Archive for the ‘Films/Shows/Talks’ Category

Writing a memoir is an act of resurrection. I was privileged to hear three authors of memoirs speak at a superb session at this year’s WORD festival. The session was titled Whose life is it anyway? and facilitator Victor Roger was engaging and knowledgeable, telling us that he had laughed and cried when reading each of the three books.

I arrived early with time to browse the University Bookshop stall, where they were selling literary t-shirts, buy one, get one free. I was delighted to get a long-sleeved shirt with a quote from Hermione Granger which says When in doubt go to the library. For Stephen, a lifelong Science Fiction fan, I chose one featuring The War of the Worlds by HG Wells.

The three writers on the panel were Ruth Shaw (The Bookseller at the End of the World), Megan Dunn (Things I learned at Art School), and Clementine Ford (How We Love). I’d not read any of these, although two were already on my For Later list (to which the third has now been added). I was surprised that the theatre was only two-thirds full. The session was also being live-streamed, and I guess there are people who are still wary of being out in crowds, even though all the audience was masked.

Megan Dunn, Clementine Ford, Ruth Shaw, Victor Roger

Clementine explained she was wearing a hat because she’d been travelling for ten days and her hair needed attention. She also said her grandmother would have been horrified by this. I’d previously heard Clementine speak on a panel in 2015 where the topic was How to be a feminist. This time she spoke of how we often see our past selves in negative ways, carrying self-doubt inside. To have a relatable story with depth you have to get to know your inner self, ask them to forgive you, and they will, because all they’ve ever wanted is your love.

Megan said: Good girls write memoirs, bad girls don’t have time. Her father had suggested to her that some things are better left unsaid. In 1989 she was 14 years old and her family were living above an old persons’ home, when her uncle killed himself. Some of her writing is therefore about a child absorbing death. Her description of her own mother’s death was incredibly moving. This mother was never supported to reach her potential or be publicly known, and Megan is now honouring her in this book, so that thousands of people know her and cry for her.

Ruth said she was able to draw on lots of diaries and letters, but recalling the emotions was tricky. She often imagined the person she was writing about standing beside her, together with those who would become her readers. After being raped she became pregnant at 17, and found her mother’s reaction difficult to understand, but her mother later explained the difficulty of living in a small community among the families of the perpetrators.

Megan pointed out there are many lonely people in the world, and suggested one way to combat loneliness is to buy these books.

Clementine said that if you know someone you can be a witness to their life, and that is an important form of love. She recommended the film Beaches as an example of this. Clementine would like to write about her father, who re-married after her mother died. She hopes he will die before his second wife does so she can write the book and that woman can read it.

When questioned about censoring what you’ve written Ruth said she had changed the names of her four husbands and son, to protect their privacy.

All the authors were amazingly open about their stories, and I had tears in my eyes on several occasions. This was a stimulating and very worthwhile session, and I look forward to the pleasure of reading each of their books. Have you read these memoirs?

Their stories came right from the heart
there’s more to read – a further part

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Living Healthily

Environmental influence on your health was the subject of a talk by Dr Matthew Hobbs, the Co-Director of the Geo Health Lab at the University of Canterbury. The aim of his studies is to enable the planning of healthy places and reduce health inequity.

He spoke of how fluoridation of water relates to the hospitalisation of children for dental treatment, and the importance of immunisation to prevent diseases.

One of Matthew’s projects is the Healthy Location Index. This looks at factors in our environment which are either health-promoting or health-constraining, i.e. the goods and the bads. The index is available online, and you can search for your own area. Not surprisingly, the research has shown that unhealthy environments affect the more deprived areas most, with corresponding adverse effects on mental and physical health and psychological distress. I was interested to hear that this research has been matched to the NZ Attitudes and Values study which I’ve been part of for many years. Research in Scotland has shown that childhood access to greenspace lowers the adult risk of dementia.

It’s good to know that the work of the Geo Health Lab is all open access and transparent.

It’s sad to think that mental health
can be dependent on your wealth

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Elvis the Movie

Elvis was a movie I was attracted to, but was deterred when I read that it lasted for two hours and forty minutes. On Sunday a group of friends was chatting, and when one person said they’d like to see this movie four others said they would too. In the end it was just three of us who went to the Academy Gold Cinema this afternoon to enjoy Elvis.

