Meet the Whangarei gamer getting girls into tech

Want to know how to get young women into tech? Make a game of it.

Meet Verena Pschorn, a Northland tech enthusiast who has created “a nerdy breathing space for girls” and is using gaming to try to close the gender gap in the tech industry.

***

On a Tuesday in early August, Verena Pschorn flies to Wellington for the NZ Game Developers Association Conference, where 600 people who live for making games gather. Pschorn volunteers for six days, finds out about the latest game developments, audio and 3D design, then flies back to Whangarei on the Sunday night. The day after, Pschorn gathers a group of 10-16-year-old girls and delivers a lesson in cryptography along with a talk about working in the gaming industry.

They listen intently and as soon as they’re dispatched to create substitution cyphers, the girls crack up with delighted laughter as they create their own Enigma machines.

Fun is all part of it – in fact, Pschorn devotes a significant percentage of her life to having fun.

Hailing from Germany, gaming (both the tabletop variety and software) is a core part of Verena Pschorn’s life. Pschorn worked for years on a sci-fi role playing game called NOVA for which she wrote adventures, as well as designing LARP and games for The Dragon Legion, an international organisation which fosters youth who come together from different countries and learn from each other in a cultural exchange over tabletop games.

Here in New Zealand, Pschorn is also a Dungeon Master – meaning she narrates games of Dungeons & Dragons on Friday nights in Whangarei. Working by day as an outreach coordinator for Volunteering Northland, Pschorn is also a translator and editor for Games Workshop and Warhammer 40,000, which she’s proud to say gives her “nerdy intel” and the privilege of reading books and series before they are released.

At tech/science/computing youth centre Questionable Research Labs, Pschorn guides cohorts of women to learn about any tech project they want to develop. Those who don’t come with their own idea go through lessons game-ified by Pschorn, from building bridges to building mini robots, experimenting with gravity, bridge building, engineering/architecture, coding, photography, and model-building – and of course, all kids’ favourite: making slime.  

Learners get their hands on miniatures and meeples, game platforms Unity and Minecraft Education Edition, and electronics such as open-source electronics platform Arduino. Frequently, weekend-long challenges stretch the learners to new levels of aptitude, particularly KiwiJam, a weekend of game-making, which Pschorn says is “showing them that you can start and finish something, even if it’s just a small game.” Eventually, the kids can transition to the Tākaro Taitokerau game developers group Northern Game Makers.

The relationship between gaming and tech is sometimes direct and sometimes indirect. Most important is being able to think out-of-the-box, Pschorn says.

“We give the kids tools and guidelines and let the kids figure it out and facilitate it instead of top-down teaching.”

As for the male-free groups, Pschorn says the purpose is to create a safe space where girls can “Learn without the societal norms often around us which  deny them the same access to technology or dictate that girls have to be more quiet or take the second place.”

Work is underway to increase the number of visits from tech role models, one of the most notable recently having been Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom of SpaceBase Ltd.

“It’s a space where the girls can be as nerdy as they want and have time to explore all the nerdy things they want without somebody telling them something else is more important,” Pschorn says. “This is a breathing space for them and it shows the girls that tech is for everyone.”

Zap Chess: A great terrible experiment

Ara Bartlett will likely be one of tomorrow’s female tech innovators. The 15-year-old attends classes on Mondays, Tuesday and Thursdays, one of several people who attend QRL who are otherwise homeschooled.

Bartlett began attending in 2016 at the age of 9. Over the past six years Bartlett has covered everything from experimenting with hokey pokey to growing plants in mini biodomes, to the 48 Hour Film competition, creating a VR game at KiwiJam, supercharging an e-scooter, plus studying Photoshop, 3D printing and modelling.

“Thursday we’re motorising a couch,” Bartlett adds. “My friend, it was his idea. We’ll connect it with a pallet on wheels with motors.”

Bartlett recently took part in the Terrible Ideas Hackathon. Her team created ‘Zap Chess’, in which the user receives electrocution if they hesitate over a move for more than a few seconds (watch the video – it’s shockingly good.)

“I feel like I’m so much more invested in this than any other after-school event,” Bartlett says. “I’ve met so many people by coming here.”

New tutor teaching young women how to code

Whangarei mother, tutor and web developer Julie Jones has just begun helping run Monday groups for girls. Jones has been bringing her kids for lessons at QRL for three years, chipping in with tutoring, and will now tutor more regularly alongside Pschorn – Minecraft Java coding, to begin with, as well as some Python.

A lifelong coder self-taught in “everything web-wise,” including HTML, Javascript, C#, ASP.net and “untold frameworks,” Jones knows the benefits of early immersion in tech for girls.

“Learning programming teaches you skills useful in life: perseverance, problem-solving, cooperation with others, creative thinking. That’s really useful in all areas of life, not just coding. But learning coding sets you up for an interesting, rewarding career.”

“So much of IT is male-dominated. I think it could be really valuable for the girls to have a female role model and know they can make a career out of IT,” Jones says.

‘Weedling’ – short story by Michael Botur

A boy without a father trudges through a heartless underworld of drug manufacturers and ruthless males.

**

The cops’ve brought a battering ram this time cause Dad’s nailed timber on the back of the door and it only takes a couple of thuds for fingers of light to poke through the cracks and the shouting begins. The sunlight prods Wesley’s chest as he stands stunned in the hall. He knows childhood will be over within minutes so he grabs whatever possessions he can and crams them in a PakNSave bag. Pokémon cards; some two-dollar coins. There’s a long-forgotten Nerf gun in a palm tree in the hall. He tugs the yellow plastic pistol free of roots. In the tangle comes a tiny cannabis plant with two sad ant-sized fluffy little leaves, sprouting out of a discarded joint a customer mashed out cause it had too many seeds. Dad’s house is all about weed. Seems like he’ll need it.

