Opinion: Royal Commission must be an inquiry, not an inquisition

Source: Massey University

The Prime Minister’s announcement of a Royal Commission into the Christchurch terror attack was inevitable. The country needs to know why this attack was able to be planned, and carried out to such dreadful effect.  

There are questions about how the accused gunman’s manifesto could be compiled – its length attesting to the time taken to distil and articulate it all in writing. How did the gunman effectively radicalise himself? Why did nobody notice anything sufficiently amiss with this individual to raise concerns? These are all valid questions that an inquiry needs to consider.

However, it needs to be an inquiry, not an inquisition. To be genuinely useful, the inquiry must create an environment in which those with the knowledge of current processes, decisions and resources are free to discuss it all.  If there are gaps, they need to be found and addressed – not hidden by individuals trying to avoid liability.

The inquiry needs to be broader than it is. Before 15 March, most New Zealanders assumed there would never be a terrorist threat here. Warnings or fears expressed were commonly dismissed as paranoia. New Zealanders did not care about preparing for terrorism, and politicians did not either. 

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain terror watch-lists. These work well and in multiple countries have identified problem individuals, and intercepted them well ahead of them ever doing anything violent. The success of these preventative efforts is difficult to define, because in preventing a violent outcome, the evidence there was ever going to be any such outcome is eliminated.  

Watch-lists are a collation of individual names of people who may pose a risk because they have said, or done something to raise suspicion.  If evidence is found it will usually lead to increased surveillance and in many countries attempted terrorist attacks have been thwarted this way. New Zealand has also prosecuted a small number of people for engaging with extremist material. Who will ever know if these prosecutions actually ever stopped anything? 

But watch-lists do not always work.  In August 2018, a Sydney student was arrested in possession of what appeared to be plans to undertake a terrorist attack. Subsequent investigation revealed he had been framed. Omar Mateen, who committed the Orlando shootings in June 2016, had twice been on the FBI’s watch-list, and twice removed from it. He exhibited no sign of sinister or hostile intent – and the FBI dismissed him as a threat possibility.  His attack, when it came, killed 49 people. If the Christchurch offender had been on a watch-list, it does not necessarily mean anything would have been any different.  

The problem with watch-lists is that they are composed of every person identified as potentially posing some threat – even though the vast majority of those listed never commit any violent offence. Working through such a list is not like finding a needle in a hay-stack, it’s like finding a needle in a needle-stack.  The Christchurch offender looked like you or me, lived or travelled in several countries, and did not raise any suspicion in any of them.  

Isolated, aloof, and ruthless, lone actors are very difficult to find – especially if it is only in their twisted minds that their true intent is known. That is probably why law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Australia and New Zealand missed him.

The inquiry should address the Arms Act – the subject of criticism and a Parliamentary Inquiry in 2017.  Our Parliamentarians did not recognise the possession of military style semi-automatic weapons as a risk that needed mitigation. Had they done so, the Christchurch attack may still have occurred but the toll could have been much less.  

New Zealand’s terrorism legislation has languished – its cumbersome definition of terrorism, as well as its incoherence and impracticality, have rendered it useless. Any changes in the resourcing or powers of intelligence agencies have been reluctantly made, and only then amid protest from various groups opposing intrusion into our civil rights. All of this fed into the decisions about the resourcing of the intelligence and law enforcement coal-face. 

It will be of no value to attribute blame for gaps or poor decisions without understanding the social and political context, legislative and fiscal constraints that such decisions were taken in. The inquiry must recognise that the Christchurch attack was as much about our general complacency as it was about decisions taken by agencies on the watch for those who intend do us harm.

Dr John Battersby is a Teaching Fellow in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University and a specialist on terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Japanese language exponent awarded

Source: Massey University

Dr Penny Shino receieves her award from the Ambassador of Japan to New Zealand, Mr Hiroyasu Kobayashi.

She was among the first generation to learn Japanese at secondary school in New Zealand – now Dr Penny Shino has been recognised for her outstanding work teaching and inspiring the next generation.

Dr Shino received the Japanese Ambassador’s Award recently at a special ceremony held at the Ambassador’s residence in Wellington. The commendation was “in recognition of her distinguished service in contributing to the deepening of mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and New Zealand.” 

She was one of six recipients and the only one from the university sector. Two other recipients were her former distance students. 

As a teen, she was interested in foreign languages and had already studied French and Latin. “When the chance arose to take up Japanese in the sixth form (Year 12) I jumped at the opportunity.”

While the rarity and “exoticism” of Japanese was part of the appeal, she was; “totally entranced by the sheer beauty and stylishness of Japanese words. I still feel that way – the Japanese writing system further fuelled my fascination. I really just got hooked on it.”

The opportunity to learn Japanese back then also reflected New Zealand’s increasing interest in Japan, after Expo ’70 in Osaka, and the trade boost between Japan and New Zealand when the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community. “Japan was experiencing rapid economic growth, rather like China today,” Dr Shino says. “At the same time Massey had started offering Japanese and my teacher of Japanese at school [Keith McGill] had been in one of the first classes at Massey. So learning Japanese at school was also my first link with Massey.”

At the University of Auckland, she majored in Japanese and French, enjoying both. A short study trip to Japan at the end of her second year tipped the balance in favour of Japanese, followed by a two-year government scholarship to Japan after she graduated. 

