Archive for the 'Kiwi culture' Category

Childhood stories

Kids reading <em>Hairy Maclary's bone</em> (pic: New Zealand Herald)

Kids reading Hairy Maclary's bone (pic: New Zealand Herald)

I really enjoy reading. Always have. Right now, I am trying to reacquaint myself with Michael King’s Penguin history of New Zealand (2003). Progress has been slow. I have been dipping in and out of King’s history for over a month now and Tasman’s ships have only just dropped anchor in Murderers Bay (Golden Bay).

The problem is not the writing, which is just as engaging as I remember it, but an 18-month-old toddler. There’s no more lazing on the couch with a good thriller for me. I now spend most of my reading time telling stories about cats in boxes, wandering dogs and dancing giraffes. While I appreciate the benefits of reading to your children, multiple renditions of Little Tug can get a little tedious.

My daughter’s current obsession is Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (1983) – the first of Lynley Dodd’s popular series about Hairy Maclary the terrier and his mates Hercules Morse, Bottomley Potts, Muffin McLay, Bitzer Maloney and Schnitzel von Krumm.* We might read it a dozen times a day. She never seems to get sick of it – unlike her father. Scarface Claw – the toughest tom in town – is a particular favourite; his spitting hiss at Hairy and his gang sends her into fits of giggles every time. It must be the delivery.

As a child of the 1980s, I assume my parents read Hairy Maclary to me. That or the hard-covered Little Golden Books series (they could survive anything!). I’ll have to ask. I do remember reading a lot of Roald Dahl stories at bedtime – James and the giant peach (1961), Charlie & the chocolate factory (1964), BFG (1982) and The witches (1983) are particular standouts. While these stories were not always warm and fuzzy – James’s aunts bully him, Charlie lives in poverty, Sophie and the Boy are orphans – their adventures seemed so exciting to a 10-year-old. Imagine eating a snozzcumber (on second thought, maybe not), finding a golden ticket, travelling in a giant fruit and battling a hotel full of witches?

Not everyone has such a nostalgic view of Dahl. Adult critics have highlighted the dark nature of his storylines. Some libraries have even banned his books from their shelves for perceived misogyny (The witches) or references to drugs and alcohol (James and the giant peach) – a situation played out in New Zealand recently with Ted Dawe’s award-winning Into the river.

Another pre-teen reading staple of mine was the Commando comic series. Launched as Commando War Stories in Pictures in Scotland in 1961, it reached its peak in the 1980s, selling around 750,000 copies a month. Most of the stories were set during the Second World War, and each followed the same formula. Good (the British) always triumphed over evil (the Germans and Japanese). Courage, patriotism and self-sacrifice were the keys to their success. Political correctness never got in the way of the action – ‘Jerries’ and ‘Japs’ died by the dozen, with the Allied hero telling them to ‘Eat lead Fritz!’ or ‘Have a taste of that, Tojo’. Commando is still going strong today (54 years old and counting). Some things have changed – printing now takes place in Germany (what!). Some things have not – the writing still contains a good dollop of xenophobia. Whatever their shortcomings, I still feel a dose of nostalgia whenever I see a Commando cover.

Your turn. What are the standout books/stories from your childhood?

* Interestingly, the first children’s book about New Zealand – Stories about many things, founded on facts (1833) – has a chapter about dogs in it. No dairies though.

Sugar rush

Sacks of sugar piled high at the Colonial Sugar Refining Company refinery, early 1900s (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library)

Sacks of sugar piled high at the Colonial Sugar Refining Company refinery, early 1900s (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library)

I’m well known for having a very sweet tooth, and it’s a characteristic I share with many others. New Zealanders have had a long love affair with sugar, and New Zealand cookbooks tend to have a heavy emphasis on cakes and biscuits.

