PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog


I’d heard about it, but first experienced the pronoun problem last week while attending a workshop in Auckland.  When someone is in transition between gender roles, ‘he’ or ‘she’ needs to be replaced by ‘they’. Sometimes a child is a ‘they’ until they’ve decided for themselves, their gender. It makes writing a little problematic: J. enters. They sit. F. wonders what they have been up to. They stare into their eyes. I am reminded of R.D. Laing’s famous study, The Divided Self, which portrayed the disembodiment of the schiz and the tendency toward multiple personalities. But when discussing this with my teacher daughter she felt that it was a very good thing for children to be able to explore their gender.

However, when identity is created in this way by the adult, with not only gender, but ethnicity and political position included, it produces a polished persona, alongside which someone of my generation feels very drab indeed. I am reminded in fact of the aesthetes of the late 19th century, the Wildes and the Beardsleys, the art for art’s sake people; but neither should we forget the politicising of Wilde.

After the workshop I was told of the conflict that can arise when a long term campaign such as the equal pay campaign is subtlely undermined by the concept of transition, for the campaign is based on  gender stability. Sex workers can present similar difficulty with their role playing for payment.

During the workshop we were looking at the mystifications occurring in the community sector as government programmes (often imported from overseas) such as social enterprise, community-led development and co-design are forced on the sector as fads for a period, requiring providers to align their service provision to the new paradigm, which has often been birthed in the business sector. The long march of neo-liberalism to its decadent conclusion continues. Interesting and a little tiring.

Back in Christchurch I was faced with the practical dilemma of strapping a new information panel to an old roof rack and transporting it back to Blackball. Wind vectors in the alps can get extreme and the panel hummed, rattled, moaned and occasionally roared. I refer to it as ‘it’ but ‘it’ sometimes seemed more alive than the pronoun suggests. We got here (me and the panel), but it took a little longer than usual.

Finally there arose the ultimate insult to the aesthetic, the need to go and bury two wild goats who were knocked over by a hit and run driver last night. They were both pregnant, so the impulse to gut them and use the meat quickly disappeared. Instead I need to dig a hole, which I have perhaps already done with the above meditation.



Living in fascist times

We have to entertain the possibility that the Trump regime is now a fascist government. The separation of migrant children from their families and the caging of the children by an NGO, the withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Committee, the demonising of migrants, the prison labour camps, the escalation of military spending and continuing popular support for the American First agenda, entwined with National Rifle Association and evangelical roots, justifies this judgement.

Trump himself grows in confidence, his tweets a modern parody of Hitler’s rants. His ability to attack other leaders, something Hitler did, leaving them nonplussed by such abnormal behaviour, backs up the judgement. His bedfellow is Netanyahu and an Israeli regime that is indifferent to international critique and law. Europe becomes confused. Hungary, Poland and Italy have populist governments, there are strong neo fascist parties in France and Germany and even in some of the Nordic countries, all motivated by the refugee (Muslim) ‘infestation’. Russia is squeezed and sullen and the Chinese perhaps over extended economically (a bubble waiting to burst). Meanwhile South American destablisises. The military skirmishing initially takes place in Africa, that’s par for the course, creating more ‘infestation’.

The movement is contradictory, as usual about tapping into resources, but couched in the language of withdrawal, even though withdrawal is absurd in a globalised world; the parts for a car or a toaster coming from a variety of countries and continents. The US impulse seems to be a desire to return to a simpler imperial regime. China is guilty of becoming innovative, ‘stealing’ intellectual copyright and starting to do its own thing, rather than providing cheap labour for first world manufacturers.

And like Hitler, who got the trains running on time, Trump’s economic programme seems to be working, with unemployment below 4%. Even here, the NZ Taxpayers’ Union is preaching Trump economics. So the bread is there and the circuses expand at an ever greater rate with world cups in everything. The steely-eyed, motivated individual fulfilling his or her dream becomes central. As Yeats prophesised: ‘The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.’

