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Paul Maunder's blog

Theatre of the absurd

 

The final leaders’ debate was a strange affair, dominated by the set, a monstrous rostrum affair, like something out of a theatre of the absurd play, perhaps symbolising how the importance of ‘the leader’ has grown out of all proportion. Suddenly, that’s all we have: leaders with a mass following. A dangerous syndrome.

Jacinda Adern, after promising relentless positivity, had a melancholic air. After all, National had waged a relentless campaign of lies: there was no fiscal hole, there was no raising of taxes, the tax on irrigation is token, the capital gains exploration is to find a best practice solution to a dire and complex problem (a population having a roof over its head), to deny foreigners the right to purchase property is common practice in many countries, especially small ones where the possibility of the nation’s fabric being sold is real. All these were lied about and a paranoia created. It was a move toward a US political culture with campaigns based on lies and invective. Camus wrote about the Spanish Civil War: It was in Spain that men learned that one can be right and still be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward. It is this, without doubt, which explains why so many men throughout the world regard the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy, (Preface to L’Espagne Libre, 1945). It is possible that this election could be a scaled down tragedy for this country.

Bill English, who can appear a likeable enough bloke in some settings, wore a strange, sickly, embarrassed smile, like a crim who’s got away with it. For if the Nats get away with it, it means the democratic right to govern is based on fraud and manipulation. It was, accordingly, a programme where the advertisements in the breaks seemed meaningful. Those absurd invitations and promises made by smiling idiots, that if we acquire some object or machine, we will enter nirvana, were the reality of the system we live under.

What are the options for the voter? To thoroughly research and fact check? Some manage that. Scoop for example, published research on the dairy-farm water question. Here are some facts. Dairy farms use as much water as 60 million people and have the environmental impact of 90 million people. There are 12000 dairy herds using 4.8 million cubic metres of water, but of those farms, 10,000 (80%) do not irrigate so would be unaffected by a water tax. Of the 20% who do irrigate they would be faced with an annual bill of $10-15000. And of those, there are a few mega farms run by corporate interests. They are the ones who would be hardest hit. And fair enough. This research is hardly front page news. It’s the truth but the truth is dangerous to the class interests that the Nats represent. So, what was going on in Morrinsville? More theatre of the absurd.

As a child, I could never figure out why my adopted father was so anti Labour, when his experience of the world as a working man aligned him with the party’s agenda, until I came across a 1935 election poster showing a red, communist monster clutching at the family home and the attached wife. Message: the reds will take not only your house but force your wife into becoming a slave to free love. Fred had bought into the message. As Chris Trotter pointed out in one of his better columns, nothing has changed. The Nats and the farmers and the business people believe they are born to rule and the rest of the population are a dangerous and recalcitrant rabble and don’t let them organise.  You can no longer beat them into submission but you can befuddle and scare them.

So, there was reason for Jacinda to feel melancholic. If you are created by the media as a necessary story for what was promising to be a dull election, then the next media story is your downfall.

Maybe she should have turned up to the debate with a balaclava and a bandoleer?

Zapatista

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The daffodils appear

The daffodils appear, beautiful virginal children. There’s a patch on the museum site which never flower. Each year I avoid mowing them for a month, then run them over in frustration. Gaynor put me right. ‘Wait for them to wilt and turn brown before you mow them. You can hasten the process by gathering clumps of stalks together and tying a knot in them. Then, next season they’ll flower.’

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Some balmy days gladden the soul. The blossom trees are blossoming, the first shoots appear on the apple tree, the willows have budded, the chooks are laying and kereru flop heavily from a tree as I walk down the track to the creek.

As I watch the leaders’ debates I realise again that when both sides are managing within a neo-liberal capitalist framework, government is as much about spirit as about policy. National, as led by Bill, are mean-minded, punitive and puritan ‘realists’. Labour, as led by Jacinda, are youthful, warm and want to be generous. National increasingly micro-manages those at the bottom. In their view, the dysfunction is their own fault. It’s time to insist that such people haul themselves up by their bootstraps, to start having goals, to get their kids meeting national standards, to wipe out the gangs and let the riches trickle down. Labour sees that the stress of poverty causes dysfunction. Behind Labour is the old socialist slogan: A better world is possible. For National the better world is here, you just have to persuade everyone to get it together enough to clamber onto the first rung of the ladder.

National aren’t great on smiles and they give me the creeps. Who would want to be mothered by Paula Bennett or Judith Collins? Or fathered by Steven Joyce or Bill?

