I read The Handmaid’s Tale a long time ago, but could only stomach the first season on the box. Maybe it feels a bit more real or even possible, or perhaps the dramatisation was all a bit much, but I just couldn’t cope with more terror or the gruesome relentless treatment of the women.
Dystopian fiction has always had a following, the stories are gripping and usually paint a vivid picture of a life in the margins. The Handmaid’s tale has been the most well-known book with a feminist perspective, but P.D. James wrote a book called The Children of Men in 1992 which was about a world with plummeting birthrates – no children and no future, and The Parable of the Sower was written by Octavia Butler in 1993 and set in 2025 when communities have to protect themselves from marauding scavengers and roaming bands of ‘Paints’, people addicted to a drug that activates an orgasmic desire to burn, rape and murder.
In recent years a good deal more titles have been published and range from women coping with climate change, war, isolation and issues around fertility. A bit of a “trend” perhaps, but one that more and more seems to have the fiction set in reality.
We take it for granted now, but it’s really not that long that Christchurch has had a city council that covered the whole city – only since 1989.
Before that was not only the Christchurch City Council (established in 1862) but also the Waimairi, Paparua, Halswell, and Heathcote County Councils, the Riccarton Borough Council, and the Christchurch Drainage and Transport Boards. Phew!
( The Banks Peninsula District Council joined Christchurch City Council later on, in 2005)
And that doesn’t even take into account other councils that had existed prior to that – one of which was the Sydenham Borough Council whose first meeting was held this day in 1877. At the time the population of the borough was between 5-6,000, which grew to around 12,000 by the turn of the century. According to The Cyclopedia of New Zealand by 1902 Sydenham had 26 miles of streets, 95 gas lamps for street lighting with 2009 ratepayers. Businesses included butchers, bootmakers, bakers and builders!
The 22nd of October is Labour Day. Not only is this a public holiday – which is great – but it also serves as a great opportunity to remember workers’ history in addition to the rights that have been fought for, and won, throughout labour history in New Zealand.
To start at the start, Labour Day commemorates the successful fight for an eight hour working day. The right to the first eight hour work day was won by a carpenter in Wellington by the name of Samuel Parnell in 1840. This right was later enshrined into law with the Labour Day Act in 1899. This made Aotearoa-New Zealand one of the first countries in the world to introduce the eight hour work day. This was a great achievement and one that should not be taken for granted.
What Labour Day, and the history surrounding Labour Day, should serve to remind us is that the eight hour work day (40 hour work week) was not always the norm and that it was the result of a struggle. However this is not where this story ends: in 2008 the Department of Labour in New Zealand released figures that showed roughly 415,000 New Zealand workers were working in excess of 40 hours per week. This highlights the fact that there is, contrary to popular myth and perception, no longer any legislative rights to an eight hour working day in New Zealand.
For the reasons stated above, it is important to remember the history of days like Labour Day. Remembering the history is important in remembering the past and how far we have come as a country, but more importantly, to remember that there were struggles for these rights and to ensure that we don’t have to have to struggle for them again.
Other important events in worker’s history include:
The Formation of the Maritime Council in 1889 that formed in Dunedin with representatives from the wharf labourers’ and West Coast miners’ Unions.
The Maoriland Worker was launched in Christchurch in 1910 by the Shearers Union. It was a Monthly Journal that became influential during the Anti-war movement in the lead up to and during the first First World War.
The Waihi Miners’ Strike of 1912 was one of the most fierce industrial disputes in New Zealand’s history. 1,000 miners went on strike, bringing Waihi Gold Mine to a Standstill. Striking Miner Fred Evans was killed by a crowd of strikebreakers and the Police during the strike.
The Birth of the Labour Party in 1916 that was founded by representatives of the Social Democratic Party, the United Federation of Labour, and the Labour Representation Committees.
Christchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from New Zealand’s only specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.
It is 125 years since New Zealand became the first country to allow women to vote in parliamentary elections. In this show, guests Vanisa Dhiru (National President of the National Council of Women of New Zealand), Katie Pickles (Historian of Women’s and Feminist History at the University of Canterbury) and Kym Hamilton (Tokona Te Raki) ponder the history of suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as the current state of women’s rights in the country. This show is proudly supported by the Ministry for Women’s Suffrage 125 Community Fund.
Part I: Brief overview of the Suffrage movement in Aotearoa New Zealand; who exactly was entitled to vote following the 1893 Electoral Act
Part II: Women’s rights and challenges in NZ 125 years since Suffrage
Part III: The need for a gender-equal NZ; the need to look at gender beyond stereotypes and beyond the binary
Nick Barley – Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival – introduces the topic by sharing a story of how he came to commission authors to write essays on what freedom means to them. The essence of this captured in his state that the purpose of this is “to think about not only a word, freedom… and why literary conversations matter”. From here, the three authors on stage with Barley speak in turn about what freedom means to them.
