Love letter to New Zealand

REVIEWED BY PHILIP MATTHEWS
Last updated 15:48 25/02/2014
GRIFFITH REVIEW 43: Pacific Highways
With contributions from writers including Kate De Goldi, Steve Braunias and John Saker, Griffith Review 43: Pacific Highways features some of New Zealand's best writers.

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GRIFFITH REVIEW 43: Pacific Highways
Co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Lloyd Jones
Text, $35

Melbourne publisher Text has been a big supporter of our literature and has now devoted an entire issue of the quarterly Griffith Review, published with Queensland's Griffith University, to New Zealand and its writing.

Guest editor Lloyd Jones, working with regular editor Julianne Schultz, has done a fine job of gathering essays, stories and poems by our best writers.

You would already know from Jones' fiction that he is sceptical about fixed ideas of New Zealand and its identity. This is also expressed by Kate De Goldi in her essay Simply by Sailing in a New Direction.

De Goldi writes about the paradox of Margaret Mahy who is both New Zealand's most famous, most loved writer and "a writer whose work is in so many ways ardently un-New Zealand - or at least ardently not the New Zealand we have, over time, assumed is the proper subject and setting for our fiction".

De Goldi then traces Mahy's influence on Elizabeth Knox. Both are "writers who have charted determinedly solo voyages".

Images of voyages, journeys and borders recur throughout Pacific Highways. On the cover, Bill Hammond's birds look anxiously to sea, wondering what will arrive. The book is loosely organised as a migration from north to south, with Auckland Airport as a jumping off point and Antarctica as a kind of imaginative extension of New Zealand.

Bruce Foster's photo series "When the Swimmer Reaches the Shore" records some of the borders. These are water's edge photos from lonely spots around New Zealand: Greymouth, Ohope, Whanganui, Moa Point.

A second series, by Anne Noble, wittily documents improvised Christmas trees in transitional, post-quake Christchurch.

Noble's pictures appear alongside very good reporting on Christchurch by Sally Blundell and an excerpt from photographer Glenn Busch's Place in Time project, collecting stories from the city's residential red zone.

The Christchurch pieces seem to mirror earlier stories by Steve Braunias and Finlay Macdonald who situate Auckland in a multicultural context, always looking outwards. Macdonald sees "crowded, vain, acquisitive, gridlocked, polyglot, metrosexual" Auckland as being every bit as representative of New Zealand as our semi-mythical small-town rugby clubs and woolsheds.

Some of these pieces will explain New Zealand to Australian readers and some will explain contemporary New Zealand to itself. Damien Wilkins' terrific love letter to The X-Factor does both, as does, in a more traditionally serious way, Ian Wedde's moving reportage from the tangi for Ralph Hotere.

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While hearing the stories of Hotere's personal generosity, Wedde thinks about the tensions between "here" and "there" in his life and work. Between New Zealand and the world, between Otago and Northland, between Maori and Pakeha. Wedde realises that Hotere closed the gap.

- Stuff

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