NB: This blog was written a while ago now, and migrated from my previous website. It needs a bit of *ahem* reformatting... A work in progress! Enjoy :-)
From Kirwee to Fiji
In September 2008, Hinemoana Baker guested at the Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival, then flew from there to a brief but very bright Writer's Residency at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji. The Fiji trip was instigated and gifted to her by Teresia Teaiwa, poet and scholar, and while there the pair launched 'I Can See Fiji: Poetry and Sound', a new album of poems by Teresia, percussion by Des Mallon and sound design and production by Hinemoana.
4 September 2008
The woman at the table next to us has hairsprayed hair
she reads about the man who sold the tattoo on his back:
lines painted on the tarmac in the shape of things
giant hopscotch squares, baggage, baggage, baggage.
The tail of the plane moves slow past the window, large
kangaroo, puffed up like rivers in the body –
two down the legs, two down the arms,
winter stories. We say ‘How does twenty-
five degrees feel?’
Wrote this together with Chris while we were waiting for my flight to Christchurch. I would write one line, fold the paper over, then write one word at the beginning of the next line. Chris would carry on that line and hand it back. It was fun. We’d never done it before. We wrote another one which I include, heavily edited, below:
Wellington Airport 2:
The number one tennis player in the world – I can’t remember his
name. The sign says ‘Ski Mt Hutt’, ‘Dive at Mahia’, its yellow
pointers trumpeting. We scan the aisles, scan the seats for
money, which as we all know, is what makes the world
go home. The trolley. A man in an orange vest trumps another
man in a white captain’s cardigan. Aah, yes – Federer, he’s the guy
and all passengers should now be boarding at Gate 25B.
Arriving in Christchurch my lovely brother, Tim, was there to meet me. I am here as a guest at the Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival, which will run over the next few days. Tim and I wait by the sluggish luggage conveyorbelt, occasionally chilled by the breeze through the opening and closing main glass doors.
An hour west in his ridiculously large vehicle (for which he abjectly apologises) and we’re in Kirwee, in the house he and Karen have been renovating, home to them and their children, Milly and Bruce. Only Milly would sit still long enough for a photo, and even then, not terribly still.
Tim serves me many teas: Great Goddess of Iron, White Monkey, Silver Needles, Dragonwell Tea. It’s so comforting, with the frost forming outside, to know that no matter how cold it may get overnight, at least my Dragon will be well.
Karen serves me her magnificent Louise Cake.
I manage to over-salt the very simple cauliflower and potato dish I make for dinner the first night. Aloo Gobi. From the Vegetable Cookbook by Digby Law. Tim and Karen eat it like the troopers they are. Later I pore over Karen’s Pavlova Recipe. Apparently, you put the grease-proof-papered tray under the cold tap and shake off the excess water before pouring on the mixture. Who knew?
The next morning, Radio New Zealand National teaches me that the name for the place where funeral urns are stored is a columbarium. In Hong Kong, I learn, even being cremated and buried this way costs tens of thousands. Being bodily buried is prohibitively expensive, and it only lasts for ten years before your remains are dug up and replaced with someone else’s. And worse: things have gotten out of hand. Land is at such a premium on the island that cemetery workers are taking backhanders to dig people up sooner.
The morning is quiet, everything seems like it’s at the crossroads of something else. I walk with Tim and Karen towards the Southern Alps, then along, and away, in a square. I walk to the Kirwee cemetery:
Magpies call from the trees all around. The bell is hung in a metal stand beside the church building. I resist the urge to hit it, throw a stone at it.
I walk towards open road signs. They seem to recede as I get closer.
A text from the lovely Samiha helps me plan my day:
Okay the place to go is Costa’s Souvlaki on Armagh Street…you’ll go through the Square…you’ll be hanging right on 2 Armagh…Matiu swears by double chicken lunchbox…choc shake is a winner, comes with a nutmeg sprinkle…
That night I dream about Tame Iti, he is young, vibrant, incredibly happy. He is at a party and I’m there too, I’m sitting down chatting and he walks past and we recognise each other. He just beams and pulls me up onto my feet into an energetic, embracing hongi. He’s so happy!
The most amazing thing, speaking of happy. After the Christchurch Festival gig, Tusiata’s friend Don smiles his way up to me. He is wearing a long coat made out of an old mint-green woollen blanket. He makes clothes out of recycled stuff, he looks for all the world like the effusive and warm-hearted Emperor of Christchurch Town Hallsville.
He says things about how last time I was down he didn’t get to meet me, but he dreamed about me, and then this time, he had another dream, just last night, and he said ‘I’m going to tell you what it was, and you’ll probably think I’m really weird. But the dream was saying there’s something you really want.’
At this point I tear up and say ‘Don.’
‘And you’re going to have to sing it into the world,’ he continues. I throw myself on him, sobbing.
‘In the right note,’ he says.
That night I dream I am on Hong Kong Island, in the carpark of an apartment building where I live with my husband. I am due at a gig and I am carrying a suitcase that keeps falling open the more I hurry. It starts pouring with rain and the suitcase fills up with water. I stand, drenched, upending the rain out of it over and over, while the good people of Hong Kong walk past me on their way to work.
9 September 2008
As I write this I’m at Nelson airport, all check-ins have been suspended while they wait for an improvement in the weather. Fog. I’m due in Wellington for a connecting flight to Nadi.
Award for Worst Airport Café Food: Nelson Airport
Worst teabag, however – an open-ended, fabric-type affair. Don’t make the mistake of hanging the open end over the rim of the cup in the hope of avoiding leaf tea floating in your cup. My bag managed to wick a saucerful of tea out of my cup when my back was turned.
To Whom it May Concern
Please find attached my claim form for Travel Insurance on my policy number TC48763544. I am claiming accommodation, meals and telephone calls incurred as a result of missing a connecting flight to Nadi from Wellington airport, 09/09/08.
The hotel was great, even though I really, really didn’t want to be there. The duck was a little chewy but the shower was magnificent, one of those ones without a shower tray, just the expansive, marble floor and a perspex shield. I spent a long time showering. I even shaved my legs with the free razor and shaving cream. My legs felt somehow numbed – the hairs no longer able to perform their duty of activating the nerve endings in advance.
The next morning at 4.00am, I was in the bus to Auckland airport, along with about twenty other Nadi-bound New Zealanders. Some of us were dressed for the current conditions – me with my hoody and long socks. Others were already in teeshirts, one young woman in a singlet, her hair in a loose bun, her children in jandals.
10 September 2008
According to the in-flight movie, Houdini’s mother was Hungarian. He died of a ruptured appendix after being punch in the stomach by a ‘Red-Haired Prankster’.
So many queues to reach this point: the one with the strips of zigzagging blue plastic corralling us into overlapping lines; the one where you put your stuff in a clear plastic bag. The one where they say: ‘Paging the last ten passengers on flight NZ58 to Nadi, you must proceed immediately to Gate Lounge Six. Your aircraft is ready to depart and all the other passengers are waiting for you.’
In one queue, people around me are already saying ‘bula’ and ‘ni bula’. A family speaking in Fijian is just ahead. One of them is carrying a large basket, decorated with shells and fibres, made of a dark brown bark of some kind. It’s about the size of a child’s carseat.
Another family member, a young girl in skinny jeans and a fur-lined hoody, holds a kind of platter aloft, it’s silver – possibly tinfoil-covered wood. It’s in the shape of a heart, and on it, a smaller heart-shaped white cake with elaborate, flower-shaped icing decorations. Or perhaps it is a wreath of white flowers, for a grave? Someone in New Zealand is sending it to Fiji as a remembrance, perhaps. It warms my heart when both of these fairly unweildy and terribly fragile things are taken over the counter as luggage without a flicker by the Air New Zealand staff. Somehow for a moment I buy the idea, as does the family, that these treasures, being transported by Air New Zealand, will actually arrive intact at the other end.
Hi babe. Phone working. A lot like Bali here. I hadn’t realised how much pain I have in my body each day – the heat takes it almost away. So feel 10 years younger.
Barbed wired fence that runs down beside my room and extends about two metres into the lake. Downpour! Two bright blue kingfishers skimming the water.
My first seven nights are in the Raintree Lodge, up near Tacirua Heights in Suva.
(to be continued...)
Hinemoana's blog about her trip to the Queensland Poetry Festival in Brisbane and to Marvellous Melbourne, August-September 2006. Excerpts of this blog also appear on the New Zealand Book Month website: http://www.nzbookmonth.co.nz
Friday 18 August, 2006 Paekakariki
My passport has arrived. I'm trying not to dwell on how much it cost me to renew it, or the fact that if I had only dwelt on that two days earlier it would have been half as much. Instead I'm dwelling on how different I look in my three passport photographs - the two expired ones and the new one. It's all in the hair, people. 1988? Whew. Boofy. 2006: check out the grey streaks.
