Wednesday, October 18, 2017


New Zealand Festival Artistic Director Shelagh Magadza has announced the New Zealand Festival’s programme, which takes place in Wellington over three weeks from 23 February – 18 March 2018. New Zealand Festival is Aotearoa’s largest celebration of cutting-edge arts and culture. One of the five biggest festivals in Australasia, it has sold over two million tickets to an audience of more than five million since it began 1986.

Artistic Director Shelagh Magadza said, “After marking a major milestone in 2016 with our 30th anniversary, the 2018 programme looks to the future – inviting audiences to explore ground-breaking arts experiences made by some of the world’s most inventive artists. Opening with the free harbour spectacular A Waka Odyssey, in Wellington on 23 February, the themes of that event echo through the rest of the programme: epic journeys; a sense of discovery; home, and belonging – themes that are universal to all cultures, but it is wonderful to be able to use our own Pacific story as the starting point for connecting with the rest of the world.”

A headline series of what Shelagh calls ‘must-see’ theatre and dance leads the 2018 line-up.  The Select, an ingenious, riotous, stage adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is brought to the Festival by New York theatre company Elevator Repair Service, famous for their riveting live productions of the texts of great American novels. Straight from a sell-out season at London’s National Theatre is the five-star musical Barber Shop Chronicles by writer-of-the-moment Inua Ellams – in which the audience is privy to the confessions made from the barber’s chair. Festival favourite and top choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan returns, this time with his award-winning take on the ballet classic Swan Lake – a contemporary version mixing dance and theatre, filled with pathos, joy and plenty of feathers; while audiences will be captivated by Betroffenheit, a hybrid of theatre and dance that meditates on the aftermath of unexpected trauma, and ultimately searches out a place of comfort.

Barbershop Chronicles
And for something completely different, audiences can wash away the cares of the day with the mesmerizing movement and rumbling taiko drums in Beyond Time from Taiwan, a fusion of martial-arts inspired choreography and percussion, against a backdrop of stunning visual projections.

In music the Festival welcomes a roll-call of icons of today and tomorrow.  Opera star Anne Sofie von Otter and early music master Jordi Savall both have exclusive one-night-only concerts in Wellington, while indie rock band Grizzly Bear will play two shows at The Opera House.  One of the highlights of the 2016 New Zealand Festival was a series of sell-out gigs by Wynton Marsalis, so it was natural to invite his protegee and one of the biggest names in jazz right now, Cecile McLorin Salvant, for a Michael Fowler Centre one-nighter. Outside the concert hall is a three-week line-up of gigs, cabaret and circus in the Festival Club partnered by award-winning craft beer impresarios Garage Project; as well as a series of chamber music with works by Orava Quartet, Stephen de Pledge, Dylan Lardelli, Rob Thorne & New Zealand String Quartet in the stunning surrounds of the newly renovated St Mary of the Angels church.

For an extraordinary passion project which has been years in the planning, an ancient icon – the god Orpheus – is celebrated by New Zealand’s own icon of dance, arts laureate Michael Parmenter. The result is a new dance opera, OrphEus, performed by New Zealand Dance Company with live music from Latitude 37 and Grammy Award-winning American tenor Aaron Sheehan.

Furure Playground
Future Playground is an arts exhibition with a difference, where ‘Do Not Touch’ signs are nowhere to be seen, and everything is playable. Shelagh says, “We had great success with walk-through, immersive arts experiences like Power Plant at the Botanic Gardens and For the Birds out at Otari-Wilton’s Bush. Future Playground will be just as enchanting. Bring the kids or head to it for a fun night out with friends; you’ll encounter the creations of some of the world’s most imaginative artists who have crafted a wonderland of pure artful inspiration, where you make the magic.”

There’s plenty to keep the family entertained this Festival, with delightful circus from Vietnam, À Ố Làng Phố where woven baskets become trampolines and bamboo poles create a playground for daring acrobatics, and Star Wars fans will be out in force when New Zealand Symphony Orchestra perform legendary composer John Williams’ extraordinary film score to Star Wars: A New Hope alongside the movie, in a once-in-a-lifetime treat for New Zealand audiences.

David Byrne
Visit to see the full programme.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Victoria Uni will host the 2016 Venice Bienniale installation at its art gallery.

Future Islands exhibition installed in Palazzo Bollani, Venice 2016,
Photo: David St George
Wellingtonians have their first opportunity to view the New Zealand exhibition from the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale when the Adam Art Gallery launches its final shows for the year on Friday.

It will be only the second time the installation Future Islands has been on public display in New Zealand since its premiere at the world-leading architectural event in Italy.

Gallery curator Stephen Cleland says exhibiting Future Islands is a “major coup” for the Victoria University of Wellington art gallery.

“Future Islands was designed specifically to showcase the depth of our national architectural scene at what has been described as ‘the Olympics of architecture’. As Wellington’s sole venue for this touring exhibition, it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to celebrate and share with visitors the best of contemporary New Zealand architecture.”

The exhibition was conceived by the New Zealand Institute of Architects and features 50 architectural models—of both built and speculative projects—that represent various aspects of New Zealand architecture. The architectural projects are dispersed across ‘floating’ islands, which are suspended from the Gallery’s ceiling and walls.

Future Islands’ creative directors, Kathy Waghorn and Charles Walker, are giving a free guided tour of the exhibition, 2pm Saturday 14 October.

Three other exhibitions also open at the Gallery on 14 October.

What Remains, The Karori Commission, is a suite of 30 framed prints combining images and texts. Commissioned for the Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection by Christina Barton, the artwork is a collaboration between photographer Gavin Hipkins, writer Anna Sanderson and designer Philip Kelly, who were invited to memorialise the buildings and environs of the University’s now closed Karori campus.

Gallery director Christina Barton says the new work captures the history of the Karori campus as a place where teachers were trained and education as a discipline was developed, first as the Wellington College of Education and from 2005, as Victoria’s Faculty of Education.

Rather than an objective record of the site, she describes the commission as a “poetic and fragmentary response based on the artists’ curiosity and respect for what went on there”.

As a companion exhibition, From the College Collection features a small selection of works that were previously part of the College of Education’s art collection and housed at the Karori campus.

Included in the show is a selection of 42 portraits of New Zealand artists, craftspeople and educators by keen photographer Kenneth Quinn, selected for the College as inspirations to staff and students.

Other works on display include Tanya Ashken’s hanging mobile ‘Sea Creatures’—one of the earliest artworks installed at the campus—a small collection of ceramics, and paintings by Louise Henderson and Jeanne Macaskill.

Victoria’s Art History Honours students and their lecturer Professor Geoffrey Batchen are the curators of the show, Apparitions, which traces the history of the photographic image.

Apparitions includes daguerreotypes, lithographs, steel and wood engravings and illustrations borrowed from public and private collections.

Professor Batchen says this type of exhibition is seldom seen in New Zealand. It includes rare items—such as calotypes by photography’s English inventor William Henry Fox Talbot, and daguerreotypes from 1841, the first year in which such photographs were made.

Professor Batchen says the students have curated the exhibition “from the ground up”.

“They’ve spent the year studying the history, philosophy and theory of curating, and this exhibition has given them real, hands-on experience. They’ve done everything from designing the show’s layout to writing the accompanying publication.”

