I’ve had this song in my head since I saw Peter Garrett recently. Not at the Midnight Oil concert, but at the WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of view session at The Piano. It was the last talk in a series of goodies that formed WORD’s suite of Christchurch Arts Festival offerings.
Peter Garrett – musician, former Aussie federal politician, activist – appeared in conversation with the able and amiable broadcaster/journalist Finlay Macdonald, and followed the session with an audience Q & A and a book signing.
Peter’s book is a memoir of his life and career called Big Blue Sky. He found writing it both challenging and gut-wrenching:
It’s not just about what you remember, it’s how honest can you be.
He talked about the reformation of Midnight Oil and the series of concerts they are undertaking, including such stunner venues as Alice Springs and a rainforest in Cairns. Peter reckons they are sounding even better than their heyday.
His broad and expansive knowledge of Australian history as well as other topics made him a thoroughly engaging speaker. He talked politics, music, and more – and his move into federal politics made a lot of sense because he strongly believes:
The system cannot work unless it is infected by people who want it to work.
Peter went with the Labour Party instead of Green because he was “allergic to moral superiority and preachiness”.
There was plenty of music talk for the aficionados. He shared musical influences and passions – The Beatles, Neil Young, Rage against the Machine, Aborigine bands. Recalling seeing Muddy Waters play at ANU university, Peter got shivers right there on stage. So did we.
The appearance of Mr John Safran in Christchurch managed to pack out The Piano venue on Sunday with a fair audience. He was matched with NZ’s very own version of himself, Te Radar Esq., who pointed out that although they both looked very similar, you could easily tell them apart as John was the one with the accent. Unless of course you were from Australia, in which case Te Radar was the one with the accent. Simple really.
Yet simple John’s new book Depends What You Mean by Extremist: Going Rogue With Australian Deplorables is not. In fact it might be claimed that one reason for writing the book was because most other media didn’t like the tangled web of stories John had discovered in his very own Aussie backyard. What he’d found happening in the world of political radicals was not easily reduced by the popular media spotlight to black vs white, or local vs outsiders.
There are many reasons people are in involved in anti-Islam rallies, and it’s not always politics.
In the world of Australian extremist groups things have become very complicated, says John. “Out in the street things are so messed up, it’s hard to pick things apart.”
John has found a very diverse range of cultures and people marching for the reclaim Australia and anti-Islam causes, some of them strange and unexpected bedfellows. An anti-immigrant campaigner with Aboriginal and Italian lineage hanging with white nationalists, a Sri Lankan pastor opposing multiculturalism, and leaders of anti-immigrant rallies opening their speeches by acknowledging the land they were standing on as belonging to the Aboriginal community.
Some have claimed the lack of media interest in John’s stories proves the “bubble” caused by social media and the internet is real, the so-called echo chamber where we only pay attention to things and ideas that meet our world-view and beliefs.
Yet people have always filtered news and read newspapers and magazines selectively. We read what attracts our interest and reading things that don’t fit our understanding of the world can be challenging, so often we don’t. The internet hasn’t created that effect, it’s just made it quicker and easier to achieve – such is the way of computers.
What John has discovered is that thanks to social media on the internet, the “unsayable often becomes normal when repeated over and over”:
The world changed as I was writing the book. The anti-Islam street movement tried to portray the rallies as ‘normal’ not extreme, but I found they were led by some very extreme people. It was like the fringe and alternative had become mainstream or at least mingled up with the mainstream.
Te Radar asked John if he’d become less optimistic about the world as a result of writing the book? John’s response was that he had definitely got a bit paranoid hanging around with extreme people. Ironically he thought that getting out on the streets got him out of the echo chamber that the average person might inhabit.
But the idea that he may be humanising these people by writing about them in a book was not something he was trying to achieve. He is more driven by the comedian and artist in him, not so much the need to be a writer:
I can’t moralise about anything ‘cos I’ve always done something in the past I shouldn’t. But I don’t think people read my book and think the things these groups are saying and doing are ok.
A few questions from the audience stirred things up, with a bit of heckling that just came across as try-hard or even embarrassing. Mostly it was all very civilised and well-behaved. I don’t go to a lot of these events, so maybe that’s normal in Christchurch.
I’ve enjoyed reading the book and it’s definitely an eye opener. And thanks to John seeing the irony in much of what he saw happening, very funny too, although perhaps more in a gallows humour way.
All of which made me think that maybe John Safran is using humour to wake us up to the way people under our very noses think about the world. Does this make him the comedic hand sanitizer of the Aussie extremist world?
