Defining nationhood

Strange Fruit, by Turtle Donna Sarten at the Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington.

Strange Fruit, by Turtle Donna Sarten at the Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington.

It was ANZAC Day last Wednesday (25th April). Outside of Australia and New Zealand (and increasingly the UK, for reasons I’ll explain later), not many people have heard of ANZAC Day. Fewer still understand what is all about.

Here in the Antipodes, ANZAC Day is possibly the most significant NATIONAL holiday we have. National in the sense of being specific to our country – rather than a reflection of our wider cultural adherence to broadly Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter.

I know that the Australians also have Australia Day and we New Zealanders have Waitangi Day; both of which commemorate events that represent the beginnings of the formalisation of European dominance over the indigenous peoples of the two countries. But increasingly ANZAC Day has come – for many on both sides of the Tasman – to better represent each country’s sense of nationhood.

I’m going to quote Wikipedia here, because it’s a pretty succinct account of what ANZAC Day is:

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”[1][2]

The date is the day, in 1915, when Australian and New Zealand troops landed, as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force, on the Gallipoli Peninsula in what is now Turkey, in an attempt to capture it from the troops of the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with Germany in World War I.

Gallipoli was a monumental military cock-up. Instead of the envisaged swift, decisive Allied victory, fighting continued for eight months before those Allied troops left alive were evacuated. Forty four thousand (44,000) Allied troops died at Gallipoli (from the British Empire and France); eighty seven thousand (87,000) Turkish troops also lost their lives. For two relatively under-populated countries in the Pacific, the 8,500 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders who died represented an enormous loss (remember too, that thousands more were fighting and dying in muddy battlefields in France also).

ANZAC Day then, has come to symbolise a moment in time when two of Britain’s newer colonies felt themselves emerge as distinct nations – shaped and scarred by terrible suffering.

When I was a child, ANZAC Day was a public holiday, but most people I knew regarded it as little more than a welcome day off work. Those who attended the dawn parades seemed to mainly be returned servicemen and women, their families and those in the military.

Ironically, the further we have travelled from the actual Gallipoli landing, the more people feel the need to remember. There are no WWI veterans left to take part in the parades and services; and dwindling numbers of WWII veterans. Now it is their descendants who rise before dawn, pin the medals of grandfathers and great grandfathers onto their own or their children’s chests and go out in the cold to take part in increasingly well-attended commemorations that are held all around the country. That includes the small city-fringe community I live in, where the gates of the local park serve as a war memorial, naming the dozen or so farm boys who left very rural Greenhithe to go to war but did not return.

ANZAC commemorations have traditionally also taken place at ANZAC Cove itself, and increasingly in the UK as young Kiwis and Aussies on their OE (overseas experience) join with other ex-pats to remember not only the sacrifice of their forefathers, but affirm their own cultural identity.

2015 will be the centenary of Gallipoli. Already it’s been announced that there will be a ballot for places at the ceremony at Anzac Cove, such is the interest amongst Antipodeans young and old. In Auckland where I live, the mayor has announced a programme of remembrance, which includes funding for memorials, museum exhibitions and events. New Zealand – and likely Australia too – are preparing themselves for a momentous occasion.

While interest and participation in ANZAC Day has grown, there has always been discomfort with the notion of defining nationhood in terms of military sacrifice. Amongst other things, it highlights the way different conflicts have been perceived – something that’s central to the beautiful and moving installation, Strange Fruit, by Turtle Donna Sarten, currently  at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington.

I’ve written about this installation in another blog, so won’t repeat myself here except to say that Strange Fruit consists of 3890 military dog tags; each of which has been hand-inscribed with the name of one of the New Zealanders who served in Vietnam during the period 1964-72.

Unlike in earlier conflicts, Vietnam veterans did not return home to parades celebrating their sacrifice. They experienced the embarrassment, silence and sometimes hostility of a public which had comprehensively turned against the war. In New Zealand, veterans have lobbied tirelessly  for recognition not only of their service, but even more importantly, of the physical and psychological damage they suffered – including exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange and PTSD.

Detail: Strange Fruit by Turtle Donna Sarten.

Detail: Strange Fruit by Turtle Donna Sarten.

In the stillness of a stark white gallery, Donna Sarten has invited visitors to contemplate war and sacrifice and remembrance, through the lens of a recent conflict that in many ways divided this country as much as World War One united it, and perhaps re-defined our sense of nationhood as much as Gallipoli originally formed it.


A maze of manners


The boy-child, blissfully unaware of the manners’ maze that awaits him.

ZimmerBitch has relocated to Wellington for a few well-deserved days of coffee and socialising and socialising over coffee.

One consequence of this is a reliance on public transport; something that’s a bit alien to my usual car-borne existence. Wellington has pretty good public transport in my experience. I know the locals complain and to be honest, the airport-Hutt Valley bus is criminally expensive, but in general whenever I’m in the capital I find I can walk a short distance to a bus-stop and before long a bus comes along that is willing to take me someplace interesting faster than I could walk.

This morning, I had to get from my hotel in funky Cuba Street to Victoria University’s Pipitea campus; a relatively short and mainly picturesque walk, but not one I wanted to do in heels.

Being relatively early morning, the bus was pretty crowded. People were already standing; but since they seemed to be teenagers, I felt ok about grabbing the last seat. It’s only when I sat down that I realised a woman had got on behind me. Really stylishly dressed and professional-looking I figured her to be in her sixties and was about to stand up and offer her my seat when it occurred to me I’m not that much younger than her – and to the rest of the bus we probably both looked more alike than different. I was suddenly struck with one of those dilemmas only the well brought-up could ever experience; was it worse to stay seated – which seemed disrespectful to me – or stand up and effectively say “hey lady, you look old enough to need my seat.”

