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Paul Maunder's blog

Sovereignty and Culture

As I ponder the proposed changes to the Green Party constitution, I wonder whether Pākehā civil society in Aotearoa isn’t bemusing itself with the notion of tiriti partnership as a cultural change at every level, from the local gardening club up. Whereas, in fact, the partnership is primarily a constitutional issue, a partnership relation between iwi and Crown in need of rigorous negotiation, and Māori understand that. The Matike Mai project led by the late Moana Jackson is the most ambitious conceiving of possible models that partnership might take. Unfortunately it seems to have been placed in the too hard basket and instead localised cultural tinkering seems to be the name of the game.

The Greens, who are predominantly a Pākehā organisation operating within the parliamentary system as it stands – an unsatisfactory improvisation as far as tino rangatiratanga is concerned – are currently planning to place a Māori-focused organisational layer on top of the current membership-based, local- cum-regional structure which votes in national facilitators for policy development, campaign mounting, fund raising, list forming and so on. And then there is the caucus of MPs. The plan is a little like placing a marae committee, including the creation of kaumātua, on top of this Pākehā structure, and suggesting that this signifies a tiriti partnership.

Within the Greens, as in the trade unions, there is every reason for tangata whenua members to caucus (as Greens or union members), and to choose culturally appropriate meeting procedures, as long as the wider constitution is respected. It is also appropriate that the wider organisational structure is culturally ‘comfortable’. But what does that mean? That the meetings of a secular organisation begin and end with the asking for God’s blessing? And of course, this cultural comfort applies to women, lesbians, gays, people with disability etc. And do I hear, class?

And then there is the question of language. There is a current argument for a greater visibility of te reo. There was a similar call in the 1980s until Māori realised it was a waste of resources to service Pākehā for whom learning te reo was becoming fashionable, like French for the Victorians. I have an argument against the facile use of any language.  Of course one learns some phrases to get by while visiting, but each language has a complex past that a non-native speaker can’t possibly comprehend. My late friend, Malcolm Yockney (Ngāti Rongomaiwahine), was a skilled linguist, studied Māori for many years, watched every Waka Huia programme, yet also recognised he could never be a native speaker with a vocabulary of local references, nuances and metaphors.

Does greater visibility mean there should be a translator at every union meeting or negotiation, at every Green branch meeting? That every document should be bilingual? And then there is the growing use of metaphor; with waka and paddlers currently popular. Should we also be able to draw on the prophetic poems of William Blake, or the writings of Virginia Woolf – there would be useful imagery. It both becomes more interesting but also potentially chaotic and perhaps slightly bizarre when the ultimate goal is constitutional change necessarily couched in legalese.

Perhaps there is the need for the anarchist whakataukī: we can either think of ourselves as all the same and therefore equal, or we can think of ourselves as all completely different and therefore equal. Identity becomes a circular journey, which returns me to the original point, that Māori sovereignty is a constitutional issue between tangata whenua and the crown, rather than a local cultural issue.

Gaps

All my adult life, the task has been to find a gap in the system, a place which the system hasn’t got to yet, or, for a moment, disappeared from, a place where the hegemony is weak. This has been true for housing and work. If you’re not playing the promotional, career game, if you’re not mainstream because of political belief or artistic inclination, then that’s the way to survive. (Unless of course, there’s been an earthquake creating quite a lot of gaps.)

For a few years in the early seventies there was a considerable gap: the National Film Unit was an organisation that had lost its original purpose so was open to something different, television hadn’t settled into commercial mode and was still exploring a citizenship role, the mainstream theatre was uncertain so experimental theatre flourished, rents were cheap and jobs readily available. But then the gap began to close: television became commercially driven, the Film Unit dissolved and the mainstream theatre got its act together. The economy worsened and things tightened.

But there was a feature film industry that had to invent itself – that was a gap that needed to be filled. Hollywood eventually invaded.

There was a marginal community in Holloway Road which provided free housing and the chance to explore political system, bicultural theatre and community.