It was a dark, but not a stormy, night at the Arts Centre last Wednesday, when four mysterious black-clad ladies entered the room. With flickering candles held aloft, they took their places on the stage for an evening of great hair, literary tropes and another chapter in the ongoing battle between Team Rochester and Team Heathcliff (*).
There was no attempt at cool professionalism, as our panellists to a man woman unashamedly confessed their enduring love for that most passionate of genres, the Gothic novel. And the audience was right there with them – many of us had been present earlier in the evening for an outstanding performance of Jane Eyre by Rebecca Vaughan of Dyad Productions.
With chair Rachael King guiding the discussion, we heard from an actor, a novelist and a librarian as they each confessed to teenage years spent wafting about in nighties and imagining themselves in the arms of a dark and brooding hero of uncertain temperament. Rebecca Vaughan had of course literally just come from her performance as Jane Eyre, while Karen Healey and Rachael King have both written novels with a strong Gothic flavour themselves (if you have not read Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead, or Rachael King’s Magpie Hall, I beseech you most strongly to do so at once). And our very own Moata Tamaira has never been afraid to profess herself as a fan of all things Gothic.
The evening’s discussion ranged from the literary – Gothic tropes in literature and film; to the awesomely ridiculous – a slideshow quiz where every answer was Wuthering Heights. We contemplated the various forms of Heathcliff in multiple movie castings (Tom Hardy a clear winner here, although this possibly was rigged by chair Rachael); and slipped sideways into a robust conversation about whether Wide Sargasso Sea had altered anyone’s perceptions of Mr Rochester (is it a true prequel? an early form of fan-fic homage? a completely separate stand-alone story?). I was waiting for someone to mention my own personal fave Jane Eyre “character” Thursday Next, from the Eyre Affair series, but perhaps that’s making things a little too tangled even for this panel and audience.
Finishing with a glorious set of illustrations from pulp fiction novels of the ’60s and ’70s, featuring women with great hair running from Gothic houses (credit to this magnificent blog), we were then sent out into the moonlit surrounds of the oh-so-Gothic Arts Centre, I think each with a new commitment to go back and re-read ALL our favourite Gothic novels. Possibly while dressed in wafty white nighties and floating about on the nearest moor.
The idea for the book grew out of a 2014 blog post in which Reni, a young British journalist of Nigerian heritage, wrote of her “frustration that discussions of race and racism were being led by those not affected by it,” and that when she tried to talk about these issues was told that there wasn’t actually a problem or accused her of being angry. The irony of marking this line in the sand was that suddenly lots of people wanted to listen to Reni’s point of view – including a full (mostly white) art gallery auditorium.
There are a number of themes in the book. One is history, and Reni is keen for black Britons to write themselves back into history. The British connection to slavery and to Africa is deep. I studied economic and social history 1750-1875 at A-level and slavery and colonialism was barely mentioned. I find this appalling because:
a) hello – where was the cotton for the cotton mills coming from?
and b) it has taken me until the last week or two to realise this.
It is this kind of oversight that Reni is trying to point out.
Whiteness isn’t the default. Whiteness isn’t neutral. There are other ways of doing things; there are other points of view. Which is actually quite liberating if you think about.
Reni was assured and matter of fact, and very easy to listen to. Another topic she highlights is feminism. What is the point of feminism that is only for white women and doesn’t have a space for black women and others? Issues don’t happen in isolation, and overlap and intersect all the time.
This truly was a session to make you think about and observe how you experience the world, to make you want to explore further by reading her book, and to shift your point of view.
As part of WORD Christchurch’s Shifting Points of View sessions of the Christchurch Arts Festival, Dr David Galler talked to poet and fellow medicine-man Glenn Colquhoun about Things that matter.
Dr David Galler is a specialist intensive care doctor at Middlemore Hospital and he spoke to a fully engaged audience on Saturday evening about the things that matter in regards to health and wellbeing. Galler spoke of how communities need to support each other to fight against illness and disease. Treatments need to be holistic, with the approach of what is good for the environment is also good for our health.
David spoke about his life, growing up with Jewish parents and the effects that his parents’ history has had on his own life.
He takes his role as doctor very seriously and has a strong social conscience evident in his manner and through his stories of life and death from “things that matter”.
The conversations were at times serious and provided the audience with many more questions than answers.
One thing Fail Safe Fail Better did not do was fail to deliver. Six speakers gave candid, entertaining and unique accounts of both personal and professional failures in their lives.
Not at all negative, the evening was filled with magic. Glenn Colquhoun invoked ghosts of poets past on the walls of the Christchurch Art Centre’s Great Hall and filled the empty space with poetry (Denis Glover’s The Magpies) and song: his own composition of the ill lucked couple in the poem calling to each other.
