Speaker by Various Artists


Russian Underground part 1

by Clinton Logan

Sankt-Peterburg: opulent chandeliers, ornate ceilings, mosaics and artworks are everywhere. Sculptures of poets and revolutionaries flank marble lined corridors while deco stained glass provides subtle illumination to highly polished floors.

And that's just the subway. 

When you purchase your pass and descend the 90 metre long escalator into one of the deepest metros on the planet, a completely different world opens up. Spotlessly clean and efficient, it's no exaggeration to say the Sankt-Peterburg metro system rivals many five-star hotel lobbies.

That's not by accident. Primarily built in the Soviet era the metro was considered to be more just a transitionary space to catch a train but a "palace to the people" and was decorated as such. 

The Sankt-Peterburg metro is a living work of art that provides fascinating insight into the evolving aesthetics of postwar Russia. Intricate socialist-realist reliefs that pay tribute to the pillars of the old USSR: electrical, oil, mining, and metal embed into solid marble. Mosaics reflecting historical events, novelists, and philosophies of triumphalism transition to deco and then onto contemporary spaces inspired by early 20th-century aeronautics. These not only stunning symbols of beauty: the variation of design from station to station also provides useful navigation cues for travelling the system.

I shot these photos over a span of three days at times ranging from 10am to 1am. More than two million people travel each day on the St Petersburg metro so certain times and stations get very busy. Some images took me 30+ minutes to capture a shot free of people. Others were taken at less frequently used stations and were easier to get. Some were just a result of lucky timing.

Timing the trains for a motion blur that maximizes the internal blue light effect also took a bit of patience. 

I was especially pleased with the Маяко́вская station shot (girl reading book next to the Red Poet moasic) That location is one of the busiest interchanges with streams of people constantly passing. I just happened to get there when she was reading with no one else in the shot. That shot I was able to get in the first two minutes of arriving.

If – no, when – you find yourself in this amazing city be sure to spend time in the metro. There's nothing else like it in the world.

Next up: the Moscow metro.

Clinton Logan spends a part of each year exploring strange and interesting places on his motorcyle and posting images and observations about them to his Facebook account.


Belfast, where the walls stand yet

by Clinton Logan

What's your darkest secret?

She leaned toward me, locked her blue eyes with mine, and whispered in the most intoxicating Irish accent...

"Clinton, I ran guns for the IRA."

With those six words I was hooked. What followed has circulated in my head for years.

Like many, I'd followed the violence and unrest in Northern Ireland on TV. Locals refer to this period as "the troubles," an understated way of describing what amounted to a civil war that still simmers to this day. On one side, the predominately Catholic nationalists believe the North should join a united, independent Ireland. Opposing them are the mainly Protestant loyalists who want Northern Ireland to remain as part of the United Kingdom.

In 1969 British troops were deployed to Northern Ireland, at first to protect civilians, but soon got entangled in fighting paramilitary groups such as the IRA. The whole thing devolved into a very ugly situation which killed 3,500 and injured over 50,000 in the decades that followed. Groups on both sides claimed they were acting for the good of the people, but in the end caused nothing but misery.

I was compelled to retrace my friend's steps, to travel the streets and explore the neighbourhoods she talked about with such fire. I wanted to meet the people on both sides of the "peace walls" — the seven metre high fences that separate loyalist suburbs from nationalist — and hopefully gain a more tangible understanding of this conflict. 

At 6:00pm each night a guard swings a massive gate on its hinges to close off the throughway that connects the Falls and Shankill districts of Belfast. I turn to the man next to me and ask a rather naive question.

Why are they closing the street off?

"Ter stop dem killin' each other" 

Officially the troubles ended in 1996 but 22 years on parts of Northern Ireland remain fiercely territorial. In Belfast's Shankill neighbourhood Union Jack flags hang from houses and portraits of a young Queen Elizabeth are posted everywhere. 

