A few weeks ago the PM was in Christchurch to present to launch of the partners for the new Convention Centre Precinct in the heart of central Christchurch. This large, expensive project has been mutely accepted as inevitable and part of the rebuild. Personally I don’t understand why there has not been more discussion of the project, and more analysis of what it means for the city and what it represents for the future of the city. The Government is refusing to offer any real information on the project, so a nuanced discussion is impossible. Below I have presented the facts as we know them.
What do we know about the convention centre:
1. It is going to be placed on two of the most important central city blocks in the city. Between Cathedral Square and the Avon River.
2. It uses land that has been compulsory acquired. That is the full force of the state to force land off its owners.
3. There is $284 million dollar of government/public money going into the project.
4. The total project will be around $500 million.
5. That means a public to private ratio of less than 1:1. International experience shows normal public private ratios should be from 5 and up to 10: 1 before been considered seriously.
6. The project will be built by a large consortium of companies, including a urban design firm Boffa Miskell that used to be owned by the head designer of the government agency running the project (the CCDU) Don Miskell.
7. The Carter Group is a major part of the consortium. Philip Carter is the brother of the speaker of the house and National Party MP David Parker.
8. The Minister in charge of the rebuild is refusing to give any information on the financial or contract information on the Convention Centre until after the election.
9. Convention Centres are almost never put in the centre of the city because they require very large access areas that become deadzones.
10. The entire centre will be operated by a very large internation French compary Accor, so presumably any profits will go overseas.
11. Publically owned streets and footpaths have been taken by the crown and included in this project. We don’t know if equivalent or better (and true) public space is going to be part of the design.
12. We know that contracts have been signed and construction is due to start in 2015.
13. The economic logic of Convention Centres is that they bring high-yield business customers into the city and the country. However most of the workers running the centres are low waged.
14. This isn’t the type of project that was asked for in the Share an Idea consultation 3.5 years ago. (The last time anyone was asked about the central city)
15. We do know that the CCC built a Convention Centre in just north of the Town Hall in 1997 for $15 million. This new one is a little bit bigger and 25 times the cost.
What we don’t know:
1. The business case hasn’t been made public for the merits of this building.
2. We don’t know what the ownership model will be.
3. We don’t know what areas will be publicly accessible or usable. Convention Centres are like stadiums, they either really busy and you need to pay to get in, or huge and empty (most of the time)
4. Despite $284 million of public money, we don’t know what is going to be in it.
5. We don’t know what urban design characteristics it will have. How they will activate the edges? How will trucks enter the site? How much parking is part of the project?
6. The launch cost $16,000. You can see it here. We don’t know how you can possibly spend that much on a launch for around 50 people.
7. We don’t know why if this is project makes so much sense economically, it needs $284 million of public money?
8. We don’t know if there has been extensive economic research to see if a very large convention centre will work in Christchurch.
9. We don’t know who will be liable for the costs if it doesn’t work.
10. We don’t know how the spaces in this project fit into the broader ecosystem of venues and facilities in the city.
I find it very frustrating that these huge financial and planning decisions are being made with little critical examination or discussion.
Long before we armed ourselves with phones featuring front-facing cameras and Instagram, the average New Zealander had to work much harder to produce a ‘selfie’. In 1860, Aotearoa’s unmatched king of the self portrait was one Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky. Without the aid of hashtags, Von cultivated his celebrity status via the favoured social media of the day – ‘carte-de-visits’. These were a sort of personal calling card featuring posed portraits, which became a collectable craze in the colony. Demand for images of the flamboyant Von outstripped photographers supply – and his carte-de-visits [Fig. 1] became highly sought after. Within these proto-Polaroids lies an illuminating story of Pākehā and Māori hybrid battle couture – the rāpaki.