Dr Shino spent six months studying Japanese at the Osaka University of Foreign Languages (Osaka Gaikokugo Daigaku, now part of the University of Osaka) and 18 months researching 10th century classical Japanese poetry at Nara Women’s University (Nara Joshi Daigaku), for her Masters.

“Although I spend most of my time these days teaching modern Japanese, my real love is for classical Japanese language and culture,” she says.

Her research in Japan coincided with marrying her Japanese husband. She taught English at a school, privately, and to company employees, but her focus was to help her husband establish himself as an artist, specialising in teabowls and ceramics for the Japanese tea ceremony. “We built his traditional kiln together in the mountains of Nara prefecture, living in an old farm house without electricity, plumbing or a bath. Except for the sub-zero winters it was an idyllic existence and I could see all the flowers and wildlife figuring in the old poetry on my doorstep.”

Returning home after three years with a baby on the way, she did some tutoring and embarked on a PhD analysing poetry by a fifteenth century Zen monk, taking up a lectureship at Massey in the process. She is currently researching the same poet’s travel diary.

Spreading the word in Japanese

As well as convenving Massey’s Japanese language programme from her base in the School of Humanities on the Manawatū campus, she is deeply involved in the initiatives of Japanese Studies Aotearoa New Zealand. It was established by a group of academics from tertiary Japanese programmes at a symposium she organised at Massey in 2013. Dr Shino was elected inaugural president and is now in her second term. 

In this role, she has organised symposia for academics as well as workshops for school teachers of Japanese, in cooperation with the Sasakawa Fellowship Fund for Japanese language education. With colleagues across the land, she has worked hard to maintain and raise the profile of Japanese in New Zealand; “at a time when interest in language learning is facing a number of obstacles, not least of all a perverse and deeply-ingrained mentality that English is the only language we need.

“It’s my hope that out of the tragedy of the Christchurch attacks, New Zealanders will realise the urgency and importance of learning more about and respecting other cultures, and the role of language learning.”

Japanese more accessible in internet age

Dr Shino says students today; “have a very different relationship to Japan and Japanese than we did as students. As a student I had virtually no awareness of Japanese popular culture; students today are huge fans and highly knowledgeable, mainly thanks to the Internet.”

She is delighted that this year, enrolments in first-year Japanese – offered at Auckland, Manawatu and via distance – are “unprecedented” even when compared with the boom years of Japanese studies in the 1990s, when Japan was the most popular the foreign language. Dr Shino thinks the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year, and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year, may have generated heightened awareness and publicity of Japan – and this surge in interest is also the focus of her MURF-funded study.

This positive trend has prompted Massey to launch a Japanese ‘nanocourse’ outside the conventional qualification structures, to be offered online later this year. 

“The course will serve the needs of athletes, their support crews, other professionals and family members travelling to Japan for the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics and Paralympics, teaching a little practical basic Japanese language alongside some cultural orientation, to make the experience in Japan as enjoyable, comfortable and fulfilling as possible,” she says.

When it comes to Japanese and jobs, she says the market is very different today, with more diverse opportunities. While few graduate with a specific career in mind (except the small group seeking traditional roles in teaching, academia, diplomacy or translation/interpreting), she says Japanese gives any graduate a competitive edge in a range of jobs and for this reason many students study Japanese alongside a more vocational or professional qualification, such as Business, Aviation Studies or Sports Management, completing Japanese as a second major, a minor, or even two or three elective Japanese courses. 

“Job opportunities are finite for students majoring in Japanese alone, but innumerable for those with a reasonable level of Japanese linguistic and cultural competency, and the transferable skills which the study of a second language confers.”

Lifetime achievement award for Massey theatre luminary

Source: Massey University

Professor Angie Farrow speaking at the Manawatū Regional Theatre Awards after receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award.

Great theatre can change minds and lives, says Professor Angie Farrow, who credits her childhood amid the lively antics of her extended family in London’s East End with shaping her dramatic sensibilities.

Farrow, a professor in theatre at Massey, an internationally award-winning playwright and a community arts initiator, recently received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement in Theatre Award at the Manawatū Regional Theatre Awards. It’s the latest in a gamut of prizes she has received over her career, in recognition of her outstanding creative output on topics as diverse as love, death, refugees, the plight of the Manawatū river and Kafka, as well as her commitment to community theatre and her skill and passion in teaching theatre.

A dramaturg and executive producer of numerous community theatre events, including the biennial Manawatū Festival of New Arts, the Manawatū Street Theatre Project and the annual Manawatū Summer Shakespeare, she has won national and international awards for her plays, including The Pen is a Mighty Sword International Playwriting Competition in the US for Despatch in 2007 and Best Drama Script at the Auckland Short and Sweet Festival for Leo Rising in 2014. In 2011 she was awarded for her ‘Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand Drama’ by the Playwrights’ Association of New Zealand.

But, after 23 years at the Manawatū campus as a pioneer in the expressive arts and theatre studies programmes in the School of English and Media Studies, and having recently been promoted to a professor, she is about to exit stage left and down the stairs of the elegantly refurbished Sir Geoffrey Peren Building to Wellington, to embrace a new phase of her life.

Professor Farrow discovered her interest in theatre at age 16, although the seeds were there all along, she suspects. “I grew up in a multi-storey house in the East End of London that was full to the brim with my extended family – my nan and granddad, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters. There were plenty of dramas – fighting, cursing, arguing, celebrating, laughing, partying, which I must have absorbed unconsciously!”  

When a brilliant ‘alternative’ drama teacher started teaching in her neighbourhood she went along with a friend who was “too scared to go on her own”.

The teacher introduced them to devised theatre, improvisation and dance drama. “It was like a foreign language to me, but I really took to it. In particular, it gave me a sense of power and, for the first time in my life, I understood how exhilarating it could be to make something from nothing.”

However, her “obsession” with theatre began when she discovered playwriting in her early 20s. “Writing my first play was a pivotal experience because I realised there were worlds and powerful voices inside me that I never knew were there,” says Professor Farrow, who has published five volumes of her short plays for stage and radio.

Theatre is a like a drug 

Theatre has always been like a drug, she says. “Most of us who are involved in it see it as an addiction.” And while the process of creating theatre can be exhausting to the point of wanting to give it up at times, she invariably returns to it. “I do believe that theatre can change lives ­– I’ve seen it first-hand hundreds of times. People discover that they are so much more than they imagined. They find deep friendships, they sharpen their sense of integrity; they become politicised; they learn how to express themselves fully through voice, mind and body; they learn about discipline; and how to meet deadlines.”

Professor Angie Farrow (blue dress) with Massey students Cameron Dickons, Kaitlin Edmonds, Jess Ramage, Sarah Angland and Zak Rodgers – all from Firing Line.

Political focus

Other accolades include first prize at The Inspirato International Playwriting Contest in Toronto in 2013 for her short play The Blue Balloon, a magical, existential 10-minute play and an example of the power of short plays, or what she calls “haiku theatre where you say big things in small spaces”.

She believes that theatre can be a powerful agent of change for audiences when it addresses political issues without being preachy. “We live in a time when global issues can penetrate every aspect of our lives – we know about the famine in Yemen, the bush fires in Australia, the threat of climate change. Done well, theatre is capable of synthesising these ‘big picture’ realities into narratives that audiences are able to absorb without being overwhelmed.” 

Receiving the lifetime award has, she says, humbled, honoured and delighted her. “Theatre is one of the best forms I know to cultivate and enhance community and because it gives me great joy to see people working harmoniously together and with a common purpose.” Over two decades, it also represents the “hundreds of people who have contributed to my experience, my success,”she says.

Teaching is her first love (in 2010 she won a $20,000 national tertiary teaching excellence award), and it is the students she will miss. “Theatre is an intellectually rigorous form, whether students are studying or writing plays or whether they are exploring a character as an actor. All of the courses we teach at Massey attempt to use critical and creative learning and it’s the combination that provides depth and rigour.”

The award has also helped her to focus on what happens next. She hopes to continue her playwriting as well complete an anthology of stories based on growing up in the East End. Mainly, she wants to make space for new things to happen, but right now she isn’t quite sure what those new things might be. 

“Massey has been very good to me and has offered a place of discovery, stimulation and support, I will miss being around so many great colleagues and amazing students, but it really does feel time to open a new chapter.”

This year, Massey Community Theatre – made up of students and staff from the University’s varied drama programmes – swept up five awards in all. Firing Line, a piece of street theatre devised, written and performed by Creativity In The Community’s class of 2018, took out both the Best Ensemble and Best Original Script and Production awards. The show’s technical support team, comprised of Luke Anderson, Leith Haarlhoff, Sean Monaghan and composer/Massey artist-in-residence David Downes won the Technical Design and Operation award for their multimedia spectacle, and School of English and Media Studies staff member and technician Luke Anderson won the Gordon Alve Memorial Award in Technical Excellence.

Opinion: Protecting religious diversity in NZ after Christchurch

Source: Massey University

On Friday night, the Prime Minister Jacinda Arden argued that the very reason that our nation was targeted by a terrorist event was because of its diversity. She noted that New Zealand has “200 ethnicities, 160 languages, and amongst that diversity we share common values.” 

The language focused solely on ethnic diversity and did not mention religion or religious diversity. This follows a general trend occurring across the country where religious diversity has been collapsed into broader discussions of bi-culturalism, ethnic diversity and superdiversity. 

Across New Zealand universities, the study of religion has rapidly fallen into decline. This may be evidence of the decline of the humanities, or perhaps it is an assumption that secularization and the belief that religion is receding in importance becoming a dominant paradigm within our universities and views of New Zealand community? Regardless, the result has been that our university’s lack the expertise to talk to the New Zealand state and citizenry about the contemporary challenges occurring around religious diversity. My argument is that this lack of emphasis on religion is highly problematic for understanding social cohesion and healing after Christchurch. The critical study of the historical, cultural and philosophical dimensions of religions – in schools and universities – counters ignorance and helps to foster tolerance and understanding.

My longitudinal research has clearly showed over the last 50 years, that while Christian belief has generally been in decline, the diversity of religious belief has multiplied across New Zealand. Buddhist and Muslim communities have become significant features of our religious landscape and in our cities. These religious communities draw membership from a broad variety of ethnic groups drawn from across South East Asia and the Middle East. Social cohesion and interfaith dialogue across our religious groups does occur but it receives little attention. 