While Glenn suggested that sometimes words can fail, he didn’t fail at his task; reciting his performance from memory. I thought you were in great voice, Glenn, as was Witi Ihimaera, who as well as getting the audience to sing in rounds (we failed!) and telling us an alternative fairytale (The Ugly Princess) told us all that his incredible success was all somehow a glorious accident…
Victor Rodger regaled us with the fact that failure is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it that you can’t please everyone all the time? A hugely successful playwright (2017 Writer in Residence Victoria University, 2012 Pacific Artist in Residence at the MacMillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, 2009 Ursula Bethell Creative Writing Resident, Canterbury University), Victor’s use of another well-known F-Word in his work fails to impress the one person he wants to be proud of him – his Mother.
The nature of failure follows a pattern; as we say, when one door closes, another opens. Each lost opportunity leads to another, or a different path in life. A higher lesson in there, perhaps, on freedom and predestination.
This was an idea shared by Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right; the universe has other plans. Our first shot at life and love may be an opportunity to reflect and refine. For her this manifested in a burn-out at Parliament after an exhausting inquiry into the Health Sector, which led to her standing down from Parliament. This left her in a good position to carry Christchurch through its transformation and rebirth.
These experiences are not without wounds. We’ve all been hit by failure, but it’s the resilience we gain that makes us stronger, says Hana O’Regan, Kai Tahu. It’s all in the way you look at it?
A champion of Te Reo, Hana turns life lessons into “rivers of words” writing her way through the experience to the learning on the other side. Each experience brings a lesson, says Hana; they turn up to say, we’ve been through this before, and we can get through it again.
Lastly, and certainly not least, Clementine Ford. Clementine shared a story of mislead youth and heartbreak. This lead us to two realisations: one: life isn’t a John Hughes movie (Pretty in Pink,The Breakfast Club), two: success is not marrying a wanker. Lol.
Fight Like A Girl author Clementine demonstrated her greatest weapon, her wit, in abundance; the lesson in her story being to hold your head high and laugh in the face of crushing (public) rejection.
Some of the stories shared here were so candid that I chose not to share them. Those gems were for our ears only.
My failures? Well, I started the evening keeping to the theme. On a rainy spring night, I failed to find a car park close to the venue (ah the fun of driving around the CBD in circles) and didn’t make the venue on time. Miraculously the event started late. And the rest? Well thats Witi, Glenn and I…
Try this for an exercise in freedom. Think you’re a failure at art? Take a piece of brown paper and screw it up into a ball. Freeing, or what? Tear out the rough shape of the leaf by hand. Decorate your leaf with a crayon. You can colour with dye and a paintbrush, or leave natural. Display your leaves around the room!
Come along to the Great Hall at Christchurch Arts Centre on Friday; reflect on life and how the struggle to survive can spark the creative mind.
In June 1816 a young woman awoke from a terrifying nightmare. Later, she would recount the vision which had left her so unsettled.
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, at the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.”
What was the source of this night terror?
In the days prior, she, and a group of other English expatriates had spent their evenings gathered around the fireplace of Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Climatic changes, brought about by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Sumbawa, Indonesia, on April 10-11 1815, had left the world experiencing what later came to be termed ‘The Year Without Summer’. Temperatures plummeted and terrifying lightning storms raged across Europe. Forced to stay indoors, they read Das Gespensterbuch (German ghost stories which had been published in French in 1812 under the title Fantasmagoriana). Naturally, this gloomy atmosphere soon led to further discussions about ghosts, vampires, and the theories of reanimating the dead.
Such was the impression that the nightmare had on the young woman, that she soon took pen to paper, turning it into a tale of her own. In doing so she was joining a Gothic literature tradition started by earlier novelists, including Eliza Parsons (1739-1811), Regina Maria Roche (1764-1845) and Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823).
When it was published in 1818, under the title Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, its author remained anonymous. Only later would the reading public learn that it had in fact been written by a woman.
Her name was Mary Shelley.
An unconventional life
Born 30 August 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was the daughter of two intellectuals. Her father, William Godwin (1756-1836) was a writer and philosopher. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) also a writer and philosopher, was a proponent of women’s rights who, in 1792, wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Unfortunately, Mary Wollstonecraft died soon after giving birth, but her ideas would be inherited by her daughter who would often read her works during visits to her grave. From her father, Mary learned of the latest scientific endeavours. These included the experiments of Italian physician Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) who exposed the limbs of dead frogs to electricity in order to observe the movements, and his nephew, Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834) who built upon his uncle’s work by running electrical currents through the heads and bodies of executed criminals, causing their limbs to twitch and their mouths to open.
