Cautionary tale…


‘Woah! It’s lucky that the earthquake happened in the middle of the night!’

In civil defence terms, making sure that your city’s residents reliably spend half of every twenty four hours tucked up in their bottomless sleeping bags watching, ‘Cats that Make you LOL’ is a pretty good tactic.

It’s also a popular one. The first Christchurch earthquake in 2010 happened at around 5 in the morning, an occurrence that was treated as an almost zen joke;

‘If massive lumps of masonry fall onto the footpath but no-one is there to be squished under them, did they fall at all?’

Ah, yes, they fucking did actually. And if that quake had struck during daylight hours it would have likely killed scores of people. Just like the second one did, six months later. In terms of a drill, it doesn’t get better than this. The 2010 earthquake demonstrated some of the city’s most dangerous weak spots.

But for some reason nothing was done. Buildings were left open, life carried on as normal.  I’ve said before, at the time of the first Christchurch quake  it seemed as if the city was too invested in the idea that it didn’t get earthquakes to notice that it just had a fucking enormous earthquake.

Wellington, on the other hand, is carefully checking to make sure that, should/when another quake occurs, the city won’t dissolve on top of its residents. Top thinking right there.


Waving, not drowning

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 6.54.32 PMYesterday I stumbled into the tearoom and was greeted with three Young People, their fresh faces turned up to the clear, bright blue of the television screen.

‘Eeennggaah?’ I said

‘Swimming,’ they said, ‘Finals. Straya might medal’

‘Grrrr…. ‘ I said, lamenting the loss of distinction between nouns and verbs in that terrible caravan fire during season 573 of Home and Away.

I’d actually forgotten the Olympics had started. This is because I simply don’t give a shit. And, as I watched what appeared to be an extremely well organised bait-ball unfold on the television screen I realised I’m not the only one.

The Olympics aren’t dead but they’re dying. Competing with ever more immediate and fantastic feats of weirdness, from Donald Trump to cat-memes, the Olympics simply fails to capture the public imagination.

On top of that, Olympians, especially western ones, are the bodily representation of a freakishly unequal distribution of wealth. They are overfed, impotent show-ponies, a track-suited middle-finger to the global poor. Watching each hermetically-sealed pod of uber-buffs touch down on the seething miasma of South American carni-shambles is an embarrassing joke.

Consider the slapstick outrage over countries with ‘performance enhancing drugs’ – a perfectly managed scandal that diverts attention from those with performance enhancing vaccinations, performance enhancing chlorinated water and the absence of the requirement to actually do any real work in order to survive. The Olympics used to be a celebration of struggle and triumph, now it’s an overt display of extreme wealth and excess.

In 1984, as I carefully drew purple and pink borders around my Heroes of the Pool project I thought that any one of us skinny, scabby kids could grow up and represent our country in the Olympics. We all did. Sure, it wouldn’t be easy, but if we worked hard and ate whatever branded cereal product was heavily marketed to us, we just might get there.

That nationalistic myth of mobility and achievement is dead and gone. Kids growing up in Bundarra know perfectly well that the closest they’ll get to the Olympics is spending a life time in trackies. The dream is over. Rio 2016 just puts it up in lights.



Interesting things about Wellington, New Zealand; No. 3; Mould.

Oh, hello there!

Oh, hello there!

From the air, Wellington looks like the work experience kid got left in charge – the entire city is laid over steep hills and valleys, with houses perched over vertiginous drops or buried amongst sunless thickets. As a result, some houses never see the sun at all, and many more are dug into steep clay hillsides. The back rooms of a house or apartment, usually bedrooms, can remain in perpetual darkness.

The natural light in these ‘dark rooms’ is limited to an eerie verdigris glow, filtered through a thin film of window-moss. The average inner city Wellington bedroom can feel somewhat incomplete without a complement of expanding MDF furniture and an axolotle. The results are predictable – a ceiling in the traditional ‘hot-coco’ style  (spreading patches of brown-black mould) and a wardrobe containing enough polar fleece to upholster a whale.

Polar fleece, incidentally, is New Zealand’s tartan. I am reliably informed that it cannot sustain mould, which I am inclined to believe – even mould won’t cling to something that smells like annealed vomit.

What I am overlooking, of course, is the hidden genius that is Wellington’s building stock – it’s mostly timber, which rolls and bounces with the frequent earthquakes. Having had the entire city wobble over a couple of times, the early settlers abandoned their grandiose colonial dreams of stone and masonry in favour of heartwood Rimu and other beautiful local species, which of course subsequent generations efficiently plastered over with woodgrain laminate. Thankfully, many buildings are now revealing their origins, including  timbers now commercially extinct, such as Kauri.

Five things about Wellington. Number One; Zealandia.

Te Kata Tiripi (Gaza Strip)

Te Kata Tiripi (Gaza Strip)

I’ve just returned from a week in Antarctica’s northern-most base-camp, Wellington. Actually, the weather was beautiful some of the time, so I won’t get too carried away, but it was certainly…..refreshing.

Here, in no particular order, are some things that Australians might find interesting about Wellington.

1. Zealandia.

Zealandia is a 225 hectare bird sanctuary between the suburbs of Karori and Brooklyn. You can read more about it on their website, so I won’t reproduce that information here. What isn’t mentioned, however, is that the sanctuary abuts many houses – it literally runs right up to the edge of the suburbs. In a country where the damp is so comprehensive it has risen up and gone back down,’bushfire risk’ is a quaint, but utterly foreign concept, like effective insulation or government corruption (New Zealanders try hard, but come home hungry on this one).

Aside from the organised ‘activities’ at the Zealandia centre (which I never went to) the sanctuary is basically an enormous fence encircling remnant and regrowth native bush surrounding the water reservoir. There are walks through the sanctuary, but there’s also a track along the outside of the fence, separating houses, scrub and easements from the sanctuary itself. I assume this is to stop the possums from leaping over the fence – New Zealanders are very athletic. It means you can access the bush and the birdsong from many places – often just down a little track or driveway.

For me though, the most striking thing about the sanctuary is that there are now native birds, and their song, all over the suburbs. The cats of Karori have never been happier.

This is a dramatic change that has taken place in about twenty years (the last time I spent any real time in Wellington). There are also other little patches of bush around the sanctuary, connected by walking tracks – the Birdwood reserve for instance – that connects Karori with the Karori tunnel, and forms part of some people’s daily commute. Imagine if half of your 40 minute walk to work in the CBD was spent in a green tunnel of forest?  You’d have to listen to Alan Jones on your iphone.