Poetry as public art: get your poem published on Victoria Street

A Caxton Miscellany
A piece of Denis Glover’s poetry – currently on display at the “A Caxton Miscellany” Christchurch Art Gallery exhibition.

This just in – a chance to have your poem on a Christchurch street. Literally.

Your poem will need to reference some aspect of the history or use of Victoria Street and surrounds. It must be entered by 23 March 2013 and the commissioned poems will earn $1000.00 ex GST each. The following resources will help:

Victoria Street

Caxton Press

Supreme Court and Victoria Street bridge, Christchurch
Supreme Court and Victoria Street bridge, Christchurch, Circa 1921

Here’s the official information:
Christchurch City Council (CCC) is embarking on a transitional programme for Victoria Street, Christchurch. As part of the programme, we are seeking to commission two poems for Victoria Street, including one from Ngāi Tahu writers.

Poems need to reference some aspect of the history or use of the street and adjacent areas. We are interested in telling the long and traditional commercial history of the street. The street has an auspicious association with literature. Poet Denis Glover co-founded The Caxton Press on Victoria Street in 1935, and the business still operates there today

We intend to paint the poems onto structures and surfaces in the street and this form of application will be considered when selecting work. Submitting poets and writers are encouraged therefore, to be mindful of the limitations in setting out works due to the method and potentially disjointed application of text.  Te reo Māori translation of texts is also of interest.

A knowledgeable panel will be convened to make the selection. The CCC Metropolitan Arts Advisor and project Landscape Architect will advise the panel.

Victoria Street
Victoria Street 2013

Submission Requirements
Your submission must include:
•    an original poem for consideration and translation to English or Māori if available
•    arts curriculum (your previous poetry and writing credentials)
•    full contact details

Submissions must reach us no later than 23 March 2013.

Value of Commissions
$1000.00 ex GST for each poem

This is a unique situation where Council is commissioning poetry as public art. In this instance we would seek to preserve the artists’ rights to the work (and to reproduce the work acknowledging the commission) and also seek to ensure Council’s rights as the commissioning agent to reproduce the work for promotional and recording purposes.

Given the transitional nature of spaces and places in the central city, CCC cannot guarantee work will remain unaffected by any remedial work on the structures of surfaces to which the text is applied. We will seek to reinstate completed text on any affected surface as soon as is practicable or where suitable.

Contacts for your submission
Enquiries should be directed to Kiri Jarden, Metropolitan Arts Advisor.
Email submissions are preferred to Kiri.Jarden@ccc.govt.nz

03 941 8635 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            03 941 8635      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Metropolitan Arts Advisor
Community Services
Christchurch City Council
PO Box 73016
Christchurch 8154

The ‘Cutting’ and Withell’s Island

sketchmapPeople have been tinkering with the Avon River since the early days of European settlement.  The original  route of the Avon was round Owles Terrace. Sand blocked the channel and it was feared that this might prevent development of commerce, via small vessels, up the Avon. The cutting was started by contractors, McGrath and Brady, and completed by the Canterbury Provincial Council in 1859. The area which was created through ‘the cut’ is Withell’s Island, named after a late owner, Charles Withell (1832-1916). Vessels have never, in any appreciable numbers, come ‘sailing with the tide’.

For many years the ‘cutting’ or ‘island’, with its wildlife, attracted children and at least one boy, Eddie Lawry, was drowned there. About 1910, the New Brighton Borough Council took sandhills, trucked them to the island and filled in the original watercourse.

Tom Gray’s reminiscences contain references to the creation of ‘the Cutting’:A notable undertaking in which he played a part was the making of a cutting through the Avon near the present New Brighton bridge so as to do away with an ‘elbow’ in the river there. This work was put in hand in conjunction with the building of Bricks Wharf at Barbadoes Street, at the time when it was hoped to inaugurate a steamer service up the river to that point ….

