Ultima Thule

ultima Thule: a place beyond the border of the known world

This is a story about Waikawa, Southland between 1887 and 1893.

When you start writing about a place and a time far removed it’s tempting to be distracted by incidents: by shipwrecks, and sawmills; local dances and balls; court proceedings, or the body of a man found washed up on the flats.  But it’s not those things which are crucial to understanding: it’s something else.  Something earlier.

What really comes to define a place in a colonised country is that time when someone came to that area with some paper, and a pen and the equipment required to complete a surveyor’s map.

With that person came the impulses and skills of a particular culture.  Out of that map of Waikawa would come plots of land for sale, and then countless short reports in local newspapers about the transfer, for cash, of the newly divided plots of land from one party to another.  It’s that map that explains shipwrecks, and sawmills; local dances and balls; court proceedings, and the body of a man found washed up on the flats.  As with most things in history, what shapes the architecture of our lives is hidden in plain sight in the most drab news items and documents.

This week’s Provincial Government Gazette contains a proclamation by His Honour the Superintendent, setting apart certain lands at Catlin’s River and Waikawa River “as a site for a settlement for colonisation.” [1]

No such straight lines exist [2]
Surveyor’s maps are a great violence to nature, and to all un-industrialised minds.  They put straight lines across a world where no such lines exist and call it order.  Which is what makes them pleasing to the industrialised mind. To that mind they give a sense of control over what has been uncontrollable.  That type of mind takes the chaotic turn of a river – which is not chaotic but obeys another law – and grids it off.  Having demarcated the land as a resource it can have materials extracted from it, planted on it.  Jetty, road, railway: they can follow.  Shops.  Schools.  Churches and halls.

This type of order, this kind of marking, and calculation – we must remember – is not the definition of the word ‘order’ but merely an example.  Order, defined, is “the arrangement or disposition of people or things in relation to each other according to a particular sequence, pattern, or method.”

Think of it this way: the universe is a chicken.  To serve the chicken we can ‘order’ it with our blade in different ways.  We can cut it in the way of an Asian, or in the way of a European.  With a cleaver or a knife.  Including the bone or avoiding it.  Suddenly seeing the world as a survey map is like being shown the way the British carve a roast after years of chopping like the Chinese.  Everything seems to be going the wrong way; but there are only ways and they are neither right nor wrong.  And, of course, there is the chicken itself which does not understand itself as food.

The rules that underpin the complex but comprehensible systems of nature make another kind of sense of Waikawa; are another way to order things.  Yet an imaginary line through a creek, across a hill, bisecting a tree can unleash in the minds of men who believe in those lines hot words, fists, and lead.  Lines that the bird, the fish, and the wind do not accept.

…and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1: 28

Or we could see Papatūānuku as the Māori saw it.  As nodes of seasonal resources governed by the moon and connected to groups of people.  As groups of people connected to land and each other by relationships and history.  Like a net thrown loosely across the land and the sea; bunched in some places, spread in others, with – in areas – the layers of other nets underneath and above.

The coloniser’s history of a place begins with the map.  That is not wrong.  It is a place to start.  One of many.  It may be fairer to existence though to start the history of an area in multiple arbitrary places, and follow the network of the events that constitute different stories.  There are three suggestions above for how to proceed: the story of the people of the map, the story of the people of Papatūānuku, and the story of world they both inhabit.



[1] Chart: Map of Otata, Waikawa & parts of Toetoes & Tautuku survey district, drawn by W. Deverell, April 1899.

[ 2] News of the Week.  Otago Witness, Issue 1052, 27 January 1872, p.14.

It’s Not News

It’s not news that men have poison in them.

It’s not news that women suffer for it.  They have for centuries at least.  They suffer now.  It is there written in the future.  Many other things are unclear about the future, but that a man’s poison will hurt a woman is already painted in for us to walk towards.

It’s not original to say that the poison in men hurts them too.  That it deforms them.  Limits them.  Stops them being who they could be, and stops others from being who they could be.  That the culture we inherit creates the vocabulary of our minds about work, play, gender, love, sexuality.  It tells us what power looks like.  It defines what is weak.  Masculine.  Feminine.  It inhabits the minds of the giant popular culture machines spewing out the endless representations of dead, fearful, silent and victimised women, and the living, heroic, outspoken and dominating men.  It shrugs at the video games, and TV shows, and films.

It’s not news that the latest murder victim is a woman killed by a man.  It happens every day.  Many times every day.  Hundreds upon hundreds of time a week.  Around the world.  Deaths.  Men killing women.  Hitting women.  Raising their fist.  Raising their voice.  Denying women choices.  Eliminating possibilities.  Death is only the most final, most extreme oppression; the ultimate silencing that in a terrible way ends the power of one man over one woman, but spreads the fear of it – of what man is capable off – into the hearts and minds of another generation.  That says to women:

Be careful who you talk to.  Where you go.  What you say.  Think about how you will get there.  How you will get home.  What you wear.  How you act.  React.  How risky it is to snap back and assert yourself.  Read the room.  Read the street.  Read the rock concert crowd.  The public toilets.  The night.

It’s not news that women are not free and that men are.  True to say that men have not had the same thoughts.  Heading out.  Coming home.  Clothes.  Actions.  Reactions.  Rooms.  Streets.  Rock concerts.  They are have no other message.  Through them is no thread of danger.  The street is what I walk down with my mates.  The rock concert is where I check out the chicks in tank tops.  The night is exciting.

A truth well-known that women work.  Women cook.  Clean.  Organise the family birthdays.  Hang out the laundry.  Kiss the child’s knee.  Do the work of crying.  Hugging.  Talking about love, and the loss of love.  The daily work of saying “no” to raise children who appreciate a “yes”.  Buying clothes.  Packing bags for trips so no one forgets their toothbrush.  Who remind men to do things, and who phrases that the right way so they don’t get called a nag.

It’s not news.

That the problem is men.  The culture of man.  And that men don’t show up.  That they celebrate their culture of man directly or ironically.  Some of them knowing the harm.  That they let women do the work of home and love  because women are “better at it”.  Because why wouldn’t they?  Because they’re lazy.  That they sometimes lift a finger and expect praise.  That they think boys will be boys.  Girls will be girls.  Everyone in their role.  A little violence every now and then.  It goes around.

So ingrained that even many women see the world in the way many men want them to.  So complicated because all women are different, and not all men.

But so simple in its theme.

The police are seeking information about another woman, and holding another man in relation to their inquiry.

Go tell it to Women’s Refugee.  Not all men.

Go tell it to Rape Crisis.

To young women everywhere.

Not all men but always a man.

And when you ask for consent education to be made compulsory in all schools in New Zealand the Ministry of Education compliments your female students on their leadership, says it’s a sensitive issue, refers people to their parents.  Where are all the boys schools in this debate?  Where are all the men in law?  In entertainment?

I’m tired of attending sessions to talk about what women can do.  Tired of hearing the statistics.  Tired of reading the news.  Hurt by the grief of another family.  When will you get here men?  When will you come and sit at the feet of the victims and listen?

Come.  Listen.

Then we can start the work.  Then we can have some news.