PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog




In the 1990s I was privileged to work with the Hutt Valley Tokelauan community and helped them devise a couple of plays, which, after performances locally, we took to Tokelau, spending a month on the three atolls. It was a time of exploring often complex community relationships.

At the end of the trip, on the last atoll, we came across a man who was entrepreneurial, having established a sort of nightclub. As well, anticipating the tourist (Tokelau has no tourism), he’d trained up a dance group who could entertain the visitor. After a month free of entrepreneurialism, it was a shock to come across the phenomenon, which in this context seemed both mad and dangerous as he pursued the commodification of social and cultural relations.

I write of this because as Covid recedes, the entrepreneurial urge seems to have intensified. It has become the engine of the hegemony, that web of consciousness created daily which Gramsci first described. Every facet of life is required to be entrepreneurial, from services to schools to business to charity. Even that which resists has to do so in entrepreneurial terms. The climate crisis will only be solved by the entrepreneur. Meanwhile the refugee count daily increases, inequity increases, natural disasters occur weekly and anxiety infects the young at an alarming rate. But it is considered that these will only be solved by the entrepreneurial impulse, the teaching of which generates a whole industry in itself. It is preached in every ad, in education, and of course is the life blood of the social media with its mania for self promotion.  It partners happily with the pornographic impulse which commodifies desire.  It is akin in density to the triumphant working class clichés of the old USSR, which infected every facet of life, at the same time as the more articulate members of that same class were being sent to the Gulag.

As we begin to ponder a programme for a school for social change, it presents a central dilemma. How to circumvent it or confront without seeming eccentric or marginal?


Almost two years ago my daughter had her first child in Australia. Recently, when it was obvious they would not be coming back to Aotearoa as soon as they thought, she asked me to bring back the boy’s whenua and bury it. It had been in their freezer since his birth. It needs to be in Papatuanuku, she said to me. Where they were living, a suburb adjacent to an army base, was not Papatuanuku. It had another mythology, but the dreaming had been sorely disrupted.

You’re happy for it to be in the bush near the creek? She agreed. So I rang the airline and there was no problem with bringing a placenta back.

As I packed for leaving she brought it to me. It was in a sealed plastic pot with the hospital label on it. It was surprisingly light. I placed it in my suitcase and packed clothes around it, caught the plane, declared it at customs, who were mainly concerned with Indonesian food products because of an outbreak of the dreaded foot and mouth disease in that country.

When I got home I walked down the track to the creek with the secateurs. In three weeks the blackberry would probably have thrown out wild tendrils.  I walked over the bridge I had made, and cut my way through tendrils but it wasn’t too bad and I could eat some late fruit.

Once in the trees I veered off the path to a moss covered mound where I’d buried a dog ten years ago. It’s a peaceful spot and I wondered whether this was the place for the whenua? Next I looked at the base of a tall beech tree which has shot up over the last sixty years or so. That would be more of a male place, whereas the moss covered mound was feminine. No need to immediately decide.

As I walked down the track to the creek bed and paddock I realised that burying the whenua would make this place even more resonant than it has already become from almost daily wandering. I’d often learned scripts on these walks, pondered issues, thrown sticks for the replacement dog, watched the creek water rise and fall and the pond level fluctuate. Each day the dog swam in the pond or chased a stick thrown into the creek. I’d watched children play on the rocks, disturbed kereru, been fluttered at by pīwakawaka, the dog had chased weka and hares and ducks had given birth, gorse had grown then fallen over after heavy rain and I’d sawn my way through branches to keep the track clear. I’d realised that the timber at the bottom of the pond was from an old gold dredge, and I’d researched the geology of the area. But now there would be a genetic connection to the earth. It was a different sort of thought, a humbling thought.

It was a compliment that my daughter had entrusted this task to me and that this village where I live and where she lived for a period was the place to receive the whenua.  I had sometimes thought I would like to be buried in the mound next to the dog. I decided I would bury the placenta at the base of the tree and find a marker rock to place on top. This would slowly become sacred ground. Papatuanuku.

But what of a karakia? I went home and found suitable words from Fairburn’s Dominion, a poem that always speaks to me: ‘Land of mountains and running water, rocks and flowers and the leafy evergreen. O natal earth, the atoms of your children are bonded to you for ever.


Hanging out with a grandchild, I become aware of the extraordinary market for products related to child rearing, with every age a target, from napkins to baby clothing to cribs to front packs to back packs to silhouette books readable by unfocused eyes, to prams, to car seats, to surveillance devices, to mobiles, to teethers, to first toys… And then it really takes off, to balls that glow, to teddy bears, to various rattles and toys that beep and whistle and sing nursery rhymes, to buggies, to sleep noise and whales singing, to lotions, to special play facilities for a rainy day and organisers of first birthday parties. And now trucks and trains and cars and diggers and dolls that speak and wee, and animals, all with built in sounds, ten different lego systems, indoor swings and slides and a huge range of books, subscription television channels with every rhyme and game in the annals of childhood animated, plus series with infinite episodes, some of which are very skilful. Meanwhile there is a library of parenting books constantly updated, play dates and play groups, creches for those returning to work, whose equipment will be more sophisticated and robust. Museums, libraries and art galleries donate a floor to interactive and tactile activities for little ones, with pram parks and little cafes. On the toy front now, whole systems of motorways or railway are available with each vehicle an electronic marvel of sound and song… there must be teams of researchers, designers and marketers out there.

Whatever happened to kids floating sticks in the creek? Or climbing a tree? Or building a castle with river stones? I feel Neanderthal as I ask the question. And have the thought that this market of stuff will possibly stop the mechanism of symbol formation and replace it with the human algorithm. That’s my hunch. That’s my fear.

Reflections on the state


I’ve been reading a study of how the ANZAC concept has been used as a tool in forging national ideology in New Zealand and Australia.[1]

After the Gallipoli military disaster, with its considerable loss of life, commemorations were held annually to honour the veterans and the fallen. The dominant theme was that of the colonies proving their valour and their maturity and thus establishing their place in the Empire. For Maori, participation was a claim to full citizenship. It is worth noting the intertwining of war and the ideology of the nation.

Fifty years after the Gallipoli event, the concept of the commemoration (as a symbol of the nation), became stressed and fragmented by the passing of the veterans, the countercultural rejection of the Vietnam war, the looming possibility of nuclear catastrophe and the feminist movement which emphasised the suffering of women through war. A rebranding was required and the ANZAC experience was recast as one of colonial innocents being betrayed by imperial masters in an ill-founded war, but nevertheless performing with valour and sustained by a culture of mateship. These good humoured and rugged victims, supported by a contingent of nurses, could not be blamed for imperial crimes and fought for the liberal values of freedom, democracy and equality. The WW11 struggle against fascism had produced a new cohort of veterans who shared these values.

Seventy five years after the event, the indigenous struggle had become energised and needed to be incorporated through honouring the deeds of the Maori Battalion and the Aborigine and Torres Strait contribution to the war efforts. National war memorials were built to provide a central shrine in each nation. The need to persuade younger generations without direct experience of war into accepting the national mythology was met through films and literature, Peter Weir’s film, Gallipoli being incredibly popular. Services were held at Gallipoli, with backpackers participating as part of their OE and ANZAC Day in the Dardanelles became a special, sacred tourist experience. The young began to flock to local services as well.

And then, with the Gallipoli centenary, Te Papa and Weta workshop produced a larger than life diorama and the ANZAC myth justified the NZ and Australian role in the South Pacific, with indigenous media given a major role to play. An unknown soldier, in NZ an unknown warrior, was brought home and entombed to complete the circle. All along, prime ministers have been keen leaders of the myth making and the sharing of the myth has covered over any potential disruption of fraternal relations between the two countries.

It is a very useful study of how national ideology is built, the investment required, the role of politicians and cultural workers and the violence at the core of the state.


The modern state requires three elements: sovereignty – the right of the ruler to do what they wish within the defined territory (that right being given through majority vote in a democracy); a bureaucracy which enforces the wishes of the sovereign power throughout the territory; and charisma: the willingness of the population to go along with it all through respecting/admiring or simply having to put up with the leadership – and in a democracy justified through the electoral process.

The violence of the state and sovereignty is disguised but nevertheless experienced as an irritation at the bureaucratic level, which can grow into anger. It is often an intricate business of command as we know from such formats as the Resource Management Act. On a lesser level, we have authorities such as the Teachers Council which looks after teacher registration.  It could simply check qualifications, citizenship, work record and criminal record and perhaps gauge the comparative merits of qualifications earned in other countries. But it has, instead, entered the business of defining the aspirational values of the profession. When there is the issue of people qualifying, working and then taking time out, this aspirational judgement proves problematic.

I know of a case of a teacher who qualified, taught for a decade then took time out to have a family. When she returns to the profession, there is a possibility she will need to spend a year retraining because it is assumed that serious aspirational changes will have occurred within the time she has been absent. Her previous experience of the training year was that it was largely useless in terms of preparing for the classroom. And aspiring to the aspirational is a mystifying process, a part of ‘nation building’, similar to militarism and increasingly invaded by digitalisation. The result will be a return to the profession with a layer of the bitterness and weariness which accompanies much dialogue with the bureaucracy.