Roger Gascoigne is on breakfast television this morning. When the presenter pipes up with her usual chirpy 'and-how-are-you-this-morning', his answer is, 'Well, Sarah, I woke up looking like my passport photo.' I'm feeling for you, Roger.
I mention the passport because in a matter of days I'm off to Australia for my first ever Overseas Engagement. The New Zealand Book Council has sponsored me to the Queensland Poetry Festival. Although I'm not a stranger to literary festivals and the like, I feel inordinately nervous about my appearances in Brisbane. Will my poems stack up? Can I sing to save my life? Will Australians laugh at my jokes?
All this isn't helped by the voluminous biographies of the other performers helpfully displayed on the QPF website. But so what if one of my fellow performers has 'worked and played' with Peter Gabriel, Sinead O'Connor, the Finn Brothers? So what if another one has performed her entire solo show on the wing of a Shackleton aircraft? I clearly have the best sunglasses.
Today, in Paekakariki, all is well. The sun's shining and making big white squares on our loud seventies carpet. I'm wondering whether our cat Maverick's most recent claw-wound - inflicted by the next-door neighbour's macho Siamese to Maverick's right whisker quadrant - will indeed become an abscess. I'm cursing the fact that my guitar will take up nearly half of my luggage allowance. And as if to prove that everything is as it should be, I'm fighting off my usual writing anxieties.
They emerge for any reason - at the moment they're punishing me for not having written an actual, fresh, complete poem for a couple of months. But I'm not alone in this. At my poetry group on Wednesday, neither Kate Camp nor I had brought anything to share. 'I don't write poems any more,' she said. 'I just look back fondly on the days when I did.'
Saturday 26 August, 2006 Under a palm tree, Brisvegas
I watched the inflight movie, you know, because it was there. It was called 'Akeelah and the Bee' - a young black girl makes a name for herself by winning the US National Spelling Bee. At one point I leaned my elbow on the audio control panel and changed channels accidentally. It took me a while to notice the film soundtrack had changed to a Benjamin Crellin comedy routine.
Christine must have predicted my homesickness because she has made me a set of little cards, one for each day, with quotes from my favourite books and songs from home. She is the best present giver. I read one on the plane. It was my favourite quote from Joyelle McSweeney:
Up on the hill
a white tent had just got unsteadily to its feet
like a foal or a just-foaled cathedral.
It was strange seeing Australia from the window of the plane. For a moment I felt like a person who's never travelled before. Another land, you say? An entirely other land?? Down there below the clouds? No, I shall not believe it.
Just wanting to pay a little respect to those fellow plane passengers who don't put their seats back while you're eating in the seats behind them. Word up. And to the customs officers at Brisbane airport whose humane questioning style made them seem genuinely interested in why I was in Australia. And in why I'd taken so long to claim my luggage. The Oversized Baggage Claim isn't so well sign-posted.
Said Oversized Baggage being my guitar. Who knew that a musical instrument could weigh so much? Anti-matter would be lighter. Consequently I have about three items of clothing in my bag. Fortunately the 'winter' weather in Brisbane doesn't seem to require many more.
Brisbane - Brisvegas as they call it, every country's got one - reminds me a lot of Auckland. Brunswick Street, where the Festival is happening, seems like a cross between Cuba Street and Upper Queen Street. The area I'm staying in, New Farm is the queer capital of Queensland, apparently. And yes, is that a huge rainbow flag I see, waving permanently on a pole from the second storey of that large old pub?
There are restaurants and cafes galore - food from China, Indonesia, India. There's many kebab vendors. But it's hard to forget you're in Queensland when they're called 'Bow Thai' and 'Wok On In' and 'Kevin's Kebabs'.
My first night was staying at my cousin Dale's, whose house is 10 minutes' walk from the venue and 1 minute from the accommodation I'll be in during the festival. It's great to see him again - he wrote and played the guitar part on 'Long Time Coming Home'. He's my Aunty Kath's grandson - Aunty Kath's the aunty I wrote 'Today' and 'Matariki, e' about. We both connect through Taranaki, too.
Back home with Dale in Taranaki, April 2006
Photo by the lovely Katie
Also great to meet his lovely flatmate, Stephen, who is apparently a big fan of my album. I wasn't sure how big until he told me categorically that his favourite song is 'Yes I Will' (he knew the track number even) and that he regularly puts it on repeat and listens to it for ages. He said it's a song that really uplifts him and makes him feel positive - he'd really thought about it. He even has his own copy of 'puawai' which he bought through the website - not relying on my slack cousin to get one for him. I'm very impressed.
There are several Dave Graney cd's in the house - Dave's one of the artists at the Festival. His stuff's fantastic - he sounds like a cross between Tom Waits, Lambchop, Robbie Robertson and the Stranglers. Plus, the best song titles I've seen for some time: 'Driving Through His Mythic Country, Whistling'. 'My Schtick Weighs a Ton.' 'Am I Wearing Something of Yours.' 'Your Masters Must Be Pleased With You.'
So. Our first gig at the Burpengary Library yesterday was superb: a great little sound system, friendly and organised staff and a full house - around 60-70 school students, 11-12 years old, plus some members of the local Writers Group. All the children - and most of the adults - were so polite and respectful, hardly any wriggling and some very insightful questions. 'What do you enjoy about poetry?' 'Can you give us some advice about writing love poems?'
Yvette Holt Rowan Donovan Hinemoana Baker
Photo courtesy of Amelia Connolly
Teacher Librarian, Burpengary State School
I read with local writer Yvette Holt and with QPF committee member Rowan Donovan. Rowan's lived here for years but was actually born in Hawera. Hawera! He knew all the little places around there where my relatives live: Normanby, Okaiawa, Eltham, Stratford. He spent time at Parihaka learning Maori when he was young. As well as being a fellow poet he was my lift from the airport, and having that kind of connection as soon as I stepped off the plane was amazing and unexpected.
The Friends of the Burpengary Library provided us with a delicious lunch. Special thanks must go to Val, for her extraordinary Fudge Slice.
Tonight is the first big gig of my tour - the Opening Night of the Queensland Poetry Festival. I have a half-hour set in a gorgeous venue, ably assisted by Chris the charming and frighteningly competent Sound Engineer. I'm pretty nervous still, but I know after today's soundcheck I am in good hands.
I'm doing much more Maori material in my set than I usually do. For reasons mainly to do with my tragic propensity to homesickness, I've brought all my traditional instruments with me. And when I say all I mean my koauau that Dad gave me, my piece of Nelson Maitai River pounamu (my mum lives on that river) from Richard Nunns, with which I strike the Arahura River pounamu taonga I wear round my neck (from my best friend Kaye), plus my very old and bashed purerehua (from my friends Katarina and Ramona). And my voice, of course. I've been using them all a lot since I've been here - it makes me feel really settled and safe. Not that I feel strung out or endangered or anything - I don't know. It's like carrying nature with me.
Speaking of which I have been really surprised by something that's been happening with these intruments when I sample them through my digital sampling pedal. Before I perform certain poems, I first record each instrument into the pedal one by one, and as I do that they begin to play back, so each layer builds on the others. Eventually its like a full, rich, sound atmosphere, through which I speak my poem. Anyway what is really strange is that no matter how I sample them, in what order or volume, by the time I'm finished and the whole loop is playing back, the instruments no longer sound like themselves. They sound like the bush. Seriously - listening to them all at once, it really does sound like you're in the bush.
And not any bush - the New Zealand bush. There's bellbirds and tuis - I kid you not. There's brush and trees blowing in the wind and harakeke rattling, and there's even a river not far away. Water sounds - where do they come from? I'm not sampling any water.
Of course this probably wouldn't be a surprise at all to Richard, but it really surprised me. Put the hairs up on the back of my neck.
Tuesday 29 August, 2006 Rain! Low Temperatures!
I'm finding myself really pulled to see wildlife here. Maybe I'm getting old but it's the birds rather than the nightlife or the art galleries that I'm fascinated by. The sounds they make are so different - makes you realise how you get accustomed to your own animals. I'm talking here about the average, everyday birds sitting in the city trees - they sound like celebrity birds to me. They are crows, Dale tells me, and Kingfishers.
Sometimes I mistake the birdcalls for screaming children or cats. This morning I woke thinking every strange noise in the house might be a bird sound. The Washing Machine Bird? The Lorry Changing Gears Bird? The Morning Current Affairs Bird?