Market forces eventually arrived in ‘the gully’ and community based art, community development and Petone provided the next gap, a gap that widened as neo liberalism tore society apart. That gap in turn closed as the government and the corporates tidied up the mess and introduced a philanthropic model of control.

Blackball on the West Coast then provided a space – irrelevant, nostalgic, but cheap housing and a new praxis could occur. Now, that gap is closing as market forces in housing arrive and the visitor industry impacts. With the past becoming a branding exercise funded via government schemes. I become aware of how much local government and the NGO sector bonds itself opportunistically to government programmes. Covid has taken this to the level of a command economy with capitalism as the pretence. The old USSR used to have communism as the pretence.

Where is the next gap? The graveyard could of course suffice, but meanwhile, there is a redundant and irrelevant heritage site bearing the story of a revolutionary teacher who activated the most unlikely of communities.

Interestingly, the model of working has become the co-operative. In the past the theatre group has been dominant, which is, I suppose, a sort of co-op. I’m stepping aside from the charitable trust model. I think we all should. It is broken.

As I write this I wonder how many people actually have a similar experience of survival.

Musings

They live out the back of Greymouth on a lifestyle block – rough, broken country which has been milled, gold mined, pine forested, milled again, a few paddocks, some gorse and blackberry, some native forest regrowing… There’s a mix of housing in the area. People often start with a house bus or caravan and long drop, add a container, a shed, a pole house, solar panels… On some blocks there are proper houses. There’s a creek and a pond, frogs and goats, deer and pigs, kereru and hawks. He runs his own business at the property and has built a workshop. It’s the best building on the land. They live in an old bus but there are pole shed living quarters on the way. A mate in need is parked up in another bus; otherwise he’d be homeless. They live frugally.

He gets enough work and pays his taxes. The newspaper doesn’t bother them, nor the television, the cellphone works up at the bus and they avoid the council.  They’ve converted an old washing machine into a generator that keeps the batteries topped up in winter.­ She gardens, tends to the land and to grandchildren who often come and stay in order to have a break from some convoluted family situations. The river’s a bit wild at the moment and causing some erosion and they need to do some stop bank work but that would involve resource consent. They’re anti 1080 and anti-vax and live/have a notion of freedom which would be hard to pin down, except that they probably don’t like the state. The state, in turn, is a difficult concept once you get past customs, the military and the police. Some would see it as the bureaucracy, each branch of which has its own trajectory: health, education, welfare, DOC, DIA, MBIE… they all have their rules and regulations, whereas these people just want to get on with life. That concept can, in turn, be difficult if you break a leg or need a stent put in or a tumour removed or get too old to work…and there’s the road to be maintained and the supply chain for the business. It gets messy quite quickly. But at least there’s space here and some distance, a sense that on their own land they can set the rules, or forget about rules. The 1080 and anti-vax reaction is a reaction to, on the one hand, their land being occasionally ‘bombed’ and on the other, their bodies ‘invaded’ – by the bureaucracies. All the scientific arguments in the world won’t remove that feeling.

A colleague criticizes their individualistic outlook. They have no solidarity with their fellow citizens and have reverted to a form of extended family subsistence. Developing world people want out of the extended family entrapment. They want the freedom that state provision brings: when you’re unemployed you get a benefit rather than being reliant on family; children can go to school and have choices; when you retire there’s the pension rather than being beholden to family; when you’re sick there’s health care – and so on. These people want it both ways. We all want it both ways, I respond. Empires come and go, and this one is obviously decaying, and always we return to that most stable of human institutions, the extended family. And isn’t whanaunatanga a current virtue? They pay their taxes and he is a fire service volunteer. If there were a civil disaster I think they’d be pretty useful.

And then there’s the quagmire of the parliament occupation, which is lasting longer than expected. The mainstream media, after the initial hit job, are trying to comprehend; the citizens of the capital are outraged – this is an invasion of untouchables; the PM grieves for the children involved; the police complain that there don’t seem to be any leaders or organisers to negotiate with (but that was considered a virtue in the Occupy Wall St movement); an academic is pilloried for suggesting that someone go and talk with them; a local tells me with a sigh that her sister is taking them scones and there is obviously a lot of invisible support… Above all, what do they want? It seems that some of them have lost their jobs and are unlikely to be able to get another one as long as the vaccine mandate remains. This is bigger than not being able to go into a café, so anger is understandable.

