Dear Diary Day

Dear Diary Day is observed each year on 22 September. If you have kept a diary, today is the day to go back and reread your efforts – or if you don’t have a diary, today is a great time to go about starting one.

Diaries are acknowledged to be excellent ways of letting off steam, and effectively becoming a better person (though if you are like me, realistically, you just brood on what you have written and become all the more grouchy – but then I am a bit ‘special’ like that). There is also nothing quite like going back and rereading these snapshots of your life – be they good or bad – and, in the process, enjoying a lot of memories, and learning from your mistakes.

Dear Diary Day, is also a great time to acknowledge those great diarists who have taken the ultimate step in diary keeping – namely, committing their memories to print. Here are some great reading picks for ‘Dear Diary Day’ that will hopefully inspire you to write up your thoughts for posterity too:

Cover of The Kenneth Williams diariesThe Kenneth Williams Diaries: The Telegraph recently predicted that in twenty years time, Kenneth Williams will not be remembered as a Carry on favourite, but as one of the English language’s finest diarist. It is impossible not to agree – this volume of his diaries is devastatingly honest both in his assessment of others, from Joe Orton to Tony Hancock, and of himself. Deliciously waspish, and often unbearably tragic, these diaries really do bring readers closer to a fine autodidact and one of Britain’s most underrated performers.

The Noel Coward Diaries: These erudite and witty diaries bring to life one of Britain’s most beloved theatrical figures – Noel Coward. A man of seemingly numerous talents from acting to writing, Coward’s diaries take us through theatrical tours, his own private struggles with depression, and ultimately priceless stories of his contemporaries and of himself. A sheer delight to read, Coward’s diaries are rewardingly gossipy but always without any sort malice, just like the man himself.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf: These diaries from one the 20th century’s most important and ground-breaking literary giants, are a real privilege to read. Virginia Woolf’s diaries take you to the very heart of a genius – dispelling the myth of a sobering and snobby intellectual, and replacing this with a complex, sensitive, and even humorous woman. With descriptions of other famous literary figures – from Katherine Mansfield to T. S. Eliot – as well as descriptions of day to day life, and her journey through writing, this first volume of her diaries is a fascinating and eye-opening read.

Cover of The diary of a young girlThe Diary of A Young Girl: Just after receiving a blank diary for her birthday, Jewish teenager Anne Frank and the rest of her family were forced into hiding in Nazi occupied Amsterdam. This beloved classic is her evocative and honest record of those two years in hiding in a claustrophobic attic, along with her parents, sister, and others desperate to escape the horror of the Nazi regime. Over seventy years since its first publication, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ remains an unforgettable testament to one of the most shameful events in world history, as well as a moving tribute to the spirit of a remarkable young girl.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys: You couldn’t really say that you love reading diaries and not read Samuel Pepys. A member of parliament who rose to the position of Chief Secretary to the Admiralty, Pepys is better known now for the diaries he wrote throughout the 1600s. Recording such historical events as the Plague and Great Fire of London, these astonishingly honest and ever entertaining diaries also chart the author’s own life – from political chicanery, to his own sexual adventures and domestic conflict.

Cover of The diary of a booksellerThe Diary of A Bookseller: Shaun Bythell’s hilarious diary charts a year in the life of the largest secondhand bookshop in Scotland. It is one of the ultimate books about books, packed with stories of eccentric book buyers, sound book recommendations, and accounts of stock purchase trips to auction houses and estates. With its wonderfully barbed and ever-entertaining style, this is a diary enthusiast’s and book shop lover’s dream.

The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh: These classic diaries reveal Evelyn Waugh in all his cantankerous yet honest and genuine glory. A must for Waugh fans, and anyone wishing to delve into the history of this era, these diaries are a mesmerising read filled with hilariously indiscreet portrayals of his peers, and great insights into the creation of Waugh’s beloved work.

Journal of Katherine Mansfield: The diaries of Katherine Mansfield contained in this volume, are mainly drawn from the last years of her life as this beloved author struggled but bravely strove to continue writing. Despite war time losses, and the immense pain Mansfield found herself in, she manages to write of the beauty of things surrounding her, and movingly reflects on her life, and celebrated writing.

Cover of Ancient as the hillsAncient as the Hills: James Lees Milne was a writer and English architectural conservationist, now best known for his compulsive diaries. Kept over the course of 60 years, his diaries cover a fascinating half century in history – from war time England to Blair Britain. Along with engaging descriptions of his own life and work, Milne observes a fascinating array of people from Nancy Mitford to Mick Jagger – always with absolute honesty and a fantastic eye for detail.

I Will Bear Witness: These powerful diaries are Jewish scholar Victor Klemperer’s record of life in Nazi Germany. His eloquent and mesmerising entries describe the day-to-day horror of life in Hitler’s Germany with important detail, candour, and courage.

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The Suffrage Experiment in New Zealand

125 years ago – on 19 September 1893 – New Zealand women won the right to vote . Registrations closed six weeks after that date for the next election on 28 November. This would have been fairly exciting for New Zealand women but how did the rest of the world view our landmark decision? Armed with an excellent selection of newspaper archives from around the world, I have researched what was said. For this exercise I used Gale Primary Sources; it searches 19 digital archives of newspapers, periodicals, monographs and manuscripts.

Some of the most interesting articles quote other papers, and titles like ‘The New Zealand Experiment’ seemed to be popular.

VICTORY IN NEW ZEALAND. (1893, September 14). Women’s Penny Paper, (30), [465].

“With a slight feeling of envy, we offer our hearty congratulations to our fortunate sisters , who will now be the pioneers in the British Empire in the exercise of franchise.”

The Experiment in New Zealand. (1893, November 16). Women’s Penny Paper, (39), 620.

This article “The Experiment in New Zealand” has the review of the editor of the Australian edition of The Review of Reviews. This writer suggests what might happen in the upcoming elections.

“The new voters, it is suggested will apply quite new tests to candidates. A candidate, one critic argues, who is old, bald, and, say, bandy-legged, will have no chance of winning the suffrages of the voters in petticoats, as against a candidate who is young, has good teeth, and parts his hair in the middle.”

Pretty Souls! (1893, November 28). Fun [UKP], LVIII(1490), 229.

“…with the result that women are now entitled vote for parliamentary candidates in New Zealand. They were not keen to learn their fate, as the empty benches showed. But a correspondent supplies the key to their apparent apathy. A “Society” wedding was in progress a few yards off! Pretty Souls! “

Hope for New Zealand. (1894, February 25). Rocky Mountain News, p. 12

This article reports on another article that appeared in The Nineteenth Century quoting it:

“The colony is now committed to a course of extreme radical legislation. Such are the results of the female franchise! IT is to be hoped that it will be a warning to English conservatives. We shall probably for some years to come be a dreadful object lesson to the rest of the British Empire. We must trust to beer and the banks to save us from absolute ruin.”

Women Voters in New Zealand. (1894, April 8). New York Herald [European Edition], p. 6.

A report on women voter numbers –

“Dunedin had 7,644 women on the roll, and only 1,338 failed to record their votes. Many of the the absentees were no doubt deterred by the heavy rains which fell on the polling day.”

“…and in Christchurch 5,989 out or 6,710 went to the poll.”

WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE IN NEW ZEALAND. (1894, August 18). Nottinghamshire Guardian, p. 8.

“An interview with Mrs. Sheppard, New Zealand deserves to be called the land of political experiments. Its rulers, with a boldness that would startle even many Democratic English politicians, are passing into law measure after measure of radical reform. Among other changes universal suffrage was last year conferred on adult women, married as well as single, irrespective of property qualifications.”

The journalist finishes his article with this summary:

Mrs Sheppard is the very opposite of the bogey “advanced women.” held up to frighten reformers. Handsome, well proportioned, and with a glow of health in her cheeks, she is a good representation of the Colonial woman at her best, strong physically and mentally.

The Suffrage Experiment in New Zealand. (1893, December 7). Women’s Penny Paper, (42), 669.

This article reports on a number of other newspapers views on in particular the quotes from a article in The Melbourne Age of October 21 1893.

“….the bulk of their womankind did not demand it and did not want it. The agitation was “got up by a few women” – chiefly women’s Christian associations and kindred bodies..”

Woman in New Zealand. (1894, January 1). Daily Inter Ocean, p. 14.

Mr Webster relays his views on the election in New Zealand in November 1893.

“It was rather amusing” continued Mr. Webster, “to note the eagerness which the ladies working on the committees brought in voters of their own sex to the polls. Wherever a voter had a baby a member of the committee remained to care for it while the mother recorded her vote. Everything was conducted in the most orderly manner, no rowdyism was apparent.” …”All the same” concluded Mr. Webster in a regretful tone of voice, “I cannot, while appreciating the advantages that are certain to result, but imagine that the dainty blush of womanhood is somewhat blurred when woman steps into the arena of political strife.”

WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE IN NEW ZEALAND: LADY VOTERS GOING TO THE POLL AT DEVONPORT, NEAR AUCKLAND. (1894, January 27). Graphic

Interview with Laurence Fearnley – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

During the chaos of dashing between WORD sessions, writer and co-editor Laurence Fearnley kindly agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions about her new anthology To the Mountains and other works.

What brought you to writing about mountaineering?

My parents used to do a lot of climbing in Scotland and Wales after the war [before moving to Christchurch]. We spent a lot of weekends tramping — dad went on a couple of expeditions to the Himalayas, my brother was a keen climber… When I was doing research for my novel The Hut Builder I read a lot of Alpine Club articles and ended up with boxes and boxes of material, so I thought it would be quite nice to do something with that. There hadn’t been an anthology of mountain writing since Ray Knox’s A Thousand Mountains Shining in the 80s, so it seemed a good time. I hadn’t really kept up to date with modern mountaineering writing but [co-editor] Paul Hersey edited the Alpine Journal and is a climber, so he had that sort of knowledge.

You researched a lot in the Hocken Collection. What was that like?

They have full archives from the Alpine Club, which was established in 1891. It’s interesting because they allowed women to join as members right from the start, compared to others like the Canterbury Mountaineering Club which didn’t allow women in until the 1980s. I got material from those archives and also from notebooks, journals, and letters that individuals have donated to the collection. It’s an amazing archival record, it’s incredible. It does taper off from the 1970s/80s onwards so it would be great if people continued to donate to the collection, if this could be our central repository of mountain writing.

A lot of voices chosen for this anthology aren’t those most people would associate with alpine writing — usually we only hear from those at the cutting edge of mountaineering.

That’s the sad thing because that’s how you get the same old voices coming through, if they’re not disrupted by allowing different voices. Mountains are a big part of our sporting identity, it would be nice if it was seen as something families do, not just rugged individuals. There are so many reasons why people go into the mountains — photography, art, for somewhere quiet and restful, to admire the beauty… The public perception of conquest [of the Alps] doesn’t really hold true, it’s not necessarily a motivation for most people.

At the same time a lot of the 1930s Canterbury Mountaineering Club articles are of trips in the Port Hills because it was difficult to get good transport to the Alps — they might only be able to get into the mountains once or twice a year but they were very fit. It was a class orientated sport, particularly in the early days. It’s interesting when the boundaries start breaking down between the upper middle class mountaineers and the working class mountain guides. Guides weren’t allowed in the Alpine Club because they were professionals.

Laurence Fearnley. Image supplied.
Laurence Fearnley. Image supplied.

Which doesn’t give credit to the fact that the guides were doing a lot of the work putting up tents, cutting steps, carrying the equipment…

Yes, you get someone like Dora De Beer on an expedition overseas in China, they walked 400 miles before they even got to the mountain, it was a real Victorian expedition. They would expect shelter from whatever was available, from monasteries to embassies, just take over their house. She was an amazing woman — during the 30s just before the war she would drive from London through Holland, Germany and Switzerland to get to Italy, on her own a lot of the time. Her diaries are from 1936-37, a lot of her entries are things like “Very inconvenienced getting across the border,” such a sense of imperious entitlement with no mention of the political climate. People like her were so curious and enthusiastic, in New Zealand they’d set off on horseback across Otira to the West Coast, just loving the absolute freedom of being out of that rigid society. They thought it was a great hoot.

Some of my favourite parts of the book are letters from the 1800s, there were some really funny excerpts. You must have had a lot of fun finding these in the Hocken collection. Do you have any favourites?

The ones I liked were the quieter, reflective pieces, people going back later in life and just enjoying being in the outdoors with their friends. I guess Jill Tremain had a big impact on me as a kid when she did the [1971 traverse of the Southern Alps] with Graeme Dingle — I can remember it being on the radio, there was a lot of controversy about them sharing a tent as she wasn’t married. From her letters she seemed to have such a generous outlook on life.

Voices I like least would be the 1970s slightly macho hard men stuff, that’s not a voice that appeals to me but quite a big part of the literature of the time. When you compare those writers with Aat Vervoorn, so reflective and spiritual, learning from the landscape… The ones who enjoy being in the space rather than needing to prove themselves or get a reputation, those would be the voices I like.

To the Mountains. Image supplied.
To the Mountains. Image supplied.

What are you currently working on?

I’m two-thirds of the way through a novel looking at landscape through scent and identity, under the umbrella narrative of a woman who loses her job when the university Humanities department is done away with. That one will be coming out next year. I’m also looking at doing an anthology of New Zealand women mountaineers. This will be more historical, it will be worthwhile to have a chronology of women mountaineers as there are so many of them.

What are you reading at the moment?

Just read a couple of books that I reviewed for Landfall, one called Oxygen by [New Zealand freediver) William Trubridge — not a book I’d necessarily be drawn to but interesting to see just how determined and focussed he has to be. The other is a beautiful book about hunting called Dark Forest Deep Water by Richard Fall, which would normally be something that turns me off but hearing him reflecting on why he hunts and the emotional journeys of hunting… It’s a great book, I’d really recommend it.

Thanks Laurence for a lovely interview, and I look forward to reading your next books!