Ninjas tear the bedsheets and plywood off the windows as they search the dusky house. Wesley shoves his gold foil Bulbasaur card in one pants pocket and the sprouting joint in the other, crumbs and all. The ninjas surge past him like a king tide, washing through the rooms, poking their spiky black guns into corners and calling Dad’s name into a glowing basement that stinks of vegetables. One of dad’s friends who’s been dossing down on the couch runs naked down the hall, cloaked only in tattoos of Grim Reapers and dead friends. Meat, they call him. Coulda been a backup dad, some kind of uncle, but the ninjas soak him up and he disappears in a scrum of black body armour.

Wesley’s lived in four or five places already. Know it’s time to move on. He sits on the steps outside til child protection aunties come and kneel in front of him. They wear flowing dresses with flower patterns from the islands. They push a box of Lego into his arms and fold his fingers round a cup of hot chocolate and winnow his hair. Weedy little thing aren’t you. Gosh, you look starving. Come. How bout a Happy Meal, eh?

Someone’s bellowing out back, by the washing line. Sounds like they’ve got Dad. Or a ninja’s leg’s gotten chomped in one of Dad’s gin traps.

Hey. Darling. Whakarongo mai. Ignore all that. Look at me. You’re Wesley, eh child? You have a beautiful name, considering.

The car is cushy, and his chicken nuggets are nummy and his Lego Transformer is pretty wicked and they’re winding through flash-as hillside hoods, Lynfield, Eden, Epsom, but the catch is just as he’s finishing his last chicken nugget they’re easing into a long driveway of white stones and settling outside a huge cream house from a hundred years ago with brick chimneys sticking up out of the roof.

Place is a castle. Half-school, half-fortress, and four storeys tall, all white with a roof of orange clay tiles. Massive ugly fire escape ladders. Towering hedges so the kids can’t see who’s next door.

Try to think of it as home, they tell Wesley. You’re safe here.

Cept the place has bars on the windows.

Two old married brown people come out onto the driveway. The edges of their grinning eyes scrunch and crumple like accordions. Hildie and Edward. Don’t worry, kiddo. They’ve had hundreds of boys just like you.

Hildie and Edward have saggy throats and huge round bellies. They limp around the place and take forever to say anything. They promise to wash his clothes. Fabric softener to coax the stink of weed out.

They give Wesley his own room with a bedspread with no burn holes in it and no Bob Marley face. The bed doesn’t feel safe. Wesley sleeps in the corner between the mattress and the wall protected with a nail file he finds in the bathroom, scraping it on a rusty part of the iron radiator, scrip-scrap, scrip-scrap til it’s knife-sharp. He hasn’t slept a whole night since he was, like, ten. People come into your room, when you let your guard down. Guys with guns burst in and say they’re looking for guys with guns.

So, Wesley watches the door.  

*

It’s quiet at the home. The corridors feel big and cold as a school assembly hall. Ceilings so high they’re dark up the top. Dusty chandeliers, ancient carpet. They can hear rich kids through the hedge having pool parties, some days. Their squeals carry on the wind. Wes is the only kid on earth without parents to love him. Him and four other boys, that is. Boys with upthrust chins and slits for mouths. Glass eyes on cold faces. Closer to men than boys. Fifteen-year-olds with two, three, even six months more experience than Wesley. Two Maoris, one Islander, an Indian and a white kid, a ginger sprayed with freckles as if his face is angry and burning. From Greymouth, they reckon. Wesley has no idea where that is. The Maoris call it Gaymouth and the ginger offers the Maoris a one-out and they laugh and go to another room, leaving the ginger in the kitchen with Wesley. Ginge’s shirt and pants and socks and sandals are identical to those of Wes, except Ginge’s right pants leg is rolled up which means he’s NeighbaHood Cripz. NHC.

Wesley rummages in the cupboard for a feed and settles on a packet of Maggi noodles and BAM, the NHC Ginger is standing over him with a breadboard calling him a Noodle-nickin’ Nigga while the ceiling throbs.

After, he sits in his room with a bag of frozen corn against his broken face. Aunty Hildie and Uncle Edward, sitting on the end of his bed, tell Wesley that they’ve adopted eight kids and We’re going to bring you up good and proper, yes indeed, young Warwick, their eyes cracking as they smile.

Wes, dude. My name’s Wesley.

They piss off around 7 o’clock and Wesley is left alone to sleep with his groaning stomach. He’s been smoking ciggies over the past year since Dad stopped making dinner, but it’s hard to get ciggies in this fortress. His gut’s like a complaining child. He can’t avoid the kitchen forever. He’s got to do something to become bros with Ginge so he doesn’t get smashed again. Sharing weed is the best option, except when he pulls the sprouting joint out of his pocket, the miniscule seedling falls out of its paper shell, landling lightly on the carpet. Looking to settle somewhere. Wesley holds it up against a steamed winter window. Finds a wet tea bag in a yoghurt pottle in the rubbish bin. Shoves the weedling’s whisker-of-a-root into the tea leaves. Whispers goodnight to his baby plant.

Creeps down the hall with half a joint and knocks on Ginge’s door.

His jaw screams as he talks, but Wesley can’t look like a pussy.

‘Want a session?’

Ginger snorts. Course he’s up for a sesh. Nothin else to do in this shithole. They can smoke in the pantry.

The boys paddle through the house in white socks and soft grey trackpants, trying not to wake the geriatric guards. When they arrive at the end of the stainless-steel kitchen, Ginger destroys the pantry door lock by hitting it with a fire extinguisher. They burrow inside the dark, shed-sized cupboard, look for some bags of flour to sit on and get ready to smoke their weed. All the boxes of food are ginormous. Bags of oats thick as a kid, tubs of instant mashed potato, crates of onion flakes, logs of cookie dough. Fat bags of sugar. A barrel of maple syrup. Milo and dry pasta and sacks of rice.