Gold-rush lured the Prussian born von Tempsky to these isles following adventures in Berlin, the Caribbean, California, Mexico, Guatemala, Salvador, Glasgow, Liverpool, Victoria and Melbourne. As war broke out across New Zealand the young von Tempsky traded the goldfields of the Coromandel for the battlefields of Taranaki. Despite one-fifth of the burgeoning colony’s population consisting of British soldiers, Māori allied to the Kīngitanga movement were proving a resilient, elusive foe to the Imperial Army. In response the Forest Rangers were formed to match Māori at their own guerilla game; it was within this elite irregular force that Von would make his name. The Forest Rangers were about as badass as their name suggests – today the SAS can trace their lineage to this group, and in the 1860s they became the heroes of the frontier. Abandoning redoubt building and marching for covert missions into the depths of enemy territory, they were rewarded with double rum rations, higher pay, and as Von’s carte-de-visits testify – fame.
Though his selfie output was decidedly less prolific than today’s teen, Von is captured in several carte-de-visits exhibiting his flair for fashion with Garibaldi shirts and out of the ordinary weaponry. His wife Amelia wrote to let him know “you are fast becoming the laughing stock of everyone with eccentricities of costume” (Von Tempsky’s Ghost, MP4). Other carte-de-visits and paintings capture him in full military costume, but none capture him in what he and his Forest Rangers became famed for fighting in – the rāpaki. Perhaps it was a vague wish to uphold some of the Victorian value placed on formality; whatever the reasons, Von’s calling cards did capture his outlandish appearance, but it was eyewitness recollections of his rāpaki battledress which cemented his reputation as an adaptive antipodean warrior.
Rāpaki is the noun which describes a Māori garment of woven harakeke worn from the waist to the knee. They were constructed from a woven base (kaupapa) which tags (hukahuka) were attached to [Fig. 2]. Māori had worn it for centuries, but the Forest Rangers were perhaps the first Pākehā to realise it was truly a garment honed for Aotearoa – and shed their trousers for what is effectively a skirt. An accurate point of adoption is untraceable, though eleven kūpapa (pro-government) Māori are recorded as serving in the Forest Rangers and could have instigated the move. Initially the Forest Rangers were issued with standard army uniforms, but in the wet bush they found their trousers quickly rotted and tore. So they improvised their own uniforms by wearing the rāpaki, subsequently enhancing their public image as that of a rough and ready band of adventurers.
Von Tempsky’s men succeeded where the British Army could not by adapting Māori methods of dress and warfare. Forest Ranger J.M. Roberts explained: “This [the tactics of the British commanders] was not the way of the colonial soldier who knew his business. We learned very early to look on a tree as a friend. If it could shelter a Māori it could also shelter us” (Cowan 25). British commanders dreaded the New Zealand bush, it was a terrain unfamiliar to them. Historian Danny Keenan explains: “The bush was just this great big primordial thing they were afraid of. It was so thick, so terrible” (Von Tempsky’s Ghost, MP4). They preferred to square up to their enemy on open ground where they were more comfortable in conflict. However for much of the New Zealand Wars the British were forced to toil over unmapped land in search of a flitting enemy, through unroaded swamps, bush, ranges, and unbridged rivers. Each man adorned with conspicuous red jackets, wrapped with radiant sashes and capped with shining regiment badge. Their army was slow to adapt and the British soldier stood out from the bush like a lighthouse in the dead of night.
The adoption of the rāpaki is a significant moment within the New Zealand Wars as it highlights a Pākehā concession to a Māori concept. Whilst the British were quick to recognize Māori chivalry and courage, they did not afford them recognition for military intelligence or technology. Within the New Zealand Wars the rāpaki can certainly be framed as technology: the science of the application of knowledge to practical purposes. Just as the pā was constructed in rapport with the land, so Māori had conceived the rāpaki to be in harmony with the bush environment. The lightweight garment allowed the wearer to move quickly through the bush with an ease of movement incomparable to trousers; perhaps why Māori named Von Tempsky ‘Manurau’ (one hundred birds) for his ability to move through the bush like a flock of birds, seemingly being in many places at once.
The rāpaki shed water naturally but dried easily over a fire when saturated. Army issue trousers rotted, ripped and were difficult to repair by comparison. Importantly rāpaki allowed rapid crossing of rivers, streams and movement through swamp [Fig. 3]. Whereas trousers had to be rolled up, removed or worn heavy and soaking until dried. As weaving skills waned Māori and Pākehā replaced harakeke for woven wool in the form of blankets. Wrapped around the waist the tartan pattern of most contributed to their similarity in appearance to the Scottish kilt, both variants can be seen in later images of the Armed Constabulary. The transfer of a Māori form re-imagined with a Pākehā material – constitutes perhaps one of the first hybrid forms used by both cultures.
For most of New Zealand’s history the two primary cultures, Māori and Pākehā, have been separated in many ways. Conflict and confrontation has been more common than collaboration and reverence. Our relationship with the past has been an uneasy one, and the New Zealand Wars are remembered with less clarity and certainly less commemoration than wars fought elsewhere. Von and his Forest Rangers adaptation of the rāpaki, and its subsequent evolution of form is trivial within the wider context of the Wars. But it is one of many refutations to the belief that transfer of ideas and knowledge was a one way street – from Pākehā to Māori. Long held paradigms of materials, craft and conventions is upturned by an intimate understanding developed over decades, and acquired and tested within immediate environments.
The rāpaki is a salient sign of the true blurred nature of the New Zealand Wars. Neither side truly won or lost, and the sides themselves were often a tangle of Pākehā, Māori, Pākehā-Māori and kūpapa Māori [Fig 4]. At a singular time Māori and Pākehā alike utilised this bush fashion – woven from flax or wool, and paired with pounamu mere or Bowie knife. Conflict forced an eschewing of status quo for the best possible tools, forms and fashions taken and transformed from both cultures. Today, in a relative world of peace, this collaborative approach is surely a valuable weapon in forging a new New Zealand.
Cowan, James. “Famous New Zealanders: No. 11: Colonel J. M. Roberts, N.Z.C: The Story of the Forest Rangers,” The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10. Feb. 1, 1934.
Von Tempsky’s Ghost. Dir., Writ. John Milligan. 2002. NZ On Screen, 2011. MP4 File.
Gardening With Soul is an award-winning New Zealand documentary from filmmaker Jess Feast, and it has just opened nationally in New Zealand and selected cinemas across Australia. I can’t wait to check it out, it looks like a beautiful story, made even more incredible for capturing the magical day it snowed in Wellington.
Gardening with Soul premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival in July 2013,
Sister Loyola is one of the liveliest nonagenarians you could ever meet.
As the main gardener at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay, Wellington, her daily tasks include heavy lifting alongside vigorous spade and wheelbarrow work, which she sometimes performs on crutches. Loyola and the other Sisters of Compassion follow the vision of Mother Aubert to ‘meet the needs of the oppressed and powerless in their communities’.
The lively, beautifully shot documentary (edited by Annie Collins. written & directed by Jess Feast) is filmed almost entirely in this small community on the southern coast of Wellington. With music by local musician David Long, and full of the sea- and garden-scapes that have informed Loyola’s life, Gardening with Soul uncovers a local legend and her community for the wider world. It is a conceptual triumph for Feast. Any belief we might harbour that becoming a nun is avoiding the real world is turned firmly on its head as we witness this extraordinary soul steer a sharp course through all weathers, trying to shine love on everything she sees.
Last month we collected feedback from the Freerange community via a short survey. After a busy year built on multiple publications and the formalisation of the Freerange Cooperative, we were eager to shape a plan that could build on the things that we’re good at; decide on some new things that we could get better at; and make sure we do all these while keeping firmly in touch with what and who, Freerange is all about.
To give some context, the motivation for the survey emerged late last year when we held our first face-to-face meeting between the whole team of Directors in Christchurch. Looking back, Freerange had published 300 blog articles over 4 years; our seventh Journal was about to be launched; and Christchurch: The Transitional City was doing incredibly well; as well as five other print publications for the Press, and a charity compilation album. As the community, organisation, and finances were growing -in complexity if not size- it became crucial that we understood more about the Freerange community so that we could give, share, and enable value for it.
There were only a few simple and fairly broad questions asked, and I’ve simply reproduced the responses here as they are, with some short comments about what we’ve understood from them. After getting some idea of participation in Freerange, we asked how our blog was going, what kind of stuff we could be publishing about, and what else we could do for the community. The sixth question in particular had some really encouraging responses that we’re pretty excited about.