A Very Big Deal – Charles Kingsford-Smith’s flight to Wigram, 11 September 1928

When it’s so easy to cross the Tasman, many people do – a winter holiday on the Gold Coast, a show in Melbourne, shopping in Sydney, family in Perth …thousands of Kiwis travel to Australia every year, and its easy to forget that the very first trans-Tasman flight was less than 100 years ago and was A Very Big Deal.

The Southern Cross. [10 September 1928] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0015
The Southern Cross. [10 September 1928] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0015
The flight time was 14 hours and 25 minutes, with the three-engineed Fokker plane Southern Cross flown by Australians Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm along with navigator Harold Litchfield, and radio operator Thomas H. McWilliams. This flight was only the latest in a series of ‘firsts’ for Kingsford Smith and Ulm: in June 1927 they completed a round-Australia circuit in 10 days, 5 hours; then on 31 May 1928 they  made the first eastward trans-Pacific flight, leaving from Oakland (California) to Brisbane, via Hawaii and Suva, in 83 hours, 38 minutes of flying time. In August 1928 came the first non-stop trans-Australia flight from Victoria to Perth.

An unsuccessful attempt to fly the Tasman had been made by two New Zealand Air Force pilots – Captain George Hood and Lieutenant John Moncrieff in January 1928. The crew of Southern Cross dropped a wreath to their memories approximate 240 km off the coast of New Zealand.

Initially Kingsford-Smith and Ulm planned to depart Australia on 2nd September, but were forced to delay departure due to poor weather, departing Richmond (near Sydney) on the evening of 10th September. The flight was made in stormy – at times icy – conditions, with landfall near Cook Strait.

The crowd that greeted them in Christchurch was estimated at between 30 and 40,000, and the whole country celebrated the achievement – finally we were connected to the rest of the world.

Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, and others, upon the arrival of the aeroplane Southern Cross at Wigram, Christchurch. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 1/2-084047-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23012759

While the New Zealand Air Force overhauled their plane, Kingsford-Smith and crew were taken on a triumphant nationwide tour. Their return flight from Blenheim to Richmond took 23 hours due to severe weather, fog and a navigational error. On landing they had 10 minutes of fuel left.

It was another twelve years before a regular air service by flying boat began in April 1940, and flight time was 9 hours.  Thank goodness it doesn’t take so long now!

Kingsford-Smith went on to make further record-breaking flights and was knighted for services to aviation in 1932.

Kingsford Smith & Sumner school. Kete Christchurch PH13-058.jpg
Kingsford Smith & Sumner school. Kete Christchurch PH13-058.jpg

CoverCover

Prisoners planting trees on the Hanmer Plains: Picturing Canterbury

Prisoners planting trees on the Hanmer Plains. File Reference CCL-KPCD1-IMG0090.

Prisoners planting trees on the Hanmer Plains [ca. 1904].

Between 1900 and 1901 reserve land was set aside in Hanmer Springs for planting exotic trees to supply the Christchurch market. Planting of radiata pine and Douglas fir began in 1902-1903 and prison labour was used 1903-1913. There were 25 prisoners here in 1904, most of whom had asked to serve their sentence at Hanmer. Conditions were the same as a city prison, the only difference being the men got an additional four marks a week remission for industry. See The Press, 10 Sept, 1904, p. 3; The weekly press, 24 Mar. 1909, p. 67.

Do you have any photographs of Hanmer Springs? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Prisoners Planting Trees On The Hanmer Plains

Diana Wichtel – Driving to Treblinka: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverI must admit I have not yet read Driving to Treblinka, but I am on the long list of library customers who have reserved it to read. I have, however, read all The Listener articles that were the precursors for this book.

The moderator for this session was Philip Matthews, former colleague of Diana Wichtel, but now writing for The Press. He opened the session with some lines from Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan: “It’s Father’s Day and everybody’s wounded.”

Matthews suggested that Driving to Treblinka was a contribution to world history, but Wichtel demurred. She said that her father’s side of her personal history had remained in silence with a lot unsaid for many years until she reached a certain age. She was spurred by one of her daughters and a niece who said she must find where her father was buried.

When Wichtel was asked to provide a memoir piece and recipe for a book called Mixed Blessings, she was reluctant, but eventually wrote a piece. This was another spur to start researching the life of her father who was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust by jumping from a train bound for the Nazi death camp, Treblinka. He was sheltered by partisans for the rest of the war. He ended up emigrating to Vancouver, Canada, where he met her Kiwi mother who was on her OE and ended up working at her father’s business.

Diana Wichtel. Image supplied.
Diana Wichtel. Image supplied.

When Wichtel was 13, her family migrated to New Zealand. The children believed that their father was to follow them after tying up the loose ends of their lives in Vancouver. He never did and she discovered her parents’ marriage had been disintegrating. As fate would have it, her mother met another man in Auckland who was also from Vancouver. He became Wichtel’s stepfather. When Wichtel was 19, her actual father became ill, but she could not afford to return to Canada to see him.

But once Wichtel’s own children had grown up, she was freed to follow the impetus to research her family’s Jewish heritage with her father as the pivotal identity. Wichtel was approached by Mary Varnham of Awa Press and, over four years, with some welcome assistance from her Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship, she researched and wrote Driving to Treblinka.

Wichtel realised that from the outset the book had to be a personal story. She reasoned that if she was exposing her family, she had to expose herself. She stresses to the audience that it is her story and her version of the family’s history as honestly as she can portray it. She found that when she committed to writing the book, many of her own memories were recalled that she had imagined were lost to her.

When she interviewed Daniel Mendelsohn, author of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, he told her that “you have to open the door to the past, knowing you won’t shut it again.” And while working on the book, she felt that she had entered “the stream of history” which unkindly spat her out once her book was published. Worried about her wider family’s reception of her book, Wichtel had three months of anxiety after publication, but then realised to her delight that the family welcomed the book and were pleased she had written it.

Matthews joked that she had been a pioneer of what is now called “dark tourism” and she recounted some of the uncomfortable feelings she had experienced in Poland and in Israel. On a guided tour of Treblinka, she felt it was wrong that there was a cafe on the site. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, she saw a guide, himself a survivor, posing for pictures with school children. Another guide was adamant this was not allowed, but Wichtel felt that if the man had survived the Holocaust, then he should be the judge of its appropriateness. She encountered contentious displays of pre-war Jewish life in Krakow and she felt that it airbrushed the anti-semitism that had been present in Poland before and during World War Two. She joked that many people referred to this display area as “Jewrassic Park”.

She read an extract entitled “Snowing in Vancouver” about the last times she had spent with her father in 1964 before migrating to New Zealand at age 13.

Wichtel said the chapter called “Shouting at the Newspaper” was all too relevant with the many falsehoods being spread in the media about Jewish society, Jewish culture and the Holocaust and also the rise of the far-right in Europe and America.

She moved me to free the moths from my wallet. To paraphrase Jane Eyre: “Reader, I bought the book.”

Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Anne Salmond – Tears of Rangi: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Dame Anne Salmond: anthropologist, professor, environmentalist, writer, eloquent speaker, and still frequently asked to refute the opinions of the same old ex-politicans giving their ill-informed reckons about te ao Māori and its place in New Zealand. A tiresome task for someone who has spent their lifetime learning as much as possible about tikanga Māori and has literally written several books on the subject, so it was a treat to listen to Eruera Tarena engage Dame Anne in conversation.

Dame Anne Salmond
Dame Anne Salmond. Image supplied.

Eruera Tarena started off the session by asking Dame Anne to expand on their shared connections to his namesake, ancestors and prominent elders Eruera and Amiria Manutahi Stirling, inspiration for several books. While on a scholarship in the States she was often asked to speak about New Zealand and realised she didn’t know an awful lot about some aspects of our country, and therefore resolved to learn te reo Māori on her return. This she did, and it was while studying the subject at university that she met the Stirlings, hitting it off immediately with Amiria. A strong friendship ensued, involving a lot of storytelling and singing on Amiria’s part, and a gradual mentorship in te reo and tikanga Māori from Eruera Stirling. Upon the completion of Dame Anne’s masters, Eruera declared that “the marae is the university for you now.” This involved what sounds like two years of fun road trips in their little blue VW to different marae, soaking up the knowledge of kaumātua around the country and hearing about Amiria’s life as they drove.

I learnt as much through the skin as through reading or recording. When you talk to someone for a year about their life, marvelling at the stories you’re hearing, your lives become mingled. It’s a very intimate thing to do, and a huge gesture of trust to let your life be filtered through someone else’s pen.

Through these talks came the book Amiria: The Life Story of a Maori Woman, and later Eruera: The Teachings of a Maori Elder.

Cover of Amiria Cover of Eruera

Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds, Dame Anne Salmond’s most recent book, focusses more on the meeting of two cultures in early New Zealand history, bringing a more nuanced view to a time often written about solely as one of conflict. Dame Anne said in response to those that see European arrival as an enlightening influence on “savage” Māori that “they obviously don’t know much about European history”, referring to the frequent conflict in Europe at the time.

Regarding climate change and how we can come together to preserve our waterways and environment for future generations, Dame Anne spoke about the exploration in her book of how we can expand our ways of thinking of living with waterways — especially understanding that these are living system on which we rely, and therefore the necessity of restoring our rivers and springs. Some of this thinking emerged from work on a local eco-sanctuary and seeing the positive growth from that effort, seeing birds and native plant species return.

Tears of Rangi is about first encounters, asking deep questions about what’s the potential for us and our future. It’s an attempt to round off what I’ve been thinking about for a lifetime, to indicate some possibilities of what we can do together. I think we can do a lot. We’re trying, but we could do more.

The session closed with a tauparapara beloved of Eruera Stirling, speaking of what binds us and the coming together of spirits.

Kia whakarongo ake au

Ki te tangi a te manu nei
A te Mātūī
Tūī, tūī, tuituia
Tuia i runga
Tuia i raro
Tuia i waho
Tuia i roto
Tuia i te here tāngata
Ka rongo te pō
Ka ronga te ao
Tuia i te muka tāngata
I takea mai i Hawaiki-Nui
I Hawaiki-Roa, i Hawaiki-Pāmamao
Oti rā me ērā atu anō Hawaiki
Te hono i wairua
Whakaputa ki Te Whaiao
Ki te whaiao
Ki Te Ao Mārama

Tihei mauri ora!

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Kā Huru Manu: My names are the treasured cloak which adorns the land: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Takerei Norton and Helen Brown along with David Higgins from the cultural mapping team at Ngāi Tahu presented a session on Kā Huru Manu, the Ngāi Tahu digital atlas dedicated to recording and mapping traditional Māori place names and histories in the Ngāi Tahu tribal area.

David Higgins set the scene for what would prove to be a wonderful adventure into place names of Te Waipounamu.  David was one of the first people to provide material for the mapping project, and his involvement was acknowledged as being important  for encouraging others to become involved and highlights a vital aspect of the project – the need for trust and the building of relationships. Past attempts had been made to create an atlas or list of place names but all to often mistakes were made, be it incomplete information, shortened names, wrong spelling etc.  It highlighted for me the  importance of inclusiveness and the willingness and need to leave the office and travel to the people on their local marae –  to build trust so that the conversations can be ongoing.

The speakers, Takerei Nathan and Helen Brown stressed how the website has been created without a huge fascination with software and the whistles and bells that can accompany digital achievements.  However, that said, this is a fantastic website  and many a web designer could learn something about visuals, layout and the sheer in-depth nature of what this site contains.

This project is self funded by Ngāi Tahu, so no need for compromise and shortcuts.  A dedicated group of people have travelled the South Island visiting marae, verifying, researching, talking  and gathering colossal amounts of information. Each place name, be it a river, settlement, a place for kai, traditional travel routes, rivers and lakes is extensively checked and rechecked to make sure that to the best of their ability the information they have is correct.  Nothing goes on the website until there is complete approval from the marae.  Over 6000 place names have been identified, but so far about 1600 names are in the atlas, the marae will say when the rest of the names can be unlocked and made public.

Dive into the website Kā Haru Manu , look at the map and see all those thousands of green dots that signify an important place name, and then spot the small red dots that signify native reserves – a map can say a thousand words, the red dots are few and far between.  Read the stories and discover so much about where we live and our history.

This was a wonderful session with a group of enthusiastic and dedicated people.  Top this session off with an hour of Dame Anne Salmond and you have the makings of a great way to spend a dreary Christchurch Friday morning.

 

Ed Husain: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Ed Husain has an interesting past; he is a self-described former Islamic radical, having spent five years between the ages of 16 to 21 immersed in radical Islam. He has become one of those rare  individuals to have retracted from his extremist past, to share his narrative and speak out about one of the more secretive and misunderstood religions.

Ed Husain. Image supplied

Today he spoke with journalist Donna Miles-Mojab at the WORD Christchurch Festival. I happily braved the blustery-ness and the coldness and toddled along to witness the discussion at The Piano. The large auditorium was close to packed, with most of the audience being a half century older (and no doubt a good deal wiser and more knowledgeable) than I.

As I set off, it was with an eye to dispel some of the uncertainties surrounding Islam, in my mind anyway, and try to gain some level of insight into a religion that has always piqued my curiosity.

The Talk

CoverThe focus was around Ed Husain’s latest book The House of Islam which is an intriguing historical account and firsthand glimpse in to the world of Islam, addressing some of the major issues it faces today and throughout history. Not being religious myself, I am nonetheless intrigued by the complexities of Islam. Surrounded as we are by media reports of terrorism and violence perpetrated by extremist Muslims in the 21st century, how could one not be confused and wary of the very religion such extremists follow and cite as their inspiration? 

The scene of today’s discussion was set with a quick overview of the political environment. The persecution and Islamophobia that exists in many countries (including Europe); forced migration; the internment, high level surveillance and loss of rights of many Muslims in China; refugees flooding into Europe and the issues that is causing; and the general atmosphere of fear and suspicion surrounding Muslims in many parts of the world.

My attention was then further aroused by the announcement that this would be more ‘debate’ than ‘discussion.’ Debate indeed it was, with journalist and author disagreeing on several fronts.

Here are some of the more interesting points that were raised:

That there is currently a “civil war of ideas” occurring in the world of Islam. Ed Husain seeks, through much of his book, to remind Muslims today that traditional Islam upholds values of peace, freedom and free thought. Islam extremists have forgotten (or ignored) this tradition, and have deviated from the path of true Islam. Ed Husain identified three key groups who are responsible for inciting this civil war; the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi salafism and the current Iranian government. (Note: this suggestion provoked some rather entertaining antagonism from his Iranian host, who then tried to steer the discussion away from politics…and prompted Husain to retort: “You don’t want to talk politics when you don’t like the answer!” Indeed.)

That Islam is not so different from other religions such as Judaism and Christianity. In fact Husain likened Islam to an “outgrowth of the mothership” that is Judaism.

Ed Husain does not buy in to the clash between the West and East. Points out that we all pursue our interests, and have done so throughout history.

There was mention of the decline faced by Europe during the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages were marked by the end of free thought, with one brand of Christianity dominating for a long period of time. Husain posited that Islam is now entering its own ‘Dark Age’, and that there has not been, until very recently, a shut down of free spirit and reason such as we are seeing today.

An interesting point was raised that Muslims too have a long history of slavery and conquest; such transgressions are not limited only to the West with its colonialist past. The world would not be what it is today without conquest.

There was then some lively discussion around what motivates Jihadists: Husain suggested that it arose from the desire to bring Islam back the former glory of the Ottoman Empire; for Islam to become once more a dominating power – a stark return to an imperialist mindset. He went on to talk about how the Islamic belief in an afterlife where you are rewarded in death is a damaging and dangerous idea: it makes the real world, and the humans in it seem dispensable. Husain posits that the suicidal tendencies of Islamist extremists is one of the deadliest problems we face. In this issue, Husain and Miles-Mojab depart somewhat. Miles-Mojab points out that most jihadists/Islamic radicals are young men who are unemployed and have a critical lack of understanding of their faith; so that rather than being faith driven they are motivated by other external factors. She points out the growing violence exhibited by alt-right groups and individuals in the US, which are not faith driven; and that more Americans were killed last year by American alt-right violence than Americans were killed by Islamic terrorism. Husain disagrees, believing that faith is the primary driver in radical Islam (but with other factors being additional), and that Islamic extremists are utterly convinced that they will die and enter a new world as martyrs of their faith. He also states that if Jihadists could kill more Americans they would. It is only because of the preventative measures in place, that they are not able to do more damage.

A parting Ed Husain quote:

Those of you who are uncomfortable with a US led world, I invite you to consider a China led world, because that is where we are heading at the moment.

After listening to all of this (and, admittedly, a few historical lessons which somewhat went over my head), I am positively determined to get my hands on a copy of Ed Husain’s book. Christchurch City Libraries has a copy of The House of Islam. He has also written another book about his experiences, The Islamist

If you missed out on today’s talk, Ed Husain will also be at WORD tomorrow (Saturday 1st September; 1-2pm; The Piano) as part of the Disunited Kingdom? talk where he will join forces with author and BBC presenter Denise Mina and columnist David Slack to discuss Brexit and its various consequences.

And there are still two more days of WORD to enjoy!! Many of the events are free, check out the programme.

Enjoy!

Further Reading

125 Years – Are We There Yet?: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Are we there yet? 125 years on from the historic law change that granted New Zealand women the right to vote, an impressive line-up of women gathered in a WORD Christchurch panel at The Piano to discuss this question. Georgina Beyer, Dame Anne Salmond, Sacha McMeeking, Lizzie Marvelly, and Paula Penfold were chaired by the indomitable Kim Hill.

Things kicked off  in an unexpectedly musical fashion with sparkles and a ukulele as Gemma Gracewood and Megan Salole of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra led in with a waiata, the workers’ anthem “Bread and roses”, even managing to get the crowd chiming in with a refrain at the end, Gracewood quipping that “it’s in Kim Hill’s contract to be introduced like this at every event she does”, which is most certainly a lie but it’s nice to pretend it’s not.

In panel discussions it can sometimes be a challenge to make sure that each person gets space to share their thoughts though for this event each panellist got their own turn at the podium. Unsurprisingly all of them answered in the negative but were good enough to elaborate on why, and to speculate on how we could, indeed, get there.

125 Years: Are we there yet? WORD Christchurch Festival 2018
Dame Anne Salmond, Georgina Beyer, Paula Penfold, Sacha McMeeking, Lizzie Marvelly, and Kim Hill. WORD Christchurch Festival 2018. Thursday 30 August 2018. File reference: 2018-08-30-IMG_0132

Dame Anne Salmond bemoaned the “experiment” that’s seen public services turned into businesses and the damage it’s done to our communities. “What price work,” she asked “if you have to trade away some of your desires and dreams? What price a thriving economy if we’ve got children dying of Third World diseases?”. Change, she felt,  must be a shared task.

She also queried why, as someone who has an academic background in New Zealand history, and the Treaty she is always being asked by journalists about comments made by Don Brash, someone who has never deigned to study these topics. “Why am I still hearing the same voices?” she wondered.

Georgina Beyer remembered and paid tribute to Sonia Davies, the “lovely little piece of firework” who talked her into joining and running for the Labour Party. Davies’ autobiography (later turned into a movie) took it’s name from the waiata that opened the session.

Beyer outlined the slow, but building momentum leading on from 1893, pointing out that it took many years before a woman was elected into parliament (Lytteltonian MP, Elizabeth McCombs in 1933) but that change has been more rapid in the last few decades. Though parliament is still much more balanced in its distribution of power than the boardroom is.

She acknowledged that in some corners of feminism there was a pushing back against transgender activism, that some felt perhaps that all the work and achievements up to this point were being “ridden on the coattails by this ‘transgender lot’.” But she felt that this division wasn’t helpful and that we need to move forward together.

Although initially reticent to offend – egged on by a throaty “Oh, go ON!” by Kim Hill – Beyer confessed that she felt religious dogma had a lot to answer for, citing Brian Tamaki’s “Man up” campaign as just another way of saying “women, go back to the kitchen”, expressing outrage at Gloriavale as “detrimental” to both men and women, and that “conversion therapy is a breach of human rights”.

Journalist Paula Penfold, who is involved with Stuff’s #MeTooNZ campaign, used her time at the podium to present a “listicle” of good news/bad news facts including such sobering statements as “New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate partner violence in the world”, an estimated 80% of which is unreported. That the gender gap is closing… but her mother probably won’t live to see it. But she was hopeful, watching her teenage children engage with these issues, that the “young people are seeing a way forward with this”. Which was something of a life-raft in a sea of not great news, which I’m sure was her intention.

Sacha McMeeking, though thwarted initially by screeching feedback, had the audience in the palm of her hand as she gently and wittily guided us through the complicated topic of how you effect social change, noting that we often try to do this from a very top level way, via laws, or on an individual level but that we need to focus on the part in the middle where we collectively create new social habits. She used the metaphor of desire paths, those well-trodden dirt path “shortcuts” that show where people have chosen to diverge from a paved walkway, the implication being that it’s a repeated wearing down by many feet on many trips that can leave a trail for others to follow.

“Society,” she said “is inherently conservative. The status quo is given every possibility to replicate”. It’s about consciously looking, then, for ways to subvert this. Looking for places to blaze (or just wear down, slowly over time) a different trail. And what was this audience, if not a core of people who might help do that? This was about as uplifting as the evening got, and as such, received the largest round of applause.

Musician and columnist Lizzie Marvelly was at her most compelling when describing the culture shock she felt when, after being raised in a family that valued gender equality and attending the female-centric Rotorua Girls High, she changed schools and became one of a minority of female pupils at Kings College in Auckland. Being rated out of ten for attractiveness by boys via the unexpected medium of vegemite-smeared pieces of toast, or having chants of “get back in the kitchen” called out to girls on the sportsfield. And of course, the sad realisation that she was not allowed to be head prefect because that was a title reserved for boys only.

When questioned by Hill on whether exerting the right to make choices is, in and of itself feminist, Marvelly had this to say:

The fact that we have choices is a feminist victory but that doesn’t mean that every choice you make is a feminist one.

For her, unless the choice you’re making in is in support of gender equality then it’s not a feminist one. I’ve never heard this stated so simply, and it makes complete sense to me, though I imagine, as with most things, the devil is in the details/interpretation.

During question time, the questions were, well, largely musings masquerading as questions. Interesting issues were raised, certainly, but it was hard for most of the panellists to grasp onto an answer when questions were somewhat fuzzy. The exception being Georgina Beyer’s recollection of the pack-rape she suffered as a young woman in Sydney – it was devastating in content, sure, but also in her matter of factness about it. And it exposed the flaw in the questioner’s definition of women as “people with vaginas”, introduced as it was with the wryly delivered, “prior to my having a vagina…”

It was a very sobering and downbeat story to end the evening on, but it was also a session that went significantly over time. And I suspect many of the people in the audience did as I did and talked over the issues with their companion on the journey home.

Are we there yet? No, but not for want of trying.

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