... was the first city I visited, when I was a boy, about eight. I went with my sister Rachel on the Landliner. I remember us getting on the big bus at the military base at Waiouru, the desolate mountain, the windy tussock, the wide empty road. And I remember arriving in Kelburn, at the house of Noeline & Rex Bruning, with whom we stayed. There was a concrete wall and steps we had to walk up to a white painted house within which lived a sophistication that I had never imagined. Noeline painted in oils landscapes I already knew from around about where we lived. Rex made wine. We may have tasted some. There's a photo of Rachel and me on an elephant at the Wellington zoo, which I almost recall being taken. I do remember on that visit seeing monkeys fucking in their cage and the adults looking away.

That was the late 1950s. In the late 1960s we moved to Upper Hutt and I knew the city a little as a place where there was another life from the sport-afflicted, booze-soaked, sex-obsessed, gambling existence I endured in that last year of school at Heretaunga College. Coffee bars in Majoribanks Street with black-painted fishnet ceilings. Widgies and Bodgies, maybe even Beatniks. But when I left home I went to Auckland.

Returned to Wellington in 1974, in the throes of an unadmitted nervous breakdown (breakdance?) and over a few years got back on my (dancing) feet and, not coincidentally, found my direction in life. Always felt gratitude for that, primarily to the people who showed me the way but incidentally also to the place where it happened.

Headed out in 1977 for Auckland, San Fran, N.Y. etc etc. without a backward glance. Since then have returned in a casual fashion, as you do, when the opportunity was there. The Clash's London Calling (op. cit.) is a Wellington record for me, listened to it blasting out at Gaylene Preston's place in Roxborough Street, Mt. Vic., while Barry Saunders was painting the house. The first time I felt the power of expression descend, not as potential, an actuality. Those texts are lost but never mind.

To get to the point: this visit I went without expectation and found ... astonishment. All the times I have known the City were present as I walked around it; even those eras I researched without 'knowing' were there; those times my father told me of; times before when he was there; ghost clacking in the titi palms telling of the time before there was time.

Green flash from carbon cradles on trolley poles; paperboys calling out eeeeve-ening po-ooost!; breath steaming from mouths going somewhere not anywhere; a man trying to wrestle a double bass into the back seat of a taxi, on his way to a jazz-and-poetry gig; seeing inscribed in stone the words this is the capital city of the verb and laughing to think it was my mother wrote this absurdity.


... maybe that graffito read:




... so runs a piece of graffiti that used to be on the walls of St. Mary's convent on College Hill in Auckland. Comes to mind because in the end I decided to travel to Wellington as a New Zealander but came back here as an Australian. Got a fine welcome at either end. Much happened, of which more later. But best of all was the news that awaited me in Sydney: my agent has (fingers crossed) found a publisher for Luca Antara. Again, more later ...


the wizard of ...

Having major problems here trying to decide what passport to use ... it reminds me of ... what is it? Oh, going online to check the lyrics of songs and finding they are quite different from what I remember, viz:

God of Nations/At thy feet/In the bonds of ...

is really:

E Ihoa Atua/O nga Iwi/Matoura ...


Australians all let us rejoice ...

is actually:

Australia, sunsets, ostriches ...

hmmm ... maybe I'll travel to NZ on an NZ passport & to OZ on an OZ passport ... that way I may reach the Emerald City & afterwards get back to Kansas

wherever the hell that is ...


ultra montane

Friday morning I fly to Wellington for five days. To attend the Montana New Zealand Book Awards next Monday night. Chronicle of the Unsung is a finalist in the Biography section (even though it is not a biography) which, I am told, includes Memoir (it is not a memoir either). Selection as a finalist obliges a publisher to transport their author to the ceremony, hence my trip. If I win my category I get a cash prize of $5000.00, almost the exact amount I have gone into (private) debt over the course of this year so far; all category winners get to compete for the Montana Medal for Non-Fiction, which, apart from the gong, carries a cash prize of an addiitonal $10,000. With that money I could also pay off my tax debt and probably live through until Christmas without having to drive a cab. However. I've been to these things before and know it does not do to get your hopes up. The first ceremony I was at I expected nothing and got something; the second I expected something and got nothing; how will I comport myself this time? I don't know ... by trying to defuse consequences perhaps; like driving a taxi, opening myself to the possibilities while at the same time knowing that, most likely, in the words of the Tall Dwarf's song, Nothing's going to happen ...