Ginger is munching icy chicken nuggets from the freezer compartment when Wesley discovers the holy grail: noodles, stacked floor to ceiling. They tear the packets open. Strands of plastic flap and flutter. Ginger bites into twice as many cakes of noodles as Wesley, whose jaw has a screaming alarm in it.

‘Hellooo? Boys?’

What was that, bro? Fuckin – sounds like Ol’ Edward?

‘BOYYYYYS. Warwick? Sthat you?’

Fuck, G. Get a tool. Grab that fish slicey thing. HURRY, DICK.’

Edward’s thick black silhouette appears in the larder doorway, tying its dressing gown belt. Edward is rubbing his eyes when there’s a conk and Ginge is standing over him with a red metal sausage. It’s the fire extinguisher. Edward tumbles and his toes begin twitching and his lips ooze spew. Ginge picks sticky hairs off the base of his red metal club, wadded with blood and old fogey skin, saying Ewww, gross, and wiping the weapon on a bag of flour.

The Maoris arrive in their pyjama tops and undies, excited about the midnight snack, grabbing as many muesli bars as they can. Ginge is yelling HOLD HIS ARMS, HOLD HIS ARMS. The Maoris stand on the squishy, rubbery flesh above old Edward’s dressing-gowned elbows, the hands like dropped rubber gloves, and Ginge puts the fire extinguisher in front of Edward’s face, squints, looks away, and blasts.

It takes a minute for the powder to settle. For the foam bubbles to settle and reveal the old man’s twitching face. Edward’s bear-of-a-corpse wriggles as if he’s stuck in an electric chair. Some kind of epilectic thingy, spam, spasm, nah, what’s the word? Seizure?

‘Better finish him off,’ Ginge goes, pulling a wad of grated mozzarella from a plastic bag and scoffing it. ‘FUGGIM UB.’

Wesley can’t tell what Ginger is saying. Nor why the kid is so relaxed, considering how much trouble they’re standing over.

‘Whuh?’

‘FUCK HIM UP, G,’ Ginge translates, pushing a thick log of salami into Wesley’s chest. ‘DO IT OR I’LL SMASH YOU, CUNT.’

Before he knows it, Russ and Arama are on either side.  

Wesley’s a nark, Ginge explains to the Maoris. Show him what we do to narks, yo.

Wesley creeps toward the body by the door, the future rushing up, then leaps over Edward’s mountainous belly and runs to his room, leaving his breath behind.

He wants to scream Hildie’s name, please come quick, Auntie Hild, but he can’t be known to be a nark. All he can do is shrink into the corner and cradle his yoghurt pottle plant and nail file while red and blue licks the windows and ninjas force their way in and cuff kids and Hildie’s moaning melts the walls.

*

The new foster home is the second granny flat in a block of five. Tiny garden of marigolds, tin letterbox, no fence. Inside it’s a low ceiling, seashell wallpaper, two bedrooms. Lots of framed photographs of black people in suits. It’s a’ight. Close enough to school. After he gets his leaving certificate, Wesley figures he’ll go onto whatever course is walkable. Probly join a clique, get patched. Die early.

The woman in charge of him, Prestige Mulindwa, has boobs like balloons and wide hips and walks real slow, like she’s always blissed-out. In her country there’s been some typa war. She’s seen real harsh shit. Machetes and burning wells and stampedes. She has black slashes across her chest and shoulders that’ve scarred thick and puffy.

Miss Prestige has a story for any time Wesley asks for anything. If he asks for a cup of water, she’ll bust out a story about queues of people waiting to share a tap in a refugee camp in Bidi Bidi. If he complains his toast ain’t hot, she’ll tell him where she comes from, kids learn to cook when they’re seven. And most of em don’t have a guardian, So dis you are theenking about, chile.

Miss Prestige trains Wesley to never complain. Never suggest or mention anything is wrong. Eat dinner silently. Wash your plate. Be grateful you live near a school. Get your homework done. Get enough sleep.

Youth Court ordered he had to go and live with a guardian or get locked up, so Miss Prestige’s job is to watch him til he’s 18. Then he can go and make his own mistakes.

The furry smelly weedling growing on his windowsill, Miss Prestige doesn’t tell him off about. He’s got a system of mirrors and bulbs to get enough light on the little thing, and he’s cloned six plants off it, each in their own yoghurt pottles – big one-litre containers, this time. He’s got a whole hydroponics set-up, just about, and still Miss Prestige never asks him to tear it down. He’d run away if she did that, they both know. Then she wouldn’t get her legal guardian payments.

Miss Prestige goes to a church where they speak Swahili and she’s all about watching the sky and keeping your head down. Having both had lives close to death and rage, Miss Prestige looks at Wesley with knowing. They both know the skinny white teen with the burnt eyes won’t live forever with the African woman. And Miss Prestige knows if she takes away the fragile, shivering duckling-of-a-plant, he’ll find a different drug to care about. Something worse.

So they talk a couple of times a day, breakfast and dinner, through the years 15, 16, 16 and a half. They pull apart the junk mail for coupons and talk across the breakfast bar about interesting new shops opening up in Clendon, Rewa, Weymouth. There are brawls in the street, sometimes. Domestics once a week. Tribesmen up on the corner. Mongrel Mob cruising up and down.

Miss Prestige looks at his reports and mostly doesn’t say anything. She looks past the A in Science and the A in Maths, knowing his dad used to sit him on his lap and teach him accounting and hydroponics and botany. Those grades are fine, but with her calm Swahili accent and godmother-eyes, she makes Wes tell her why he got a C-minus for Physical Education. Missing all the assessments.

The PE thing, straight up, he explains, there’s Otahu Crips that’ve got a knife out for him. So he ducks them, reads gardening magazines in the library. He got a C in English too, but fuck English. It’s unfair and inconsistent, the way words like justice, democracy, fairness, equality, law and order have five different origins and ten different meanings depending who’s using them.

Wesley’s creeping up to 17. Starting to feel itchy about living here. Too safe. too predictable. He’s been buying ounces for a year, breaking them down into tinnies, selling them in the toilets at lunch time, making decent-enough profit to buy kilos of weed occasionally for good wholesale prices. Everyone in school knows what the white boy does, and if he stays here for much longer, he’s gonna get robbed or jumped-in or patched-up.

Until he’s forced to move, Wes attends De La Salle College, walking up Massey Road and looking out for Bloods, then up Gray Ave and watching in case anybody hears him mumbling rap.

At the gates a tide of crimson jerseys and blue polo shirts pours in. Grey shorts. Wool socks you’re sposda pull up else they can paddle you.

De La Salle is bored thugs wrapped up in neat wool jerseys. Fine stitching and monograms over evil hearts that pretend to be Catholic when it suits them. Big bullies in boys’ bodies. And Wesley flits between the giants’ feet.

A day at De La Salle ends with a brawl with Tamaki a lot of the time, especially on Fridays. If the brawl ain’t at the end of the week, it’ll be on the last day before school holidays. Someone always owes someone, and when there’s not a real reason, Tamaki’s gay-ass prettyboy white shirts are a good enough reason to fight.

When the bell rings, six cars squeal into the parking lot and Tamaki boys hop out with cricket bats and two tribes spew onto the field. A crimson stain spreading in a white ocean. Shirts churning in a washing machine wide as a field. Kids shrieking and scrambling up hundred-year-old oak trees outside heritage buildings.  

The rumbles ruin the day’s focus. People forget to pay for their weed and Wes – still half a head shorter than most kids – can’t bully anyone into paying. Plus, on days when the whole school knows there’s gonna be an all-in brawl when the bell rings, kids get cray-cray soon as they arrive in the morning. In September, five little Year 9 Crips put a pocket knife against Wes’ throat in the gym changing room. Karam Duff and his yellow-black Killa Beez bros staunch them out and the Crips melt. He’s grateful and relieved, but Wes can’t handle the nipping little piranhas at this place anymore. He needs a tool or some colours or a bodyguard.

Wes owes Karam for saving him, so that narrows down the options for Wes. Karam’s a prospect for the Killa Beez which makes Wesley a hangaround. Has to give K-Dog free tinnies. Karam needs help with an essay, too. The Cook, Karam calls him. As in, ‘Ey Cook yo. Bring us the answers for number 10, nigga.’

‘Gymnosperm. Opposite is angiosperms, them ones’ve got matured ovules and shit that develop in the fruit after they get fertilised. From pollen. You know, from your hay fever, G.’

The boys really wanna know about Cannabis sativa. It’s hermaphroditic, dioecious, and you gots ta take the male parts off, Wes explains, leaning discreetly into his friends’ heads in Science. ‘Male plants is only good for hemp. You wanna clone a female, G. That’s how you get the sticky-icky buds, dog. Full of terpenes. That’s the scent part. The aroma.’

With protection from the KBz, Wes has more free time to dangle his legs off the bleachers and listen to Cannabis Curriculum on Spotify, this podcast from some hipsters in Oregon that grow tonnes of the stuff. He’s thinking of doing a horticulture apprenticeship, cause Weedling’s grown into a big mature plant two metres in height who gives amazing sticky buds that take Wesley on sleigh rides through the clouds when he smokes, a million miles from this shithole.

‘You’re coming to my uncle’s place to cook for us,’ K-dog announces.

‘How come you keep callin me cook? I don’t cook crack.’

‘You’re a natural, dog. We need you.’

Wes is driven home in a yellow Holden with speakers that shake his skin, and he packs everything he owns into a garbage bag, carefully rolling up his Gregor Mendel pea cloning poster, cradling Weedling in his hefty $40 pot. He strips the bed, vacuums his room and leaves a thank-you note for Miss Prestige on the kitchen bench that doesn’t say he’s going to work at the Killa Beez house, rolling tins, scrunching buds into fifty bags and ounces and calling the boss if anyone on the blacklist walks up. His note doesn’t say he’s going to watch icy teenagers with big shoulders trudge in every day, asking what messages have come through on the house phone. Exhausted men carrying fifty years of stress on young bodies, yellow highlights on black cotton. Gold stickers on black caps. Hardly anyone over 20. The occasional mum or aunty he sees across the next fourteen months. Never a single dad. A house reeking of bourbon, stuffed with black hoodies and sneakers and biceps sticking out of basketball singlets, aquarium full of tropical fish, fridge full of leftovers, Playstation always on, a house run by kids, like Never Never Land set in a pub with a Peter Pan who never smiles.

Miss Prestige doesn’t need to know that after a year and a half, Wesley rolls off the couch, packs up his sleeping bag, puts his plant, undies, deodorant and toothbrush in a banana box by the front door and gets ready to bail.  

There’s one last thing you gotta do if you’re handing your patch in.

He trudges up the creaking stairs. Knocks on the boss’s door. Braces for his beating.

*

After his exit, Wesley has to cross the Harbour Bridge and stay on the North Shore or out west. They’ll kill him if they see him out south again.

Work and Income Henderson help Wesley write a CV, but they don’t find him work. He walks out of the sliding glass doors into the cold without chewing or frowning. Fair’s fair. Life is half bracing yourself to get hurt and half recovering from hurt. And it’s buzzy, being back in WestCity. Thin memory of Dad teaching him how to step on an escalator. Squeals of glee. Wendy’s at the top. Biggest milkshake little Wes ever had.

The case manager, she seemed spooked by his face. Said it would preclude him from being able to attend job interviews or do customer service. She didn’t get it. His face, with the torn ear and the blue and green colours, the purples and yellows, and the Band-aids – his face says he’s a hard worker. That he can endure anything. That he took his beating like a man and now he’s free.

