Book Review: Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_towards_democratic_renewal.jpgAt the time of reviewing this particular instalment on constitutional change from Professor Palmer, freedom of speech as a principle was being debated in New Zealand. This was caused primarily by some visiting Canadians, whose provocative views had resulted in them being declined a public venue in Auckland.

Freedom of speech and assembly are not really part of this book on constitutional change in New Zealand. Not just because we all take these basic freedoms for granted, and there is actually an existing Bill of Rights, but because the book is essentially about changing the institutions of political decision-making in New Zealand, especially with regard to how Parliament operates. This seems to be based on the somewhat surprising notion that Parliamentary sovereignty is too broad, and the authors refer to the apparent ‘untrammelled’ or ‘uncontrolled’ rule of Parliament.

This is in fact the second instalment of this academic exercise in constitutional change. The first book by the authors laid out their new constitution and now, having sought submissions from the public and the legal experts, they are offering their amendments to the original proposal. So most of the chapters reflect on the issues that have been raised in this ongoing process of constitutional reflection. Indeed there is even a chapter full of quotes from a variety of people who made public submissions. These include a long quote from someone using very offensive language that should never have been accepted, especially because the person was given anonymity. There are also a number of photos of the authors with groups of students in self-congratulatory poses.

That is not to say that there aren’t some very substantial proposals being put forward here. These include replacing the Governor-General with a new head of state, and therefore a form of republicanism. The removal of the term ‘the Crown’ from the New Zealand constitution, and thus from the legal system, could have profound implications for the Treaty of Waitangi and claims related to it. Then there are aspects of the political process that the authors don’t like relating to elections and the role of Parliament. Changes here include having a fixed four year term for Parliament, and giving the right to vote to 16-year-olds, if not making voting compulsory as well. Perhaps most significant would be the idea of giving the judiciary the power to review legislation, and, if deemed unconstitutional, to declare it invalid.

This power was apparently already there, but now needs to be broadened. The authors make the point that the international trade agreement (TTPA) would have allowed for corporations to challenge legislation that offended them. However, the authors do not address the loss of economic sovereignty at all, especially during the late 1980s when Palmer was a key legislator. But they do assess the role of certain legal cases that help make their case. One being that High Court review undertaken on behalf of the anti-TPPA campaigner, Professor Kelsey, which highlighted how the Official Information Act was not being complied with. The authors are all in favour of more transparency in government, and enhanced roles for Parliamentary officers (such as the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman). Just as long as Parliament itself is not allowed to pass its Acts under urgency anymore, and thus ruin certain landmark pieces of legislation.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand
by Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561834

Book Review: Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, by Siobhan Curham

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_don't_stop_thinking_about_tomorrowStevie and Hafiz are two fourteen-year-olds from very different backgrounds. Stevie is a talented guitarist who is passionate about music – but she has a difficult home life, living with the challenges of her mother’s unemployment and crippling depression after the recent death of Stevie’s father. Hafiz is a gifted footballer, new to England after a gruelling journey on his own from his war-torn home in Syria, desperately missing his parents. The one thing Steve and Hafiz have in common is that both of them are struggling to fit in at school – until they find each other.

This is a fabulous book about diversity, mental health, the plight of refugees, and overcoming prejudice. But mostly it is a story about friendship. The book unfolds in chapters alternating between Stevie and Hafiz’s perspectives. Slowly we learn more about their backstories and the events that have led them to the moment where a well-meaning teacher instructs the new boy to sit next to the lonely girl. This is a very contemporary tale, with its empathetic and tactful discussion of mental health issues and the refugee experience. Stevie and Hafiz’s voices are unique and genuine and the author carefully avoids slipping into a schmaltzy treatment of some very tough topics.

My daughter and I were both big fans of Curham’s earlier books, The Moonlight Dreamers and its sequel Tell It To The Moon, so I was very keen to read this new novel. To my surprise, I think I like this new book even better than the other two; no mean feat. Both of the characters are endearing and extremely likeable. And how can you not love a book that includes a Spotify playlist? This is a thought-provoking and extremely enjoyable read for anyone twelve and over.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406387803

WORD Christchurch: FAFSWAG Vogue

WORD Christchurch: FAFSWAG Vogue

Before you read this – or in fact instead of reading this – go and experience the FAFSWAG Vogue interactive dance video: https://fafswagvogue.com/  Turn the volume up and soak it in.