The lengthy film held my attention right through, and Austin Butler who played the lead role was magnificent, sounding and looking like Elvis. It was a sad depiction of how Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) exploited Elvis. Earlier this year I watched Elvis Presley: The Searcher on TV, which had more details about how his music evolved, and I think I preferred that story.

There were just seven people in the cinema, and it was poignant to know that today, 16th August, is the 45th anniversary of Elvis’s death. I can remember that day in 1977. I was working in a wholesale liquor store when the news came through, and another staff member and I hugged and consoled each other.

Elvis’s music has brought much pleasure to many of us for many years. I have a 3 c.d. set titled Elvis Presley Artist of the Century which includes booklets that tell the stories of 68 songs.

Throughout my life I’ve been a fan
of this amazing music man

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I can’t remember when I last saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but today’s Top Dog Theatre production at the Isaac Theatre royal had much that was familiar, and much that was an excellent way of bringing in modern ideas and devices.

Helena had become Helenus, and other roles were similarly transgendered. Three women performing circus acrobatics brought another dimension to the land of the fairies.

The cast did very well, but I found some of the dialogue hard to discern. It certainly helped to know some of the words, but there were bits I missed. All the actors appeared to relish their roles, there was much rollicking good fun, and many humorous moments.

The theatre was not full, and I wonder whether some of the potential audience are keeping away from crowds. An announcement at the beginning encouraged people to wear masks (which we did), but there were quite a few maskless people around.

This show was surely avant-garde
a new rendition of the bard

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Engrossing Endemics

Terry Thomsen, author of “The Lonely Islands” led us through a closer look at Aotearoa’s deep endemics. After a career in IT Terry went back to university to further his interest in conservation, and is now a freelance tour guide.

He explained that if a species is native to a country, and found nowhere else then it is endemic. If it evolved a long time ago, it is a deep endemic, such as New Zealand’s Tuatara.

Much has changed scientifically in the last 50-60 years. Fossils have been found at St Bathans, and the use of DNA has helped our understanding of how species evolved. From the 1960s there has been an acceptance of the idea of continental drift, with the sea floor spreading. 250 million years ago most animals became extinct, and there was then a huge opportunity for diversification, with some becoming carnivores or herbivores. There was a great blossoming of vertebrate life, e.g. turtles, crocodiles, lizards. Some became furry primitive mammals who laid eggs and also suckled their young.

Zealandia broke from Gondwanaland about 80 million years ago and New Zealand became isolated. Our country is unusual because it has a direct chain of life from Pangaea (the supercontinent that incorporated all landmasses, including Gondwanaland) to the present day. 80 million years ago two new groups of mammals evolved, marsupials and placental mammals. These came via South America, through Antarctica, to Australia (60-70 million years ago). By this time New Zealand was already isolated and too remote for mammals to reach us, which is why we don’t have snakes. New Zealand is unique in the world because we have relics of Pangaea, but also have the traits of separate Oceanic Islands.

Our birds became flightless and larger because they had no predators and there was plenty of food. Some even became carnivores, eating small chicks of other species. Some semi-aquatic birds, e.g. takahe, became entirely land-based. Our tuatara is the only surviving member of the Sphenodontia species who lived during the age of the dinosaurs.

Frogs also began at the same time, and the NZ native frog is the only example of this primitive frog Leiopelma. It is very rare, very small, and well camouflaged. Although it now has a terrestrial lifestyle, the eggs need to develop in a damp place, such as a forest floor. The tadpole stage takes place inside the egg, and once they are born they are froglets, (not tadpoles).

We also have invertebrates which are relics of Gondwanaland, e.g. the tree weta, the giant snail, and petal-tailed dragonflies. Birds evolved after the mass extinction of 250 million years ago which gave them the opportunity to diversify. Parrots and penguins arrived here 50-60 years ago. We have three parrots /strigopoidea which are found only in New Zealand, the kaka, kea, and kakapo. The kakapo is flightless and larger than the others, and considered the most unparrot-like parrot in the world. Other endemic birds are passerines, the Rifleman (less than 1/4 the weight of a sparrow) and the Rock Wren. Some of our birds came more recently from Australia, e.g. the bellbird, tui, and fantail.