Will a Spanish Civil War arise to test the waters? The state is too well armed for amateurs to be effective (although the Zapatista did manage an effective minimalist armed rebellion). The intensification of surveillance parallels sea level rise. There is no coherent Left, only emanations of something so far to the left as to appear ridiculous, small pinpoints of light taking the form of spontaneous anarchist communes. The reaction of the state to these pinpoints of light is harsh enough for us to see that this is what the state abhors, anyone that ignores the state as  arbiter. And there can be a gulp at the thought of there being no state, to hand it over to the gangs and the mafia is unthinkable.

It’s terribly difficult, yet we must think. Perhaps my generation are too old to think, to advise? Quite likely. Yet Trump is an old man. Perhaps this is still our problem.  What do we in New Zealand do? Ignore it all and go about our business – too small and polite to be noticed – or make a stand and be punished?


Jerzy Grotowski used to describe his workshops as ‘encounters’. It’s an interesting word, used to describe a meeting with a stranger which can turn hostile. We ‘encounter’ the wild animal for example. It’s a meeting, a collision almost, which allows for, even assumes, different subjectivities, different agendas. Yet it can result in profound engagement, in the removal of the daily mask, in rediscovering that which exists behind the mask. Being mauled by a wild animal will remove the mask of course, but if the encounter does not turn hostile, it can lead to a powerful connecting between people, a connecting which has a spiritual element. It is the area which gurus explore so it can turn into charlatanism, or chaos; yet at the same time, it is the stuff of life.

A couple of mornings ago there was a discreet knock on the door and Kennedy Warne re-introduced himself. A neighbour had brought him along a couple of weeks ago for Kennedy is writing an article for National Geographic on the Paparoa Track (I discovered later that he co-founded the magazine). We’d chatted about that but he’d returned, for he was interested in Grotowski. We talked about the mutually admired film, My Dinner With Andre, that classic encounter in a New York restaurant between an actor trying to pay the bills and a theatre director who has just returned from a Grotowski encounter in a Polish forest. We talked of conservation and local people needing to earn a living and whether the compromise is only possible for hunters and gatherers. We talked of the inherent instability of capitalism and swapped favourite authors. We talked about living in a decadent age and the difficulties that brings. It was wonderful discovering a common consciousness with someone who was still a relative stranger. Then he had to go to record his slot for the nine to noon show.

The encounter left me buoyant, but as well, with the realisation of the flaws of the internet flow of information, where the encounter is easy, but a parody; for the digital filter replaces the flesh and blood of encounter, the physical meeting of the stranger or the glancing into the eye of the wild animal which acknowledges nothing of human consciousness and which is therefore terrifying. Presence is absent and this absence starts to become a totality.

Younger generations of progressive politicians talk a lot about ‘having conversations’ and about ‘going forward’, two clichés (and every generation has its clichés) which supposedly facilitate post modern diversity. But the inherent  suggestion that differences can be easily solved feels like sleep walking.

I prefer to take the risk of the encounter.

Conservation Estate Part 2

For the Coast to argue coherently with Forest and Bird et al, we need to do some research into the environmental movement, which has its own historical trajectory and its differing ideologies. The National Park/Forest and Bird position has its origins in the 19th century and remains urban based and middle class. There is an obvious need to have wilderness areas for threatened species, an obvious need to acknowledge the realities of climate change, but socially, the conservation position remains mainly about people living in the cities who want to have recreational access to pristine wilderness to recharge their batteries. That originating need has become global and is tied in with tourism.

However, in the latter part of last century, the position was challenged by the environmental justice movement, for poorer  and indigenous communities become sacrifice zones: both in terms of areas to dump toxic waste, but also as areas from which those who traditionally inhabited them, are expelled in the interests of conservation. Coasters can’t argue an indigenous role but certainly people have lived in these communities for a century and a half.

From the environmental justice movement comes the concept of the extractive reserve. Despite an area being primarily reserve, the people who traditionally live in the area also have the right to earn a living, to have access to health and education and so on. This requires some extraction, and tourism needs to be considered an extractive industry. But under what criteria does extraction take place? This should be the real debate. Are the jobs for local people? Where do the profits go? Who owns the enterprise? How is it controlled?? Who’s making the decisions? What are the workers paid? How damaging is it environmentally? Is it sustainable?

Such criteria would, I believe, quickly cancel the multinational, could even challenge the local franchise holding capitalist.