New Brighton was a thorough wilderness then, Peter Kerr’s house on the old Brighton Road being the last habitation out in that direction. There were about 50 men employed on the work. The beach was … thickly scattered with whalebones, many of which were for years afterwards to be seen forming bowers and other sorts of decorations in residences in the neighbourhood of the city. There was … timber on the beach which had come down from the mills then working at various points round the coast, and the contract men occasionally made more money selling the whale-bones and the timber than they would in many a day’s work.

Mushrooms also grew thickly adjacent to the river banks right up to the niggerheads, and the swamps round about were smothered with wild ducks. Sea birds were to be seen by the thousands where you will only see an occasional one now ….

Another thing … was the great quantity of frost-fish which were washed up on the beach …. We did not know what they were and thought they were unfit for eating, till … our cook discovered their delicacy as a food. We might have known that they were good for eating … because the gulls were always making meals of them, and these birds, like the rats, don’t go in for the worst of things.

Betty Innes’ handwritten reminiscences of about 1910-20

The river carnivals were held annually. There would be decorated boat and many other attractions and competitions including pillow fight on the greasy pole. The pole was erected horizontally over the river and slightly greased to make it rather slippery and the two contestants sat on this and at the word go began to pelt each other with pillows until one was unseated and fell into the river ….

We used to spend much time fishing … Our usual place was the river opposite Mountbatten Street. On a fine day the river bank there would be lined with fishermen.  We also occasionally fished at Herring Bay ….

The river originally followed the course alongside Owles Terrace,Union Street and Brighton Terrace and the cut through from the Power Boat Club to the end of Brighton Terrace was made some time before we came here but the old river bed was still full of water. Thus an island was formed. This was first used by Mr. Sefton, a local carrier and coal merchant, to run his horse in. One was bogged there and only extricated with great difficulty. Mr. Withell next brought this land and contracted with Mr. Bodger to fill it in. For months there was a small gauge tram track running from the sandhills along Shackleton Street to Union Street and thence to the island. Small trucks of sand were pulled along these by the horses. Many a ride we children had in those trucks.


  • Brighton standard
  • Greenaway, Richard,’ Taming the Avon’, Press, 28 February 1976
  • Innes, Betty, ‘Reminiscences’ – held by Richard Greenaway
  • ‘The lad from Tipperary’,  Star, 31 May 1919 p 8
  • Lyttelton times, Papers past

This information came from Richard Greenaway – an expert on the local history of Christchurch. Some of you might have been on one of his fascinating cemetery tours. He has an eye for a good story and the skill and patience to check and cross check all kinds of references. He has compiled a wonderful array of New Brighton stories.

140 characters of New Zealand Book Month

CoverWe’d love to join us in a New Zealand Book Month activity – share your teeny tiny review or pithy observation, maybe even a favourite NZ lit quote. You might like to point us in the direction of an awesome Aotearoa resource. It can be whatever you like – New Zealand books, authors, places, themes, poems, images.

Just use the hashtag #nznutshell on Twitter, or share it here in the comments. Or if you’d like to pop one in the email, send it to us at competition@christchurchcitylibraries.com. We will gather them together to make a compendium of short and nifty stuff – a big ole celebration of New Zealand books and booky people.

Ngaio MarshHere are a few examples:

“The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut”. Killer opening lines: R H Morrieson’s The Scarecrow. #nznutshell

Ngaio Marsh as Hamlet & other wonders – a @digitalnz set. #nznutshell

If you are into booky stuff, sign up for the @iiml newsletter & follow them. Literary love-in. #nznutshell

And here is the Storify of all the tweets here!

Gothic dyeing and feather curling 1902

— — — — —

We have digitised a rather splendid 1902 publication Tourists’ guide to Canterbury.

I will share some of the interesting ads and pictures from it in a series of posts – there’s lots of information about local businesses and places in 1902.

Fan girl squee – meet one of my fave authors!

As part of NZ Book Month celebrations here in Christchurch, we have very cleverly managed to organise a couple of visits by Karen Healey, one of my most favouritest authors ever.

