Posts by Paul Millar

  • Hard News: The climate changed,

    Pacific peoples who culturally define themselves through their land, are already beginning to lose that land.

    A few weeks ago I was in Fiji with a colleague, running a workshop at Creating Futures, a conference on Pasifika mental health issues. Our workshop was on post-disaster cultural heritage archiving and communication, off the back of our experiences of developing the earthquake archive CEISMIC. There were about 50 mental health professionals there, from nine Pacific nations. We began by defining what would represent disaster for their people, and with the exception of tsunamis, the concerns for the Pacific nations delegates were all climate-change related. What struck me forcefully, was the clear-eyed way they faced the inexorable reality of what was coming towards them. For everyone it was a case of when: when seawater inundates their arable land and destroys sources of fresh water; when desertification prevents farming; and when the next category 5 cyclone causes even more damage. The stories from the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati were particularly harrowing. Among the solutions being developed was buying up parcels of land on other islands in order to have a bolt hole. Whatever we achieve by 2050 will be too late for these lowest emitting, most affected victims of the damage we have wrought on the planet. Moral responsibility for our Pasifika neighbours involving more than just supplying bolt holes—language, society and culture needs to be saved also.

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Spread the Noise,

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Spread the Noise,

    Thanks Russell. I recall Media 7's presence at the UC CEISMIC launch well, and I greatly appreciate your ongoing support. Andrew Holden and Fairfax Media more than delivered. The archive will soon contain print quality pdfs of every page of every edition of The Press since 4 September 2010 along with thousands of images, published and unpublished. We're aiming to have 100,000 digital objects accessible through ceismic.org.nz by the end of the year. Among the other fascinating collections are the NZHPT archological reports on demolished buildings (see, for example, the report on the kilns discovered under the Smith's City car park at 550 Colombo St and then re-buried https://quakestudies.canterbury.ac.nz/store/object/750?id=17028&view=media) and also the extremely moving narratives in the Women's Voices oral history project (https://quakestudies.canterbury.ac.nz/store/collection/228). If anyone reading this knows of earthquake-related digital collections, UC CEISMIC would welcome hearing about them. Everything we collect is made freely and publicly available for commemoration, teaching and research.

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Spread the Noise,

    wendyf, I know just how you feel. Parts of the Sept quake are still vivid--I can recall the freight train roaring through the house, and then shivering under the stars, barefoot on the frosty lawn waiting for the first shocks to stop. What is harder to recall (sadly) is the optimism and community spirit of those first weeks. 22 February and the relentless grind since has overwritten all that. I experienced the shallow-breathing you mention when I looked at the latest archive we've just finished prepared to go into the CEISMIC earthquake archive. It is every edition of The Press between 4 Sept 2010 and 22 Feb 2012 and some of it is very poignant. The 11/12 sept 'Tribute Edition' will have you smiling and crying. The collection is at https://quakestudies.canterbury.ac.nz/store/collection/158

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The best blogger there never was,

    Hi Christopher and Sam,

    It's true that successfully completing a PhD usually involves pushing through a sort of pain barrier to get the writing finished--certainly there's as much perspiration as inspiration involved. There's also the fact that by the end one has lost almost all objectivity about the thesis and it's hard to know whether it's original or pedestrian (never mind the fear that a month before you submit, someone else will come out with a book saying everything you have, only better).

    As for the Bill Pearson biography (which wasn't related to my PhD on James K. Baxter), it took about eight years from beginning to end (sorry if I put you wrong there Christopher). I'd known Bill for 12 years, but it was only in the final months of his life in 2002, when he was terminally ill, that we began to work on the book. It went in fits and starts for a while, having to be fitted in around teaching and various other writing projects. I had an intense few months interviewing Bill and corresponding with him before he died. Then a long period of travel, interviews and time in libraries and archives and, when all had been collected, a heavy few months spent writing. And, yes, I'd say the bulk of it was written in 6-8 months last year, with a lot done on Saturdays as I was also working full-time as an academic (and here I must thank colleagues at Canterbury who took on extra workload to help me finish).

