Helen Clark at Word Christchurch

CoverIt was quite a coup for the festival organisers securing a busy woman like Helen Clark to fill in last-minute for a guest withdrawal.

But like the other authors, Helen had a book to promote so I guess it’s tit-for-tat.

For a woman of 68, Helen shows no signs of retiring and writing her memoirs. She’s still in the political game and loving it. Her energy is inspiring.

Lianne Dalziel, once Helen’s political colleague and now Mayor of our fair city, was the moderator and Lianne had done her homework and asked some illuminating questions.

Helen’s new book is a collection of speeches, Women, Equality, Power: Selected speeches from a life of leadership (Allen and Unwin), and spans from her parliamentary maiden speech in 1982 to a recent speech from March 2018 given in Manila in her role in UNDP.

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”.

Witches of Gambaga – A Film By Yaba Badoe: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Gambaga is a town in northern Ghana, formerly capital of the Northern Region of Ghana. It also serves as a sanctuary for women accused of witchcraft in greater Ghana. Witches of Gambaga is a documentary film, directed by Yaba Badoe, that tells the story of the women who have been condemned to live their lives in the poverty of the witches’ camp in Gambaga. The film follows these women and explores how their lives have been destroyed by accusations of witchcraft.

Yaba Badoe. Image supplied.
Yaba Badoe. Image supplied.

Badoe, in her running commentary throughout the film, does mention that superstitions have a role in the accusations of, and continued belief in, witchcraft. However, she examines the prevalence of witchcraft in Ghana through a gendered lens that attempts to explain why it is exclusively women who end up living in the witches’ camp in Gambaga. One of the particularly interesting ways she does this is exploring the relationship that the Chief of Gambaga – the Gambaran – has with the woman accused of witchcraft. Here, the women have to pay the Gambaran for sanctuary, work for him on his property, and when they have proven that are no longer a ‘witch’ they have pay him to return home. In this instance, there is an obvious benefit for him to perpetuate the belief in witchcraft within the superstitious communities. Furthermore, Badoe also explores how all women in the witches’ camp are either elderly or middle aged – with the youngest women in the camp being in her early 30s – reinforcing certain ideas pertaining to women’s value and youthfulness. Through the way that Badoe engaged with the issue of witchcraft in Ghana, it is easy to see how the tradition is maintained through patriarchal beliefs and systems.

The film is striking in its simplicity, letting the situations and stories of the women who the film follows speak for themselves with Badoe offering further explanation when required. This allows the film to overcome the technical limitations of its creation and lead to a fantastically woven narrative explaining the plight of the women concerned.

The film was a surprisingly emotional affair as it humanises the suffering caused by patriarchal superstitions. Over 3,000 citizens have had their lives ruined and families stripped away from them on the basis of how a chicken dies; the main “trial by ordeal” used to determine the whether or not the accused is a witch. I found myself almost tearing up at certain instances surrounding discussions of the women’s families that they were forced to leave behind.

The film does a great job in highlighting how damaging patriarchal beliefs are, how they still linger in some parts of the world, and how they are causing extreme harm to the communities involved. For this alone, Yaba Badoe’s film is to be commended for engaging with this subject and telling the stories of these women.

Yaba Badoe at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

The Witches of Gambaga Friday 31 August 2.30pm

Starry, starry night Friday 31 August 8pm to 9.15pm

Yaba Badoe: Fire, stars and witches Saturday 1 September 2.30pm to 3.30pm

The Freedom Papers Sunday 2 September 1pm
Edinburgh Festival director Nick Barley speaks to three of the international writers from The Freedom Papers collection – Yaba BadoeLloyd Jones and Juno Dawson – about what freedom means to them.

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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200 years of the Modern Prometheus

Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, 1840. Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, 1840. Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Shelley was just 18 years old when she began writing the English language’s most successful gothic horror tale, Frankenstein, which was first published  200 years ago. So after all these years what do we know about her, the story, and the circumstances that led to the creation of Frank Jnr.?