Data from my 2008 research still underpins the New Zealand Government’s Statement of religious diversity released in 2009. The Statement’s data has not been updated for almost 15 years. The statement of religious diversity acknowledges our nations’ religious diversity and it offers a commitment to New Zealanders, of whatever faith or ethical belief, to feel free to practice their beliefs in peace and within the law and to respect the right of others to do the same. 

Crucially, the Statement does not set out to manage religious diversity, which is what we see occurring across Europe. It assumes that our communities will live in relative harmony and any minor incidents of disharmony will be addressed through a negotiation of human rights, religious law and cultural tradition.This leads me to ask the questions, have we become complacent about our diversity?Should we reconsider the notion that the academic study of religion was a 19th and 20th century phenomenon?

In the Christchurch attack, the unifying target was religion rather than ethnicity. Islamic belief is practiced across ethnic groups and it was this belief of a broad Muslim community that was attacked. This was a far-right terror attack of hate against a religious community that was also tied into broader issues of immigration and racism. 

Last weekend, I spent two funerary days in the local Cambodian Theravada Buddhist monastery in Wellington. Across New Zealand there are religious communities who are very similar to those in Christchurch and they are very concerned about the consequences for them. Across New Zealand, these multi-cultural and religiously diverse communities will be looking to the state for reassurance and protection of their safety and participation in civil society.

Proactive approach needed to ensure religious diversity is safe

Dangerously, the Christchurch attack has two consequences for thinking about religious diversity and the relationships between religious communities and the state. Firstly, State management of religion targets a religious group that represents a set of vulnerable New Zealanders and who have carefully managed their community to not fall prey to Islamic extremism. Secondly, it sets in place a responsibility for the government to consider whether it needs to set in place structures to manage religious diversity more explicitly. If this is the case, New Zealand’s relatively laissez faireapproach of the Statement of Religious Diversity and a lack of sociological focus on religion will no longer be sufficient. 

When it comes to State management of religion, across Europe we have seen that a lack of careful understanding of religious belief and practice has led to all sorts of problems around isolation, exclusion. This has led to a variety of social challenges and the risk of radicalization –all of which might lead to future forms of social tension and violence.

Vital for healing after Christchurch will be a careful engagement with experience of managing religious diversity. It will be necessary to think about social mechanisms of reconciling religious communities to the broader society. Goodwill will need to be fostered in our streets and suburbs. 

All of our nation’s vibrant population need to feel safe. Our Government will need to be sensitive and nuanced in this religious space. Particularly, our security agencies who will be tasked with increased prevention and surveillance responsibilities after this attack. Inevitably, these agencies will be at the forefront of managing this situation, which is inherently dangerous because it securitizes the management of religion. 

A key question will be, after the decline of the study of religion in New Zealand, how will we develop a sensitive and informed discussion and language of religious diversity where increased state management and community cohesion can function together to renew our nation as a safe and harmonious place that accepts all people no matter what they belief?

Dr William Hoverd is a Senior Lecturer at the Massey University Centre for Defence and Security Studies. A sociologist of religion by training, he is an expert in religious diversity and New Zealand national security.

Opinion: Mosque shootings – politics of hate ends our innocence

Source: Massey University

The mosque shootings in Christchurch marked Friday, March 15 as one of New Zealand’s darkest days, says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

As New Zealand police continue to respond to events following shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, the national security threat level has been lifted to high. Mosques across New Zealand have been closed and police are asking people to refrain from visiting.

So far, 49 people have been killed. According to media reports, 41 people were fatally shot at the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue; others died at a second mosque nearby. 

Four people, three men and a woman, have been taken into custody in connection with the shootings. One man in his late 20s has been charged with murder.

In the hours after the attacks, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern made it clear this was a terrorist attack of “extraordinary and unprecedented violence” that had no place in New Zealand. 

She said extremist views were not welcome and contrary to New Zealand values, and did not reflect New Zealand as a nation.

It is one of New Zealand’s darkest days. Many of the people affected by this act of extreme violence will be from our refugee and migrant communities. New Zealand is their home. They are us.

She is right. Public opinion surveys such as the Asia New Zealand Foundation annual surveys of attitudes tend to show that a majority of New Zealanders are in favour of diversity and see immigration, in this case from Asia, as providing various benefits for the country. 

But extremist politics, including the extreme nationalist and white supremacist politics that appear to be at the core of this attack on Muslims, have been part of our community for a long time.

History of white supremacy

I completed research in the UK on the National Front and British National Party in the late 1970s. When I returned to New Zealand, I was told explicitly, including by authorities that were charged with monitoring extremism, that we did not have similar groups here. But it did not take me long to discover quite the opposite. 

Through the 1980s, I looked at more than 70 local groups that met the definition of being extreme right wing. The city that hosted many of these groups was Christchurch. 

They were a mixture of skinhead, neo-nazi and extreme nationalist groups. Some were traditional in their ideology, with a strong underpinning of anti-Semitism and a belief in the supremacy of the “British race”. Others inverted the arguments of Māori nationalism to argue for separatism to keep the “white race pure”.

And yes, there was violence. The 1989 shooting of an innocent bystander, Wayne Motz, in Christchurch by a skinhead who then walked to a local police kiosk and shot himself. The pictures of the internment showed his friends giving nazi salutes. In separate incidents, a Korean backpacker and a gay man were killed for ideological reasons.

Things have changed. The 1990s provided the internet and then social media. And events such as the September 11 terror attacks shifted the focus – anti-Semitism was now supplemented by Islamophobia. 

Hate speech online

The earthquakes and subsequent rebuild have significantly transformed the ethnic demography of Christchurch and made it much more multicultural – and more positive about that diversity. It is ironic that the this terrorism should take place in this city, despite its history of earlier far right extremism. 

We tend not to think too much about the presence of racist and white supremacist groups, until there is some public incident like the desecration of Jewish graves or a march of black-shirted men (they are mostly men) asserting their “right to be white”. Perhaps, we are comfortable in thinking, as the prime minister has said, they are not part of our nation.

Last year, as part of a project to look at hate speech, I looked at what some New Zealanders were saying online. It did not take long to discover the presence of hateful and anti-Muslim comments. It would be wrong to characterise these views and comments as widespread, but New Zealand was certainly not exempt from Islamophobia. 

Every so often, it surfaced, such as in the attack on a Muslim woman in a Huntly carpark.

An end to collective innocence

It became even more obvious during 2018. The Canadian YouTuber, Stefan Molyneux, sparked a public debate (along with Lauren Southern) about his right to free speech. Much of the public comment seemed to either overlook or condone his extreme views on what he regards as the threat posed by Islam.

And then there was the public protest in favour of free speech that occurred at the same time, and the signs warning us about the arrival of Sharia law or “Free Tommy” signs. The latter refers to Tommy Robinson, a long-time activist (cf English Defence League leader) who was sentenced to prison – and then released on appeal – for contempt of court, essentially by targeting Muslims before the courts.

There is plenty of evidence of local Islamophobic views, especially online. There are, and have been for a long time, individuals and groups who hold white supremacist views. They tend to threaten violence; seldom have they acted on those views. There is also a naivety amongst New Zealanders, including the media, about the need to be tolerant towards the intolerant.

There is not necessarily a direct causation between the presence of Islamophobia and what has happened in Christchurch. But this attack must end our collective innocence.

No matter the size of these extremist communities, they always represent a threat to our collective well-being. Social cohesion and mutual respect need to be asserted and continually worked on.

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley is the Pro Vice-Chancellor for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, with research expertise on New Zealand’s race relations, immigration and population. 

Opinion: Why I support the school strike for climate

Source: Massey University

Creative activism expert Associate Professor Elspeth Tilley says school students are engaging in citizenship by marching for action on climate change.

There are amazing teachers working within our schooling system to promote critical and creative learning – but in the main, our secondary schooling system is still oriented to what is known as ‘reproductive education’. That is, success is predominantly measured by whether students can reproduce what we already know.

The problem is that following what we already know is what got us in this mess. What we need is to encourage a combination of reproductive education (so we can learn from the mistakes of the past) with critical and creative education. That means encouraging young people to ask questions, unlearn assumptions, challenge norms, take creative risks, have experiences outside the classroom and traditional curriculum, learn how to organise, collaborate, communicate, make new networks and connections, and develop skills to imagine and represent novel positions and scenarios. 

The young people taking part in this Friday’s school strike to march against climate change are doing just that – essentially, they are on a field trip in applied critical thinking and citizenship studies. This is how democracy works – if we want our young people to be engaged citizens, then we need to support and encourage their engagement with their citizenship.  

There is a mounting body of research evidence showing that unexpected and novel solutions are essential to make real social, political, environmental and economic change to our current trajectory – that is, solutions that use creativity and the imagination to envisage a completely different way of doing things.  An extensive body of research literature called ‘standpoint theory’ has shown that those who are least ingrained in a system are typically able to best imagine how to do things differently, and furthermore that those who are most disadvantaged by a system are best able to picture how to improve it, because they don’t have a vested interest in maintaining it. 

Loaded legacy the future for youth?

Young people as a global group are deeply disadvantaged by our current planetary systems. They are inheriting the legacy of toxicity, ecosystem collapse, disasters, inequality, famine and food wars that my generation will leave behind when we are dead.  They will live with it far longer than us, with the worst yet to come.  According to standpoint theory, young people are more likely than us to act selflessly and ingeniously in solving what seem daunting and intractable issues. We should be listening to, and facilitating their ideas into real channels of action and influence, not trying to silence them. Young people are a resource. They can help us win against climate change.

My experiences with young people, both over a 20-year career as a university educator and running the Create1World youth creative activism and global citizenship conference, now in its fourth year, consistently show that young people are other-focussed, innovative thinkers who dare to imagine a better world, are committed to values of inclusivity and social justice, and are willing to work hard to make the world a better place.  

And yet they have no traction for that energy, insight and courage. They cannot vote: all they have is their voice. If we silence even that – as some are doing by disparaging the march – we are utterly disempowering them.  Disempowerment is the last thing they (and we) need right now.  

Need for hope in times of fear and despair

A report by UNICEF released in 2017 showed New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. Right now, a sense of hope is crucial – while depression and mental health problems are complex, the overwhelming scope and scale of climate change contributes to a sense of powerlessness. As a young person participating in Create1World 2016 said: “The fact that older people are deciding for us how our world is going to be and we’re the ones who have to deal with the consequences, doesn’t seem very fair.”

Witnessing young people seize their right to be angry about what has been done to their future, and voicing that anger, is a sign of hope. It gives me optimism for the future in a way that none of the slow-grinding bickering of politicians is doing.  

The pace of change is not fast enough – the planet is warming faster than we are changing our ways. This is why I unreservedly support the school strike. Young people are modelling the moral imperative: do more, and do it now.  I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their courage and their clarity. 

Elspeth Tilley is an associate professor in Expressive Arts at Massey University’s School of English and Media Studies in Wellington, an internationally award-winning playwright of theatre about climate change, and organiser of the youth event, Create1World.

New Poetry NZ Yearbook moves in many ways

Source: Massey University

Poetry NZ Yearbook 2019’s featured poet Stephanie Christie, about to read her work at the launch in Devonport Library, with Dr Jack Ross.

Launched last week at the Devonport Library in Auckland to a packed room of over 200, issue number 53 of New Zealand’s longest-running poetry journal and the third to be published by Massey University Press includes new migrant voices, veteran poets and even a veterinary professor-turned-poet.

Dr Ross, a poet, editor and senior lecturer in the School of English and Media Studies at Massey’s Albany campus, says the task of sifting through over a thousand submissions to choose 130 for the book is formidable as well as a tremendous privilege. Always with an ear tuned for fresh and challenging new voices and views, he has mustered a bracing array of poetry from a diverse set of writers.

From modern probes into religion, romance, love, death and loss to the inner lives of a retail worker, a refugee, a doctor, a drunk – the eclectic mix offers poems in a multitude of forms, including prose pieces. As well as captivating lines by emerging poets there is new work by some of the country’s most respected names, such as New Zealand’s inaugural Poet Laureate Michele Leggott, along with Elizabeth Smither, Emma Neale and Bob Orr. There are dual-text poems too, in Chinese, German, Spanish and te reo Māori, as well as 20 poems and an interview with featured Hamilton poet Stephanie Christie.

A number of Massey graduates and staff who are also published authors made the grade, including Professor Bryan Walpert, Dr Johanna Emeney, Dr Matthew Harris, Bonnie Etherington, Sue Wootton and Jessica Pawley, who wrote one of three literary essays in the book.

Wildbase vet a prize-winning poet

Another Massey contributor is Brett Gartrell, a professor in Wildlife Health in the School of Veterinary Science and clinical director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the Manawatū campus. He gained second place and a $300 in prize money for his poem; ‘After the principal calls’

Beyond his day job saving injured native birds and animals and teaching others how to do the same, he has been taking courses through the School of English and Media Studies for the past decade, including on fiction writing, creative non-fiction, children’s writing, life writing and poetry. 

“I never thought of myself as a poet previously, but I was inspired by the teaching and poetry of Professor Bryan Walpert in particular,” says Professor Gartrell, who has just completed a portfolio of poetry and essay for his master’s of Creative Writing. “I’ve discovered poetry as something that both challenges and intrigues me.”

His foray into studying poetry has, he says, “given me a perspective on my teaching. I have been challenged and mostly delighted by the teaching excellence of my tutors and lecturers. I think all academics could benefit from this role reversal from time to time.”

What does he most like about writing poetry? “It’s the combination of creative flow and control. It’s the challenge of allowing a poem to find its own direction and surprising conjunctions which then needs to be followed by the control of distillation; of condensing and communicating the most complex of lyrical moments through the words and structure of the poem. 

“As Jasper Fforde writes in First Among Sequels; “Whereas story is processed in the mind in a straightforward manner, poetry bypasses rational thought and goes straight to the limbic system and lights it up like a brushfire. It’s the crack cocaine of the literary world.”

Poetry editor to ghost writer

“I feel the most proud of this volume,” says Dr Ross, of the fifth consecutive edition of the Poetry New Zealand he has edited, not including as a guest editor some years ago. 

He says in the book’s introduction, What makes a poem good?,that being moved emotionally has increasingly become his sense of a successful poem, which may be about something funny, or painful or revealing. “It’s not that I sit here boo-hooing as I read through all the submissions for each issue – but every now and then something in one of them sits up and looks alive, persuades me that something is being worked out here that might be relevant to others simply because it seems so relevant to me.”

Mostly, he hopes the book will help to make poetry more visible, more accessible and maybe ignite new interest among a wider, more culturally diverse audience. This edition is his last as editor for the time being – he is handing the editorial reins for the next issue over to Dr Johanna Emeney, a published poet and creative writing lecturer at Massey. He is hoping to be able to devote more time to working on his own writing, with a project in the pipeline to explore his longheld fascination about ghost stories and the psychology behind them.

War historian honoured with museum medal

Source: Massey University

(from left) John McIntyre, president – Auckland Museum Institute; Orchid Artimalala – Auckland Museum Trust Board; Professor Glyn Harper and David Gaimster – chief executive Auckland Museum. (photo/Max Lemesh)

Professor Glyn Harper, with Museum Medal

Glyn Harper, a professor of war studies, has been awarded a prestigious Museum Medal by the Auckland War Memorial Museum. He was also made a Fellow of the museum in acknowledgment of his exemplary scholastic achievement relevant to the Museum’s activities.

The Palmerston North-based professor, a renowned researcher and author of numerous award-winning scholarly and children’s books on a wide range of military history themes – from the two world wars to the Vietnam War, was presented with the award at the Museum Medals ceremony last week to honour the careers of five outstanding individuals.

“The Auckland War Memorial Museum is a leader in promoting military history research in New Zealand and its Cenotaph Database is a real national treasure,” Professor Harper says. “I’m honoured and grateful to receive this recognition from such an eminent institution.”

