Blog Archives

Getting the news out, James Norcliffe

Surviving 7.8: New Zealanders Respond to the Earthquakes of November 2016
Phil Pennington and Radio New Zealand
HarperCollins, $35.00,
ISBN 9781775541103

 

New Zealanders, Cantabrians in particular, have, over the last half-dozen years, become reluctant experts in earthquakes. We have experienced the wobbly ones, the shuddery ones, the bumpy ones, the noisy ones that just go whack – a whole hitherto unknown taxonomy of geomorphological effects. The Richter scale has become as familiar as the bathroom scales and referred to as often. One of our favourite websites is Geonet, and glib, hackneyed epithets like earth-shattering and world-shaking have taken on a whole new oh-so literal meaning.

Thus, when, just after midnight on November 14, 2016, we were woken by a long rolling shake that seemed to go on and on forever, my wife and I knew at once that we were experiencing another Big One, but we knew, too, that it wasn’t Christchurch this time; it was farther away. Our first thought was the Main Divide, our second thought was Wellington, and we were immediately concerned for friends and family in the capital.

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Posted in History, Media, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Larrikins past, Nick Bollinger

Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand
Chris Brickell
Auckland University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781869408688

 

In 1971, I became a teenager. It was the start of a complicated, confusing, exciting time. Over the next few years, I would immerse myself in music, experiment with sex and drugs, form lifelong friendships and explore various kinds of rebellion, as I tried to figure out what this adult world was that I was growing towards, and what my place in it might be.

If there’s a personal message I can take from Chris Brickell’s Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand, it is that my experience was far from unique. The adolescent’s quest to define him- or herself as they navigate the path from childhood to adulthood has been taking place in various forms since the earliest days of New Zealand society. Yet the teenage experience has had little written about it, at least by historians. When teenagers are acknowledged, Brickell notes, it is usually in terms of adults’ condemnation.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Gloomy agreement, Tom Brooking

The New Zealand Project
Max Harris
Bridget Williams Books, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947492588

New Zealand: Paradise Squandered? Reflections on What We’ve Lost and Where We’re Heading
John Hawkes
John Hawkes, $40.00,
ISBN 9780473375553

Two New Zealanders at either end of their writing lives have set down their diagnosis on what is currently wrong with New Zealand and suggest some possible solutions that might be implemented to rid us of their rather lengthy list of ills.

Twenty-seven-year-old Max Harris is a law student and holder of a prestigious Examination Scholarship from All Souls College Oxford; John Hawkes is a retired rheumatologist who worked in the United Kingdom and France for several years and is now in his 80s. Despite the generational gap, they are pretty much agreed on what is wrong with New Zealand. 

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review and Sociology

Fiasco, Jon Johansson

Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the Meaning of Honour
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson
Potton & Burton, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947503390

As someone who has been around the political traps a fair while, my heuristic for judging political actors in and outside party politics is not the colour of their political stripe. Rather, there are people one would want to share a trench with; others, one would not – and, although rare, the odd person best sent to the enemy trench for the chaos they would cause. My trench is very multi-partisan as a result, and Nicky Hager, a friend, is emphatically in it. He’s exhibited, over a long time, courage and commitment when challenging the unequal power of the state over matters mostly concerning their coercive powers, as well as showing strength of character to withstand the blowback for doing so.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Revisiting the 1930s, Tony Simpson

The Broken Decade: Prosperity, Depression and Recovery in New Zealand 1928–1939
Malcolm McKinnon
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927322260

In 1968, I left my home town of Christchurch and came to Wellington to work as a producer in radio in what was then the NZBC. I mostly spent the next three years writing and producing talks and historical radio documentaries. One thing that struck me as curious in retrospect was that, although I had spent six years at Canterbury University studying history (among other things), no-one had ever mentioned the 1930s Depression or WWII. It was only when I began talking to older New Zealanders that these two sets of events came into focus as the principal markers by which they measured the significance of their own lives. I therefore began collecting both written and oral recollections of the 1930s (mostly the latter); in 1974, these were published as The Sugarbag Years. I then waited for someone to follow my lead and publish a narrative history of the same events which placed the lives I had recorded in their economic and political context, but no-one did and so I did it myself, as The Slump in 1990. This second book made little impact, the world moved on, and those with personal experience of the 1930s have now almost all passed away.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Town and country, Simon Upton

The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities 1840-1920
Ben Schrader
Bridget Williams Books, $60.00,
ISBN 9780947492434

I live in a very large city – Paris. It is a melting-pot of anonymity, dynamic and dangerous. There are futuristic experiments in eco-design and saturated motorways; new season glitz on the cat-walks and terrorist attacks. The Bataclan attacks started just five minutes from my apartment. It is all very exciting. But I am not a city person.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Cartoonist with bite, Dinah Priestley

Murdoch: The Cartoons of Sharon Murdoch
Sharon Murdoch (with commentary by Melinda Johnston)
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947503239

Anne Tolley crouches watchfully inside a beneficiary’s uterus, high heels digging into the soft pink flesh, her two fists blocking the fallopian tubes. The cartoon is startling, funny and elegant. Labelled “Reproductive Politics”, it illustrates the Health Minister’s remark that she wanted to find ways to stop “at risk” beneficiaries having more children. I used to believe that most of us women do not have the bite to be successful editorial cartoonists. But I was wrong. The editorial cartoons of Sharon Murdoch have plenty of bite and anger, which she manages to combine with elegance and subtlety. In seven years, Murdoch has gone from being the cartoonist of her popular crossword cat Munro to being represented as editorial cartoonist in major New Zealand papers, notably the Press, Dominion Post, Waikato Times and Sunday Star Times.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Demythologising, Mike Grimshaw

Sacred Histories in Secular New Zealand
Geoffrey Troughton and Stuart Lange (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776560950

My late grandmother was a Presbyterian, who had some Catholic friends. They lived in working-class Stanley Point (when it was working-class) in Devonport. During the week, they existed very happily as friends and neighbours. But, on a Sunday, according to family lore, my nana, despite her bad hips, would walk the long way to church so she didn’t have to go past – and therefore acknowledge the existence of – the Catholic church. Apparently, her friends did the same thing in reverse. They were lives in which religious identity and practice were important components, yet these did not create sectarian communities, as during the week they lived interrelated non-sectarian lives. These were the respectable working class, whose children became middle-class, but a middle class that was still religious in framing culture and ethos, if not so regular practice, into the 1980s. Up to the end of the 1980s – and longer in the provinces and rural areas – there was still a large swathe of broad-church Protestantism and Catholicism in New Zealand.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Religion, Review and Sociology

Not settled yet, Claudia Jardine

Christchurch Ruptures Katie Pickles BWB Texts, $15.00, ISBN 9780908321292 Leaving the Red Zone: Poems from the Canterbury Earthquakes James Norcliffe and Joanna Preston (eds) Clerestory Press, $40.00, ISBN 9780992251758 When the time came to decide what I would do after

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Walking in more than one world, Paula Morris

Being Chinese Helene Wong Bridget Williams Books, $40.00, ISBN 9780947492380 Going Places: Migration, Economics and the Future of New Zealand Julie Fry and Hayden Glass BWB Texts, $15.00, ISBN 9780947492694 The First Migration: Maori Origins 3000 BC – AD 1450 Atholl Anderson

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology
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