The students will present their insights about the exhibition and its contents as part of the Gallery’s public programme, 11am Saturday 14 October.

Apparitions: the photograph and its image
Future Islands: The New Zealand Exhibition at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale
14 October – 17 December 2017

WOMAD NZ wins ‘Best National Event of the Year’ at the 2017 New Zealand Event Awards

WOMAD NZ has won the prestigious National Event of the Year’ at the inaugural 2017 New Zealand Event Awards presented last night at a gala ceremony at Sky City in Auckland.  They were nominated finalists for ‘Best National Event of the Year’ and the the public voted ‘Eventfinda / New Zealand’s Favourite Event of the Year’.

The Awards are hosted by the New Zealand Events Association (NZCEA) who was set up provide leadership and representation to inspire a world class events industry.  Nominees covered a wide range of different events from the Farmers Christmas parade to Lantern festivals to Shearing competitions to the World Masters games.  You can read all about the nominees and see a full list of winners on their website:

WOMAD NZ’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Cleopatra Wood, was also named as a finalist in the ‘Emerging Event Professional’ category.  WOMAD is hosted by the Taranaki Arts Festival (TAFT). Their CEO Suzanne Porter said of this nomination “We are incredibly proud of our marketing manager, Cleopatra Wood, for her nomination. The calibre of finalists is a true testament to her great achievements working on WOMAD”. TAFT have been responsible for producing WOMAD at New Plymouth for 13 years.  The launch of the 2018 Festival programme will be at a special event to be held in Parliament next week. Previously announced artists for the 2018 festival include Los Angeles saxophonist, composer and jazz superstar KAMASI WASHINGTON, the Indian classical and progressive sitar virtuoso ANOUSHKA SHANKAR and classic Kiwi band DRAGON who will be joined by many more exciting and eclectic artists from across the globe.

Originally founded by Peter Gabriel, and now held at a number of locations around the planet, WOMAD is an internationally established three day festival brings together international artists to celebrate the world’s many forms of music, arts and dance. The New Zealand event is in the stunning 55-acre Brooklands Park and TSB Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth, WOMAD NZ has rightfully gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful outdoor festivals in the world.

WOMAD New Zealand 2018 is on at Brooklands Park, New Plymouth, from March 16 to 18. Tickets on sale from

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Nobel prize in literature 2017: Kazuo Ishiguro

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 is awarded to the English author Kazuo Ishiguro

"who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".

Japan-born Ishiguro won the Man Booker Prize for the 1989 novel that was made into an Oscar-nominated movie. The Swedish Academy hailed his ability to reveal “the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

Kazuo Ishiguro OBE FRSA FRSL (石黒 一雄; born 8 November 1954) is a Nobel Prize winning British novelist, screenwriter and short story writer. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan; his family moved to England in 1960 when he was five. Ishiguro graduated from the University of Kent with a bachelor's degree in English and Philosophy in 1978 and gained his master's from the University of East Anglia's creative writing course in 1980.

Ishiguro is considered one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world, having received four Man Booker Prize nominations and winning the 1989 award for his novel The Remains of the Day. His 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, was named by Time as the best novel of 2005 and included in its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. His seventh novel, The Buried Giant, was published in 2015. Growing up in a Japanese family in the UK was crucial to his writing, as he says, enabling him to see things from a different perspective to many of his British peers.

In 2017, the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, describing him in its citation as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".

The works of Ishiguro, who moved to Britain as a young child, often touch on memory, time and self-delusion, the Academy said.

“He is a little bit like a mix of Jane Austen, comedy of manners and Franz Kafka. If you mix this a little, not too much, you get Ishiguro in a nutshell,” said Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.

Ishiguro began to gain attention in the 1980s for works such as “A Pale View of the Hills” and won global fame for “The Remains of the Day,” a story of a fastidious and repressed butler in postwar Britain. The movie version starred Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

Ishiguro takes his place beside Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Doris Lessing and Ernest Hemingway as winner of the world’s most prestigious literary award.

Critics said the decision to give last year’s prize to Dylan was a snub to more deserving candidates and strayed beyond what is traditionally deemed literature.

The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Groove Books - Three great books from Publishers Austin MacCauley

The wonderful people at  Austin MacCauley have sent me three books to review.

An Artifact of Interest by Steve Rogers

The ploy on this one is fast and furious, perfect for a long train ride or a plene trip.  Summer hols are coming so get this one on your readership list.

The body of a young female anthropologist is found in the Australian outback.  Initially it was thought that it was an accident but it's not long before suspicions are aroused.  A murder investigation ensues and it transpires that the scientist has come across` a a mysterious artifact, on the evening before her death.  Could this item be the fatal cause? Because of the cleverly interwoven story, it would be unfair to break out the plot synopsis.  Spoilers are never tolerated.   But let's just say that  the twists and turns in this one are a little different to your average PD James.

This is not an Indiana Jones movie book.  On the surface, it does all seems like a Lara Croft gaem plot but I have to admit Rogers can really suck you in.  And so I must agree with others when I say this is a  'can't put down' read.  I was held to attention, just like an epic film until the last pages.

It is apt that Western Australian author Steve Rogers' novel is so cinematic.  If you've ever been in that part of the country then you'll know how 'epic' the skyline is.  It's huge.  So huge it can swallow you up.  Nothing but read horizon and blue heavens.  His book is set in the Kimberleys, near the little-known Bradshaw cave paintings.  I love books that introduce me to new territory.  These are definitely off the beaten track. The story hinnts at aboriginal magic but doesn't patronize or discount it but trying to create some kind of witch doctor mambo jumbo.  This is not Daktari or Zulu Warrior.

In a way the book has some overtones of the famous Picnic at Hanging Rock, with it's ghostly references and a strong employ of unspoken evil.  Rogers novel is another retelling of the bush: A young city man on a rural adventure; a mysterious death; an anthropological mystery; an unlikely romance. It's the style that conveys the mood, with Rogers employing present tense and a relaxed regard for point of view, which results in a feel of spontaneity and authenticity of place. Short chapters, suggestions rather than conclusions - these yield a laconic and fluent narrative that leads us through the plot rather than shoving and dragging us. You can almost spot the dissolve between chapters.

His bush imagery is well painted and if you're familiar with painter Margaret Preston's Western Australian gum blossoms pictures then you can imagine much of the scenery.  This is a nice take, from a Kiwi experience, at least, to see a different part of the Outback that isn't crawling with dingos, dust, flying doctors or red dust.  That alone makes it far more appealing.

Steve Rogers graduated from agricultural college in Western Australia before embarking on his diverse career as a jackaroo, farmer, broadcaster, retailer, journalist, teacher/technician and TV presenter. Thirty years ago he established a video production company, which has taken him to remote locations throughout Australia, South East Asia and Africa. He lives in Fremantle, is married, and has a daughter and two grandsons.