Yesterday two Kingfishers flew into the house and called and called - I was entranced and excited and a little spooked. No-one else seemed to be very excited about it, spot the New Zealander. I made all sorts of inept whistles and singing noises to try and make them call more. They flew out the louvers back into the trees.
Stephen has the kind of music collection I would have if I'd been paying attention for the last 15 years. Kate Bush! A Kate Bush fan. Magnetic Fields, Lloyd Cole, Paul Kelly, Radiohead, Sinead O'Connor, Dave Graney of course. And since these two don't have a telly, I'm really enjoying listening. I'm also spending a lot of time listening to Christine's album 'Pirouette'. Missing her.
Dale and I went for a late afternoon adventure. He ran and I biked along the walkway that runs along both sides of the Brisbane River (whose original name is 'Maiwar', I'm told). Half way through I stopped and swam in a man-made lagoon they have in the middle of the CBD. It's got sand and everything. Apparently in summer it's more urine than water, but in Winter, not too bad. It's really just a dipping pool Brisbanians use to cool off in. But I strode in and did lengths. Again, spot the etc.
As night fell even more people appeared. In the dark the lit up city looked like a Future City, the Storey Bridge holding us to the height we'd be in a flying car. Walking past a long cliff-face, we stopped and chatted to Dale's rock-climbing buddies - the University Rock Climbing Club were out in force. Dale told me the story of reaching the top of the cliff and finding a rather large python resting on the edge.
Riding home the air was still and warm. At home, Dale made chicken with caramelised onions and sauce on salad. After kai I installed myself at the Allender apartments, where every room is currently occupied by a festival poet. I wonder what kind of particular wear and tear that would cause. The stockpile of complimentary ball-point pens cleaned out? Tear-stained pillow-slips? Mini-bar annihilated?
Lovely to meet the Festival Organiser Graham Nunn and his partner Julie who's stage managing things. They both seemed very relaxed. Julie told me it was because they have both hideously over-prepared. For example, my soundcheck was an hour and a half.
An hour and a half.
Hinemoana performing at the Queensland Poetry Festival
August 2006, Judith Wright Centre, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Photo by Dale If-Only-I-Could-Be-In-It-Too Cooper
The gigs went brilliantly. Better than I could have hoped. An Opening Night highlight for me was meeting the so-called father of the Poetry Slam movement, Marc Kelly Smith. They call him Slam Papi. He really liked what I did. He kept saying 'If you're ever in Chicago. If you're ever in Chicago. I'm serious. If you're EVER in Chicago...' etc. To me he is a brilliant actor - one whose scripts are poems, though. He had me rivetted.
Emily XYZ from New York also made me sit up and listen - she makes poems for two voices - sometimes speaking in unison, sometimes repeating the same lines, sometimes speaking completely different lines. It's brilliantly executed, tight as - and because a lot of her material is political, the repetitions come off like an alternative recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, like mantras about Bush, gun mentality, the frighteningness of it all. She gave me her 'songbook' and I gave her 'puawai'.
Dave Graney performing at the Queensland Poetry Festival
August 2006,Judith Wright Centre, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Photo by Ken Green
Dave Graney performed with his wife and long-time collaborator Clare Moore. Dave was indeed menacingly suave. 'My Schtick Weighs a Ton' was my favourite. I particularly enjoyed the way he introduced it saying (and I paraphrase) 'This is a song from the perspective of an old, tired, cynical, ugly, bitter entertainer who's past his prime...so for the purposes of this song I shall take on the character of that person.' Next song: 'This song is written from the perspective of an old, tired, cynical...' etc. Very good.
Canada's Ian McBryde, now residing in Melbourne, stunned us all with his quiet brilliance.
Ian McBryde performing at the Queensland Poetry Festival
August 2006,Judith Wright Centre, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Photo by Ken Green
Also very choice to catch Alicia Sometimes and Sean Whelan live - they're the two fabulous human beings who have organised an appearance for me in Melbourne - plus an interview on Triple R, Melbourne's best radio station. See the news page for details.
On the closing night Rowan performed Hone Tuwhare's poem for Jim Baxter...is it called 'Tangi'? It was the same one he read just months ago at his dad's funeral. He did a very fine job - in fact, through the whole festival it was Rowan's performances and readings that made me most emotional. He's got a very compelling way about him on stage. His schtick, as they say, weighs a ton.
I needn't have worried about people not laughing at my jokes - the audience were very warm and appreciative. The organisers and MCs kept using the phrase 'blown away', and many Kiwis visited me in the foyer to tell me how much they'd enjoyed the set, that it made them homesick/proud. Especially enjoyed meeting Pam and Ken. Pam's from Ashburton and she and Ken told me 'puawai' will be the soundtrack to their summer. Very kind.
My best friend from when I was at Canterbury University Wendy Knox is from Ashburton. Where are you, Wendy?
Here's a poem by Judith Wright. She's the poet they named the venue for. And as Rowan was saying there's not many buildings in the world named after poets.
Today it's 'cold'. Maybe only 20 degrees. I have spent far too much time blogging and emailing and not enough time getting out and around Brisbane. So this afternoon I'm going to go to the Queensland Museum, and maybe an art gallery or two, and then go to the James Street fish market to buy fresh fish for dinner. Like most of Brisbane, it's much flasher than I'd expect - not necessarily what I think of when I think 'market'. Nevertheless.
I walked for the best part of three hours round this fair city. I was a site-seeing fool. I saw the fountain that's been turned into a drought-tolerant garden because of water restrictions. I took a trip on a sailing ship. Well no I didn't - it was a catamaran. How do you spell that? I love the City Cats - if I lived here I would be riding them constantly. They criss-cross over the river and back all day and there's always one heading your way. I bought perch at the fish market (later a perch bone would spike itself right into Dale's tongue and I would have to pluck it out. If only I had known...)
Not one but TWO museums: Brisbane and Queensland. I saw a fork made entirely of pearl shell. Signs saying 'Joh Must Go' and 'Shrivelled Rights in Queensland'. I met the incomparable Muttaburrasaurus langdoni, whose skeleton was discovered in Muttaburra by Doug Langdon. Muttaburrasaurus, not unlike myself, looks slightly different in every image I see - I guess there's a lot of room for error over 110 million years. I liked this one the best, however. Especialy the (hypothetical) tongue and the (hypothetical) inflatable fleshy snout, which either helped it filter dust or amplified its (hypothetical) call.
Inflatable, fleshy snout. Hmmm. Could come in handy.
Tomorrow: Crikey! Australia Zoo.
Wednesday 30 August, 2006 Homesick
Ridiculous, it's only been seven days. But as I keep saying, I was homesick before I got on the plane. When I google homesick, two out of the ten page 1 references are about kiwis. This one, for example. What is this, a national affliction?
I keep forgetting to tell you about the fresias that Stephen put in my room - a small and heavily scented vase-full. They remind me so much of my mum, she loves them. She loves jasmine too - and there's a whole jasmine bush growing just outside the house. You smell it as you walk up the path to the stairs. It reminds me of her, and it reminds me of being a little girl in my scratchy black gym-frock, walking to St Joseph's School in Whakatane from Paterson Place past jasmine and honeysuckle bushes. Trying to remember which was which because the honeysuckle flowers you could pick and suck the nectar out of them.
Which makes me remember the time I rode to school with no hands and my Standard 2 teacher Mr Fuata told me off, which was a scary thing because he was such a softie he never told anyone off. And the time I J-walked across the road in front of our school church and got stopped by a cop who said 'Ignorance of the law is no excuse.'
Today's quote from Christine's cards is this exquisite excerpt from 'Kevin', by Bill Manhire:
There are mothers and fathers, Kevin,whom we barely know.
They lift us. Eventually we shall all go
into the dark furniture of the radio.
Been listening to an excellent documentary about the Gurindji people and 'Freedom Day', the event which commemorates the beginning of the Aboriginal Land Rights movement. One of the producers/presenters is Matthew Leonard, me old mate from Radio New Zealand now back working at the ABC. Listen to it, and others, here.
The Wave Hill strike in 1966 was eight years long. The stockmen on Wave Hill station had been paid in salt, beef, bread and tobacco - plus six dollars a week if they were lucky. They walked off saying they were sick of being treated like dogs. It was through the leadership of Vincent Lingiari that it broadened to become about land and land ownership. Eventually, one writer says, it led to Mabo, because 'once they started they wouldn't go back.'
As one of the speakers said, 'Friends, it was not such a long time ago.'
This is the story behind the Paul Kelly song is about, 'From Little Things Big Things Grow'.
So Australia Zoo will have to wait.
