Shelly Bay: my say

On 9 February, members of the Port Nicholson Settlement Trust will vote on whether to sell our land at Shelly Bay, Wellington. It’s a sad moment but also an honest one. The trust is almost broke only nine years after it was set up. It has flopped as a corporate entity.

Even worse, it has failed as a cultural and social one.

The trust’s guiding statement translates as: To restore, revitalize, strengthen and enhance the cultural, social and economic well being of Taranaki Whanaui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika. This promise used to be printed on agendas.

You only have to attend a trust hui to see how empty those words are. I am one of about 14,000 registered members. All of us are descended from Taranaki people who were living in Te Whanganui a Tara in 1839 when the first New Zealand Company ship sailed in.

But at trust hui 100 people would be considered a bumper crowd. I went to one in August 2015 at Pipitea and there were only 20 of us – including the trust members who were up for re-election. The men stood up and delivered their pitches to an enormous, cold room full of skeptical ghosts.

The trust has not communicated well with its members about anything, including the sale of Shelly Bay. The trust has not listened to us. We have barely existed. We are just names on a register, strangers on the street, or votes on a bus that has been brought down from Taranaki.

I am fortunate to be a relatively well-informed member of the trust. I have worked very hard to gain the knowledge I do have and many of my relatives have supported me along the way. Yet I always leave trust events feeling bamboozled and cross.

Men in suits have paraded incomprehensible spreadsheets before us year after year. This is not a figure of speech. Gender inequity on a fairly breathtaking scale is the norm in Treaty negotiating teams and post-settlement governance entities.

Port Nicholson Settlement Block Trust’s new commercial arm is called Taranaki Whānui Limited. It comprises four men who work under a male CEO. Such an arrangement might be common but that does not make it right.

I don’t only blame my relatives for this secrecy. Secrecy and a closed-door mentality is at the heart of every Treaty settlement. It is embedded in the process that has been created and refined by successive governments who want the to end all Treaty claims and settle all grievances.

Waitangi Tribunal claims and hearings are open. The reports are public. The archive created by the tribunal’s work and the work of treaty sector bodies such as the CrownForestry Rental Trust is a gift to the nation, now and in perpetuity.

The tribunal process is not perfect and tribunal reports are not perfect either but at least they are open to scrutiny. At least researchers can go to the archive to reconstruct the relationships and the research that informed them.

Tribunal hearings have nothing to do with the Treaty settlement process. A very knowledgeable person said this to me once. I was furious at first, then hurt. How could this be true? Surely one thing led to the next.

But the statement is true. I have sat through a contemporary claim hearing where it become evident that an Office of Treaty Settlements negotiator had not even read the tribunal report relating to the claim he was negotiating. The negotiator did not even have an undergraduate degree in history or Māori.

Details of many settlements packages, including the Port Nicholson one, are nutted out in intimate little man-to-man chats between a chief negotiator and a minister. Where is the accountability in that? There is none.

I only make these observations about the Treaty settlements process to demonstrate that the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust’s current problems must not be dismissed as “tribal infighting” or some other insulting, kind of racist phrase.

Actually, our problem has been too much fighting it has been too little. You have to care to fight. You have to feel like it’s worth your effort. Aside from a few members of a couple of key but competing whānau, no one else has really been bothered to even talk about the trust, let alone fight about it.

There has been so little honest communication that atrophy or absence or apathy have been the norm. Well not anymore!

We members have awoken. There’s a fight on every corner. I have even heard reports of firey, packed hui up in Taranaki. Not one more acre! All land is Māori land!

One relative sent me a card, about another matter but he had scrawled a note about Shelly Bay on the back. A cousin in Sydney called me as I was walking to my train in Brunswick, Melbourne and we gasbagged about the land and the trust for an hour.

Texts, emails, phone calls…it has been an outstanding few weeks of korero. And we are actually talking about things that are really important. And we are sharing information. And we are cracking jokes. And all this disagreement is really, really exciting!

Not one more acre! But this land has no significance to us. But all land is papakāinga. But we are broke. Shelly Bay is a dud. The state of it! The wharf is falling down. Have you ever even been there? I’ve never even had a coffee at the Chocolate Fish. I went there once. What about the Peter Jackson stuff? Hey, remember when they said it was going to be a top wedding venue? Ha, ha, ha. I’m crying right now.

At last we are being asked what we think. The Trust is so desperate they have no other choice. Seventy five per cent of us have to vote yes for the proposed sale to the “Wellington Company” (anyone else notice similarities with “The New Zealand Company”) can go ahead. I have had emails and a paper letter from CEO Jason Fox. The one that arrived yesterday ended with an unthinkably humble and generous statement: “In the end, you have the mana to make the decision for the Trust.”

Yes we do whānau.

Today, there was another panui from the CEO. This announcement is headlined: Proposed Sale of Shelly Bay The Facts. I was then offered “15 simple facts” about the proposal. After years of being fed fiction we are now been bombarded with these “simple facts”. The letter also states: “This is not a complicated matter.”

Come on! Yes it is. That is why it is great to talk and question. For the first time, our views really matter.

Let’s make the most of this moment. I will vote for the sale of Shelly Bay but I insist that the trust or the new corporate entity stop negotiating to buy the railway station immediately. I want you to use the money from the sale for at least one of the buy and leaseback arrangements that were part of our settlement package.

As a historian, I consider the National Archives to be a superior choice but I wouldn’t mind being the landlord of the High Court either!

Note: if you are interested in reading some of my work on Taranaki history in Taranaki and Wellington, you can find some of it online for free. This essay questions the statue of Gandhi at Wellington Railway Station while this other one talks about my grandma and the Taranaki war history hidden behind the National War Memorial. You can read about Treaty settlements and trees here. A story about one piece of Māori freehold land is here. I’ve written a book too on Parihaka. It’s in the library.



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My union card

I’ve just cancelled my membership of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union that represents journalists. I’ve been a member since 1993. Before that, I was a member of equivalent union in New Zealand.

For 28 years, one of the things that defined me was my union card. I kept it in my wallet. I used it to get cheap movie tickets at The Nova and The Sun. Sometimes, I would be looking for my library card or my Medicare card and I’d pull out the Media one by mistake. It always felt good to hold it and to read the words written on the plastic.

Rachel Buchanan. Journalist. 3907273. Carry this card with you when you work. The holder of this card is a financial member of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance and a professional member of the working media.

My card has expired now. I still feel a bit sad.

It’s silly really but since leaving the union, I’ve had these dreams about mahogany row. Every newspaper used to have one. The editors sat there. In my dreams I am back at The Age, Spencer Street. It’s just like it used to be in 1994 but there is no Alan Kohler, no David Clemson, no Lorna keeping watch. The chairs are all empty. The phones are off the hook. I wake up unsettled and lost and this sensation shadows me through the day.

Perhaps the union was my last link to that time and that’s why I kept my membership up for so long even though I do very little journalism these days.

I was so devoted to the idea of the union. I was such a big fan. So much so that between 2007 and 2011, when I worked as a journalism academic, I was a member of two unions at once: the MEAA and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

In 2012, my devotion extended to simultaneous journalists’ union memberships in Australia and New Zealand. I was in the MEAA and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, a private sector super union that represents the modest number of journalists left across the ditch.

On the one hand I backed the union that represented the dozens of Fairfax newspapers subeditors who had been sacked in regional New South Wales. On the other, I backed the union who represented the people who took the jobs created by those sackings. I was one of those people.

Fairfax, you are very bad. Colleagues, I am very sorry. Fairfax, I will take this scab job but I am not really a scab because I am still in the union. Twice over! I was like Toni Collette in United States of Tara except my personas were not really much fun and the pay was crap.

Even those personal struggles seem dated now, like empty chairs in an empty office in an empty building that no longer even exists.

Many of the offshored subs have been sacked too and those regional and rural papers we worked on are now produced without subeditors or they no longer exist.

Other people on other papers also lost their jobs. There was nothing the union could do about it. Not one damn thing. The squeeze has continued in newspapers. It is laughable to express concerns about a decline in the quality of journalism coverage in regional Australia when what is really happening is the death of yet another branch of Australian manufacturing (newspaper manufacturing). I’ve said it all before.

I could see my MEAA fees were an exercise in nostalgia, one I could no longer afford. I had to stop kidding myself. I am not a member of the “working media” anymore. I never was really. I was a newspaper journalist. It was a pretty specific thing to be. Everything I did, all the skills I had, were defined by the platform on which my work was published and that platform was paper. I worked for a paper. We were so literal. The presses published our work and we were the press.

