Naked in Nuhaka: Wairoa Star
This is Naked in Nuhaka, an inconsistently regular column exploring issues of identity, culture and place in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Views expressed in the column are my own and not necessarily those of any other organisations, individuals, or groups. Thoughts are naked; but not much else, and each week's column is written in Nuhaka, on the East Coast of the North Island, Wairoa District, Aotearoa NZ. The author can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leo Koziol Nuhaka, Aotearoa NZ 21.2.03
NAKED IN NUHAKA: WAIROA STAR
Well, another summer has passed on the sunny east coast, though frankly I find it difficult to ascertain whether its all about to end or its actually just beginning. The Warehouse in Gisborne has just replaced all its "back to school" supplies with flannel sheets and summer sale items, just in time I guess for the locals to stock up on fans and outdoor furniture for the upcoming months. Though who'd want to sleep in anything more than a flannel sheet in the current heat wave we're having right now is beyond me.
So my creative tilt has returned. An adequate amount of time has passed in which I've truly appreciated the great kiwi summer. I've taken it all in, in Nuhaka time, and at a Wairoa pace. Another time, another pace, out here where NZ's indeed still the way it used to be. This year, I'm going to try to be more local in focus, exploring some of the more intimate details of places and communities on the coast. I hope to get to Whangara and see where the whales stranded, followed by a tour up and around the Cape. I want to go and experience harvest time down the Bay, the fruits of our fruitbowl at farmer's markets, wineries and cafes. I'm hoping to get the scoop from local mana wahine Pauline Tangiora when she returns from her peace keeping mission in Iraq. And at Easter time, I'm hoping to interview Witi Ihimaera in Waituhi.
Yes, this week's column marks a return to Naked in Nuhaka, and discusses the difficult dilemma I'm facing being a local celebrity here in the Wairoa district. I'm notorious in Nuhaka, world famous in Wairoa, an underground gadfly in Gisborne, and have also been known to be spotted on the streets of Island Bay and Ponsonby. In less than one year since returning from San Francisco, I've been nominated an "emerging knowledge wave" leader by the Gisborne Herald, described as an "Internet-savvy 'born-again Maori' of Rakaipaaka and American-Polish extraction" by Hawkes Bay Today (1), and have been accused of the crime of being a "dreamer" in the local rag, the Wairoa Star.
Indeed, now, through the fruits of my labours, I'm not only Naked in Nuhaka: I'm a Wairoa Star!
There's something about small local newspapers that infects the psyche. They usually consist of total naffness, dross and closed-mindedness, but they also have occasional lapses of brilliance that taps into the true nature of community life. Here in Wairoa, we have the Wairoa Star, within which I have had more than my fair share of coverage in the past year (2). It's kind of cute that this is the fact, given that I appeared in the pages of the local paper at least a dozen times in the 1980s, with academic prizes like dux of the local Wairoa College, or once when I was nominated as a "young Maori with leadership potential" and shipped off to a rather intense hui in Tauhara, Lake Taupo.
I like little papers better than big city and provincial tomes. The latter tends to fit more into the mould of "mainstream" press, trying to set public opinion to increasingly smaller audiences, still trying to provide international coverage in a world where now much, much more can be instantly accessed over the Internet. In the east coast region, we've got Hawke's Bay Today, itself the much-lessened survivor of the amalgamation of twin-city papers Hawke's Bay Herald Tribune (Hastings) and Daily Telegraph (Napier). Recently, its tried to mirror big city papers with a "weekend" edition, to limited success. Up in Gisborne, the Gisborne Herald is still a daily, and has moved to tabloid size. The Herald has had some measure of success by attempting to better reflect the local community, such as with improved Maori coverage (with Maori writers) through the monthly inclusion of "Pipiwharauroa", a newsletter from local Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa. The fact that the Herald states "Niupepa o Te Turanganui a Kiwa" below its masthead actually says something, I think.
