PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog

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.


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.


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.

A weird end to a weird year

Some years back I introduced the idea of a local carol service in the Working Men’s Club. The Greymouth minister was keen. We sit around the bar with a guitar or two and there are books of carols available. For a while there were snatches of service in between the songs but the minister’s dropped that and substituted a quiz halfway through. People enjoy the event, especially some of the oldies. As I strum and sing I wonder whether I’m being a hypocrite, but then it always seems useful to revisit the Christ story, a rather amazing myth which has some historical context. It’s no more fanciful than Maui fishing up the north island or slowing the sun and hypocrisy is not an accusation in that regard and Christianity has been at the heart of European culture. Few of those gathered are practising Christians, but we sing with gusto. In fact the singing has become smarter since the minister started bringing along a very competent guitarist. It’s the closest I get to playing in a band so it’s something I look forward to. And as someone commented, It’s the only Christmassy thing about Christmas. The rest is consumerism.

But this year the event created great controversy. I put out a simple invitation on the local facebook page and it generated eighty responses. For those not vaccinated weren’t able to come  – the Club being a bar can only admit the jabbed. But surely a carol service should be inclusive, the story is about inclusivity, Christ was born for all of us etc. etc.? How can a carol service discriminate?

The anti vaccers in Blackball run the gamut from anti 1080 to professionals, with all the shades between: of conspiracy, of deaths unreported, of dislike of government regulation and mandates, to big pharma profiteering to species arrogance… And it is all hypothetical, because I can guarantee that last Sunday night no one in Blackball had covid. No one in Blackball has ever had covid.  So the debate is in many ways, mythological, like the Christ story or Maui acquiring fire.

Anyway, we sang our carols, the crowd was slightly reduced. There were no protestors outside. Perhaps there should have been; but it’s simpler to socially message. And it did seem a fittingly weird end to a weird year.

Classic Encounter in Bathhouse

After the success of last year’s Blackball Bathhouse encounter with a classic we are this year mounting the Greek Tragedy, Antigone, as adapted from Sophocles by French playwright, Jean Anouilh. Anouilh wrote his version during the German occupation of France in WW11 and we have therefore set the play in that context.

Once again the cast will assemble a week before performances and embark on an intensive rehearsal process before performances on January 22&23, starting at 7.30pm.

Memoir available

 I was in Holloway Road (that narrow, winding street at the top of the Aro Valley in Wellington) a couple of years ago, attending the 30th Anniversary of the Waimapihi Housing Co-op which I’d been instrumental in initially setting up, and Russell Campbell, who has lived in one of the houses since the beginning, said to me as I raved on about something, Time for the memoir, Paul.

Russell had on his desk a copy of Fredrik Jameson’s The Political Unconscious and in flipping through the book I came across the statement that for some creative people a childhood trauma is constantly restaged in later life, with different people filling the roles and I thought, That’s me. I could then, write the memoir within this framework without it being a this-then-that narrative of little interest except to those involved.

Having done that reasonably quickly I read John Berger’s Here is where we meet and was much taken by the idea of having conversations with people who one has been close to but who have now passed on, the conversations taking place in resonant settings. So I gave it a go and it became another sort of memoir, but one in which the characters can talk back as it were, balancing the voices. Dunedin writer, Paddy Richardson had been mentoring the memoir and we agreed it would be useful to weave these two formats together.

Here comes the ad: Performer a memoir is now available, $35 (includes postage). I will of course begin marketing in the usual way, but it can be ordered directly by writing a request to with address for service and bank deposit details will then be sent and the deal done.

The certainty of tragedy

Preparing a script for a production of Antigone I am struck by a couple of lines celebrating the certainty of the tragic story. It is a form in which hope is relinquished, that ‘bastard hope’ that is in melodrama, romance, even kitchen sink realism. Instead, the argument goes, once hope is relinquished, tranquillity is possible.

As I ponder that concept, the local council knocks back our request for a minimal subsidy for the local museum which celebrates working class history, and I realise the foolishness of the hope embodied in our application for a subsidy, a hope that the business-owning councillors will feel any resonance with the working class heritage of the Coast, that the Marxist agenda, expressed as hope, is a nonsense. That instead, its failure or its success must be seen as certainties. Take your pick. And if failure is chosen, then the certainty of capitalism is accepted, with its criminality and greed. Or if success is chosen then the hopelessness of understanding or resonance from the other side must be accepted as certainties.

There must be a similar certainty with the climate crisis. We will either change our ways or not. Take your pick. If not, party on. If we will change, there is no forgiveness or excuse, and the action will need to be as resolute and as certain as the action of a tragedy. And then we can experience tranquillity.

And can there be humour in the tragic model? Yes, provided sometimes by the chorus, who are watchfully getting on with subsistence as the important people suffer their tragic destinies. But there is a difference now. We are all important and at the same time, all members of the chorus.

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