I admire the journalists who continue to work across so many platforms, of which print is just one, but in giving up my union membership I am not giving up the right to define what I did and what I was and what newspapers once were.

We speak in code, we former newspaper people. Kickers, crops, single column drops, mug shots, stand firsts, bylines, dinkuses, slugs, cut to fit. It’s like a dead language, a secret language, one you can pull out to express admiration for another person and the history you share.



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Royalty: the ‘economic arrangements’ behind a book

Grace Paley, 'Notes', courtesy Bill Manhire, short fiction workshop, Victoria University, Wellington, 1997.

Grace Paley, ‘Notes’, courtesy Bill Manhire, short fiction workshop, Victoria University, Wellington, 1997.

American writer Grace Paley says that trivial work ignores the two facts that make a story “interesting to adults”. Paley’s facts are money and blood, in that order.

“That is – everybody continues on this earth by courtesy of economic arrangements, people are rich or poor, make a living or don’t have to, are useful to systems, or superfluous,” she says in ‘Some Notes on Teaching: Probably Spoken’.

New Zealand poet Bill Manhire used to hand out Paley’s notes in his short fiction workshop at Victoria University, Wellington. I did the course in 1997. My economic arrangements then were quite simple: I worked three shifts a week as a subeditor at The Evening Post and I spent the rest of the time writing. I lived with my parents and paid them board.

My short stories were published in Australia and New Zealand. The biggest fee was $90. Once again, it was subediting that allowed me to exist. I worked a few shifts a week at The Age.

A book is a much bigger task than a short story. I’ve written three. Two have been published and one exists as a manuscript; something embryonic and under consideration.

In 1997, when I did Bill’s course, there was only me to worry about but now I have three kids to support. I’m not alone, like many women, but my partner is a self-employed tradesman. He is very skilful and creative and could certainly earn enough to support the lot of us if he worked six long days a week but then I would be a furious cot case so what’s the point? Unfortunately, we are not independently wealthy either.

So, what are the economic arrangements that made these books possible?

If you are a writer or if you want to be one, this is the question but hardly anyone ever talks about money. Well, I’m not shy about it.

Mostly writers are asked about the creative process, research, routines and office space. While it is always pleasing to learn about décor, writing timetables and whether a writer prefers to swim, jog or walk to blast away the gloom, I am more interested in how we survive when most writing work is unpaid and few books make any money.

Here are the economic arrangements that made my books possible:

The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget (Huia, 2009). ‘The Album’ took eight and a half years to write and I received at least $100,000 in public funding to do it. From 2001-2005, I had an Australian Postgraduate Award doctoral scholarship, an annual tax-free stipend of about $27,000. I also did regular freelance journalism, mainly for The Age. I turned my PhD into a book while I was a tenured academic at La Trobe University so this phase of the work was funded by the research fraction of my salary. The university gave Huia a $5000 publication subsidy and that paid for indexing, photographs and Anne Else’s really excellent structural editing. I think I got an $NZ500 advance and I have received maybe $NZ150 in royalties since then. The 80,000-word book has covered its costs. Huia has printed 1300 copies (in three small runs) and there are only 23 left. I feel good about that.

Portion of sales statement for The Parihaka Album, Huia Publishers, 30 April 2014. I was paid $21.30 in royalties.

Portion of sales statement for The Parihaka Album, Huia Publishers, 30 April 2014. I was paid $21.30 in royalties.

Stop Press: The Last Days of Newspapers (Scribe, 2013). This book (44,000 words) took seven months to write and was funded by a $A2000 advance from Scribe and an $NZ3000 Creative New Zealand quick response grant. More than half the advance went on getting to the Norske Skog print plant in Kawerau and up to Sydney for interviews. I worked on the book from October 2013 until April 2014. For the first two months, I also worked part time as an offshored subeditor working in Fairfax’s Wellington hub. Once we got back to Melbourne, I worked full time on Stop Press, often seven days a week. The Creative NZ grant funded the editing and rewriting phase, which was great. By the time the book was done, we were really broke. In August, I got a part-time job as an administrator at RMIT. I was so grateful to have stable, paid work with terrific colleagues. When Stop Press came out in September, I got another $2000 from Scribe. I used a quarter of this to pay for food and booze at the launch. Scribe printed 1500 copies of Stop Press. My latest royalty statement covers the six months to December 2014. It tells me that 840 print copies have been sold and 131 e-books. This means at least 500 copies are sitting in a warehouse somewhere. It’s not great but it’s reality. I’m proud of the book even though I have $2366.27 in “unearned royalties” and it has lost money all round. Sorry, Scribe.

Portion of Royalty Statement, Scribe Publishers, from July-Dec 2014.

Portion of Royalty Statement, Scribe Publishers, from July-Dec 2014.

The Unborn (manuscript, 60,000 words). I really hit the jackpot with this one! In late 2013, I was most surprised to get a $A40,000 emerging writers grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. I considered quitting my job but got real after a publicist reminded me: “It’s basically a minimum wage for a year.” I have just finished the manuscript. It took me two years. The money ran out long before the writing was done. About $14,000 of it went on tax anyway because of the day job. I did keep the ATM receipt with the $40,000 balance on it but it’s all greasy and faded now so I can’t reproduce here.

So, now you know about my economic arrangements. There is a lot I could say about the other arrangements as well, such as the benefits of research supervision as a form of mentoring and editing, the benefits of being signed with a publisher before you start on a book, the benefits of a tight deadline, but perhaps I’ll leave that for another time.

You might be interested to know that I have taken up weightlifting. I prefer it to swimming or jogging.

In sum, I feel pretty sanguine about all of the above. I’m grateful to have been funded at all. I know how competitive the whole thing is. Obviously this post – like every other one on the blog – is unpaid writing work but the ‘economic arrangements’ behind books is an important topic that is rarely discussed so I was happy to write about it here. Plus, I wanted to get this stuff off my chest before I start a new job next week!

Point 5, 'money and blood' from Grace Paley, 'Some Notes on Teaching: Probably Spoken'.

Point 5, ‘money and blood’ from Grace Paley, ‘Some Notes on Teaching: Probably Spoken’.

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Milan, New York, Altona: Agnes Denes forest restoration

Remnant salt-tolerant river red gum, near 'the thousand steps' lookout, Altona.

Remnant salt-tolerant river red gum, near ‘the thousand steps’ lookout, Altona, November 2014.

In a few weeks, students from Altona Primary School will plant 100 swamp she-oak, shoestring acacia and salt-tolerant, local provenance river red gums at a sewage treatment plant on Queens Drive, Altona. Their work represents the first steps in what I hope is a meticulous, long-term plan to restore and conserve Australia’s greatest work of (non-Aboriginal) land art: Agnes Denes’ ‘A Forest for Australia’.

Agnes Denes, 83, is an awe-inspiring artist. She was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1931. She survived the war. She made her home in New York. In the late 1960s she was one of the few women making land art in a scene dominated by men like Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty) and Michael Heizer (Double Negative). Her most famous work was Wheatfield: A Confrontation (1982) in which she planted 0.8 hectares of wheat on a former rubbish dump a block back from Wall Street.

I like the photo of the field of golden wheat with tiny Statue of Liberty in the background.

So influential has this work been that Denes was asked to reprise it this year for the Milan Expo 2015. Meantime, Denes was also working on the Living Pyramid, a major new work at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens, New York. If you’re in New York, why not visit? It’s on display until the end of this month. Or you can read the fantastic Q and A with Denes about the project in Interview magazine.

New York, Milan, Altona! We are so lucky to have a work by this major international earth artist here in the western suburbs of Melbourne but until I began to research the forest and write about it last year, it was all but forgotten.

A friend mentioned the work to me. She had read about it on some defunct blog. I rode my bike down for a look and felt pretty curious about the trees I could see behind the chain mesh fence. Was the artist still alive? The internet told me she was. I wrote to Agnes Denes’ dealer in New York, Leslie Tonkonow. A few days later I had an email from Agnes herself, the first of many.

I sketched the history I unearthed in a feature story for The Age, ‘If a tree falls in the forest…’ That’s me in the photo, breaking all the rules by being on treatment plant land without a hi-viz vest on.