My adopted kakapo

Ratite birds in New Zealand split into moa and kiwi. In the 1990s DNA showed that these two species came at different times (the moa first) and although they later became flightless they could only have got here by flying. DNA has shown that their ancestors flew.

We have very few plants from before the split with Gondwanaland. The only genuine plant relic is a small liverwort which is as old as the tuatara. Our short-tailed bat came 25-30 million years ago from Australia, and is the only bat that forages on the ground as well as flying.

Some people have suggested that New Zealand slumped completely under the sea about 25 million years ago, but geologists now agree that some islands must have remained above water.

All of this information provides us with motivation for ensuring that New Zealand’s unique fauna is preserved.

Our fauna’s certainly antique
and much of it is quite unique

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We heard three speakers from the Ngāi Tahu Regional Investment Fund. Wayne Vargis spoke of the history, how Ngāi Tahu for seven generations sought reparation for past injustices. He showed a video of endeavours the tribe has invested in since the settlement of $170 million in 1998. If anyone queries the fact that Ngāi Tahu don’t pay income tax, it’s good to point out that they have made a contribution of more than $650 million to the Government in social and health services. Ngāi Tahu have proved to be a first nations economic powerhouse, but much is generated centrally, and hasn’t always been shared with the 18 Papatipu Rūnanga.

The funds have grown through investment in farming, property, seafood, and tourism. The area of Ngāi Tahu covers 91.6% of the South Island, and their kaupapa/philosophy is based on ultra long term thinking. In their property portfolio they have an emphasis on sustainable regeneration. In forestry they advocate moving away from exotic forests, and will transition to purely native forest within 50 years (by which time current exotic trees will have been harvested).

The Regional Investment Fund is intended to accelerate economic endeavours within the 18 Rūnanga: Supporting the home fires to burn brighter and sooner.

Ben Matheson spoke of how they are working to grow wealth in the regions, looking for blended returns that incorporate profit, planet, and people. I was interested to note when he gave his mihimihi that he spoke in Kāi Tahu dialect. The others may have done so too, but I didn’t catch enough to pick that up.

The fund encourages the regions to be self-sustaining, and the fund listens, supports, and works alongside the 18 Rūnanga. The aims are to:

*create jobs and career paths
*increase social inclusion and participation
*enable economic multipliers to foster a tribal economy
*sustainability and productive use of resources
*improve resiliency and strength of the Rūnanga

Samantha Sellars described Te Ara Pounamu a new tourism experience to be built in Greymouth, near the Railway Station. It will bring employment during its construction and operation and will be a way to share local stories.

Wayne said the Ngāi Tahu vision is slowly becoming better understood, but has not been widely communicated. He pointed out (re co-governance) that issues often have to be treated inequitably to bring about eventual equity.

So much to learn about their plan
which has a wide inclusive span

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Rain was pelting down early on Sunday morning and the weather was definitely not suitable for beach walking. By 10am the rain was clearing so we decided to walk through the Botanic Gardens. The river had overflowed, and ducks were enjoying new places to swim.

Ducks on the river overflow

At the Central Art Gallery in the Arts Centre we found an exhibition by Hannah Kidd. I’ve enjoyed her work before, and was keen to see these new pieces. Seven of them are sculptures of dogs, made from steel and corrugated iron, all extremely lifelike and very attractive.

Hannah has also painted and glazed a number of pots on different themes. An attendant kindly lifted the lids on these to demonstrate how each has an appropriate aroma inside. I had to take a photo of the one which showed a flamingo:

Friday Night Drinks

Another depicting Putin did not appeal:

Putin is Hot Pot

The delicate one with cats is inspired by a blog the artist follows called 12catslady. One of the paw-traits looked like Ziggy:

12catslady Pot

Bunsen Cafe was handy for a morning snack, with sparrows perched inside waiting for crumbs.

Expectant sparrows

A large raspberry and chocolate muffin meant I didn’t need lunch when I got home.

A stimulating way to spend
a dull day on a wet weekend

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Watching the Water

This morning when the rain was torrential, and streets were flooded, I listened to Gabrielle Huria outlining why our water deserves good decisions. Gabrielle, who is Deputy Chair of the CDHB and an R.M.A. Commissioner, comes from a long line of Māori fishing folk. Her background in working for mental health taught her that wellbeing must be based in a healthy environment, and over the last thirty years our environment has been treated disgracefully.