K-dog personally stomped him, and it hurt as much as life every day hurts. No biggie, though. Wes can sense that he got put in a different hydroslide when he was little. He ended up in the same pool as the teachers and the case managers and nurses and cops and all the straightos, all the normal safe happy people. But the tunnel Wes went through to get to the pool was way darker. Twistier.

While Wes is smoking and reading websites and wondering if he can still get that hort apprenticeship, an apprenticeship finds him. Dude just knocks on the door of the hostel one morning and struts through the place. Wes is sitting up on his mattress, bowl of Fruit Loops crooked in his elbow.

Tattooist. White fella, name of Meat. Wes has seen him come by the K Beez pad once or twice, though he doesn’t wear yellow. Says he knew Wesley’s old man.

Wes figures he’s been sold for scrap. Passed on like a used car.

‘Your old man was the oil master. You’re not pressing oil?’

‘Don’t know how. No gear, anymore. Left it at the Beehive.’

Meat drops eye contact for the first time and shakes his head. ‘You could grow here, son. Grow fuckin anywhere. Gap behind the hot water cupboard, eh. Problem is there’s not a lot of future in tinnies, son.’

Meat moves a few inches into the room, filling the doorframe, tattooed fingers itching the spot under his eye with a blue teardrop.

‘So you wanna pack a bag or what?’

*

To make cannabis oil, first find yourself a quiet spot out in the forest where the pine needles are thick as snow drifts. Typa place your Dad took you when you were little, when he showed you how to fire a shotgun and you cried. Riverhead. We’ll get to know each other on the drive, not that there’s much to tell ya. Half my life I been inside doin lags.

Turn here. You’re a decent enough driver, Wezzy Boy. Road’s got two half-fallen pine trees in a cross, we’re lookin out fo– that one! Turn, dumbarse. Bout ten minutes til we’re near the spot.

The shed? I built it, Meat explains. Rain runs down into these barrels underground, see? Recycling water’s essential. Can’t put down any pipes – mountain bikers’ll start sniffing round.

Meat battles with the padlock, shoulders the door open. The shack is flimsy as a house of cards. Plywood walls that wobble. Stacks of Eveready and Duracell batteries and a bucket full of torches and bulbs. Pasta, instant coffee, milk powder. Little mattress to sleep on or sit on. 200 litres of drinking water in a plastic cube.  

‘What ya do is on ya table you put a gallon jug of alcohol, high proof, real high,’ Meat explains, taking jugs of alcohol from the boot of the Jeep and lugging them inside with his big biker arms. Wesley helps unload the Jeep while Meat lectures him.

You can just order this shit over the net and Chem Couriers’ll drop it off. Make sure the type you get says on the label ‘Not intended for human consumption.’ It’s 99 percent pure, son. Explosive too. So ventilate, y’hear me? Always ventilate, cause we’ll work on a few projects out here.

Wes doesn’t want industrial amounts of work, even if there’s money in it. He preferred it when he had only one plant to care about. The little fella in the plastic bucket in the canvas shopping bag in the back of the Jeep.  

Meat loosens the neck of a garbage sack. Huge stash of stinking buds. Most weed Wesley has ever seen. Harvests from eight different growers.

Meat digs his fingers under palmfuls of buds covered in white fluff, sticky sap and yellow flowers, paws them out into dishes, preparing to start marking oil.  

Wesley can’t keep his eyes off the stories on Meat’s skin, written in tats. Chad 1980-2009, one tattoo reads. Then there’s a Grim Reaper. The Reaper’s big swordy-thing is curled around a Head Hunters skull, slicing the skull in half.

These buckets, son, Meat continues, shoving a stack of ten white Resene buckets into Wesley’s arms. Paint buckets. Best kind. Contaminants just wash right out. Chuck the buds in. Attaboy. Thassit. What I want you to do is pour just a tenth of a gallon on the green til it’s soaked an inch deep. Good lad.

A’ight, while the buds is soaking, read this. Promised your dad I’d teach you something, didn’t I. So repeat back to me what I say. Cause we’re here the full week and you can’t be minus your vital equipment.

Glass mixing bowl. Repeat back.

Glass mixing bowl.

Strainer.

Strainer.

Stand up straight, Wezzy. Right: first, once you’ve poured the alcohol on the buds, stir the weed soup with a wooden spoon, mashing it til the solvent absorbs the THC. Then strain the soaked green resiny goop into another container. Pick out the seeds and stalks and bin ‘em.

Three, young Wesley – soak, mix, and strain the mixture a second time. The first wash will remove 70% to 80% of the resin from the medical cannabis. This second wash gets the final dribs and drabs out, son.

Finally, boil til the oxygen bubbles disappear– with a double boiler, if you got it. Promise you’ll ventilate? Cause you’re cookin crack next month. This is just baby stuff, this is.

I promise I’ll ventilate.

Good. Now, when the contents become a thick dark green syrup, all of the alcohol’s evaporated. Whatcha gotcha is cannabis oil. Cool ‘er; thicken ‘er. Bingo.  

That equipment you need, boy? Recite it back to me before I give you a smack in the chops.

While Wes repeats back the list of set-up equipment, Meat opens a thermos and pours them both a coffee, explaining he doesn’t drink.

Drugs is not about makin money, or about being a badass, Meat says, pointing at batches of buds for Wesley to pour alcohol on. ‘Drugs is about hanging out with people who’ve been raped by the world. See our community, it’s like an emergency department waiting room, know what I’m sayin? Buncha hurt people. The only non-hypocrites in this crooked old earth.’

Wesley is suddenly sure his weedling needs him. He doesn’t want his baby boiled.

‘Can I get something from the car?’

‘The little baby planty.’ Meat nods once. ‘Good plant, good plant. Hope you got a name for the strain.’

Wesley rushes back to the Jeep, checks on his baby. His lifelong friend. He pulls the plant out of its bag, looks for somewhere to put Weedling away from the alcohol and strainer.