The Call Up

It's taken a while but I've finally discovered filesharing, specifically LimeWire. Where untold riches are just a click or two away. Now I can go about recovering all the lost songs, as well as finding all those other songsters I never knew about before. Like bluesman Kelly Joe Phelps. Or dread masters Peter Broggs and Ken Boothe. Or the post-Clash work of Joe Strummer with the Mescaleros, which I knew about but had never heard. And The Mekons, whose song Ghosts of American Astronauts has haunted me for years. And much, much more. The only limit is that my provider places on downloads but there will be ways around that, too.

When the bombs went off on the Underground ten days ago I started hearing The Clash anthem London Calling in my head and went online to find it. That led me on to their extraordinary six side, 36 song set Sandinista!, which I used to own on vinyl but, not having a system to play it, let go earlier this year. And from there onto Broggs and Boothe et al. Wonderful. My own little cd factory because I still prefer to play music away from the computer. It is as if I have once again intersected with a parallel life that, while it has never gone away, has for long periods been accessible only in memory, not actual auditory presence. This because of changing formats, accidents of fate (like having my record collection stolen from a party by, reputedly, Hells Angels) and, most of all, by the intermittently vagabond life I've led.

I can still remember the moment music came into my life. I was about twelve. It was a Sunday night, I was in the bathroom of the house we lived in, above and behind a chemist shop in Greytown. The radio was playing and I heard, incredibly, Gerry and the Pacemakers sing How Do You Do What You Do To Me? (I wish I knew ... ). Not the first time I'd heard the radio, but the first time it sang to me. It was clear, so clear. The song was not just about and for me, it was for and about everyone I knew and all the things we suffered and desired and hoped for and loved. And that's stayed true, for my g-g-g-g-g-generation as well as those pre and post ...

Anyway, my revisiting of The Clash has given back one of my favourite songs. I haven't yet learned how to link to music (but I will, I will) so in lieu of that I'll just, because they seem still entirely relevant and resonant, quote the lyrics:

It's up to you not to heed the call up
You must not act the way you were brought up
Who knows the reason why you have grown up
Who knows the plans or why they were drawn up

It's up to you not to heed the call up
I don't want to die
It's up to you not to hear the call up
I don't want to kill
For he who will die is he who will kill

Maybe I want to see the wheatfields
Over Kiev and down to the sea ...

All the young people down the ages
They gladly marched off to die
Proud city fathers used to watch them
Tears in their eyes ...

There is a rose that I want to live for
Although God knows I may not have met her
There is a dance and I should be with her
There is a town unlike any other ...


Who gives you work and why should you do it ...

Fifty-five minutes past eleven ...

There is a rose ...

Fade out with refrain and chant:

Hup, two, three, four, I love the Marine Corp ...


New Holland Honeyeater

Was visited the other morning by one of these ... it flew into the jade trees by the front door and pretended to be seeking food until it was sure I had seen it. Then it flew away, only to return quite soon after for another look: the bird looking at me looking back at the bird looking ... Came and perched so close I could almost have reached out a hand to touch it, although I didn't try. I've only ever seen these in the wild before - in the Royal National Park to the south of the City, where they are common in the hilltop scrubland, and, less often, in the bush on the Hope Range behind Pearl Beach: so what was it doing here? With a chirp and a flirt it flew off into the medium sized gum that stands, flowering now, in front of this building and began probing the lemon-yellow sprays with its black shiny beak. I felt appropriately informed. Grateful for the encounter. And lighter too, as if the contemplation of a busy inquisitive bird might mean an increase of potential in the hollow bones of flight.


quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle/the wattle said

Driven half crazy today by my inability to solve a relatively simple writing problem - this can happen after a bad night's sleep, as last night's was - then fully crazy, first by a building inspector who wandered through the flat throwing his biro at the ceiling (apparently a test of structural integrity), then, again, by a prospective owner who seemed aggrievedly unable to comprehend why I didn't want her poking her nose into the bedroom she will probably throw me out of - I gave up and went for a walk. To the 'heritage suburb' of Haberfield, whose matronly or perhaps gentlemanly Federation houses stand in such contrast to the baroque curiosity of Summer Hill's higgledy terraces and piggledy apartment blocks ... apart from its cake shops and its library, I find Haberfield fairly uninteresting; but on the way there I walked under a flowering wattle tree and was transported, as always, back to early childhood.