To explore such criteria produces some interesting results: Westpower’s Waitaha Power Scheme receives full marks: sustainable, environmentally sensitive, locally owned and controlled with profits distributed equitably. Westland Milk is owned and controlled locally with profits distributed on the Coast. Westfleet Seafoods however, provide jobs but demanded a gifting of local equity as the price of building a processing plant, are owned by Maori , Japanese and Nelson fishing interests and are now seeking state patronage via the Regional Growth Fund. Oceana Gold? Provided jobs but how many were local? Where did the profit go? The equity? Now they’ve left. Compare with a local goldminer pottering along year after year.

There are other issues. Many Coasters have a subsistence component to their livelihood – wood gathering, hunting and fishing. Is that being allowed? I gather that hunting and firewood gathering are becoming more difficult now that Ngai Tahu have taken over the forests. There’s the traditional concept of the commons at play here and some obvious ironies.

It becomes an interesting exercise to really begin to argue for access to conservation estate from criteria which it would be difficult to dismiss. And from it might come the seeds of a sustainable local economy and culture.


Conservation Estate

The proposed banning of mining or grazing or any other productive activity  from DOC stewardship land is causing much gnashing of teeth and a series of scatter-brained opinions from local leaders.

We’ve suddenly had them arguing for the use of thermal coal for milk factories, hospitals and school; a switch from the usual argument that Coast coal is used for steel making and therefore innocent when it comes to CO2 emissions. And of course gold mining is a ‘must’ for the Coast economy and so is the exploration for rarer minerals. Even gravel extraction and access to rock for emergency purposes is brought into the debate. And of course there are the climate change deniers.

Arguing against them is Forest and Bird with a simpler, more fundamentalist position; this land should be left alone to regenerate and become pristine habitat for native flora and fauna. The Coast is a big area, there are only 30,000 people living here so the social cost is not great given the bigger picture. Transition the mining workforce to some other task. If it means moving off the Coast so be it. The mining workforce has always been a mobile one, for mining has never been sustainable. We need some gold for decorative and electronic purposes  but most of it is stored away somewhat meaninglessly. Rare minerals? There are more abundant supplies elsewhere in the world. What is truly valuable on the Coast is its wilderness and that is irreplaceable. So, no digging holes and leaving a mess. The community is already mobile: kids go away to school, tourism is often staffed by people on working visas, incomers are often Greenies from the north, the born and bred people are simply left over from mining and forestry. They are a past, spent force, politically irrelevant and will eventually disappear. Climate change, pollution, species loss are the planetary threats and we have to change our ways. If it means areas of social sacrifice, so be it. The species called man must pull in its head.

If the Coast leadership remain incoherent and scatterbrained it is painfully obvious who is going to win this argument.

But there is another line, which I will advocate for next week.P1040835

Notes for a play

A play about the land? It’s a tricky subject. Whenua and Gaia of course, but land is mainly about money and subdivision: DP4/ Lot 78, rates, fences, mortgages, interest, investment, capital, farms, suburbs, factories, roads, warehouses – even google needs land. And then there’s colonisation and the planting of the flag. Most wars are fought over land.

Land’s at the heart of the financial system.

Would it be wiser to treat it scientifically, as a matter of chemistry and geology – planet earth and the accident of life-giving water. All those geological eras: millions of years of plates grinding, heat, pressure, upthrust, erosion, rivers and glaciers…

How do you make a play about all this?

The original impulse was to tackle dairy farming, but that immediately involved the land:  factory production, may as well have the cows in barns except for the clean green image; the Chinese start coming into it, water bottlers as well, mining of course, climate change, too much nitrogen, tangatawhenua and tiriti issues…

And then there are the national parks and the conservation estate. Lock it up and drop poison on predators, let the tourists tramp or bike through taking their photos; be careful about the number of helicopter concessions, freedom campers, adventure tourism… another commodity.

Trying to do a play about the land takes one to the heart of alienation. We’ve detoured to look at Hamlet and Waiting for Godot. And seriously considered Gaza as a location – there’s a land imposed upon. Prisons need land. Mental hospitals as well in the past, but now chemicals do the job of restraining…

The slow plod of the cow off to milking, the farm worker on the quad bike – could be a Filipino (or a Palestinian). And then the latest threat, Mycoplasma virus. Impossible to stop the cows moving around. They move around a lot it seems. Like bees. Nothing’s still. My grandparents had thirty cows which provided a living. It was a time when people stayed still, unless the Great Depression forced you to swag along the back roads in search of tucker.