  Meat sighs and upends one of his special buckets. Wesley places the plant on the makeshift table and relaxes.

Wes accepts a cup of coffee, realises he’s not bothered by Meat’s tatts at all. They’re some sort of lifeline.

‘Meat. Yo. How come your tatt says 2019? After my dad’s name.’

‘Last time I saw him. That day we got raided. When the feds took you away. We all just assumed he, y’know… Didn’t make it. No one’s sure, though. Mighta fled the country.’

The men spend the day stirring stinky buckets of alcohol-soaked weed with Meat letting the occasional story pour out.

And by the way, this business with your old man. His dad did it to him. Used to bring in acid from Asia. So don’t, like… Don’t be angry with your pop, know what I’m sayin? His dad fucked him up.

When a cloud covers up the sun and the forest gets dark and Meat steps outside with a pistol he’s pulled from some pocket Wesley never noticed, they decide they don’t mind each other. They both want to get this done.

They dissolve and squeeze and mash fragrant furry flowers til the only plant left is Weedling.

In this world, beautiful life forms get their goodness squeezed out. Extracted. Used by people who want you for one thing.

*

Night fills in the corners, crevices, cracks. Stretches shadows till everything’s black.  

Meat gives Wesley a brand-new sleeping bag and shows the boy how to unfurl it, roll it out.

‘Bulbasaur, by the way,’ he tells his dad’s old mate, passing a glowing orange eye across the floorboards. ‘The strain I been growing. Bulbasaur. It starts off as a little bitty seed. But Bulbasaur’s tough. Every battle, it gets harder and harder.’

Not a sound in the black. Just the hiss of emphysema breath on silver whiskers. Nothing to tell him if he’s on the right course.

At dawn, Meat is standing in the doorway with his thermos.

‘Didn’t wanna wake ya. I’ll be back next week. Show you how to cook something with a little bit more of a profit margin. You been around crystal much? Ice? Rocks?’

Meat tosses a backpack stuffed with Nurofen onto Wesley’s sleeping bag.

‘I’s watching you sleep, y’know, and god damn. The shape of your face. You look just like him.’

Meat walks out to the Jeep. Leaves Wesley on his own. 

GO HOME, STAY HOME

by Michael Botur. From ‘Hell of a Thing’ (The Sager Group, 2020)

A libertarian spends his last days of freedom living in the woods with his oblivious children as the cops and child services close in.

Daddy’s in a lunchtime line at the bank waiting to get a letter with his bank account and address on it. The line is all folded arms and tapping toes and people frowning into their phones as they wait for a window to open.

Daddyyyy. It’s taking foreeeever.

Daddy is nodding. We’ll do some maths while we wait for this bureaucratic brachiosaurus to move, Daddy goes. How many seconds in eleven minutes, kiddliwinks? That’s it. Do the tens first.

Daddy looks the security camera in the eye. One last chance, God. I’m asking you to your face. Make things easier on me.

A woman in a black and gold security uniform tells the line that Window 3 is now closed, unfortunately. The wait time increases to 18 minutes.

Tell the bank to stick their paperwork up their cloaca, Daddy announces, loud enough for everyone in the line to hear. Kids: you know what a cloaca is, surely? C’mon, basic feature of non-mammalian vertebrates. The intestinal, urinary and genital tracts combine into a common… I’m boring you.

The family walks out into the wind.

 Look, we’ll play Go Home, Stay Home when we get back, I promise.

What about your letter from the bank, daddy? You said you needed it real bad or we can’t get your payment?

We need our dignity more than some letter, Cynth.

Daddy has been illegally parked for 50 minutes in a ten minute parking zone. He’s pretty sure he can spot a fascist robot in a uniform bending over the bonnet of his tired Toyota. Daddy is receiving a ticket right now and the car is nearly too far away to stop the pressing of the buttons, the clicking of the pen, the issuing of the fine.

Hurry, kids, hurry!

They wheeeee as they drag Daddy down the street. Daddy is panting as he arrives in front of the fascist. She’s an old-ish lady, hunkered over another car. She has left a ticket tucked under Daddy’s windscreen wiper.

Hey, he begins. I was just at the bank. Need a bank statement so I can prove I’m eligible for a food grant, you know how it is. We’re driving off now, is that copasetic?

The parking warden adjusts her cap over her bun. You should actually consider yourself lucky, mister – your tyre’s touching the white line, which is a second breach of the bylaw. However, considering I’ve given you an instant $400 fine because you’re lacking a Warrant of Fitness, I can’t add any extra infringements.

But I don’t have any money? Daddy tugs the white cotton out from the pockets of his jeans. My wife’s taken everything. I’ve got nothing. The bank’s f-forcing a mortgage s-sale. They’ll come for my kids next. PLEASE.

Good day, sir.

But the car’s in perfect working order. I changed the brake pads personally, the fluids, the air filter. Even the transmission oil. C’mon, now. We don’t need some government sticker to verify that.

Cynthia and Chad slip their fingers under his belt like tendrils. Can we goooo, Daddy?

Daddy grabs the disappearing shoulder of the warden, who is attempting to assess the next vehicle.

Hang on, sister –

YOU WILL REMOVE YOUR HANDS FROM ME RIGHT NOW.

Daddy does not want to go to court again. Daddy’s been in court five times over the last two years, for refusing to give his name to police, for missing child support payments, for flying to the highlands of Papua New Guinea and immersing himself in a barter economy, for teaching Derrida when he should’ve been teaching chemistry, for the school suing him to recover their wages for breach of contract, for renouncing capitalism till the bank sent some people round and said they were taking the house back unless he caught up on payments.

The parking warden is fingering her earpiece. She’s reporting Daddy to the cops.

C’mon, kids, Daddy goes, tugging the kiddliwinks back up the street. Legally it’s your mother’s car and I was supposed to surrender it. In summary, we can’t deal with the authorities right now.

