Archive for the 'Caren Wilton' Category

All you need is love

Living up to a romantic ideal: a 1944 cover of the Mirror

Ideals of love and romance: a 1944 cover of the Mirror (click for image credit)

You may have noticed that it was Valentine’s Day on Saturday. And no doubt on that happy occasion you were showered with bunches of red roses bought at an insanely inflated price, heart-shaped silver helium balloons bearing questionable messages, and teddy bears. Lots of teddy bears, possibly with pink or white fur, possibly clutching stuffed satin hearts embroidered with one of the aforesaid messages (‘I wuv you!’).

The custom of sending Valentines anonymously (oh god – was that card actually from Trevor in Policy?!) doesn’t seem to have caught on in New Zealand, but the rest of it has taken root and blossomed most fulsomely in recent years.

Romantic love is the kind of love that everyone goes on about, the kind of love extolled on Valentine’s Day, but actually, love comes in all kinds of varieties, some of them much underrated. You can – should! – love your friends, your family, your pets. Your neighbours, as famously suggested by Jesus. (I have great neighbours.) Your work, your creative life, the trees in your garden, the mountains you look out on from your front porch, the speeding view of fields on your train commute to work. You might love God, or food, or music, or – I don’t know – the brutalist architecture of the 1970s.

I looked for love on Te Ara, so to speak, and found the following:

Happy Valentine’s Day – or, if you’re really over it, you might want to try celebrating Singles’ Awareness Day instead.

World famous in Te Ara

Nappy Valley: Reference Group manager Janine Faulknor, bottom right, and her siblings, about 1969 (click for image credit)

Nappy Valley: Reference Group manager Janine Faulknor, bottom right, and her siblings, about 1969 (click for image credit)

Te Ara staff are a dedicated lot, as evidenced not only by their long hours of hard work, but also by the way they’ve happily plundered their family photo collections and posed for photos themselves to help illustrate the site.

Resource researcher Melanie Lovell-Smith on her fourth birthday (unfortunately she had a stomach bug, hence the white bowl to her right)

Resource researcher Melanie Lovell-Smith on her fourth birthday (unfortunately she had a stomach bug, hence the white bowl to her right)

As well as the many Te Ara-ites who feature in the entry Te Ara – a history, staff who appear in Te Ara – at varying ages and degrees of cuteness – or who have volunteered their family members or treasures for the site include:

General editor Jock Phillips in his back garden in 1950s Christchurch (click for image credit)

General editor Jock Phillips in his back garden in 1950s Christchurch (click for image credit)

Island life

Nicole Whaitiri, of Moriori descent, admires a Moriori tree carving in a Chatham Islands forest

Nicole Whaitiri, of Moriori descent, admires a Moriori tree carving in a Chatham Islands forest (click for image credit)

Over a period of almost 10 years we’ve documented New Zealand’s places from top to bottom, and last week we published our coverage of four remote places – New Zealand’s offshore islands (including Stewart Island/Rakiura, which is not so far off shore).

The very notion of an island evokes romantic visions – as Places theme editor Malcolm McKinnon remarked when launching this group of stories, these places ‘conjure up all the images and fantasies associated with desert islands, treasure islands or made-up islands’. And yet images of white sands, turquoise waters and piña coladas on the beach are somewhat off target when it comes to the subantarctic islands, which sit in the roaring forties and furious fifties and are prone to vicious, howling storms – or the Chatham Islands, with their peat bogs and cloudy weather.

Yet the histories of all these places bear witness to humans’ dreams of island life. The human history of the subantarctic islands is largely one of thwarted dreams – a fascinating tale of Polynesian seafarers, European sealers, castaways, shiploads of British settlers (who built a settlement on Auckland Island, but lasted less than three years), wartime coast-watchers, meteorologists and hopeful but unsuccessful farmers. The only group who managed to stick it out longer than five years were Māori and Moriori from the Chatham Islands. The subantarctics remain home to massive numbers of seabirds, seals and sea lions, as well as colourful and eye-catching megaherbs.

Humans have had more success on the Chatham Islands, continuously occupied by Moriori from the 1400s. These peaceable people were devastated after the arrival of Māori in the 1830s, but today are seeing a resurgence of their culture, with Kōpinga marae opening in 2005. The Chathams are the size of greater Auckland, but with a population of just 660.

Stewart Island, the country’s third main island, was named Rakiura by Māori for its glowing skies, and is just an hour by ferry from Bluff. Famous for its tītī (muttonbird) harvest, it’s a mecca for trampers, with Rakiura National Park covering about 85% of the island.

