Random Play by Graham Reid

Life in other countries

It’s been a while since I last posted here because for the past few weeks I’ve been in other countries. The first was the West Coast of the South Island, a place I had only ever had a passing skirmish with. (Two days in Greymouth under sodden skies from which I fled, leaving from the railway station where -- eerily -- the clock had no hands).

I have rarely had occasion to go to the South Island -- I have never had work there, have only few people I know down that way and so on -- and yet on those few trips I have made I’ve come way with one impression: it really is another country.

This time we had two leisurely weeks (for some of it sort of “on assignment” as it were) and so after Nelson -- we caught the great outdoor Saturday market where we bought homemade pickles, a tasty liqueur called Nymphs Kiss, and so on (Hey good burgers of Auckland, why don’t we have an interesting market like this in Aotea Square rather than some of the junk stuff being sold?) -- we pointed the rental to the West Coast.

And for about 10 days we stayed in small towns (Ross! Brilliant old pub), in some luxury accommodation (sigh, the “assignment”) and generally poked around in museums and the like, just drifting to wherever took our fancy.

It was wonderful and the people were, without exception, friendly, helpful and even seemed glad to see us -- this despite me being a] from Auckland and b] a journalist.

One guy in the Blackball Workingmen’s Club sort of snorted when I mention the “A” word, but I got the impression that was out of sympathy rather than derisory.

We flew in a chopper to the top of the Fox Glacier, ate whitebait fritters (nope, I still don’t get it. It’s a just a slightly fishy omelette. Right?), went to beautiful Okarito where Keri Hulme and a million sandflies live, took more photos of stunning landscapes than I could begin to count, drove up to Denniston and tried to taste some of the history of that coal-dust despair, and stayed with Mary at her lovely olde worlde English b’n’b in Greymouth.

We breathed fresh air and walked in silent native forests, had picnics by deserted lakes and took even more photos.

Sorry to bore you with this if the Coast is your home or familiar territory, but for me it was like being a tourist in my own country. An eye-opener.

Of course we came back to rain in Auckland, a traffic jam on the way back from the airport ($65 rather than the usual $45 taxi fare), our leaky building being still wrapped in tarps and crawled over by builders with saws and sledgehammers, and a literal leak which exploded and destroyed the ceiling of the garage on the Saturday night.

We just wanted to be southbound again.

But then I went to another country.

For a project I am working on I went to Auckland Uni to look through old copies of Craccum from the late 60s and early 70s. By coincidence I’d also picked up a $9.99 three-CD compilation of rare and oddball 60s songs from a dump-bin at the local Warehouse and so seemed to spending a large part of last week living in the past, which as we all know is another country.

While at the Uni to thumb through yellowed newsprint pages I also picked up the current Craccum, a glossy affair which seemed to have an almost unnatural amount of satirical and humorous writing among the usual student pre-occupations (booze reviews, in this case cocktails which seemed very suave), elections for various offices, and some record reviews. (Why would anyone want to review Queen II and Radiohead’s The Bends however? And was Freddie Mercury really an “HIV/Aids martyr“?)

What was strikingly different between these mags was the paucity of political comment in the comparison with the Craccums of 1968-72. Those were volatile years to be sure and there was the emergent opposition to the war in Vietnam, the women’s movement, the abortion debate, apartheid discussions, and New Zealand’s relationship with the United States.

But it’s not like nothing is happening right now either.

This piqued my interest because one of the pieces I have turned up in this research is an editorial in the Auckland Star from 1968 in which the writer noted that internationally students were protesting about all kinds of things, but in New Zealand they were mostly silent. The student of today would be the Jaycee of tomorrow, was the comment.

Of course this was very early in 68 -- and the student movement would soon enough explode off Auckland’s campus (and elsewhere around the country) in ways the editorial writer might not have approved of. In fact, when the shit really started flying later that year students were loudly condemned by editorial writers.

I wondered who had written that editorial which ended “there might be less complacency in New Zealand if students were encouraged to rock the boat a little more often”?

And I wondered also the whereabouts of Stephen Chan, an activist at the time who not only wanted to rock the boat but change the crew and put new captains at the helm?

Any answers to the two questions anyone? I’d like to know.

Yes, the past is another country -- I even had friends there who are strangers to me now.

I look forward to an editorial in a newspaper anywhere these days encouraging more students to rock the boat. Don’t you? And would they? Or are they the Jaycees of tomorrow?

Finally, an update on Music From Elsewhere which is here

Next week subscribers are being made a special offer, but you have to be a subscriber. So check out the music (new tracks posted every week) and the website, and sign on up.

It’s free, and there aren’t too many things you can say that about these days -- except perhaps astonishing scenery, fresh air and friendliness on the magnificent West Coast perhaps.