Denes made the forest in 1998 as part of The Bridge Construction in Process VI, an International Artists’ Museum project  run from the Footscray Community Art Centre. With the help of volunteers she planted five intersecting spirals of 6000 native seedlings on barren 400-metre by 80-metre strip of land in front of the sewage treatment ponds.

She planted her trees in a stepped pyramid foundation. Squat paperbarks went on the outer. The middle ring was elegant dropping she-oaks and the central spirals were made from red gums.

The dream was to create five mountains made from trees. The summit of each mountain would be the canopy of the most luscious, mottle-fleshed gums.

What actually exists, 17 years later, is a ghost forest, five phantom mountains sketched in the air in front of two gigantic stainless steel tanks filled with sewage from all the houses around Altona, including mine, including the primary school’s, including the council’s.

Some trees have survived – the paper barks on the edge of the five rings are looking good – but thousands have died. The two eastern-most plantings are more like donuts than spirals now.

Remnant Agnes Denes red gum, Altona Treatment Plant, Queens Drive.

Remnant Agnes Denes red gum, Altona Treatment Plant, Queens Drive.

When I started asking questions about the forest, I felt angry with City West Water. Why had they neglected this treasure? The trees were planted at the start of the drought. They had not been watered. It was outrageous that this had occurred on public land occupied by a state-owned company that has “water” in its title!

But the story that emerged during my research was more complex. Agnes Denes mentioned the “friends of Agnes Denes”, a group of people who had continued to care for the site. I was not able to find them.

It turned out that in 2007 City West Water had commissioned an environmental assessment of the artwork. Arborists had examined the trees to find out why so many were failing to thrive. New seedlings were planted but they carked it too. Someone had laid a gravel path through the most intact spiral.

As my article was going to press, the company issued a statement that it would set up a maintenance program for the surviving trees and explore some repair and replanting of the dead ones. Agnes was happy about this.

Now things are underway. The “revegatation” contract has been awarded to Indig-we-do, a bushland restoration business. Of course, this is an art restoration project as well as a bush one. The forest has been mulched. In spring, irrigation drippers will be routed directly to reach tree. Next year, more trees will go in.

I will be so proud to help the school children plant the seedlings. Two of my daughters will be in the group of gardeners/art assistants. They have listened to hours of conversation about the site in our house. Their dad – my partner – is a gardener who is an expert in bush revegatation and regeneration. He would never have planted so many trees so close together on such a terrible site!

Who would think of making a “mathematical forest” – Agnes’ term – from Australian trees? Ours are not symmetrical or predictable like the ones in Europe. Gums can be mad, scraggly, wonky.

What I adore about this artwork is the way it challenges conventional thinking. It is working all the time. Even its failure is a success. “The forest displays a stubborn refusal to be conserved,” write landscape architects Jock Gilbert and Sarah Hicks in a brilliant essay in Landscape magazine (May 2015). “The forest currently offers a rare counterpoint to the managed landscapes of the city,” they write. “It registers ephemeral processes, both human and non-human, and challenges the ways in which urban vegetation is considered – indeed it challenges our relationship with the world.”

Dead red gums, cracked, salty soil, 'A Forest for Australia', Altona Treatment Plant, Feb 2015

Dead red gums, cracked, salty soil, ‘A Forest for Australia’, Altona Treatment Plant, Feb 2015

Their article suggests that any improvement or restoration of the forest could risk diminishing its power; a ruin is a kind of accusation after all.

Artist George Egerton-Warburton also honoured the beauty of the dead Agnes Denes trees in his installation for ACCA’s recent NEW15 show. After my article was published in The Age in November 2014 Agnes Denes forwarded on an email she had received from George, an Australian artist based in Los Angeles. She asked me to respond to some of George’s questions. I begrudgingly did so. How much of my time could this forest take?

But art does not exist in the time world or the money world. It works in some other way. I hit it off with George and really enjoyed getting to know him and his work (writing, films, sculptures and more).

I ended up going the treatment plant with George and curator Matt Hinkley. It was wonderful to watch these two artists working with engineer Jeram Mallis on what might be possible for the ACCA show. In the end, it was quite a lot. George hung four woodblock prints on Agnes Denes red gums at the site and he installed one of the dead trees – a she oak I think – in the gallery. He lay it on a bed he had bought from the Gumtree website. Good gag.

The forest just keeps on growing. I have become a dendromaniac.

George Egerton-Warburton, 'Foul Mouth' one of four framed woodblock prints installed on trees at Agnes Denes' 'A Forest for Australia' (1998) Altona Treatment Plant, March-May 2015

George Egerton-Warburton, ‘Foul Mouth’ one of four framed woodblock prints installed on trees at Agnes Denes’ ‘A Forest for Australia’ (1998) Altona Treatment Plant, March-May 2015

George Egerton-Warburton, 'Eucalyptus standard', a fallen tree from A Forest for Australia by Agnes Denes, ACCA March 2015

George Egerton-Warburton, ‘Eucalyptus standard’, a fallen tree from A Forest for Australia by Agnes Denes, ACCA March 2015

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Te Rā o Māui Pōmare 2013: a slow reading


Winter sunshine illuminates the taonga that Samoan manuhiri are preparing to present to Taranaki people at Owae Marae, Waitara, 29 June 2013. Image: Fatu Tauafiafi, Samoan Observer/Pacific Guardians.

In 2012, during a year living back home in New Zealand, I met Australian-born historian Patricia O’Brien. Patty was the Stout Research Centre fellow, the first Australian to hold this position. She was working on a biography of Samoan nationalist leader Ta’isi O. F. Nelson.

I was an honorary fellow at the centre and went there one day a week. I shared an office with Rachel Barrowman. I worked on two projects. The first one was a scoping report for the Ministry of Heritage and Culture’s Treaty Settlements history project. This was an extremely difficult task and I often woke at 4am in a panic about it. My bedtime reading was early Tribunal judgments and Crown Forestry Rental Trust reports.

One day I sat down to write and a numbness swept through my body. I could not move my fingers or my arms. I had the heater on full bore but I was frozen. The feeling lasted about half an hour until my mind re-imposed its will on my limbs and I could continue tapping away. I got the message though. No more Crown-funded settlement histories for me.

I spent the rest of my time at the Stout researching Orimupiko 22, small block of (Taranaki) Māori land owned by my whānau.

Patty had the big office across the hallway. At first I was suspicious of her. Like me, she is a palagi. Unlike me though, Patty does not have any Samoan relatives. What was her connection to Samoa? Why was she doing this project?

But as I watched her, my feelings changed. I came to hold Patty in very high regard. I respected the way she was conducting herself and the relationships that she was creating and maintaining with the descendants of Ta’isi Nelson and the other men and women she was researching. I liked her emotional openness and empathy.

I could see why chiefly Samoan people had chosen to work with her.

These feelings of respect were enhanced when Patty’s research reached into my world – Taranaki – and revealed hitherto submerged set of relationships between the non-violent activism of Parihaka people in the nineteenth century and the non-violent kaupapa of the early twentieth century Samoan Mau. I enjoyed being able to share what knowledge I had about Parihaka with her.

After the year was up, I returned to Australia and Patty went back to the United States. She and her husband both had academic jobs in Washington. In May 2013, Patty got in touch. The Samoan head of state, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, would be in New Zealand for Pōmare Day 2013. Patty was coming over from the States. I should come too. Could I?

I mention all this here because the reasons that a piece of writing comes into existence can be as important and interesting as the content of the writing itself.

What follows is an edited version of a talk I gave in 2014 at Victoria University, Wellington. ‘Fast History, Slow Reading: He Pukapuka Tataku Tenei’ was a one-day symposium convened by Professor Charlotte Macdonald and Dr Arini Loader, the first Māori scholar to hold a postdoctoral fellowship in the history program. The title refers to South African scholar Isabel Hofmeyr’s brilliant 2013 book Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading. I have done my best to reference sources in the text and included a formal list of references at the end.


Unfurling the tapa, Owae Marae. The carved meeting house is Te Ika Roa-a-Maui and the statue of Māui Pōmare is to the far right. Image: Fatu Tauafiafi, Samoan Observer/Pacific Guardians.