    Perhaps the hardest thing to discover when I finished, was the extent to which I hadn't finished. My first draft was close to 250,000 words long (notes included) and AUP had set a maximum of 150,000 words. In the end I think we compromised and I cut about 60,000 words out, which felt almost as hard as writing them (although to be honest it was my partner Kay who did most of the cutting--she turned out to be a copy editor extraordinaire).

    And then there was the inevitable uncertainty about how the biography would be received, as it was written as a social history as much as a biography, with Pearson as a type of lens focusing on particular aspects of 20th century New Zealand life and experience, and I wasn't certain how that would come across. In that regard I've been very fortunate as responses have been almost uniformly positive (thanks Sam!). I've discovered what other writers have often told me, that some of the greatest reward is not so much the positive reviews as the unsolicited correspondence and conversations with people who took the time and made the effort to get hold of the book, read it and express an opinion.

    By the way, I'm currently working on the biography of Charles Brasch, so if you or anyone you know has connections to Brasch I'd be pleased to hear from them.

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The best blogger there never was,

    I don't disagree with you about Fairburn as a blogger. He had a muscular viewpoint, a distinctive aesthetic consciousness and the ability to argue his own corner.

    I can also think of a few others who might have lit up the interwebs.

    Robyn Hyde, for example, could have been brilliant. She had strong opinions, she never shied from a fight, and she'd already had to develop a series of defences working in the male-dominated world of journalism. Her newspaper columns were models of concise writing and would have translated well to this medium.

    John A. Lee is another. Imagine letting him loose on the modern financial crisis with the same fire in his belly that he had when he wrote Children of the Poor:

    The gutter is not of Paris, of London, of New York, alone. The social gutter is of every clime and race, of village as well as of town, of the New World as of the Old. There is a broad, deep gutter in British Overseas Dominions. The Southern Cross witnesses poverty no less cruel than Northern stars and constellations, although, until recently, more exceptional. At the moment, the overseas Dominions starve to pay John Bull, the modern Shylock, his pound of interest, and to worship that God of chaos called Deflation.

    I also think Denis Glover woulds have been a brilliant satirical blogger.

    And, last but not least, I think the opportunity to blog would have been an irresistable lure to James K. Baxter. I've read a lot of Baxter's unpublished correspondence, and his casual epistolary voice would translate perfectly to the blogosphere. He was also capable of sustaining the sort of phenomenal output a successful blogger needs to achieve, in part because he didn't usually sleep much. Add to that the fact that he enjoyed a good verbal stoush, his conversation often took the form of a monologue, and he would certainly have welcomed the chance for unmediated communication with his fellow New Zealanders, and Baxter seems to me to have been ready-made blogging material.

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Great New Zealand Argument: No Fretful Sleeper,

    You were a Grey Main lad too?

    I guess the legendary leg-slapping Miss Ellie Moore was gone by the time you got there. She features in Pearson's story 'Sins of the Fathers'.

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Great New Zealand Argument: No Fretful Sleeper,

    On the Christchurch-Auckland culture shock, one of the many notable lines I noticed in “Fretful Sleepers” is –

    It is possible for a South Islander in Auckland to feel uprooted in the indifference and hostility of the people.

    And I wonder whether this was Bill Pearson expressing a totally genuine view relative to (?his) societal expectations of 1952, or perhaps a disingenuous one intentionally ironic.

    ChrisW, sorry, I meant to respond to this in my previous post. This was a genuine view, based on a bad few months Pearson spent in Auckland in 1946 following his return from the war. He was in Auckland for a teachers' refresher course, during which time he fell in love with a straight man who rejected him and left him very bitter. He retained a jaundiced view of Auckland for some time, and this is what he's expressing writing from London. It's worth also noting, however, that when it came to returning to NZ in 1954, he was happier going to Auckland because it would create a greater separation between himself and any (particularly female) family members likely to speculate upon the reasons for his lengthening bachelorhood. I believe he grew to be very happy with his Auckland life.