Instead today I walked again to the Fortitude Valley Pool. I wish I'd taken a picture because I can't find one on the net. So far this is one of my favourite pools - and I've swum in a lot of pools in Australasia. It's outdoors, 50 metres, heated, and just a little grungey and old-fashioned. The staff are unbelievably friendly and helpful - in fact, I'm finding this to be the case pretty much everywhere I go in Brisbane. The standard of service is very high.
It rained today. This is the big news of the day. It's been raining on and off for a few days but today it really chucked it down and consequently I got really wet three times, only one of which was voluntary. Afterwards I found a warm cafe to sit in and wrote all my postcards. A not insignificant task. I think all this communicating is taking far too much time and energy. No-one at home's putting as much effort in as I am. I think I just need to let my relationships disintegrate just a little bit and get on with writing some poems. I started one today in the cafe. It features, of course, the Muttaburrasaurus - but my immediate problem is that a word like 'Muttaburrasaurus' tends to draw quite a lot of attention to itself. It's hard to just give it a walk-on part in the poem. I think perhaps the poem needs to be about the Muttaburrasaurus. See what I mean? I can't stop typing it.
Monday 4 September, 2006 Lingual
I feel pretty smug being bilingual in New Zealand. I'm not a fluent Maori-speaker by any means, but I get by. I feel pleased with myself about this, in a country where many of us are painfully mono-lingual bar a smattering of high-school French or Japanese. Or, in my cousin Lizzie's case, the Norwegian swear-words she found so useful working in pubs there.
I tell people I learned Maori so I could know more about myself and my history and because I'm passionate about the future of the language. Occasionally, though, I just feel like a big fat smarty-pants being able to converse in another language.
I'm humbled, therefore, by Melbourne. It's not as if I've never been overseas, never heard people speaking languages other than English. But it has been about 15 years since my last OE, and I'm loving every multi-lingual minute of it.
I spent the morning with my cousin Tama, his wife Cassie and their children Lucas and Caitlin. We went round to the Chinese grandparents' house - Cassie's parents. Two-year-old Lucas was very much the centre of attention. We all watched Lucas watch 'The Lorax' DVD. We thrilled when Lucas used the electric clippers on his father's hair. Later, with a glint in his eye, Lucas' grandfather translates a joyful rant for me: 'Yesterday Lucas tried to undo a screw and no screwdriver. So he found a coin. A coin!' Clearly the boy is a genius.
Cassie speaks Cantonese to her parents and her children, English to her husband. Tama doesn't speak Cantonese but he does understand it. Though he's only two Lucas translates readily to English if his Dad looks blank. But most of the time Tama can follow what his son is saying: I want to sit behind the steering wheel. Why did Mummy plug the toaster in over there? What will Hinemoana have for breakfast?
Lucas is learning Maori, too, from Tama's mum Ngahuia. Standing beside the toaster I ask him: 'He aha to pirangi? Kei te matekai tonu koe?' He nods. This one's a bright button, alright.
Yesterday we went to Chadstone Shopping Centre, one of Melbourne's largest. I normally avoid them like the plague - even Coastlands in Paraparaumu which would fit in the food court of this one. But Cassie makes the point that when the weather's bad (which it sometimes is in Melbourne) it's one of the few places the children can run around. She seems as unsettled by this as I am.
Queuing for my 'New Zealand Natural' ice-cream I hear at least three languages passing by. In front of the tubs of colours and flavours I close my eyes. It's like diving into a cool pool. I've always been this way about languages. Living in Zimbabwe hearing Shona and Ndebele every day. The markets in Auckland and London - the yelling, singing and chatting all incomprehensible to me. My brain is grateful for the rest. I can enjoy the noise, the intention and the passion, take a holiday from the meanings.
'What's the main difference between New Zealand and Australia?' I ask my cousins that night. They've pretty much grown up here.
'The race thing,' says Dale, Tama's brother, without hesitation. 'How many white Australians would know how to greet someone in an indigenous language?'
His brother Tama agrees. 'The street names, too. The indigenous cultures are pretty much invisible here unless they're using them to sell something.'
It's true - from what I've seen, the street names are Brunswick, Johnstone, Elizabeth, Princes. But it's the same in New Zealand, surely? I can't help thinking about Taranaki - where these particular cousins are from. The streets of Waitara - McLean, Grey, Parris - all men intimately connected with the unconscionable alienation of that land.
I tell Tama about the recent furore when a Kura Kaupapa Maori wanted to use the word ‘kura’ on their school bus signage instead of ‘school’. It was potentially deadly, Land Transport New Zealand said. But you know - it’s a bus, it's full of children, it’s got a big, neon-yellow sign on it. What might that sign say?
Tama laughs. ‘No English signage? Mow it right down.’
I rave on a bit longer. I tell the cousins how hard it is to get a decent macron-enabled font for my iBook. How New Zealand's print media rarely use macrons despite how that totally changes the meanings of Maori words. How they still insist on translating every one as if Maori's a foreign language. I notice no audible yawns.
It's as if New Zealand's scared of other languages, I say, afraid of what they might lead to. There are surely as many different cultures and races of people living and breathing there as in Australia. But we still feel affronted if 'they' speak 'their' own languages on a bus. We still prefer our dairy owners to have names like Colin. And of course there's the National Anthem: if it must be sung in Maori, it MUST also be sung in English. No English at all? Never.
I'm not saying these things don't happen in Australia - I'm sure they do. But spending just a short time in a more cosmopolitan city has reminded me how I miss other languages in my daily life. It affects me at a really deep level: I simply feel more optimistic and joyful when I'm immersed in the sounds of Maori, or Lebanese, or Indonesian...
The cousins have stopped listening. They're watching Lucas and his mother play with Lucas' new plastic oven. She's teaching him the Cantonese words for frying-pan and wooden spoon. He's using the toy cell-phone to invite his grandparents over. He's making us dinner: plastic roast chicken and plastic fried eggs.
'Mmmm,' we all say. 'Yum.'
On the Waka
I was one of four writers and storytellers on Toi Maori Aotearoa's 'On The Bus 2006' tour.The 'bus' visited schools and venues on the North Island's East Coast. Below are some excerpts from my tour diary. Thanks to leafsalon, the best NZ Literature website in town, on which this article first appeared.
By the time I was 14 most of my friends' parents had split up, and so had mine. My mother and I moved away from Dad to Nelson. Nelson was very different to Whakatane in lots of ways. For the first time, I started making friends whose parents were still together.
I remember one conversation with a fellow student who was effusing about how much she loved her dad.
'He's so fantastic,' she said. 'Really easy to talk to, easy to be around. He lets me do most things.'
'Cool,' I said. 'Where does he live?'
There was a short silence. She looked at me funny.
'At home,' she said. 'With my mother.'
Today's workshop was a bit like this. I don't write or read music - when I write songs, I do it on a guitar. During the workshop, one of the students told me he was a musician, wrote songs, really loved it, played the clarinet, too.
'Great!' I said. 'What do you compose on?'
Another one of those silences, another look.
'On stave paper,' he said.
(Front: Mere Boynton, Hera Taute, very friendly kuri. Back: James George, Apirana Taylor, Hinemoana Baker, Ralph Walker, Keri Kaa. Photo taken by Jasmine Kaa, outside Keri Kaa's home in Rangitukia)
Hard to think of a nicer place to spend a week - Te Tairawhiti, the East Cape. On a tour, of course, you don't get to spend much time soaking up the vibe. But you can't beat a beach view, whatever else you're distracted by. When we arrived here at the Whispering Sands Motel on Waikanae Beach, Gisborne, I walked right through my room, out the sliding doors and onto the sand.
At dinner we had a meeting - over spicy Thai food and glasses of local wine - about the business of the tour. Four gigs a day mostly, sometimes five, Mere tells us. Mainly schools, with the odd evening performance for grown-ups. I think about the Words On Wheels tour I've just been on - how we all agreed that four school classes a day plus an evening gig was too many. The audience said we looked tired that night. We were.
I tell Mere what I think of the timetable to the delight of Apirana Taylor, seated and drinking beside me. It spices up the conversation. I must admit I like having a good, straight up discussion, especially with other women who aren't afraid of it. Mere isn't. She gives it straight back. Makes me smile, wonder if we don't have some Ngati Porou in us.
Very glad I've bought my laptop with me - for music's sake, really, rather than writing. Patti Smith's gorgeous, raucous 'Jubilee' is the perfect soundtrack to the whispering sands outside the Whispering Sands. Realising I need noise to concentrate - like my father, whose seven radios always seem to be tuned to a different but equally as obnoxious talkback station. He seems frightened of silence.
