Class acts in a turgid world


    I am somewhat in grief for the cornucopia that was the second-hand bookshop that has long graced the Devonport wharf. Almost on my last visit, the shop assistant looked up and found copies of the Hutu and Kawa water baby stories beloved of my own childhood.

    Now it’s gone, replaced by a twin line of white screens that probably cost more than the shop’s annual turnover but that will metamorphose into wannabe shops sucking life from the village itself.  Long afflicted with massive rentals, it’s hung around with nostalgic photographs of its demolished buildings and the wharf that, within living memory, had a tobacconist’s, a sweet shop and athletic, suit-clad commuters who boarded over the rails of long-gone harbour ferries.

    As a bookworm’s consolation, I turned into the surviving mainstreet bookshop and found myself hovering over a reassuringly long row of Doris Lessing novels that I hadn’t read since I was first on Waiheke with a young family.

    My purchase, Lessing’s The Marriage Between Zones Three, Four and Five, proved newly-relevant in a world reverberating with post-Trump misogyny and populist psychopathy that owes much to the vicious individual opportunism of Ayn Rand.

    Waiheke’s march on Sunday drew attention to the monstrous double-decker buses that have been inflicted on the island since we came to the world’s attention as an unspoilt paradise and fitted in nicely with Lessing’s elegant, 1980s fable on the calibration and re-balancing of our more civilising drives.

    Watched by the country’s media, 150 banner-waving walkers held up no less than three of the behemoths before – seizing the on-camera opportunity – some of our nothing-if-not-experienced activists converted an angry tourist into a visitor and a future aficionado of the island’s more genuine pleasures.

    The distinction is well understood among long-time island residents.

    Tourists take the tee-shirt and a few cheap thrills and leave mildly disgruntled at property prices. Visitors stay longer, learn more, spend more and return. They ‘get’ what it is that brought them here in an entirely different way. Less gets broken as a result of their coming and we are the richer for their ongoing affection.

    Usefully, the visitors will be with us when our ever-extractive government ups its demands that industry be allowed (and required) to double the economic output of the Hauraki Gulf’s fisheries.

    Fin fish and shellfish farms are already high on the agenda despite the ill effects of agricultural runoff that’s resulted from virtually non-existent regulation.

    For travellers who’ve perched here and moved on, the island will have a human face and identifiable values. The  marginalisation won’t work so well.

    The tourist will be more likely to commute a half-remembered disappointment into irritation that the island wants ‘special treatment’ for something they barely noticed and thus have no value for.

    Last Sunday, television presenter Cameron Bennett put on gumboots for a documentary on dairying that I had begun to dispair of ever seeing. The camera crew found an old-fashioned ‘cockie’ with his photo in the local primary school yearbooks and a wife who has to work. Organised, knowledgable, pragmatic, likeable, unpretentious and generous; someone that pre-war generations might have called ‘thoroughly sound’.

    Gavin Flint knew – and was proving – that he could make respectable returns without massively increased herd sizes, fertiliser to boost grass growth, palm kernel supplementary feed or twice-daily milking.

    That’s for agribusiness with big commitments, big debt ratios and billions of dollars in returns to the country, apparently needed to double our agricultural returns by 2025.

    The target is insane; the economics of it are the same barbaric equation that our government’s residual neo-liberalist opportunism is levying on fishing and so much else (including our public broadcasting). We’re stuck in ill-found imperatives to double returns regardless of the subtleties, let alone the many human and environmental debts to society.

    In the international media scramble to explain and codify the strange and increasingly mysogynistic post-Trump world we find ourselves inhabiting, the Guardian illustrated a column by Suzanne Moore with an image of Saffiyah Khan, a handsome young woman of Pakistani and Bosnian origin who had strolled into a 100-strong far-right street protest to support a woman in a blue hijab encircled by angry demonstrators.

    The image is mesmerising. In a denim bomber jacket and hands-in-pocket, Khan directs a wide, clear gaze at a militant aggressor – the essence of female insouciance against fascism. As Moore said, that takes a special bravery.

    “It signals to us that we all might be braver, that we can stand up and fight, that men who cannot tolerate difference cannot tolerate being laughed at either.”
    Khan’s was a class act and, male or female, a place to start to rebuild it all. • Liz Waters

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