Overland 219: The New Zealand Issue
OVERLAND 219: The New Zealand Issue
Edited by Jacinda Woodhead, guest edited by Giovanni Tiso
Overland, $19.95, overland.org.au
New Zealand has some fine literary journals but there is no local equivalent to Overland, a long-running Australian journal and corresponding website that combines coverage of progressive politics with fiction and poetry. With that unique mix, a one-off New Zealand edition was always going to be a particular treat.
Wellington-based writer and translator Giovanni Tiso has been publishing in Overland since 2011, which makes him a natural fit to act as guest editor of the New Zealand issue. Those who have followed Tiso's erudite blog Bat, Bean, Beam or his often argumentative Twitter account will have some idea what to expect. The apt cover image is by artist Marian Maguire, blending New Zealand colonialism and the classics. The contributors include journalists and essayists Nicky Hager, Max Rashbrooke, Morgan Godfery and Scott Hamilton. Together with Tiso, all belong to that threatened species, the Kiwi public intellectual.
As Tiso explains in his introduction, this issue is not about who we are or where we find ourselves. That at least makes it distinct from the New Zealand issue of the Griffith Review in 2014, which acted as a wide-ranging explanation of us to Australians. Instead, Tiso is picking up on Overland's political mission and developing links.
There are short stories by Tina Makereti, Pip Adam and Lawrence Patchett, selected by Jolisa Gracewood. Poetry is edited by Robert Sullivan. But we are really here for the non-fiction, which is Left-leaning and often develops a clearly topical inspiration into a still-current wider debate. Some also act as answers to what journalists might still call "the Simon Wilson question". Where are the good local essayists, Wilson famously wondered in Metro. Well, here are some of them, at least.
Godfery has a marvellous and thoughtful piece that explores the realities behind Prime Minister John Key's "absurd" throwaway quip that New Zealand was settled peacefully. Comedian John Clarke writes about his mother, Neva, and wonders why she never called herself a feminist. Catriona Maclennan writes about lawyers and rape, and asks if the system needs reform.
Rashbrooke, author of Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, makes the provocative claim that banking giant HSBC's influence on the Telegraph newspaper, revealed by departing editor Peter Oborne, is a greater threat to free speech than the Jihadists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.
Still with media freedom, Hager has a great overview of investigative journalism that reveals his idealism has not dissipated.
"The ones I respect the most are those who have kept going through the decades, continuing to uncover big stories and resisting the urge to be cynical or discouraged," Hager writes. "It is always easier to decide that the world is a mess and that nothing can be done about it."
That last sentence could be taken as a summary of this quietly impressive issue of Overland as a whole. Maintaining optimism isn't easy.