In the van, wondering if there are any shock absorbers. I'm feeling panicked about writing down my family's Ngai Tahu genealogy and sending it to the tribe's whakapapa unit. It's something I've avoided because I get freaked out about not being the right person to do it. Something about being in Ngati country is making it feel more urgent.
Yesterday at Gisborne Girls' High, James George told the students: 'Starting at the beginning doesn't necessarily mean starting at the beginning of the story. It means starting at the first place that makes you want to keep writing, that moves you to carry on.' He read a piece where he described two teenagers having sex for the first time - 'playing the piano wearing boxing gloves'.
Apirana did his Te Rauparaha and Kapiti Island poems, declaring every line in his extraordinary rumbling bass. Maybe it's those Ngati Toa whakaaro that are pushing me to think about the South Island stuff. I stood up after him and spoke about my generation of Ngati Toa Rangatira - how nowadays, you seldom find any of us who don't whakapapa to both tribes because of the marriages our old people arranged. They were trying to stop the bad feeling from being passed down.
I finished my set by singing Hana O'Regan's song 'E Hine' - such a beautiful waiata, composed in the old style, like a chant, minimum melody, maximum emotion. Mere and I were both a bit tearful over our cups of tea.
I'm having a time of feeling in awe of novelists. The length of the thing! How they hold it all. At dinner tonight, cooked by the lovely Ralph Walker in his home-cum-art-gallery, I told James the quote I love from Mau Piailug, a tohunga, a master navigator from Satawal in the Caroline Islands: 'Point the canoe and bring the island to it.'
Yes, James agreed, writing a novel can be like that. Bringing the book to you.
For this tour I am wearing my new tiki brooch - a gift from my jeweller friend Arana. The tiki's made of felt - orange, brown and Air New Zealand blue. His puku is slightly padded, a small dent at the little brown stitch of his belly-button.
Today at Manutuke School, after I explained about my book and the famous guy who'd helped me publish it, and showed all the pictures, and after I sang a song and opened the floor...the first question was 'What's your tiki's name?'
I passed him around. The children all twiddled his mussel-shell eyes and his big safety pin.
Swimming at Anaura Bay this morning. The water was so cold and calm and the morning sun so hot it felt like bathing in electricity.
We're staying at Aunty Keri Kaa's place in Rangitukia tonight. When we pulled into her driveway she and two of her ginger cats were on the roro, on the verandah, ready to greet us. Gratitiude and weariness washed over me. It felt just like arriving in Okaiawa in Taranaki, to my Uncle Tutua and Aunty Kath's farmhouse. Aunty Kath would let me play with the puppies all day if I wanted, even though they gave me fleas.
I walked into Keri's home in a daze and immediately went to sleep in a corner of her couch. Later she told me that all the performers who come to visit her seem to end up asleep in that spot. She and her whanau made us the most incredible spread, and Uncle Ralph did his Special Mussels.
'Ralph's out the back doing delectable things to mussels,' Aunty Keri kept saying.
He told me what was in the marinade, but I shall not share it here.
We ate deluxe boil-up. Aunty Keri's delicious egg-plant concoction - she told me the name several times and I still can't remember it. She put her favourite Demis Roussos album on to get us in the mood. Then later, ambrosia for dessert: marshmallows, yoghurt, cream, perfectly sweet and sour.
Hera Taute and I are sharing a room tonight. She just did a karakia for us before sleep. Her reo is so beautiful - she grew up with her grandmother. Instead of storytelling at every gig, she sometimes reads poems about her Nanny, the way her karanga sounded. One is about the little green house they lived in, the stories in the rafters, the kiss from a boy on the verandah.
Hera and I walked this morning.
We walked past a field where George Nepia used to train. There was a big sign, with a picture of him. Was he kicking the ball or running with it? Mental note: pay more attention to Rugby Landmarks.
There was mist in the hills - I teased Hera, our Tuhoe princess, that it must be making her feel at home. She teased me about pretty much everything else. We laughed loudly and talked about children and the van's shock absorbers and her singing work with Jack Body.
'Those girls are out scaring the local cows,' Aunty Keri told Mere when she got up.
Later, as we're climbing into the van, she's telling Mere the name of the tour's not quite right.
'Next year,' she says, 'call it 'On The Waka'.'
Aunty Keri - she's right, of course. The double-meaning's perfect.
On the last day, I'm rushing - I'm last out the door (we all seem to have had turns) and they're waiting on me in the 'bus'. I throw my laptop cord in some pocket of some bag, drag my shoes in a plastic shopping bag out through the heavy door-drapes, wrench my wrist when my suitcase pirouettes on its wheels over a bump.
When I'm finally still, in the airport queue, I can feel myself coming down, end-of-tour-sinking, settling into my usual post-gig mixture of sadness and relief. Anxiety about future income.
Api and Hera are at two airport tables, an energy drink in front of each of them. Mere's asking for half a latte so she can get it made before we have to board.
The announcement comes and even though I'm present and accounted for I still get a surge of adrenalin as our flight number is pronounced, its particular letters and numbers. I realise I didn't do a last rekky of the motel room. My hand goes to my pocket for my cellphone, to my bag for my wallet, then up to the front of my jacket and finds my tiki, the texture of a toy. I say his new name under my breath.
'Manutuke' and I walk up the frail steps into the small plane. I see Mere already in her seat, pinning her woven cowboy hat to her hair with a heru. Oh yes, we'll be landing in Wellington soon. She and Hera are talking, laughing, slapping each other across the aisle. Their voices mix with the engines starting, the phonetalk sound of the pilot's welcome, the hissing fresh-air vents.
Manutuke and I stow our hand-luggage under the seat in front of us. We switch off our cellphone. Our seatbelt makes its click.
Away with words
by David Hill
In March 2006 I was one of six writers touring Northland as part of the annual New Zealand Book Council 'Words on Wheels' programme. David Hill wrote a fantastic account of our time together for the New Zealand Listener. He has kindly agreed to let me re-print it, below. Couldn't have said it better myself, D.
Elizabeth Smither has just started her poem: “He is reading a motorcycle manual. A Kawasaki”, when three 250cc engines scream past the Whangarei café. Smither shares the moment with her audience. This chick is a pro.
She, plus five other writers – Hinemoana Baker, Richard Wolfe, Jo Randerson, Paula Morris, me – were the 2006 WOW Tour that spent nine late summer days looping through Northland.
WOW is Words on Wheels, the NZ Book Council scheme that each year since 1992 has sent groups of authors to different parts of the country. Like certain beers, WOW aims to reach the parts that the product doesn’t usually reach. There’s been a reading at Bluff and at Cape Reinga. There have been readings, panel discussions, mini-workshops in most small places you care to name.
The 2006 tour starts in Takapuna. Hinemoana and Jo fly in from Wellington; Elizabeth and I from New Plymouth; Richard from Freeman’s Bay; Paula from New Orleans. I said New Orleans: she lands after 18 hours in the air, and 90 minutes later, she’s coherent at the Takapuna Library. Another pro.
North we head. Whangaparoa; Helensville; Waipu; Whangarei, where a disturbing feature of the tour becomes apparent. Some of the group have multiple skills. Jo writes and acts; Hinemoana writes and sings; Richard writes and narrates. My idea of multi-tasking is to stand while I read.
But the variety of styles, content, moods is fascinating. Elizabeth’s quiet, cleaving images alternate with Jo’s Danish monologue; Richard’s Moa history, Hinemoana’s rugby poem, Paula’s Hibiscus Coast (a huge hit on the Hibiscus Coast), my stuff. By tour’s end, we all know some of one another’s words by heart, and that’s marvellous.
At Dargaville, we eat too much for lunch. At Rawene, we eat too much for dinner.
Our audiences range in size from twelve to 300. The adults are overwhelmingly women. The kids are excited and responsive up to Year 8; super-cool and still responsive from then on. We meet wonderful people who habitually buy NZ books. We meet a few who know we’re in print only because we suck up to publishers. Heigh-ho.
All that money in some Northland places and lack of it in others. The Principal of one school tells us that 80 per cent of her kids’ parents are unemployed. She keeps thanking us for coming; the country should thank her for just being.
A ferry across the Hokianga, and a tricky moment when six literati can’t find the minibus’s petrol tank. The pupils of Broadwood Area School welcome us with a pulsing powhiri, and we eat too much again.
One of several marvellous things about WOW Tours is the company of other writers. It’s a solitary occupation (solo violin, please), and the chance to talk trade is terrific. We discuss publishers, money, rejections, techniques, outlets. We also discuss radio stations, ornithology, the asymmetry of time, Philip Glass, money.
