Constant Radical - The Life and Times of Sue Bradford
“There are two New Zealands living side by side right now – one of poverty and addictions, unemployment, guns, alcohol, abuse, sickness, despair and suicide – the other of people who have nice clothes and high-paid jobs and cars and know little and care less about the rest. And even in Queen Street or Lambton Quay, if you care to look, you’ll see people picking up cigarette butts, begging for cash, sleeping out, lost and often crazy – and I hope sometimes you’ll ask yourself, is this New Zealand the way we want it?”
– From Sue Bradford’s Maiden Speech to Parliament, 8 Feb 2000
“Bradford seems to be that rare creature: the ego-free politician.”
– From Political Animals: Confessions of a Parliamentary Zoologist by Jane Clifton.
Constant Radical is the result of 10 years of work by award-winning journalist Jenny Chamberlain, drawn from around 200 interviews, 65 of which have been with Sue Bradford herself.
The biography follows Bradford’s path from the daughter of an American mother and domineering father – NZ microbiologist Richard (Dick) Matthews – to high school activism, the political crucibles of anti-Vietnam and Springbok Tour protests, and almost two decades in the community sector. During her career as a Green Party MP she steered an extraordinary three Private Members’ bills into legislation, one being her contentious bill to amend section 59 of the Crimes Act, dubbed the ‘anti-smacking bill’. Her PhD thesis on the need for a left wing think tank in New Zealand (downloaded in full almost 3,000 times) has ushered in her new role as an academic and activist, and has given rise to ESRA (Economic and Social Research Aotearoa).
Chamberlain vividly brings to life the formative experiences and settings of Bradford’s life – idyllic family holidays in Northland in the 1950s; Auckland’s famed ‘hippie houses’ where she fell prey to drugs, alcohol and assault; embattled grassroots organisations, and the plush corridors of power.
“My ancestry has underpinned a lot of my politics,” says Bradford, and the early part of the book is based on extensive research charting six generations of New Zealanders on Bradford’s father’s side, starting with missionary forebears who arrived at Paihia in 1824.
Chamberlain highlights the many aspects of Bradford’s complex character: a veteran street fighter whose father was a professor and whose aunt is a Dame; a vernacular ‘New Zild’ speaker who is also an academic; a home-loving wife and mother who also has 15 charges for assault, obstruction and trespass to her name; a woman who entered Parliament with the reputation of a rabble-rouser but within a short time became known as one of the hardest working and well respected MPs in the House.
Sue Bradford is still evolving but in terms of what matters most, her core social justice principles, she remains constant: a remarkable New Zealand woman, a highly effective organiser for change, and a committed ‘voice for the voiceless’ in our society.
Jenny Chamberlain was a journalist with North & South magazine for 21 years, 10 of those as deputy editor. The catalyst for Constant Radical was Jenny’s North & South feature on child welfare, coinciding with Bradford’s work on the repeal of Section 59. The story saw Chamberlain named 2006 European Union Journalist of the Year. She has also won five Qantas Media Awards along with the 2003 Magazine Publishers’ Association Feature Writer of the Year Award. She lives in Auckland and enjoys being a grandmother, writing, gardening, walking and volunteering for a local bush restoration society.
Constant Radical: The Life and Times of Sue Bradford will be available nationally in early July. Both Sue Bradford and Jenny Chamberlain are available for interviews.
• Thursday 29 June – Maclaurin Chapel Hall, 18 Princes St, Auckland, 5.30pm-7pm. RSVP essential, acceptances only, by 20 June to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday 6 July – Ground floor, National
Library of NZ, Molesworth St, Wellington, 5.30-7pm. RSVP
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26 June to: email@example.com.
The Life and Times of Sue Bradford
240mm x 170mm Four colour cover with flaps, illustrated 400 pages $39.50 (softcover)
Distributor: Nationwide Book Distributors, P O Box 65, Oxford, North Canterbury. Tel: 03-312 1603