And it is a muddled situation. How long will the mandate last? Hasn’t it already done its job in persuading the majority to get vaccinated? So when will it be lifted? One day. Just have to get through the next few weeks? Months? Depends on the modelling. This is all about statistics? The team of five million a bell graph? Images swirl. Eight hundred cases? They locked down Auckland over four cases. But that was before the vaccine. And the second. And the booster. The booster might become mandatory. What? Well, when we look into the percentage effectiveness… and there’re always the vulnerable, they’re the bottom line. Regulations produce absurdity…There’s a shortage of nurses but some already working here can’t get a permit to stay. Farmers have been saying for months it is obvious they can isolate needed staff from overseas on their farms. If you’re vaccinated you might not get symptoms and therefore you’re more dangerous because you don’t know. But how do you know? Get tested. But they don’t want people without symptoms requesting a test. We won’t change our mind again about opening up. Really? Ten days isolation will do. How about seven? Maybe, if the supply chain’s threatened. Places of interest? I don’t read about them anymore. I’m over it. It’s all a game and I can’t be bothered playing it. But there could be twenty thousand cases. The contact tracing system will go crazy. People will do their own tracing. We’ve got this app. Why didn’t you have it from the beginning? Wearing masks all day is bringing back acne for twenty year olds. Remember the cabinet minister losing his job for going on a bike ride? The parliamentary lawn is going to be a mess and Trevor Mallard remains a bogan. Protests are always confusing. Look at ’81: communists, Methodists, feminists, lesbians, tino rangatiratanga advocates, gangs, Muldoon, Gleneagles, apartheid, rugby union, rugby supporters, cities, regions, police brutality… Don’t you dare compare this with that. You need to take the Trump influence seriously, Steve Bannon is hovering over God’s Own, there are chalk drawings of nooses…they’re not wearing masks, this could be a super spreader… NZ First have appeared out of the woodwork… They’re full of conspiracy theories…But the local minister believes in people being possessed by demons and he is a progressive voice on Council…And what about belief in the virgin birth?…Scoop have received a manifesto which is not official – We have come together and we are in agreement that the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act and all the orders and mandates made under that legislation must be revoked immediately… Really, you expect us to take that seriously?  We give up our freedom for the greater good. Jacinda’s learned to frown and smile at the same time, an essential skill for a Prime Minister. And a parent of difficult teenagers.

A neighbour comments, Labour’s dug itself a bloody great hole. Who can I vote for next election? I probably won’t vote. I suspect that could well be the result of letting epidemiologists and bureaucrats (I know a few and they’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer) run the country: that feeling of invasion…all the scientific arguments in the world won’t remove the feeling.

On turning 77

All the sevens seventy seven, as the bingo callers chant and the old ladies mark their cards. Does God or Fate or the Malevolent First Cause have a card? At some stage all your numbers have come up? Jackpot! The ads for retirement villages multiply. All of them look like hell to me. The television screen’s full of 1950s happiness and achievement. Young people fly through the air on skis or do four 360 degree turns on their skates. Houses are reinvented , meals are endlessly cooked, cars promise fruition, pizzas arrive and the game continues. Covid’s become a jab, a mask and passes checked, with some bitching about mandates. Jacinda smiles through issues with a serious frown. Old people are punished for being trapped in Aussie and pregnant women are cursed on social media: Stay away bitch, I hope your baby dies.

Let me outta here.

Still, the white butterflies are busy, the blackberries are ripe, tomatoes plentiful, and there are marrows galore. Tuhana has his first swing and six teeth burst through the gums. Language begins to form as squeals and groans, but already he is complex enough.  I enjoy the daily walk to the pond, to see the changes in this very ordinary patch of bush and paddock, the vines that grow, the gorse that falls down after heavy rain, the ever changing path of the creek, the pond level that mysteriously rises and falls, the changes in the bird life, the hares that tease the dogs, the changes in the path of the sun, the weka families that appear and disappear. It is my rough Walden. I find camping spots by the creek that then disappear after a flood, the oldest beech tree’s sturdy trunk plots a hundred or more years. I pick up a small smooth stone as a keep sake and the dog swims for a stick then tears at it in act of savagery which hurts no one. Before I climb back up the hill.