I stayed put. Being rational, I was only going a few stops anyway. But more importantly, in this youth-obsessed age where sixty is the new thirty five, I figured I’d be mortified if someone – anyone – offered me their seat on the bus.

Daily Prompt: Million Dollar Question


Why do I blog?

1. I’ve got a fidgety brain.  I need to write because it seems to be the only way to channel the fidgeting; to get the ideas that won’t shape themselves in my head somewhere I can see them and construct some sort of sense. It’s cerebral knitting. And yes, I do the actual kind too to stop myself grinching fabric and picking at my fingernails.

2. I’m basically sociable. I like talking to new people; having them become part of the narrative I’m constructing. And more importantly, I love sharing in other people’s stories. My mum can go for a bus ride into town and come home with eight strangers’ life stories. I used to both marvel at that and be slightly freaked out by it. But you know what? I’m becoming my mother – only I’m riding the cyber-bus.

3. I like technology. I used to keep a journal which got filled with photos and newspaper clippings, but with a blog I can have video and links to other writers’ and ideas and all sorts of cool stuff. It’s way more exciting to produce, and a much more interesting reader experience. I’ve worked as a writer/document designer and I feel really strongly that (kind of like how we eat with our eyes first) we read pages as a whole visual thing. Text is increasingly image and the more I can make those images appealing, the better.

Nuff said!

iPhoneography Challenge: black and white photography

Autumn has finally arrived, with cooler mornings and mist filling the valleys around where I live. Perfect for black and white photography, so for this week’s iPhoneography Challenge

Walking the line; Roland Road Greenhithe.

Walking the line; Roland Road Greenhithe.

Bye bye Paremoremo; at least til the mist clears.

Bye bye Paremoremo; at least til the mist clears. Kyle Road, Greenhithe.

Vanishing point; power lines on Tauhinu Road, Greenhithe.

Vanishing point; power lines on Tauhinu Road, Greenhithe.

Pearls of mist; captured by a busy spider; Greenhithe Road, Greenhithe.

Pearls of dew; captured by a busy spider; Greenhithe Road, Greenhithe.

All taken on iphone and edited with Ultimate Photo Editor Lite.

Who gives a fig?

These are not figs from my tree; I ate them before it occurred to me to take a photo. The credit for this picture belongs to photo credit: Xerones via photopin cc

These are not figs from my tree; I ate mine before it occurred to me to take a photo. The credit for this picture belongs to (photo credit: Xerones via photopin cc)

I have a small fig tree in my garden. After languishing for several years in a pot, it finally found a new home in the row of fruit trees I like to think of as “the orchard.”

It’s now fig season, and the first few were ripe a couple of weeks ago. Between my noticing this fact  and going out to harvest a couple, the birds had already eaten the ripe fruit.

Now I’m a pretty lazy gardener and generally don’t quite get around to making much of an effort to protect my plants. But I love figs, and even in season they tend not to be cheap (around $19.00 a kilo). So I actually went to the garden centre and bought some protective netting. I was expecting it to be quite expensive, but a piece of plastic net, 4 metres x 1 metre cost about eight dollars. That’s enough to protect my figs AND my mandarin tree, which also has ripening fruit that’s attractive to the birds.

$8 netting protects my figs from the birds.

$8 netting protects my figs from the birds.

I’m so happy! I picked a couple of figs today and they were perfect. But more importantly, I’ve taken a small positive step towards protecting a food crop. And ok, it’s a little tree now – but it’s already way bigger than it was when I replanted it, so in years to come, I can probably expect it will grow even bigger and produce even more fruit.

I’ve been thinking about this small act because it seems a bit symbolic of my changing attitude to food and its production. Since my son was born (aaagh … 15 years ago), I’ve become much more conscious of what’s in the stuff that fills supermarkets. I remember reading Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, and feeling that I’d found a sort of eater’s Holy Grail in his wonderful, simple mantra:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Now I realise that I’ve become an evangelical gardener; eager to swap stories with other gardeners, and to share the produce that’s flourishing in my two little vege patches. I’m a convert to local, seasonal, home-grown. Hallelujah!

And like many converts, I’ve become a proselytizer; increasingly angry about bad food, uneven access to food, and expecially wasted food.

I’ve written in the past about the plum trees at the end of my street. On public land, their fruit seems to go largely unharvested. Similarly, some friends have a very large fig tree which produces abundant fruit. When I asked a few years ago if I might have a few figs to make chutney – which I offered to share with them- they didn’t say no, but sort of shrugged and told me that all the fruit was eaten by the birds anyway. I remember thinking at the time that netting might be a solution. I guess that’s probably where I got the idea that netting would be prohibitively expensive.

But that’s the thing – it’s not. I reckon that a net big enough for their tree would cost about $20 – or the same as a kilo of figs. I’m not great at judging quantities and weights and stuff, but I think there is more than a kilo of figs on their tree.

To me, this just makes sense. Even if they don’t like figs; other people do (not just me; it’s not naked self-interest now that I have my own tree).

I can feel a bit of  a rant coming on, and you didn’t sign up for that when you kindly stopped by this post, so I’ll stop here.

But I can’t help feeling this is something I’m going to keep coming back to.

Weekly photo challenge: the colour purple

After all the recent edited iPhone photos I’ve posted, I thought I’d take a step back and just present some images as they were taken; no filters, no brightness, saturation or colour adjustment. These are the “raw” pics straight from my camera; mainly purple cos it’s a colour I love.

They were all taken in the hothouses of the Wintergarden at Auckland War Memorial Museum.