It’s perhaps ridiculous doing a play about the land? We should do a musical instead, Grease or something with young girls dancing, that drags in the punters. Or cowboys thundering across the prairie.

That first Maori play, Rowley Habib’s Death of the Land. I played the Pakeha judge a couple of times. The awa, the maunga. Identity. DP4 Lot 78. Two worlds.

Now you have to have the soil tested before you build. It usually involves scraping out a metre or so, filling the hole with gravel and compacting it, before the concrete is poured.

When I first went to Europe I was instantly aware of the sheer weight of concrete that has been poured on the land.

Somewhere in here, Grotowski is lurking. Tell the truth: a true gesture, a true sound. Take off the mask.

Anyway, something will hopefully come of it. And the task is the work of performance rather than the performance itself; to grow the whenua rather than bury it.


Gaza bites, Gaza hurts. It’s everywhere and nowhere, in the air, in the land, yell it, shout it: No, Stop, Please, Stop.

So the supermarkets have got facial recognition. It’ll never be quite the same going in there. Aware. Bloody hell. Aware. The sniper’s scope with a cross in it. They don’t need a wooden cross on a hill today. A sniper will do.

Two million imprisoned, kept alive by aid and at the mercy of the jailers – for whom they are animals. I remember while researching a film on madness in the 1970s, spending time at the old Kingseat Hospital in South Auckland. One day, hearing strange cries from the back of the large grounds and investigating, I came across a unit devoted to elderly ‘handicapped’ – the mongoloid, the brain damaged… They were literally confined in a cage. I was told that they were people who had never been socialised, could scarcely feed themselves. It was a shocking image,

Who are the unsocialised ones in Gaza? The Trump ‘mob?’ ‘clan’ – neither of those words will do – mafioso is better. They assume more and more the model of the Hunger Games (perhaps the most political book in a decade). Netanyahu and his henchmen? It is one of those appalling situations to which we assume indifference, forget about for months. The US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, an axis of evil to which we bow for reasons of trade. No, best forget it, focus on rugby or the garden, or local shenanigans. There are no drones dispensing tear gas or rockets in the middle of the night, no sniper towers, no occupying army, no border crossings to negotiate. We’re okay, All we have to put up with are some homeless, some kids in poverty and facial recognition cameras in the supermarket. We’re sweet. Except for a conscience that won’t quieten. In frustration. In despair.

What was it like for the townspeople near the death camps? Did they know? Were they aware? Or were they simply minding their own business and watching the grass grow?

Isn’t it time to boycott the US. I’m tired of paying attention to the dysfunctional empire. We are overwhelmed by its culture, its ridiculous foreign policy, its inane leadership, its control of knowledge and information and pharmaceuticals, its media… Time to divest. Time to boycott. Time to seek other friends. We’ll be poorer but we’ll be able to confront the mirror.


Returning to film making has been a lovely experience. We’d had the filming of our theatrical response to the Pike disaster, Goodnight Irene, on the agenda for some time and finally it was possible. A budget of $2300 is ridiculous, but people’s generosity kicked in: Alun Bollinger, arguably New Zealand’s foremost cinematographer and resident on the Coast, said he’d film it; Patrick McBride, TV stringer, was willing to bring his camera and operate; Natalia, a Colombian migrant who works with Patrick and who had made films in Colombia joined the crew; Francis from the theatre group became boom operator; a Wellington lass, Owlsca, on the Coast for her gap year and the maker of charming short video clips became continuity and clapper; Brian Wood donated his house for the set; the Blackball fire engine and ambulance turned out for a shot; the local caterer arrived with quiche; the cast was nervous, myself included – we’d done little film acting so we rehearsed with a camera … but it’s all turned out. The rushes are great, Alun is a master (modern technology doesn’t require hefty lighting) and as actors we adapted to the construction of a part as opposed to the live-performance-being of a part.