Downside Up by Ron Prehn Palmer

"You must treat your men as men, not as creatures of a lower grade. You must not be afraid to be unpopular. I would sooner command a hundred men with their tails up than a thousand men with their tails down." Major General Leslie Morshead, Australian Infantry Forces, 1947

As the country's largest form of government income, mining revenue is keeping Australia out of international debt. So, it's catastrophic when Australia's biggest mining company, Arangnulla, announces its impending financial collapse. There are two potential mine sites that could prevent receivership, both located in unknown territories near Aboriginal and African indigenous tribes. The ventures are a huge gamble, the risks astronomical and the cost gigantic. But the company's board has no choice but to move forward with the projects, and quickly.
Arangnulla chair Shayne Ballantine has not led on projects of this scale before. He trusts his instincts when, despite receiving contrary advice, he decides to train and employ indigenous people to work the mines. This pays dividends, and not just for Arangnulla. Shayne's faith in these people plays a significant role in dispelling a millennium of hatred and mistrust between indigenous and white people, both in Australia and overseas.

I have to admit, this book was something of a struggle for me.  Length can be a challenge if the words don't flow.  Perhaps it was the detailed associations and references to the Australian financial markets or the unfamiliarity with the places.  Either way, I kept getting lost.  I found it interesting that mining was substituted for the usual oil or gold or stocks scenarios that feature in most of the Wolf of Wall Street style books.  I did enjoy the juxtaposition between the indigenous concepts of wealth and the 'white' man economic values of success.  And I get the feeling that books like this one are starting to open the eyes of Australians to their own denials to indigenous land inequlity and their own dark history.  I New Zealand we have become smug about our progress on iwi land rights and the place tangata whenua, so we have little tolerance for any injustices to first nations peoples.  And I wish this aspect had been better explored.

Ron Prehn Palmer was born in Port Lincoln, South Australia. He gained a medical degree at the University of Melbourne and served an internship at the Royal Hobart Hospital, Tasmania, and later achieved a specialist qualification from Flinders University, Adelaide, in 1994.Ron is married to Dianne and they reside at Cashmere, outer suburb of Brisbane, Queensland. They have two children: Zane, a Quantity Surveyor and Lauren, a Podiatrist. Ron's early medical career involved research, helping to develop the initial antivenin for Cubomedusae Fleckeri with Dr Jack Barnes; he became the first to administer this treatment in a patient. With Dr Barnes, he discovered Irukandji, Cubomedusae Barnesi, the world's most toxic creature.  During working on the Bass Strait offshore oil fields in Victoria, he was the first person to use ‘Oxygen Washout Therapy' for the diver's bends. He has published 76 medical papers and was editor of three international medical journals, the first published book was a medical text, Guidelines to Neurological Rehabilitation. Ron lectured at Brisbane University and Flinders University, and was elected as vice-president to the International Federation of Musculoskeletal/Manual Medicine in 1998, and as Secretary/General in 2002. He retired from active medicine in 2006.Current activities include yachting, golf, hunting and writing. Ron has competed in five Brisbane/Gladstone yacht races. He is also a former Himalayan mountaineer and marathon competitor, achieving second three times in the Gold Coast Marathon veteran division.

Praying For Strawberries by Gail Simpkins

Here's something a little out of the ordinary.  Have you ever wondered what an Autism Assistance Dog does? Or about the unique perspective of a person living with autism?
Through his mother's diary, follow nine-year-old Lachlan's journey with his new friend "Itsal" the Labrador, as they navigate the world together, with Lachlan achieving one of his many dreams and goals - learning to surf! Read about the fantastic improvements Itsal makes to Lachlan's life, and how he strengthens and supports Lachlan and his family.

I really liked this story.  It was quirky and different.  A remarkable take on what, for most of us, is a pretty ordinary way existence - the daily grind.  But this one, is real.  A story of the daily, real-life events of a mother, a child and a family as they navigate their way through life.  Recently, in the news we've had a few stories about autism.  The media doesn't alway paint the picture well.  They don't mean to, because talking about autism is a challenging this.  Every one is diffecrent and everyone thinks and speaks about it in different ways.

I came across this first hand with a Wellington teacher Julie Hannify.  In her forties, Hanify was diagnosed first with ADHD and then with traits of autism, shedding light on a life full of both terror and achievement – as a musician, parent and teacher.  She chose to write about her experiences in her book Small Blue Thing . The book was drafted as part of a master’s degree at the creative writing school at Victoria University of Wellington and is  a beautiful piece of writing.   A Small Blue Thing is a memoir that bursts with the fireball energy and creativity of its author, and explores a way forward for those whose gifts to the world are not what we expect."

“I decided to go teaching because I had been so unhappy during my own school years and I wanted children to be happy to come to school. I wanted them to meet teachers who treated them with understanding and love. I had the love all along, but have had to develop the understanding over my thirty years of teaching.”

As a teacher she is drawn to working with children with special education needs. Her approaches work and it’s these stories of success in the classroom that anchor and re-frame the challenges.

Praying for Strawberries and Small Blue Thing have a lot in common.  I draw comfort in knowing that more and more people are opening up and sharing their experiences about autism.   This is not a 'normalising' exercise.  It's more about simply giving the subject some air and educating people.  The cool thing about Autism, claims Josef Schovanec, a recent visitor to Wellington, and polygot (who is also a former Autism Advocate to the French Prime Minister) is that great things can come from being different and seeing the world in such unique ways.  He gives the example of Peyo's Smurfs.  Originally, they were all blue little men. Blue, for autistic people is a calming colour.  No women, because in Peyo's world, women were disruptive characters.  The all had individual traits (and names to suit).  Papa Smurf - the leader; Jokey Smurf; Artist Smurf; Builder Smurf, etc.  Even when introduced, Smurfette had no specific trait or talent.  The unique thing, he argues, is the way autism can compartmentalize and review and relabel, re-purpose everything.  

Check out more books at Austin MacCauley

These books are available on or check the publisher's website.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Groove Book Report - Two Steps Forward - By Graeme Simsion & Anne Buist Text Publishing $29.99

After hiking 2038 kilometres in 87 days in 2011, Anne Buist made a decision to worry less, write more.  Graeme Simsion picked up an abandoned screen script that became The Rosie Project, the international bestseller of late-blooming first love.  Six years later their path to personal reinvention has resulted in a collaboration, Two Steps Forward, a novel of mature love and self discovery set against the scenic backdrop of the pilgrims' walk.

If you hit Google, you'll bring up a pretty healthy list of literary couples.  You've got Percy and Mary Shelley; Virginia and Leonard Woolf; Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and maybe even Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Of Course, we also have Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton.  But, curiously, none of these duos ever wrote and published a book together. Whether that was due to differing writing styles or maybe just too much ego in the room, either way cohabitation and co-writing is a pretty rare thing to find.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Graeme Simsion a few year's ago for Groove.  He is the internationally bestselling author of The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect and The Best of Adam Sharp.  His partner, Anne Buist, is also an author (writing the Natalie King thriller series) - Both are published by Text. They live together in Melbourne.  Two Steps Forward is their first published collaboration.

The novel is structured into short, first-person chapters: the initial strand, entitled “Zoe”, is written by Buist, the second, entitled “Martin”, is written by Simsion. The two narrators alternate to tell the story of two middle-aged, middle-class strangers who embark on the 2000km pilgrimage — called the Camino — from Cluny in France to Santiago de Com­postela in Spain.