On the other side of the security wall the imagery is in stark contrast. Not the Irish flag as one might expect, but murals of the Palestinian struggle, Nelson Mandela, and others. The nationalist community align their message with dispossessed people and stolen land as much as they do with the goal of a united Irish Republic. Just inches of steel and concrete separate communities with mindsets fixed miles apart.

The Irish woman and I shared an interest in alternative music. She was a Belfast punk in the '80s, I was a kiwi kid living a half world away. Although it would be decades before our paths would cross, we were unknowingly linked by a remarkable piece of vinyl. 

At the height of the troubles the Irish band Stiff Little Fingers formed and released a blistering, politically-barbed, howl of a punk record. Their Inflammable Material album exhibited a raw energy and integrity that still resonates to this day.

They take away our freedom
In the name of liberty

Their solutions are our problems
They put up the wall
On each side, time and prime us
Make sure we get fuck all

During the '70s and '80s Belfast was plagued with car bombings and after 6:00pm the central city would be virtually shut down. The only people that ventured downtown were the police, the military, and punks going to the Pound club where SLF would play. Protestant and Catholic kids alike would unite and listen to protest music. Northern Ireland punks mostly rejected the narratives of both sides of the conflict.

They say they're a part of you
And that's not true, you know

In Hopewell Crescent fourteen year old Callum wheelies his bike past the Summer of ‘69 mural which ironically applies the Bryan Adams song to the riots that launched the troubles. The gable art depicts an iconic image of two children, one Protestant and one Catholic, who were friends one day and woke up the next in a bomb-ravaged neighborhood being told they could no longer play together.

Whole generations have grown up knowing nothing but social division. The massive steel and razor wire fences that snake their way through Belfast are indicative of the mistrust that still permeates these neighborhoods. Sectarian walls, it turns out, are much easier to build than tear down.

"They wanted this street, and they didn't get it, and they wrecked it in the process. I love my country, I love my culture, and that wall is stayin' where it is. Amen!" states a defiant loyalist.

Another man provides a more reasoned response "The walls have attracted more trouble than they prevented, they don't really give you the protection you think." 

I'm driven to explore places with troubled histories, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's their ultimate redemption that makes me feel positive about the world, how humanity can bootstrap back from very dark situations. 

Today, many Northern Ireland communities are attempting to pull themselves away from sectarian conflict. Mural artists are starting to focus on less inflammatory subjects and a few security walls have been dismantled. Although positive steps are being made, they've still got a long road ahead.

"We need to get to a situation where there's no more barriers being built, not only that, the idea of a barrier is considered to be unacceptable."

Visiting a country that's endured such violent partisan division has been an eye opener. Once again I've had the privilege of peering into lives very different to my own, however this time I leave with a sense of unease. The Northern Ireland experience has really underscored the signs currently emerging from my adopted country which appears to be heading full throttle into its own period of "troubles."

Thirty years on it's depressing to see how the rasping cry of a Belfast punk band born in the depths of a civil war has become so relevant to the present situation in the Divided States of America.

Don't believe them
Don't believe them
Question everything you're told

Just take a look around you
At the bitterness and spite
Why can't we take over 
and try to put it right?

Don't believe them
Don't believe them
Don't be bitten twice
You gotta suss, suss, suss, suss, suss, suss
Suss, suspect device


The crisis is all around us, and so are the solutions

by Nicky Hager

Three years after first publishing this essay in Don't Dream It's Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand, the problems with news media are just as worrying.

The gap between media and journalism widens. But there is some very good news. The new Labour-led government has committed to doing the single most positive thing that can be done for media in New Zealand: building up Radio New Zealand as a centre of public-interest news.

The essay that follows is about how to do this in a way that really makes a difference ...

Nicky Hager, 2018


The years 2015 and 2016 may be remembered as the point at which New Zealand’s news media ceased to be able to do its job. 