This tendency toward aspirational nation building rather than more simply providing a public service is beginning to infect many areas of the bureaucracy e.g. the Charities Commission, Culture and Heritage. CNZ, MBIE, WINZ, DOC and reforms such as Three Waters… Where aspiration is required, as in Oranga Tamariki, the failure is profound. Add a growing remoteness and difficulty communicating with ‘the powers that be’ and the disenchantment with the state becomes explicable.


A more positive story of the role of the state and empire is provided by a beautifully composed and recently published history of NZ nurses, from 1880 to the end of our dominion status in 1950.[2]

During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale established the role of the nurse as part of the health system. The vocation of caring for the sick and invalid became a profession and this model spread through the Empire. NZ played a very progressive role: the first country to have a system of nursing registration, the first country to have a nurse within the Department of Health looking after the service, at the forefront of establishing district and rural nursing services, and not doing too bad at establishing a Maori nursing service to provide care in remote indigenous communities. These nurses had to deal with the tension between traditional practices and modern medical practices with their emphasis on hygiene. They were supported by the Young Maori MPs keen to change traditional ways. There was a nursing magazine from early on and during the wars, NZ nurses were able to compare their skills with practitioners from other countries, which led to a reassurance that they were as good as anyone. Mainly middle class women, these early nurses were stalwart, hard working and articulate, some even calling to account slack doctors. This story is part of NZ being considered the social laboratory of the western world at the turn of the century. But the patriarchy nevertheless considered it necessary for them to retire upon marriage. As well, the service was not unionised during this period, with the vocational and professional mythology standing in the way. Nevertheless, with its oral history component providing personal accounts, this is a positive story of state organisation.

So, we have the state as a war mongering creator of identity via violence; the state as a mystifying bureaucracy and lastly, the state as an effective organiser of essential services, by providing the means for the people involved to do the organising. It’s relatively easy to choose between these options.

[1] Anzac Nations: The Legacy of Gallipoli in New Zealand and Australia, 1965-2015, by Rowan Light, OUP 2022.

[2] NZ Nurses Caring for our people 1880 to 1950 by Pamela Wood, OUP, 2022


I had a couple of cycling Wellington bureaucrats in the van. They got talking, swapping life styles. One worked for the council – social housing, looking for alternatives sort of thing, the other a reserve bank man.  Both had moved south during covid, working remotely, keeping the Wellington house but beginning afresh in a South Island city. They discussed the commute, having to spend four days in the capital once a fortnight, the travel involved, finding accommodation in Wellington, the stress on relationships – getting home from the capital and wanting to crash but the partner keen to go out and socialise – the frenzy of team meetings when in town, not being able to be part of the new community, a certain money juggling in order to buy the second house, the joy of the koru lounge when a flight is delayed… They obviously earned good money and were confident discussing the issues of well- being, but also locked into a bubble of public service culture involving policy and team culture, team loyalty and managed access for the public. I expressed a certain historical knowledge of alternative housing schemes in Wellington, but that was like the butler farting. There was no possibility of joining the conversation. The shuttle driver is a servant, not part of their world.

I intuitively sensed that grassroots knowledge or articulation would have no credence in their world. They will do lots of online surveys which never allow the coherent story. All they operate on is the data collection story. They would, I suspect, vote Green and be great recyclers, but their carbon footprint is problematic. As double home owners they will continue the housing crisis. They appeared to be childless with perhaps a dog. If they belong to the PSA it would be simply a further insurance policy. They had some sentimental notion of community, but their knowledge of history would be minimal. As we know they are incapable of solving any of the big issues.

The dream that covid would bring in a more benign work culture has simply resulted in the fly in fly out lifestyle of the miner extending into the middle class, with the similar extensive carbon footprint, disrupted families and communities, for who knows when dad or mum or partner will next be at home?

And the covid concept of people sticking in their bubble was more resonant than we think. With Spotify, Netflix, Youtube etc., people have their playlists, with some algorithmic assistance. There is no longer the surprise of being confronted by something outside one’s bubble. Identity (user name and password) becomes the means of access to oneself. The IRD’s appalling term: realme was actually a statement of fact and all the current identity obsession perhaps stems from this. And the anxiety that something monstrous: a home invader, a terrorist, a predator, a natural disaster, an illness, a serious accident, will prick one’s bubble and destroy identity. Victimhood waits in the wings and easily becomes a retrospective story of bubbles being pricked by malevolent forces and the need for retribution.  

So, an interesting van ride. Little did they know that the driver was doing some research of his own.

On receiving an honour

Having received an honour, that is, a ‘mark of respect’ made to a person who has also paid ‘allegiance to a code of conduct’; and the honour involving becoming a member of the NZ Order of Merit, an order made up of those whose work has been of meritorious worth to society, it is a significant pat on the back.

It’s an interesting process. Basically, someone has to feel the need to nominate and to then diligently spend time getting together a case, which also involves gathering referees. This is then presumably reviewed by the department before going before a panel of some sort. They then make an offer which one accepts or declines. I was surprised at how correct the citation was; this was well researched, and then the subtlety of the grading and the difference between meritorious work and loyal service.

There were ironies in accepting a pat on the back from the king – a la mainstream society – but after consulting with a reliable mate, we agreed it was worthwhile for a career in the arts and community which has always taken place on the margins of the mainstream and been critical of that mainstream, to be recognised as having merit. It was a good precedent, for so often this space of work is dismissed as therapy, do-gooding or propaganda – not fulfilling the goal of excellence. For it to be mainstreamed in this way was a positive thing. As well, allegiance to a code of activist conduct should be recognised as a worthwhile alternative.

More generally, it could be argued that it would be a good thing for the left to start nominating activists, unionists, researchers… so that they begin to appear in the list, to balance the business people, military and judiciary members and sportspeople, as contributors to the social good.

Something hopeful

Having dinner with friends and after a second glass of wine, reflecting on the sixties and some dodgy (in current frameworks) flirtations, I was suddenly aware of stern looks. I immediately self censored and sank back into the current milieu of puritanism. Freud proposed sexual desire as the prime motivator of the human species. Adler wondered about power, but was outvoted. But that fundamental drive is always disciplined by society, and late capitalism is perhaps the most disciplining of all; in the West through commodification, in Muslim cultures through a paranoid fear of women, in China through surveillance. It is an age of puritanism.

In that reflective mood I had the urge to watch the movie, The Graduate after a lapse of fifty years. It was a film that revolutionised Hollywood in recognising the changing mood of a young audience, and was extraordinarily successful at the box office. Ignoring Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, it focused on a desire for something different from the privileged WASP lifestyle, with the young protagonist experiencing an American version of existential despair, with the sexually deprived wife on the cusp of middle age wanting satisfaction, and with the daughter having a will ‘to live’. For all three a breaking of the web of puritanism is necessary. And revolution always leads to a freeing of sexual energy and the modes of coupling. The film, with its almost European angst, still reveals the alienation at the heart of capitalism and the sixties urge to establish different social relations – no matter how clumsily. Of course, The Graduate operated within a heterosexual and binary culture and current identity fluidity makes for lesser and at the same time greater, angst.

In a similar vein, I attended a programme of webinar workshops on the hologram model of anti-capitalist care, which I admit sounds something of a mouthful. US artist activist, Cassie Thornton, who had realised as an art student that she was not creating art but debt (via a student loan), witnessed in Greece during the austerity period (when the country was disciplined by the banking system) some progressive GPs establishing a different model of care from the norm. They weren’t being paid and the health system had collapsed so why not do what they had always wanted? Your visit to your doctor, instead of a ten minute rush to prescribe one pill or another, saw you have a conversation with three people: the GP focusing on physical health, a psychologist focusing on your mental health and a social worker focusing on your social relations. At the end of the hour of talking things through, with some questioning and feedback, you were asked to proscribe what was wrong with you. And by that time, you knew.

Cassie Thornton seeing this as establishing anti-capitalist relations at an intimate level, now promotes, with others, a similar protocol and programme of care that can take place between non professionals, with three people (each focusing on an area, as in the Greek scenario) supporting the fourth (which she called the hologram). Obviously if you have cancer or a broken leg you still need traditional medical help, but this establishing of care between people she sees as potentially revolutionary. And once one hologram is set up, those support people should set up their own hologram and the system of care can spread, like a virus spreads. While it could sound like another new ageist fad, the programme facilitators were determined that it be couched in anti-capitalist terms and that there is a radical proposal underneath the practice, which is ‘that many people simultaneously create an infinitely expanding network of people who are healthy and stable enough to survive through the end of capitalism, and to make new ways of organizing human cooperation with what is found in the rubble.’ It becomes then a sort of entry level communism and during each session, my skepticism vanished as a type of autonomous zone was set up – and they were registering the Zapatista and Rojavo movements as touchstones. It was a smart counter cultural experience, and I have to admit, since the sixties I have been looking for another sixties. The interim has been somewhat fraught in spirit.

