Great New Zealand Argument by Various Artists

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Great New Zealand Argument: No Fretful Sleeper

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  • David Haywood,

    Lovely work, Paul!

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 971 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW,

    Well, I for two am interested ...

    I was pleased to find Bill Pearson's essay "Fretful Sleepers" on PA last year - one of those many things heard of and recommended but unread until then. Now it's good to find out more detailed context of its writing and publication, and to re-read it.

    I'm especially interested in how things were in NZ and the world at the time of my birth, so it seems significant to me how much I overlap with "Fretful Sleepers" - I was conceived midway between its first drafting and the revised final manuscript, and born two months before its September 1952 publication in Landfall. Indeed from the detail here I can imagine that if it weren't for Frank Sargeson's novella "I for one" pre-empting the June issue of Landfall, then my father might have bought a fresh copy from one of the news-stands of Kaitaia for my mother to read “Fretful Sleepers” aloud to me as she waited out the compulsory bed-rest in the maternity hospital.

    Perhaps not, but 11 years later Mum was pleased when dropping in to see her friend (and my Standard 3 teacher) Noel Hilliard to meet Bill Pearson who by chance was visiting his literary friend in the wilds of hydro construction town Mangakino, around the time "Coal Flat" was finally published. And her copy of said Coal Flat remains appreciated on her bookshelves today. Must read it myself ...

    But really, the insightful description of the New Zealand society I was born into is fascinating and revealing. I may be biased but it seems to capture a moment in time just before so much rapid change kicked in. His then-present is strongly linked in with the recent and further past, to a lesser extent he sees the trends and pressures foreshadowing a future. And that future was my childhood, adolescence, early and later adulthood - things changed, but still I can follow his themes and observations through that later history to now, with varying persistence and degrees of relevance remaining.

    The closet gay is not me, but for him - that amplification of his isolation as an intellectual misfit in NZ while needing to be here close to his roots - that resonates. But not so resoundingly I imagine for the youth of today in the NZ of today after the more recent decades of change.

    So thanks Paul Millar for bringing Bill Pearson's "Fretful Sleepers" to attention and for the additional insight into its parentage, gestation and birth.

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 820 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Wow, Noel Hilliard was your teacher! The first two Netta Samuel books were probably my earliest introduction to adult NZ fiction, discovered when I was a young teenager. I was very surprised to later discover Noel was not himself female.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2030 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    But really, the insightful description of the New Zealand society I was born into is fascinating and revealing. I may be biased but it seems to capture a moment in time just before so much rapid change kicked in.

    One of my particular (lay) interests is predictions and premonitions of change in New Zealand letters. That definitely animated Great New Zealand Argument.

    My favourite book in that respect -- quoted in the introductory essay of GNZA -- is British Liberal MP David Goldblatt's Democracy at Ease: A New Zealand Profile, written in the 1950s. It has a lovely turn of phrase about the "divine discontent" that eventually will see New Zealand come of age.

    The closet gay is not me, but for him - that amplification of his isolation as an intellectual misfit in NZ while needing to be here close to his roots - that resonates.

    The archive Frank Sargeson piece in the Metro magazine out on Monday is fascinating in that respect. It speaks of "a young man who comes into my bach" and who pursues "the Beautiful Life". We can read the code now ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18709 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    ChrisW - double wow! with Hilary-

    I loved Noel's "Maori Girl" (I read it in 1963) - some of the social jousts it describes echoed experiences of the browner members of my whanau. I have it, and "A Night At Green River" (which was sooo good) and "Send Somebody Nice" - must get them out of storage (half my library and, indeed, half my life seems to be in storage at the moment) and reread...

    I was born in the same month & year as "Landfall" and while I regret the passing of some things, I am extremely bloody glad that other matters have significantly changed - kia ora tatou!

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW,

    That was an auspicious birth sign too then Islander!

    Noel Hilliard was my best and most memorable teacher at primary school, 2/3rds of my Std 1 year as well. In Std 3 he covered a huge range of curriculum material well but still had time to read to us, about half an hour a day, an exciting fantasy adventure called "Lord of the Rings" by an obscure Oxford don. On the last day of the school year he still had about 200 pages to go, so we did the big clean-up and ritual stacking of the desks and chairs as fast as we could, then sat spellbound on those hard floormats as he gave us an extended precis of the rest seemingly off the cuff, reading a few highlight passages, till hometime about 2 hours later.

    He encouraged Hone Tuwhare (a construction worker there at the time) in his writing, brought him along to talk to our class and read some poems - pretty good too. And Pine Taiapa - greatest carver of his generation - gave us a demo, much timber was chiselled for awhile thereafter.

    All in all an inspiring teacher - but he left teaching not too long thereafter for a living as Listener sub-editor with his own writing on the side.

    Sorry to divert from Bill Pearson so soon in the thread - great to see on 3News tonight some coal shovelling in honour of the centennial of the Formerly Hilton Hotel at Blackball aka "Coal Flat".