I came across Karen’s first book Guardian of the Dead purely by accident. Sifting through a pile of new books some years ago, I found a cover that I really liked, and put it on my desk. It was only when I took the book home and started to read, that I found that it was a local book, by a local author, and set in and around my very own Christchurch. Jam-packed full of excitement, mystery, magic and Maori myth, it kept me riveted till the very end. I loved the way Karen had blended European and Maori history, literature and legend, and had set the book in a Christchurch that was absolutely recognisable.  Her second book, The Shattering, followed a year later, and was just as good a read.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Karen’s third book When We Wake. I took it home and devoured it in one sitting. It’s the story of Tegan, 16 years old and living in Melbourne in 2027. She goes to a political rally, is caught in an assassination attempt and shot, and wakes to find that she’s become the first person to be cryogenically frozen and revived. It’s 100 years in the future, Tegan has lost everyone and everything from her former life, and things in the future aren’t as rosy as they should be. In fact, they seem to be worse than they were when Tegan was alive the first time round.

Karen HealeyYou can come and meet Karen Healey and hear her talk about her books and writing as part of New Zealand Book Month celebrations.  She’ll be at Upper Riccarton Library on Tuesday 12 March at 5pm (with pizza for tea!), and at Central Library Tuam on Thursday 28 March, also at 5pm.  Bring a copy of her book/s with you, and she may even sign them for you!

If you want to read more about Karen, try her website. Read our 2010 interview.

Celebrating our native plants

One of the ways we celebrate our New Zealand environment is in our garden landscapes. I love the way New Zealand architects and landscapers have moved towards putting our houses firmly into their natural environment.

Getting the same effect in your own small un-architect-designed garden can be a bit more of a challenge. Landscaping with native plants is its own special skill.

The easy bit is getting the plants go grow. Choosing plants native to your own little bit of the New Zealand ecosystem guarantees plants that will flourish. Our own Christchurch City Council has published a wonderful series outlining the plants native to your bit of Otautahi.

Putting it together to create an harmonious whole demands creativity and a bit of understanding of the native ecosystem. Fortunately there are lots of books to help you out with ideas and information. We have a booklist If you want to landscape with New Zealand native plants to make it easy for you. Isobel Gabites lead the way in 1998 with a book which used natural plant associations to create designs for gardens. Many books since then have gone on to offer inspiring examples and essential planting information to help create the desired effect.

Think you need a lot of space for a native garden? Think again. What about this little beauty planted by the CCC gardeners outside the City Rebuild building on Lichfield Street (just behind the Lichfield Street carpark). It only measures around 3×7 metres and looks like a mini forest.

CCC native garden by City Rebuild in Lichfield St
CCC native garden by City Rebuild in Lichfield St

Did you hear about Fat Tuesday?

My mother would tell me there  is “nothing new under the sun” which is her way of telling me that nothing I do surprises her anymore! Oh dear. It  also tells us that everything has its own history and terms we all take for granted have a much richer context than we realise. A fantastic example of this is the term Mardi Gras. When I think of Mardi Gras I think of New Orleans and Jazz music but all is not as it seems.

According to Credo, Mardi Gras comes from the French for ‘Fat Tuesday’! This comes from  the custom of using up all the fat in the household before the beginning of Lent (which started on Wednesday 13February this year). It represented the last opportunity for playing up and  indulging in food and drink before the solemn season of fasting. Hence the carnivals (from the Latin ‘to take away meat’) in many parts of the world, including Italy, Brazil and of course New Orleans.

It seems in my ignorance I have been practicing ‘Fat Tuesdays’ and Lent for a while –  I am forever gorging myself on food and then entering a period of repentance. Unfortunately my motives are not derived from a need to seek forgiveness but to just get back into the same pants I was wearing this time last year. The sin of gluttony and vanity are upon me so perhaps I should concentrate less on the festival aspect of life and more on the denial of Lent!

Sex and climate change

Cover: SolarIt’s high time that climate change got sexed up. Off the top of my head, I can think of no more effective passion killer than those two words introduced in the heat of the moment (as it were).