Unlike their cousins elsewhere in the Pacific, Māori were unable to grow sugar cane in Aotearoa, so sugar was introduced by Pākehā settlers. The first sugar refinery in New Zealand was established, with the aid of a government grant, in 1882 in Birkenhead, Auckland.

In the early 20th century imports of sugar from Fiji dominated New Zealand’s trade with the Pacific, but Fiji’s role as a sugar supplier to New Zealand gradually declined over the century. Since 1960 most of New Zealand’s sugar has been imported from Australia.

Sugar gets a bad rap these days – blamed, quite rightly, for its role in a range of ills from obesity to diabetes. Like other products that can be damaging to health, it can be difficult to get people to consume less sugar because it is associated with pleasure and sociability.

Still, with all due respect to the wonderful work of public health advocates, I would like to celebrate all things sweet and sugary on Te Ara.

Jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today.
At Te Ara, it’s jam every day! Jars of jam are beautiful to look at and even better to taste. You can watch jam being made, see the teenage workers of Kirkpatrick’s of Nelson stirring huge pots of jam, and admire Miss Bush’s remarkable dress (a promotion for Kirkpatrick’s jam).

If I knew you were coming, I’d’ve baked a cake.
Too late to bake for those unexpected guests? Don’t worry, Te Ara has you covered. We’ve got cakes of all kinds and cakes for every occasion: birthdays, Christmas, wedding anniversaries (this one brought a tear to my eye)…

Pie in the sky when you die.
Peeved by posthumous pie promises? You can get your piece of the pie right now at Te Ara. Pies can be sweet or savoury, but I’m guessing these prospective prize pies are sweet and full of fruit. Then there are the pie’s fruity relatives, such as the crumble.

That really takes the biscuit.
If someone’s taken your biscuit, we’ll help you replenish your supplies. Care for a Girl Guide biscuit, perhaps? Or feast your eyes on this amazing photo of dough scraps from the Griffin’s factory in Lower Hutt.

We all scream for ice cream.
Stop screaming and start dreaming. A classic Kiwi hokey pokey? Or some swanky up-market ice cream? Something you can share with your dog? Uranium ice cream, anyone? Or plain old chocolate and vanilla on a stick. I’m sorry, though: bacon and egg ice cream is just wrong.

And that’s not all: we’ve also got pavlova, chocolate, custard squares, baklava and more. Now, where can I get a nice cup of tea

Saluting Jack Perkins

Jack Perkins on the job

Jack Perkins on the job

It was the end of an era last month, when Jack Perkins hung up his headphones, or mic, or whatever it is that radio documentary producers hang up when they retire. Now 75, Perkins has spent 56 years in radio, producing Radio New Zealand National’s weekly Spectrum programme since 1972, when it was set up as a human-interest complement to the more current-affairs-focused Insight (also still running).

Portable recording gear (unwieldy though it was by today’s standards) was introduced in the 1960s, allowing radio producers to get out in the field, talking to people in their own environments. It brought a freshness and immediacy to radio, and Perkins made the style his own. ‘Radio had been a bit stuffy, it had been tied to the studio, largely,’ muses Perkins in Spectrum’s life and times’, an endearing two-part Spectrum about, well, itself, in which he chats with the programme’s founder, 88-year-old Alwyn ‘Hop’ Owen. ‘We were able to get out and get ordinary New Zealanders telling their own stories in their own voices, and that was a huge change … They were hearing their own stories fed back to them and the people in their community.’

In its 43 years Spectrum has been everywhere and met everyone, it seems – to a kākāpō-saving project in Fiordland, to the Nelson tip, up in Tiger Moths and helicopters, to rugby matches and protests and tattoo parlours and railway stations and many, many people’s lounges, from one end of the country to the other. And it has amassed a remarkable body of recording, of New Zealanders talking about themselves and their lives, and on subjects of all sorts, from long-line fishing to caravans to tsunamis to skydiving to boarding schools. It has recorded our voices and thoughts and memories and lives, and played them back to us, and preserved them. ‘We didn’t really know just how valuable in terms of social history we were going to be,’ says Perkins. ‘That’s right, you just got on with the job,’ chimes in Owen.