  • She did indeed write the story when she was 18, although it was not published until she was 21.
  • It was written as the result of a challenge laid down by Lord Byron (romantic poet extraodinaire), who along with young Mary, her husband Percy, and Byron’s “personal physician” John Polidori was staying in a spooky country house. On a stormy night telling ghost stories to each other, Byron thought it would be a good challenge for the group to see who could write the best ghost/horror story!
  • That session also led to Polidori writing the story ‘Vampyre’ which was influential on Bram Stoker for his work, ‘Dracula’.
  • ‘Frankenstein’ was first published anonymously on a short run of 500 using extremely budget materials by publisher Lackington’s, who are still operating today
  • In 1910 Thomas Edison created a 15min film based on the story – I love the music accompaniment on it!
  • The monster has no name but is referred to in the book by the names in my first sentence. For many years I believed the monster’s name was Adam, but I must’ve dreamed that!
  • The story was initially published anonymously with many readers assuming the author to be Mary’s husband Percy. Even after its reprinting in 1831 with Mary’s name on it many still thought Percy’s hand was involved. In truth it is now believed that Percy contributed a measly 6% of the text (4,000 of 72,000 words) with many readers considering that his contributions only detracted from the story, were over complicated and over described, making the whole thing harder to digest.
  • During her life Mary also wrote, seven novels, three books for kids, over a dozen short stories, and numerous biographies, articles, and poems.

The story of Frankenstein is now so embedded into our popular culture that there have been countless depictions and references all through the history of film and television; think Hermann Munster, the film Young Frankenstein, British tele series The Frankenstein Chronicles, and even with the fantastic kids film Tim Burton, Frankenweenie ,we see that this story of horror has even entered into the realms of children’s literature and culture.

But have we stayed true to Mary’s idea?? Does the monster still serve the same purpose as she intended; a lesson in mortality, human desire for control and intolerance for the different, perhaps even describing the perils of parental abandonment…? This series of charts from the Guardian suggests there have been some major deviations.

So how will you celebrate the outstanding achievement of Mary Shelley? Perhaps by reading some classic gothic/horror/monster literature, there’s plenty out there and I’ve created a short list of titles for you, all available through the Christchurch City Libraries catalogue and across many formats; books, audiobooks, ebooks, and graphic novels…

Classic Gothic/Horror/Monster stories

List created by DevilStateDan

Some spooky, dark, and unnerving tales, classic titles from famous names…

View Full List

Happy and spooky reading to you….

A luncheon interval on Mt Sebastopol while on a ski trip at Mount Cook National Park: Picturing Canterbury

A luncheon interval on Mt Sebastopol while on a ski trip at Mount Cook National Park [1926?]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0086
Do you have any photographs of skiing in Canterbury? 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.

A Luncheon Interval On Mt Sebastopol While On A Ski Trip At Mount Cook National Park

Annihilation

I’ve done it again. I’ve stumbled on to a book with a premise that really intrigues me and then leaves me floundering with more questions than answers. This drives me crazy. Other people love this book. I love answers. Fully committed though, I launched myself upon the movie when it turned up on Netflix.

More confusion as the writers took another turn with the story. My frustration now consumes me, but at least there was some resolution in the movie. But what is this story that managed to evoke such a range of emotions? Read on…

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Annihilation is the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s  Southern Reach trilogy. Southern Reach has control of Area X. This is an area of land that has apparently inexplicable changes happening to the environment, people and animals that live or have lived within it. Southern Reach has been sending teams into Area X for 30 years and up to this point, there has been a very high failure rate. One by one the teams either go crazy, kill themselves or return a shell of their former selves. Nothing stays untouched by the environment inside Area X. I say ‘inside’ but in reality there is no visible barrier that separates the real world and the one that is evolving inside Area X.

Southern Reach have decided that for their 12th mission it is time to send forth an all-female team consisting of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor and a biologist. They remain nameless for the duration and the chasm that exists between each of them is palpable and one wonders if it is deliberate. The very experiences that should bring them together are ripping them further apart due to an underlying distrust. Encounters with the inexplicable and alien continues the downward spiral as they search for answers.