Is it summer, dad? Daddy? Daaa-deee.

Daddy herds the children into an alleyway. They hit the bricks at the end and leap the wall and land in a bathtub full of cabbage, laughing. They skulk from parking lot to fence to tree to shadow, pretending they’re cats, backs against the buildings, forefingers and thumbs curled over their eyes to make binoculars. They get to the park and the brook and the boardwalk and slow down and Daddy checks every direction to make sure they’ve lost their tail, exhales and spreads his fingers on his knees. They’re safe by the bush.

Whew – close one. His face melts into a smile. Right, kiddliwinks, attention: genus and species of each tree, if you please. Quercus rubra is known in English as what? The northern red oak, correctamundo, well done, Cynth. And this, my diminutive disciples, is the swamp oak AKA titoki, Latin name Alectryon WHAT, please Chad? C’mon, you excel at this one, get it? Not electron excelsus, son, a-lec-try-on. Attaboy.

They take a seat on the lower steps of the boardwalk where tourists launch yellow pedalboats and lick ice creams.

Daddy – where’s mama?

On a yacht with Rajiv, sipping mimosas, I believe. Sorry- DOCtor Rajiv.

What’s mimosas?

Opium of the masses. She took the blue pill. Look, your mother has forced a mortgagee sale because I won’t take half of the house. Compromise kills, kids. We’re not losing our home. Cause when the landlord say your rent is late, and he may have to lit-i-gate… finish it for me, guys.

Don’t worry, be happy?

Bobby McFerrin, what year, please?

Ummmm…. 1988, I fink?

Chad earns a kiss on the top of his forehead.

There’s hope yet.

*

Daddy finds his best crowbar and uses it to force the padlock from the back door. He’s impressed the so-called authorities have stuck a Foreclosed: Do Not Enter notice all the way back here. They’ve utilized their so-called brains and predicted Daddy’s patterns of movement. Points to them.

Daddy ushers the kids inside, drags the kitchen table to barricade the door. He sits on the cold lino to read a faded 1997 Scientific American magazine from the stack. After they’ve found something to play with – a box of old Duplo and blocks in the basement – the kids are summoned to Daddy for another quick lesson, sitting on upturned pots on the kitchen floor. Over the past months, Daddy’s spent days coloring and drawing for hours, face-down on his belly with the kiddliwinks. Some days they’ve luxuriated in the downtown library until closing time. Some days they’ve waited til dusk then snuck onto the playfort at the kids’ school. It has a swing bridge, a flying fox, a roundabout, and a two storey slide. It’s the bestest playfort in the world, and even Daddy can fit through the plastic tunnels. Some days it’s all gardening in the soil behind the garage, harvesting brassica and cucurbita. The Truancy Services people keep leaving their card in the door saying to give them a call cause Daddy’s not supposed to be homeschooling without approval, but Daddy knows what he’s doing. Daddy fights the phonies.

Recap from today, guys. Myco-rrhizal, like we practiced. Spell it for me. Tax-o-nomic ge-nus. Lin-nae-us. Chad: looking over here.

The sun is almost out of energy. Dad’s getting purple rings around his eyes.

Please can we get a Happy Meal, dad. Pleeeease?

You want to subscribe to the lunacy of the corporate fast food model, you tell me what the proportion of water in the human body is. You haven’t been to school in five weeks. The least you can do is learn.

You were loony, Daddy. Mummy said you were in the loony bin.

It would have been loony to have stayed there. Big difference. Just because the government compels you to go into an institution under the Mental Health Act 1977 section 4, doesn’t mean you can’t leave. I escaped, didn’t I? A puerile place, ‘twas. Puerile means disgusting, Chad. A woman hanged herself with her knickers from a coat hook while I was there. Does that sound like effective healthcare to you? Hmmmm? Kids, d’you know humans are the only species that commits suicide because of lack of happiness? Returning to my thesis, then: it is hyper-capitalism and runaway economics that causes ennui. And we’re not going to subscribe to that, are we.

Daddy, what’s –

Ennui is letting so-called authorities get inside your home, Chad. It’s borrowed from the Old French enuier, meaning annoyance, case in point the ANNOYANCE of letters from the bank declaring it trespass to enter MY property which YOUR FORMER MOTHER should have sided with me on. Anyway, kids, I’ve got more of a weltschmerz than ennui. It’s German. It means the world hurts. My point is we’re not letting the government inside this home. Or the bank. The bank’ll come first, technically, but those Quislings will ask the government for backup, the police, who are technically not an arm of government, in fact our whole system is supPOSED to be built around separating the legislative, judicial and executive… Cover your mouth when you yawn, Chad. Fair enough, I’ve exceeded your attention span. Thank you for your concentration today.

Daddy rolls onto the floor, puts his hands under his ear like a pillow.

You said we could play Go Home, Stay Home. Daddy? You promised.

In the morning, Cynthia. In the morning.

Promise?

Promise.

*

Cynth is tugging Daddy’s eyelids.

They’re here. Outside. You said to wake you.

The family drops to their knees, crawls across the floor, climbs out the laundry window and pours into the head-high grass. They weave through the stalks til they arrive at a mountain of potting mix. From up the summit, they can pull the cornstalks and sunflowers aside and see the Gestapo peering in the windows. 

Kiddioes: crab walk.

Shuffling on all fours with their butts in the air, they crawl over Potting Mix Mountain til they reach the ladder behind the garage. Soon as they’re positioned on their bellies on the creaking garage roof, Daddy instructs the kids to slow their breathing. Get your heart rate down so the infra-red can’t find you. Their hearts ebb. They watch a gleaming glassy invader settling on the driveway’s gravel. Slamming car doors. Glazed metal.

That’s them. They wanna take you away, Daddy whispers. They’re jealous. The Government wants to put you in a cage. Kids! Do not engage.