The volcanic Kermadec Islands, at the northernmost reaches of New Zealand’s territory, have a mild subtropical climate – and a captivating (if intermittent) human history. Polynesian visitors came from the 1300s; European whalers plundered the waters; the Bell family farmed Raoul Island from 1878; and Germans used the Kermadecs as a hideout during the First World War. Today the islands are a nature reserve where the only human residents are Department of Conservation staff – but the avian population is booming.

We hope you enjoy the stories of these remote and remarkable places as much as we enjoyed working on them.

Farewell to a Kiwi heroine: Carmen Rupe, 1936–2011

Carmen with former MP Georgina Beyer at Parliament in 2006

At Te Ara we were saddened to hear of the passing of Carmen Rupe in Sydney. The irrepressible, flamboyant Carmen (Ngāti Maniapoto) was a ground-breaker in so many ways. In the resolutely conservative Wellington of the 1960s and 1970s she was openly and proudly transsexual – and incredibly glamorous to boot. As an entrepreneur she provided the city with a series of glittering businesses, many of them involving commercial sex. Her unswerving insistence on being exactly who she was has been an inspiration to many – especially in New Zealand’s then-fledgling transgender community.

Carmen was a loved and respected kuia of the Australian and New Zealand queer communities, spending the last 32 years in Sydney, where in recent years she was the caretaker of a community centre attached to a block of flats in Surry Hills. However, she had been ill on and off for a number of months after a fall and hip surgery, and died from kidney failure on the morning of 15 December, aged 75.

Carmen was born Trevor Rupe, one of a family of 13 from Taumarunui. After a stint in the army (where, with characteristic confidence, she lip-synched in drag at a farewell concert), she moved to Sydney, working in the sex industry and as a drag performer – including performances with a live snake. Returning to Wellington in 1967, she rented a former clothing factory in Vivian Street and opened Carmen’s International Coffee Lounge, fancifully decorated and staffed by glamorous transgender hostesses who served tea, coffee, toasted sandwiches and pastries – as well as various sexual services, which customers requested through an ingenious system of positioning their cups and saucers. ‘All my girls were boys, or had been boys at some time,’ Carmen wrote in her 1988 memoir Carmen: my life. ‘They had to be beautiful … Dress in high fashion was de rigueur.’

Her other business ventures included striptease club The Balcony, an Egyptian tearoom in Cuba Street (’I had the walls sprayed with golden sand which sparkled … a large wooden elephant from Egypt stood by the doorway’), a curio shop, a massage parlour, and a brothel in a big old house in Hataitai. Her unsuccessful 1977 bid for the Wellington mayoralty – backed by businessman Bob Jones, under the slogan ‘Get in behind’ – saw her shoot to national prominence. In 1979 Carmen returned to Sydney, where she spent the rest of her life. Last year the Sydney Morning Herald featured her in this affectionate photographic tribute and interview, where she discusses the need for facilities for the transgendered elderly.

Carmen will be much missed by her many friends and admirers. The hundreds of tributes that have appeared online in the last day describe her as a ‘transgender goddess’, a ‘legend’, ‘the showgirl of all showgirls’ and a ‘GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] icon’. One thing is for sure: she was a pioneer and a role model for many. Moe mai ra e te kahurangi, moe mai ra.

New Sea-land

Book cover of New Zealanders and the sea (click to see a larger image)

Just in time for New Zealand Book Month (and early Christmas shopping), Te Ara’s new book, New Zealanders and the sea, has hit the shops.

New Zealand’s 18,000-kilometre coastline is the seventh-longest of any country, and nowhere is more than 130 kilometres from the coast – so it’s not surprising that most New Zealanders have a strong relationship with the sea. The ancestors of Māori, and of most Pākehā, arrived here by sea; exports and imports are still largely dependent on sea ports.

New Zealanders and the sea looks at the ways we have engaged with the sea, using it for transport and for economic gain, as a source of food – and, of course, as a place for recreation and holidays. Based on entries from Te Ara’s Earth, Sea and Sky theme, New Zealanders and the sea takes in everything from castaways to the fishing industry to marine conservation to Tangaroa, Māori god of the sea.

There are stories of flocks of sheep driven along the beach or transported by sea; of the isolated lives of lighthouse keepers and their families; of Māori methods of fishing and storing the catch; of the appropriate attire to wear to the beach, and how that’s changed over time; of Nola and Berry Edwards and their shell-encrusted car.

And – like Te Ara – New Zealanders and the sea is beautifully illustrated, with remarkable images of whaling, of rescued castaways, lighthouses, waka and 1960s surfers – as well as these likely lads sitting outside their caravan with a few cold ones.

New Zealanders and the sea is available at all good bookstores, RRP $69.99 (ISBN 978-1-86953-681-7).