In 2010 The Way (an American drama film directed, produced and written by Emilio Estevez) was released starring his father Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Yorick van Wageningen, and Renée Estevez.  It honoured the Camino de Santiago and promoted the traditional pilgrimage.  It was hugely popuar and inspired a great deal of 'walking' tourism in the region.  It has been said for centuries that walking “The Way’’ brings great positive, personal changes and an opportunity to reinvent oneself.
But for Biust's character, Zoe and Simsion's character, Martin walking is a personal and not so united experience.  She is grieving for her husband, who died only three weeks earlier.  Whilst he is recovering from a messy divorce and a strained relationship with his teenage daughter.

Martin is also motivated by another reason: he's engineered a prototype of a buggy designed specifically for long-distance walkers and plans to sell it to a German company. The 85 day/three-month journey is designed, in his mind at least, to test the efficacy of the buggy over rough terrain.

Right from the get-go it’s obvious that our two pilgrims are not the best matches - always the plot of the best RomCom's.  Zoe is a loud, upfront American (aren't they always?).  Martin is a reserved English gent.  She's a bit hippy-trippy and unsure if she truly wants to walk this trail.  Martin, on the other hand is an obsessive, over-prepared - he's even marked out his route on a GPS.  Zoe's on a limited budget and (at one point) must give massages to tourists to pay her way. He, on the other hand can afford fancy hotels and the best restaurants.  Like I said - perfect RomCom material.

Our story starts, as they both head out two days apart from one another.  They follow the ancient trail, in France, marked by scallop shells and, later, through Spain, lined with painted yellow arrows.

Throughout their pilgrimage, the paths of Zoe and Martin regularly cross, intersect and move away. Sometimes they'd at the same hostel or tapas bar.  At one point Martin saves Zoe from getting lost in a snow storm. At a later point he offers comfort her through her grief but through his bungling drives her further away.

Whenever a moment of intimacy arises, invariably the plot conspires to tear them apart.  For example, Zoe decides to remain behind at a certain town for spiritual reasons, to seek forgiveness from her dead mother, while Martin has no choice but to cary on.  Later, after reuniting, and their first kiss in a shared room, Zoe suffers a bout of food poisoning and spends the night in the bathroom, which Martin interprets as a form of rejection. Further on, Zoe receives some devastating news from home and flees their hotel, leaving only a brief written message for Martin: “Sorry”.

A few days later, Martin spies Zoe walking through a small town at night a young man.  Martin thinks the worst. Such misunderstandings and confusions sustain the story over  the whole 12 weeks of this book.

What's kind of neat, and obvious, I guess, given there are TWO writers, is the due narration technique employed here.  Zoe, being the artist, is is the more engaging one.  Her 'blog' approach takes in small details that Martin would miss.  Her eyes are focuses on the changes in the asthetics: “Leaving Grosbois, I found myself in a forest smelling of damp pine needles.  Tentacles of white mist wound between the dark avenues of trees, and the stillness was broken only by an occasional water drip or birdcall.”

On the other hand, Martin is obsessively practical, admitting he’s “not that observant”.  As the 'alpha' narrator he barely notices or describes anything with great detail.  He might as well be describing what he's read in a book, rather than his day to day life on the trip.  He uses cliche's instead of writing what he really thinks.  He calls Estaing a “most picturesque town”.  The village of Porte St Jacques is a “picture postcard town”.  His writing style seems to be completely lifted from Bradshaw's (Railway) Guide.

This book is littered with chances, first, second, missed and finally taken.  And peppered with amusing secondary characters, fellow travelers from all over the world also making the pilgrimage - a group of hard-partying Brazilian girls; a young German, Bernhard, who's primary aim is to 'bag' as many women as possible along the route so he can avoid spending on hostel fees and a lesbian couple who each day hitchhike back their mobile home every day.
It was kind of obvious that Simsion would create a 'person' like Don Tillman (The Rosie Project).  In that story our lead has 'designed' a Wife Project, using a sixteen-page questionnaire to help him find the perfect partner. She will most definitely not be a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.  Martin also uses spreadsheets and lists to achieve his aims.  But Zoe is not Rosie Jarman. Although she is still also fiery, intelligent and beautiful.  Again it's that mix of beauty and brains spun into a clash of wits.  Like the Camino de Santiago, there's not point to this story.  The enjoyment and the revelations are in the journey.  

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Post Modern Jukebox – Wellington Opera House – 3 October 2017

On Tuesday night internet retro-sensations Post Modern Jukebox wrapped up their all singing-all dancing glittering showcase in the Capital to a maximum house and rapturous applause.  The well dressed, well-heeled mixed age crowd had really taken to he event, dressing in their best 1940's frocks and hairdos; some in twinset and pearls; some in tweed jackets; others in waistcoats and silk ties.  There were even a few highly waxed moustaches to be seen.   The place was packed, right up to the ‘Gods’, with nary a seat to be found.  Not that many were to stay in those seats for long.

"Wellington, How Ya Doin'" Shouted out the tall and very present Lavance Colley, who had settled himself in as compared for the night.  Right of the bat he introduces PMJ's 'heart throb', Vance Smith, who croons Broadway-style through a very sweet swing-version of Carly Rae Jepson's Call Me, Maybe.  Dressed in a skivvy, braces, tight trousers and a boater hat, all that was missing from his Mississippi Riverboat Showman garb was a striped blazer and cane.  He later gave us a fully theatrical version of Justin Timberlake's Cry Me A River, complete with falsettos, multiple octave changes and other theatrical twee embellishments.

The very suave Ms Sarah Niemietz may be the youngest and newest cast member (the longest serving being the fabulous Maiya Sykes, who's toured here four times, previously) but that didn't stop her belting out a fantastic version of Gloria Gaynor's 1978 disco hit I Will Survive - only the gal made it into a 1930's torch song dripping with sultry innuendos.  Marlene Dietrich would have been proud.  Her powerful, husky alto voice was absolutely stunning, and downright sexy to boot.  Dressed in flapper dress, short bob haircut and with gams the just won't quit she was the real deal!
Also on fire tonight was the show's spectacular tap dancer, Sara Reich.  Tap is a talent that pretty much goes under the radar, these days.  Ridiculed as something only the uncool kids do, Reichstag put on a show that proved she was certainly no geek.  The best part was her 'beats battle' with drummer Dave Tedeschi, who played out a number of d'n'b tattoos on Reich's tap-board and 'attempted' a few amateur stunts. Of his own  One of them almost ended in a disastrous crash into the front row.  In reply Reich tapped up a storm in reply, mixed with a bit of hip-hop and traditional tap dancing.  It's hard to really capture it all accurately on paper but suffice to say she was definitely one of the highlights of tonight! 

Lavance Colley/ Sarah Reich
Tap dancers are all part of the great PMJ show experience but I wonder what else they can bring to the stage.  Last year we had a really entertaining performance with Casey Abrams and Adam Kubota simultaneously playing the double bass during PMJ's signature covers tune All About The Bass.(Meghan Trainor).  Later, Abrams did a few tricks with an ironing board and a beer, purloined from the front of house bar. Perhaps future shows could include more of that zaniness, or maybe a few some jugglers and conjurers.  That would really liven things up.

I was very happy to see Maiya Sykes back.  This strong, soulful black female has an amazing range, almost overwhelming at times.  If she ever performed on one of those TV shows like The Voice the rest of the contestants would most likely quit in defeat.  Her intense rendition of Radiohead's Creep was simply sublime, scaling at least four octaves at times but full of pure, raw energy.  Spine-tingling.  That said, nothing can compare to her 'jazz' interpretation of a medley of Biggie Smalls' tunes (most notably Juicy) sung in the style of Ella Fitzgerald and Cassandra Wilson, complete with scat and yet more octave-defying gymnastics.