Then my mind wanders and I can’t help but wonder, “Only 12 expeditions in 30 years?” That doesn’t sound quite right to me. History dictates that in our desperate need to find reason where there is none, we would have bombarded the area with specialists and most of all, military. Certainly not fluffed around so that there was more than 2 years between missions while Area X steadily grows larger! And the questions continue.

Hopefully you do better than me in your search for answers. Maybe you don’t need any and are happy to just immerse yourself in the possibilities alone. More than likely I gave up far too easily and just need to get stuck into VanderMeer’s next two books in the Southern Reach series, Authority and Acceptance and keep searching for those elusive answers.

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Alternatively try something completely different, if you gave up like I did:

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Cool stuff from the Selectors: Musings on fiction

Fiction publishing  is very much trend and theme driven, and as Heidi Klum said “one day you’re in and the next day you’re out”.

There are always the bestseller authors, but in amongst their numbers are a few subjects and authors that can come out of left field.

Bookshops

Bookshops. Books and people who sell them, read in them, murder in them and fall in love, usually in old dusty quaint places – none of which resemble Whitcoulls or Paper Plus.  The recently released movie The bookshop might also create some interest in this area.

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Librarians and Libraries

Librarians and libraries!  Well, not exactly a major trend, but for a generally under-represented group in books and films we seem to be featuring on a regular basis lately – usually there is a murder involved …which is um, interesting?

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Bakeries

Bakeries.  Food has always been a feature in fiction, but just lately there has been the odd bakery/romance popping up, which seems like a nice mixture to me.

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Bees and Beekeepers

Bees – and for some reason Beekeepers

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Feminist Dystopias

Feminist dystopias – not surprising considering the dramatisation of The Handmaid’s tale. These books are not for the faint hearted.

Find more feminist dystopias in our collection.

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Of course, fiction publishing is also affected by what is going on in the world, there have been more titles published in the last few years about refugees for example, plenty of titles about the economic crisis, climate change and a plethora of light easy reads for those of us who just want to escape.

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Women of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs) on parade at Harewood Air Force Station, Christchurch: Picturing Canterbury

Women of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs) on parade at Harewood Air Force Station, Christchurch [1941]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0095.
On 31 May 1941, forty-one women started in their positions as members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) at Harewood Air Force Station. At the commencement of their duties, it was expected that they would soon be joined by further recruits, bringing the total number of WAAF members serving at Harewood to one hundred and fifty, with another two hundred expected for the station at Wigram.

Do you have any photographs of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in Christchurch or of the Harewood Air Force Station? 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.

The timeless tradition of nearly forgetting Mother’s Day

The second Sunday of May. Or, this year, Sunday 13th May. A day which – much like birthdays and anniversaries – I usually forget until the last dire minute. Cue me rushing through the mall right before it shuts trying to find a gift both thoughtful and needed. A thing which, by the way, doesn’t exist when you’re looking for it.

The history of mother’s day can be traced back to its ancient roots. Spring celebrations in ancient Greece honoured Rhea, the mother of the gods, with offerings of honey-cakes, drinks and flowers. The ancient Romans celebrated their mother of the gods too – Cybele, or Magna Mater, ‘Great Mother.’ They built her a temple in Rome and over several days during the March equinox, the festival of Hilaria was held in her honour. Even the ancient Egyptians held their own annual festival in celebration of the goddess Isis – she being revered as the mother of Pharos and a divine symbol of motherhood.

In a more modern age, mothering Sunday in the UK (the fourth Sunday of Lent) became a day where workers could take time off to visit their mothers; and in the United States a woman named Anna Jarvis is credited with beginning Mother’s Day there from 1908, following the death of her own mother. (Find out more about the history of Mother’s Day at The Legacy Project)

These days, we don’t so much bother with honey cakes and the lighting of the ceremonial fires, but Christchurch City Libraries do have a wealth of material, images and resources to help us celebrate mother’s day the way it should be (with a good book).