One example of this is the fact that Cloud Ocean Bottling were permitted by ECan to extract billions of litres of good Canterbury water to be put in plastic bottles and shipped overseas. Ngāi Tahu hired lawyers to intervene in this case and worked with Aotearoa Water Action to have the consent overturned. They are also working with Fish and Game to preserve the rivers and improve the water.

In the 19th century the Tuahiwi people were restricted to a Māori Reserve. With 14 acres each, it was hard to survive as they were used to ranging freely to get food, and were not farmers. As late as the 1980s their men were arrested for whitebaiting on their ancestral Rakahuri/Ashley River.

When the Sewerage Treatment Station was built at Bromley in 1958 it was built on Maori land (for which they were never paid). It has continually emitted foul smells, made much worse since the fire in November 2021. This is an example of the massive infrastructure problems brought about by bad decisions in the past. When Gabrielle was younger Lake Waihora/Ellesmere was an abundant source of flounder. Now it is a filthy turgid sink. Nobody pays for their pollution. If they had to pay, people would find a solution.

Ngāi Tahu support the Three Waters legislation because it means there would be equity of access to clean drinking water. Out of 18 Ngāi Tahu runanga, one third don’t have reticulated water supply and need to rely on wells and septic tanks. Water at Tuahiwi has a high content of arsenic and Gabrielle worries about what she and her family have been drinking. Three Waters would help to rectify this situation, taking infrastructure away from 68 local councils, and enabling Ngāi Tahu and others to have a say. They don’t want to own the water, but they want to participate in its management and not run out of water. It’s important to support the infrastructure remaining in public ownership and not let it slip away as electricity did. Māori rangatiratanga gives an obligation to make sure that resources are there for future generations. With amalgamated infrastructure we can save money and keep costs down for ratepayers, and Three Waters will give more opportunities for the community to feed into decisions.

In October 2020 Ngāi Tahu filed a claim for rangatiratanga over water. They have done research and want to ensure water is kept in a better state. We need swamplands to manage flooding, but these have been taken out. We also need to preserve mahinga kai practices (producing, procuring, and protecting food resources). Gabrielle cited putake mauka, which means the water comes from the mountains which are Ngāi Tahu ancestors.

Gabrielle acknowledged that Ngāi Tahu have dairy farms, and that there is some conflict between the runanga and the corporation over these. The farms are not to be sold, and there is currently a study under way comparing a “normal” farm with one managed in a regenerative way. Personally she has reduced her consumption of dairy products, because of the pollution caused by dairy farming. Some of the ideas from her presentation are covered in this Guardian article.

I learned a lot about our water
from passionate Ngāi Tahu daughter

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Helen Brown and Michael Stevens displayed and spoke about Volume 2 of Tāngata Ngāi Tahu. I’m often intrigued that so many local Māori don’t seem to use the Kāi Tahu dialect. I guess they’ve all decided to use a more standard version of Te Reo.

This book is the second in a series of biological archives, with the criteria for inclusion being that people are Ngāi Tahu, and they’re no longer alive. For this iwi mana over their knowledge is vitally important.

The book features 50 short biographies each about 1,000 words, and 250 photographs, usually sourced from the families. Often a photo is the only memento a family has of a particular individual, and they were generous about sharing these. Lots of the old photos were able to be repaired, and all have now been digitised. More than half of those included in the book are wahine. Some of the stories have come from the Dictionary of NZ Biography, with later additions. Because so much has been digitised we can now go back and enrich the stories when new facts are discovered.

Only 10-20 Māori wahine signed the 1893 suffrage petition, and the majority of these were Ngāi Tahu. Two who did were Rhoda (Rora) Flora Orbell and her daughter Frances. Rora was engaged in working for the retention of Māori land, and her descendants form the largest branch of the Orbell family (based at Moeraki). Rora has recently been memorialised on a dining chair in Kate Sheppard House/Te Whare Waiutuutu.

Hira Moroiti Pōhio Traill composed and published music and was a carver of pounamu. She was a radical, outspoken, pro-Maori political commentator who wrote many letters to the Christchurch Press. She was passionate and ardent in her work seeking equity and justice for Māori. In the 1930s and 40s she agitated for Te Tiriti to be recognised, and the points she raised were eventually addressed in the 1998 settlement.

