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Thursday, November 25, 2021

TUPAIA

 


My biography of the great Polynesian navigator, priest, and diplomat, TUPAIA, has been out for a while now, and has gone into several editions.  The cover of the Chinese language edition, published in Taiwan, is shown above.

But somehow, in the interval, I missed a number of reviews, probably because I was at sea. 

Or whatever.

So it was a big surprise when I finally got around to checking Goodreads (mainly because I am trying to set up a page for my new novel, Daughters of the Storm) to find a review of Tupaia by "Alison", who must be one of the most thoughtful reviewers I have had the privilege to read.

And here it is:

I expected this book to tell an important story, but I hadn't expected it to be this enjoyable to read, honestly. It stands as one of the most engaging accounts of Cook's voyages I've read (and I've read a few) even without its most important achievements - allowing space for a Tahitian viewpoint alongside the British, and celebrating the incredible life of one of the most important figures in early European-First Peoples engagement in the Pacific.


Druett's research delved deeply into both ship logs and journals, and also into Polynesian history and culture, she has then drawn all this together into a trustworthy, detailed and intriguing biography of a brilliant, prickly, and hugely influential figure in Tupaia. Along the way, she draws striking portraits almost in passing of both Cook and Banks, as well as Tahitian leader Purea. This process never feels like work for the reader, belying the considerable scholarship that underpins the book.

By alternating viewpoints between the British and the Polynesians, the book highlights the many, many misunderstandings, the groping towards communication, that constituted "first contact". Although this is the first encounter with a radically different culture for both the Polynesians and the British/French, it is notable how much faster the Polynesians catch on to that reality - that this group of people have a different set of *values* - than the Europeans do. It isn't that the Brits don't understand that the laws and customs are different, but rather that they judge these by their own standard - so 'theft' of items is 'mischievous', and they assume that land is for a ruler to exchange. This dismissiveness of other cultures leads to the worst, avoidable, massacres.

One of the most revealing part of the book is the encounter between the Guugu Yimithirr of FNQ and Cook's crew. Tupaia has no cultural or linguistic advantages over the British here, as this is a culture far removed from Polynesia. However, he is still the figure to establish friendly relations. He achieves this feat by, putting his weapons down, and, sitting down to talk. This simple act - to sit - is not something that the Europeans have tried in any of the many voyages to date (after this, observing the success, Cook tries it a lot). It seems inconceivable, really, that such a simple act was such an innovation. But underpinning it is a totally different approach to the encounter than the British brought. To sit, invites listening, settling in, an offer of time without immediate objective.

You see this refusal to listen in a number of the British actions. Particularly the worn tactic of *kidnapping* people to, essentially, make them listen. The fact that Cook (and later in Botany Bay, the First Fleet) decide to kidnap locals in order to show them the benevolence of the British is a direct result of assuming that what you are offering is the only thing worth talking about, not what is already there. The once exposed to your worldview, goods, and customs, people will automatically want them, irrespective of what they already have (which you are totally uninterested in).

And the British (and the other Europeans) were there to achieve objectives - to take resources, including land, by negotiation, purchase or force. Such an objective carries so many assumptions within it - particularly about property - that true cultural exchange was never going to occur.

One of the greatest myths of European arrival in the Pacific and Australasia, is that the boats were the most exciting thing that Polynesian and Aboriginal peoples had seen. In reality, as this book amply demonstrates, these events were viewed in terms of their local worlds - particularly, as to how the arrivals could be turned to advantage in local politics and warfare. The host peoples weren't living static or unchanging lives, just because their cultures were long-lived. Rather, they were complex and often tense societies, engaged in the same process of shifting power balances and changing environmental conditions that mark all peoples.

In granting complexity to the Tahitian culture, and in examining how this shapes Tupaia's choices, Druett also grants the same complexity to the British. She delves into the complex set of pressures upon Cook, and also his crew, taking into account how class and hierarchy constructions in British society also shape their choices. If to some extent Banks and Cook emerge with their usual stereotypes - Banks as a brilliant polymath rich kid, carelessly wielding his financial power to get exactly what he wants, Cook as a driven working-class escapee, a true believer in military hierarchy, especially equally applied, brutal discipline, with a brilliance single-mindedly directed to charting territory - it is because truth is not always new revelation. And you can see how both men's flaws hamper Tupaia's legacy - Cook's resolute focus leads him to disregard a very different kind of navigational brilliance, and his dislike of aristocratic polymaths doesn't endear Tupaia to him at all - Banks, on the other hand, whose intellect and class background are so similar to Tupaia, is clearly not fond of rivals, but also is far too careless to provide either the sponsorship or engagement needed to fully appreciate Tupaia, or even to keep him alive.

My only real criticism of the book is that at times, the author, allows her frustration with Cook to colour the text. An example is the near-obsession with the role of scurvy in killing Tupaia. it is understandable that Druett is infuriated with Cook's attempts to downplay the role in scurvy, but honestly, it seems a minor point in the history to me. A far bigger tragedy is the blindness of both Cook and Banks to how many times Tupaia had saved their butts, and how much they could have learned by taking him more seriously.