Also back is Hannah Gill.  She did a few numbers but most memorable was an upbeat swing version of Gotye's Somebody I Used To Know.  She delivered it with such confidence and passion that Kimbra would most definitely be rethinking her own version in a live act!

Hannah Gill
Perhaps less featured this time was our old friend Lavance Colley, who was happy to let the others do the bulk of the material by he did give us some gloriously camp falsettos on Adele's Halo.  This is a song that I Once had appreciated as a Pretty good pop tune but done Colley's way you can well imagine it being used in a remake of Pricilla Queen of the Desert.  Another highlight for me.
When I recently talked to Scott Bradlee in an interview, he confided that he doesn't like to tour, instead preferring to stay in LA, reworking the latest tunes and making YouTube clips.  Many of the performers featured end up going on tour.  At present, there are three tours in full swing - A European tour, a North American tour and an Asian Australasian tour, which was just winding up.  To fill in for Bradlee on that leg Logan Thomas took over the keys.  Like Bradlee himself, he's a quiet but exceptionally capable player who communicates mainly with dry quips, nods and the occasional facial expression.  He's part of the main team with musical director Adam Kubota ("The Bass Whisperer") and enfant terrible Dave Tedeschi (drums and misguided stunts).  Also helping out, a small brass section - Nick ("The Shark") Finzer on trombone and Chloe Feoranzo on sax and clarinet.  She also came down to the front to give us another Radiohead's tune and No Alarms No Surprises.  The surprise was her huge voice - coming as it was from her small, petite stature. 
Post Modern Jukebox are already an institution on the web.  They've built up a reputation of shows that showcase exceptional talent, performed in the tradition of those old-time variety musical shows - but with modern music.  

Hannah Gill / Maiya Sykes / Sarah Niemietz
There's something uniquely 'American' about their delivery.  So, I was surprised to see no mention of or references to the recent tragic events in Los Vegas or the passing of Tom Petty. PMJ's agenda chooses to transcend reality and their motives are pure and simple: to put of a show that will knock your socks off!  There are many artists that would have chosen to dwell on recent happenings but PMJ chose to remain timeless.  They wanted to bring hope and joy so if you look at it this was then their finale version of Taylor Swift's Shake It Off spoke volumes. 

PMJ's final encore number, Such Great Heights (The Postal Service) came with many bows, cheers and a mass group selfie that involved all the road crew and theatre personnel as well on the stage.  Once again, PMJ had delivered a night to remember.  Wrapping up, Colley promised that they'd be back again.  Here's hoping they will.

All photos by LeVic Visual / Ambient Light -

Monday, October 02, 2017

The Groove Book Review - Big Data: How The Information Revolution is Transforming Our Lives - By Brian Clegg (Allen & Unwin $22.99)

Big Data - Brian Clegg
It's hard to avoid 'big data' - but we've lived in an information age for decades. What's changed?

An easy to absorb tour of this transformative technology, finding out how big data enables Netflix to forecast a hit, CERN to find the Higgs boson and medics to discover if red wine really is good for you.

Less positively, we explore how companies are using big data to benefit from smart meters, use advertising that spies on you, and develop the gig economy, where workers are managed at the whim of an algorithm.

Is the Brexit vote successful big data politics or the end of democracy? Why do airlines overbook, and why do banks get it wrong so often? With big data unquestionably here to stay, a bright future beckons if we can embrace its good side while guarding against its bad. This book reveals how.

The first time I heard the term 'big data' was at an exhibition of ESRI GIS data whilst working at the Ministry for Environment on a Climate Change Project.  Large amounts of data was used not only to map the change of tree growth but also to map the change of land use over an entire country (NZ) for 150 years starting from the earliest survey results right up to measurements taken from satellites and drones only 3 weeks prior to the modelling exercise.  All big data, my friends.

Data has been with us since we first made marks on clay tablets, but big data takes information technology - and its impact on our lives - to a whole new level. The combination of four key pieces of tech - the internet, advanced computers, smartphones and sophisticated algorithms that manage and interpret huge flows of data has made our systems worryingly powerful.

But 'Big Data' provides the answers to every aspects of our lives.  Look at the buying patterns at your local supermarket.  Daily results will tell you what products would suffer, or benefit, if another product were put on special offer – the victims and victors they are called. Another example is Netflix, who, Clegg shows, was funded not by advertising but by subtle product placement and subscriptions.  Their shows are also funded by the trending results.  Shows are determined by clicks and direct correlation ratings and the crowd, so to speak, decides what works and where Netflix should invest their funds when backing a new show - not the advertisers.  Data tells them exactly what show works, the age and sex and income of the audience and virtually everything else about them, too.

In Big Data, Clegg not only does shows us how of Netflix succeeds but also how the prediction of crime locations have been manipulated by algorithms to direct Police into the right place at the right time.  Sadly Big Data is the thing that will steal our jobs by using predictable stats to provide the answers that human judgments can't - or won't make.  Who knows, algorithms may even be part of the election process one day - and not just for polling!

Essentially, Big Data is here to stay.  Because, let's face it.  Big corporate are selfish, money grubbing arseholes. They don't care about your individual preferences.  Or your freedom to choose.  They want to manipulate your choices.  They want to box and number you and sell you more.  And to do that, they need to profile you.  If you won't fit the box, they'll crate the world you live in and model around it.   But, doom is at hand.  Big Data can create any scenario - and believe me - you're in one of those!   - should we be afraid of it or embrace it?  As always, Clegg writes with an easy clarity that draws us in - no technical expertise required to understand his exploration of this essential subject.  You don't need a maths degree.  Just a good dose of cynicism.

Big data presents us with huge opportunities… and challenges. It can make our lives better, from improvements in medical diagnosis to the benefits of a smart home, or it can ruin our lives where jobs are managed by algorithms and our finances are managed with no way of understanding how the decisions are made or appealing against them. Big data is here to stay - so we all need to understand it better.

The volumes of data we now access can give unparalleled abilities to make predictions, respond to customer demand and solve problems. But Big Brother’s shadow hovers over it. Though big data can set us free and enhance our lives, it has the potential to create an underclass and a totalitarian state.

With big data ever-present, you can’t afford to ignore it. Acclaimed science writer Brian Clegg - a habitual early adopter of new technology (and the owner of the second-ever copy of Windows in the UK) - brings big data to life.

About Brian Clegg
Clegg wrote one of my favourite geek books - Inflight Science: a Guide to the World from Your Airplane Window.  Every moment of your airplane journey is an opportunity to experience science in action--Inflight Science will be your guide. Brian Clegg explains the ever-changing view from your window seat and suggests entertaining experiments to calculate how far away you are from distant objects and the population of the towns you fly over. You'll learn why the coastline is infinite in length, the cause of thunderstorms, and why there's absolutely no chance of getting stuck on an airline vacuum toilet!  Packed full of amazing insights from physics, chemistry, engineering, geography, and more, Inflight Science is a voyage of scientific discovery perfect for any journey.