The Hologram

The seed of inequality

I’ve been rereading an interesting book on The History of Everything, whose authors, David Graber and David Wengrow rebut the accepted narrative of the evolution of human society: that hunters and gatherers lived in small egalitarian bands; that the move to herding and agriculture enabled surpluses which led to hierarchy and patriarchy; as that increased in complexity, kings, courts, priests and serfs arrived on the scene; finally merchants and trade allowed the accumulation of capital that funded the industrial revolution and the modern state.

The authors argue that recent archaeological research has revealed complex social and political patterns amongst hunters and gatherers, with gatherings of thousands for ritual and trading purposes and the building of some monumental structures and residential complexes resembling small cities. But their life was always flexible and autonomous, which prevented any social or political structure becoming embedded. There are three basic freedoms: the right to move around, the right to say no to authority and the right to create social and political structures. The foragers had all three rights. If someone started to get stroppy, they either ridiculed them or moved on. (The Chinese, at this moment, have none of these rights. Nor do most of us have these rights in the workplace).

The move to agriculture took millennia with much ‘play farming’ taking place on flood plains which were easy to work, simply to supplement the foraging diet. They discovered early on that farming is hard work. The authors also argue that the Western ‘enlightenment’ and the demand for liberty, egality and fraternity was actually greatly informed by dialogue with Native American foragers. So, if our ancestors were so savvy, how did inequality come about?

It is a puzzle, but the authors find a germ of an answer, surprisingly, in the working of charity. There were chiefs amongst some foraging tribes but their role was mainly theatrical or spiritual and as long as people could say no or move away, their power was nominal. Except that one of the chief’s obligations was to provide shelter to orphans, widows, the disabled, captured warriors… those without means of livelihood. In doing so they built up an entourage that was unequal, reliant on his or her charity and therefore obedient and hard working and they couldn’t run away. The theatrical role became more powerful economically and politically. We are still a long way away from the autocrat with an army and a bureaucracy to enforce his or her will, but the seed of inequality has formed.

So, be wary of the next grant application

A troubled day for collectivism

Labour Day, created as a public holiday to celebrate the eight hour working day and other achievements of the worker movement has become just another holiday. To restore a touch of authenticity the Blackball Museum of Working Class History mounted two events in the village. Last night we held a debate on the topic that Blackball workers (those employed in the village) should be unionised and covered by a multi employer collective agreement. It proved to be an intense ‘conversation’.

Those on the affirmative argued the proven benefits of a collective agreement for wages and conditions, the more general benefits of collectivisation in times of crisis and change, as well as the benefits of having a collective voice and a sense of belonging, plus the hypocrisy of a village whose main heritage story is that of worker activism not currently living its union story – except as a brand.

The opposing stories were revealing and based mainly on the blaming of unions for failing to provide solutions in often complex situations. For example, a local school is down to one teacher because of a falling role so the teacher aide inevitably assumes, by default, a teacher role yet is not paid accordingly. Teacher aides were created when mainstreaming of disabled or neurologically different children was brought in. But the position has been paid from a school’s bulk fund so has always been competing with other needs. The drop in roll is caused by a combination of demographic factors: retirees from the cities attracted by cheap housing so as to have a retirement nest egg or to add to the Mum and Dad bank; investors buying houses for Air BnB now the great walk is up and running; further holiday houses now the village is becoming trendier… None of this can be blamed on the union, it is simply the incoherent saga of the market. In fact the teachers union have supported teacher aides’ struggle for better wages and conditions and advocated that they be paid from the department salary budget rather than competing with general school expenses, yet it still somehow gets the blame for the situation. Another story of feeling let down in a redundancy/restructuring situation led to a skilled worker advocating for individual bargaining. A third opinion was simply for peace and harmony – local employers are kind hearted so why create friction; the battles have been won and unions are no longer necessary?

It is strange that anger and bitterness should be aimed at unions rather than at the capitalist system, yet, in reflection, unsurprising, for there was in the Muldoon era a concentrated government and employer campaign to discredit unions, leading to the Trades Hall bombing. And then the Employment Contracts Act era of the 1990s saw another onslaught on the ‘bloody unions causing trouble.’

A second event is today’s opening of an exhibition on the midwife story, a story of women achieving an independence from the patriarchal and hierarchical medical control of birthing practice. The Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) system introduced in the late 1990s was celebrated internationally as a progressive model to be emulated. But in setting it up, the midwife representatives failed to include regular negotiation of pay and conditions in the agreement with the Ministry of Health. This has led to a failure of payments to keep up with inflation and a further failure to recognise inequities for rural practitioners and the need for paid time off. A return to union advocacy is required and underway.

As usual I dream of a working class museum existing and these sorts of face to face discussions taking place, in villages and towns throughout the country over Labour Weekend.

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