Hard News by Russell Brown

156

We'll find out where all the parties are

Only hours after The Press in Christchurch ran this hysterical, petulant story in pursuit of alleged Chinese cheats at South Island tertiary institutions, the paper had a more serious youth story on its hands.

Two kids dead, more injured and so many traumatised after a party for which the fateful text-message invitation signed off "no Asians, no gangsters". I know there is no connection, but the two stories sit strangely next to each other.

Inevitably, media attention has fallen on text messaging which, it cannot be denied, is a powerful new means to scale. The party in Edgeware Road couldn't have pulled 600 people - supposedly from as far afield as Ashburton and Timaru - without texting and Bebo. And, by the account of the hosts, it was never meant to.

But big, all-in parties are not new - and they're especially not new in Christchurch. When I was a teenager there we'd share addresses at the front bar of the Gladstone, after the band had played, and head off in search; a pursuit encapsulated in Mainly Spaniards' 'That's What Friends are For', a tune too innocent for what happened on Saturday night:

We'll find out where all the parties are
We'll go outside and we'll sit in the car

My Mum would say, "But you don't know these people whose parties you're going to?" Of course not Mum. Don't be silly.

Sometimes there'd be a kind of motiveless, frontier violence. We turned up one night at a party in New Brighton, got warned off by someone leaving the place, walked down the beach and suddenly had to leg it from unknown assailants. Another time, the local white-trash gang turned up at a bonfire party at Maclean's Island: my mate's car got tipped over (okay, it was a Fiat Bambina); a full beer bottle crashed through the rear windscreen of another car as we fled.

Then there was the night we didn't even get 50 metres from the Gladstone before some goons with axe-handles broke every window but one in our car, with axe handles and a baseball bat. That one ended up in court: we talked to the guys who'd done it and they were like, no hard feelings, eh? Even to kids from the northwestern suburbs, these things happened.

First-hand reports suggest that trouble was starting to spill in Edgeware Road before the carnage: there has been talk of fist-fights, even a stabbing. Eyewitnesses say the murderous driver ran from a brawl with skinheads to his car.

It sounds like a pretty uncontrolled environment for your 15 year-old daughter to be out amongst. But parts of the Christchurch CBD seemed pretty wild the last time I was there on a Saturday night.

In the end, two girls didn't die because there was texting or a party, or because of the drinking age. They died because a 22 year-old man, in the grip of whatever murderous, callous thing was in his head, revved his car to screaming pitch and drove it into a crowd of people he never knew. Whatever anyone says this week - and Paul Henry needs to realise that Close Up isn't talkback radio - that will be the truth.

So let's not demonise the kids. I'm sure some of them are really hurting as it is.

On another topic, the warmest congratulations are due to Idiot/Savant of No Right Turn, whose campaign on the sedition law presumably isn't the whole reason it is to be wiped from the statutes, but wasn't inconsequential either. He says, next stop: blasphemous libel.

The New York Times has a somewhat bizarre story about a philosophical split in the conservative movement over evolution, and PZ Myers catches the dreadful Dinesh D'Souza embracing evolution by redefining it.

And, finally, I got the hat trick (it sounds so much classier than "threepeat") at the Magazine Publishers' Association Awards on Friday: Best Business Columnist for the third year in a row. So I didn't jinx myself by actually going this time. I had a good yarn with Joe Bennett and, as the night wound on, I wasn't the only one appalled by the near-illiteracy of the text that displayed the nominees and winners on screen. If you're going to give someone an award for journalism, you should spell their damn name correctly.

But a word for the man who was made a life member of the MPA on the night: Warwick Roger, who was sadly too ill to attend. Roger's personality has brought him into conflict with a few of us over the years, but I don't think anyone in the room could have missed the significance of the historical Metro covers that passed across the big screens as the award was made. They spoke of real stories, stories that captured a time and place and, not least, stories that took both insight and courage. He has made a difference.

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