Born in Rochdale, Lancashire, Clegg was educated at Manchester Grammar School and went on to read Natural Science (specializing in experimental physics) at Cambridge University. After graduating, he spent a year at Lancaster University where he gained a second MA in Operational Research, a discipline originally developed during the Second World War to apply the power of mathematics to warfare. It has since been widely applied to problem solving and decision making in business.

From Lancaster, he joined British Airways, where he formed a new department tasked with providing all PC hardware, software and consultancy to the airline. When this was successfully running, he set up BA's Emerging Technologies Group, which researched and trialed technologies from fingerprint recognition to electronic cash. This emphasis on innovation led to training with Dr. Edward de Bono, and in 1994 he left BA to set up his own creativity consultancy, running courses on the development of new ideas and products, and the creative solution of business problems. His clients include the BBC, the Met Office, British Airways, GlaxoSmithKline, Sony, Royal Bank of Scotland and many other blue-chips.
Clegg is a regular speaker and has spoken at a range of venues, from Oxford and Cambridge universities to the Dana Centre at London's Science Museum. His book A Brief History of Infinity was launched with a sell-out lecture at the Royal Institution in London. He is also a regular contributor to both radio and TV programmes and writes regular columns, features and reviews for numerous magazines and newspapers, including PC Week, Computer Weekly, Personal Computer World, BBC History Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Chemistry World, Physics World, Nature, Playboy, Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Observer and House Beautiful.

Clegg's 'Ecologic' won the 2009 IVCA Clarion Award, while 'A Brief History of Infinity' and 'Dice World' have been on the longlist for the Royal Society's book prize. In 2013, he was featured as a question on the BBC quiz show University Challenge and also appeared in the Christmas edition of the show, representing Lancaster University alongside actor Roger Ashton-Griffiths, presenter Ranvir Singh and food writer Matthew Fort.

His latest UK book Are Numbers Real?: the Uncanny Relationship between Maths and the Physical World was published by Robinson on 2 February 2017. In the US, his most recent title is Are Numbers Real?: the Uncanny Relationship of Mathematics and the Physical World, published by St. Martin's Press in December 2016.  Clegg lives in Wiltshire with his wife and twin children.

If you'd like your book reviewed or have a suggestion for a book to be reviewed then contact me at:

Many thanks to for this book

The Groove Book Report - The Library - A Catalogue of Wonders - by Stuart Kells (The Text Publishing Company) $40.00

The Library - A Catalogue of Wonders
 - by Stuart Kells
Libraries are filled with magic. From the Bodleian, the Folger and the Smithsonian to the fabled libraries of middle earth, Umberto Eco’s medieval library labyrinth and libraries dreamed up by John Donne, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Stuart Kells explores the bookish places, real and fictitious, that continue to capture our imaginations.

This is a fascinating, engaging and really enjoyable exploration of libraries as places of beauty and wonder. It’s a celebration of books as objects and an account of the deeply personal nature of these hallowed spaces by one of Australia’s leading bibliophiles.

My 8 year old daughter thinks that Kells, She is herself, a book worm.  Her library is already threatening to eat our house.  My collection nearly has!  A leading Australian bibliophile, has THE DREAM JOB.  Starting at a young age he buys and sells rare books and first editions.  His collection puts him in touch with some of the most fascinating libraries, book shops and traders in the world.

For this book Kells goes on a tour of thousands of libraries. The result isn’t a punchline but in fact a book that mixes love with history and facts.  This volume draws together his scholarly essays on a range of different topics related to the storage of books, reading in general and different methods of communication through history and is an intriguing skip through the history books.  Along the way we discover places that are so much more than a mere storeroom.  They are shrines to the written word and publishing.  For many people libraries possess a heart and soul and are a delightful sanctuary, a solace and comfort.  They ARE civilization.

I always find it fascinating that despite the presence of Google and the internet Libraries and books still rock on.  Libraries might suck up a good proportion of our rates but woe betide the Councillor that tries to reduce their budgets.  They are the heart and soul of the community.  As Neil Gaiman says 'A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. It's a community space. It's a place of safety, a haven from the world."  Mind you, Frank Zappa has a slightly different view: "If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library."

The Bodleian
Kells begins his book by tracing the oral traditions of native tribes and how their members shared their stories and handed these down through the generations. From here, there were original methods to record and write things down. This was done on materials like tablets, the paper-like papyrus and codices made of animal skins. Fast forward through history and we would eventually get books as we know them- printed on a mass scale, made from paper and featuring illustrations. We would also get ones that were ultimately bound with covers to enable the book to be easily located.

This book is meticulously researched and is full of interesting anecdotes and snapshots from history. Kells is obviously very passionate about books (no one will question his bibliophile status after reading this) and his joy and love is apparent to the reader. Kells’ enthusiasm is also something that can be shared by the reader as they come to learn so much and gain a new understanding of the value of books and literature. This is particularly important in this digital age when kindles, e-books and the internet pose a big threat to physical books and libraries.

The Folger Shakespearean Library  
This book is also a celebration of different cultures and has examples of how libraries have influenced different people and how they have been used as the settings in films and novels. Included are delightful anecdotes like the story of writer, Jeanette Winterson hiding books under her mattress and on her person in order to read these on the loo because she was forbidden to read non-religious texts by her strict, Pentecostal step-mother. We also get a description of the lengths that some bibliophiles will go to in order to curate and source that elusive or rare book.

This book is, ultimately, an engaging and well-written volume by a knowledgeable expert and passionate fan of the subject matter. The result is almost like poetry, a rich ode to all things books and everything we love about them.  You totally feel his enjoyment and engagement.  I love bibliophiles and love spending time in their company.  So for me, this was a real treat.  If you're not a book person, then you ma find this book a bit dense, after a while.  But let's face it.  You would rather vege out on Game of Thrones or some Netflix box set.  And so we don't really care what you think.  For every book lover out there - go buy this puppy.  Period!

Stuart Kells is an author and book-trade historian. His 2015 book, Penguin and the Lane Brothers, won the Ashurst Business Literature Prize.
An authority on rare books, he has written and published on many aspects of print culture and the book world.  Stuart lives in Melbourne with his family.  He is now writing a book about Shakespeare’s library.

If you'd like your book reviewed or have a suggestion for a book to be reviewed then contact me at:

Many thanks to for this book

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Groove Book Report - The Pool House by Tasmina Perry (Hachette)

Someone lied. Someone died…

When you’re invited to spend summer in the Hamptons with a group of new friends, you agree – who wouldn’t? But then you realise you’re taking the place of another woman, a woman who died in mysterious circumstances, just the summer before. Your housemates tell you her death was an accident. But which of them has something to hide?

Frivilous, glamourous, fast paced and slightly off setting.  This is the grown up version of "I know What You Did Last Summer" - Set in the Hamptons.

Jem and her husband Dan have moved to NYC from London to live the dream and Dan to pursue his career in publishing. When they are invited to house-share a beach house in the Hamptons with three other couples every weekend in the summer, they jump at the chance. Not quite able to believe their luck, they settle into their new lifestyle quickly and all is well until Jem discovers that the couple who had the room last year didn’t have quite so much luck when Alice was found dead in the swimming pool. With the group reluctant to discuss what happened last summer, Jem – with the help of neighbour and famous thriller writer, Michael Kearney – sets out to uncover what really happened that night, but it seems she may be meddling where she’s not wanted…

This is a dark, often twisting novel from the bestselling writer Tasmina Perry and it will keep you on the edge of your seat. It's perfect fodder for anyone who's just finished SKY's boxsets: The Affair (Showtime TV).  It's gripping pace and brilliantly written. Snap one up for your BFF's upcoming Xmas stocking.  It'll go well with some Champs and a beach chair.