Erihāpati Pātahi is known for the fact that she was a strong swimmer and rescued her partner when their ship was wrecked, Her story was written down as A Pioneer’s Reminiscences by William Martin, a Pakeha gold miner.

One man featured in this volume is Paora Taki, who wrote down the story of his involvement in the Ngati Toa raids of the 1830s.

Katarina Kuini Wharerauaruhe Te Tau born 1899 was deeply involved in the Anglican Church, and during World War Two she worked for the Maori War Effort Organisation which evolved into the Maori Women’s Welfare League of which she was a founding member.

Martha Tahumu Spencer (née Edmonds) organised a street carnival in Bluff to raise funds to send gifts and many mutton birds to troops overseas. For this work she received an M.B.E.

Noeline Fife worked at the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills. Her passion was creative writing and her stories which were published in the Christchurch Star in the 1920s give a picture of rural Ngāi Tahu life. She was also an avid shell collector who collected and catalogued more than 9,000 shells. On Rakiura/Stewart Island she cared for her son who had muscular dystrophy and was confined to a wheelchair from the age of 12 until he died aged 34.

The final person we heard about was Henare Rakiihia (Rik) Tau who died in 2014. He was the Upoko of Ngāi Tuahuriri. For a couple of years I worked with Rik on the Advisory Group for the Dept of Internal Affairs Community Net. We sometimes flew to Wellington together and the group usually dined together the evening before the meeting, but I did not know him well.

Rik was raised gathering eel and whitebait and always stressed the importance of food gathering. He was active in the Ngāi Tahu case to the Waitangi Tribunal, and sometimes spoke to six community groups in a week, explaining the treaty claim to a wider audience.

So many folk can now be known
as Ngāi Tahu’s archive has grown

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Creating Community

Different options for community housing were the subject of a talk by Jane Quigley. Her definition of creating community is bringing people together for good, and creating a sense of belonging.

Jane is currently the Chairperson of the Housing for Women Trust which interested me as I’ve had some involvement with that organisation over many years, first through the Women’s Centre, and later through Volunteering Canterbury. Jane has lived at their Beachcomber development in South Brighton, and also been involved with the Viva! Project and the Whitmore Village in Edgeware.

Jane became interested in the possibility of co-housing after attending festivals in the 1970s. These often included games, shared meals, companionship, playmates for children, discussion, and opportunities for learning. During her time living at Beachcomber the development was transformed from one of disfunction to a place where there were regular meetings, a community garden, and shared meals.

Through involvement with the Viva! Project she gained knowledge about collaborative housing and community living. To be successful such developments must be designed and managed by residents who choose to live in a close-knit neighbourhood. There needs to be a balance of private and community spaces, with a common house for shared meals and other gatherings, together with bump space where residents can meet each other. Two examples of successful co-housing are Christie Walk in central Adelaide, and Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood in West Auckland.

Whitmore Village is an accommodation business which Jane has been running since she bought five ageing properties in Whitmore Street in 2007. At any one time there are 30-40 people of more than 20 different nationalities living there, some of whom have been there for several years. Others come back multiple times. Jane has found that respect for people’s unique differences is vital, and she has needed to learn conflict resolution skills.

For any co-housing project people tend to self-select at the beginning, and once established there is often a long waiting list, as is the case with the Peterborough Housing Co-op. Usually such projects include people owning their own units. Retirement villages can have many of the advantages of co-housing, but lack diversity of ages because young families cannot afford to be in such villages.

The Viva! Project was a finalist in the Breathe Competition, but the eventual winner failed to make it work financially. The later Madras Square project similarly failed financially, but the area is now being developed by Mike Greer Homes with a mix of residential and retail buildings.

The main difficulties in developing co-housing are high land prices, and the challenge of getting funding for community development. There can also be conflict over maintaining community facilities.

Jane concluded with a quote from Rumi: Love is the whole thing. We are only pieces.

I particularly enjoyed this talk because it reminded me of Values Party discussions long ago. When we moved to Christchurch in late 1986 I was keen to live in the Avon Loop because I knew it had been a strong community. Sadly much of that has faded, especially since the earthquakes, but a number of us keep working to try and rebuild that community.

Community can be created
if local folk are dedicated

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