In 1814 Mary met the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), at her father’s house. Although he was already married, the two formed a relationship and in July of that year they eloped to Europe. Accompanied by Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, they roamed through France before eventually arriving in Switzerland. Unable to survive on Shelley’s meagre savings, they eventually decided to return to England, via the Rhine River. In doing so they passed through a landscape of castles set atop prominent cliffs and hilltops, some of them in a ruined state. One such ruin they may have learned of, during a brief stopover in Mannheim, was the nearby Burg Frankenstein which was associated with alchemist and theologian, Johann Conrad Dippel (1673-1734) whose mysterious experiments had earned him a sinister reputation.
Upon returning to England, the couple continued to live together. Mary later gave birth to a daughter on February 22 1815. Unfortunately the child died, leaving Mary to confess in her journal that she wished for a way to restore life to the deceased. In January 1816, she gave birth again, this time to a son.
The creation of the monster
By 1816 Percy Shelley’s health was deteriorating and his unpaid debts were increasing. In May they left England returning to Switzerland, where they joined another Romantic poet, Lord George Byron (1788-1824) and his physician companion, John William Polidori (1795-1821) on the shores of Lake Geneva.
On June 15, as a storm continued to rage outside Villa Diodati, the group decided to hold a ghost story competition. A few days later, Mary would soon find inspiration for her own story in the nightmare of a scientist reanimating a lifeless corpse. Although Frankenstein contained elements traditionally found in Gothic novels (ruined castles, dark forests, storms), it departed from the standard Gothic novel of the time in that, rather than dealing with the supernatural, its horrific features had their origins in science.
The success of Frankenstein allowed Mary Shelley to embark on a career as a novelist at a time when writing was still considered a masculine domain. She would proceed to write further titles, including the post-Apocalypitc novel, The Last Man(1826), before her death in 1851.
This is a slightly odd blog. I don’t know a huge amount about Reni Eddo-Lodge, and because of the way her session at the upcoming WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View series at the Christchurch Arts Festival is titled, I want to go into it with as open a mind as possible and without too many preconceptions. Additionally, I’m a few places down the holds list for her book so won’t get to see it before I see her.
However, I can tell you about why I want to listen to her. I vaguely saw the title of her book and WORD session, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race, on Twitter and then came across a book review in The Guardian and the concept piqued my interest. I’ve been reading quite a lot about diversity, racism and colonialism and also getting my head around intersectionality, so when I saw that Reni was coming to Christchurch I jumped at the opportunity to listen to her. I want to leave my white privilege at the door and make the most of a chance to gain insight into someone else’s perspective.
In this day and age, listening may be one of our most valuable tools.
An actor, a novelist and a librarian share their views, their favourite heroines, and improvise their own tales of women with great hair fleeing gothic houses. Rebecca is joined by Karen Healey and Moata Tamaira(librarian from our very own Christchurch City Libraries), in a session chaired by Rachael King.
What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?
It’s my first time in Christchurch, so I’m really looking forward to having a good explore of the whole city! I absolutely love just wandering the streets of a new city, and seeing where my instincts take me. I also imagine I’ll take a visit to the Art Gallery (one of my passions!)
What do you think about libraries?
Libraries are a hugely important, and often underestimated part of forward thinking culture. To allow free access to so much information: literature, history, reference books, geography, children’s literature, the list is endless, is vital to towns and cities.
And although we have so much information at our fingertips via the internet – libraries are places where communities can meet: storytelling for children, and reading groups for adults, just for starters! An invaluable resource.
What would be your “desert island book”?
Gosh – that’s hard! For fiction – it would probably be Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body – although I’d also love an unending supply of historical biographies – probably by Alison Weir!
Share a surprising fact about yourself.
To the surprise even of myself, I became a vegan two years ago. I thought I would miss cheese so much it would be impossible, but it’s amazed me how much of it was habit, and now I don’t miss it at all! (Oh and I also performed for the Netherland’s Royal Family!)
Following a performance of Jane Eyre: An Autobiography with Rebecca Vaughan, sit back and enjoy dark tales of Gothic houses, damaged men, plucky heroines and secrets lurking in attics. What is the enduring appeal of the Gothic women of literature? Who are the forgotten women, and the doppelgangers? An actor, a novelist and a librarian share their views, their favourite heroines, and improvise their own tales of women with great hair fleeing Gothic houses. Rebecca is joined by Karen Healey and Moata Tamaira, chaired by Rachael King.