Yaba Badoe spoke first. She spoke about a kind of national freedom drawing on the independence of Ghana as her example. But within this, she discussed the challenges that such national freedom brings. She spoke about how there were all these grand ideas as to what a new Ghana was going to look like and how independence in Ghana would lead to the creation of a “heaven on Earth” free from British colonial rule. However, in this instance, reality did no meet the expectations and she warned about the challenges associated with dreams of freedom and the reality of these desires.
Juno Dawson spoke next. Dawson spoke about freedom of speech. However, she was more interested in the consequences that can result from freedom of speech. Simply put by herself:
“Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences.”
To her, freedom of speech does not protect people from the fallout or consequences of the “stupid things” that they say, and that people have a right to react. She drew on her own personal experience with transphobic remarks in regards to her transitioning in the public eye. The issue here was with the way people expressed surprise or derision in the way she did not accept such abuse but instead chose to protect herself through various means leading to some people claiming that she, herself, was against free speech. This is of course not the case, simply that people need to be aware that people should expect consequences for the things that they say.
Dawson also talked about how freedoms that have already been acquired should not be taken for granted:
“Freedoms can be rolled back… often hard won, and can be taken away”.
Most notably, the ongoing issues with reproductive rights in the United States is an issue where this can be seen.
Last to speak was New Zealand’s own Lloyd Jones. Jones took a much more skeptical approach to freedom. He talked about how it has become a politically loaded term, often used to justify certain actions that would appear to be in contradiction with freedom as a concept – he spoke here of how ‘freedom’ is used within the context of American politics, most notably American foreign policy – and how the “word has been debased” due to this. He painted a rather graphic image of what he thinks when he hears the word freedom: “When you say freedom, I just see a pile of bodies with an American flag waving on top”. Jones used this to launch into a conversation about “the freedom to do the wrong thing” and how we see this freedom practices all to often. An example he used in the New Zealand context is the continued pollution of the waterways that occurs due the ever expanding industrial agriculture we have in New Zealand. He summed up his ideas through this statement: “The freedom to do the wrong thing is not a freedom worth having”. Jones provided a timely and skeptical engagement with a concept so often taken for granted as being unequivocally positive.
Following this, there was a brief conversation discussing the way that freedom as a concept is present within the authors’ works. Barley, Badoe, Dawson, and Jones all had dynamic personalities that bounced off each other in an entertaining manner. Often humorously as the four speakers engaged in conversation with each other. It was an entertaining and informative event with three different and, at times, contradictory ideas pertaining to freedom discussed. All the while, the conversation was very well facilitated by the eloquent Nick Barley. A pleasure of an event that provided much to think about within literature and more.
When I think of politics I think of well…Politics… Statements, speeches, dogma perhaps, deeply held beliefs, politicians! So I went along to The Politics of Fiction with probably the wrong idea. I should also come clean and admit that I haven’t read any of the three authors’ books. I feel like a bad bad blogger, but have paid penance by purchasing all three books at the end of the session.
The information about the session gave an indication of what the idea of politcal fiction means to the contributors.
Join Pip Adam, and Rajorshi Chakraborti, who both teach creative writing to people living in prisons, and Brannavan Gnanalingam to to discuss with Julie Hill the politics of writing fiction, and how it can become a tool to create empathy across divides.
Sounds good doesn’t it? As Rajorshi said, politics with a small ‘p’. So we call rule out anything about politicians then?
Julie Hill did a lovely job asking questions that suggested she had read these books in depth and done her research. (Ahem).The highlight for me, as it always is in these sessions, is when an author reads from their own book. Why is this always so satisfying? Is it that the author knows their characters so well that they bring them to life, and gives them gravitas and personality that another reader can’t?
This was a session that wasn’t overly popular, perhaps the ‘p’ word put people off, and that is a shame because it was really interesting and a nice way to finish the day. For me fiction needs to be entertaining, to hold my attention. The characters need to be real and flawed beings, but if there is a message with a small ‘p’ then all the better
“Often my writing is a way to work out somthing i dont understand.”
“Invisible people with invisible troubles”
“I write about what we dont see”
“Sita (a character in Sodden Downstream) listens to people. She listens and learns and breaks down barriers”
Helen entered the political arena in the time of the clamouring for a nuclear-free Pacific and was very much involved in New Zealand declaring itself nuclear-free, barring the USS Buchanan from entering NZ waters and splitting from ANZUS to forge our own independent political policy stance, also incurring the wrath of our Australian allies who remained subservient to US demands. (Thought: I wonder if Helen ever met Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil)
In 1987, Helen Clark became a Cabinet minister in the Fourth Labour Government, led by David Lange (1984–1989), Geoffrey Palmer (1989–1990) and Mike Moore (1990). As Minister of Health in 1989 she was instrumental in bringing in the Smokefree Act which brought about the tobacco lobby’s PR doing a “hatchet job” on her. But she is still proud of what she achieved as Minister of Health and Kiwis now breathe fresher air in bars and restaurants and other public places.