In all the long time I've lived in Australia, it's always seemed both odd and oddly comforting that two such ubiquitous features of local flora and fauna - the wattle and the magpie - have the power to take me back to a remote mountain village in 1950s New Zealand ... but it is so. I can't remember where the wattles grew, only that they were not anywhere in our large and beautiful garden, of which I have near perfect recall. Out on Burns Street, running wild? Perhaps. Or in Miss Seth-Smith's extravagantly overgrown acre of hillside with the crumbling gothic mansion at the top? More likely. It is said to be unlucky to bring wattle flowers into the house; but I remember looking at the yellow pollen dust and fallen stamens from their puffball flowerets lying on tabletop or sideboard inside. While their scent, so dry and resonant and cheerful outside, drifted wanly to the walls.

The magpies were wild too, though not all of them. Two doors up from us lived two old brothers called Williams, who drove a Model T Ford and kept two magpies in a small apple box and wire netting cage by their letter box. For whatever reason? These poor birds had gone mad with confinement, and would peck viciously at anything, like a child's finger, that came close to the chicken wire they lived dankly behind. So of course we used to tempt them to do just that and sometimes got slashed. Up the back of the mansion was a cottage rented by a woman with two children - a solo mum we would say now - and she also kept a magpie, trained to call on the hour (I think it was four-thirty) her kids had to be back for tea. But mostly I remember the melodic carolling of the wild birds at dawn, at noon, at dusk, a strange, lost sound that still raises the hairs on my neck.

Magpies were not much liked in Ohakune; they were said to peck out the eyes of new born lambs. Wattle was disregarded when not viewed with outright superstition. We had our own native trees and birds, far superior in grace and subtlety and, well, nativity. But I love them both: the black and white parodic military strut of the maggie, the soft yellow down of the wattle; the operatic song of the one, the nostalgic scent of the other. They give me, in my irredeemably dual nature, a sense of being one, if not exactly with myself, then at least with my then and now. And, let's hope, with the whenever.


sun's going to shine in my back door someday

... well, it already does, but it's going to shine some more. Yesterday sitting out on the front step after returning from taking my sons on the train up the coast - always a melancholy ride back - I saw how the sun's coming this way again from its mid-winter pause in the north. That moment when you see the light gaining always comes with an involuntary surge of optimism. It was a clear blue afternoon and, just for an hour or so, warm enough to throw all the windows in the flat wide open to get the air moving through. I went back out later and saw how some kind of bulb - crocus or narcissus - is pushing up half a dozen green spears through the hard dirt between the slabs of bushrock by the door. And that, although the last pink frilly hibiscus bloom lies browning on the path, the first, also pink, flower on the azalea that grows next to it has opened. Later still I saw the new moon with the old moon in its arms, westering, and, halfway between crescent and horizon, Venus and Mercury side by side - the one blazing on the fading azure, the other an unwavering point of light. And, even later, Jupiter, which I've been tracking since its occultation a few weeks ago, also settling in the west. Was taken by a sense of the physical dimension of where we are: the sun just gone, the planets lined up between earth and sun or between earth and the wilder reaches of space, the moon, much closer, too. And remembered how for much of my adult life I sought just this sense of placement in the larger scheme of things. A sense not to be arrived at by analytical study nor obsessive observation but intuitively, the way we often know the hour of day or night. The way, perhaps, someone who lives a long time by the sea can tell without thinking what the tide, and thus the moon, is doing. A truly archaic sense. I can usually reckon the phases of the moon. I recall more or less where to look for the larger constellations and at what time of year they will be rising or setting. But the planets ... are hard to figure, especially in the light polluted skies of a big city. The understanding (standing under) comes and goes. But, when it comes, it's good ... throw your arms around me like a circle around the sun ...