 The snow covered Taranaki from head to toe and he shone a hard white against the pink sky. Māui Pōmare, a nine-foot effigy carved from Sicilian marble, was much the same. He shone too, cloaked, buttoned up and dapper, a scroll in his right hand and his opposite foot was slightly forward, an orator’s stance. From his great height he looked out at the assembled crowd with an attitude of calm watchfulness. The visitors were early. The black cars had come up the driveway. Flags flew on the front of one of them. The people got out. They were well dressed. One woman wore an elegant pink dress and she had a yellow flower pinned behind her ear. There was a man dressed all in white, a fitted shirt with gleaming buttons and a white jacket, an immaculate lavalava fringed with tapa beneath. Around his neck was a long necklace made from red shells. The outfit suggested clicked heels and ship’s horns, the heavy drop of an anchor but it also spoke of warmer things, of sand too pale for Taranaki beaches and the comfort of unexpected friendship.

A figure caught his eye. This man was taller than the rest. He was simply dressed in a suit, black overcoat and scarf. Māui studied the man’s face, the quiet, dignified way he held himself. The features made his heart jump. The face of this visitor reflected two men who had mattered greatly to him. Here was his dear friend Ta’isi Nelson, come again to Waitara, but here also was Tupua Tamasese Lealofi, no longer imprisoned at Mt Eden. The call went out and Māui watched the visitors walk towards him. The tall man kept his head bowed. His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, mokopuna of non-violent nationalist leaders Ta’isi and Tamasese, head of state of the independent nation of Samoa, had arrived!

In 2012, members of Taranaki’s Samoan community had come to Pōmare Day, bringing a tapa, and the together the gathering had celebrated 50 years of Samoan independence. In a moving gesture of respect, the hosts had greeted the Samoan visitors as tuākana (older siblings). Another year had passed and this day, 29 June 2013, would reveal, renew and re-enact a hitherto submerged set of deep relationships between the Ta’isi and Pōmare families and between Taranaki and Samoa. Patricia O’Brien’s scholarship had reactivated memories of the pan-Pacific statesmanship of Nelson and Pōmare and other leaders such as Apirana Ngata. ‘Ta’isi O.F. Nelson and Sir Māui Pōmare: Samoans and Māori Reunited’ is now the most read article on in the Journal of Pacific History so you can download it for free.

The events that unfolded at Owae in 2013 were extensively covered in the Samoan Observer, an independent newspaper, and by the Pacific Guardians website. Fatu Tauafiafi’s photographs ran over four pages with the strap ‘We’re reminded: The Mau of Maui Pomare and Ta’isi’. The newspaper also published His Highness’s speech in full.

The visit received no coverage in New Zealand. This talk redresses that unfortunate silence and honours a pledge I made to write about the day. In the spirit of Isabel Hofmeyr and her subject, the newspaper man Gandhi, my paper uses condensation, summary, extracts, abridgement and reporting to give a Taranaki perspective on the multiple strands of time and meaning in operation during Pōmare Day 2013, a commemoration that foregrounded the Pacific – a place but also an attitude or state of mind – as paramount.


The Samoan head of state, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi and Samoa’s High Commissioner in New Zealand, Leasi Papali’i Tommy Scanlan, join members of Māui Pōmare’s whānau to lay wreaths. Note the Parihaka drum on the right. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

The frost thawed. The damp seeped into the visitor’s shoes as they walked across the marae. The land spoke first. It said: this soil you walk on may seem unremarkable but here, in my bones, are remnants of great might. It said: Owae may look modest now but it was once most magnificent and fierce, a small portion of the great pre-European pā Manukorihi. In 1841, no stranger could enter here with ease. The place was a warren of concealed weapons and warriors. The earthworks were extensive, the defenses immensely strong. No taua ever took this place. Pukerangiora was another pā just up the river. In 1831, Waikato musket raiders massacred up to 1500 Te Ati Awa people there. Many decided to jump over the white cliffs to their deaths, rather than be captured and enslaved. Less than 30 years on, the enemy was not another iwi but British soldiers and settlers, the hunt for land. This remnant, Owae, overlooks PekaPeka, the block of land that Te Teira sold to the British in 1859, against the wishes of his relatives, including Te Ati Awa rangatira Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake. He refused to sell anything. He fought back. Te Ati Awa refused to surrender or negotiate and on 17 March 1860, British soldiers fired guns and rockets at the locals. So began the Taranaki war. In 1863, the British government confiscated 1.275 million hectares of land in punishment for “the rebellion”. Even the mountain was taken. From 1860 until 1927, when the Royal Commission into Confiscated Lands sat here, no European had been allowed on Manukorihi. Walk gently here. Listen. Pō mare, a cough in the darkness.


Honiana Love and other Taranaki kuia call visitors into the house. Photo: Fatu Fauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

Pōmare was born in the middle of the war, in 1876 at Urenui in north Taranaki, and died in 1930 in Los Angeles, stricken with tuberculosis. He was cremated and his ashes came back to Waitara via Rarotonga (Pōmare had been Minister for the Cook Islands from 1916 – 1928), Wellington and Waikanae. Large memorial services were held in each place and the casket lay in state inside the vestibule of Parliament buildings, quite an achievement for a man who had begun life in a community that the New Zealand government declared to be seditious rebels.

In 1930, Ta’isi Nelson was one of the thousands of mourners at Sir Māui’s tangi at Owae. He attended at the insistence of Pōmare’s family, as did his cousin Tauvao Talese and two of Ta’isi’s daughters. He offered a gift of immense significance. As O’Brien related in Pacific History, Ta’isi presented an ie toga or fine mat as a parting gift to his friend. The mat was “one of the principal mats in the lagi (burial ceremony) of Tamasese, the father of the late Tamasese Lealofi”, Ta’isi told the mourners. He also said it was “the first time anything of this nature had been seen in this country, describing the intermingling of Māori and Samoan customs witnessed at Sir Māui’s tangi as a ‘reunion’.”

The friendship between Pōmare and Nelson was nourished by the political philosophy and spiritual beliefs of Māui’s childhood.

Pōmare’s parents believed in Parihaka and its prophets and clung to Te Whiti’s promises that non-violent protest would compel the government to return the confiscated land. Pōmare and his parents were at Parihaka in November 1881 when the place was invaded. Māui was only five, one of the hundreds of dancing and singing children on the front line, his gaze level with a spurred boot in a stirrup or a bayonet in a sheath. He watched their home being wrecked and their treasures being stolen. He saw his leaders being arrested and the soldiers killing their animals and pulling up their crops. People got sick. Both the prophets Te Whiti and Tohu were asthmatic. The Taranaki damp got into people’s lungs and clogged them up. Skin flamed with psoriasis and other infections. Was Pōmare’s life’s work as a healer set in his infancy? Educated at Te Aute College, Pōmare went against his family’s wishes for him to study law and did medicine instead. He trained as a medical doctor at Battle Creek, Michigan and qualified in 1899. He came home and in 1901 was appointed Māori health officer.

Diagnoses, prescription, cure. The white coat of Western medicine appeared to be a way out for Taranaki and we produced two outstanding takuta tangata, Pōmare and his younger relative Te Rangihiroa Peter Buck. Both men were radical modernisers. Pōmare was outspoken in his criticisms of the teachings of Parihaka and its philosophies of withdrawal from the Pakeha world. In one of his first reports as a Māori health officer, Pōmare said Te Whiti-ism and prejudice against Pakeha were holding Taranaki Māori back. When Te Whiti died in 1907, a shameless Pōmare took the chance to reinforce the message. In his tangi oration, Pōmare said Taranaki people needed new skills and tactics. Reworking the well-known whakatauki he said: “The old order has changed; your ancestors said it would change. When the net is old and worn it is cast aside and the new net goes fishing.” Both Pōmare and Buck were enthusiastic supporters of James Carroll’s controversial Tohunga Suppression Act, also passed in 1907.

In 1909, Pōmare and Robert Tahupotiki Haddon, a Methodist clergyman, set up a union to push for some confiscated West Coast reserve land to be made available for Māori. As Ben White wrote in a 1996 report for the Waitangi Tribunal’s Taranaki inquiry, the leaders wanted to encourage young people to leave the ailing Parihaka and start farming instead. If Taranaki people wanted to survive “we must become active farmers, not mere rent receivers”, Pōmare said.

