholic News has run an article about Siasau's recent victory in the Wallace Art Awards, and included some words from me about the man's penchant for mixing Polynesian and palangi gods and saints.
It'll be fascinating to see how Catholic audiences respond to Siasau. In New Zealand and in Tonga, the church has traditionally been more tolerant of the sort of 'heathen' imagery, dances and rituals that Protestant sects repressed. One of Tonga's most ancient and magnificent dances, the me'etupaki, was banned by Wesleyans but preserved in a few Catholic villages for a century, before being reintroduced to the rest of the kingdom.

Siasau comes from a pious Catholic family and attended Apifo'ou, Tonga's largest Catholic high school, but he is no Tony Abbott. During a 2013 discussion about religion that I reported in this essay for Landfall, he resisted palangi scholar Maikolo Horowitz's attempts to argue that Catholicism had exerted a liberal and liberating effect on Tongan society, and insisted that the religion, at least as it has been practiced in the Friendly Islands, has had a 'totalitarian' quality. When he juxtaposes images of old Polynesian gods with the Virgin Mary and her long-suffering husband, Siasau seems to be challenging monotheism, that necessary condition of official Catholicism.

But there are tendencies within the Catholic church - the current led ideologically by the prolific theologian Huns Kung is perhaps an example - that seem prepared to reconsider the notion of God's singularity, and to rehabilitate some of the pagan deities that missionaries denounced and dispersed after they came ashore in societies like Tonga.

Perhaps Visesio Siasau's art is a sort of sanctuary, where some of the motifs and symbols associated with Tonga's ancient religion are being preserved and renewed, so that they can one day be reintroduced to the world?

*As strange as it may sound, there were people who thought that the previous Pope was guilty of Marxism.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]