But its papers like the Wairoa Star that have individual and independent voices. Alternative news not covered in the mainstream. The Star comes out only twice a week, Tuesday's and Thursday's, and there's always something interesting and of local relevance in it. Its intriguing that some of the best press in the United States can be found in the "alternative papers". In San Francisco, I avidly read the SF Bay Guardian and SF Weekly (3). Free papers, only coming out weekly, these papers mainly survive on ads targeted to the youth market (including extensive relationship contacts sections), but out of their base incomes they developed strong alternative voices often in direct opposite to that found in the mainstream press. In San Francisco, these papers are overtly liberal, often to the point of ridiculousness.
The Bay Guardian was always my favourite, and its audience included a large portion of middle aged hippies along with the usual suspects of bright and hip young things. They fought for local power supply control, nomination of Green Party candidates against the dominant Democratic Party political machine, and fought hard fights on local issues to make the city a better place. The paper's strength lay in it's local journalists intimate knowledge of local issues. But often it verged on naffness; one of the most notorious articles was on the problems of rent control and "owner-move in evictions" (4), where long-term tenants often found themselves thrown out on the streets in a city with a severe housing shortage. The problem was real, but the ridiculousness of the position became clear when the Guardian spoke out against an apartment block of wealthy millionaires being turfed out on the street as the result of the billionaire owner moving in to singularly occupy the entire building.
NZ's bigger cities lack such alternative voices. Auckland has the suburban papers, which are mostly just free rags full of ads. Wellington has "City Voice" which has had a measure of success, but doesn't really get active on local issues or concerns and doesn't undertake any investigative reporting (5). So its the local small-town papers, like the Wairoa Star, that are left to speak out with alternative perspectives in New Zealand.
Wairoa Star's mark of brilliance is the occasional column by Morere-resident Geoff Prickett, entitled "Not the Common View" (6). Geoff's column is staunchly rural and conservative, but with a unique perspective of the preciousness of life in our lesser populated byways and detours. He has very strong views on the need for a more welcoming nature from the often conservative locals, for as he states its these new people with these new ideas who will create a future for Wairoa. Most of all, he catches the magic of life in Morere: from the dawn of spring being marked by the arrival of the Kaka in the bush around him, to the striking of a meteorite nearby on one very odd day last spring (a falling star, perhaps?).
The hallmark of the Wairoa Star's brilliance, in my opinion, is its eccentricity. Filling two editions of a paper in a small-town often has its difficulties; so what does the Wairoa Star do? It fills the gaps with "thoughts for the day". By smattering the paper with group-think statements that wouldn't go amiss in the Orwellian world of 1984, the Star truly shines. Here's two from this week's paper:
"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing back to you when you have forgotten the words."
"Be my friend. Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend."
These statements shine because here in Wairoa they actually mean something to the audience who reads them. They brighten the day in a place where people still have the time for a thoughtful pause.
Oh, yes, back to me being the local "Wairoa Star" (7).
Yes, I have gained a certain local and regional notoriety. And, yes, I wish to state quite openly that I hope my message spreads out to a national and international audience. But, at this juncture, I feel a desire to go back to something I wrote in the first Naked in Nuhaka back in September 2002: "I write [this] not for fame but from an internal desire to get my thoughts out there in an unconsciously deliberate fashion."
The "Star" metaphor is an intriguing one.
The thought of Geoff Prickett's article about the meteorite striking nearby reminded me of a night earlier this month, around midnight, as the day of 1 February 2003 touched upon these southern shores. An intriguing date with an odd numeracy that has felt strangely common of late, 01.02.03.
My best friend Alan, down from Auckland, had come to visit me here for a Nuhaka breather. We had enjoyed immensely the evening premier of Whale Rider in Wairoa, and back here in Nuhaka, he commented on the warm evening breeze blowing off the hot dry land. A soft summery feeling you don't get so much in maritime Auckland. We lazed on the grass on my front lawn, and gazed up at the stars. It was a crystal clear night, the Milky Way in all its glory above. A vision you can only receive away from the bright lights of our big cities. I pointed out something to him, "Hey, look, a satellite!" After repeated gesturings, he unfortunately couldn't site the stellar orbiter above, but I watched with pregnant amazement as the satellite faded off into the deep darkness of the lower horizon.
Some 24 hours later, the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded in a blaze of glory over Texas, the world touched by its tragedy, seven souls lost to the stars. There, at the time of the incident, the date was still 01.02.03. It wasn't until I found this out on a NZ morning -- some two days later -- that the thought crossed my mind that perhaps what I had seen was the space shuttle. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, but it was indeed relevant that the thought had never crossed my mind that there could be seven souls like mine on that spaceship above; and that their lives were as fated as mine seems here right now.
Up there in space, the blinking light seemed as insignificant and irrelevant as I sometimes feel here in little old Nuhaka. But they, like me here, held a particular resounding significance. Floating up in space, they were not alone. The thoughts and dreams of millions below were with them. Here in Nuhaka, I also am not alone. The spirits of my ancestors among me, their dreams and aspirations, my people of my iwi around me, and like minds all around the world in awe, and perhaps confusion, at the swirl of the world and the universe around us at this unique time.
I'm but one small and relatively insignificant thinker cum amateur philosopher positioned in some remote village at the bottom of the South Pacific. But the message I wish to make is one I feel is important and must be said. Yes, I risk increased notoriety and perhaps one day being branded the "local nutter". But this is something I do with unconscious deliberateness in the hope of somehow making a contribution towards a better world and a deeper spirit of place.
So onwards I continue.
(1) See article online: "Wairoa: Wild beauty, strong spirit". The article also describes me as a "fan of Osler's [meat] pies", which my current girth can certainly testify to... http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/pdg/Wairoa.htm
(2) Disclosure: My mother, Councillor Huia Koziol, has also had a significant level of news coverage in the Wairoa Star in the past year or two. I've also received coverage in my role as town planner of Wairoa District, but this article relates mainly to coverage of me in my "community leader" capacity.
(3) I still read them online. Here's the links: SF Weekly http://www.sfweekly.com/ Bay Guardian http://www.sfbg.com/. And here's a great article about their peace march: http://www.sfbg.com/37/21/news_peace.html
(4) Under rent-control laws in San Francisco, tenants cannot be evicted without significant reason, such as non-payment of rent, or when the owner of the apartment decides to move his/herself or one of his/her relatives into the occupied apartment (therefore "owner move-in eviction"). The law is controversial as lots of people sublease their apartments and travel the world living on the proceeds of the not insignificant rental differential (I met one such person in Fiji in 2001).
(5) Wellington residents please feel free to email me to prove me wrong.
(6) Here's a link to Geoff Prickett's latest column: http://www.wairoastar.co.nz/Opinion_826.htm
(7) Note: In this week's paper, a letter from an "Anonymous Wairoarian" (another hallmarks of the Wairoa Star's eccentricity) implied that I had something to do with this: http://www.wairoa.com/ (yes, please click on it). I don't. Right now, if you go to this link, you get a picture of a gent sitting on a computer, with the word "GONE", where what one month ago was a comprehensive website all about Wairoa. The site was created by one Murray Potts (currently resident in Taiwan), who recently proposed to me that we'd work together to "put Wairoa on the map" -- he with his Wairoa site, me with my (rather sparse) Nuhaka one. I balked at his offer, because at the time I had some kind of intuitive skepticism about his approach. In the past, I had described him on my website as a "domain-grabbing madman", to which he took exception. So I respected his wishes, and removed the statement. I don't know what's happened to Murray's sites, maybe he just tired of it all, but I do want to state that this seems representative of the ephemerality of the Internet, and, perhaps, the ephemerality of the times we live in. The Internet is not permanent, and neither are we.
Back issues available at: http://www.nuhaka.com/
All content (c) Leo Koziol & Rautaki Group Consultants 2003.