Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lest We Forget the Conchies

Anzac Day every year is as dear to my heart as the daughter of a World War II conscientious objector, as it is to any of the family members of those who fought in the wars New Zealand has participated in.

Anzac Day was the day my father and his ex-conchie friends chose to catch up with each other and to remember the sacrifices they made for the sake of their pacifist consciences. How they were imprisoned as 'defaulters' by the New Zealand Government for refusing to take up military arms and kill other humans.

They were the quiet and very much unsung heroes who were also able to commemorate the terrible losses in all wars, on both sides of the battle lines, and often for the rest of their lives they remained politically active in the struggle to end war, create peace, and bring about nuclear disarmament.

Dad used to wear a poppy every year, and he too mourned the brave losses, and many of course were from his own family.

This post is placed here as a wreath in honour of those men and women who oppose military solutions to conflict.

The photo above shows one of those WWII conscientious objectors, present at a Dunedin event this week to celebrate the launch of Field Punishment No. 1, a book about conscientious objectors in the First War, the most famous of whom was the legendary Archibald Baxter, author of We Will Not Cease. Former conchie Terry Baxter (second from left) is shown speaking to Kevin Clements (second from right), newly installed Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, who gave a speech at the launch. Kevin's father was also a conscientious objector in World War II.

Terry is the son of prominent pacifists Archibald and Millicent Baxter, and NZ's much loved poet James K Baxter was his younger brother. But like many of the conchies, he wouldn't want to make a fuss or blow his own trumpet, or accept status as a hero or role model for those who would like to know how to raise the courage to stand against your government when it tells you to do something that is against your conscience.

So it's just as well we have authors and researchers like David Grant who have worked hard to tell the story of the men who said No to war. To say No to war required huge courage, and the conchies and their families were subjected to much institutional and personal hostility.

David Grant was present at the launch and also gave a speech, and the formal part of the evening concluded with a haunting peace song sung by his niece Marama Grant.

The launch was held at Milford Galleries and was accompanied by an exhibition of the paintings by Bob Kerr that inspired the book and appear within it. Bob Kerr was also at the launch.

Missing were the many Dunedin-based conchies who have now passed on. We will remember them, too.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Haiku Room

Making the shift today to the holiday house by the sea. This is the view of the bay from the haiku room.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How To Tell A Male From A Female

Found that old email joke "How to tell a business man from a business woman" from about 20 years ago, and was surprised how relevant these comparisons still are today in politics, academia, and the publishing world. In MY life. It's not always about gender (but it often is) but it's always about using emotive language to put someone down. I've updated it, and the list could go on...

He can hold his liquor; she is a lush.
He is assertive; she is aggressive.
He is strong; she is overbearing.
He pays attention to detail; she is picky.
He is human; she's emotional.
He is discreet; she is secretive.
He reaches the end of his patience; she's a bitch.
He is flexible; she is impulsive.
He is decisive; she is inflexible.
He is a go-getter; she is pushy.
He has the courage of his convictions; she is stubborn.
He knows how to follow through; she doesn’t know when to quit.
He stands firm; she is as hard as nails.
He can't be swayed; she is impossible to deal with.
He's confident; she's up herself.
He is proactive; she is defensive.
He is a man of the world; she’ll shag anything that moves.
He isn’t afraid to say what he thinks; she won't shut up.
He’s a stern taskmaster; she is autocratic.
He has a good dress sense; she is a fashion victim.
He is youthful and dynamic; she is mutton dressed as lamb.
He doesn't suffer fools gladly; she's vindictive.
He is spontaneous; she is flaky.
He's the life of the party; she is attention-seeking.
He is thorough; she is obsessive.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Within a few days I am going to live moments away from this beach.

My new home is perched on the edge of an estuary and has the most exquisite view. Almost the only thing between me and the water is a railway line. I couldn't be happier than at the prospect of a train going by now and then right below the generous veranda overlooking the expanse of beautiful bay with its flocks of seabirds.

I have already noticed that there is a resident kingfisher on the power line out front and a tui in the bushes by the back door.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Students can eat their lunch in the Stadium

Dougal Stevenson compered a Dunedin debate on the subject of the proposed Dunedin Stadium. TV coverage of the event features on the web site of Channel 9 TV.

Prominent local personalities spoke out against the project, and put forward all the many compelling reasons for the growing public opposition to the ill-fated plan.

I was out of the country at the time so unfortunately couldn't be at that important meeting so it's great to be able to listen to the arguments online.
Here's one:

"It would be like chartering a 747 to go grocery shopping"

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Righteous anger

"I follow Jesus on this one," says Schroedinger. "Throw the money lenders out of the temple. How dare they? And why pussyfoot about it? Jesus knew that anger is a healthy emotion."

And in a recent Observer article How to be happy in life: let out your anger, Amelia Hill reported that research shows that anger has been unfairly maligned.

Apparently a Harvard study has found that "those who learned to harness and channel their anger were far more likely to be professionally well-established, as well as enjoying emotional and physical intimacy" whereas to attempt to repress frustration by practicing 'positive thinking' is a self-defeating approach ultimately leading to "a damaging denial" of the realities of life.

Obviously we have to learn to express our anger constructively, but internalising it only results in depression and other health problems, and in communication difficulties.

Dr James Averill, a University of Massachusetts Amherst psychologist, believes anger has a bad name because it is erroneously associated with violence. "Anger can be used to aid intimate relationships, work interactions and political expression," said Averill. "When you look at everyday episodes of anger, as opposed to those that have more dramatic outcomes, the results are usually positive."
So, be angry, channel it positively, and be happy.

[Photograph: a tentative encounter between a lion fish and a sea urchin in the venomous sea creatures tank at Underwater World, Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia]

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Memory in Time

Five years ago this week NZ was shocked by the death of popular historian and biographer Michael King.

Michael was a friend and colleague of mine and I worked closely with him on several projects. One of the last emails he sent the morning that he set out on the ill-fated road trip that killed him, was to me. He was heading away for a holiday, and had even joked that he was not taking his laptop, but "in the unlikely event of an emergency" I could reach him on his mobile phone.

When I received a phone call the next day to tell me that Michael and his wife had been killed in a car crash, I was so shocked I vomited several times.

That the news only hit the newspapers on April the 1st (two days after Michael and Maria were killed in the horrific fiery smash) made the whole event seem even more unreal.

Michael has been influential much, and controversial some. He didn't shy away from difficult issues. He was a larger than life figure and he left a huge gap in so many ways. So I am looking forward to seeing Clare O'Leary's documentary A Moment in Time on Maori Television, tonight at 8.30 pm. It won't be the last word on Michael, who was a complex man dealing with complicated matters.

I took the picture above at Michael's idyllic hideaway at Opoutere, just a few weeks before he died. He was very happy, having just received good news about a possible remission from the lethal cancer he had been fighting. I like to remember him that way.