Tasmina Perry
Tasmina Perry left a career in law for the more glamorous world of women’s magazine journalism.

She has written on celebrity and style for many national magazines including Marie−Claire‚ Glamour and Heat and was most recently Deputy Editor of InStyle magazine. She has also found time to launch her own travel and fashion magazine Jaunt. All of her four novels have been Sunday Times best-sellers and her books have been published in seventeen countries.

She lives in Surrey with her husband and son.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017



New Zealand loves Postmodern Jukebox!! 

The Coffeebar Kid interviews Scott Bradlee 

Following two successful tours over the last two years, Nice Events is proud to announce Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox will return to New Zealand in September 2017 for another mammoth national tour. Friday 29th September Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland Sunday 1st October Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch Tuesday 3rd October Opera House, Wellington "We're once again excited to bring our vintage universe of pop music performed by some of the greatest talent in the world back Down Under! Dress to impress and plan on having a night to remember!" – Scott Bradlee. 2016 was another big year for PMJ! They completed a 75-city sold-out European run in June 2016 and a 45-date North American tour from September to November 2016, which included their first-ever performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. In 2015, PMJ sold out their first Australasian tour, prompting high praise from media. The West Australian said the show had the audience “clapping, cheering, singing, dancing or simply gathering our collective jaws off the Astor’s carpet,” while Time Out wrote, “It’s fun. It’s funny, and it’s bringing a fresh take to pop tunes of this century with musical forms made popular in the last one!”

Created by Bradlee, the rotating collective of Postmodern Jukebox has spent the past few years amassing more than 600 million YouTube views and 2+ million subscribers, performed on “Good Morning America,” topped iTunes and Billboard charts and played hundreds of shows to packed-house crowds around the world. As NPR put it, they’ve done this by “taking current Top 40 hits and re-imagining them as coming from older eras of popular music.” In one such remake, Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox turned Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” into a doo-wop ditty that’s garnered over 16.4 million views. Last year, they envisioned Radiohead’s alt-rock hit “Creep” as a torch-like ballad that’s racked up over 25 million views and was named one of the “9 Best Viral Cover Videos of 2015” by People magazine. Multi-Grammy winning artist Lorde praised Postmodern Jukebox’s vintage take on her hit single, “Royals,” which has been viewed over 17 million times, as her “favourite.” They recently performed a ‘30s jazz remake of Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s” for MT.V UK – click HERE to watch. The group's accomplishments has earned them praise from a plethora of media outlets, including Mashable, who wrote, “Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox are all about reimagining music and framing it in beautiful new ways.” Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Scott Bradlee’s group is known for retro-fying modern hit songs into viral success.”

Yahoo! Music added, “if you’ve been on YouTube in the last couple of years, then you’re familiar with the everything- new-is-old-again brilliance of the viral phenomenon known as Postmodern Jukebox.” Since beginning their touring career in 2014, Postmodern Jukebox has consistently played in bigger venues each time they’ve returned to a market. In 2015 they played two sold-out shows at the 2,100-capacity PlayStation Theatre in New York City. This year, they returned to the Big Apple on October 7th to play a sold out show the historic Radio City Music Hall. In 2017 they add the iconic Sydney Opera House to their list of venues – a major international milestone in the touring schedule for Scott Bradlee’s troupe of performers.

Bradlee, the mastermind behind the group, has turned Postmodern Jukebox into a juggernaut by building an incredible grassroots movement around the act. He continues to pick the songs, create the arrangements and shows, and puts together the performers - which includes some notable names alongside phenomenal "undiscovered" talent. The group releases a new video every week, each one shot in the casual environment where he can often be seen playing piano in the background. A very busy man these days, Bradlee splits his time between producing new videos in Los Angeles and traveling the globe to manage his tours. "I posted the first video in 2009,” recalls Bradlee. “I was broke and living in Queens, NY. Seven years later, we have over 2 million subscribers, we’ve sold out shows across four continents and we’ve become a showcase for an incredible group of performers. Every single one of our cast has unique superpowers. I take pride in putting together the right powers and personalities to create a unique and amazing experience for our fans. We want them to escape reality and join us for the most sensational 1920s party this side of The Great Gatsby. We want them to experience what it was like to be at the New Years' Eve show that Sinatra would have hosted in the 1940s. We want them to feel the excitement of hearing the greats of Motown live and up close. Our goal is to give our audiences their favourite show again and again and still have it feel like the very first time."

Postmodern Jukebox is certainly a rebuke to the contention that ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’ - and there’s something truly special about witnessing their musical magic live. To echo Bradlee’s own invitation: “Dust off the turntable, fix yourself a stiff drink, and get comfy. Welcome to the world of Postmodern Jukebox.”

Friday 29th September - Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland
Sunday 1st October - Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch
Tuesday 3rd October - Opera House, Wellington

Tickets available via or

Sprinting to the polls: Suffrage Day's 124th anniversary

Reproduced from

Kate Sheppard
Photo: Archives New Zealand
Opinion - So keen were they to exercise their right to vote for the first time in 1893, the women of Greymouth literally raced each other to the polling booths.

A Mrs McPherson won the sprint, becoming the first woman to cast a vote in the town's voting booth on 28 November, 1893. It had been just 71 days since women's right to vote in general elections in New Zealand became law, on 19 September, 1893.

Today, that remarkable historical event marks its 124th anniversary.

Celebrations will take place this year as New Zealanders go to the polls in what is unfolding as one of the most dramatic and closely fought contests in New Zealand's history, and one in which gender has provided critical drama.

Who stands for political office and what political womanhood means remain matters of novelty and controversy.

Was this what political activists in the 1890s imagined of the future?

Kate Sheppard, leader of the campaign for women's right to vote in New Zealand, argued that women going to the polls was simply "just". The "foundation of all political liberty", she explained, was "that those who obey the law should be able to have a voice in choosing those who make the law".

Parliament "should be the reflection of the wishes of the people". A "government of the people, by the people, and for the people", she argued, "should mean all the people, and not one half".

Such arguments were radical in the 1880s and 1890s. Dangerous even. That they succeeded points to 1893 as a very significant moment in New Zealand's history, and in our ongoing national life.

New Zealand's 1890s experiments with democracy can be seen in various arenas.

At Pāpāwai (Wairarapa), Waipatu (Hastings) and other marae, women and men of the Kotahitanga movement met in gatherings of the Paremata Māori (Māori Parliament). A movement of unity and independent political debate, the Kotahitanga movement was also a place where Māori women sought specific representation.

In 1893 Meri Mangakahia presented a petition to that parliament on behalf of all women seeking the right to vote and be represented in the assembly.

Women, like men, she argued, had interests and knowledge of land and its fate; but women might also be more effective in making a case to Queen Victoria for redress of wrongs as she was a woman, like them.