Pōmare was elected MP for Western Māori in 1911 and he ostensibly continued to push against Taranaki orthodoxies. Taranaki and Waikato, the two districts that suffered most in the nineteenth century wars, were opposed to their men fighting in World War I but Pōmare headed the Māori Recruiting Board and travelled the country getting Māori to sign up. He recruited the famous Māori Battalion and even went to the Cook Islands to recruit the Rarotonga contingent. He was knighted in 1920. As the Leader of the Opposition, Gordon Coates said in Parliament after Pōmare’s death in 1930: “The late Sir Maui’s first duties were to train and guide the Maoris into a recognition of necessary reforms and to show them how they could help themselves. Old customs had to be overcome…”

In his biography of Pōmare on Te Ara, Graham Butterworth says Pōmare’s “last achievement, in collaboration with Apirana Ngata, was the setting up of a commission into land confiscation”. Both men used Māori service in World War I as leverage to push for the commission. As David Smith, counsel for the claimants said when the “Sim Commission” sat at Manukorihi in 1927: “After the Great War, when the flower of Māori manhood fought shoulder to shoulder with their white brethren on the slopes of Gallipoli and the plains of Europe, it was felt the Government would listen to their grievances…”

In The Parihaka Album, I talk about how Smith described Waitara as the Sarajevo of the New Zealand Wars. Many of the claimants addressed the commissioners in Māori and Pōmare was the translator. He can not have failed to notice how often speakers decided to use metaphors connected with bodies, healing and death in their submissions. Pōmare translated one petitioner’s speech like this: “Word was left that the time would come when I should behold this day,’ the petitioner said, referring to the prophecies of Te Whiti and Tohu. ‘The day is here! Welcome exceedingly because the power has been conferred upon you to remedy this evil. You are the doctors sent to us. It is my desire that the child should not be still born’.”


Sunlight blesses the tapa that has just entered the house. Fatu Tauafiafi’s image captures the sacred reverence and awe of this moment.

The Royal Commission condemned the Taranaki confiscations and in 1931, the year after Pōmare’s death, Taranaki people settled with the Crown. The Taranaki Māori Trust Board was set up and it would be paid 5000 pounds a year, in recognition “of the wrong that was done”. On 28 June 1935, Taranaki leaders decided to build a carved house in honour of Pōmare and to commission a large statue too. They asked Apirana Ngata to organise the project and supervise construction. Fourteen carvers from Rotorua, the East Coast, Patea, Otaki, Hokianga, Ohau, Kaikohe and Rarotonga worked on the house. Twenty-three women stitched the tukutuku panels that recall Taranaki cosmogony, the figures of Kahui-Ao the son of Ranginui and Papa and all the people that followed. Many of these artists were members of the Ngati Poneke Club in Wellington. The carvers and weavers finished their monumental task in just a year! More than 10,000 people attended the unveiling, on 27 June 1936, including the Governor General, the Māori King and Premier Joseph Savage.

On 29 June 2013, this is the whare whakairo that greeted the Samoan head of state. When His Highness and the other visitors entered the whare, they walked beneath the Maui-tikitiki-a Taranaga, the mischievous figure on the tekoteko, but they also walked beneath the Taranaki Māui. Hui whakamahara ki a Maui Pomare, Manukorihi Pa, Waitara, Hune 23-27th 1936, a 94-page souvenir booklet was produced to commemorate the 1936 opening of the house. The bilingual booklet documents every figure in the house, including the figures on the tekoteko. It explains: Below [Maui-Tikitiki-a-Taranga] him to support this herculean effort is the tiki or koruru which has been named Māui Pomare, who fished out of the troublous ocean of racial conflict and misunderstanding the fish, which is the Taranaki Māori Trust Fund, the tardy requital in 1936, of the Waitara injustice of 1859.” At night, the booklet said, Pōmare’s eyes were lit up by ‘two large electric orbs’ that “gaze over the storied marae of Manukorihi towards the White Cliffs”.

In 2013, a different kind of herculean effort would be recalled, one that honoured relationships that began before the epic migrations to Aotearoa, to the time when Māori people were Pacific Islanders, living in the Polynesian homeland that is spoken about at tangi, Hawaikinui. As Alice Te Punga Somerville has so brilliantly, observed, Māori once were Pacific, a phrase that conjures up genetic and geographic kinship but also “pacific in the original sense of being calm”, to be peaceable rather than warlike, to be at peace.

These submerged Pacific relationships were already carved into the house. As the memorial booklet explained: “To the right of the main door after entering the building stands a massive pillar – in two pieces 20 feet high and 32 inches wide – on which are three figures, the lowest representing Uenuku, the central figure Turi and the top figure Manaia. Uenuku was high priest of Raiatea in the Society Islands round whom centred the dissensions and troubles which led to the migration of the ancestors of the Māori about the year 1350 AD to New Zealand.”

On 29 June 2013, Uenuku, Turi and Manaia watched the greetings being exchanged. As the powhiri got underway, the visitor in the white shirt and jacket, seated a few rows behind His Highness towards the side of the house, began to undress. He took off his jacket, then his shirt. Fine tattoos wrapped around the side of his torso. An older woman rubbed oil into the man’s skin. The man picked up an object with a thick woven handle and a tassled top and he hung the tassled end over his shoulder. When the right moment arrived, he stood up and started to call out in strong, deep voice. This was the orator. The door of Te Ikaroa-a-Māui was open. The morning was fine and clear and a square of golden light fell into the room. The man’s voice filled the space. Outside, a gift had been unfurled. A dozen people held the tapa cloth open to the sun. The orator began to chant. His drone filled the house. The kakaho reeds that line the roof shook. Māui’s eyes rolled back in his head. Visitors’ skin prickled. People wept. In the centre of the house sat members of Taranaki’s Samoan community and these women and men began to sing, beneath the orator’s dirge, and then the tapa entered the house and it was an immense, delicate, decorated, sacred body lying there, vibrating somehow, speaking somehow, waiting and the singing became louder and the tone shifted from sombre to joyful but the moment was still unbearably heavy, as if every second was swollen with some sort of monumental depth and meaning. Ruakere Hond blessed the tapa and Tiki Raumati addressed it and the dignataries. The atmosphere lightened a little. The proceedings continued.


The orator for His Highness Tupua performs inside Te Ika Roa-a-Maui. Morrie Love, director of the Waitangi Tribunal from 1996-2003, is to the right. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

“I come on a pilgrimage to share with you a legacy of remembrance,” His Highness would explain later that morning, in his beautiful speech. “My grandfather always said to me: ‘Son, you will remember the people who gave us succour in our hour of need’.” He cited a Samoan proverb: He who rallies in my hour of need is my bone, my blood and my flesh. A memorial was more than ritual, he said. It was a time of holiness and meditation. And then he too began to chant, “for in our Polynesion cultures, there are moments when our thoughts, as the poets would have it, while too deep for tears find strength in song”.

The chant invoked Māui Pōmare as “the first in my heart” and then Apirana Ngata as “the first among redeemers” and finally former Labour leader Harry Holland as “first amongst brothers”. All three men had spoken up for Samoa in its struggle against New Zealand’s increasingly harsh administrative regime. “Samoa shall be for Samoans,” Pōmare said. He visited exiled leader Tamasese in Mt Eden jail and wrote a startlingly beautiful account of the visit in the Samoan press, an account that opened: “Today I saw Tamasese in goal. I greeted him in his own tongue…”

Dr Patricia O'Brien presenting her paper at Owera Marae

Historian Dr Patricia O’Brien speaks to the house. You can see a photograph of Sir Māui Pōmare over her left shoulder. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

Dr Patricia O’Brien spoke next. Patty had received a fellowship to work on New Zealand’s colonial history with Samoa and her research had unearthed Pōmare’s tenacious advocacy for Samoan independence, an advocacy that often put him at odds with his own Prime Minister (Gordon Coates) and his fellow National MPs. Patty explained how Pōmare’s engagement with Samoa grew through his intimate friendship with nationalist leader Tai’isi Olaf Frederick Nelson. The pair had met in 1919, five years after New Zealand occupied German Samoa and one year after the New Zealand government allowed the ship Tulane, which carried passengers with influenza, to dock in Apia. The flu spread ashore and 8500 people died, more than a fifth of Samoa’s people died in this preventable catastrophe.

Samoans had formed the Mau a Pule in 1908 to protest German colonial rule and the Mau was reformed in 1926 in protest New Zealand’s administration, especially new laws which denigrated chiefly status. Mau men and women disrupted the NZ administration via non-violent marches, boycotting businesses, refusal to pay taxes and other kinds of civil disobedience and they shared information about other Mau independence movements (in India, Iraq, Palestine, China, the Dutch East Indies, Ireland and more) via their own newspaper, Samoan Guardian. In 1928, the movement’s leader, Tai’isi was banished to New Zealand and he lived there for the next five years, staying, often with Pōmare in either Waitara or Upper Hutt.