One of several diverting things is the plotting over who reads in what order. We go by alphabetical order of surnames, street names, pets’ names. Far too often, I have to follow Jo or Hinemoana.
A sausage roll on Ninety Mile Beach. A drive up a side road at night to stand among cowpats and see summer constellations arching overhead. Elizabeth is working on a poem about it; we know she is.
Down the east coast, past citrus and crafte shoppes. Some Year 10s confirm that evolution still has a way to go, but most of them listen, absorb, hoard. Hugs and tissues after the last of the seventeen events; then we turn back to our ordinary lives. Paula flies straight out to resume hers in New Orleans.
We’ve driven over 900 km; read/spoken/taught in six schools, four libraries, three cafes, a museum, a hotel, a sub-tropical gardens and a vineyard. Has it been worth it?
For us six, absolutely. For others – kids have told us they’re going to read our stories and poems, write their own, submit them to publishers. In a more oblique way, adults have said the same. People have laughed, nodded, blown their noses. Booksellers have sold books, and cafes have sold muffins.
I will never ever say that we’ve taken writing to the people, but the NZ Book Council has let us make a pretty good attempt.
This article follows us on our 'May NZ Music Month' tour in 2005. Hinemoana and Andrew Dalziel performed their show around the North and South Islands. The article was originally published in the Winter 2005 edition of 'Booknotes' - the magazine for booklovers. Many thanks to the New Zealand Book Council for permission to re-publish it here. All photographs by Andrew Dalziel (c) 2005, except the coffee cup, which was taken by Hinemoana Baker. Please email us if you would like to reproduce them anywhere, and be sure to Credit The Photographer. Thanks!
I'm in a 1992 Nissan Bluebird, silver-grey with faulty central-locking. It's had its back seat removed, and in its place is a tightly packed assortment of bags, boxes and sound gear. My guitar sits on top of the stack, about three inches between it and the roof of the car. A blue bucket full of leads and microphones is wedged behind the head of the driver.
Andrew is driving today, which is why I'm able to type at the same time. He's wearing a headscarf, a pair of black Jackie O sunglasses, jeans and a singlet. It's May 5, 2005. Blue sky, autumn sunshine, David Kilgour. 20 degrees.
Last night I texted Andrew, asking if he would mind driving today while I wrote this article. I hadn't been able to get it done before I left tour preparations filled every moment. He texted back, 'Sweet as, but I drive like Steve McQueen.'
He was lying he drives like me. Confident but moderate. I have a sneaking suspicion we are, in fact, the male and female version of the same person. Every now and then I ask him a question about himself.
'How do you feel about overtaking?'
'Hate it,' he says. "I just like to sit in convoy.'
The sun hits the laptop screen and I can see myself reflected in it. I've got my new glasses on, updated prescription, so everything is a lot more crisp than I'm used to, sharp edges. They darken in the sun, too! very practical for driving.
I'm wearing a hat. It's green, soft, made out of that bobbly wool that's almost like embroidery cotton. It sits close on my head, like I'm growing moss.
'Nick Cave's sold out at the Town Hall next week,' says Andrew. 'Glad I got tickets.'
We still feel smug about the travel plan we'd worked out to get Andrew to the concert. After our gig in Oamaru, I'll drive Andrew to Timaru airport. He'll fly to Wellington for the night and go to the concert. Then another flight the next day to Nelson, in time for our Friday gig there. Rock-star jet-setting, South Island style.
We're on our way to Picton because I'm playing there tonight, at the ominously named 'Le Cafe'. I can't believe how much I'm enjoying writing as we drive. I've thought for a while now I need to get a laptop for when I come away from home. But they're expensive and besides, there's something good about not being able to sit in front of a screen just whenever you like.
I'm changing my mind on this right here and now.
'Is this anything important?' Andrew hands me a horse-shoe-shaped bendy piece of metal. 'It just fell on my foot.'
It's covered in dust on one side. I have no idea where it could have come from. The steering column?
'Steering seems to be working fine,' says Andrew. I drop it into the built-in pocket beside me on the passenger door.
Andrew's so damn calm. Doing this tour with a sound engineer and a sound system is enough of a luxury in itself, but the fact that Andrew Dalziel is the engineer in question is even better. Just looking at him relaxes me. I'm realising how tense I often am before I perform - fussing with gear or instruments or setlists right up till the last minute. At the Mussel Inn in Takaka on Sunday night - our first official gig of this tour - it came to 7.30pm and Andrew dismissed me.
'Go on. Go away now. I'll handle things from now on.'
There was an hour to go before the gig started.
'Go and get ready, or something. Do whatever you do, you know. Before a gig.'
It might seem mandatory that performers have time to get ready, warm up, relax, rehearse or whatever before a gig. But when you're used to doing everything yourself, this often suffers. I spent a moment feeling enormously grateful to Andrew, a moment feeling proud of myself for investing time, energy and money in the decision to bring a sound system and an engineer with me. Then I headed to the beautiful log cabin hosts Andrew and Jane live in and my upstairs room.
I chilled out.
The laptop is quite hot on my legs. Is it going to burst into flames?
'Yeh, the left-hand side especially, ay?' says Andrew. It's true, my left leg is warmer than my right. He slows the car, reverses a little from a one way bridge, a truck thunders over and past us.
We pass the Totara Flats Picnic Area, five white goats with horns, the Trout Hotel is 4km away. The autumn palette Andrew and I have been falling in love with isn't so present along this stretch of road, just the odd yellowing poplar and some red splashes on the hills. Then we round a corner and it's everywhere.
We're driving through Havelock - the Green Shell Mussel Capital of the World. Andrew points at an eatery on the right, the frontage of which is decorated with large, fake, green-lipped mussels and seaweed. It's all quite realistic looking.
'The Mussel Boys,' he says. 'All they do is mussels.'
My mouth starts watering, my stomach gurgles. There's no time to stop. On the way back, we promise each other. It's time to break out the pistachio nuts.
Now we're passing apple orchards, Kevin Morghan Plumbing, and pulling up at the Spring Creek Four Square. I order a strawberry Rocky Road.
We've managed the car-packing extremely well this time. When I pulled up outside Andrew's brother Simon's house, the gear was all ready to go on the lawn. The speakers and the monitor were in their blue nylon-canvas zipbags. The mixing desk in its shiny, hard, black travel case. Andrew's clothes in a green and yellow raffia kete. My books in a cardboard box with a rip starting along the bottom (mental note). It looked like a lot of surface area to fit into the car, even with the back seat removed. But we did it, with leg room to spare.
I realise I've probably not brought enough books with me for this leg of the journey. At the first gig six books sold, and five at the second. It's always impossible to know why books sell as opposed to cds. Performing the songs is something I've done before, but bringing the poems to the stage has been interesting. Framing them in sound effects seems to be working. Having a scuba tank, regulator and a bucket full of water on the stage does, it seems, pique people's interest.
Right now we're doing what Andrew calls 'chucking a mainie'. When you arrive in a town, it's the first thing you should do, he says - drive (or walk if your ride's not phat enough) up and down the main street several times. We're passing Picton's finest establishments: Rumba caf?nd bar, gusto - breakfast - lunch - dinner, Kentucky Eataways (amazing they haven't been sued).
This mainie doesn't take long.
The cabin at the Waikawa Bay Holiday Park smells of talcum powder and children's urine. I take a deep breath - I find it strangely comforting. Andrew opts for the little bunk-room, I get the double bed next to the kitchen sink. We have neighbours - they're speaking German. The toilet block is painted spearmint inside and out, with cut-out wooden figures of cartoon kiwis, pointing the way.
The Kitchen is This Way!
This Way to the Toilets and Showers!
Andrew is talking in his fake Manchester accent. He uses it regularly to narrate stories from 'Chat' magazine - his new tabloid fave. It has stories with headlines like 'Goosed by a Dead Dog' and 'I'd Never Believe My Ian Would Do That With a Frozen Chicken.'
'A real old fashioned holiday park,' he Coronations.
Our luggage nearly fills the rooms.
Le Cafe's very genteel - all fawn and pale blue, a modern building on the waterfront next to Perano Apartments. The waterfront bobs with yachts and the reflections of the surrounding hills.
I feel scruffy.
It’s 1.30am. Andrew’s sitting on his bunk, reading out of Chat with an even more animated Northern accent. It’s so convincing I’m beginning to think it’s more like an alternative personality he’s kept hidden till now.
‘It’s the ‘What To Do With’ section. What to do with a tin of condensed milk. Sweet and sticky.’
The gig at Le Café was great, though the crowd small. A few of the younger women bought books and albums. Only one over-refreshed guy, whose wife took him home before things got too out of hand. In general, a warm and respectful bunch of people.