She regretted that her Employment Equity Bill was “killed by Bill Birch”. She feels that the Gender Pay Gap may have narrowed or closed if it had passed into law.
Helen Clark became the Leader of the Opposition on 1 December 1993. And in 1995, she met Nelson Mandela at a CHOGM conference which was held that year in Auckland. He told her that he really valued New Zealand’s opposition to apartheid and that the prisoners on Robben Island had cheered when they heard that the Hamilton game of the 1981 Springbok tour was cancelled due to protest actions.
Clark said she was inspired by many global women world leaders such as many in Latin America and Africa and “the two Marys” who had been Presidents of Ireland and made a powerful difference to Irish society.
And in 1999, Clark made New Zealand history when she became the first elected female Prime Minister.
Despite all her work and the work of others, Clark felt that, in New Zealand society, women were still under-represented at every political and business level. She felt we still had “a big issue” with sexual and gender-based violence and quoted the Women, Peace and security annual survey done by the University of Georgetown in Washington D.C. which placed New Zealand at 18th which Clark said was “just not good enough”. Iceland was Number One so they were obviously doing something very right for their women.
Clark had so much more to say in her hour onstage about Brash and pervasive racism; how climate change killed more women than men; how having a decent, warm home is a fundamental of a fair society; how media scrutiny of women leaders verged on the ridiculous; about Australia’s treatment and detention of refugees; about how the European so-called “Migration crisis” completely forgot about the past colonial spread of European powers into Africa, Asia, the Pacific and South America; how young women had more opportunities now than when she was a young woman to aspire to high levels of leadership in every sphere of society.
I must end with a quote that had all the audience, men included, laughing out loud. When Clark and Dalziel were discussing the “glass ceiling”, Clark quoted Laura Liswood, the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, who said that she never talked about the glass ceiling because she preferred to call it “a thick layer of men”.
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.
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.
On the 6th of August 1945, at 8:16am (Japan time), an American B-29 bomber let loose ‘Little Boy.’ The first atomic bomb to be used in warfare, Little Boy descended upon the Japanese city of Hiroshima and detonated with around thirteen kilotons of force. This is the equivalent of 13,000 tonnes of TNT. In an instant, tens of thousands of people were killed as a direct result of the blast. Many more would succumb to radiation sickness within the year.
As we know the attack on Hiroshima was followed, three days later on August 9th in the early hours of the morning, by a second attack: this time upon the city of Nagasaki. ‘Fat Man’ killed at least 40,000 people, a figure which would also climb as the year wore on.
I was lucky enough to visit Japan with some friends in 2016. We spent a few days in Hiroshima. We were eager and curious to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and see the flamboyant chains of 1000 paper cranes displayed in honour of Sadako Sasaki, sent in from around the world. Sadako Sasaki was a young Japanese girl living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombings, who died a few years later from consequential leukaemia. (Read more about Sadako Sasaki’s poignant story)
Yet for me the most moving exhibition of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial was seeing the Atomic (Genbaku) Dome up close, so perfectly preserved in all its horror. Knowing what occurred there, and seeing the once beautiful structure in ruins serves as a powerful testament to the destructive power that humans are capable of. As our trip was in the middle of the Japanese winter, it soon began to snow. The snow fell into the exposed insides of the Genbaku Dome and the atmosphere was sad and eerie. If you head for Japan, make Hiroshima one of your stops. It is well worth a visit.
One Thousand Paper Cranes
The paper crane is probably the most recognisable piece of origami across the world. For something so exquisite, it is really not that difficult to make. Here is a video showing how to fold an origami crane.
Research the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through Christchurch City Libraries’ collection of reference eResources. You may need to log in with your library card and PIN/password. Here are just a few ideas to start:
The following image is from our local Christchurch resource Kete Christchurch. It is a memorial plaque to the victims of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima & Nagasaki by the Untied States, at the end of World War II. Inscriptions are in Japanese, Māori and English. The plaque can be found on the riverbank reserve, Cambridge Terrace, between Cashel and Hereford Streets.
Here is archival footage taken from the air, showing the Hiroshima bombing in action
And here is footage surveying damage from the aftermath of the bombing
Find more educational film resources on our eResource Access Video, including this two part BBC documentary on the Hiroshima disaster