FAFSWAG is a queer Pasifika arts collective based in South Auckland whose name derives from fa’afafine and swagger. ‘We celebrate queer brown bodies, contemporary Pacific arts and cultural restoration.; They also perform phenomenal Voguing, a highly theatrical dance style special to the queer and drag communities and rooted in the fight against racism and homophobia. I attended the Vogue workshop run by Manu Vaeatangitau and Pati Solomona Tyrell of FAFSWAG, and Manu explained that Voguing originated amongst queer black prison inmates in the US, then expanded out to Harlem, and thence to the rest of the world.

The workshop was held at the Aranui Wainoni Community Centre. I was a bit nervous showing up by myself but was quickly made very welcome. The festival blurb said the workshop was for beginners, and I told Tusiata Avia – who had made the event happen as part of her guest programmer role for WORD 2018 – that I hoped it was okay that I had turned up. Yes Elizabeth, she said gravely, you are allowed to be here.

Being allowed to be present, to take up space, and to be who you are in the body that you have had been a major theme of the previous night’s event, Comfortable In Your Skin, also programmed by Tusiata and also featuring Manu and Pati. Conversation had been about being queer, being brown, and being bullied for it. Sonya Renee Taylor had talked about radical self love: not just self-confidence, which is inward-looking and fleeting, but aroha, which is connective and spills outwards. Manu and Pati referenced it specifically in the workshop and it felt like we were working our way towards it together.

There were 20 or so of us attending; a mix of ages, body sizes and shapes, ethnicities and gender expressions. Manu and Pati gave us an introduction to the elements of Vogue Femme: hands, catwalk, duckwalk, floor work, and spins & dips. Hands and catwalking were my favourite – duckwalking is extremely hard on the thighs and dips are a right bugger on the knees. But there was a wonderful energy in the room – we were all giving it our best shot and there was heaps of laughter and applause for everyone.

That room in the Aranui Wainoni Community Centre felt like a safe space where all kinds of bodies were welcome. The previous Centre was destroyed in the earthquakes and the current building is new. I got talking to a local woman who told me that, in the rebuilding of schools in Ōtautahi, the original shapes and contours of the land were being rediscovered. What was here before is like a thin mask, she said. And it’s cracking and falling away – the real Christchurch is emerging. It reminded me of what Pati had said at Comfortable In Your Skin: these days at their brother’s all-boys South Auckland high school being queer is no big deal, and on mufti days kids come to school in drag. Our real faces are coming through.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

 

WORD Christchurch 2018: Adventurous Keynote – Robyn Davidson

Just over forty years ago, at the age of 24, Robyn Davidson set off to Alice Springs with $6 in her pocket and the intention to go into the desert. She’d ‘never done anything which required manual dexterity, patience or an understanding of design’. Three years later, she walked 3000km across the Australian desert with four camels and a dog.

This journey, even more extraordinary at the time for having a woman at the centre of it determining her own path, is the subject of her best-selling memoir Tracks, and of the keynote address for WORD’s adventure themed festival. She tells the sold-out theatre that if she could do this – young and starting with no skills – that anyone, with tenacity and preparation, can take on adventure. Succinctly: ‘You are as powerful as you allow yourself to be’.

robyn davidson

Photo provided by WORD, courtesy M Williams 

Robyn takes us from her need to do something ‘big and private and very personal’ to the relief of the desert and, eventually, the ocean. We start in the mid-seventies – and the context of the times is important to this journey and its continuing appeal, not only in terms of its spirit, but in its distance from us now in our social media saturated lives (she quips that someday soon it will be illegal to get lost). For Robyn and her generation this was a time of challenging the status quo and a wide-spread desire for freedom –and ‘being free involves some kind of risk’.

Arriving in Alice Springs, Robyn set her sights on wild camels as the means for crossing the desert. 10-15,000 of them were introduced from Pakistan to help with the building of desert infrastructure. (As an aside, which brought a collective gasp from the audience, there are now 1 million feral camels running around.)