Peter, the owner, is from Switzerland. He has a compelling accent and shoots from the hip. As we were packing down, Andrew asked him how the evening was for him.
‘You mean financially or mentally?’ When he said ‘mentally’ he put his hand over his heart. ‘Mentally it was beautiful. Financially it was…well. It cost me a few hundred dollars.’
A wave of anxiety washed over me.
‘I heard that Katchafire were playing in Blenheim. Maybe people went there instead.’
‘No,’ said Peter. ‘That Blenheim crowd never come over here anyway. It’s just the population here. They prefer rock bands. We know that.’
‘Don’t forget to come by for a free coffee in the morning. It’s all part of the deal.’
He waved us off.
My shoulders are still playing up in spite of a massage. My neck, too. I don’t notice it while I’m playing, but as soon as I get off stage they feel like concrete. Ronni, the masseuse, said on a scale of one to ten mine are a seven.
I’m beginning to wonder whether it was a good idea to bring the scuba tank.
‘It’s a winner,’ says Andrew. ‘People love it. It’s such a radio approach to poetry.’
I resolve to experiment with different ways of carrying the tank. Over my left shoulder rather than my right. Across both, perhaps.
Lying down is good. The one-bar heater doesn’t do much to heat up the cabin, but I’m cosy under the blanket with my sleeping bag spread on top. I’ve also brought Tyree’s stepmother’s aunty’s crocheted blanket. It’s mainly brown, with all the other colours making up the insides of the squares. Makes things feel more homely.
I think about some of the people who spoke to me after the show tonight. One woman said I was really funny, she laughed a lot. It always suprises me – in a good way -- when people mention that element of the show. The bits in between. One woman had, indeed, driven from Blenheim for the show, and was very glad she did. A guy from the local paper took photos and promised a good write-up.
Now that we’ve done a couple of shows Andrew’s playing with reverbs and levels and effects. The screens are working well, too. We’re collecting photos as we drive, and Andrew’s honing his VJing skills. It feels like the show is really coming alive.
‘Napoleon first thought of the idea of condensing milk as he wanted to find a way to nourish soldiers,’ says Andrew. He could be straight off The Street. Cracks me up, regardless of what he’s saying.
I carry on writing for a bit. After ten minutes, Andrew switches his light out. I hear his sleeping bag zip. I expect to hear his usual goodnight – ‘naiti raa’ – but I don’t. He’s buggered.
In the morning, as we’re driving to Lyttelton, he says, ‘I really did read bits of ‘Chat’ magazine out loud and laugh hysterically at you last night didn’t I? I didn’t dream it?’
Lyttelton has stolen my heart. I love how the hills come so steeply out of the water. It means no matter where you stand you've got a view. I love how the huge ships are right up in your face. I love the colours people have painted things.
We're staying at The Tunnelvision Backpackers -- polished wooden floors, stripey duvets. It used to be the Lyttelton Council Building. It has an enormous kitchen, with a marble-topped table the size of a small swimming pool. Used to be the board-room table, the manager tells us. So heavy they couldn't move it now even if they wanted to.
Last night we visited the Wunderbar, where the gig is tonight. Again, fell in love. Outside, many stairs and ramps, brightly painted metal railings, individual hand-painted lettering spelling out the name of the establishment. Inside, it's the bar you'd find Frankenfurter in when he's not shagging Brad...or Janet. Nick Cave meets Hugh Heffner. Fake fur, glitter balls, something the staff call "The UFO" hanging from the ceiling.
Tracey the bartender has two of the most impressive plaits this side of Kate Camp.
'Someone with a plooty accent rang last night to ask if they could book a table for tonight. Book a table!' She throws her head back and laughs. 'Clearly not regulars.'
Andrew's looking at the outside stairs. 'Is there a lift?'
Tracey says not a problem, we can use the dumb-waiter in the supermarket downstairs. As long as we give her a time.
'Five o'clock's perfect,' she says, 'not too many people. You got your own gear, ay? We've got two mic stands and five mics, but no leads.'
We tell her we're fairly self-sufficient. I look around, take in the silver nylon stage curtain, barbed wire in the corner, the leopard print stool covers, the crushed velvet upholstered booths. This place is like hell and heaven all at once. I'm having a hard time imagining my 75-year-old country-and-western singing Aunty here. As Andrew's friend Nick put it, it's like nowhere else.
Faye Charlett has her handprints in concrete at the Country and Western Hall of Fame in Gore. A little blackened round the edges, perhaps, because of the fire in 2004, but still intact. Faye is my mother’s older sister. She lives in Christchurch where she still sings occasionally, and coaches a marching team. Faye plays guitar and bass. She gave up gigging because she got sick of lugging stuff around.
Faye was one of the first women in New Zealand to cut a record. She went to Wellington to record a couple of songs for herself and the TANZA guys asked if they could release them.
The A-side was ‘Daddy Was A Yodelling Cowboy’. She still has a killer yodel. She was the first person to put me on a stage, and, as I’m fond of saying, the last to put me on a stage in gingham. I was 14, it was the Nelson Country Music Club Competitions. I sang with a friend, Sharon Madden, ‘When Daddy Prayed For Me,’ ‘Sweet Music Man’ and ‘Catfish John’. Catfish John was a river hobo, living by the river bend.
I hope Faye and my Aunty Pauline will be able to find the Wunderbar tonight.
When I come to think about it, the rooms in Faye's house don’t look unlike the Wunderbar. Quite a lot of crushed velvet and tiger-print. Mum says she and Ron are a bit like overgrown teenagers. Faye drove a red Holden Torana when I was a teenager.
I hope the dumb-waiter at the Wunderbar is working.
It’s not easy to conduct a relationship through text messages. Especially in the early stages. But I like how the messages make me feel accompanied during a day, in a low-key way. They don’t require the concentration of a phone call. You don’t need a block of free time or a private space. They just light up in your pocket.
I like to text Christine during the half-time break at my gigs. It takes me away from the audience for a little bit, which at times seems like a crowd of strangers who now know far too much about me. I get to spend some moments with someone who loves me and also understands how it is to be a performer, the skewed way we can sometimes perceive things from the stage.
She’s recently played the Wunderbar, so she knows exactly where I am, even where I’m standing on the balcony. It’s cold, my breath mists, and I’ve been sweating – I can’t be out here too long.
the whanau arrived L8 so cdn’t start till 930...keep obsessing about all th chords i didn’t get right
try to concentrate on th overall vibe, babe - remember yr a details person
She’s coming to the Waitara gig in a couple of weeks time – she’ll do a few songs, too. Live, she’s like a rock band all on her own.
After the gig, another text.
When I get to the backpackers:
What are you wearing?
It’s Oamaru. I’m wearing almost every item of clothing in my suitcase.
Much later, about 2am, I finish writing. I look down at the cell-phone – this one arrived at five past midnight. It just says i love you.
I’m in the bathroom at my mother’s house, putting my contact lenses in. Andrew is trying to iron his shirt. My mother has had a couple of glasses of the wine she brews herself, which tastes to me like cough mixture without the aniseed flavouring. There’s a lot of laughter coming from the kitchen where she’s set up the ironing board for him
‘Men never seem to iron shirts the right way,’ says my Aunty Kaylene. ‘Peter’s the same. Back to front or something.’
‘Still, it’s nice to see him doing it at all, isn’t it,’ says Mum. She’s slurring her words slightly and I can tell from her voice she’s smiling. ‘Oh, it’s only short-sleeved. Will you be warm enough, dear?’
‘Leave Andrew alone,’ I say. ‘We’re in a hurry.’
The carpark is full. The sound check and tech rehearsals are going so smoothly by now that I hardly know myself before a gig. Virtually no nerves. And in this venue, even a green room.
‘Is it a good crowd?’ I ask Anna, one of our hosts.
‘Yes, good quality people, too,’ she says. She has the most extraordinary aquaeyes. The shirt she's wearing is exactly the same colour and makes her eyes even more vivid.
‘They’re blue and the contact lenses are green,’ she says. ‘The overall effect is kinda turquoise, I guess.’
She asks me how I’d like to be introduced. What are my connections to Nelson?
‘She was head girl at Waimea College,’ she says to audience. ‘And her mother still lives here. In fact, she’s here with us this evening.’
Mum twinkles from the back of the room. I can see several of my friends have come. Anna is using some astonishing adjectives – did she really lift that from the press kit? Hell. The stage looks warm, there’s an air of sophistication about the room – the screens, I think. It’s a flash gig, alright, this one.
‘Please welcome Hinemoana Baker.’
‘So what else would we be doing, again?’