Patricia said she had learned about the Nelson-Pōmare friendship by reading a collection of Nelson’s letters held at Ta’isi’s Apia mansion. In one letter, written in 1929, Tai’isi describes exiled Mau leader Tamasese Lealofi, who was then imprisoned in Auckland, as the “Te Whiti of Samoa”. This phrase was a lightning bolt that illuminated new Pacific forefathers for the non-violent Mau. Here was evidence that the Mau’s non-violent tactics were not only derived from Gandhi – as was widely assumed – but also from Tohu and Te Whiti at Parihaka. Pōmare had ostensibly been so dismissive of Parihaka and its leaders and yet he had thrown the “old net” of passive resistance out to his “Polynesian kinsmen” and gathered them into the school of non-violence, a strategic response to the failure of armed resistance.

Perhaps Pōmare hoped that World War I had tempered the New Zealand government’s appetite for violence. Not so. In December 1929, the New Zealand military police shot at people in a peaceful Mau protest march; Maui’s friend Tupua Tamasese Leolofi III was one of the nine Samoans who were killed. Pōmare had tuberculosis and Patty told the audience at Owae that the ailing doctor was so devastated by news of the massacre that his health deteriorated very quickly. He telegraphed Ta’isi. HEART BLEEDS FOR YOUR PEOPLE SICK UNTO DEATH…

Pōmare died less than seven months later in Los Angeles, where he had gone to seek a cure. Patricia read out part of the English translation of Ta’isi’s impassioned obituary, published in the Samoan Guardian: “The moon has fallen in the Council of Chiefs and Kings of Aotearoa. POMARE IS DEAD.” The loss was great for him as a man and for Samoa as a nation. Like His Highness, Patty’s voice cracked with emotion as she concluded her talk.

Pōmare Day had moved into unimaginable new realms of intensity when suddenly a figure emerged from a side door, a tall young woman bedecked in a dazzling outfit of blue and silver. Her dark hair was crowned by a towering Cleopatra-style head-piece worthy of pop singer Katy Perry. This gorgeous personage laid a tray of ornamental delicacies at the feet of the now seated Samoan head of state and then she began to dance. Raucous singing burst forth from each side of the stage. Laughter followed and then the hākari and a nice cup of tea and the long trip home.


The Venerable Tikituterangi Raumati, kaumatua of St Mary’s Cathedral New Plymouth, addresses the tapa. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

What happened here?

The craft of journalism and the craft of history are both devoted to answering this question. The journalist is often an eyewitness to historic events, such as Pōmare Day 2013. The journalist describes the scene, interviews the participants and writes the story. This activity might be described as a fast reading. The historian is always late. The historian misses the action by years, decades, centuries or even epochs and attempts to catch up by hunting out the remaining primary source evidence, reading it against whatever else is available and writing the story. This might be described as slow reading.

A fast reading could be described as shallow and reactive and slow reading as deep, comprehensive and considered but in Gandhi’s Printing Press, Isabel Hofmeyr suggests something quite different.

Hofmeyr’s subject is Gandhi in South Africa (1893 – 1914) and the newspapers and pamphlets he produced at the International Printing Press. Hofmeyr reads Gandhi’s newspapers as objects (rather than as mere containers that can be mined for historical information). She examines how Gandhi selected and arranged copy in the multilingual Indian Opinion to create a newspaper in which news “seems more like a stream of opinion, idea and belief, culled from other papers, than a portfolio of occurrence”. In this way, Gandhi implicitly challenged the definition of an event as something discrete, simple and open to a crafted explanation (whether journalistic or scholarly). Instead, his newspaper, Indian Opinion, dissolved events into “a kaleidoscope of cuttings”.

Gandhi’s “slow-motion” newspaper often published undated and unattributed snippets from newspapers across India and the wider British Empire. His purpose, Hofmeyr suggests, was partly to confound and disorient the reader and so slow down the tempo of an “industrialized information order” created by the telegraph, the train and the steamship.

Gandhi felt speed-reading “macadamized” the mind. Macadam was stone used to smooth the surface of a road of footpath (named after McAdam, the Scottish man who invented the process). He published newspapers where every column was rigged with a judder bar. He used condensation, summary, abridgement, extracts and the seemingly random juxtaposition of undated, unattributed news cuttings with the writings of his favourite philosophers to create what Hofmeyr calls “multiple senses of time. The reader both feels himself or herself to be in the midst of these incidents as they are occurring” and so the reports acted as “a time capsule, releasing its presentness wherever it is published”.

Gandhi valued the skills involved in creating such news reports – he saw condensation and summary as a “training ground in self restraint” – and reading such discontinuous reports together on a page as acts that required patience and perseverance. “Instead of seeing the gaps between stories as something to be hastened over, these became moments for reflection, and for thinking about how to link the bits one has read,” Hofmeyr writes. In this way, Gandhi inverted understandings of the nature of the newspaper reporter and the newspaper reader. As Hofmeyr observes: “The characteristics of journalism – telegraphic brevity, rapid summary, hurried reading, instantaneous obsolescence – become their opposite: summary acquires a gravity that pulls the reader’s attention down into the text where reading has to be deliberate rather than thoughtless and hasty. Condensation becomes an art form that produces a thoughtful or an ‘ideaful’ text that in turn requires a reader who is thoughtful in both senses of the word: exercising careful deliberation and extending sympathetic regard to the text.”

In his chapter in the award-winning book, Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance, Te Miringa Hohaia uses exactly this strategy. He has placed snippets of Parihaka oratory and waiata, recorded in by nineteenth century scribe Te Kaahui Kararehe, side by side. Some are dated but many are not. Waiata, oratory and proverbial sayings are presented and translated in a random order, separated by brief, enigmatic summary statements. It is impossible to read this collection quickly. Instead, the reader must stop and think about what is suggested not just by the taonga that have been shared but by the way they have been placed on the page.

Like Gandhi, Te Miringa was an editor who selected and placed texts to create multiple senses of time and to allow space for a reader to make their own connections. It’s such hard work! This talk is an attempt to follow the lead of these two demanding editors. It juxtaposes a detailed account of one newsworthy event – Pōmare Day 2013 – with selected items that may contribute to an understanding of this event: the history of the marae; the history of the meeting house; selected biographical snippets and so on.

It asks you, the listener, to consider how the life of Māui Pōmare might be reframed as an exercise in being a Pacific person, in the double way that Alice Te Punga Somerville suggests. He was someone who was of the Pacific and whose allegiances were to the Pacific and her peoples but he was also Pacific in nature, someone who was peaceable not warlike, someone who tended to make peace and someone who was, ultimately, at peace with himself.

The Royal Commission into Confiscated Lands was not Pōmare’s last achievement or, necessarily his greatest one. That title, perhaps, goes to his support of Samoa and Samoans. In his speech on Pōmare Day 2013, His Highness recalled: “I remember as a boy of about five years learning to recite a text from St Mathew in honour of Sir Maui for Children’s White Sunday: “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The inspiration for this verse, in part, was the exquisite account Sir Maui gave of his visit to exiled leader Tamasese in Mt Eden jail.

The symmetry is startling. The five-year-old Māui was brutalised at Parihaka but he was neither embittered nor vengeful. Māori never achieved the independence that Parihaka fought for yet Pōmare’s life is a study in self-rule and self determination, a patient negotiation between the new net and the old, a lesson in courageous non-violent resistance. Although Pōmare was an MP in a government that wanted to crush Samoan independence, he also acted as a statesman also for an older, deeper power, the Pacific empire, and it was this relationship that resonated, most powerfully, on Pōmare Day 2013.

Poua ki runga

Poua ki raro

Poua iho ra ki te mounga titohea

E kore e pau, te ika unahi nui


A precious remnant of the Pacific Empire. A memorial is more than a ritual. It is a time of holiness and meditation. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.


Select sources

-Rachel Buchanan, The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget (Huia, 2009).

Kelvin Day, editor, Contested Ground Te Whenua i Tohea: The Taranaki Wars 1860-1881, (Huia, 2010).

–Isabel Hofmeyr, Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading (Harvard University Press, 2013).

Te Miringa Hohaia, Gregory O’Brien and Lara Strongman, editors, Parihaka: the art of passive resistance (Victoria University Press, 2001).

Hui whakamahara ki a Maui Pomare, Manukorihi Pa, Waitara, Hune 23-27th, 1936. McLeod & Slade, Printers, New Plymouth [N.Z.], 1936, collection of the National Library of Australia.