Professor Harper joined the New Zealand Territorial Army while studying at the University of Canterbury. After graduating with a master’s degree in modern history and a diploma of teaching he moved to Australia. 

He taught for seven years, then joined the Australian Army where he completed his PhD on the New Zealand commander Sir Howard Kippenberger at the University of New England. In 1996, he transferred to the New Zealand Army where, as commanding officer of the Military Studies Institute, he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. 

He was the New Zealand Army’s official historian for the deployment to East Timor and is the best-selling author of more than 20 books. He is also an award-winning author of 12 books for children. 

Focus on centenary history of WWI project 

After retiring from the Army in 2001 Professor Harper joined Massey University. He was Director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies for six years and was instrumental in establishing the Centenary History project. As well as Massey’s project manager for the Centenary History – having written two of its 14 volumes – he is a board member of the War History Heritage and Memory (WHAM) Research Network and a member of the Centenary History project’s Governance Group. In 2010, he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in the USA and, in 2012, was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for services to historical research. 

Auckland Museum chief executive Dr David Gaimster says; “It is a pleasure to recognise the major contributions the recipients have made to their areas of study and to be able to acknowledge innovation across such diverse disciplines. It’s privilege to celebrate their achievements alongside their whanau, friends and colleagues.” 

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said the medal and fellowship did two things: “It recognises Glyn’s excellent work as a war historian and communicator, and it reflects his work with the Auckland War Memorial Museum to enhance our understanding of New Zealand’s involvement in war, especially World War One”. 

Medals for 2018 were also presented to Dr Mike Wilcox – Associate Emeritus of Auckland War Memorial Museum; Gil Hanly – Companion of Auckland War Memorial Museum; Siobhan Leachman – Companion of Auckland War Memorial Museum; and Matekino Lawless, who was also made a Fellow of the museum.

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Making sense of an uncertain world: lecture series

Source: Massey University

Humanities and social sciences scholars share their expertise and insights on a diverse local and global topics in the Our Changing World lecture series.

China’s influence, Auckland’s superdiversity, philosophical issues in health and science research, the transformative power of theatre, music, literature – just a few of the sizzling topics in this year’s Our Changing World public lectures by Massey University humanities and social science scholars.

Exploring, analysing and understanding complex and compelling issues is where philosophers, sociologists, historians, linguists and other arts scholars shine. The series, now in its third consecutive year at the Auckland campus and expanding to Wellington this year, offers a diverse range of fascinating topics of interest to the wider public, offering fresh perspectives and food for thought.

Hosted by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the series kicks off on March 6 with Dr David Belgrave – a lecturer in citizenship and politics – discussing New Zealand’s policy towards China. His talk, Watching China’s Rise: Past, Present and Future Options for New Zealand, will provide historical context to the New Zealand-China relationship and look at policy challenges for the future in what has become a hot button already issue this year.

Next up, French language and literature specialist Dr France Grenaudier-Klijn will explore how the Holocaust of World War II continues to haunt French society and culture in her talk: Ghosts of the Holocaust in contemporary French fiction.

Philosopher Dr John Matthewson will share insights on populations in science research and applications. He will explore how science applications and funding gets targeted to particular groups, moving from philosophical analysis through scientific methodology to ultimately consider practical outcomes. 

The first lecture, in Auckland, looks at past and current contexts for New Zealand’s relationship with China.

Protest origins and sports’ allure

Historian Dr Amanda McVitty takes the audience back to medieval Europe to consider the earliest voices of protest in politics. She will discuss how and why the voices of the people emerged “as a formidable and unpredictable force in medieval politics,” and explore the strategies ordinary men and women used to protest injustice, defy corrupt leaders, and demand change. 

Back to the future and closer to home, historian and author Dr Geoff Watson considers the world of sport in New Zealand and why it is so important to many in our nation, in his talk:Continuity or Change? Sport in New Zealand Society c. 1840-2019.

The Auckland series concludes in November with renowned demographer Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, discussing the latest trends in Auckland’s fast-growing population in his tall: “Superdiverse Auckland: A New City Emerges.”

Professor Spoonley launches the Wellington series on March 19 discussing hate speech in the age of the internet. Following lectures include Professor Richard Shaw on the Fourth Industrial revolution and work of the future; Dr Germana Nicklin on New Zealand’s borders from European and Māori perspectives; Dr Anna Powles on the implications for the Pacific ‘reset’; Associate Professor Christine Kenney on indigenous approaches to disaster management; and Dr John Fitzgerald on policy and strategy for suicide risk and prevention. Associate Professor Elspeth Tilley will share her research insights and experiences from pioneering work in performance arts and activism, while Associate Professor Leonel Alvarado will talk on the impact and influence of Latino music around the world.

College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Regional Director in Auckland and lecture series convenor, Dr Damien Rogers.

Fresh insights on complex issues of our time

Convenor Dr Damien Rogers, a politics lecturer in the School of People, Environment and Planning, says; “These days, the world around us seems more complex than ever before. For some, humanity is on a precipice, tearing itself apart in some regions of the world as a global ecological crisis appears ever closer on our shared horizon. For others, we live in an era of unparalleled opportunity and unsurpassed prosperity. How are we to make sense of it all?” 