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Great New Zealand Argument: No Fretful Sleeper,

    welcome to Christchurch. I presume you're at UoC? If so, I pop into the English building most days.

    I am at UoC David, based in the English building. Thanks for the welcome. I'll look forward to catching up.

    "Hi Paul" from another UoC inmate. Recently enjoyed the Baxter doco I think you wrote :)

    Thanks for the welcome also Rob. The Baxter documentary, "Road to Jerusalem," was co-written with Bruce Morrison. I supplied a text more than a script (way too long for one thing) and Bruce turned it into something filmable. It was done a while ago now, but I'm still pleased whenever I see it, because research I've done since then bears out the central thesis (proposed by Jacquie Baxter) that Baxter's Indian experiences led to Jerusalem.

    As for the school zones thing, it may be that we are experiencing it more intensely because our oldest has just started high school.

    Christchurch's school zone obsession sounds just like Edinburgh's, which is curious with ChCh being an 'English' colony.

    Probably not so curious Peter, I think it's universal. Parents everywhere want to do everything they can to give their children the best start (whatever that may be). I'm coming to the conclusion that one thing the school zone obssession often reflects is a high level of parental insecurity about their own education and what they can or should be doing to get their child ahead in life. As I see it, the vast majority of NZ secondary schools provide an excellent education and, as any educationalist will tell you, high decile schools can have bad teachers as much as lower-decile schools can have fantastic teachers, and that often the real improver is the degree of parental involvement in the child's learning. As a parent, I'd rather my child was thriving, happy and intellectually engaged at a lower decile school, than one of the neglected also-rans in a school that places most value on its high achievers so it can shin up the league tables.

    I probably also don't believe in it because I attended nine different schools growing up in Africa and New Zealand, the longest period being three years at Wellington College, and I don't differentiate much between any of them. I probably prospered more from my year at lower-socio-economic Te Aro school than I did from my three years at tradition-bound Wellington College. Of course in my day at WC bullying was a regular occurence, the cane and strap were applied liberally and sadistically, one senior teacher behaved in sexually dubious ways with members of my class, and conformity was enforced through ridicule and spectacle. I'm sure it's a vastly different school now, and I've heard excellent things about it, but I have no great nostalgia for my years there and don't feel I owe them any particular debt for the things I've achieved as an academic.

    Getting back to the original topic, I think Bill Pearson had a much, much happier time at school than I did. Greymouth Technical High School gave him some of the best times of his life and that's why he asked that some of his ashes be sprinkled there. I heard recently that the school may be considering a permanent memorial to him. I hope that's the case.

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Great New Zealand Argument: No Fretful Sleeper,

    I'm pleased my revised introduction to 'Fretful Sleepers' has generated such an interesting discussion. It's completely appropriate Noel Hilliard should get a mention. He and Bill Pearson were very close for a number of years and I drew heavily on their correspondence for the early-60s chapters of 'No Fretful Sleeper'. Both men believed that literature could and should have a higher social and political function, and each put that belief into practice in whatever they wrote. I think of Hilliard as one of our great forgotten writers, and I'm looking forward to the biography that Gerry Evans is currently writing. In a bigger country Hilliard (along with David Ballantyne, Rod Finlayson and a host of others) would still be fully in print and celebrated. Sadly, with our small print runs and limited readership such isn't the case. Still, I have an honours student writing on 'Maori Girl' this semester, and another has just completed a study of the first twenty volumes of Landfall...so it isn't all forgotten. Speaking of 'Maori Girl', I recall Jacquie Baxter telling me that it had the greatest impact upon her of any book from that era.

    David Haywood, thanks for your kind words. As one who recently moved to Christchurch I enjoyed your story 'The Funeral.' I love almost everything about living here, but the 'old school tie' fixation leaves me cold. Never before have I lived in a city where so many adults who should know better judge children by the school zone they live in.

    Since Jul 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply