Godwits give Christchurch the bird for another season

Today (3 March) those cute little intercontinental travellers – aka the godwits (kuaka) – will be formally farewelled as they start to depart the Avon Heathcote Estuary on their epic annual journey to Siberia.

For some years now the Christchurch City Council has “adopted” the godwits, celebrating their return as a signal of spring and ringing the Cathedral bells when the first bird is spotted on the Estuary.

I’m a sentimentalist and I like this idea. Godwits and their epic journeys also resonate in  New Zealand literature  – The Godwits Fly by Robin Hyde, James Belich has a chapter Waiting for Godwits in his Paradise Reforged and in  Godwits return: “Some of the New Zealanders who have helped shape the country’s cultural and intellectual life reflect on their reasons for choosing, finally, to live in New Zealand and what they have found on their return”.

All these allude to the idea of talented New Zealanders travelling long distances from their homeland to pursue their dreams. My favourite godwit literary link is James McNeish’s As for the Godwits which he wrote about living on Kawhia Harbour. He renamed the remote settlement of Te Maika as Te Kuaka and  this book and the sequel An Albatross Too Many were a wonderful evocation of people and place.

Back to the Christchurch godwits. Apparently they have been having some good seasons and numbers are up  in the Estuary, Brooklands Lagoon and upper Lyttelton Harbour. To find out more about these fantastic little birds read Godwits; long haul champions by Keith Woodley.

Authors descend on Gold Coast for Somerset Festival of Literature

While others are gearing up for the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Festival in Wellington, I’m counting down the days to the Somerset Festival of Literature at Somerset College on the Gold Coast from 17-19 March.  This festival brings together some of the top Australian authors and illustrators for children and young adults, such as Jackie French, Melina Marchetta and Markus Zusak, as well as some of my favourite international authors, Patrick Ness and Derek Landy.

The Festival consists of three days of author talks with primary and secondary school students, book signings, book launches and other entertainment on the Somerset College grounds.  There are loads of sessions I can’t wait to go to including Patrick Ness, Derek Landy, Jackie French, James Moloney, Anthony Eaton, and Markus Zusak.  If you have any questions that you’re dying to ask these authors, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to ask them on your behalf.  I’m hoping to set up some interviews with a couple of the authors and I’ll be blogging from the festival so you’ll be able to hear all about it.

My only problem will be lugging a suitcase of signed books home with me again!

New Zealand: Land of the hobbits?

A Journey through New Zealand Film book cover

Bret: Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson put New Zealand on the map, but he put it on the map as Middle-earth, not as New Zealand.

Jemaine: A lot of what Jackson purports to be true about New Zealand is actually a lie.

Bret: Despite what you may believe from watching The Lord of the Rings, New Zealand does not have a large hobbit population.

Jemaine: At least not as many as he makes out. (Flight of the Conchords)

When travelling around or living overseas, how many people say “Oh, New Zealand! Yes, I know it – I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies!” after you tell them where you are from?

I think it is fair to say that while the film adaptations of J.R.R Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel(s) do showcase some of the incredible scenery we have outside our doors, that’s where the references to New Zealand stop. But what films or television series do offer a snap shot of our country as it really is? Is there a single movie that captures completely the very essence of what it means to be Kiwi? Or is every film just one taste from a very diverse pavlova?

New Zealand is producing more and more fantastic films and television series each year which celebrate Kiwi culture and people. Internationally, we are now becoming just as well known for our struggling musical duos in skinny jeans as for our hobbits and whale-riding girls. But surely there is more about us that we can show the world, too. Bro’Town is now being screened in 6 other countries, including Portugal. I personally think everyone needs to meet Cheryl West and her lovely family.

Other essential viewing may be: Black Sheep, Eagle vs. Shark, Secondhand Wedding, No.2, Snakeskin, In My Father’s Den, World’s Fastest Indian, Scarfies, Goodbye Pork Pie, Sione’s Wedding, as well as many more.

If you wanted to introduce someone to your New Zealand through a film or television series, what would you recommend they watch?

Recent necrology, February 2010

Necrology – a list of notable people who have died recently. Now a regular feature on our blog.

  • Irina Arkhipova, 1925-2010
    Russian diva
  • Louis Auchincloss, 1917-2010
    American novelist, historian, and essayist
  • Gene Barry, 1919-2010
    Actor who made his name in Burke’s Law as the Hollywood police chief with a chauffeur-driven Rolls
  • Ian Carmichael, 1920-2010
    Unassuming star of 1950s light comedies who found fresh fame on television as Wooster and Wimsey
  • John Dankworth, 1927-2010
    Giant of British jazz who dazzled as an instrumentalist and as the composer of film and TV scores
  • Dick Francis, 1920-2010
    Jockey who came to grief in a famous Grand National before emerging as one of the most successful thriller writers of his time
  • Kathryn Grayson, 1922-2010
    Shapely star of MGM musicals who won audience hearts in Kiss Me Kate and Show Boat
  • Trevor Griffiths, 1928-2010
    Renowned South Canterbury rosarian and author
  • Michael Harper, 1931-2010
    Priest whose powerful spiritual experiences propelled him to the leadership of the Charismatic movement
  • Lionel Jeffries, 1926-2010
    Actor and director who was a prolific performer before making the much-loved film The Railway Children
  • Mervyn Jones, 1922-2010
    Radical journalist and author who wrote novels and an affectionate biography of Michael Foot
  • Raymond Mason, 1922-2010
    British sculptor of narrative verve who was friends with Giacometti, Picasso and Cartier-Bresson
  • Ralph McInerny, 1929-2010
    Authority on Thomas Aquinas who wrote the Father Dowling mysteries
  • Wyn Morris, 1929-2010
    Gifted conductor who might have entered the musical pantheon but for his maverick tendencies
  • John Reed, 1916-2010
    Stalwart of the D’Oyly Carte company who sparkled in the quickfire patter songs of Gilbert and Sullivan
  • Max Salpeter, 1908-2010
    Violinist who started out accompanying silent films and led the Philharmonia under many great maestros
  • James Stewart, 1925-2010
    Former Principal of Lincoln College and respected rugby coach
  • Wendy Toye, 1917-2010
    Precocious ballerina and choreographer who became one of Britain’s first women film directors
  • Allan Wicks, 1923-2010
    Acclaimed organ recitalist and champion of contemporary music

True ‘Boy’s Own Adventure’ – Jungle Soldier

Unlike the Band of Brothers,  Freddy Spencer-Chapman fought World War 2 mostly on his own in the jungles of Malaya.

A very hardy and undaunted explorer and keen observer of wildlife he volunteered to fight a war of sabotage behind Japanese lines using his expert outdoor survival skills. The lightning victory of the Japanese and surrender of Singapore left him isolated and without any support.

This is a remarkable story for several reasons; survival against a terrifying enemy, tropical diseases, near starvation and evading capture over four years not to mention that for most of this time the Japanese believed they were hunting for hundreds of Australian commandos. Moreover, during his extraordinary ordeals Chapman managed to discover and record new plant and wildlife species which was a significant legacy he left to the catalogue of natural history.

The book is loaded with other equally fascinating ironies. For example it became clear early on that the British could not spare any trained agents or special forces for Malaya so they had to authorise Freddy to train locals to fight their guerilla war. Just which group of locals that was will certainly raise a few eyebrows! This book makes for a real, if gruelling ripping yarn.