–Patricia O’Brien (2014), ‘Ta’isi O.F. Nelson and Sir Māui Pōmare Samoans and Māori Reunited’, Journal of Pacific History, 49:1, 26-49.

–Alice Te Punga Somerville, Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Oceania (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

—Fatu Tauafiafi, photographs of Pōmare Day 2013, Samoan Observer. Images reproduced here with permission. With heartfelt thanks to Fatu for his wonderful images.

–Ben White, Supplementary Report on the West Coast Settlement Reserves’, a report commissioned by the Waitangi Tribunal for the Taranaki claim, February 1996, collection of the Waitangi Tribunal Archive, Wellington.

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The fox

The day after I found out about my cousin, the fox appeared. I had just got back from yoga. It was 8.30am. Everyone else had gone. I heard shouting out the back. “Mike! Mike!” the voice said. I ran outside. Leigh was leaning over the fence and so was his oldest kid Bailey.

“A fox has taken one of our chickens. It’s dead. Look! It’s there, the fox,” he said. I followed his finger along the fence line and saw that the fox was on the roof of the shed next to our chicken coup. It was watching our chooks peck and fuss about. The fox was as big as a kelpie. Its stance was relaxed, almost offhand. I’d like to kill these birds, the stance said. I’d like to tear their throats out, actually, but can I be bothered? It’s a bit of a leap and then how will I get out?

The fox’s fur was coarse and ugly and orange. “Oi, oi!” I shouted. The fox lifted its head to towards the noise. Its eyes were pale blue and they sparkled with casual menace. The fox stayed where it was for a few more seconds and then it walked away.

Bailey had spotted the fox just as it was about to kill a second chook. That bird was alive but limp with fright. Leigh said he would set a trap.

I went inside to make a coffee but when I came out to my room to start writing, I saw the fox had come back. There it was again, standing on the neighbour’s shed, looking down on our chooks with that same sort of relaxed, pleasurable concentration. To kill or not to kill, the fox appeared to be thinking. Coffee or tea? Brown bread or white? Two eggs or one?

“Fuck off fox,” I screamed. “Piss off you fucking arsehole fox!”

The fox sprinted off, leaping from fencetop to roof top with deadly grace. I was still shouting. Our dog was barking and so was next door’s.

I panted with fury. I wanted to crush the fox. I wanted to smash the fox’s head in with a rock.

The next morning, Leigh found the fox sunbaking in their backyard. The fox had killed the remaining two chooks. The fox killed the four chooks that belonged to the twins as well. They live a couple of blocks away.

The fox didn’t eat the birds. He just ripped their heads off and left it at that.

My cousin killed himself on the Saturday. I found out on the Sunday. On Monday night, I visited his parents.

Then on the Tuesday, the fox was there, cruel and indiscriminate, a creature made for killing, a pest, a hunter, an intruder with the most terrible intentions.

A common metaphor for mental illness is the black dog. Why? Dogs are loyal, obedient and loving creatures. When I hear the phrase “black dog” I think of a Labrador, an animal that is dopey and sweet, that carries a little too much weight and dribbles at meal times, an animal that does toxic smelly farts but also knows when to put its heavy paw up on your thigh and offer you comfort and sympathy, a gesture of unconditional companionship. Okay, so there are a few minor conditions, like a walk every morning and night, but still.

Why isn’t serious mental illness ever compared with a fox, a predator rather than a companion? My cousin had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I’ve got an uncle on the other side of my family who was diagnosed with that disease too. He’s still alive, despite several attempts not to be, but his life is very, very hard. Two other cousins, one a boy of 15 and the other a young man, have also committed suicide.

Their deaths ripped apart the lives of my aunties and uncles and my cousins and now the fox has struck again. I hate it so much. I hate the suffering it brings. I wish it had left my family alone. I wish it didn’t exist.

Rest in peace, Jeremy.

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I’m with the band

IMG_2123The music teacher lived on Rodrigo Road, Kilbirnie. Her name was Kristen. She told Netty to buzz like a bee. Then she told her to pucker her lips and spit without spitting. Then she told her to do raspberries. She handed her the mouth piece. Buzz, Netty went. Honk. Honk. Buzz. Beep. The teacher put the mouthpiece back in the instrument. Netty made small spitting noises into the end of it. The trumpet honked. She kept doing the spit-blow and quite quickly a smoother sound erupted. A note? “What did you do differently just then?” Kristen asked. Netty stared at her, unsure how to answer. “A trumpet’s not like a piano you know,” the teacher said. “I can’t see what you are doing when you play the trumpet. You have to feel what is happening from the inside. You have to be your own teacher.” Her remark mirrored something a teacher had said to me. I turned my head away to hide my tears. There was a trampoline outside on the grass and some silverbeet gone to seed. I was standing at the barre in the West End Scout Hall. I was in fifth position. My ballet teacher Val Deakin was talking. “We don’t have any mirrors here,” she said. “You don’t need to look to see a position is correct. You need to feel it is correct from the inside.” We all went to Rodrigo Road every Wednesday afternoon. My other two watched television and I watched the lesson. Netty was only seven then, too small for a trumpet, so we rented a cornet instead. Our neighbour was a musician. One day, the younger two were playing out the front and Jon yelled over the fence. “Hey, which one of you plays the cornet?” “Me. I do,” Netty said. “You’re sounding better!” One Wednesday a man answered the door at Rodrigo Road. “Kristen’s been held up at work,” the man said. “But I can take the lesson until she gets back.” Peter was bossier than his wife. “Keep blowing,” he said to Netty. “Come on, you can blow harder than that!” Netty’s face was bright red but she kept on playing, up and down the scales, hitting notes that had not been reached before and achieving a pleasing clarity as well. The half hour was almost up when Kristen burst in. She was also red in the face from running up all their steps. “I’m here,” she said. “Peter has done really well,” I said in my most patronising voice. “He’s been a good fill in.” “And did Peter say what he does?” Kristen asked. “No.” “He’s the second French horn player in the New Zealand Symphony!” We left Wellington and returned to Melbourne. Kristen gave Netty a white linen hanky with a yellow trumpet embroidered on one corner. Blow here, it advises. Netty is still playing. Last year, she joined the Hyde Street Youth Band in Footscray. Motto: “Sounding great since ’28.” They say it’s the oldest youth brass band in the Southern Hemisphere, a claim worth repeating. Netty is in the third cornets with the occasional foray into the seconds. I am still watching, still learning. Last weekend, the band went to Sydney to compete in the Australian National Band Championships. I was one of the roadies. Our major test occurred on Good Friday night when we had to clean all the instruments so they would be sparkling for the Parade of Bands the next day in Hyde Park. Do you have any idea how many parts of a bloody cornet can get tarnished? Three roadies worked on the tuba for an hour. I am not exaggerating. Here’s a photo of the president hard at work. IMG_2133In the end, it rained all night and the parade was cancelled but the band still got to play in the Junior C Grade Brass that afternoon. They also competed in the Open D Grade Brass with the adults. Brilliant stuff kids, brilliant conducting Murray Walker! I thought Hyde Street’s stand out piece in both grades was the “stage march” – Wilton Roach’s Victorian Rifles – but we’ve all got a bit of work to do before we can match Australia’s only youth A-grade band, the stupendous Gunnedah Shire Band. Their “own choice” piece, Philip Sparke’s subtle yet majestic Hymn of the Highlands (movements 1 & 3), made me cry. It was absolutely brilliant to watch those expert young musicians and their conductor, Dwayne Bloomfield, throw themselves into the music. Was it just their technical skill that made the Gunnedah instruments appear so polished or is there some secret taping technique or cleaning substance that we don’t yet know about?

