Burning Down the House was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence.
The song came out two years after the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand that had united a nationwide protest movement from across the political and socio-economic spectrum, where tens of thousands of us had marched together periodically in the year leading up to the tour, and twice a week from 19 July — my mother’s birthday and the day our family went to the airport at dawn to protest the Springboks’ arrival — to 12 September — the fourth anniversary of Steve Biko’s death from severe beating in custody and the date of the final test match of the tour. The second match — against the Waikato provincial team on 25 July — was called off after protesters invaded the pitch. Apart from that one match, the tour went ahead. The movement didn’t achieve its aim of stopping the tour.
The introduction to the subject of the tour on the NZ History website has the subheading, “A country divided”.
The pandemic is a great rupture. Those who seek hastily to sew up the rupture and return to pre-pandemic normal are seeking to preserve a world where wealth is funnelled to the already wealthy at alarming rates, while millions upon millions pay.
The alternatives to a return to normal are political. It is a cliché that politics is the art of the possible. We are at a moment in the arc of history where what once was politically impossible is possible. We can now perform the art of the impossible. It will take all of us.
Reading: The Skeleton of the Great Moa in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch
The skeleton of the great moa on iron crutches Broods over no great waste; a private swamp Was where this tree grew feathers once, that hatches Its dusty clutch, and guards them from the damp.
Interesting failure to adapt on islands, Taller but not more fallen than I, who come Bone to his bone, peculiarly New Zealand’s. The eyes of children flicker round this tomb
Under the skylights, wonder at the huge egg Found in a thousand pieces, pieced together But with less patience that’s the bones that dug In time deep shelter against ocean weather:
Not I, some child born in a marvellous year, Will learn the trick of standing upright here.
Allen Curnow, 1943
Musings: The art of walking upright here
Last week was Waitangi Day. Marking the signing on 6 February 1840 of Te tiriti o Waitangi. So it may seem as though today’s service is a week late. To adapt a Christmas poem:
“When the waiata on the marae is stilled, when the sound from the megaphone is gone, When the rangatira and the manuhiri are home, when the workers are back in their workplaces, Then the work of Waitangi begins”
The work of Waitangi is the work of all of us, no matter how much we feel we know or don’t know.
The seeds of International Women’s day were sown the year my grandmother was born. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. It was the Socialist Party of America who declared the first (US) national women’s day a year later.
The idea to make the day international came in 1910, at an international socialist conference of working women in Copenhagen. An attendee called Clara Zetkin suggested it and the100 women present from 17 countries unanimously agreed. The first international celebration was in 1911, in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.
When I was 17 I wrote a 500-word essay in English on this quote from King Lear: “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.”
to recap in case you have forgotten or never knew, King Lear was on a
heath in a storm, having been thrown out by his daughters Goneril and
Regan, even though he had given them half his kingdom each and was
expecting to live with them in his old age. He had been proud,
arrogant and pretty irritating. They had been venal and unloving.
The Eight Hour Day is by Australian singer, songwriter, poet, John Warner, and is sung here with Margaret Walters.
Bread and Roses originated from a speech given by U.S. laabour union leader Rose Schneiderman; a line in that speech “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” (appealing for both fair wages and dignified conditions) inspired the title of the poem Bread and Roses by James Oppenheim. It is now most often sung to the tune by Mimi Fariña popularised by her sister Joan Baez.
I mostly avoided history at school. Too much reading. I like reading. Modern poetry. Shortish novels. Brevity is the soul of wit. History had great heavy tomes. So when Clay asked me to speak on Labour Weekend, I thought, “Labour Day. Hmmmm. Samuel Parnell. What exactly?” I do believe in considering how the past has got us to here, but I’m often hazy on the details. Thank goodness for the New Zealand Dictionary of Biography. And Google. And before Google, thank goodness for the index. So I invite you to join me on a journey out of the haze. Continue reading From Samuel Parnell to the future: working in union→