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.
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.
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.
Fight like a girl kicks off with an author’s note “I hope you enjoy it, and find it galvanising!” Well, this book is absolutely galvanising — and upsetting, eye-opening, rage-inducing. It comes down to this: Girls, women, trans women — it’s ok to be angry, in fact if you’re not, you should be:
If you are a woman living in this world and you’re not angry, you’re not paying enough attention. Not to your own life, not to the lives of other women and not to the lives of the women who’ll come after you. (p 281)
Next month you can hear Clementine in person at a WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View event, part of the Christchurch Arts Festival.
Join Australia’s online sensation, fearless feminist heroine and scourge of trolls and misogynists everywhere Clementine Ford as she outlines her essential manifesto for feminists new, old and soon-to-be, and exposes just how unequal the world continues to be for women. Introduced by journalist Beck Eleven. Find out more and book your tickets.(one session has already sold out, soz)
Talk of feminism is always timely. Just look what our politicians Meritia Turei and Jacinda Ardern have been dealing with.
The book covers all the topics you’d expect: body issues, diets, sex, gaslighting, girl gangs, and references feminist pop culture touchpoints like Broad City, Parks and Recreation, and Jessica Jones.
Fight like a girl has enough personal backstory to make you understand the things that set Clementine on the path to righteous feminism, particularly in the area of reproductive rights and mental health. She also sets it straight about the online abuse she’s suffered for ten years.
But where I think this book comes out strongest is in its observations:
Why do some women come out against feminism (we’ve seen several high profile NZ examples of this)
… it all comes back to the same thing – women capitulating to the system in order to be given some notion of power within it. (p. 145)
What is privilege?
If you’re not forcing yourself to routinely interrogate the benefits you enjoy in society, it’s all too easy to tell yourself that other people are inventing their disadvantages. (p. 148)
Why do some women hate men? Because they have compelling reasons to.
Instead of berating feminists for being misandrists, perhaps these men should start taking responsibility for the abominable, destructive and dehumanising treatment of women throughout all of history up to and including the present day. (p.159)
Clementine relates examples of rape culture: Brock Turner, Stephen Milne, the Four corners case, and more. The effect of the cumulative examples is to make you want to change EVERYTHING.
What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?
Meeting John Safran (big fan) and having the opportunity to ask him questions about his fascinating descent into the world of Australian fundamentalism. His book is perplexing, hilarious, and deeply depressing and the chance to have an hour with him is absolutely going to be the highlight of my very brief visit. And I will see what else I can cram into my 7 or so hours there at the festival, naturally. I really must check the programme!
What do you think about libraries?
At school I immersed myself in the library. While others romped around the sports field I lost myself for hours just walking the aisle and randomly pulling books from shelves to devour in a perpetual romp of discovery. And I always remember a photo I saw in a mining museum in a former colliery in Yorkshire, of miners in their Sunday best, standing outside the brand new library they had fundraised for, the looks on their faces saying they knew that they had created the potential to allow simple escapism, to educate, and emancipate all who entered its walls. But I worry that there are those who say that they are outdated, unneeded in a world of Google. Nonsense. Long form reading, curation, discovery, simply a place to escape to physically as well as intellectually, are all of the utmost import in our current times.