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PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog

Rain, rain and more rain

Back from a wet bike trip: Blackball-Reefton-Westport-Charleston-Punakaiki-home. It rained every day. Biking in a soft drizzle is pleasant, but as it becomes heavier, one is torn between donning the rain gear which makes one sweat and suffering the drenching. The Lower Buller Gorge seemed particularly malevolent and I felt for Thomas Brunner on his dreadful journey. And then there’s the business of a wet tent, which inevitably leads to a damp sleeping bag. It was one of those weeks when the rain refuses to budge, like a dementia patient. The sky almost lightens, a patch of blue, but then another shower arrives.

Nevertheless, cycling, as well as massaging the cardio-vascular system, unclogs the thought patterns.

Visiting these tourist spots gave me a chance to think about tourism and tourist towns (or visitor towns – an interesting difference perhaps?). Reefton does the visitor town well – it’s on a good scale and it has managed to dramatise itself tastefully.  The shopfronts are all painted, each with a flag above the veranda. There are good cafes, a quality art gallery run by a co-op of artists and splendid second hand shops spread among the more functional day to day shops for the locals. There’s heritage in the mining school and the Blacks Point Museum. What do visitors need?  To pass the time by eating, drinking, looking at interesting things and sometimes  venturing on a walk or a cycle. Hokitika has a similar culture, with locals taking advantage of the increased market that visitors provide. There’s no singular attraction in either place and this is, I suspect, an advantage.

Westport tries, but lacks the artists and the second hand shops, so the visitor is stuck with the everyday (other than a couple of art nouveau buildings) and an awareness of marginality. Charleston is a potpourri: limestone caves and a fine bay, the business headquarters for a national company, a camp ground and the smallest club in New Zealand, which made me feel at home when I popped in for a beer. Wet through, I hired a cabin, the tiniest of rooms but absolute luxury, especially as there was access to a drier.

Punakaiki is a tourist spot, cursed with the Pancake Rocks attracting thousands for the photo op, before  most move on. There’s immense infrastructure pressure for sixty rate payers and a confusing array of councils and DOC to deal with. The water has to be boiled, the accommodation is booked out and there’s no space for expansion. The glacier towns are the same. There’s not a lot of point in this meeting between nature and capital, the photos have all been taken and a gormlessness sets in. But cycling along the Coast Road I appreciated the attraction for those life-stylers tucked away in the bush with a resplendent empty ocean in the foreground.

Greymouth lacks just about everything: there’s a couple of decent craft shops, but little art, no second hand shops, nothing to look at other than Shantytown which is on the outskirts, some tolerable cafes, but hard to kill time in a place locked into franchises and suburbia, with an inability to dramatise itself. To do so, it would have to adopt a tangatawhenua/turangawaewae framework, but instead holds on grittily and determinedly to a 1950s settler culture.

Where is Blackball in this? Puzzled I suspect. It’s possible, but difficult to dramatise an activist past – it requires  cultural and historical understanding and an ongoing political sympathy for the progressive (participatory democracy, co-operatives and the like), which is asking a lot of a small West Coast village. There’s  some craft, an excellent salami company, an iconic pub, a working men’s club that survives, a museum that does dramatise the activist past on a shoe string budget, and now a suburban infrastructure (a car park and a dunny) being overlaid to provide for the walk. There will be some local opportunism around the edges, but coherence?

The racks of bikes will pass through, someone might build a motel – maybe, as in Punakaiki, staff will come from Greymouth. In the past it has been a discreet visitor town, now it will become a minor tourist town.  Locals will keep to the back streets and wait for winter. Or am I being overly pessimistic?

As I write, the sun has come out – briefly.

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Back to the Sixties

In the world of the market, Christmas arrives as theatre of the absurd; for the story of God becoming human, of challenging the system, honouring the poor, driving the money changers out of the temple, being betrayed by a member of his band of guerrillas and crucified by the colonial rulers in league with the local power brokers, takes place within a tsunami of consumerism.

A homeless man appeared in Greymouth on Christmas Eve. We’re not used to this phenomenon. He sat crouched against the Warehouse wall, his bag of clothes beside him, a sign requesting a couple of hours work leaning against his knees. Maybe from the UK? His physical appearance suggested drugs and his youth was worn out.

The Boxing Day sales came and went and for the first time, we took the grandchildren to Tui Farm Folk festival. It was a lovely occasion, two hundred people camped on Carol and Steve’s farm near Tapawera. For four days the kids and adults played, the masks slowly dissolved, the banjos strummed and the violins meditated in an Appalachian sort of way. The kids became a village and no one wore a high viz jacket (how I am coming to hate high viz jackets), or worried about health and safety. One shower served 200 people. I am sure it met none of the statutory requirements for such events, but a winding gravel road kept the bureaucrats away. It would have been good for the homeless man to have been there.

Of course, the folk music movement has its complexities, especially in a colonial culture – who are the folk?- but a South Island rural group singing Poi E dissolved contradiction.  New Year’s Eve almost had its meaning restored. If this sort of event can still take place and not be taken over by entrepreneurs and event managers, there is hope for the future. The vehicles remained static, and the rhythm of the strolling adult or skipping child took over, as in a Pacific village. The bush poetry session on New Years Day was often touching. A German read a lovely piece comparing life in Berlin with life at Tui. Her hands shook with nervousness as she expressed this vital thought in a second language. It would have been good for the homeless man to have been there.

I remembered the impulse behind the sixties: we need to sabotage capitalist culture, overthrow it, bury it, for it does too much damage. It is no good negotiating levels of compliance. Let’s really do it.

And avoid the tragedy of the sixties, of letting the impulse degenerate into another consumer item.

I arrived home to find a letter from the PM replying to a submission I had made to her as Minister of the Arts regarding a more equitable deal for the regions. She’d obviously read the submission, considered it, and will take the viewpoint into discussions with Creative NZ. After years of brief formulaic dismissal of attempted discussion, this was rather amazing.

All the best for the new year.

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Grief

Comes in waves, doesn’t it? Like the sea.

My brother died last week. He was ready to go. Was a working man all his life. The body gets worn out. He liked a smoke, had been diabetic for a while. When you can’t do stuff with your hands there’s not a lot to motivate. He had lunch at the rest home, lay down on his bed and died.

A wave lifts, then breaks, head up, water streaming.

He had the politics of a working man. ‘I’m Labour, always have been.’ He had Ken Douglas to tea once, knew the bosses were generally arseholes. As a youth I went with him up to Waipukurau when he applied for a farm labourers job on one of those stations. The owner was gentry and we were given a cup of tea on the veranda- weren’t invited inside. I’ve never forgotten.

With grief the physical world becomes dislocated, unreal. The void threatens.

He couldn’t drive anymore (he always loved his car), but got a cheap mobility scooter and would go down to the main road and sit and watch the trucks go by.

For a while the funeral was threatening to be messy, he had a funeral fund but no Will – how could his son access the money? Another son in jail down here. I was in Christchurch trying to get to see him, went to the wrong prison, had to drive down Blenheim road on a hot day – all that stuff for sale, all that signage – like driving through hell – through Rolleston to the ultimate gated village – someone must make a fortune building the fences. Disembodied voice: Visiting is not possible. Distant laughter.

As I chose the songs for the undertaker to play at the service, I wept. Music is the conductor of feeling. Next Easter we’ll have a memorial service in Manakau where he was brought up and everyone will have time to come. We’ll scatter his ashes in the sea.

I watch the news. Jacinda seems to be caught in some celebrity bubble – a photo shoot for Vogue?  Ten, or is it twenty thousand children are no longer in poverty? How do they know? Have they got names? It’s a bizarre world. I am reminded of Sartre’s Nausea.

If I stop the thoughts, the void is there. Te Po. Slightly scary.

After a month of rainless days there’s a downpour. The creek fills, the gorse falls over, the trees drink in the words. Life continues. I’ll take it gently for a few days.

Graham photo

Fixing the housing crisis

Phil Twyford’s first speech as Minister of Housing was radical. He is seeking to restore the concept of state housing to the agenda. Under the reign of neo-liberalism it has become a disreputable idea – for housing has become solely defined as a capital investment by the individual. Often that individual is attached to a family, but that only means the family is the investor. The individual or family as investor can own more than one house. And of course, investors can be companies or foreign nationals.

At the heart of this ideology and therefore at the heart of our supplying of housing, is selfishness. It is considered that if everyone behaves as selfishly as possible then social good results. There will be some who either don’t behave sufficiently selfishly or simply don’t behave and they require a safety net which has led to the oxymoron, ‘social housing’. It’s an oxymoron because all housing is social. Houses are places for people to live their lives in: sleep, eat, make love, have children, bring up their children, play, entertain etc. = all social activities. But Maggie Thatcher’s statement that there is no such thing as society, continues to haunt, for, in this scenario, society exists only for the failures and therefore ‘social housing’ is required as a charitable intervention.

Twyford talked of the state housing programme of the first, 1935 Labour Government and the role it played in the housing crisis of that time, a crisis compounded by the depression. Much inner city housing was slum-like and working class families were pleased to move to a modern home with a section, in a modern suburb with planned facilities. The place I lived in for a period in Wellington, Holloway Road, where the houses were small and damp, supplied many of the first state housing occupants in the Hutt Valley.

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Yet this socialist intervention went against the grain of the home ’ownership’ impulse, buried deep in the Pakeha psyche and which tracks back to the settlers’ desire to own some land, to be for evermore independent of lords and bosses. There’s a 1935 United/Reform coalition (soon to be the National Party) election poster showing a communist monster about to clutch at the family home. Rumour had it that the communists would also take your wife (that other private possession) into some state-run brothel of free love.

But with the state housing intervention there then existed two models:

(a) the home can be provided by the state as representative of the collective of citizens and the individual occupier pays rent to the collective; or

(b) the home is a significant investment (via a mortgage) for the individual and a means to acquire private capital (it is important for the investor that the value of the home increases).

The problem with the former can be the bureaucracy of state control and a lack of individual incentive for improvement of the property; the problem with the latter is the expansionary nature of capitalism, the inequality and instability it produces and the marginalising of increasing numbers of the population.

When I was a kid in Palmerston North in the 1950s, the two models co- existed in a state of acceptable tension. The norm was for couples to get engaged and put a deposit on a section. When they got married they rented for a while and began building their house, often doing some of the labouring work themselves. They eventually moved in and the wife got pregnant and usually stopped work. There was a cheap state loan up to a certain limit (State Advances I think it was called) and people had to get a second mortgage from a bank. The second mortgage often caused some stress, for the interest was higher and it had to be paid back earlier (the second mortgage almost caused us to default when the due date for payment arrived, but a grandparent’s will saved the day). There were state houses dotted through the town and some were sold to the occupier, who could on sell them – we ended up in an ex state house. There were people with bigger houses than ours but they didn’t flaunt them and a pretence of equality existed. My brother’s wife’s family were Maori and they rented, which was unusual. There was the odd drifter who might be considered homeless and there were a couple of boarding houses in town, but no one lived in their car and the whole seemed to work pretty well. Investing in the ‘housing market’ was not a tangible idea.

Now, after a period of thirty years, Twyford is trying to bring back this mix. Of course there are other steps along the spectrum of state versus private. There is council housing which still exists in many places, mainly in the form of pensioner flats. Housing co-operatives can be a viable option (there are many in the US and Canada), with all sorts of permutations possible: collective ownership of the land with private ownership of structures; or collective ownership of both land and house but with the ability to realise individual equity when someone leaves the co-op. I would encourage Twyford to explore these options as well.

Toronto Housing Co-op

Housing Co-op, Toronto

Ultimately, this is about relationships, relationship of the citizen to the state, relationships to land and buildings, and relationships between citizens. The difficulty will be that relationships of collectivism have taken such a battering over the last thirty years, that Twyford’s task will be very demanding indeed.

WARU

 

Waru is a very important NZ film, both in terms of content and technique. A group of Maori women writers, directors and actors have explored the horror of child abuse within a whanau. It is eight ‘short stories’ linked by the one event – the death of a child. Necessarily the culture is both judged and celebrated. Booze, the good time, patriarchy, poverty, continuing colonisation, have to be judged. The resilience of women and the sinews of the culture are celebrated.

And the children go on being children.

And these people, switching frameworks, are working class people.  Reading a book of Pacifica short stories, Black on White, I was struck by the same thought. Pakeha writes and filmmakers tend to write about the middle class experience; Maori and PI are writing about the working class.

Waru is technically, very important. Each ‘story’ is shot as a single take. It therefore subverts the usual montage which remains central to most film story-telling: the cutting between characters, the composing of a scene from separate shots which are then joined by an editor. As a film theoretician put it, montage is a dictatorial system. You see a shot of someone looking, and then you are shown what they are looking at. The filmmaker has control of the suspense, of the imagination.

A Hungarian filmmaker, Jansco, subverted this dictatorship in the 1960s by introducing the ten minute choreographed shot without breaks, so that a complete ninety minute film was made up of nine shots. Janso’s subject was Hungarian history and the choreography involved armies on horseback, battles, etc. But by joining things up in this theatrical way, history could enter the film as a coherent force. Some other filmmakers were inspired by this technique (Italian filmmaker, Bertolluci 1900; the Greek filmmaker Angelopoulos The Travelling Players), but the hegemony of Hollywood won out and the impulse disappeared.

But it is resurrected in Waru in an intimate manner. The effect of the long take is to join things up, for real time to exist, for the effect of poverty on a mother and her family to be coherent, for the impact of a child’s death on the staff of a kohanga to be coherent, for the young girl’s confrontation of the abusive uncle to be coherent. We are not told what to see next, we are simply seeing. It is a technique suited to a culture which is resisting fragmentation, resisting being broken into pieces to be restored by some outside authority.

It leads to an aesthetic which is pleasing because it has to reject the normal ideas of the aesthetic in film. You can’t light for the long take, for the camera is pointing in every direction. Nevertheless, there are moments of great beauty and some astonishing ingenuity – from car interior to house interior without break.

Waru is then, the polar opposite of Lord of the Rings, politically, economically, culturally, and aesthetically.

I know which I prefer.

2 deer 1 Pajero

I was driving home from choir practice, along the windy road by the river, when a shadow loomed at the driver’s window, followed by a thump and a dreadful grinding sound.

The door opened enough to get out. The front mudguard was buckled, pressing tight against the wheel and a deer lay on the road. A young stag had run at the car, a sort of boy racer suffering from a surge in testosterone. I tugged at the mudguard to no avail then dragged the deer to the side of the road, decided there was much venison lying here and rang Mike to bring the trailer.

Headlights appeared and a small truck stopped. A jovial Coaster got out and introduced himself. Wayne was his name. He inspected the deer. ‘Jeez, you killed him.’ He had a torch and flashed it around. ‘Wait a minute, there’s another one.’ We moved to the other side of the road. This one was a bit older, with a greater show of antlers. ‘Bloody amazing. You got two deer. Wait until I tell my mates. Two in one hit.’ ‘You want one?’ ‘Wouldn’t say no. Been a while since I had venison.’ We inspected my vehicle. ‘What if we tie a strop around it and I give it a tug with the truck. You got a strop?’ I nodded. ‘You’re Paul aren’t you? You write in the paper.’ We shook hands. ‘My Dad’s into history.’ We hooked on the strop and he got into his truck and pulled back the mudguard. Mike turned up and we loaded the deer. Wayne gave me his number. ‘In case the insurance wants a witness. There’s a bloke in Leith Crescent will take the antlers – he does the velvet. I’ll text you his address.’

We went along a potholed road down to the river and gutted the deer. An amazing amount of intestine, heart and lung came out. It was a creature in the prime of life. The deer’s eye had become familiar. It had been a beautiful creature. We bumped back along the road which had a sign saying it was no longer maintained by the Council and hung the deer in the garage. Blood was still seeping from the carcass and a puff of steam could be seen close to the surface before I washed it down and covered it with a cloth. Already I felt an intimacy with the deer. As I washed the blood from my hands, the musty smell from its skin and body was on my clothes. It was the smell of a slept in bed; the smell of bodily juices. It was the smell of life and death.

Next morning Whaea brought down Darcy’s knives and I skinned the deer. It took a while. It’s fascinating how a skin is so intricately attached. The dogs watched, intensely interested. Now it was a matter of keeping off the flies. As I wrapped it carefully, the smell of the deer seemed permanently attached to me.

I rang the insurance company and entered another world, a world of money. I realised how many billions of dollars are attached to cars: loans, insurance, claims, a national network of approved panel beaters, road side rescuers… It was all pretty straightforward as I went through the list of questions, but the woman said the car could be a write off. Then Wayne rang. The incident was entering Coast folklore. ‘I told my mate. He’d never heard of it before. Two deer in one hit. You must have been travelling.’ I assured him I wasn’t. ‘Eighty k an hour.’ ‘ Go on mate, that’s the story for the insurance company. I’ve just been gutting mine. Anyway, here’s the blokes name for the antlers.’

I levered the mudguard a bit more with a crow bar and drove to the panel beaters with my bike on the back. ‘This is the deer job, eh?’ He inspected it. ‘What’s it insured for?’ ‘Three seven.’ He grimaced. ‘I think it’s dead.’ ‘I’ve just had the motor rebuilt.’ ‘The trouble is the insurance company takes twenty five percent.’ ‘For doing what?’ He shrugged. ‘It doesn’t have to be pretty,’ I pleaded. ‘I don’t mind if the mudguard’s a different colour.’ He became more positive. ‘ In that case it might be possible. Not pretty?’ ‘No, I don’t care about pretty.’ ‘Leave it with me.’ I got my bike off. ‘Where do you live?’ ‘Blackball.’ ‘You riding home to Blackball?’ ‘Yeh.’ He gave me an unbelieving smile and disappeared. But it was good to bike back. On a bike you see things.

Mike came over after work and we cut up the deer and packaged it. So much venison. The dogs got some fleshy bones. They couldn’t believe the plenty. The chooks had a peck, so did the birds, followed by the flies. Even a moth was interested. We were back in another time. From hunger to plenitude. The hind legs were huge – a roast for Christmas Day. I chopped up the carcass with an axe for dog tucker.

By now the deer had become  story and food. That mad testosteroned moment of deer boy racing had run its course. The moon came out and I realised the digital world is a hoax, a lemon, a cop out, a parody of life. I won’t be sorry to leave it behind.

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If only…

 

The Minister of Conservation  is bringing in a ban on mining on conservation estate. An immediate reaction from the extractivists on the Coast, with the mayors promising to write in protest to the Minister and to the PM. I was feeling cheeky enough to knock off a draft for them.

Draft of letter to Eugenie Sage from the West Coast Mayors

Dear Minister

First of all, congratulations. We look forward to working with the new government.

With regard to the proposed ban on new mining on conservation land we make the following submission:

In the past we would be beating out breasts, bewailing our lot and cursing environmentalists, but we realise we have now entered the 21st century. We therefore agree with you that mining has always been a volatile, environmentally damaging and precarious industry. In the history of the Coast it has provided a period of stability for a mere twenty years (from 1940 to 1960). At the moment, while coal remains in the doldrums, there are a myriad small gold mining operations, but they come and go with regularity, with often a receiver involved in the going.

Nevertheless, mining jobs are well paid and the new policy will eventually lead to job losses.

We therefore invite you and your government to make real the proposal to introduce a just transition for the workers involved. This would require:

  • researching and developing sustainable industry on the Coast;
  • supporting the workers as they retrain for the jobs created or being created (this support approximating the level of salary previously earned);
  • establishing a vocational guidance and support office which could also service other Coast workers;
  • looking at other economic models such as co-operatives;
  • involving unions (and therefore the workers themselves) in this process.

The search for sustainable industries in this region is difficult but we would reinforce the already identified engineering capability; would suggest the other uses for coal (fibre, foam and filter) that Stephensons have targeted in their resource consent application for Te Kuha, be followed through to the establishing of processing facilities (while this could be expensive in terms of capital, it would be no more expensive than establishing a coal mine); follow up the horticultural opportunities identified in the previous government’s report, as well as  pursuing opportunities in tourism. We look forward to the outsourcing of government services to the regions. To allay the low wage syndrome characteristic of service industries we would encourage the lifting of the minimum wage to $20 an hour as quickly as is possible and would offer our region as a region eminently suitable for a trialling of the Universal Basic Income.

The previous government’s idea of establishing a minerals institute is not useful as even a quick look at past investigations shows there is nothing of sufficient magnitude in the raw earth field of minerals for commercial mining to be feasible.

Finally, we would appreciate government assistance in researching the way in which money leaks out of the region and ways in which it might circulate here instead.

We would appreciate the opportunity to sit down with you and other ministers to discuss how the above programme could be implemented.

Yours sincerely

Etc.

 

Hope

Jacinda Adern in Chch Stacey Squires

Photo: Stacey Squires/Stuff.

It’s a wonderful photo. Instead of a photo of power, it’s a photo of vulnerability. The schoolgirl is hugging the prime minister; each party is giving the other strength. The schoolgirl is crying and the tears will be complex: excitement, joy, but also crying over the trials she has already experienced in life. She is a working class kid. How do we know that? She isn’t polished. She isn’t masked. Her hands are both gentle, yet still curled in defence.

It is a photo of hope and we are still getting our head around this, that we can hope again; that, as Fidel constantly said, A better world is possible; a statement filled with solidarity rather than the rags to riches dream of the John Key era.

We are still getting used to cabinet ministers who sound like normal people. They pause, they are still thinking, there are moments of uncertainty, there’s a lack of spin, they don’t have the smug certainty of the powerful, for whom the act of speaking is an assertion of authority. They know they’ve got a job to do and they could stuff up.

The media are non-plussed, scurry around trying to dig some dirt, to uncover some flaws, pouring over past statements for inconsistencies, supposedly holding power to account, for we should not hope. Whereas, really, they should be trying to explain, to tell the story of hope. This is why John Campbell is different. He listens. He is willing to wait for the story.

The prime minister is given a painting created by a young woman at a therapeutic art class; it will be the first painting on the wall of her office. That is a considerable statement culturally, so much so, that I feel it is not pointless writing to her as Minister of the Arts, asking for there to be some adjustment of arts funding to take more account of community, to take more account of the regions. At the moment, it’s mainly subsidising a middle class urban lifestyle. A month ago writing such a letter would have been an exercise in futility.

I get a haircut and the hairdresser links the rise in petrol prices to this new government. That’s how she refers to it, this new government, this strange beast that has arisen (it’s got the Greens in it as well), lumbering toward Jerusalem? The petit bourgeois, heads full of reality television, haven’t had a thought for years, the last time was probably the Springbok Tour.

A better world is possible. Perhaps we can solve the problem of those seriously dysfunctional families who murder their toddlers with horrible regularity, solve the issue of why a country with a small population, many forests and lots of space, can’t house its people; solve the issue of kids going to school hungry in a food exporting nation; of people being cold in a temperate climate; of suicide rates exceeding the road toll; of polluted rivers and lakes.

A better world is possible. The hairdresser isn’t feeling it, but the kids are feeling it. The old lefties get into snappy mode, nothing will go far enough or quickly enough, we’ve been saying stuff for years and no one listened. We were right all along. Take heed or we’ll disown you.

Just give each other a hug and accept vulnerability, that would be best. Let’s trust for a while, even if it means we feel naïve at some stage in the future.

Here’s the reverse angle, as they say in the film business.

emma1

at the Blackball Hilton

A tribute

While in Auckland I stayed with Phill Rooke and his partner, Helen and I want to pay tribute to Phill’s work, for it is undervalued in the art world. Phill created the sculpture in front of the Blackball Museum by the way.

Phill’s work has always celebrated the physical process of the working person, that ability, past and present, to create and to alter, the physical world in which we live. Of course, the natural environment is the wider context in which this human physical creation takes place. As part of this paradigm there is the physical creation of the work of art; the sculpture or painting or drawing being the work of the artist, as worker.

Brickmakers 2

Polynesian brickmaker, from a community piece.

This celebration of process has a strong spiritual quality, a wonder and an awe, in the same way that the painting or sculpting of the nativity, as a celebration of God becoming part of the physical world, is filled with wonder and awe.

Lenard

Phill’s father, who was a worker and a communist

Rooke’s sculptures accordingly have the physical shape and presence of the ikon.

Kathe Kollwitz at the mill

A mill worker

But, of course, while the working person creates and alters the physical world, under capitalism, the fruits of his or her labours are owned by the capitalist, and this is the source of the revolutionary impulse. In the same way that Christ was rejected and his physical presence murdered, this also being the subject of religious art, the worker is alienated from his or her work. There is a resonance here for Rooke; a tension and knowledge that underlies his work, with the natural world often echoing this tension – birds as well as symbolising liberty have the paranoia necessary for survival.

SCW Le Pas

La Passionara, the celebrated activist in the Spanish Civil War

When Rooke moved to New Zealand in the 1990s he widened the celebratory aspect to the worker having made and still making, the community in which his work takes place, in some ways mirroring the way those early Christian communities were made. Accordingly, he constructed icons for community centres and public places.

The paradigm behind Rooke’s work inevitably involves a critique of the art world, which celebrates subjective, individualist ‘works of genius’, which then become a commodity for the investor. Art is privatised, with criticism a reading for the market, and the creation of importance being a part of marketing. This extended into the cold war, with abstract expressionism, as a movement, being funded by the CIA in an ideological battle against the social realism of the USSR. This has morphed into post modernism as the culture of neoliberalism or late capitalism. Diversity leads to the need for niche marketed commodities, both in the shopping mall and the gallery.

SCW Nurse Una

Portrait of Nurse Shadbolt, a NZ nurse in the Spanish Civil War

In this global cultural narrative, it is easy for Rooke’s work to be marginalised (Marxist, religious and community oriented), a nostalgia, in the same way as the worker or the working class are seen as nostalgic concepts. Yet that is simply untrue. Anyone who works with or closely observes a builder or plumber or sawmiller or digger driver or gardener at work will see the pride that remains, the pride of making or healing a house or making a road or cycleway or landscape, the pride in making the world a better place. But the tensions remain of who ultimately owns the results of the work.

Accordingly, those basic physical processes that Rooke celebrates, in his icons, is a necessary reminder of what is at stake, both materially, socially and spiritually.

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