She experienced countless setbacks in the three years at Alice Springs, while acquiring the skills necessary for the environment she was about to enter. Robyn made a deal with an Austrian running camel trips: she would learn the ropes and work for free, and at the end of the year she could select two camels of her choice. He reneged on the deal.

Once she had assembled and trained four camels, the problem then was that she had no money for essential supplies. Enter Rick Smolan, the photographer, who suggested applying to National Geographic for funds. The cost, according to Robyn, was her soul; she exchanged complete solitude for the intrusions inherent in the documentation of the journey.

His images are so powerfully associated with her journey that even Robyn feels they have invaded her memory. At the time, the presence of Rick’s camera invoked disquiet – she felt that she was constantly aware of herself. And through his lens, the public warmed to her; unwanted fame was to follow.

The journey itself, in all its vicissitudes, took nine months. There was the spirit sapping, exemplified by the arrival at a well marked on her map, only to find it dry (the next well was ten days walk away). There was the lift in spirits – three Aboriginal men turned up at her camp and one of them ended up accompanying her for the next month. Eddie lived as his ancestors had for the last 50,000 years, and with him Robyn learnt how to be in the desert. Then there was the complete release of a month by herself. She believes her consciousness permanently changed – she was integrated with the desert, no longer a separate entity, but part of a vast net and so at home in the world.

As Robyn tells us during questions from the audience, ‘this trip cannot be recapitulated’ – it belongs to another time and would be impossible to do now. But carving out time for deep contemplation remains essential and more urgent than ever. And adventure is available to us all. As she asked at the beginning of the session, ‘Why do we stay in our paddocks and behave?’

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

Write-up of Adventurous Keynote: Robyn Davidson on Wednesday, 29 August from 7.30pm 

Tracks
by Robyn Davidson
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781408896204

Book Review: Searches For Tradition: Essays on New Zealand Music Past and Present, edited by Michael Brown and Samantha Owens

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_searches_for_tradition2015 marked the centenary celebrations of the birth of iconic Kiwi composer Douglas Lilburn. Lilburn’s influence on musical composition extends way beyond the notes on a page or the resonances of a concert chamber. Those lucky enough to gain a residency in his Kelburn house will have felt his presence when composing their own works. Amongst the many centenary events. a conference of noted scholars and musicologists was held by the New Zealand Musicological Society. The theme, also the title of this collection, was a poignant reminder of how far we’ve come. Once we believed, like Mulgan, that we were ‘men alone’, against the elements, against the drift from motherland England. The essays in this collection are base on the conference’s delivered papers but they reveal more than simple historical notations.

The title actually picks up the conversation from Lilburn’s own work ‘A search for tradition’, a talk given at the first Cambridge Summer School of Music in January 1946 in which he spelled out his hopes that a distinctive art music might yet emerge here.. The lecture is a plea for ‘the necessity of having a music of our own … A music that will satisfy those parts of our being that cannot be satisfied by the music of other nations.’

Sixty years on, we have this rather scholarly compilation of essays, divided in to categories of interest. The collection opens, appropriately on the topic of Colonial Traditions, featuring a piece from Elizabeth Nichol investigating our own rich tradition of composition. Back then, most writers were music teachers and men and women with day jobs (not much has changed, there) but the creative pool was deep and vast.

Musically, the music was not just whalers songs and sea shanties. This was a country settled by a swath of educated middle classes, she says, and they all brought with them pianos and brass. As early as 1857, composers were bringing European influences and mixing them with local aspects. Harriet Barlow for instance, created a New Zealand Polka whilst John Beale was smitten with particular ravines further south and wrote ‘angiruru Galop. And so it went, Nichol notes – this transplant of European dance traditions into local settings. The amount of publishing that occurred, especially from London and Sydney presses impressed me greatly. Remember, Aotearoa was in reputation only 10 years old on the world stage. Who even knew we were here?