The success of the suffrage campaign in New Zealand is something we can feel rightly proud of. It speaks of a sharp difference in political culture to that of Britain or the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was not until 1919 that women in those places won the right to vote.

Even then, it was initially only British women over 30 years of age, those who were married or those with a university degree who could vote. Only in 1928 did British women enjoy the right to vote on the same terms as men.

We know that New Zealand women took to the polls with zest in 1893. In that first election 90,920 women cast a vote: a turnout of 82 percent - far exceeding the 70 percent of registered male voters. Fears that polling day would be unruly, and that women would be deterred from voting by rowdy behaviour at polling booths, were not borne out.

History offers us a mixed balance sheet in women's quest for full citizenship, in the aspiration to be persons rather than 'roles'. The right to vote was a beginning rather than an end point. Equal pay and economic self determination, freedom from violence in home and family, and peace in the world were all issues on the National Council of Women's agenda from the date of its formation in 1896.

All portents indicate women are going to the polls as eagerly in 2017 as in 1893. They do so with a historical knowledge that this was a right hard won, and in which they are exercising a national right of longest standing anywhere in the world.

Charlotte Macdonald is a professor of history, philosophy, political science and international relations at Victoria University.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Alma Johnson - The first woman to appear on New Zealand television - Dies

The first woman to appear on New Zealand television, Alma Johnson, has died.

Alma Johnson, who was married to the newsreader Tim Evans Freke, appeared on our screens some 56 years ago.
And at that time no one had any idea how popular TV would become.
When Ms Johnson auditioned to be the first woman in New Zealand television, the then -radio announcer had no idea what she was in for.
"The audition consisted of my standing at one end of an absolutely totally empty studio with a camera at the other end and Ian Watkins standing beside it and just firing I think three questions. And they said, right. You've got the job."
The year was 1961 and Ms Johnson was to become the first woman on our screens, as a continuity announcer.
"Continuity announcer was simply to act as a hostess and it was to say 'good evening' everyone and welcome to tonight's programmes, and I sat behind a desk with my nameplate in front of it - nothing but that," she explained in an interview before her death.
"I had no idea - I don't think any of us had any idea of the impact of television. And it was the blind leading the blind you know. Even in the early days there wasn't an awful lot of response because very few people had sets, the reception was so awful it was all snow -nobody could see you anyway."
But that all changed by the mid-60s, and Alma Johnson had become a household name.
"People would stop you in the street and say 'no, you mustn't wear floral, it doesn't look right'," she said.
"Hair was important - it became a thing - and it was very buffont in those stages and people were very quick to tell you what they thought of that."
On top of a glowing career presenting TV shows in the 1960s and '70s, Alma Johnson was also a highly regarded teacher of speech and drama - a passion she continued into her final years.
"I'm just so lucky to be working at my age. And there's a sense of performance about it. You know. Once a performer always performers don't you think?"

Friday, September 15, 2017

WOMAD NZ - 16 -18 March 2018 - is thrilled to deliver its first artist announcement for WOMAD 2018, with the classic chart-topping Kiwi hitmakers; DRAGON

Dragon who since forming in 1972, have produced a stack of rock anthems including April Sun in Cuba, Are You Old Enough, Young Years, and Rain. Their WOMAD 2018 performance will be a  homecoming of sorts as  Dragon founding member Todd Hunter,  and his late brother Marc, were born and raised in Waitara, Taranaki. The Hunter brothers spent many long summer days on holiday in New Plymouth at their Aunt’s place across the road from the stunning 55-acre Brooklands Park and the TSB Bowl of Brooklands; the home of WOMAD NZ for the past fourteen years.

Todd has advised WOMAD festival goers to be "prepared to sing your hearts out with a bunch of happy human beings".

Emere Wano – Programme Manager, Event Director says "A legacy born out of hard work, these timeless Kiwi rockers will get you up air-guitaring and singing, and as one reviewer put it, 'if they don’t then you need your pulse checked'."

WOMAD NZ 2018 will see the festival celebrate its 14th anniversary in the stunning 55-acre Brooklands Park and the TSB Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth 16-18 March 2018.

Over the years, WOMAD NZ, has rightfully gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful outdoor festivals in the world and after going on sale with early-bird tickets on July 10th, 2017 WOMAD made a new record, with early-bird tickets selling out in record time!

Festival tickets are on sale now - for all ticketing info please go to

The main stage is set at the base of a natural amphitheatre and not only provides a stunning setting, but an acoustic experience second to none. The other three stages are located throughout Brooklands Park, with every square inch oozing the vibrancy of WOMAD.

The maximum capacity for WOMAD is 15,000 ticket holders per day so you’ll never feel like you are in a mosh pit – in fact bring a blanket and enjoy refreshments in stylish chill out areas, watch a cooking demonstration or explore the stalls and workshops. The kids will be entertained at Kidzone with workshops especially for them spread over the weekend. WOMAD is not just music! There’s plenty of other things on site to discover, come along and soak up the warmth of the WOMAD vibe.

The WOMAD campsite is situated next to the festival within the New Plymouth Racecourse and TSB Stadium. The festival site is also located a short distance from New Plymouth’s centre, if you book early you could even get a motel or hotel or house close enough to walk.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Groove Book Report: The Great New Zealand Robbery: How gangsters pulled off our most audacious robbery - Scott Bainbridge (Allen & Unwin $32.99)

It should be remembered as New Zealand's answer to Britain's Great Train Robbery: in the dead of the night, robbers broke into the Waterfront Industry Commission's offices and made off with an audacious loot equivalent to almost $1 million today. This 1956 heist, which eventually came to be known as the Waterfront Payroll Robbery, was executed with military precision and the robbers left nothing but a smoking office and an empty safe behind them.

The crime was eventually pinned on small-time crook Trevor Nash. When four years later, Nash made a brazen prison-escape attempt, he rose to notoriety as a kind of anti-establishment hero.  But to this day uncertainty remains about whether Nash alone was responsible for the waterfront heist. Could he really-cunning as he was-have pulled it off all by himself?   And what happened to the money?

Bainbridge's writing on this is almost forensic at times.  He dives deeply into the case notes, mixes it with newspaper articles and even a few interviews.  But better yet his delivery is far from dry.  He uses a lot of the language of the day in his descriptions.  He resurects long forgotten terminologies (used by insiders of the day).  Terms like 'Soup Job' - the practice of cutting a hole in a safe with a  acetylene torch to get at the contents.

The Northern Steamship Building which
held the Waterfront Industry Commission Offices
The robbery of  the Waterfront Industry Commission's offices was undertaken like no other crime of the time.  It was meticulously planned.  At a time of no internet or even a reliable phone service, Auckland Police did well to learn quickly that the job had been planned using inside information to search and locate electrical cables for specific alarms, to hone in on the location of the payroll safe, to understand the potential contents and even how to launder the money after wards.  Along the way we learn of the intricate details of a string of big and small characters that made up the 'gang' who helped Trevor Nash, if indeed it was him, and what their roles were.

This setting was 1950's Auckland, conservative, yet divided along wealth and class lines, not quite colour, as Auckland didn't seem to have the demographic and ethnic mix that it has today. It also talks of a time, when the criminal fraternity in Auckland, if not New Zealand was "run", by colourful characters, mobsters, enforcers, powerful families, yet so far removed from the aggressive "drug", and gang culture crime of today.