Fairburn wrote in Dominion:

 O lovely time when bliss was taken

as the bird takes nectar from the flower

Happy the sunlit hour, the frost and the heat

Hearts poised at a star’s height

moved in a cloudless world

like gulls above islands.

A ritual week

As we rehearsed and performed a classic in the old miners bathhouse in the space of 7 days, it has once again been an amazing week, a ritual week, breaking the bonds of the ordinary and entering a new land.

I will retain the image of people purposefully wandering down the road from the village to enter the ritual space. In a world without presence, where presence is frowned upon as a danger, where the screen is, instead, ‘safe’, this was a great relief, to suckle at the breast of theatre; and the play was written two and a half thousand years ago.

Antigone was the play that enticed me into theatre when I saw a girls’ high school production as a sixteen year old. Here was intense political debate, commitment, emotion and tragedy, taking place on the stage of a school hall in the middle of 1950s Palmerston North’s inarticulate puritanism, where people talked mainly of the weather and complained about potholes in the footpath, the cowboy film at the Regent on a Saturday night the space of ‘dreaming’.

It was in an instant conversion. Performance could change the world.

Caroline Selwood as the Chorus

Power of the dog

Jane Campion’s Power of the Dog is one of those films best not to think about too much. Instead, enjoy the craft, the photography and the performances. Middle class story telling is based on mystery and skeletons in the closet – and the skeletons can be, as Freud discovered, in the closet of the mind.

The genre for this strange revenge story is the cowboy film, that cultural fantasy of the American settler. In reality, cowboys were ranch hands who rode horses to round up the cattle wandering over vast areas without fences and then drive them to rail heads to be shipped to the burgeoning meat industry. Influenced by the Vaquero of Mexico, they assumed a work dress and the tools of the trade – chaps, boots, hats, lariats etc. plus a machismo. It was often lonely and underpaid work. Via Hollywood, this morphed into the romance of the warrior figure sorting out frontier towns lacking law and order, morphing further into imagined conflict with Native Americans, who, in reality, fought mainly with the army – as in most colonial ventures.

But here the genre is used to tell an Abel and Cain type story: a nasty brother out of love with life(for unknown reasons), a plump brother who is a bit of a sap (for unknown reasons), a widow with a gay, anorexic son, an abundance of ranch hands who form a sort of inarticulate but homophobic chorus,  a hint of spirituality hence the old testament title, an unlikely looking mansion built in McKenzie country, some tanalised fence posts straight from Wright Stephenson, shots of Oamaru with digital enhancement, shots of lonely Model T Fords on country roads, a good deal of sexual tension, a feminist sympathy, a general weariness with life, an unlikely denouement and a wonder as to what this has been about other than the skilled creating of mystery, the mystery that Brecht insisted on abolishing. What are the economics? How’d this family get hold of the land? Do the ranch hands need a union? Where’ve they come from? Who’s making the dosh?

And of course the cowboy disappeared with the advent of the barbed wire fence. Nasty stuff, barbed wire, as bad as the entanglements of the bourgeoisie, as the working class had found fighting in the trenches of an absurd world war.

Elemental

Ford Creek is an unremarkable creek flowing from the Paparoa Range along the southern edge of the Blackball plateau. A banal nthe product of centuries of flowing water,ame. There is no record of a Mr Ford, so perhaps it simply had a ford over it at some stage. But over the centuries it has carved out a canyon from an area of sandstone between the road to Roa and the Community House. The path down to the creek from the bridge had become overgrown so I spend an hour cutting out a new track through the gorse and blackberry.