With A.E Wilson’s New Zealand Waltz we start to really see a proper search for identity and nationhood in music. Remember, music was an expression of national identity. Thomas Bracken knew this when he wrote our own National Anthem, albeit as poetry.
The search for our own voice continues with editor Samantha Owens, who looks, at some depth, into the establishment of a New Zealand Conservatorium Of Music. The notion being that music was part of established and respectable culture. I was surprised how early this came about – 1906. Interestingly, the rationale to create such a school came from musicians who’d been taught in Dresden, the heart of culture at the time. The desire for elitism in the arts began early.

Melissa Cross looks at the practice of cultural appropriation in her piece about Alfred Hill. She asks – Maori Songs: Whose Tradition? In the early part of the century Hill joined the craze to collect and ‘Europeanise’ indigenous music and traditions. It happened all over the world as Westerners became smitten by ‘native’ relics and traditions, even music. And so he’d appropriate the Waiata of ‘Maoriland’ for commercial gain, to publish in script for piano and orchestra. This was a time when sheet music sold as well as records would eventually 20 years later.

There’s a section about the Lilburn legacy itself, where we learn in depth about the man himself. Composer, educator, innovationist Douglas Lilburn, originally from Wanganui, was one of our most revered experimental composers.. His career, as one of the essays in this book informs us had three distinct periods, beginning with his time at the Royal College of Music, London, where he was tutored in composition by revered composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

After returning to New Zealand he eventually took up residence as an academic at Victoria University in Wellington and in 1970 was appointed Professor with a personal chair in Music in 1970.

In the 1960’s, along with Jack Body, he started to experiment with electronic music, eventually founding the Electronic Music Studio at Wellington’s Victoria University in 1966 and becoming its Director until 1979. Fiona McAlpine gives us a short but heartfelt and irreverent account of those times in and around his and Jack’s experiments using rudimentary electronic equipment.

On another plane, Michael Brown considers Lilburn’s own search for identity, coming as he was from a Gaelic and British point of reference. This particular piece is a musicologist’s dream, as he dissects a number of Lilburn’s compositions looking for clues. Lilburn was highly praised. He won many prizes and scholarships including the Percy Grainger Competition, 1936, which he won for his tone poem ‘Forest’. McAlpine looks at how Lilburn worked and reworked his electronica into his poems for broadcast on the NZBC. I found it fascinating that such a staunch institution would embrace experimentation like this. Such was the progressive art world of the day. Sadly, there’s no chance you’d hear something like that, outside a youtube clip. Have we really progressed?

This book also looks at the influences on Māori Music in Valance Smith’s piece. There the influences are examined in an almost anthropological way. We are asked if there really can be a ‘tradition’ for Māori music, given it is always been a genre that’s borrowed – first from Pasifica, then the birds, the Missionaries, and later from Europeans.

Interesting was jazz academic Norman Meehan’s piece on the burgeoning Jazz scene in New Zealand, influenced by American and European players but also borrowing from artists like Len Lye, who mixed the arts with music as a sort of rebellious conversation. Aleisha Ward adds to Chris Bourke’s popular study of the development of a Jazz Community in the 1940’s, recognising the professional and artistic mix of players in an era when musicians could really earn a buck playing in nightclubs and dance halls. RNZ’s Nick Tipping has a few words on the traditions searched for in jazz compositions over the years.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This book is a veritable treasure trove, bringing together an increasingly varied collection of perspectives on what `tradition’ means in the context of the music in this part of the world from colonial music to the contemporary revitalization of taonga puoro. Along the way it raises a few critical issues about the shifting sands of biculturalism and national pride, uncovers forgotten aspects of local history, performance practice and even composition itself.

Yes, it’s an academic book. A little dense at times, but if you like to dip in and out, as I have over the last month, you’ll be rewarded with some stimulating reading. This one should appeal to a wide range of enthusiasts of New Zealand music’s past and into future.

Michael Brown is Curator Music at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. Samantha Owens is Associate Professor of Musicology at Victoria University.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Searches For Tradition: Essays on New Zealand Music Past and Present
Edited by Michael Brown and Samantha Owens
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561773

Book Review: Minarets Issue 8

cv_minarets_issue8Minarets is a special journal to me, in that every time I read a new issue I can see it doing something different.  The poetry is exciting and strange and the humble and lovingly crafted form it comes in is a pleasure to engage with.