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Five into three

Mathematics. A language I don’t speak. I decided to stop learning it when I was 15 and two years later I reaped the rewards of my decision when I failed pure mathematics with a stunning mark of 49 per cent. But now I am faced with an extra tricky mathematical problem at home. I have to solve it somehow. We need to make five go into three. Thirty years ago, people could figure this out easily. They knew how to make five go into three. They made seven go into three. Or nine go into three. A friend was part of that equation. She was one of seven sisters and they lived in a three-bedroom house. The parents shared one room and there were two sets of bunks in each of the others. Four in one room, three in the other and one bed spare for guests. But expectations have changed. Bunks are alright for beach houses, so I hear, or for a cabin on a school camp but not for the home of a middle-class child. No. Now a house must have a bedroom for every child. A child needs privacy. They need space. They need built-in storage systems to house their massive toy collections, their keyboards and their music stands. A teenaged child appears to have special needs in this regard. Their bedrooms need study nooks or better still a big desk with a swivel chair parked under it and a filing cabinet on wheels beneath and shelving for their extensive private libraries. They need a spare bed so their friends can stay the night. Quite a few of them even need their own bathroom. I mean, fancy making a child share a toilet with another human being? It’s cruel. When they get a bit older, they need space and privacy so their boyfriends and girlfriends can stay. Apparently, that’s up to us to provide that too. Our three-bedroom house is about ten square. It has one bathroom, one kitchen, one lounge, one hallway and one sauna (not functioning, filled with camping gear). By today’s standards it’s a mega-tiny but the Finnish bricklayer who built it in 1960 thought it was enough for his wife and five children. We only have three kids but already the house is bursting or so we think or so we are told. I share a room with Mike. I’ve done this for 20 years now. I get a bit sick of it occasionally but what can I do? We’re expected to share. Two of the kids share and one has their own little palace. We’ve made them take turns sharing. Not an especially popular decision but there you go. That’s life for now. At least our kids are all the same sort: girls. People who have boys and girls are under even more pressure to provide each one with their own bedroom. I grew up in a family that reached a peak capacity of 11 people and no we did not have a ten-bedroom house. We shared. Well, the others did but I was lucky, as the oldest one, to have my own room from about age 10 onwards. This experience was an aberration. I left home at 18 and shared a double room with another girl at a university hostel. I went flatting and had my own room for a couple of years but soon enough I was sharing again. In London I reverted to my childhood and shared a house with ten others. I don’t think all this sharing has made me a more generous person. I am not especially tolerant or accepting but there’s something about closeness that is good. Isn’t there? Or maybe I am just saying all this stuff because we can’t afford a four-bedroom house and the thought of smashing apart the house we already have feels crass and barbaric. Plus, also, expensive. I know that even being able to make these statements is a sign of my privilege as a middle-class home-owning person but still, I’ve got my equations to think about. Five into three, five into three, just let it be!

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James Turrell yes, Matthew Barney no

We had reached Treasure Island, a caravan park between Hobart’s two main attractions: MONA and the Cadbury factory. The white chimneys of the chocolate factory could be seen to the left on the next headland. In the buildings beneath, oompa loompas toiled in secret. No tours anymore due to boring old health and safety regulations but the rest of my family did enjoy an educational talk on how the caramel is inserted into the belly of the famous koalas.

I was informed that chocolate is a health food. “There is a cup and a half of milk in every block, mum.”

In fact, we were all enjoying a healthy snack as we drove into Treasure Island. Mike went down the hill to check out the camping spots by the water. On the headland to our right was MONA (David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art). We could see grapevines, a car park, a wall and a strange metal platform on the summit.

Between us and art museum was another facility. What could it be? I checked out the security fence, the barbed wire and the several large vat-like objects and all of a sudden I knew.

“Tell me that’s not a sewage treatment plant,” I said to myself. I was very familiar with the treatment plant near our house in Altona (see previous post ‘How to make a forest’) and recognised various common architectural features, including the discrete signage and the tanks.

At that exact stink moment, a man buzzed up to us on his a ride on mower. He worked at the Island.

“Does the plant smell?”

“Not really. Only for 30 seconds at a time,” he said.

“So it’s a bit like a fart?” Mike said.

“Yeah, a really long fart.”

We drove back up the hill, away from the plant, and put the tent up. Our spot was exceptionally beautiful. The Derwent River sparkled below us. At dusk, fish leapt from the water. Gulls, ducks and oyster-catchers flew past. I couldn’t’ smell anything except for the bacon that the French backpackers were frying at the camp kitchen.

Up on the hill at MONA, the weird platform had started to glow. It was the most extraordinary lilac. Then it went green. Then dark purple.


The next day we went to museum. Unfortunately, American artist Matthew Barney’s ‘River of Fundament’ stuff occupied the entire bottom floor. None of us could connect with it. The film that the stuff had been part of wasn’t on that day. Who cared? It was almost six hours long and I’d read it featured a lot of poo. Site specific, sure, but not really my thing.

However, keep an open mind about art. Be receptive. Don’t judge too quick. I began to lecture my family.

In 2003, I had seen a Barney retrospective at the Guggenheim and I thought if I shared a few highlights they might show more interest in the gold turds on display in Hobart.

I mentioned the trough of dripping Vaseline that spiraled down the famous white space, the room lined with black rubber that contained live pigeons and their shit, the enormous video screen playing footage of a thrash metal band and the image of Barney in a kilt with a bleeding rabbit hanging from in his mouth. And then there was the movie with the grid iron players arranged in the formation of fallopian tubes and then there was footage of the artist in a luge and did you know that Matthew Barney is married to Bjork and she is this really cool singer from a country called Iceland…

No one even told me to shut up. They just walked away.

I was left alone with a mummy and sickle and a bit of rope.

We cheered up watching the video installation of 23 Madonna fans singing the entire Immaculate Conception album but the true joy arrived for me later that night when I walked back up the hill to MONA.

The platform we had noticed the night before was actually an installation by American artist James Turrell. Skyspace comes on at dawn and dusk. It had just opened the week we were there and I lay back on a bean bag and watched the sky turn green and then brown and then black in reaction to the changing colours of the ceiling that surrounded it.

God it was so beautiful. Turrell had framed the sky. Ambitious, gorgeous, the sky was peacock blue, then it turned brown like a bit of milk chocolate and then I remembered what had happened the night before our holiday, how the plaster in our bedroom had sagged dramatically and how it was now being held in place by a large piece of wood and several long poles. I sincerely hoped that we would not be greeted by a more organic ‘skyspace’ when we got home to Melbourne.



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How to make a forest

C1070-IC415616p4Artist Richard Thomas took this photo (above and the following two) almost 17 years ago at the sewage treatment plant on Queens Street, Altona.

He was documenting the installation of Agnes Denes’ art work, ‘A Forest for Australia’, a sculpture made from 6000 native trees planted in five intersecting spirals on a 400-metre x 80-metre site.  As you can see, it was flat and barren; just a paddock of dried up grass and weak soil near a lagoon filled with waste.  Thirteen million litres of sewage is treated here each day.

It’s hard to think of a site more removed from the white cube of the contemporary art gallery. The place was abject, toxic, fenced off, concealed, denuded yet Agnes Denes and some volunteers saw the potential. This soil could be a canvas. Why not?

C1070-IC415616p3A bucket, a watering can, a spade, a sun hat, a strong pair of boots, some seedlings, this is all an artist needs. A strong back helps too, a bit of stamina.


Here is Agnes Denes herself, aged 67. She’s standing in front of the forest she imagined. Each peg would be a tree. She’s watered the soil, furrowed it. The gleam of silver in the background is the sewage treatment pond. You’d never know to look at it.

The lagoon is empty now; the sewage is treated in a massive tank instead. Gulls flap over the thick brown soup that comes from 20,000 houses, shops, offices and factories in Point Cook, Altona and Laverton. The surface of the tank is criss-crossed with silver walkways.

Engineers do the dirty work for us. Some of the shit is recycled. It waters the Kooringal golf course just next door and the one down at Sanctuary Lakes. The rest is treated and goes out into the bay.I have so much respect for the people who work at this plant. They face the deep shit that the rest of us don’t want to think about.

Perhaps this is what artists do too.


Look at what Agnes Denes has made here (I took this photo and the ones below). Look at these trees. They have survived a drought. Many have died but a surprising number are doing well; the paper barks are a solid green outer circle on all five of the spirals. The red gums and she oaks are less resilient but many are now well established and so beautiful.


I have been researching this art work for the past few months. You can read my article about it in The Age here.

I’ve been lucky to visit the forest three times and it has transformed the way I see this part of Melbourne – my neighbourhood – but it has also challenged me to think very differently about all sorts of shit, including trees, public art, gardening, memory, climate change and more.


I’m hopeful that this year City West Water may provide some public access to the site so that others can also enjoy this astonishing piece of land art. Watch this space!

Meanwhile, a friend alerted me to Fiona Hall’s spiral fern garden at the National Gallery of Australia. It was made in 1998, the same year Denes planted her forest in Altona. Hall planted 58 mature Dicksonia antarcticatree ferns 2.6 metres tall in the gallery’s sculpture garden. This spiral is rather better maintained than the one in Melbourne.


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