But again, in reading detailed accounts, it is always easy to lose the forest for the trees, or the war for the battle. These journeys, no matter what the personalities of the crew and scientists aboard, were always to end in tragedy. Because they were ultimately intended to conquer, to impose European ideals of property and monarchy on the populations in order to exploit and obtain resources. The kind of world in which first encounters were mutual respectful exchanges - first encounters which peoples had managed for millenia, no doubt - were not going to happen under these circumstances. It isn't the number of times Cook lost his temper that was the problem, it was why he was there at all.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

THE CHESTNUT MAN

 


ONE HUNDRED PERCENT APPROVAL ON ROTTEN TOMATOES???


Surely not!  Rotten Tomatoes collects all published reviews and rates a film accordingly.  And 100% is unheard-of.  But in this case I was willing to believe, because I had already watched a couple of episodes of this series, and was utterly hooked.


It was the next stage in my ongoing exploration of Nordic Noir.  I started with Trapped, set in Iceland, and compelling, moved onto Finland with Bordertown (very interesting actors, worth following), and arrived in Denmark with a very new series, released just a couple of weeks ago.


It is called THE CHESTNUT MAN.


It is gory.  It is super-tense.  And yes, it is in Danish (though I was surprised how many English words have strayed into that language) but the subtitling is fine.  And it is so, so watchable. The cinematography is superb, owing a lot to Alfred Hitchcock, but with a very modern polish, including aerial shots from drones. And the soundtrack is riveting -- again in the Hitchcock mode, with creaking boards and ominous bird calls, but so very up to date.  The composer is named -- wait for it! -- Andersen.  Kristian Eidnes Andersen.  

Stunning stuff, all of it.  Had me out of my seat with the building tension.

So what else does it owe to classic police dramas?  Such as the everlastingly popular Midsomer Murders, for instance. There is the same kind of Halloween theme, but there are no chocolate-box villages, or loveable eccentrics.  Like the other Nordics, it is not an advertisement for the country of origin.  It is also a lot more credible, and much more focused on the unfolding plot.  All those involved in this series have a story to tell, and tell it remarkably well.  Not that there aren't stray moments that are not necessary and yet so telling.  One, where the father who is hunting for his lost daughter knocks on doors to plead for clues, and is told he is knocking on the same doors and asking the same questions of the same people every day, is just so touching.

The acting throughout is superb, even from the extras who stroll into screen for just a few moments.  The two starring detectives manage to be human, flawed, and yet very likeable.  One is certainly rooting for them at the end. And there is the ultimate target in this serial killing, a Children's Affairs Minister with a very dark history, extremely well done by the actress.

I have never known nail-biting tension on the scale of the last two episodes of this brilliant series.  And here comes a confession.  It gets so nervewracking that I had to watch it by daylight!  And in bits, to take a breather while I did some housework, to calm my racing heart.  The ending is violent, and absolutely perfect.  All the loose ends are tidied up, with just a hint that we might see the two detectives working together in another series.


Please don't look it up on Wikipedia.  Every episode is described in detail, meaning  that it is just one long spoiler.  And it is not knowing how it will turn out that makes the story so great.  There are just six episodes, and I append the list of the cast, just to spare you from ruining an amazing experience by looking up the entry.


Genre
Created by
Based onThe Chestnut Man
(Kastanjemanden)
by Søren Sveistrup
Developed by
  • Nina Quist
  • Marie Louise Siim
Directed by
Starring
ComposerKristian Eidnes Andersen
Country of originDenmark
Original languageDanish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes6
Production
Executive producers
  • Søren Sveistrup
  • Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen
  • Mikkel Serup
Producers
  • Morten Kjems Hytten Juhl
  • Stine Meldgaard Madsen
Production locationsCopenhagen, Denmark
Cinematography
  • Sine Vadstrup Brooker
  • Louise McLaughlin
Editors
  • Cathrine Ambus
  • Anja Farsig
  • Martin Schade
  • Lars Therkelsen
Running time52–59 minutes
Production company

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Notice to all authors from the Authors Guild concerning the mass giveaway of New Zealand National Library books

 



FROM THE AUTHORS GUILD

Despite strong opposition from the New Zealand Society of Authors and international groups including the Authors Guild, the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) is moving ahead with its plan to donate 400,000 books from its overseas collection to the Internet Archive for digitization and lending through its Open Library platform. This collection likely contains tens of thousands of books written by American authors—many still protected by copyright—and may include your books.
 
While it is unfortunate that New Zealand officials are choosing to partner with the Internet Archive—an entity that has consistently flouted copyright law—over our objections, the NLNZ is allowing any author whose book is included in the collection to opt out of the scheme in response to the concerns raised about the legality of “controlled digital lending.”
 