We could start with this handy Staff Pickles list, along with some of my top picks:

Cover of Five forget Mother's DayCover of MiracleCover of MothersCover of Mother's Day on Coronation StCover of Mother's and Father's day treats

Here are some photos from Christchurch City Libraries’ digital collection of mothers being mothers in times past and present.

How were many Cantabrians celebrating mother’s day in 1984 you ask? By joining in a nuclear free parade, of course: 

Nuclear free parade, Akaroa, Mothers Day, 1984 from Kete Christchurch. Entry in the 2009 & 2014 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt by Jan Shuttleworth. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ

And you thought that our Babytimes could get crowded:

Mothers and babies gathered outside St. Helen’s Hospital, Sydenham [1909]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0075
Adorable family standing in front of the United Services Hotel in the square: 

Mother and Daughters in Cathedral Square (early 1940’s). File reference: HW-08-CE-018. From Flickr.

On a final note, it can be observed that in our busy lives we often neglect to make time for ourselves. Could this be any truer than for the busy mother? Enter All Right? who have brought us a fresh new idea in the form of these popular downtime dice, to remind us to take time out for ourselves. Downtime dice can be nabbed (free!) in libraries, but get in quick – they’re going fast! Check out their website for ideas about downtime activities.

Wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day!

How we met: The ways great love begins by Michele A’Court

How We Met has a pretty simple concept – Michele A’Court (feminist-comedian-badass) interviews a bunch of enduring Kiwi couples about how they met. There’s all sorts in there, lots of missed opportunities and first date mishaps, disapproving parents and friends, coincidences and romance.

The stories themselves are, of course, wonderful – Michele captures them on paper in a way that makes you feel that you’re sitting across from the couple with a cuppa – but what makes the book so special is the larger idea behind these stories. The ‘how we met’ story, Michele reckons, serves a greater purpose than just letting someone know the juicy details of how it all went down. Recalling that story provides an opportunity to really engage in the feeling, the same connection, spark, joy, that they felt way back when. Further, it seems that revisiting these feelings in tangible ways helps to keep a long-lasting, enduring relationship fresh and exciting.

So How We Met is a collection of glorious, real-life stories from Kiwi couples, but it’s also a reflection on relationships in general – the common and also totally unique experiences, difficult and glorious, of living life with your ‘one in particular’.

The thing I liked most about this book was how accessible and relatable it felt. Many of these stories are so intimate, so personal, so full of ‘in-jokes’ and ‘you had to be there’ moments, that it would be easy for the reader to feel a little removed from the action. But Michele tells them in such a comfortable way – I could tell because, as I was reading, I was finding something on nearly every page that I wanted to read aloud to my partner.

CoverMany of these relationships started at a similar time, although there are exceptions to that, of course. A happy and perhaps unintentional result of this means that the book reads a little bit like a snapshot of life for young people in New Zealand in the 70s and 80s. I loved this aspect of the book – it made me think of my parents, the stories I have heard from them (over and over) about how they met. And of course, New Zealand being very small, there were places and even people described in the book that, by a degree or two of separation, I had a connection to.

I also enjoyed the practical elements weaved through the book – the science behind the way our brains make memories, made accessible to non-science-brained folks like me. The list of relationship advice from these couples towards the end, too, felt totally sensible and not at all far-fetched (as those kinds of lists can sometimes be).

Michele is in Ōtautahi next Tuesday 15 May, interviewing the magnificent Robert Webb (of Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look fame), with thanks to WORD Christchurch and the Auckland Writers Festival. Robert Webb’s book How Not To Be A Boy was in my top 3 reads last year. It’s remarkable and funny and challenging, and this event will be really special.

TL;DR: This is a sweet, generous and intelligent book. I recommend it – especially if you’re looking for something cozy, curled up on a winter afternoon.

How we met
by Michèle A’Court
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775540939

Ray
Upper Riccarton Library