Letter from the New World

My plight is as I've described it. So far, I have wept my own tears. Now let the skies pity me and the earth weep for me! Of worldly goods, I have not so much a mite for the offertory. Of spiritual comforts, here I am in the Indies, bereft as has been said. I am marooned amid this terrible sorrow; sick, waiting day by day for death; surrounded by a million savages, who seethe with cruelty and hostility towards us; and I am so cut off from the sacraments of holy Church, that my soul shall be forgotten if it leaves my body in this place. I implore the tears of all who love charity, truth and justice ...

Colón, stranded on Jamaica, c. 1504

from Fernández-Armesto, op cit
; who adds: He had, he says, been to within ten days' journey of the River Ganges; he had seen the gold-bridled horses of the Massagetes, who dwell near the Amazons; he had narrowly evaded bewitchment by their sorcerers; in Veragua he had discovered the mines of Solomon; now he would go on, not only to recover Jerusalem but also to convert the emperor of China to Christianity. He repeated his claim to have discovered the earthly Paradise ...


Letter to the New World

Our Lord knows how much anxiety I have suffered wondering how you are. So these problems, though I may seem to make heavy weather of them, have been far worse in reality: so much so that they made me weary of life because of the great trouble I knew you must be in, in which you should think of me as united with you. Because although, to be sure, I have been away over here, I left and keep my heart over there, without a thought for any other thing, constantly, as our Lord is my witness; nor do I believe you will have any doubt of it in your heart. For besides our ties of blood and great love, the effects of fortune and the nature of danger and hardship in places far removed embolden and oblige man's spirit and sense to endure any trouble that can be imagined - there or in any other place. It would be a thing of great advantage if this suffering were to be endured for a cause which redounded to the service of our Lord, for whom we ought to labour with a joyful mind. Nor would it be other than a help to remember that no great deed can be accomplished except with pain. Again, it is some consolation to believe that whatever is achieved laboriously is treasured and esteemed far sweeter for it. Much could be said to the purpose, but as this is not the first cause for which you have suffered or which I have seen, I shall wait to speak of it with more time to spare, and by word of mouth.

Cristóbal Colón, from Spain, to his brother Bartolmé Colón in Hispaniola, February (?), 1498