Authors who do not wish their books to be digitized by the Internet Archive and loaned out through Open Library have until December 1, 2021, to opt out and withdraw their books.
 

Here’s how to opt out:
 

  1. Check whether your books are included in the collection. NLNZ has provided an Excel spreadsheet of all titles it intends to donate. The spreadsheet is available on this page. Click the link labeled "List of candidate books for donation to the Internet Archive" (it is a large Excel file, so we suggest downloading it and then searching for your name by running a Ctrl+F search).
     
  2. If your books are available, send an email to opcmanagement@dia.govt.nz and ask that they be withdrawn. Your email must include the NZNL’s “unique number” (column “I” on the spreadsheet) of each title you would like withdrawn, and proof that you have rights in the titles (emails from persons or organizations whose names correspond with rightsholders’ names will be sufficient proof of rights).

 
If you need assistance, please send us an email staff@authorsguild.org.


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Capitani

 


Since subscribing to Netflix, I have become intrigued with foreign TV series.  I have always enjoyed foreign films -- 4 Minutes, a German movie currently on Netflix, being an outstanding example.  So I embarked on Nordic noir, started with the Icelandic Trapped  (great!) and moving onto Finnish Bordertown (complicated), after enjoying the French series Bonfire of the Charity (terrific).

And somehow, through it all, I became intrigued with the languages.  I don't use the dubbing option, as it always ends up clunky, so the original language, with subtitling (which of course I do not trust) works best for me.  Both Icelandic and Finnish languages were riveting.  How do people communicate in those tongues?  A constant amazement.  

So, I graduated to Capitani, which is in -- wait for it -- Luxembourgish. 

It is set in an awful village, full of gossips, intrigue, malice, men with untidy designer stubble, which is surrounded by a lot of monocultural sort of forest.  The country is Luxembourg, of course.  I think I might have been there -- or, more precisely, have driven through it.  This series is no sort of promotion for the country, which is lucky, because it isn't.  If you get what I mean.

The language, though, was immediately fascinating, and was one of the two features that kept me watching.  Seemingly it is a mixture of three languages, perhaps four, because I caught the occasional English word or phrase.  There is a lot of German, and quite a lot of French, though the students in the local school have French lessons, which they hate.

The plot is standard thriller stuff.  A teenaged girl is found dead.  She was a twin.  The other twin materializes after a few days, with no explanation -- ever -- of what she was doing in the meantime.  They are identical twins, acted by the same girl.  There is also a very active drug ring operating in this very awful village. 

A detective arrives to solve the crime, and is partnered by a local female detective, and they do not get along.  Everyone is very badtempered.  And the plot is full of holes.  Like the girl's absence, there is a lot that is never explained or revealed.  

So why did I keep watching?

Because of the detective, Luc Capitani, who is acted by Luc Schiltz (one has to take care when typing that name).  He is scruffy, supremely dislikeable, but absolutely and compellingly watchable. 

I predict a fine future for this fellow.  He projects like a laser, and has magnetic eyes, like Sam Neill.  Watch for him.  I will be.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Time Warp?

 


AMAZON is definitely losing the plot.

To my amazement, a book review I have no recollection of posting, as it was so long ago, has finally ... at last ... almost two decades later ... has finally been accepted!!

Here is the letter, followed by the review:

Thanks JD7D,

Your latest customer review is live on Amazon.
We and millions of shoppers on Amazon appreciate the time
you took to share your experience with this item.



2.0 out of 5 stars

2.0 out of 5 stars I'm puzzled

Reviewed in the United States on January 30, 2004

I bought this book because my brother's birthday is coming up in six days, and he loves bestsellers.


 I've never heard of Dan Brown before, and actually had quite a job to find the book
in local (New Zealand) bookstores.
(I found it in a wine-and-food market! -- upscale market, and the book is new, I hastily add.)
I'm puzzled because everyone calls it a page-turner. What is it I am not seeing?
 I've managed to get to page 217, so I've done quite well, I guess,
but the cardboard characters and trivial-pursuit-driven plot just don't get me turning pages.
It's fearfully easy to put down, and awfully hard to pick it up again, but if I want to get to the end,
I have only five days to do it!


This is quite an admission from someone who normally reads a book a day.


Perhaps my problem is that the last book I read was the second in Bernard Cornwell's astounding
Grail series. Granted, it is a different genre, but the craftsmanship and sense of immediacy that
Cornwell manages is on a different plane, too.
However, I would hesitate to suggest that anyone reads the Cornwell Grail series instead of this book,
because so many people enjoy The Da Vinci Code, obviously -- and why should I ruin someone else's nice day.

I guess it will be made into a movie. It reads like that was the ultimate aim.
But I doubt I will bother to go to see it -- even if it does have Harrison Ford!
 
(And I didn’t)
What was the book called? THE DA VINCI CODE

So what is going on?  It must have gone onsite, as 10 people found it helpful.

Is Amazon trying to revive books that are past their use-by?

Or is it a new, and very strange, marketing ploy?

Do let me know if something similar happens to you!

Friday, July 16, 2021

National Library of New Zealand partners with internet pirates

 



The New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa (PEN NZ) Inc (NZSA) and the Publishers Association of New Zealand Te Rau o Tākupu (PANZ) are shocked that the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) has announced plans to hand over hundreds of thousands of books from its collection to the notorious Internet Archive. 

 The Internet Archive’s scanning and online distribution of books has been condemned internationally as piracy on a massive scale. This activity by the Archive is the subject of a major lawsuit by international publishers, representing authors from around the world, and supported by authors’ groups.

Our organisations represent thousands of authors and dozens of publishers from across Aotearoa New Zealand. In recent years leading authors from New Zealand, including Catherine Chidgley, Keri Hulme, Elizabeth Knox and Damien Wilkins, have had their books illegally distributed online for free by the Internet Archive, forcing publishers and authors to repeatedly spend time and money taking enforcement action. 

 But the piracy of treasured New Zealand works continues unabated. On the day of the National Library’s announcement, works by Janet Frame, Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme, Witi Ihimaera, Albert Wendt and many other leading authors were being illegally distributed by the Internet Archive. 

 ‘We are stunned the National Library would partner with internet pirates that damage New Zealand literature on a daily basis,’ says PANZ President Graeme Cosslett. ‘The Internet Archive’s repeated infringements of New Zealand works shows their true nature – no claim to made-up laws, fake protocols or sanctimonious ideals can obscure this – they are committed to taking work from Aotearoa’s authors and publishers. How can the National Library stand alongside internet pirates and not New Zealand’s own literary community?’

'The Internet Archive’s online distribution of copyright books is illegal,’ says NZSA Chief Executive Jenny Nagle, ‘American colleagues have described what the Internet Archive is doing as “no different than heaving a brick through a grocery store window and handing out the food – and then congratulating yourself for providing a public service.” 

'Now their made up ruse of "controlled digital lending" means they’re simply asking people to form an orderly line around the block before receiving stolen goods. Hearing our own National Librarian repeat this lawless rationale is frightening.’ 

 The National Library pleads that an ‘opt-out’ clause for rights holders of books given to the Internet Archive will address rightsholders’ concerns. 

Like the wider agreement, this mechanism has no standing in law, here or abroad. It appears to make claim to a presumed consent that simply does not exist, as shown by the scale of the current lawsuit from affected rightsholders. This partnership directly contravenes international copyright treaties to which New Zealand is a signatory. 

If the National Library follows through with this scheme it will jeopardise New Zealand’s global standing as a place where creative industries can flourish. ‘It amounts to the National Library exporting its problem – washing its hands of it – to become instead the problem of individual authors, publishers, family estates and other rights holders around the world,’ says Cosslett. ‘This is not how New Zealand typically behaves on the world stage, nor does it reflect our nation’s values as a responsible global actor.’ 

 Authors and publishers invest vast amounts of time, energy, and resource into working alongside New Zealand libraries, including the National Library, to provide readers with access to books. This scheme jeopardises our local literary ecosystem. 

‘Internet Archive piracy challenges the livelihoods of Kiwi authors and publishers, who work hard in tough market conditions, to bring Aotearoa the stories we treasure,’ says Nagle. ‘The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) appears to think this scheme comes at no cost. But it brings heavy long-term costs, costs that fall squarely on local authors, publishers and the creative sector.’ 

We acknowledge that the National Library is under pressure to find a solution for these books. Placing them offshore with internet pirates is not the answer. On hearing, by chance, of this scheme last Friday we have sought urgent meetings with Minister Jan Tinetti but have been met with silence. We call on Minister Jan Tinetti and DIA Chief Executive Paul James to overturn this radical alliance with a pirate organisation. 

Authors and publishers will be reviewing all their current relationships with National Library in light of this total disregard for New Zealand books and creativity.  

Friday, July 9, 2021

"I have fallen out of love"...

 



... with the National Library of New Zealand, that is.

For too many years, since the National Library in Wellington, New Zealand, was taken over by the bureaucrats of the Internal Affairs department, there has been an increased raiding of the shelves.

This essay, written by eminent military historian, Chris Pugsley, elaborates the frustration that is felt by historian, writers, researchers, and readers.


 I have fallen out of love with the National Library of New Zealand.

Christopher Pugsley

I have a lifelong love affair with libraries and librarians. Growing up, I haunted my local library: Greymouth, the Carnegie Library in Thames, the brilliant Thames High School Library, and then the shock of Xavier College: a high school without a library. My home became the Canterbury Public Library and in my upper sixth year, I would clock into school at morning break so that I was seen to be seen. I then spent the rest of each school day in the public library, working my way through the classics: Scott’s Waverly Novels, Dickens, the Brontes, some of Trollope, Kipling, Stevenson, Twain, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Arnold, Manley Hopkins, and Rilke. No real plan or purpose: just reading with delight.

Joining the New Zealand Army, the Bridges Library at the Royal Military College Duntroon was another delight. Overawed that there were 128 volumes of the History of the War of Rebellion: the official records of the American Civil War. Finding books gifted and signed by Florence Nightingale among the stacks. Then the Waiouru Camp Library, The Kippenberger Library at the Army Museum, The Staff College Library at Camberley, and through all my military career and after, the Central Defence Library in Wellington: now no more.

Heaven for 12 years was the library at RMA Sandhurst. I camped in the library for a week when I applied for a lectureship. I asked at the time what would the library do for me if I got the job. Andrew Orgill the Librarian replied, “We will get any book you want’ and they did. For each project, Andrew would do a printout of all their holdings on the particular topic, including books in print but not in the library, and books not in print, but available on the various booklists, and ask me to tick the ones I needed. It was if I had died and found myself in paradise.

When I left the Army to write fulltime, we chose Wellington because of three things: Archives New Zealand, The National Library of New Zealand, including the Alexander Turnbull, and the Defence Library. Thinking about it, I should also add the Wellington Library and its silver palm trees, but that grew with the delight of the easy accessibility to the books on the New Zealand floor and the ability to sit and work among them.

Fast forward to 2020: The National Library has locked away its books and transformed itself to the best café and meeting spot on Molesworth Street; Defence Library is no more but lives in boxes in Trentham and National Archives stutters along on a part time accessibility basis, while the Wellington Library exists in a series of pop-up libraries all over the city. Sad days indeed.

Now the National Library is full steam ahead, intent on de-accessioning 600,000 of its ‘Overseas’ Books’ collections. There is a positive blurb on this act of cultural vandalism by the National Librarian online but what does it mean? Well first let’s provide some context. Take a walk with me into the National Library as it is today. In 1988, when we first arrived in Wellington, one could walk straight ahead into the reading room on the ground floor where you were surrounded by books, and you could sit and read and call up what you needed if it was not on the shelves. All that has gone. Today the only books on display on the ground floor are in the shop, which is a mixture of arts and crafts, with a small selection of books for sale. Beyond that is the immensely popular Home Café which expands out into an equally popular meeting place. Straight ahead of the entrance on the far side of the foyer is the Treaty of Waitangi Exhibition. No treasures of the National Library on display but artefacts taken from their rightful home in Archives New Zealand. It’s clearly all a question of relative clout: an arrangement between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Librarian with the principal archivist seemingly reduced to a lower-ranked functionary.

I remember a delighted National Archivist, Ray Grover, walking me round when they were first displayed in their tailormade home in Archives pointing out the range of documents that were on display that allowed one to see the Treaty in all its forms and context. The library displays them more like trophy stag heads in terms of status with less exciting documents, once on display, remaining at Archives. What does that tell us about a National Library that forsakes the treasures on its hidden bookshelves, to display something it does not own? A ground floor with no books – an entire space given over to coffee, meeting rooms, and public areas places to meet and have a chat. Recently the earthquake-forced closure of the Wellington Central Library has seen one of its pop-up-libraries intrude into this meeting space and remind us that this is indeed a library, even if the books you see are not its own.

Let’s go upstairs. This is the Alexander Turnbull Library. There are some small display cases and a limited selection of books. That’s it: everything else is locked away. Visit the National Library of New Zealand and see some of the Treaty documents, have a coffee, meet someone for a chat, and, due to the misfortune of an earthquake, you can look at and touch some books from another library – almost as many as the limited selection on display in the Alexander Turnbull upstairs.

It’s as if this National Library and its hierarchy does not like and are embarrassed by books? Space is clearly available. The building is home to Nga Tāonga Sound and Vision and other government agencies and to make even more room the National Librarian has commenced a programme to deaccession 600,000 books from the “Overseas’ Collections”. Read the National Library website and see the PR “reason why” but then go through the lists themselves. On 12 October the second tranche will be disposed of: some 70,000 books. See for yourself what is being de-accessioned.

All the classics: out. Shakespeare out, Cervantes out, English and European works in translation; out. Nehru, Marx, Mao Tse Tung, Primo Levi, Graham Greene, the Arctic, Asia, the Americas, et al. Out.

It is interesting when you decide to downsize: the first cuts are tentative and then one gets into the swing of it and then it’s swingeing cuts. Settle on a period or an author: so out goes Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set. I thought how would someone see Mansfield and her work in context once all her contemporaries have had the chop? How would it work for our poets and writers both past and present? I noted that Judith Wright, the Australian poet’s works are out. I wonder what Hone Tuwhare would think of that? His correspondence with Judith is in the Turnbull. He admired her activism over Aboriginal lands rights.

The more I studied the list, the more I thought that these de-accessioning librarians clearly do not read. Why else would they work so assiduously to gather their papers and writings for the Turnbull while the National is chucking out their books? Books did not arrive at the National Library by chance. They were selected for a purpose and to give a context to our history, culture and our lives: a doorway to a much wider world. After all we are all migrants here: simply separated by the centuries.

All of the 19th Century imperial and colonial histories are getting the chop. I would have thought that these are very much both sides of us: “Colonial” being a popular word today. Perhaps the National Library was not on the distribution list about the introduction of teaching on New Zealand history in schools? Isn’t how we come to be here, part of that?

Being a military historian, I try and gain a context to my area of interest by reading all I can from those involved on both sides of the front line. Contemporary memoirs, novels and writings has always been part of that, before I drown in the official records and diaries. After all, all history is contemporary history.

Who can research New Zealand on the Western Front in First World War without reading Barbusse’s Under Fire, Jules Romain’strilogy on Verdun, Graves, Blunden, Sassoon, Frederic Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Junger’s Storm of Steel, which in the latest translation acknowledges Junger’s post-war correspondence with one of those he fought against at Rossignol Wood. He wrote on this in some detail in his Copse 125. His correspondent was Ormond Burton and both he and Junger pondered on how warfare had changed by 1918? Will we keep Burton’s ‘The Silent Division’ which after all was published by Angus and Robertson in Australia and discard Junger: along with all the rest? But then out goes the Australian Leon Gellert’s poetry on the Gallipoli campaign, with the line:

There’s a sound of gentle sobbing in the South.’

Masefield too is out but who else but we, was he writing about when he penned these lines?

They came from safety of their own free will
To lay their young men’s beauty, strong men’s powers
Under the hard roots of the foreign flowers
Having beheld the Narrows from the Hill.’

T.S. Eliot is out. I have his collected poems and remembered the dedication in his Prufrock and Other Observations. ‘For Jean Verdenal, 1889-1915 mort aux Dardanelles’. The last line of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is the title of Ian Hamilton’s Till Human Voices Wake Us: a vernacular classic of the hell that conscientious objectors lived through in New Zealand during the Second World War. An American mourning a young Frenchman killed at the Dardanelles that he met while studying at the Sorbonne becomes an inspiration to a New Zealander obdurately standing for his beliefs a war later? Are we to pretend that we are not inextricably part of this history?

The Australian American British Canadian and European novelists, poets and playwrights, are out. Keith Douglas’s Alamein to ZemZem is out, along, I guess, with his poetry? Three times a year I walked cadets along the hedge in Normandy where he was killed, without mentioning his name but remembering his words. His tank was in support of the New Zealanders at Alamein and when wounded he ended up in a New Zealand Dressing Station. No doubt to distract him, a New Zealand doctor, while picking pieces of shrapnel out of Douglas’s flesh, muttered that: ‘A New Zealander is someone who wears braces, wears false teeth, and calls his best friend a bastard.’

My copy is much battered and originally came from the Cromwell Public Library. It is firmly stamped in red: ‘DISCARD’. It is a far better and more honest word than ‘De-accession.’ Why should our National Library DISCARD 600,000 books and what will be next to go in 10 or 20 years? Will we continue to shrink? We will, of course, have to change the definition of Librarian, from one who loves books to one who de-accession books, or better still, DISCARDs books.

The Turnbull has copies of Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett’s papers and diaries from his time at the Dardanelles and his trips to Australia and New Zealand, but the National Library are getting rid of his books. Perhaps they don’t talk to each other? The same is true for C.E.W Bean’s The Dreadnaught of the Darling where he explores the rural nature of the Australian character that form part of his extensive writings on the Anzac (in this case Australian) experience on the First World War. I guess this means the rest of his works are also on some future list.

One of the truisms of military teachings is the saying that there are no good or bad battalions only good or bad commanders. Everything flows down from the top. Parallel with this is the saying that the measure of your tenure of the organisation that you are responsible for, is not how you use it but how you leave it for your successor. As junior officers we used to joke about the ‘frontal lobotomy zone’ where you would see people you admired as leaders lose the plot when they got promoted to senior staff positions. The same is true for all professions. How should a National Librarian look back on their period in charge? “With the best of intentions, I discarded 600,000 books and deliberately saved space and money at the cost of closing the window for future generations of New Zealanders to the world of books and the amazing avenues that they open?”

Is that too harsh? What is happening now can never be undone. Going through the Australian collections on the list, I see Osmar White is out. Fielding-born, his parents went to Sydney when he was two. An official correspondent in the New Guinea Campaign, his too honest and critical writings captured in his classic Green Armour led to him losing favour with the Australian High Command. He finished the war reporting on the American forces in Europe which led to his other classic Conquerer’s Road. I have both: each required reading for these campaigns. But no room for New Zealand-born White? No room also for Douglas Stewart and his appreciation of Kenneth Slessor, A Man of Sydney? This must be just ignorance or has this Eltham-born New Zealander and author of Springtime in Taranaki, damned himself by becoming an expatriate and editing the Bulletin’s Red Page for 20 years?*