It’s been a community film project par excellence. Tempers never frayed, even on a wet day of exteriors. As Patrick commented, From this sort of project a West Coast film culture might be built. That would be nice.

And it was all so different from film making where money is the bottom line: the sweat of raising the capital, the strings that capital inevitably arrives with, the anxiety of filming when thousands of dollars are spent each day. Maybe I’m a woos, but I preferred this experience.

But money inevitably comes into it. We can manage an edit, but then there’s the sound mix and colour grading. Expensive gear and expertise are involved in order to reach the smooth appearance that the outlets require, even though, for most consumers, the experience is a momentary one. And it’s at this point that the present disappears – it all becomes future or past (whereas theatre is all present, then it becomes definitely past) – threatening to become as forgettable as watching a movie on an aeroplane or a screen in a takeaway outlet as you wait for your order, the wallpaper of modern existence, undisturbing and bland, the chatter of latter day capital as it bombs the shit out of Syria.

We’ll see. Hopefully there’s a way around it. And the eventual screenings will be interesting, as they move from the local context to the national.


Photo: Jane Wells

Anzac Day

Each year there’s a sweet commemoration in Blackball, with the army, the mayor, the local service people and the church attending. The war memorial is in the school grounds and crosses are placed for each of the Blackball men killed in battle. As part of the wreath laying, children put posies on each cross. There used to be a rifle salute and the sound echoing around the hills was a powerful symbol. That’s been stopped for some reason. But the flag is lowered and the last post played. A crowd of around hundred is normal.

I go as part of the St John presence, but the problem remains: what is this really about? I suspect the problem is felt by others for the speeches subtlely change year by year. It is no longer the simple slogan: These men died fighting for the freedom which we now enjoy. With regard to WW1 the knowledge that this was a slaughtering of working class men because of a European capitalist squabble over markets, colonies and resources is generally accepted, if not articulated quite as bluntly. And the Gallipoli campaign is acknowledged as the military cock up and disaster that it was. It is okay to commemorate men killed by a botchup of the bosses, to feel the mix of anger, sadness and regret that accompanies the realisation of wasted lives – Pike is like that. There is often at least a nod in this direction at Anzac services of late.

But with Gallipoli there is an additional current; that this was the coming of age of the colonial nations of Australia and New Zealand; that it gave birth to a sense of nationhood and pride. It wasn’t that the families involved were aware of the botchup and demanded a thorough investigation and for heads to roll as has happened with Pike, the families thereby coming of age as a group and asserting their need for justice. It would be interesting if this had occurred, after all the Russian revolution had this as one of its inspirations. But in the Anzac tradition there is no national judgement of the Pommy leaders, it is more that the warrior culture came of age, that Kiwis and Aussies proved themselves as warriors as they showed courage, bravery and resilience on the battlefield.

But that in turn cannot be simply stated and celebrated, for the warrior culture is a little suspect after being mediated by feminism. Common sense judges the culture for the damage it has caused and continues to cause – think Sarajevo, think ethnic cleansing – so this impulse has to exist as sub text.

Of course the scope of Anzac widens to include WW11 (more explicable the fight against fascism), except that WW11 evolved from WW1. And then there is Korea and Vietnam, problematic battles against Communism, and certainly in the case of Vietnam a botchup by a new batch of foreign masters.

This year, the army representative introduced a new theme, that of soldiers serving to uphold a fragile world order as embodied by the United Nations and its covenants. This can require participating in a conflict but more often involves restricting conflict by playing a peacekeeping followed by a development role – still dangerous work and sometimes fatal. This ‘line’, this point of view is attractive but if it reaches back to encompass Vietnam and even the two world wars, it begins to be a rewriting of history.

Last year the Turks were brought into it, they were after all also fighting for nationhood and the theme could then be one or reconciliation through mutual national suffering. Another ‘line’.

I would love someone to speak of these ideological problems as part of the service.

There are of course increasing numbers of young people turning out for Anzac Day ceremonies, participating in the solemn performance, exploring their family links with these wars. What does it mean for them? Another coming of age ritual?

I was perhaps the only one there bothered by this complexity. For the rest the military ritual sufficed, a sort of solemn sharing of ‘something’ before the routine of meeting mates over a beer.

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