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 820 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Excellent recollections ChrisW!
    Jane Fulford (one of the more illustrous alumni of Aranui High School) & I were in the same class - and it was she, of course, who made "Formerly The Blackball Hilton" (and her brother who makes ANZ's best salami.)
    I once was a card-carrying journalist (with the -then- "Greymouth Evening Star") and I got very intrigued with Blackball & Bill Pearson. Mentioned this to the sub-editor who said, "Jeez, forgeddit, the bloke's an arsegroper."
    Wrote the comment down because it was the first time I'd heard either
    matter...

    Once had a section in Blackball: bought it for $40, sold it for $140 5 years later. The story of the Coast...)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    I inherited an almost complete run of Landfall, 1947 to 1997. Lovely to dip into, and occasionally I find a poem of my mother's. Just checked on the first issue from 1947 and it's obviously been much read over the years, as it is now coverless and a bit tatty. Islander, I'm sure you're better condition.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2030 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Dunno Hilary- hidebound I aint, and wasted I can be - but I am open & never been tatty-

    now, just off on a mission to find your mother & her poetry- arohanui n/n Keri

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Millar,

    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 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    We never paid attention to her poetry, but after she died we realised she had been published occasionally since the late 1930s, totally unappreciated by her family. There is a clutch of them in Landfall around 1979-1980 and others scattered over the decades. After she died, we published a book, Green Tea, of what we liked most.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2030 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Paul Millar wrote:

    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.

    Yes, it's astonishing! I've overheard conversations that seem to consist of nothing but school decile numbers.

    At any rate, welcome to Christchurch. I presume you're at UoC? If so, I pop into the English building most days. Should you ever feel in need of a chat about culture shock then drop me a line here.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 971 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I've overheard conversations that seem to consist of nothing but school decile numbers.

    I was asked by an Aucklander what high school we were planning for our oldest child when he was two. That puzzled me some.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7351 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW,

    (Acknowledge my early exit from conversation last night for reasons involving short but sound sleep in confident expectation of Germany reaching its full quota of goals)

    I’m pleased to hear from several sources of Noel Hilliard’s writing being so highly regarded then and now – for some reason I retain a sense of pride in him as if I own a little of his reflected mana. Hmm, I think it’s more that they are nice affirmations of my sense of obligation to retain a loyalty to him in appreciation of his teaching and influence on me.

    I haven’t read any since “Night at Green River” was newly published (1969), a good one, but especially enjoyed the short stories of “A Piece of Land” (good for the youthful attention span). And within that collection, I remember specifically the thrill of recognising in “Erua” the places and people where we lived, how accurately they were evoked in few words, like the boy taking refuge sitting in the rather rugged toilet block I knew well out the back of the long line of pre-fab classrooms.

    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.

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 820 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I guess I don't get out much, 'cos the Chch schooling conversations seem a little over-egged. I suspect it matters a lot to a fairly small proportion of inhabitants.
    And "Hi Paul" from another UoC inmate. Recently enjoyed the Baxter doco I think you wrote :)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1468 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Ashby,

    @Paul Millar

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

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Peter A- CHCH's school zone obsession is real, continuing, and been around since, o, 1850? Think Wakefield settlement plan, and nothing to do with Edinburgh-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Rob Stowell - try growing up in the place-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I did :) (At least close by)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1468 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Millar,

    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 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Millar,

    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 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    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

    He also went to Greymouth Main -- as did I, some time later.

    They were great years for me, but I always felt that leaving town before high school was good timing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18709 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Millar,

    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 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW,

    Thanks Paul - it says something of NZ that Bill Pearson in 1951/52, while enjoying the anonymity of London, thought

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

    to be a worthwhile observation, something new perhaps that his New Zealand readers would not think obvious. Even though he was sensitive to the perceptions of an outsider, he seems to imply (among the Pakehas of his assumed readership at least) that it would be unlikely for an Aucklander to feel similarly in say Greymouth, or a small-town North Islander in Christchurch, at that time. That seems surprising!

    I thought it might instead be a knowing reference to a reputation of the big smoke of the north already well established, cf. "It is possible for a Christchurch lad in New York to feel uprooted in the indifference and hostility of the people."

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 820 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    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'.

    She must have departed by then.

    But I was taught by the ancient Ces Murley, who may well have crossed over with Pearson -- he came out of retirement to cover a teacher shortage.

    I thought Mr Murley was a severe old bugger, and he thought I was too damn clever for my own good, and said so in my school report. (I think it was the time when he informed the class that there was only one word that broke the "i before e, except after c" rule, and that was "seige" -- and I piped with with "what about 'protein?'")

    OTOH, he did teach me nearly all the formal grammar I know, and I'm not sure if anyone else would have. So I may have learned grammar from the same teacher as Bill Pearson!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18709 posts Report Reply

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