Somewhere, lurking in the shadows, is the monster of climate change, towering over this family argument. No one dare mention it. It certainly hasn’t come up in the debates so far. Bangladesh and parts of India are under water; Texas is flooded, California and Spain are burning up, the sea level rises, Hurricane Irma… in this context generous or mean spirits are a laughable matter. The poor old Greens would like to bring it up, but they don’t want to be seen as negative. Metiria touched on a negative reality and got burnt. Negativity doesn’t win votes. So let’s love New Zealand and hope to hold on.

Down by the creek I find the perfect rock on which to stand and do the exercises. It allows a renewal of technical energy.

You can’t mow down the recalcitrant daffodils. Let them fall and wait a season.

Finally, If you really want a spiritual uplift watch this video based on a song and photos from the Spanish Civil War. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXV2P5eeV5c

 

 

Theatre and performance

Reading the biography of Sue Bradford, and it’s a good read, left me pondering on the difference between performance and theatre. In the modern world the demand for performance is pretty universal, and the higher the importance ladder a person climbs, the greater the performance demands. Sue is a performative person and I wondered, reading the book, how much performance, more generally, is driven by the Oedipal complex. Her performance evolved from Progressive Youth Movement activist, to drug taking hippie, to communist, to community activist, to politician, to academic, back to community activist, to radical intellectual…and there were parent and partner  roles to play as well.  It’s an admirable and coherent ensemble of performances, emanating from the bosom of a middle class family.

37. Pou Mahi a Iwi. Sue Bradford in the Unemployed Roadshow, 1996.

Sue Bradford in the Unemployed Roadshow, 1996.

When I worked with Sue on a theatre project in the 1990s, I suspect she found theatre a bit of a puzzle, a puzzle because of the dialectic that is at the heart of acting, as opposed to the certainty required in performance. Let me explain.

The basic acting mantra was succinctly expressed by the Russian master, Stanislavski: If I were this person in this situation how/what would I feel/think/do? The ‘If’ is crucial, because it requires the imagination. I’m not Hamlet, but if I were Hamlet in this situation (a rotten state with a usurper king) what would be going on in my head and heart and what would I do about it? The play states what Hamlet does and what he thinks and feels, to an extent – but there are still immense subtleties to be created by the actor bringing to bear his own experience of like situations. For example, in the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy, Hamlet contemplates suicide, but to make it ‘real’ the actor has to bring his own knowledge of contemplating suicide to the scene. The actor will experiment with past situations that might work; which memory of despair? And then, in dialogue with the director, intuitively choose.  For one works better than another. From that comes a score of physical movement. Hamlet slowly unfolds. And in becoming another, the actor becomes more himself.

This I-I dialogue is at the core of acting and is more complex than the politician performing the role of him or herself as politician; the key to that performance being the casting aside of the doubt that imagination produces. Doubt and imagination are fatal for the politician, and for other performative roles: real estate salesperson, talk show host etc. Accordingly, as the 21st century becomes increasingly and noisily performative, this I-I duality is banished. In many ways the imagination and the doubt from which imagination emanates, are banished, to be replaced by public opinion polls, sales figures etc.

This perhaps goes some way to explaining the extraordinary increase in suicide, especially amongst young men. Their tendency to become attached to the screen, to play those games, means both the performance is a solitary one and the I-I breaks down, for the screen can never be an I, despite its promises. It is a series of digits, that’s all, colonising the imagination. When doubt hits, it must overwhelm.

When I think back to previous cultures, perhaps God was once the other ‘I’, providing a dialogue. Or was it that performance was a matter of birthright, reserved for the aristocracy, the peasant simply tilling the soil? And here, there remains continuity. The performance of those who work with their hands lies in the work of their hands: the builder, the mechanic, the road maker, the digger driver… Sure, there’s greater help from the tools but there is still a physical object to have a dialogue with. The I-I (or is it I-it) prevails.

In this way the old class paradigms remain intact.

There’s probably more to say on this issue, some of it to do with the Oedipal pattern and how that’s changed as well, but I’ll leave it there.

Heroes and thieves

A nasty cartoon-poster appeared in a local shop window attacking Metiria Turei: ‘When the left needed a hero they got a thief’ read the slogan and I suddenly realized this whole episode has revealed the sub- fascist side of things that can appear as an underbelly of NZ political culture, with beneficiaries a hated marginal minority supposedly ripping off the system and needing to be punished – not too distant from Aryans jeering at Jews forced to scrub footpaths.

beggar

photo: radio nz

The persecutor-victim-rescuer dynamic has been at the heart of this story: Metiria set herself up as spokesperson and example of the beneficiary victim, thus inviting persecution. She got that alright and then needed rescuing by the left. But meanwhile, family members felt they’d been, in turn, made victim and therefore needed to persecute in order to rescue themselves. The newly energized Labour Party also felt persecuted by the whole episode and needed to rescue themselves. On it goes. The Greens should of course be familiar with the dynamic: after all, the planet is victim and needs rescuing – that’s core business.

It’s actually a terrible pattern, for it keeps on spiraling down – ending up in ethnic cleansing and death camps.

In human interactions the solution is simple: adult negotiates with adult and in this instance the adult position is clear: Every civilized society has a benefit system to ensure subsistence to those who cannot gain satisfactory paid work: the unemployed, the disabled, the solo parent, and the aged. If there is no system or if the amount is insufficient, these people are stressed, leading to dysfunctional family situations, hunger, violence, crime, kids unable to learn, prostitution etc. The facts are there. The only question is, having known for thirty years or more that the present regime provides insufficient benefit levels, why, as a society, we haven’t taken steps to alleviate the stress? When research shows clearly that we should do something, we don’t do it. Why do we persecute these people?

Metiria tried to dramatise this situation and failed, perhaps not failed, but it wasn’t a good outcome, as a sort pf martyrdom followed. Is there an adult on the other end of this negotiation? Unfortunately, no. And that’s the real problem. The persecutor remains adamant. It will probably take the Universal Basic Income to disappear this persecutor, to put in place an equable regime of subsistence, rather than rags to riches stories, crime stories, celebrity stories, the usual lies that people are fed.

When it comes to the planet as victim, the dynamic is complex, for the planet doesn’t care, even if it became a barren rock flying through space. Caring requires consciousness, so this is actually a people to people issue. Are we prepared to make the sacrifices, the adjustments required to stop further warming or are we going to create millions of victims, who will then persecute us by becoming refugees, boat people, terrorists, beggars? And who we then, in turn, persecute.

We know this, yet we do nothing much, for behind these dilemmas is an economic and political system based on the persecutor-victim-rescuer dynamic and the ‘there is no alternative’ mantra. When we need heroes we get thieves.

Back to the drawing board.

A week in politics

Andrew Little resigns. Must be tough to, in a sense, fail so publicly, for no real reason. He’s done a good job, stopped the infighting, been plausible, developed good policy… but failed to shift the polls. Lacked charisma, no star quality, no scandals, no media noise. How much do those polled know of policy? Probably not a lot. Teachers and nurses will know, farmers and business people likewise, but Jo Blog – not a lot.

The TV performance is then, everything. Those in government have an advantage; they’re seen opening schools and bridges, tending to disasters and meeting important people, whereas the opposition is mostly seen complaining. Andrew has the wrong shaped face for telly, is going bald, not quite at home in his body. As a director of actors I would suggest a tense jaw, which controls emotion and means a dull speech pattern. The stress of the constant public performance must be awful for a quiet sort of bloke.

Not only were the polls not moving, but suddenly the Greens hit a spot – both of scandal and of virtue, with Metiria’s announcing of a twenty percent increase for beneficiaries and of her own ‘cheating’ while on a benefit. A great Madonna/whore combination. For a moment, that tapped into the energy that lies in the electorate, the sub-neoliberal-conscious energy which can erupt, as Sanders and Corbyn found out. Everyone knows the neoliberal system has failed, but its controls are tight and the ‘there is no alternative’ mantra has penetrated deeply. To fight it is risking both irrelevance and the unleashing of a hatred from the power structure. Yet to take it on can energise some of the vast majority who it treats either indifferently or unjustly. A sort of hysterical energy occurs; ‘Bernie, Bernie, Bernie…’ And then the forces of reaction move in: the media, the political party systems, the investors, the conservative controllers, who attack viciously. But at that point, you at least know you’re fighting for something

Instead, Labour and the Greens signed up to the system, promising to be responsible, apart from some technical tinkering (and good tinkering), but it was not an energising stance. The Greens broke the contract and left Little in the lurch.

And Metiria’s ‘cheating’? What a joke. Everyone does the cash job. Everyone avoids taxes. The GFC was caused by con men who were bailed out and are still running the financial system, we’ve got the Trump family in power, the Russian mafia… The non declaration of a flatmate? Yet the boffin’s pontificate. It’s Alice in Wonderland.

Did Andrew do the right thing? It seems so, and for him, yes. You must say to yourself, Why bother with this shit. Why the sacrifice? Let me go to the beach and watch the waves come in. Let me turn off the phone and the twitter account and the email. Let me live again.

Into the breach walks Jacinda; a new performance: young, beautiful, of a generation for whom performance is second nature, a good name, welcomed by the media, for whom the election has been, so far, a dull event.

All this is taking place within the framework of ‘society as theatre’, first suggested by the German sociologist, Erving Goffman. It’s reasonably obvious: we play roles, we make our entrances and exits, wear our costumes, there are sets, scripts, scenes etc. Jacinda made her entry and delivered her first speech. The costume was carefully chosen. It was almost a ritual. The audience was watching, ready to be swayed one way or another. The media play a role which has been called that of SpectActor- both spectator and actor – as they ask questions and immediately take to the streets and interview people who also become SpectActors. In fact the SpectActor role, with social media, becomes almost universally available.

At the same time as being obviously true, this framework, as a theatre person, continues to bother me – in its banality. In the theatre situation, we rehearse, at great length, in the safety of the rehearsal room. We start with doubt, with nothingness; freely admitted. We are not playing ourselves, but another – and therein lies the creative truth; the I-I. In the theatre situation the self obsessed person (the drama queen) is a pain; the group is all; the ability to give and take is all. The content and the cast generate the form, over time. And then the silent dialogue with an audience, which alters the performance in a manner which is almost magical. And the beauty of there being no record afterward, except in the mind.

It seems to me, that if we could work toward a political system that was closer to this, rather than the current need for the most vulgar of melodrama, we would be getting somewhere.

Team Sports

I finally got to see The Ground We Won, a slice of life documentary on a rural rugby team, the players mainly dairy farmers from Reporoa. The film, shot in black and white, was a year in the making and follows the team through a season, focusing in particular on three team members, so there is something of work and home life. As well as the matches, we see the training sessions, the after match functions and the heavy drinking culture. By concentrating on the maleness of it all (women are deliberately marginal figures), the film portrays a modern patriarchal culture. Add the dairying – an industrial and environmentally problematic part of our economy – and the film moves into the realm of describing a latter day settler culture. Hence the title.

There was much resonance for me. I was brought up in a provincial town where team sports were the major recreation. I wasn’t much good at rugby and got tired of the weekly nursing of injuries received on the Saturday, but was good at cricket and went close to professional involvement, until it seemed silly to devote my life to the fortunes of a ball. Thereafter I played at club level and then socially.

Team games are an alternative to tribal warfare. The values are the same: loyalty to the team (which can represent a place or ethnic group), the desire to win by overcoming the opposition, experiencing the triumphs and disappointments, telling the stories, the team culture which involves immersion and the stopping of aberrant behaviour, plus the skills of combat involved. It was always a way, for me, to interact with blokes outside my sphere of life. So, in Wellington, the cricket team blended arty types, tradesmen, bureaucrats, business men, labourers… It took up most of Saturday and there was a training session once a week. It could therefore interfere with family life. But it gave blokes a break from an ever more controlled and regulated society. It provided a moment of existential freedom, a moment where there’s just you and an opponent. .A moment to experience the warrior.

Cricket’s a dainty sport compared to rugby or league. There’s no direct body contact. I would suspect that rugby players drink more and the drinking culture in Reporoa did seem over the top. I wouldn’t cope with it. There lay the worry, for young blokes joining the team had to learn to cope. That was the initiation and given the adverse effect of alcohol on domestic relations, it’s not admirable. The team talks, the chants of togetherness, the building of hatred can also seem silly. I could never go along with it. I tried to play cricket down here on the Coast but there was too much of that sort of thing. It was a bit like being an infantry man in the war, and having to obey the ridiculous.

The irony I suspect, is that the professional player is much more astute, a more individual performer, the systems conceived, the risks calculated – they are professionals in every sense. Some of them can still get drunk afterward, but that’s frowned upon. Even end of year hoolies lead to trouble in the media. So, the old culture is preserved in the sticks: the stripper called in, the youngsters filled with grog and feeling diverted. I’ve noticed down here, grief is not felt. Instead, the bottle is at hand to drown the sorrows. But drowning is to die, so the sorrows, rather then felt and processed, are killed. This in turn leads to family violence, self pity and a high suicide rate.

So, ultimately, what we saw in the film was not a healthy culture, not one that should be passed on generation to generation. The filmmakers were recorders, not intervening in terms of a questioning consciousness. The main intervention was to edit out the women of the community and some beautiful capturing of misty, dawn paddocks, rain swept training grounds at night, an aestheticising of what was taking place; placing it, as it were, on a Greek vase. Should questions have been raised with the blokes? Should the women have been included? Should a dialogue have taken place?

Cultural reaction from the city seems to have been simplistic: beautiful photography, real country blokes sort of thing, a voyeurism, a popping into the country pub while on holiday.

Nevertheless, a resonant piece of filmmaking.

 

Community development?

We are facing interesting dilemmas in Blackball at the moment as the Paparoa Great Walk begins to be built; dilemmas which come under the general heading: community development and what the concept means and how it takes place, for Blackball will be one gateway to the track.

Realising this, the Council and Government via its agencies have become busy wooing us, for we are suddenly visible to them and our performance becomes part of the tourist dollar. Tourist infrastructure is the buzz concept, which translates most often into toileting and parking facilities which enable tourists to walk the walk in comfort. For Government and Council, it is all part of the GDP, bringing in the tourist dollar and so on. It requires a tidying up of the town and a new direction.

But the building of the infrastructure is ideologically driven. The Council have applied to the government for funding for a toilet and a carpark. Here are the figures:
Toilet
Foundations-prep and construction        10000
Foundations- engineered                            5500
Toilet unit                                                   134000
Electrical power connection                     10000
Services- water, sewer, stormwater         5000
Paving footpaths                                         10000
TOTAL (without fees):                              174500

But there are Fees (consents and engineering for toilets and carpark)
totalling 31,891 and Preliminaries and General (establishment and
disestablishment and traffic control)  23804.
So, divide in half the Fees and General that’s another 27847; so cost of
toilet is 202347.

The carpark will cost 154090 (plus 27847) = 181937.
The council are applying to the government for 399,286 minus their 100000 seeding money.

At the museum we are used to doing things cheaply and were astonished that a toilet should be worth twice as much as the average Blackball house. We had already costed out a toilet based on a single men’s hut design. Cost: $16000.  What is going on here?

Well, it’s how you think about things and how you do things. The council will drop the toilet and the carpark ‘from the sky’, impose them over the top of the existing community, an act of colonisation. They call this community development, but it is much closer to the work of missionaries with 19th century Maori. And local leaders, like local leaders back then, are being enticed into ‘partnership’.

Community development without having control of the budget is a mystification. What could we really do with $400,000? How could it be spent on community infrastructure required to service the track? Well, we could build two new toilets and refurbish existing toilets for 60000; use 100000 to establish a café run by a community co-operative; use 200000 to buy a house and establish a visitor centre and small camping ground, also run by a co-operative?

Instead of a fenced car park with security lights etc, people with the space could offer a park in their backyard, charging ten dollars a night, bringing in a little extra cash to the household budget. This would also lead to offering a cup of tea, having a conversation and so on. The visitor begins to be offered manaakitanga and healthy relations form. rather than ones of alienation.

This would be real community development, rather than the parody currently taking place. And behind the parody is an ideological purging of the collectivist, socialist tradition of the village, to be replaced by the small business opportunism that is at the heart of the tourist industry.

Peering into the future

A  day transporting my peer group from hospital to hospital: brain tumour, heart issues, stroke… The transport vehicle was a state of the art Mercedes, suspension like a dream, turbo charged, computerised, fuel efficient… There were cell phones galore, a central communication device, GPS, radio, defib, suction unit, water bottles, pain relief – all under control. Except the nurse had lost her car key – a new car, it would have to be put onto the back of a truck and transported to the dealer, the ignition renewed, insurance doesn’t cover it, it was going to cost thousands of dollars. In between moments of panic, pet dogs and their ways were discussed. They sounded pampered creatures. The tumour was miserable and angry at her body turning on her, one of the hearts was vulnerable (inflammation of the pericardium, obviously painful and scary), the other okay except needs to give up the smokes. The stroke hadn’t affected speech but swallowing and legs. One heart was garrulous, perhaps a little demented. On the radio there were endless songs about love – mainly unrequited, boom, boom, beat, beat. In between, manic ads and occasionally the news as scandal or a sporting event of national import. In A&E the wounded lay on beds awaiting processing, dumb struck by fate. Why me? Why today? Sometimes a worried partner sat beside them.

Eventually the key was found – great relief.

And then the lines of commuters driving home.