2015 was the year when TV3 slashed serious current affairs and investigative journalism. The same happened at Māori Television: two out of three major TV channels at once, both with a strong smell of political interference. The New Zealand Herald, which until recently had the country’s best array of columnists, merged its news with Newstalk ZB radio, cutting various critical commentators and replacing them on the Herald website with the opinions of talkback hosts. 2016 saw plans for a mega-merger of the two main private newspaper/media companies, a further great, panicked rationalisation. Government-friendly media celebrities increased in dominance. Clickbait was so ubiquitous that it was ceasing to be a pejorative term. 

And somewhere in all this, and similar events before and since, we are no longer getting what we expect and need from news. In the battle against PR people and political impression managers, there aren’t enough journalists and there isn’t enough media space to do the job.

The results are already evident. Despite the best efforts of some fantastic, decent people in the media, many important subjects don’t get discussed and probed. Political events, that have almost certainly been orchestrated, go unanalysed. Ministers grow complacent in the knowledge that, on most issues most of the time, no one will be fact checking their statements or digging much beyond the press release. And every year there is more PR being disseminated as news. 

If the media has too little capacity to dig and scrutinise, too few informed commentators and critics, and not enough healthy space for ideas and debate to be heard, democratic politics does not work properly. It still looks as though there are political clashes, debates and politicians being questioned – and there are some outstanding examples now and then of the media doing well – but more often than not media scrutiny and investigation are inadequate or absent. 

Muddling on is not the answer. The current news media cannot provide the breadth and depth of news required by a reasonably functioning democratic society. The time has arrived for deliberate, dramatic action to build the news media of the future

First, I strongly believe that news has to become primarily a public service, like schools, hospitals and courts. Public funding is the only viable model, and is entirely appropriate since news is a public service. The future requires new and greatly strengthened publicly owned news organisations, working alongside the privately owned ones. This means, in the first phase, building up by something like four times the public spending on news. 

We also need to recognise the continuing importance of mass media. The internet allows for a diversity of commentary and niche subject sites. It has also allowed for the appearance of some specialist news sites. But mass of news media is crucial in itself, to avoid social atomisation and allow us to hear regularly what a variety of people are thinking about and saying. Large public service news media, providing news for public and private outlets, will be vital to maintaining the unifying and democratic role of mass news media. 

But it is a third, less discussed, component of a future media plan that I want to focus on here: protecting news media independence. How do we stop politicians and other powerful interests interfering in news organisations? This question will become especially important in an era when news is more dependent on public funding. 

The year 2015 illustrated what can happen when there are too few protections for news media independence. The cutting of critical journalism at Māori Television (in particular the outstanding Native Affairs programme) appeared to be directly the outcome of government influence. The gutting of investigative journalism and current affairs at TV3 came from senior executives who had friendly relations with the National government and little sympathy for critical journalism. Both private and public news organisations have inadequate defences against this type of interference.

Prime Minister John Key was asked on Newstalk ZB about the closing down of TV3’s Campbell Live: was it bad for democracy to have fewer commercial television programmes holding government to account? Key replied that ‘its role in life isn’t to hold the government to account, it is to entertain its viewers and follow news stories’. He said viewers were more interested in ‘light entertainment’ such as Campbell Live’s 7 p.m. competitor on TVNZ, Seven Sharp

Another long-term example of political and commercial interference in news is Television New Zealand. TVNZ has the potential to be the largest and most important source of public interest news and current affairs in the country. But some particularly negative developments in New Zealand news have occurred there. 

From 1989 to 2004, Paul Holmes fronted the flagship Holmes programme, which imported talkback-style bigotry and right-wing populism to prime-time television. The negative influence of this, featured on the publicly owned channel (as part of a wider programme of commercialisation), spread outwards to other news media. It established the role of celebrity media personality, friend of politicians and big business. 

Later, TVNZ gave Seven Sharp, the successor to Holmes, to an even more negative and cynical celebrity announcer, Mike Hosking. (TV3 followed by giving prominence to a similar announcer, Paul Henry.) 

The changes at TVNZ were shaped by a complex combination of government policies, personalities and commercial and political pressures. But one stark part of the picture is the influence of the TVNZ board members, who are appointed under the Broadcasting Act by two government ministers: of broadcasting and of finance. 

The TVNZ board epitomises the risks of external influence. Although it is the constitutional responsibility of ministers to appoint people representing a wide cross-section of the public to run an important public organisation like TVNZ, this does not always happen. Ministers tend to have a winner-takes-all approach to their ministerial power, putting their own preferences ahead of their wider responsibilities. 

There are a number of aspects to political influence. The first one is the lack of any requirement for non-partisan board appointments. A Labour-led government makes Labour-friendly appointments and a National-led government appoints National-friendly members. There is a more or less complete board change whenever the government changes. For instance, the 1999–2008 Labour-led government appointed environmentalist Rob Fenwick and the public intellectual and former vice-chancellor of Waikato University, Bryan Gould. When National was elected to government in 2008, it began replacing the Labour-appointed board with very different people. 

Some of the post-2008 board members are unsurprising: people from careers in advertising, sport and media organisation management. The two National government-era board members most concerned about news itself were Richard Long and Barrie Saunders. It is hard to imagine two men more hostile to critical, probing journalism. 

Barrie Saunders is a long-term spin doctor and political lobbyist for big corporates. He worked for the Business Roundtable from 1990 to 1998, during a period when the group aggressively opposed any journalists and news organisations that wrote critically about the Roundtable’s far right social and economic policies. 

Since then his lobby firm Saunders Unsworth has defeated government climate change initiatives on behalf of the biggest climate polluters and pushed through direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising in New Zealand (the only country besides the US not to ban this practice). In 2011 he told the Sunday Star-Times that journalists, the medical profession and the medical academics were ‘negative’ about such advertising and boasted that his firm had pushed this model through on behalf of its clients.[i] 

As he told the paper, ‘Lobbying is good for democracy . . . It reduces transaction costs to the government’. In other words, the government didn’t need to waste time dealing with the messy breadth of opinions and needs in society and could work things out quietly with lobbyists like himself. 

Richard Long has also been a long-term friend of the powerful, from inside and outside the media. Colleagues recall that when he became editor of the Dominion in the early 1990s, he sent his staff a list of people who were no longer to be quoted in the newspaper. They included a range of well-known critical voices on public issues. 

Long’s attitude to politics and media was seen most clearly when he left the Dominion and became the chief of staff for the National Party leader Don Brash in 2003–2005. There he oversaw media management for Brash, planning the daily ‘lines’ he would use to evade journalists and spin the news. For instance, Long and his staff penned all the untruthful lines about National’s secret collaboration with the Exclusive Brethren church, which had paid for a million dollars of anonymous attack advertising against the Labour and Green parties during the 2005 election. Long and his team prepared a series of secret internal media scripts for Brash. Here is just one example: 

Q. Did anyone in the National Party have any knowledge of these pamphlets? 

A. Well, I can’t speak for the tens of thousands of party members all around the country but I can assure you that the party’s governing body had absolutely no knowledge of the material you describe, and neither did the leader or any other member of the caucus.[ii] 

Long planned for Brash to feign irritation if journalists kept pressing him about the Brethren – ‘time to get mildly irritated’, his media notes said, then ‘If it continues, [get] even more irritable’. Brash did exactly as he was told to avoid further questioning. Documents showing Long’s media tactics were leaked and became part of my book, The Hollow Men. The prepared lines had been untrue and Brash was forced to resign the day the book was published. 

Having two such people on the board of public television is like having tax haven lawyers on the board of Inland Revenue. They cannot influence decisions about individual news stories, but they can help to create a culture, structures and priorities that fostered a less public kind of news organisation. 

In April 2014 the TVNZ board sent its shareholding National government ministers a statement of intent outlining the ‘scope of functions and intended operations of TVNZ’ until 2018. This list is worth repeating: 

• commissioning, production, purchasing and archiving of video content 

• provision of television production facilities 

• programming television channels and related marketing services to commercial and non-commercial partners 

• provision of advertising and sponsorship services 

• broadcasting free-to-air and pay television channels 

• provision of online services 

• provision of services to the broadcast industry 

• provision of audio-visual footage, programming, video and DVD rights 

• other things as determined by the board. 

Missing from this list, of course, is any mention of news and current affairs. There’s nothing about acting as a fourth estate or holding governments accountable. 

There are only two mentions of news in the document. The first notes that local content, including news and current affairs, ‘is the most expensive to produce’. Later it says the company should ‘drive’ flagship news and current affairs programmes ‘to increase audience share and advertising revenue’, including online. That’s it. 

The TVNZ annual report that year, with a grinning Mike Hosking on the cover, said, ‘Never before has so much television been watched. . . . At TVNZ we’re focused on maximising our share of TV audiences.’ In this world view, TVNZ is a business. News is a source of ratings, advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

Elsewhere TVNZ has stated that ‘The principle of editorial independence recognises the importance of isolating control of editorial content from commercial and political influence.’[iii] It says this principle is reflected in the 2003 Television New Zealand Act. But this is a minimalist view of media independence. The relevant section of the TVNZ legislation says that cabinet ministers cannot direct the gathering or presentation of news. This is important but far from being enough. If Long and Saunders have helped to determine the culture and priorities of the news departments, there is no need for such individuals to interfere in individual news decisions. The damage is already done. 

Up until now, the maintenance of news media independence has largely been informal. It has relied on having enough individuals at all levels of the media with a personal and professional sense of responsibility for preserving the fourth estate’s role in society: stroppy editors and reporters who have stood up to pressures; owners who have been proud of their social role. 

But commercialisation, corporatisation and aggregation under foreign owners have created news-entertainment businesses run by managers. Managers measure the world in ratings figures and revenue, not the social value of an informed society and holding people in positions of power to account. The structural and cultural changes inside news organisations explain much of the current decline in quality and independence. 

The final issue concerns the present administration’s apparent feeling of entitlement to not only enjoy the power of government, but also to use whatever means it can get away with to shut down other voices and influences. One aspect of this is the calculated attack politics seen in my 2014 book Dirty Politics. There also appears to be a conscious effort by some senior ministers to shut down critical media voices and boost supportive ones. This is another source of reduced media independence in New Zealand. 

For all these reasons, it is no longer possible to take news media independence for granted. It has been getting worse and informal systems have been inadequate. Media independence has emerged as an urgent issue for protecting and strengthening future news services in New Zealand. 

Improving the independence of private news organisations or embedding protections in a way that makes them secure is not easy. One useful step would be stronger media standards organisations and tougher standards, backed by law, not just voluntary codes. But that regulates only the news that is done; standards have little effect on the news that is cut or trivialised. 

However, much can be done to improve the independence of public news media, the mainstay of future public-interest journalism. There are two parts to this: protecting the independence of the news organisations and protecting their funding. 

A good starting point for future public service media is the Radio New Zealand legislation. Section 7 directs that RNZ provide an independent broadcasting service with ‘comprehensive, independent, impartial, and balanced national news services and current affairs, including items with a regional perspective’. But, like TVNZ, the RNZ board is appointed by the shareholding government ministers and its budget is determined by them. It is worthwhile looking outside the media for models of more independent public institutions. 

Various organisations play a similar role in society to that of a news organisation. They include the Ombudsman, Auditor-General, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, each of whom has formal powers for gathering information and serves as a watchdog on behalf of the public, scrutinising the actions of people and organisations in positions of authority. 

The independence of these organisations is strengthened by the requirement that their senior officers are appointed by the entire parliament, not just ministers in the government coalition. These officers are selected by the Officers of Parliament Committee, which comprises representatives from all political parties. In most cases its decisions must be unanimous. This would be a sound arrangement for choosing the senior decision makers in future public news organisations. 

The law court system, another pillar of a civilised society, is also a useful model. They have strong traditions of institutional independence. The courts largely run themselves and avoid interference from the government and government departments. Judges are protected from political and other influences. 

Such an approach will require a change of thinking about news media, to recognise that they are public-interest institutions requiring an independent status and protections. Remaining is the difficult question of how to prevent government funding decisions being used to undermine the independence of news organisations. Squeezing or cutting funding, or the threat of this, is a powerful way for governments to punish, reward or otherwise influence publicly funded news. The harm can also be done simply by neglect and lack of interest in news and allowing commercial pressures to rule. 

The goal, for crucial institutions such as the Ombudsman, which recently faced an underfunding crisis, and public news media, should be to insulate their funding from political fluctuations. This is difficult because governments claim a right to decide public spending decisions. Long-term funding must be free from political interference. A possible precedent for this is the funding of parliament, where representatives from all parties, not just the government, make funding decisions. Increased news collaboration between RNZ and TVNZ will also help build a stronger base. 

The current crisis in news media can help too, impelling decision makers to get on with building the new system. Independence is only part of what is needed to build strong, lasting news media in New Zealand. Legal and organisational structures that allow editorial independence and security of funding need to go hand in hand with creating the public-focused, mass media of the future. But the independence is vital. Without it the rest will be undermined or will not last.


Don't Dream It's Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand can still be purchased in the original print, and in e-book form.

[i] Adam Dudding, “Who’s Pulling the Strings?” Sunday-Star Times, July 17, 2011. 

[ii] Nicky Hager, The Hollow Men (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2006), 34. 

[iii] Television New Zealand, TVNZ Annual Report FY2012 (2012), 69


Unknown Places: Armageddon (Greenlane)

by Nicole Magolan

We’re stopped at an intersection. I’m peering into the car next to us, seeing a featureless face of blue.

‘There’s a blue man,’ I say.

Jasmine leans over the passenger seat, eyes wide. ‘What do you mean blue? How is he blue?’

A car horn blares and we both yelp. The traffic light has flashed green. I slam the accelerator, and the blue man is lost behind us.

‘Don’t worry, it was just a guy in a skin suit. There’ll be plenty more where that comes from.’ A goofy grin inches over my face. My quiet anticipation has begun to bubble out in raw excitement.

Jasmine reflects my smile, braces glinting. Nervous energy oozes from her. She’s never experienced an event like this, never knew it existed, until she was adopted into my group of weirdos. She has no idea what to expect.

Armageddon. Not the end of the world (though it could be, depending on your perspective). It’s a gathering of geeks. We come in our thousands, from all over Auckland and beyond. Decked out in cosplay, bursting with enthusiasm, joining forces to celebrate what we love.

And Jasmine and I are slogging through the traffic in my tiny car. I tap my fingers on the steering wheel and glance over at her. She swipes sweaty palms along her jeans. Fiddles with a loose thread from her t-shirt. This fledgling nerd wasn’t keen on cosplay, but I went all out. After hours of shopping and dyeing and cutting and stitching and complaining, I am now Rey: the badass lead character of the new Star Wars films. The force is strong with me today.

We watch the footpaths. The clusters of people are growing thicker. There’s a Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, and Poison Ivy strutting along with arms linked. A pair of girls ahead of them with shimmery pink hair. A skeleton, touching up his face paint at a bus stop. Kids bouncing along next to struggling parents; backpacks bulging with water bottles and snacks, trying to manoeuvre push chairs through groups of Hogwarts students.

The makeshift gravel car park is nearly full when we finally rattle in. We climb out into the sharp wind and I shiver in Rey’s scavenger clothes. It’s an overcast day, but at least it’s not raining. That would mean everyone squeezing into the expo hall with its sticky, sweaty air. I open the boot of the car and retrieve my staff. A tall pipe, covered in screws, duct tape, and bits of cloth. It completes the living-on-a-dessert-planet look. Also, without it my friends would lose my hobbit-sized self.

We merge into the crowded footpaths, those passing in cars now looking at us. Adrenalin is buzzing. I’m craning my neck, scanning for any familiar faces.

‘Woah, look at those transformers!’ Jasmine points out a group marching into the entry line. They’re covered head to toe in rugged armour, bulky weapons in hand.

‘Those are awesome. They’re not transformers though,’ I reply, ‘they’re from Halo, a video game.’

We tag on to the end of the line, snaking through a half-empty car park. Goose bumps tingle along my arms. There’s a guy wearing a Star Wars tee that I also own. A girl rocking a Star Wars jacket I almost bought a couple weeks ago. The goofy grin won’t leave my face, but I’m channelling my inner Rey while interacting with others.

‘How’s Luke Skywalker doing?’ asks a Doctor Strange.

The line picks up speed. My ticket is taken, my legs are moving, my staff is pounding the concrete. We swarm through the gate.

I’m snapping photos of cosplayers and people are snapping photos of me. Jasmine is pointing at everything and asking, ‘what is that?!’ I’m posing with R2-D2 when I spot my friend Eliza, dressed as a character from Marvel’s Agent Carter. We fist bump and she squeals about how she’s going to meet one of the celebrity guests here today. We continue through the marketplace together. Looking over an array of overpriced t-shirts, insanely detailed figurines, and the hordes of swords, daggers, and other replica weapons from movies and TV shows. Eliza and I reminisce about the time her ex-boyfriend bought a samurai sword, and preceded to take a ‘look’ at it, nearly slicing our necks in the process.

I prepare my wallet for the butchering it’s about to receive and empty it out at various stalls, buying a lot of awesome merchandise that I absolutely need. As I turn to ask Jasmine whether there’s anything she wants, I notice a blue figure amongst the stream of people.  

‘Look Jasmine, there’s the blue man,’ I say.

Jasmine is gone, swallowed up by the crowd. I falter a step, and get wacked by a large paper bag. I try to retrace my steps, but I’m against the flow. The blue man flickers in and out of my vision. I’m getting poked, prodded, bumped. I’m donking people on the head with my staff and it’s getting hard to breath. ‘You shall not pass!’ is boomed by a grumpy Gandalf. ‘Hey Rey!’ calls a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man as he thwips past. I spin, trying to stay rooted to one spot. What was Jasmine wearing? All around me are bow-ties and spiky wigs and poofy dresses.

I fall back into the rushing tide. It carries me along until I wash up at a big pirate ship display. ‘Magic: The Gathering’ the sign declares – my brother’s favourite trading card game. Sure enough, he’s hunched over a table with cards splayed out in front of him. I rush over and leap onto his table. Ignoring the yells, I scan the crowd. To the right is a group of Ricks chanting “wubba lubba dub dub!” and there’s some sort of dance party happening to the left, with more dabbing then should ever be allowed.

‘This is not okay,’ my brother is saying when I clamber back down.

‘Have you seen Jasmine?’

‘Seriously? She’s right there,’ he points over my shoulder.

Jasmine is amongst the chanting Ricks with a smile plastered over her face. I heave a sigh, which turns into a snort as she begins to chant along. Eliza appears behind her, and the two of them push through towards me. I wrap my arms around Jasmine. She’s bright red and full of laughter.

‘How about we get some lunch?’ I suggest. Making sure to stay close together this time, we head outside to the food carts.

Jasmine gasps, and pulls me back a step. ‘Hey,’ she says, ‘I saw the blue man!’

This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are:

The Crescent (Otara)

Unknown Places: Queens of K Road (Central)

Gravel Lot (Mangere)

Names in Stone (Waiuku)

The Bach (Awhitu Peninsula)

 Armageddon (Greenlane)


Unknown Places: The Bach (Awhitu Peninsula)

by Anna Matheson

There’s an old yellow bach at Hudson’s beach with a rusty green roof and blue window frames. Aloe vera, flax, and pink flowers grow under the deck. There are feijoas, mandarins, and lemons growing in the  backyard and two Norfolk pines tower over the roof. A bookcase is full of picture books like Peter Pan and Robert the Rose Horse. Guess Who, Monopoly, and five decks of cards sit in a pile. Splotches of blue paint stain the golden carpet, names in pencil mark the wooden door frame by the kitchen and mismatched crockery fills the kitchen cupboards.

If you look past the rusty roof and chipping paint, you might see fairies dancing under flower beds, and treasure glistening in the sand. 

You might see a girl with knotty, blond hair and missing front teeth, singing in the shade of the Norfolk pines. You could let her make you lemonade with oranges and grapefruit. Then she’d teach you how to ride down the hill on a rusty bike without fear, carry towels down the hill just as high tide says goodbye, and to swim in that tide like a mermaid.

She’d teach you to smile in your muddy t-shirt, faded blue shorts and matted hair, tangled with leaves. How to crash her brother’s four-wheeler into the side of the bach, to camp in the backyard telling ghost stories with cousins, and climb to the top of Crab Rock, without wondering how to get down. 

She’d take you by the hand and teach you to swim in the middle of winter without feeling the cold. How to catch fish and hold them up by their wet, slimy lips; how to jump off rocks without looking down. She’d show you how to find crabs under rocks at low tide, and climb the tree in her neighbour’s  backyard; how to toast marshmallows on the bonfire, draw pictures with sparklers and play spotlight late into the night.

As summer passes her hair would grow longer, her skirts would get shorter and her two front teeth would appear. She’d teach you to cry over boys who don’t love you, and to speak with a voice so soft it floats away with the waves. She’d teach you to swim again, only this time, conscious of your body in your bikini; how to apply black mascara, and straighten your wild, curly hair. She’d teach you to roll your eyes at your mother, waste hours at the beach scrolling through your phone, and to gaze in the mirror, noticing every imperfection. She’d teach you to lie to yourself, to sneak gin from your parents’ liquor cabinet and to complain that the bach is too far away from the city’s bright lights.




Today, the pale yellow bach doesn’t feel magical. Maybe everything looks magical when seen through a child’s eyes. Or maybe love mutes our senses, making us blind to the cracks on the walls and the sand in the sheets, and deaf to the airplanes which fly overhead in the night.

The new owners have taken the garden out, pulled off the railing around the deck, and painted the window frames white. Other than that, it’s still the same sixties bach with a rusty green roof and a light blue door.

The bach made time stand still, but my childhood years have passed and I’m not the same girl I was then. All of that time washed away the second the new owners held the keys. And with it, the girl who found fairies in flower beds, believed her legs were a tail and ran around with twigs in her hair, she washed away too. I’m no longer the girl that ran barefoot on the prickly grass, saw pictures in clouds, and wrote songs in the shade of the Norfolk pines.

But if you look hard enough, you can still find traces of her. She’s hiding in the hole in the side of the bach. Her name still marks the wooden door frame, and the back of a crumpled Monopoly dollar. You might even find her hiding in my eyes, when I make a sarcastic remark, or see her hanging from a curl in my hair.

I miss this place, it’s true. And I miss that little girl I left behind.

This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are:

The Crescent (Otara)

Unknown Places: Queens of K Road (Central)

Gravel Lot (Mangere)

Names in Stone (Waiuku)

The Bach (Awhitu Peninsula)

 Armageddon (Greenlane)