in Columbus, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, OUP, 1991



So ... last night I went to a theatre show at the Studio in the Opera House. Took the train to Circular Quay, leaving in plenty of time because of the notorious unreliability of Sydney Rail ... though I have to say I've only rarely had problems. Consequence was, I got to the Quay about seven fifteen and wasn't due to pick up my ticket until eight. I decided to go looking for a café called Bar Luca I've passed while driving. Because of the name. Wasn't sure exactly where it is but I didn't mind that - there's something about walking the streets I drive so often down, seeing up close and personal the places I flash past chasing dollars. I couldn't find the bar, probably it was already closed, since I think it's an early opener. Not really my kind of place anyway, it's usually full of suits. Coming back down the hill I was amused to find that I'd picked up Lenny's Lawyer (see dérives) outside the Justice and Police Musuem, as if he were some kind of escaped exhibit. I continued up Albert Street, turned into Macquarie and there across the road was an assemblage of stones I'd never noticed before. On a soft green rise on the fringes of the Botanic Gardens are strewn maybe a hundred pieces of intricately - or not so intricately - carved pieces of Hawkesbury sandstone. They have been placed, set into the earth, but not in any arrangement I could discern. In fact they seemed deliberately left in such a way as to suggest no arrangement at all, if that isn't a contradiction. Pieces of a building, or buildings, including a couple of beautifully smooth domes like those that used to grace the old Pyrmont Bridge. I recalled my time at the Caledonian Hotel, a squat on the Point, where I used sometimes to go and sit among the pieces of the disassembled Pyrmont Bridge and look out over the Container Port and the CSR Sugar Refinery hissing and screeching across the dark water. Couple of pieces had the date 1924 inscribed on them and one of these also carried the rubric: YWCA. Is this what is gathered here? Bits of the old Y? I passed on, calling briefly into a gallery to look again at a wonderful Roualt print they have for sale (only six grand!) then on to the show. Which was ... well, what was it? A black light puppet show utilising a range of really very well made and operated puppets, written, produced and directed by an ensemble of young people who call themselves Shh. No dialogue, no spoken word at all, but a sophisticated musical/fx soundtrack precisely cued to the visuals. I know one of the directors, Mischa Baka, quite well, have known him for about ten years now, watching him grow into a confident, proficient and always surprising film maker; but I hadn't seen any of his theatre work before. He's been teamed up for a while now with a Polish born livewire called Michal Imieski, an extrovert to Mischa's introvert. The woman who intro-ed the show emphasised it was made up of fragments, that there was no master narrative ... leading obsessives like me to go looking for one throughout the hour's performance. The event began with seven oblong light boxes on the stage, each showing an outline of a human body. When the lights went down, these were turned to show body parts on another face; then removed. A pile of something lying on the floor resurrected as a life-sized, though very skinny, marrionette which danced a kind of skeleton dance, like a superannuated Pierrot. The theme of body parts continued throughout, as did the ensemble's predeliction for attenuated, ghostly marionettes. Two human figures, a Man and a Woman, passed at intervals, the woman evidently lost, the man a picker-up of fragments of bodies (or anything else) that had fallen on the stage. One sequence, where a man in red danced with one of those white, attenuated marionettes strapped to his front, took my breath away: until her arm fell off I hadn't realised it wasn't another human he was guiding through the moves. Another spectacular set piece was a dance of glowing masks, like death masks illuminated within by red-yellow lights. There was more ... but did it cohere? Well, no. It was more a showcase of talents and tricks than an actual theatre work. That's fine - one of the points of the evening was, precisely, to showcase their work for funding bodies, theatre schools, arts bureaucrats in the audience and in this I believe they were entirely successful. These guys showed they could do anything once they know better what they want to do. As of now, they deserve the room to explore what that could be without the pressure of any commercial (or narrative!) imperative bearing in on them. The finale, beautifully conceived though somewhat clumsily executed, showed the extent of their ambition. The Woman and the Man come downstage with their suitcases, which they open. Out come two light puppets, a large female figure and a smaller male, both irresistibly recalling, to me at least, Hans Bellmer's poupées. In the sequence that follows, during which you watch both puppeteers work and puppets play, the male puppet fails to seduce the female puppet, who in turn successfully seduces the male puppeteer and leads away him into the wings. With her ghostly human counterpart guiding them both ... leaving the male puppet lying there glowing centre stage, a bereft homunculus.


visible mysteries

Te Hikioi was also the name of a newspaper published by the Maori King Movement in the Waikato during the lead up to the invasion of that part of the North Island of New Zealand by British Imperial forces and Colonial Militia in the early 1860s. It ran from June, 1862 until May, 1863 and I seem to remember reading somewhere that the lead type used to set the print was then melted down and made into bullets. A rival newspaper called Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke (The sparrow that sits alone) was set up in opposition to Te Hikioi, putting the government point of view, but it only lasted for four issues (Feb-March, 1863) before the press was captured by Kingites, broken up and the pieces returned north. The Tainui Tribal Federation of the Waikato resumed publishing a paper called Te Hikioi in the early years of this century. One source describes te hikioi as a bird of ill omen but it seems more likely it was understood as a powerful, even totemic force, ominous only to those who opposed it. There are even those who think that Sindbad's Roc is a memory of te hikioi.

There was, and is, another legendary bird known to the Tainui, the Korotangi or crying dove. This bird, carved out of green serpentine which has been sourced to the island of Sulawesi, was discovered under the roots of a tree on the west coast of the North Island, near the site of the landfall of the Tainui canoe to which the Waikato tribes trace their origin. Some say the Korotangi came on the Tainui; others suggest it was brought ashore with some prehistoric wreck on that wild shore. Like the Tamil Bell, which is inscribed with characters from that language, the Korotangi seems to hark back to an era of pre Anglo-Dutch voyaging to those parts. Portuguese ships out of Malacca were crewed by all sorts of sailors, including Tamils and, perhaps, Bugis from Sulawesi. It is not impossible that native craft from Indonesia were blown across the Tasman from an Australian shore, as one of Cristoval de Mendonça's caravels may have been in the 1520s. The persistence of a red-haired, pale-skinned type (urukehu) among Maori has been ascribed to the survival ashore of Iberian sailors ... and so on.