This is where distinctions on who is in and who is out really gets a little crazy? Have a look at the scruffy New Zealand soldier who stands in bronze on the Devonport and Masterton war memorials. The model is of Joe Lynch and was sculpted by his brother Frank. Born in Sydney, the family moved to New Zealand and lived in Ponsonby, where their father was a stonemason. Frank followed his father with a talent for sculpture and Joe was an exceptionally fine black and white artist. Both served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force: Frank on Gallipoli and Joe on the Western Front. After the war both headed for Sydney where they were absorbed into a group of artists and writers which included the New Zealanders: George Finey, Unk White and Noel Cook. Joe Lynch was drowned one night after falling from a Sydney ferry on his way to a party at George Finey’s house. It was said that the beer bottles in his coat pockets weighed him down, but it led to one of Slessor’s finest poems Five Bells, as an elergy to Joe. I guess George Finey’s The Mangle Wheel is out as well. We have Slessor’s correspondence in the Turnbull but now we dump his and Stewart’s books from the National Library.

I see Eric Partridge is also out. This really is a puzzle: New Zealand-born and one of the finest lexicographers of the 20th Century. He served with the Australian Imperial Forces in the First World War and left a fascinating account of his war experience. Perhaps it was that service with Australians which disbarred him? I have my much thumbed and much foxed, cheap paper one-volume edition of Slang and Unconventional English. It is always a delight and educative to find that certain four-letter words can be traced back to Middle English and not used in writing since the 15th Century. But as we know, in this age of NETFLIX and Neon, these rules have been relaxed. The words feature in print and on screen and can appropriately be used in a multiple variety of phrases to express what the National Library is doing here.

I see that Ion E Idriess is out. I devoured his adventure tales as a boy: clearly not PC today. But one page in The Desert Column, niggled me to Gallipoli and niggles me still. (Ask the Te Papa and Weta Workshop staff on my ongoing insistence on more and more flies on the open tin of bully beef in the Private Dunn model in the Gallipoli exhibition). Let me quote from it:

‘…. Maggots are falling into the trench now. They are not the squashy yellow ones; they are the big brown hairy ones. They tumble out of the sun-dried cracks in the possy walls. The sun warms them I suppose. It is beastly. … We have just had “dinner.” My new mate was sick and couldn’t eat. I tried to and would have but for the flies. I had biscuits and a tin of jam. But immediately I opened the tin the flies rushed the jam. They buzzed like swarming bees. They swarmed that jam, all fighting among themselves I wrapped my overcoat over the tin and gouged out the flies, then spread the biscuit, held my hand over it, and drew the biscuit out of the coat. But a lot of flies flew into my mouth and beat about inside. Finally I threw the tin over the parapet. I nearly howled with rage. I feel so sulky. I could chew everything to pieces. Of all the bastards of places this is the greatest bastard in the world. And a dead man’s boot in the firing possy is dripping grease on my overcoat and the coat will stink forever.’

What we are doing with these 600,000 volumes ‘will stink forever.’ Australian or not – these are words that should be read by every New Zealander and anyone wherever who wants to understand the hell nations send their soldiers too and why war destroys everyone who serves, sooner or later so that families must live with that cost for generations to come.

I have always picked up copies of The Desert Column whenever I see them. His words, simply written in tight short sentences, carry universal truths as do all these discarded books in one way or another. How do we judge who we are in any age if we simply look at ourselves alone? On Gallipoli I looked at the “gutsful” men who held us together when war was breaking us apart. Some who come to mind: Malone an immigrant, Wallingford an Immigrant, Te Rangi Hīroa an immigrant of some generations and Warden, an Australian – all inextricably part of our story. A universality that the National Library would deny.

In 1980 I was the sole New Zealand student at the British Army Staff College in Camberley. Book packs were issued to the 180 students: almost all British and NATO official pamphlets. There were two exceptions: both from New Zealand. One was perhaps the only New Zealand pamphlet issued by the New Zealand Army in the 1950s. It was triggered by the American historian SLA Marshal’s study Men under Fire on the American infantry soldier in combat where he concluded that less than one in four fired his weapon. NZP.4 Infantry in Battle was initiated by Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger, as Head of the War History Section, and was compiled and edited by Colonel (Later Lieutenant-General Sir) Leonard Thornton. It drew on the judgement of New Zealand veterans to argue against Marshal’s findings. The second was Kippenberger’s own account of those war years Infantry Brigadier. These two titles were not issued because I was attending. Indeed, the pamphlet was no longer issued in the New Zealand Army and had been long forgotten. These books were selected because the discerning staff of one of the most highly regarded command and staff training institutions in the world, believed they transcended national boundaries, with each having something important to say about the profession of arms and the command of men in battle.

These 660,000 volumes which the National Librarian has chosen to dispense with ( or as the Cromwell public librarian would stamp “DISCARD”) were selected at some point and some time to serve the same purpose to provide a context and give us an awareness of something important in the wider world that impacted on who we are and how we fit in. When I look at the lists it is seems that for so many of these volumes that importance remains. We as a nation will be the poorer for their loss.

I would have thought that one should visit our National Library to visibly delight in the treasures that are held there. To see and touch thousands of books on display and do what one used to be able to do when the books were downstairs. To sit among them, take them off the shelves and feel that they are there to be read and enjoyed. Surely these foreign ‘overseas’ volumes should be taken out and given another run. Accept that the ambitions for downstairs and the Library at large, should be more than an exceptionally good café and meeting place but most of all a library crammed with books to delight in. Send the Treaty documents home to where they belong. Bring out the treasures of the National Library and the Turnbull and put them in their place. Earn your keep as librarians by ceasing to be people who de-accession books and be inspired to make them available to read and delight in rediscovering how we fit into the wider world?

None of which of course will happen – I am tilting at windmills, but there again, in years to come, who will get the allusion? Cervantes is among the DISCARDs.

Christopher Pugsley
  • Since this was written, Osmar White’s books have been saved, although “Conqueror’s Road” does not appear on the National Library catalogue. “A Man of Sydney” is also saved. It should never have been necessary, however, for an article of this nature to have been written to call the Library’s attention to important works in this way. That ought to be their job. It is still unclear if other works mentioned will be saved.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Giving up in fine style

 


I love Bluff oysters, too, so have every sympathy for this fellow's last repast before giving himself up to the police.

        By Natasha Frost for the Guardian


For many, it would be a welcome getaway: a week’s retreat in a log cabin deep in the New Zealand wilderness, followed by a scenic helicopter ride, a platter of oysters and a bottle of Champagne.

For James Matthew Bryant, 32, a fugitive from the New Zealand authorities, the eight days he spent at a privately owned, open-access hunter’s hut in the remote Waianakarua Scenic Reserve constituted a literal getaway.

Since April, Mr. Bryant had been on the run on charges of wounding with reckless disregard, possession of a knife, three counts of harmful digital communications and failing to appear in court. But he ended his fugitive status in dramatic fashion on Thursday, when he chartered a helicopter to turn himself in to the police, making him something of a media sensation in New Zealand.

Mr. Bryant had been a fugitive for about three weeks wandering in the South Island before he appeared as a wanted criminal on an evening news crime show, “Police Ten 7.” Somehow he heard that an informant had told the police of his whereabouts, and that the show had described him as dangerous. He doubled down on his flight, walking for two days until he reached the hut in the forest. (The hut is free. Anyone can occupy it.) There, he passed his time doing yoga, he later told reporters, and considered his next move.


Finally, fearing a potential showdown with the police, and thinking of the possible repercussions for his young daughter, Mr. Bryant called Arthur Taylor, a former career criminal and an advocate for prisoners’ rights who is well-known to the New Zealand authorities. Mr. Bryant once helped him create a website.

The local news media reported that Mr. Bryant’s alleged crimes involved a violent argument between roommates that ended in cuts to a person’s head. Mr. Bryant faces up to five years if convicted of the charges. Mr. Taylor said by phone on Friday that he had been motivated to do right by the victims of Mr. Bryant’s crimes, who he said had been “quite terrified,” and who had spent a week away from home following the incident.

Mr. Taylor said he told the fugitive: “‘Look, mate, my best advice to you is give yourself up. You might go to jail for a few years, but it’s not the end of your life.’”

Then, Mr. Taylor recounted, “He called me back and said, ‘Arthur, I’ve chartered a bloody helicopter.’”

In a scene worthy of an action movie, that helicopter retrieved a rather hirsute Mr. Bryant from the forest on Thursday. “They circle overhead, and he comes running out of the bush,” Mr. Taylor said. “The chopper lands, picks James up, brings him back.”


The owners of the hut had not known they were harboring a fugitive. “Just because of the time of year, we don’t normally have many trampers coming through,” Steve Joyce, one of its owners, said by phone.

After the helicopter dropped Mr. Bryant off, he was driven to Mr. Taylor’s house in the city of Dunedin. There, Mr. Taylor said, the fugitive, who clearly appreciates the finer things in life, made quick work of about 30 Bluff oysters, a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne and a little of Mr. Taylor’s Cognac before turning himself in to the authorities.

Mr. Taylor said he didn’t mind: “Having spent a bit of time in that prison, I know the kind of crap they feed them, so I was very sympathetic, shall we say, to his desire to have one last decent repast.”

Had Mr. Bryant not opted to get his own helicopter, and the police been forced to undergo the two days’ walk to extract him from the hut, events could have ended more nastily, Mr. Taylor added.

“They’d have been very angry police,” he said. “From having hiked all that time, they’d be armed to the teeth, anything could have happened. A very volatile situation.”

Speaking to reporters outside the Dunedin Central Police Station on Thursday, Mr. Bryant, wearing a blue surgical face mask, a Gucci T-shirt and Versace sunglasses, spoke highly of his time in “the middle of nowhere.”

“It was real good; I did a lot of yoga,” he said.

Then he stepped through the sliding doors and gave himself up to the authorities.