I was being paid, so this was work. I could be doing it every day, using the money to subsist and acquire some private capital. This could be my life, driving endless miles, ferrying people between medical facilities, hearing of private dramas and listening to songs of unrequited love and consumer possibilities. A waste of time? A waste of a life? Useful? Is the questioning a ridiculous arrogance?

I certainly got the feeling of human beings with a lot of high tech stuff which sometimes turns on them. Robots turning on people? If we haven’t quite reached that situation we’re heading there fast. Meanwhile, like pampered aristocrats, we become stupid.

Mission accomplished I had to fill up the vehicle… can I remember the password? It’s been months… Rejected. Try something else. Accepted. Relief. One to go. Filling in the timesheet. Password? I wrote it down somewhere. Where? Not this notebook. Guess. Whew. The robot accepted my answer. I drove home, cross eyed.

In the morning there were lots of birds dancing on the lawn.

At that moment, I preferred dinosaurs.

A modern day prophet

Bruce Stewart died last week. He’d been crook for a while. He built Tapu Te Ranga Marae, by himself, which is a little ridiculous, like a one man community centre. How did this come about? As Bruce told the story, he was brought up in a Pakeha/Maori family, living a mainly Pakeha lifestyle. As a young bloke, Bruce got into trouble and a bit of fraud landed him in jail. While inside, he began to study Maori culture, reading an article or two, perhaps something by John Rangihau, and decided that if you were Maori, you should live communally, practise manaakitanga, aroha etc. Better do it then, he decided. It’s always trouble when people take things literally – Riverside Community was created by young Methodists who decided to put Christ’s teachings into practice.

Anyway, Bruce got some land with an old house on it in Island Bay, founded a work scheme which took on young gang members, got a source of car cases from Todd Motors, accessed demolition timber and built his first whare. Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon became an ally – Muldoon had an empathy with the gangs. Bruce and the boys built a second house, and kept building. He forgot to get permits but was an amazing builder. He didn’t need a plan, just an idea in his head. These whare remain extraordinary structures and have become heritage listed buildings.Radio NZ2

Photo: Radio NZ

All this was taking place in a suburban street and when he started a landfill project as well, to bring in some money, he became ‘a problem neighbour’, as trucks loaded with clean fill climbed the narrow and steep street. Bruce’s energy was astonishing and now he had a story to tell, illustrated by these buildings. People came and went (he wore them out) and children arrived. Hui started to be held at the marae, which was still an aberration – this one man outfit – but there was an energy impossible to ignore. Neighbours started to complain and the council noted the lack of permits and threatened to close it down. Mayor Michael Fowler became an ally and it survived.

Another house was built and another, the last one a women’s house (another innovation) painted by Robyn Kahukiwa. It’s the most beautiful whare of all. Strays and waifs turned up and received shelter, a kohanga reo was established, he wrote some stories and some plays and the Maori Writers and Artists held hui there. The Greenies got interested in his gardens and became allies. The stories grew and the story telling. He got on the wrong side of the bureaucrats occasionally and there would be talk of dodgy accounting, but he always survived. He lost land and then the Sisters of Compassion donated some.

The marae was well used by now, a convenient place for corporations and government departments to fulfil their treaty obligations. It was in the city and freer of protocol demands. Schoolkids loved the place and he enjoyed telling his stories to children and to people from overseas.

He played the Te Whiti character for me in Ngati Pakeha, performing on stage rather than in real life and we rehearsed at the marae. His Waikato whanau were involved and a little uncomfortable – it was, after all, a strange place culturally for the traditional person. At one stage, Bruce called together a marae committee, but we never got any information at meetings. Bruce was a one man band, a patriarch of the old sort, guided by his personal vision.

Bruce - stuff

Photo- stuff.co.nz

Eventually this became a flaw. As his body began to seize up from the hard physical labour, he was still incapable of handing over any control. The last time I was there, ten years ago, when I was doing the Rachel Corrie play at BATS, I stayed at Tapu Te Ranga and we rehearsed in the women’s whare. By then the marae was feeling a little empty and Bruce seemed a bit lonely and isolated. As I wandered around the grounds I could imagine a housing co-operative on the land down below; young Maori families wanting a house in an increasingly expensive city creating an eco village, a papakainga, with the marae as its centre; communal gardens – it could be amazing.

I wonder what will happen. At the moment the marae is closed because of earthquake and fire regulations. Meanwhile there is the story of the man who had a vision and built a marae of great beauty, overcoming all odds. His final struggle – getting the bureaucrats to let his whanau bury him on the marae. I hear today that he’s won that battle.

Rest in peace, brother.

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