Andrew and I are sitting in the Boat Shed Café in Nelson. We’re on the deck over the water, at a small wooden table, the sun streaming in through the plastic windows. The water is clear, we can see the rocks beneath us. There are rowers on the harbour, and a tall ship on the horizon.
We’re wearing our hats. We bought them in Oamaru from Donna Demente, a local artist. Mine is a grey top hat, Andrew’s is a black bowler. Our mothers love them.
Our waitress is taking a long time to get to us. When she finally does arrive, she serves the table of eight at the end of the deck before us. We’re not going to get our breakfast in time to make the Ferry. We’ll have to just order coffee.
Andrew is calling Leonie, he says ‘Morena koe…you sleeping in?’ His voice changes when he speaks to her, becomes softer and more inflected.
‘You still got Nick Cave in your head, babe…?’
At the gig last night we played Nick's masterpiece ‘The Lyre of Orpheus’ as our pre-gig warm-up music, and ran the photographs Andrew had taken at the concert. In the photos Andrew took, Nick looked like the devil incarnate, big-collared white shirt and pin-striped suit, madness in his eyes.
‘Life-changing,’ says Andrew.
i went 2 sleep with Leonie in my arms and Nick Cave in my head...when i woke up Nick was still there...!
Nick Cave brought an 11-piece band. Two drum kits, two keyboards, four gospel singers. Andrew says he prowled the stage, was rarely still except at the keyboard. The entire band smoked cigarettes from beginning to end. Nick howled and growled through every favourite Andrew had hoped for.
And the next live show Andrew sees would be mine.
‘It’d totally be worth flying up to Auckland to see him again tonight,’ he said. My heart sinks a little. ‘If I wasn’t doing a better show,’ he adds.
Every Boy Racer in the nation is on the road this morning. Two of them have pulled hairy overtakes on us already. Andrew’s handling it well. Neil Young is travelling with us this morning. I effuse about the clapping sounds in ‘Cinnamon Girl’.
‘They sound like real claps. And the placement.’ We nod in unison. ‘The guitar sound.’
It’s 10.30am. The woman at the Boatshed had said we needed to allow two hours for this trip. We knew this, but somehow when the person serving you coffee says it, it becomes truer. I’m worried we may not have time to visit The Mussel Boys.
Ten silver saxes a bass with a bow.
The drummer relaxes and waits between shows for his Cinnamon Girl.
The landscape is a tableau, the light casts everything in a post-card half-shadow. The sheep and cows seem like film star animals, wrangled for the day.
Ma send me money now I’m gonna make it somehow I need another chance.
‘I’ve hatched a food plan,’ says Andrew. He can hardly contain himself. ‘When we’re 15 minutes out of Havelock, we’ll ring through a phone order.’
Brilliant. We speculate about what response we’ll get. Bloody townies.
I’m a little travel sick, which doesn’t bode well for the ferry. My father says I can get seasick on a wet lawn. And I have to perform on board – it gives me, Andrew, and the car free passage.
‘OK. Reckon we’re about 15 minutes out,’ says Andrew.
We dive for our phones. Mine says No Network Coverage. Andrew’s says Power Down Low Battery.
‘Crap,’ says Andrew.
It's 11pm, the last day, the night after the final gig in Whakatane. We're in Bulls, at a petrol station.
'That woman who served me was lovely,' I say. 'When I said thank you she said you're welcome. Very amenable.'
Andrew cracks up.
'We're in Bulls, bro,' he says. 'Amena-bull.'
We left Matata at around 5pm, partly because we're on Tour Time by now, which means 14-16 hour days and getting to bed around 2am. But partly it was because neither of us wanted to leave, in spite of having to work tomorrow.
Before we left, my mate Daniel showed us around what was left of his street since the flood. Very little. The circular shape of the cul-de-sac is invisible under hundreds of logs, boulders the size of small cars, and metre-deep, bad-smelling mud. The foot-bridge to the beach is gone, along with goat that was tethered there.
The beach-front lagoon is now twice the size it was, and dotted with caravans, cars, a porta-com cabin. A house from the other side of State Highway 2 has moved half a kilometre, over the road and towards the sea. Its SKY dish is visible on a mis-shapen roof.
It's my Dad's birthday. He spent the morning with Daniel and Richard (the Klixo Cousins) and a couple of friends, digging and dragging their two vehicles out of the mud. I can hardly believe they did it. Airlifting seemed the only possibility.
Lunch was a pork roast Anthea made. Andrew was a happy man. This year, Dad's birthday cake was a golf-green, with a blue, jelly water-hazard and thirteen white balls. Andrew took photos from the mezannine - Dad smiling up. He got a short video of Anthea giving Dad a birthday kiss.
For the first hour in the car, we're buggered and sad.
From where I was standing it was the strangest thing I ever saw -
the bullet entered through the top of his chest and blew his bowels out on the floor.
Nick Cave's Murder Ballads. Our spirits are lifting.
In Turangi, we stop at a restaurant called Valentino's. The last meal of the tour.
'Would you like your tomato juice spiced?'
'Oooo, no. She's spicey enough, that one.' Andrew's Manchester accent is now flawless. The waitress laughs out loud. I take it as an omen.
Sure enough, five minutes later she brings a plate of perfectly-herbed Spaghetti alla Bolognese and a blue cheese salad dressing I want to drink.
you'd be very happy ay?
Christine knows my blue cheese thing. She's on her way back to Auckland. She's stopped for dinner at exactly the same time as us, in the Red Fox Tavern, just out of Maramarua. Three days ago we were all there - me and Andrew, Chris, and the two we've come to know as The Telly - Lavinia and Jonathon.
Well you know those fish that clean the ocean floor?
When I looked at poor old O'Malley's wife that's exactly what I saw.
I got the email from the production company while I was in Wellington at the Half Way Point of the Tour. They wanted to film us for a series about touring - they've followed other bands, kapa haka groups, sports teams.
'Our priority is the gigs,' I said. 'People are paying money for the show. I don't want them looking at a camera-man's butt.'
'Our concerns are the same as yours,' said the producer. 'We don't want to jeopardise the shows.'
'Every hour's accounted for,' I said. 'Eating, sleeping, sound-checking, doing nothing. We're not stressed about it, but it's tight. We won't be waiting for anyone.'
'We prefer that,' she said.
'It's a very functional tour. No dramas. Very calm,' I said.
'Often, we find the drama comes from people getting lost, or pre-show nerves, that kind of thing,' she said.
'None of that, really, either.'
'That's fine. Honestly, that's fine. We just want to show the public what's involved behind the scenes, represent how hard artists work.'
'Hmmm.' I paused.
'Hinemoana, we want to let the rangatahi know what's possible in their lives. Give the young people inspiration.'
The Young People Clause always gets me.
I put the barrel under her chin and her face looked raw and vicious.
Her head it landed in the sink with all the dirty dishes.
When we were driving from Whangarei to Auckland, the cell-phone rang - a number I didn't recognize. It was Tyree, on her new mobile. She walked into the sea with the last one in her pocket.
'Guess what?' That passionate inflection, I'd missed it. 'I'm playing at the Prostitute's Ball. They've plastered my name on the posters, over a stripper's arse.' I could hear her smiling. Jonathan was strangely angled in the passenger seat, filming.
'We're driving from Whangarei, not even sure if Dad's road'll be open,' I said.
'I wish I could come with you,' she said. 'Give your dad my love. Drive carefully in the night.'
Jonathan's arms must have been aching. The camera wasn't as big as the shoulder-mounted ones, but it wasn't dinky, either.
'It's like Paekak was,' I said. 'Except worse by the sounds.'
'I might have some sponsorship,' she says. 'From five Indian doctors in Auckland who own a condom company.'
Nick Cave finishes and the car sounds emerge into the silence. Is Andrew still awake? I look up. We're in Pukerua Bay. We must have driven past Paekakariki already, and I didn't notice.
Because I'm working in town at 7am, and because he is my Touring Buddy and I'll miss him, I'm staying at Andrew's place tonight, in his and Leonie's spare room. I'll head home after work tomorrow night.
'Here we go, the best bit about coming home,' says Andrew.
It's that view - after you drive down the Ngauranga Gorge, just coming round the first bend on the motorway. It's the place I always point out to visitors. Tonight, the city's twinkling, the harbour's black and glassy.
'You can even see Adelaide Road snaking out to the south coast.' Andrew breathes in and out, deep.
I check my phone. 1 message received.
Hinemoana Baker is a singer/songwriter, poet and radio broadcaster, based in Paekakariki. Her first book matuhi | needlewas published in 2004 (VUP) alongside puawai, her first full-length album of songs.