That evening granddaughter Lily and I venture down the track to the creek bed, where the water suddenly becomes volatile as it hits the sandstone rocks and the channel narrows, forming miniature waterfalls, sudden deep holes, the walls of the gorge rising, black and bronze, ferns and moss and beech trees above, remnants of fallen trees below, the product of centuries of flowing water… We begin to wade and swim through the gorge. With the elements of danger and isolation it becomes a rebirthing experience. Will we be able to get back to our towels and bikes or are we headed to an unknown space? Further on, old mine debris litters the creek, bolts and broken wheels and rails, brown and rusted, but now well embedded flotsam, signifying a moment in time – that is all – another human folly.

But then there is a hole in the bank from which sulphurous mine water constantly gushes, water which makes the stream barren from here on. Could it be stopped? Or is it a moment of human folly unable to be undone? But it is evening, the landscape mellows and we are getting cold.

Now we clamber back, swimming through the channels and pools finding a way up the small waterfall, no easy task for an old man, but still possible. To our towels and dry clothes, then up the rough path into a world of health and safety.

As we bike home I realise this gorge needs a decent name. Awa Kuiti (narrow gorge)? Wai Hurihuri (swirling water)? Wai Tapahi Ara (water cutting a path)? Tokanui (big rocks)? Whanau Hōu (rebirth)? While I am tempted by the last, perhaps Wai Hurihuri will do.

Apology

In my blog, A weird end to a weird year I mistakenly portrayed Blackball’s psycho therapist as an anti vaccer. Barbelle has pointed out that as she is the only psycho therapist in Blackball, she was clearly identified and that she is in fact not anti vaccination but was instead, disturbed by the divisiveness caused in a community by the exclusion of people from such events as a carol service, which should be inclusive.

I apologise to Barbelle for this mistaken portrayal.

Entirely coincidental

All the characters and all the situations are fictional. Any resemblance to living persons is entirely coincidental.

The granddaughter is staying with her grandparents, meeting up with another twelve year old who arrives at the rural village every summer. They have become good mates. But the granddaughter is not vaccinated. Her mother doesn’t believe in it for kids – the purity of the young body I presume. It means the kids can’t go to the movies or eat out at the pub – thank God they can go to the swimming pool  – and more despondently they can’t go with the other girl’s parents to the races. Let’s pretend she’s eleven, says the other girl’s mother. I agree. Teach the girl to lie, exclaims grandmother with Presbyterian fervour. For God’s sake the world is full of lies, I reason. Every ad for example. Didn’t a Resistance courier in Occupied France have to lie through her teeth constantly? What’s that got to do with anything? What’s the difference between a girl of eleven years, eleven months and a twelve year old anyway? They have to draw the line somewhere. And what’s all this stuff about boosters? Wouldn’t it be ethical to say, Send my booster to Africa, please? The mother should take responsibility for this situation. What’s the point anyway. She hasn’t got Covid. No one down here has. There’s been one case in three years. You’re teaching her to lie. Angry call to mother. Don’t know the response.  And then someone emails from Christchurch. You’re putting on Antigone? Won’t the anti-vaxxers see it as encouraging their stand? I have no idea. It’s a Greek tragedy, written two thousand years ago. No, I’m not inspecting passes. Who comes is who comes. That’s how it’s always been. It’s outside and we won’t get hundreds. I talk to someone who lived ten years in Karamea. Her partner built a house but didn’t trouble the local building inspectors. When it came to sell, there were five years of court cases and then he had to demolish a perfectly good house. What’s that got to do with anything? Epidemiologists don’t seem so certain anymore.  Perhaps, like economists, they simply guess at things. Like the rest of us. Here’s what the PMs reading during her break. Forgot to click on it. Then it was Chris Luxton’s turn. Forgot to click. Political news is replaced by crime. Is there some connection? Anyway, the twelve year old went to the races, and having lied doesn’t seem to have made any difference to the mysteries of beginning adolescence. Nor did her attendance bring down the nation. Although she did lose the money I gave her to bet for me. While she was at the races I took the trailer down to the river and got some rocks for the Antigone set and thought of Robben Island.

Any resemblance to living persons is entirely coincidental. That’s to cover my arse, as they say in the bureaucracy. Happy New Year.

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