Both the Korotangi and the Tamil Bell are held in Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Museum, in Wellington; with the so-called Spanish Helmet, dredged up in Wellington harbour, they make a triumvirate of visible mysteries to trouble the Aotearoan historical imagination.



This bird, the Hokioi, was seen by our ancestors. We (of the present day) have not seen it - that bird has disappeared now-a-days. The statement of our ancestors was that it was a powerful bird, a very powerful bird. It was a very large hawk. Its resting place was on the top of mountains; it did not rest on the plains. On the days in which it was on the wing our ancestors saw it; it was not seen every day as its abiding place was on the mountains. Its colour was red and black and white. It was a bird of (black) feathers, tinged with yellow and green; it had a bunch of red feathers on top of its head. It was a large bird, as large as a Moa. Its rival was the Hawk. The Hawk said it could reach the heavens; the Hokioi said it could reach the heavens; there was contention between them. The Hokioi said to the Hawk, "What shall be your sign?" The Hawk replied, "Kei" (the peculiar cry of the hawk). Then the Hawk asked, "What is to be your sign?" The Hokioi replied, "Hokioi-hokioi-hu-u." These were their words. They then flew and approached the heavens. The winds and the clouds came. The Hawk called out "Kei" and descended, it could go no further on account of the winds and the clouds, but the Hokioi disappeared into the heavens. "Kei" is the cry of the Hawk. "Hokioi-hokioi" is the cry of the Hokioi. "Hu-u" is the noise caused by the wings of the Hokioi. It was recognized by the noise of its wings when it descends to earth.

Description of the extinct gigantic bird of prey Hokioi, by a Maori; communicated to Sir G. Grey; Wellington Philosophical Society, 23rd October, 1872. The side illustration shows the Hikioi's claw beside that of its near relative, the Australian Little Eagle


Nine Views of Gotham City

Saturday ... was sunny and blue this morning after a week of rain but now has gone sullen and grey again. Talking to a friend on the phone last night I learned that today was the last day of Tom Carment's latest show over in Danks Street, Waterloo. I haven't missed a show of Tom's for quite a few years now so I'm glad to have got to this one too. He used to exhibit in dealer galleries but now he hires the space himself and hosts it too, so I figured he'd be there today - and he was, along with his partner Jan. Dunno where their kids were, apart from in the portraits on the walls. I wrote three books in a small writing room under Tom and Jan's kitchen where they still live in Womerah Lane, Darlinghurst, in the 1990s. I remember the dust that used to fall across the keyboard of my Amstrad as someone crossed the floor above, the sound of the Playschool theme coming from the television when their eldest boy, Felix, came home in the afternoon, long happy conversations with Tom about books and painting. He had a studio next to my room for a while but he was more likely to be found writing than painting in it - he's always painted en plein air and still does. He told me today, with a characteristic glint of slightly mad enthusiasm in his eye, that he now carries his watercolour pad and paints with him everywhere. In contradistinction to the grandiosity that has afflicted much painting in recent years, Tom's work has stayed small. I find that somehow estimable. Sometimes I think there is more going on in one of his sea or landscapes, his portraits of people or buildings, than in any number of more impressively sized works. Tom's work registers detail nervously as it occurs in front of him. Though not old fashioned, he's a traditionalist and you can see in his work passages of paint that are reminiscent of Australian painters like Arthur Streeton or Fred Williams, as well as more obscure names. These homages, if that's what they are, are accomplished effortlessly, gracefully, they come simply out of Tom's long practice as a painter and his lifetime of looking at both his subjects and the work of his fellows. I enjoyed all the work on show today but my favourites were probably the portraits of Sydney buildings like the nine panels of Adereham Hall, better known as Gotham City, in Elizabeth Bay or the various versions of an unrenovated boarding house in Moore Park.

... for some reason blogger won't link this post to Tom's website so if you want to see what his work looks like, go to: