Popular Posts

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Particularity and the Dream



The impressively monikered Karl du Fresne

Has just given ‘social scientist’ Camille Nakhid

A good wigging for expressing the view

That immigrants should be given longer shrift.


Karl grew up in a small Hawkes Bay town

And he walks across his lawn every day

In the Wairarapa to write in his shed

For the Pakeha Establishment in Wellington.


Actually, I’m amazed at how tolerant

Our new immigrants are about how stuck

Up and up themselves the Old Chums

Are about their tightly-held corners.


And I think Karl is missing something

When he snides that we can safely assume

That people immigrate to New Zealand

Because it’s infinitely better than the place they left.




And I get pissed off when the Oxford Companion

Makes a big point of the fact that Allen Curnow

Was a fourth generation New Zealander

Who lived in a succession of Anglican vicarages in Canterbury.


And that the keepers of New Zealand literature

Quibble about whether Greville Texidor or Eve Langley

Exhibited a sufficiently restrictive desideratum

In articulating a New Zealand particularity or ‘common problem’.


And that Kendrick Smithyman slags

Tanned, earnest Slavic Polynesian faces

Or that David McKee Wright assumes that

The native who is a brother is a Pakeha.


Or that my beloved Iris Wilkinson

Talks so casually - so disparagingly about Nigger Jack ...

Or that Tariana Turia cites an enormous public ignorance

That is starting to become actual hostility towards Maori.





Time to give some ground, time to move on

Time to open things up and make some space.

Let’s face it, a quarter of us were born abroad

And then there are the more and more mixed.


Maybe the New Chums from Cambodia, Tonga

China, India, Iraq, Somalia, Nepal and Kingdom Come

Really need a bit more slack so that we can all pull together
To bring up the future with a golden tether.

The young, the best, the intelligent, brave and beautiful,

Have made a long migration under compulsions they hardly understand -

New generations are homing from distant shores

Imprinted with this destination by their dreams.


And an extraordinary thing may be happening.

From the edge of the universe, New Zealand

May become not only the site of our own dreams

But a place where the world wakes refreshed.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Blue Remembrance


Housman was born in Bromsgrove 13 miles from Birmingham

And Tolkien grew up at Sarehole between Billesley and Spark Hill

Some 4 miles from the city centre.


Turning away from the forging and fettling, they looked west

To the memory assembled spires and farms

Of Shropshire and the distant Welsh Mountains.


There where the sun rose and the clouds rolled in

Were mythic plough boys summoned by bugles

And hobbits awaiting a rat-a-tat-tat.


And now Peter Jackson, who was born in Pukerua Bay

Has scoped a partly polystyrene, partly animated

Hopefully-soon-forgotten substitute here in New Zealand.


After all, talking about places, Janet Frame warns:

‘I do not remember these things

-              they remember me.’

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Everyone to whom much was given - of him or her much will be required


I come here, in this 100th birthday year for the city of Canberra, arguably the 63rd of ANU, and the 53rd of that great afterthought – its undergraduate faculties – with both good news and bad news.

First what I suppose is, for the non-masochists among us at least, the good news. Some of you will have read that Australians enjoy the greatest median wealth per capita in the world.

I need hardly tell you that you can be sure that the median person in Canberra sits on the very top branches of the Australian tree. Average income here is about 25 per cent higher than the national average. There are small clusters of suburbs in other parts of Australia where the averages might exceed ours, but there is no conurbation – no whole community – where the average burgher is so rich and so comfortable as in Canberra.

But this is not the good news. Or even the bad news. The real news that I am inviting you to contemplate is the idea that this might be as good as it gets. That we here represent the absolute apotheosis of civilisation, good taste, creature comforts, learning, education, good health and culture.

This, my friends, is heaven upon earth – and, amazingly, this, my friends, is our little secret.

This agreeable state of affairs has its good and bad points, depending upon how one sees things. This place – this subset of the ACT which is ANU – may well represent nearly everything that is fabulous about this heaven.

There are people here whose memory of this university is longer than mine. This university and this city have grown and prospered since the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s. When I sometimes  think sadly that for Canberra or for ANU, for the people of Canberra, or for the people of Australia, the very best may be behind us, I remain reasonably sure that the evidence will appear to be against me for some time to come.

I say this not to criticise this institution, which has been for all of us in different ways both a mother and a father, because we can see that every year it teaches more students, produces more doctors, masters and mistresses, and bachelors, and helps place more and more Australians, from all parts of the nation, and from the rest of the world, in positions where they can exercise great influence over human affairs.

ANU sits high on international league tables not only as a university, but as a community and as a citizen. Fashions wax and wane, and the fashions of today are not necessarily those of the times when we were here. We can sometimes be too nostalgic for a past that others cannot remember. We were lucky – perhaps particularly those of us from the earliest days, particularly because the institution was then much younger, more flexible, and perhaps not so serious all of the time.

Increasingly one speaks to academics here and elsewhere who are grim, employed during one of the greatest expansions of the university system that Australia has ever known, but feeling besieged, lonely and worried. Worried not only about the prospects and their job security, but about their disciplines and their institutions. Not expansive, adventurous and daring to think outside the boundaries, but cautious, careful and with their heads down. Led to believe that in these particular times – just as we are triumphing the highest living standards we have ever known – that the economy and the circumstances are too straitened to make a gamble, to invest in the future, or to use one’s imagination.

My worries are by no means confined to ANU, or indeed to the university sector. One can say that all the more comfortably because many of the problems of universities, or of the community generally, are common to the sector, not confined to particular places. But it is ANU that I particularly love.

When I came here, ANU had a history faculty that was by a long distance the best in Australia, and any number of the scholars there were leaders in their areas. A good time later, it was alleged that the faculty led by Manning Clark was a Comintern conspiracy designed to addle our brains, but those of us who were here understand that it was, in fact, a secret redoubt of the Carlton Football Club, where Catholic and communist, Anglican and atheist, Grouper and groper, Marxist and monarchist, ratbag and revolutionary could meet good naturedly to discuss Saturday’s game.

A good many of us will say ruefully that we had all of the advantages in the world, and sometimes all the letters after our names that we could want. And that yet we failed to make much real difference, least of all to the heresy that happiness and human development, heaven and hell can be weighed, counted, measured or even identified by economists, accountants and statisticians.

At the very least we owe it to this womb which succoured us to support it as it seeks to hold the fort on things that actually matter.

[The address given by alumnus Jack Waterford, Editor at large at The Canberra Times to the 2013 Australian National University Golden Graduates’ Reunion in October of this year, published in the Summer 2013 edition of the ANU Reporter]


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reflections on Island Bay


I  live in a house with plenty of glass
So that vistas and perspectives and mirages
Are part of every day in plain sight -
Grandeur stretched across and beyond the little town.

I often rise early - as dawn‘s gold gloves
Finger the rims of the Rimutakas
And the stars start to fade,
Spilt like gemstones from the robber sun.

And Pencarrow and Baring Head,
Like jewels that have dropped to earth,
Sparkle on the steel grey cloths of the headlands
As fold after fold wraps back from shadow.

And the Bay below is still or wild or fierce
And though this may seem incongruous
And un-poetic, the blue frontage and night-long
Glare of the Fu Xian Takeaway retreats.


Skylines distorted and re-aligned by the windows -
A slice of the Orongorongo ridgeline matched
With the Oku Street Reserve; with the horizon
Levelled and the sea picking up the quilt.

The gap across to the Seaward Kaikouras
Shows no mountains, touches no new edges
But the reddening evening sky holds clouds
That hint of land, and I swear I see the sea beneath.


Rinsing glasses in the late evening at the sink
The lights of Island Bay are mirrored
In the windows that enfold my dreamtime
And the cars buzz across the glass and bolt.
Houses and streets spark against the hillside
A second world refracted in the panes -
Like a hobbit village, glowing with hearths,
Open to a visitation from the wizard.
And here lives an oakenshield with a grey beard
And his straw Stetson hat bannered 'New Zealand'
On the black band - set and ready to retake treasure
From the pendants that flicker on the dragon's back -

And feast a summer's eve on paua fritters,
Spring rolls, and fish and chips in Shorland Park.