 “We offer these lectures free to the public to better connect with our local communities and to fulfil, in part, our cherished role as critic and conscience of society. We hope the series will inform, and perhaps even transform, the way in which people think about a broad range of fascinating topics.”   


TIME: Doors open at 6pm. Lecture 6.30-7.30pm.

VENUE: Round Room, Atrium Building, Albany campus, Massey University



TIME: 6pm to 7pm, third Tuesday of the month.

VENUE: National Library of New Zealand, Programme Rooms, Te Ahumairangi (ground floor), corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets, Thorndon.

For more information or to register: www.massey.ac.nz/ourchangingworld 

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‘Salad days’ for Summer Shakespearians

Source: Massey University

(from left) Matt Schaw (as Alexas, a high-ranking member of Cleopatra’s court) and Kathleen van Rooyen (Cleopatra) as Cleopatra laments Antony’s absence. (image/Zak Rodgers)

Massey students taking part in this year’s outdoor Manawatū Summer Shakespeare production of Antony and Cleopatra might feel they are in their ‘salad days’ – an expression that refers to a time of carefree innocence and pleasure of youth.

The phrase, from a line by Cleopatra – “my salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood” – is one of the better known from the play to be incorporated into modern speech as well as for the title of a 1950s musical. The play itself combines politics, betrayal and an exotic love story which ends tragically. 

Director, veteran screen and stage actor and Shakespearian stalwart Ralph Johnson says the play dwells on the attraction between “two flawed human beings” – Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and Mark Antony, a Roman general. “They’re not heroic types – they fail often, but they redeem themselves through their humanity.”

Antony and Cleopatra begins with the titular lovers living together in Egypt when an uprising against Caesar in Rome forces Antony to return. However, Caesar does not fully trust Antony and begins to scheme behind his back. Cleopatra, meanwhile, is left behind in Egypt, where she sets in motion plans of her own – plans which Caesar may be involved in.

Mr Johnson has acted and directed numerous Shakespearian products in New Zealand and abroad, starred in television dramas such as The Legend of the Seeker, in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, and tutored theatre studies at Massey’s School of English and Media Studies. In this year’s production, he decided to cut the three-hour play by half, editing out minor sub-plots before rehearsals kicked off a few weeks ago.

From left: Iras (Jayda McIndoe), Cleopatra (Kathleen van Rooyen) and Charmian (Sarah Angland grieving over a deceased Antony (Rob Lloyd). (image/Zak Rodgers)

Gender equality among generals

Gender fluidity, a feature of several of William Shakespeare’s other plays, is also an element of this production. A requirement for 50/50 gender casting means there are women generals in the Roman army. It is a contemporary twist because they are not women pretending to be men, but women generals, he says. The set comprises a modernist Egyptian-style pyramid made of steel, while costumes have a futuristic look with military generals clad in motor cross gear.

Six of the cast members are current Massey students, including actor and publicist Zak Rodgers (Bachelor of Communication in Expressive Arts and Journalism), Sarah Angland (Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies and Theatre), Matt Schaw, Cameron Dickons (Bachelor of Arts in English and Theatre), Jayda McIndoe (Bachelor of Science double major in Zoology and Ecology) and Georgia-Rae Lochore.

“Much of the cast is made up from members and veterans of previous Summer Shakespeare productions, which means we’re already familiar with each other,” says Cameron, who plays Octavius Caesar. “Ralph has an exquisite attention to detail and a real drive to get everyone to their best. He’s also quite fun-loving – rehearsals with him are equal parts intense and goofy!” 

Local actor Kathleen van Rooyen, who plays Cleopatra, says the Queen of Egypt famously played by Elizabeth Taylor on film and Judi Dench on the stage, “is a complex and fascinating character. She is ugliness and beauty, vice and virtue. Many stage and film adaptations often portray her as seductive and cruel. But those portrayals of her do not fully capture the queen that once bewitched the western world.”

Summer Shakespeare poster; and director Ralph Johnson.

Theatre magic under the trees

Mr Johnson, currently Massey’s artist in residence, says he is glad to be working with “an experienced and enthusiastic production team, which feels such a blessing. In the cast, also, I feel that same verve. I feel delighted and privileged to be able to build on such a strong platform, to create the next piece of this tradition to enthral this year’s audience.”

This is his third time directing the Manawatū Summer Shakespeare. He’s been an avid fan of Shakespeare since going to see a production of Henry VIII as a boy at Christchurch’s Theatre Royale. 

Award-winning playwright and theatre studies lecturer Professor Angie Farrow in the School of English and Media Studies, who launched the Manawatū Summer Shakespeare 16 years ago, says; “It’s a delight to have Ralph Johnson back amongst us. His productions of Romeo and Juliet and Comedy of Errors were outstanding – he knows how to get the very best from emerging actors.  

“Since he last directed, the Manawatū Summer Shakespeare has gone from strength to strength attracting huge family audience and gaining a reputation as high-quality entertainment.”

The appeal of Antony and Cleopatra for local audiences? “It’s less to do with Shakespeare and more to do with being with a group of people picnicking, being part of creating magic under the trees,” says Mr Johnson.

Antony & Cleopatra runs from 28 February to 3 March and 7 to 9 March. 

Time: 6:30pm and 4:30pm Matinee (4 March) 
Venue: Victoria Esplanade Arboretum, Palmerston North.
Koha (donation) entry. No booking required

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