In this particular issue there are blue ink illustrations scattered throughout that seem to contrast with the poems in delightful and curious ways. My favourite illustrations are the meme-lite picture of C3PO playing a saxophone and another of what appears to be a bifurcated corn cob, that embody the playfulness that is inherent in this journal. The poets in this issue are Victor Billot, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Lee Thomson, Zack Anderson (US), Murray Edmond, Courtney Sina Meredith, Manon Revuelta, and Naomi Scully (US). Freya Daly Sadgrove’s ‘Bad Sex In Big Suburbs’ (which is one hell of a good title) is a playful beast, as quick to lick wounds as it is to create them.

         what will you give for closeness honey bun

         You can get anyone onside with enough booze

and ruthless gentleness       people are gagging

For a little kindness     people will kill for sympathy

I’ve always admired the voice in Sadgrove’s poems; how it takes and gives with equal measure, there is this sense of honest exposure in her work here that really hits home.

Courtney Sina Meredith is one of the best poets writing today and her poem ‘Pony’ which is displayed on the page like fragments really confirms this. It plays with how we remember our past selves and how family provides a kind of anchoring of the self. The numerous subtitles in this piece do a lot of heavy lifting;

Sex with strangers

The man leading the pony in circles was wearing a cowboy hat.

Memories can carry this sickening contrast that bites at the small in the back and nips at the corners of our elbows and this poem brings that feeling into full view.

Manon Revuelta (who’s poetry book girl teeth is a must read) uses movements of the body to talk about interiority. We are meat forms protesting the air;

Look at this busy dance I do with my hand

When I am talking to people

Shredding paper in the darkness of my pocket

She then contrasts this with what the hand is doing during prayer, which is exactly nothing. I feel like this goes past a simple critique of religion and instead investigates how honesty is about communication rather than the lack thereof. In the silence of stillness between two people one can construct so many lies.

The final poem in the journal which epitomizes the desire for experimentation is by Naomi Scully an American poet who hadn’t heard until reading this. ‘p.Rose’ is a dense and enthralling poem that presents fragmented thought after fragmented thought in a way that creates more feeling than meaning. It’s a total blast to read. What I pulled from it was the sense of a discussion on pedagogy and the ways in which we communicate and teach obedience and the ways in which we can deny that totalizing force.

The cube is concentric volumes… And it speaks to Hallelujah. I will not give in. To the heat that speaks of sins. Beyond the paradise of product lines, we juxtapose a mother set of rhymes. Possible. A trace is made between the fields. A function of discrete appeal. My filter dreams are structured why? For pursuit of scenes and substance.

This collection is currently out of print but I hope it gets a reprint, as Compound Press are providing a platform for some of the most interesting poetry around.

Reviewed by essa ranapiri

Minarets 8
Edited by Erena Shingade, art by Harry Moritz
Published by Compound Press
ISSN 2253-4873

Book Review:  Woolly Wally, by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_woolly_wallyIf you are familiar with Doctor Grundy’s Undies, I need a new Bum and other stories, and Mister Spears and his Hairy Ears, you will adore this offering from Dawn McMillan and Ross Kinnaird. What a great book. Woolly Wally was first published in 2006 and is now back in this latest edition.

Woolly Wally was a ram who stood master of his flock, full of importance, ready to show off his beautiful wool, thick and crinkled, extra fine, grey and wrinkled.  He was sure that his perfectly formed, uniquely shaped, individualised, spiral, ribbed and oversized horns were absolutely perfect and that he as incredibly handsome.  He was also sure that all the sheep were in love with him and that when spring came all the ewes would be mums and the fields full of his perfect offspring, so what a shock Woolly Wally got when he heard the word “shear”.

A wonderful story with a great moral. Pride comes before a fall, and in Wally’s case he falls far.

As with all books that Dawn McMillan and Ross Kinnaird have collaborated on, small readers will not be disappointed.  My 3 ½ year old granddaughter Quinn had it packed in her bag ready to go home before I could turn around.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Woolly Wally
by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
Published by Oratia Media
ISBN 9780947506421