I was lucky myself to work with Jack in 2003 and 2004, when I was commissioned as a freelancer to do a couple of Spectrums, and was trained in the Perkins approach – which I mostly remember as a kind of stepping back, an intent listening, an allowing. In a guide for journalism students, he writes, ‘At the back of the farm, on the city street or on board the fishing boat, we talk to people in their own surroundings, capturing the activity and “feel” of everyday life – their feelings, attitudes, prejudices, stories and experience – first-hand and unfiltered – up close and personal.’ His work is often rich with layers of ambient sound – listen, for instance, to these clips from 1973 abortion protests and from a fruit and vege auction, and to the grizzled, lovely voices of these two interviewees – old mates, clearly – talking about coal mining.

I emailed Jack today, asking for a photo to use for this blog post, wishing him the best, and asking what his plans were. Unassuming as ever, he responded, ‘I feel as though I’m on holiday, it’s a bit unreal after 56 years. I’m just going to see how things go, I’ve nothing specific planned.’

You can catch part 2 of ‘The life and times of Spectrum’ this Sunday – 6 September – at midday on Radio New Zealand National.

A history of Aotearoa in seven musical instruments

Māori girl playing a Jew's harp, early 1900s (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Tesla Studios Collection (PAColl-3046))

Māori girl playing a Jew's harp, early 1900s (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Tesla Studios Collection (PAColl-3046))

Following the success of Neil MacGregor’s radio series and book, A history of the world in 100 objects, it seems as though everyone is writing history through objects – and who am I to buck a popular trend? So, here are some key themes in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand, traced through musical instruments.

Pūtōrino – the natural environment. The pūtōrino is unique to New Zealand, and has both a flute-like ‘female’ voice and a trumpet-like ‘male’ voice, depending on how it is played. The story goes that Hine Raukatauri, daughter of Tāne, loved her pūtōrino so much that she decided to live inside it by turning herself into a case moth. The case moth’s long, tapering cocoon resembles, and may have inspired, the shape of the pūtōrino. Not only were taonga puoro, Māori musical instruments, made from natural materials but they were also inspired by the shapes and sounds of the natural world which Māori observed so closely.

Human voice – community. The power of the human voice unites us as human beings – almost everyone can sing or chant, after their own fashion. From the karanga welcoming visitors to the marae to traditional waiata telling of love, loss or ancestral deeds; more recent Māori songs of remembrance, celebration and political protest; folk songs recording the pleasures and pains of everyday life; wartime songs relieving the tension and boredom of military life; national anthems sung together on important occasions; the vocal virtuosity of beatboxing, an integral part of hip-hop culture; or the joy and power of singing together in choirs – singing reminds us that we belong to communities. Singing can be a means of self-expression, too, but even then we can take shared pleasure and pride in the talent of individual singers, from Kiri Te Kanawa to Lorde.

Jew’s harp – culture contact. The Jew’s harp is a small instrument played by placing one end in the mouth and plucking a reed attached to the frame, producing a twanging sound. Māori had a similar instrument, the rōria. Because they are so portable, Jew’s harps were brought to New Zealand from the earliest days of Pākehā settlement, and were used as part of the payment for the New Zealand Company’s ‘purchases’ of vast areas of Māori land (in Whanganui, for example). Like so many other new technologies and ideas, they were taken up enthusiastically by Māori, replacing traditional instruments.

Bugle – war. Māori had a number of instruments – such as the pūtātara and pūkāea (shell trumpet and wooden trumpet) – whose sound carried over long distances and which were therefore used for signalling in time of war. The bugle was used in a similar way by Pākehā. During the New Zealand wars, the bugle featured in such stories as that of Bugler Allen, killed at Boulcott’s Farm in the Hutt Valley, and Te Kooti’s lieutenant Peka Makarini, who used misleading bugle calls to confuse colonial troops. Bugles were also used in the First World War and later conflicts, and now play an important role in commemoration of war during the Last Post ceremony.

Piano – domesticity. For Pākehā, the importation (and, later, the domestic production) of pianos helped to create a sense of home. A piano in the home was both an important part of the décor and a focus for entertainment, with family and friends gathering around the piano to sing and dance. For women, playing the piano could sometimes be a respite (however brief) from household chores. There was a class dimension to all of this, of course – not everyone could afford a piano – and in time the more affordable, but arguably less participatory, radio took the place of the piano in living rooms.

Drum – diversity. Drums are often associated with uniformity – keeping people in time and in step. Yet they can also represent New Zealand’s diversity of cultures and beliefs. Traditionally, Māori had a range of rhythmic instruments, but unlike their Polynesian cousins they did not use drums – their closest equivalent was the pahū, a wooden gong. During the colonial period, drums were part of the equipment of war, but were also used by Māori who were dedicated to peace. Drums are an important part of New Zealand’s diverse marching and parading traditions, whether those parades are political, religious, military or carnivalesque in nature. More recently, migration and cultural exchange have brought a much wider range of drums and drumming traditions to New Zealand, including those of the Pacific, Africa and Asia.

Guitar – fun. As in much of the rest of the world, guitars are central to popular music of all sorts in New Zealand, including folk, country and blues, pop and contemporary Māori music. Guitars also give New Zealand popular music some of its distinctive inflections, from the classic ‘jinka jink’ Māori strum to the jangling or droning guitars of the Dunedin sound and the Pacific flavour of New Zealand reggae (heavier on the guitar and lighter on the bass than the Jamaican original). Above all, the guitar has become New Zealand’s good-time, party instrument. Nothing symbolises this better than the enduring popularity in New Zealand of a relatively obscure Engelbert Humperdinck B-side, ‘Ten guitars’. The song has become a cultural reference point for everyone from bored troops in Vietnam to sculptors. So, all together now: ‘I have a band of men and all they do is play for me…’

On the house

State house, Taitā, 1949 (pic: New Zealand Herald)

State house, Taitā, 1949 (pic: New Zealand Herald)

It seems as though everyone is talking about housing at the moment. What is causing high house prices, particularly in Auckland? What role should government play in the provision of housing? Do renters need greater rights and security?

If you want some background and wider historical context for these discussions, Te Ara is the place to go. You could start with the entries by urban historian Ben Schrader on housing and Māori housing – te noho whare. But there are also entries on such topics as housing and government, domestic architecture, building materials, home décor and furnishings, Māori architecture – whare Māori and real estate, as well as information on more specialised subjects such as railway housing and inner-city flats.

Here are some interesting things about housing I read on Te Ara:

  • New Zealand’s first building regulation – the Raupo Houses Ordinance – was passed as early as 1842. It sought to deal with the perceived fire risk of buildings made from raupō or other grasses by imposing financial penalties on such buildings.
  • From the 1870s, Māori were incorporating European materials, including glazed windows, into traditional wharepuni (sleeping houses).
  • The first state house was opened (with Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage famously carrying in some of the furniture) in the Wellington suburb of Miramar in 1937.
  • Māori were not admitted into state housing until 1948, and were placed into predominantly Pākehā neighbourhoods (‘pepper-potting’) to encourage assimilation.
  • New Zealand’s home ownership rate peaked at 73% in 1986, and had fallen to 62% by 2006. You can see a chart of housing tenure (owner-occupied versus rented and other) over a 90-year period here.
  • In the early 2000s, average house prices in the Queenstown Lakes area overtook those in Auckland. I wonder how they compare now?

And when you’ve finished browsing through all the fascinating information about houses, you can always return to Te Ara’s home page by clicking on – what else? – a little icon of a house!