Of course the library has heaps of tomes on climate change and you are at liberty to wade your way through them. But I’m talking about fiction that uses the theme of climate change to entertain us and, believe it or not, this unlikely coupling exists. Christchurch Libraries has no fewer than thirteen adult fiction books on this theme and two of them are by authors with serious literary clout:

  • Solar – Ian McEwan
  • Flight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver (Yes, we’ve bought the American copy with the funny spelling)

Both these books do the seemingly impossible: they connect the reader to environmental problems through the sexual antics of the main characters. In Solar, Michael Beard is a short, bald, unattractive-looking academic with enormous sexual pull. Don’t say you haven’t met any men like this because I nearly married one, and I don’t believe I’m that unusual. He does the Ecological Conference Circuit presenting papers on his specialisation: wind turbines for domestic use. If you’ve read other McEwan books, prepare to be taken by surprise, as this book is very, very funny.

In Flight Behaviour, Dellarobia is Kingsolver’s main character. She is a feisty young woman who has sexual longings of great intensity for men other than her rather endearing husband. This is not a sexually explicit book, but the yearning, the longing is palpable. She describes her marriage this way:

It’s like I’m standing by the mailbox waiting all the time for a letter. Every day you come along and put something else in there. A socket wrench, or a milkshake. It’s not bad stuff. Just the wrong things for me.

Cover: Flight BehaviorBehind her home on a  Tennessee smallholding, a massive colony of butterflies makes an unexpected appearance. This event, and its effect on the small town and Dellarobia, is conveyed absolutely beautifully: God’s Will is given a long leash and then reined ever so subtly in, Science comes out of its corner pulling no punches, and relationships shift before our very eyes. But at heart, this book is a song of praise for education. Dellarobia needed it – desired it even, but her school, her community and her fertility all conspired against her.

So how do these two books differ? In Solar, you learn about Michael Beard through the subject of climate change. In Flight Behaviour, you learn a lot more about the subject of climate change through Dellarobia. I loved them both.

Christchurch – this week in history (25 February – 3 March)

Theatre Royal
Exterior view of the Theatre Royal, Christchurch, prior to opening [1907]
25 February 1908
Theatre Royal opens. This is the building which exists today, the third to bear the name:

The people of Christchurch, in seeing the need to establish a venue for the local music society to perform, constructed the Music Hall on the original site in 1863. Then a visiting American actor conceived the idea of a theatre. This met with the approval of the society and in 1863 after some structural alterations the venue was re-opened and re-named the Royal Princess Theatre. Productions staged until the building’s demolition in 1876 included Shakespeare’s Richard II, King Henry IV, The Merchant of Venice, and other classics like Don Giovanni. The second theatre was opened eighteen weeks after the closure. The present Theatre Royal, which stands opposite the original site in Gloucester Street, opened 25 Feb. 1908 with a performance of The Blue Moon”. – The Press:, 4 Oct. 1905, p. 7/ 8; The Press, 26 Feb. 1908, p. 7.

25 February 1978
New Brighton Mall opens.

26 February 1938
Summit Road opens. Read more about Harry Ell and the Summit Road.

27 February 1964
Lyttelton road tunnel opens, New Zealand’s longest.

28 February 1853
Provincial boundary defined by proclamation. Westland (then called West Canterbury) included as part of Canterbury.

February 1851
First Avon bridge built – a footbridge at Worcester Street. It was destroyed in the 1868 flood.

February 1986
Radio UFM (located at University of Canterbury) becomes first station in Canterbury to be granted an FM warrant on a long term basis.

1 March 1930
Majestic Theatre opens – the city’s first steel frame building.

2 March 1970
Amid mounting controversy, City Council begins construction of road deviation through Hagley Park. The work was stopped by March 7 for legal reasons, and the project was eventually scrapped.

3 March 1862
First meeting of the Christchurch Municipal Council, which became the Christchurch City Council in November. John Hall elected Chairman, G. Gordon first Town Clerk.

More February and March events in our Christchurch chronology.

Farewell Ralph.

Ralph Hotere – The Artist’s Studio, Port Chalmers 1979 by Marti Friedlander

Ralph Hotere, 1931 – 2013.