Tēna koe, brother, I’m Ricardo, we just wanted to introduce ourselves in good faith, a man in a collared shirt is calling through his megaphone hands. He spins 360 degrees, unsure where to direct his voice. Just a quick powwow ‘bout how the kids are getting on. There are fines, I have to let you know up front. If they’re not being brought to school. Ricardo looks at his partner and whistles. Maximum fine is, what, 150 thousand I believe, Trudy? And me and Trudy here don’t want you to have to face prison time.

The peel of a siren. The crunch of boots on concrete. Fists banging the weatherboards.

PLEASE TALK TO US, SIR. WE KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE.

As the snoops start trying to force windows open, Daddy and the kids retreat. They’ve trained for this for months, practiced in chilly grey rain, rehearsed under a punishing sun.

‘Kids: GO HOME STAY HOME.’

They hurl themselves off the roof, crash into the potting mix, leap the fence, hit the bulrushes and willow trees and tall grass, slosh through concrete sewer tunnels, paint themselves in mud. Half a click up the river, they each have a suitcase stashed in the bushes beside the filtration plant, a suitcase with military rations, water purifying tablets, changes of clothes, a compass, a pocket knife, a first aid kit, an encyclopaedia each and one toy.

It’s not for long, you guys, Daddy pants. I’ll find us a place. That’s a promise.

*

Fruit trees are easy to raid. All you do is sidle up along someone’s fence, test the hinges on the gate, ease on in. Chad carries a leafy branch in front of his head. The human eye is trained to recognize faces, so he won’t be spotted as quickly if he pretends to be a bush.

They wash their bums in the river then play Hide & Seek and Marco Polo and their favourite, Go Home, Stay Home. The kids try to make it from the wildnerness back to their home base safely without a brute leaping out of its hidey-hole and terrorising them with tickles.

Cynthia is on bread duty. There’s a cabinet beside the boat pond where the supermarket donates stale bread to feed the ducks. It takes two days to work out the delivery boy’s timing – 9.15, every morning – and Cynthia brings back loaves and rolls and bagels.

Daddy returns with dumpster pizza every night, and Chad wakes up to his favorite for breakfast. It’s too unsafe to light a fire – the concrete castle of the water plant looks directly down on them, and the workers would surely call the cops – so they eat every pizza cold.

They live in an old maintenance shed sinking into the boggy river banks. The floor is on a slant and Cynthia’s water bottle keeps rolling away. The only thing to read is Playboy magazines from 1968. In the back, Gore Vidal interviews Norman Mailer for 10 pages.

When Chad screams and pulls leeches off his inner thigh and cries as Daddy pops them and he is splotched with his own blood, Daddy tells Chad in every life you have some trouble / but when you worry / you make it double.

Guys, c’mon, where’s my chorus, huh? Is this about the McDonald’s thing again? You’re a fool if you think a Happy Meal will literally make you happy, kiddo.

Chad’s eyeballs ripple. He bursts into tears hard as hail.

Cynthia punches Daddy on the arm. Her face is an angry snarl.

Having said that, I’m… open to debate?

*

McDonald’s is a new experience for Daddy. He strokes the colorful walls, the glittery hardfoam of his booth, reads every word of the paper placemat on his tray, runs his finger over the health and safety warnings on the plastic play fort. Utterly, utterly fascinating, all of it. An anthropologist’s dream.

Daddy is warned not to tear open the chemical sachets to heat his MRE army meals on McDonald’s property, but Daddy informs the manager that the manager is attempting to assert something he legally has no right to assert. They try to impose far too many unjust laws for a so-called restaurant which doesn’t exactly have the moral high ground, considering its investment in blood diamonds. Even just walking through the McDonald’s drive-thru they get told off. Daddy points out he’s not even holding up the line. There is no conceivable reason why he can’t order some milkshakes for his kids from the drive thru window. Finally Daddy is caught boiling noodles in the bathroom and they are escorted out.

School holidays begin tomorrow, anyway, kiddliwinks. This place would become flooded with parents and teachers likely to recognize Daddy and report him. Best keep moving like the Gimi people of the Maimafu highlands. They’re hunter-gatherers, Chad. Go on. Guess the definition for me. Attaboy.   

They drift across overpasses and along cycle lanes, dragging suitcases stinking of mandarins and avocado. They have to buy a pack of gum to be allowed to use the toilets behind Mobil. They scrub between their legs and under their arms with liquid soap from the dispenser.

The smell of chicken soup coming from the Baptist church is so strong Chad can almost see little bits of onion and meat in the air. Daddy knows the principal of the kids’ school will surely be in the congregation, though. He’s a real do-gooder.

We’ll be spotted, kids, hate to say it, Daddy explains. Can’t have the cops called. They’ll lock Daddy in a cage. We have to keep moving. Your school’s not far. We’ll settle in the playground, yeah? Recalibrate.

Over the motorway bridge, crouching behind the substation so the police prowler doesn’t spot them, between the big barn retailers, and sprinting to the traffic island and beyond. They hit the edge of the grass and the kids dump their suitcases and run towards the fort.

The school is empty for the holidays so Daddy breaks into a shed and comes jogging back with a can of creamed rice, a box of UHT milk and three packets of Oreos. Daddy won’t let the kids play Hide and Seek until they’ve eaten, but the kids say they won’t eat unless Daddy agrees to play Hide and Seek, and as soon as Daddy can peel his eyes off the cop car crawling along the horizon, he will.

Cynthia, who hasn’t eaten since yesterday, begins sprinting towards the bushes. She looks like a tawny brown wig atop two broomsticks. When Daddy catches Chad, the boy is also way down in weight. Melting, disintegrating. Some wasting disease Daddy promises to diagnose.

With some slurps from a punctured can of sweetened condensed milk, the kids catch up on calories. You’ll need it, Daddy explains, crouching, squeezing the kids’ shoulders, taking a sample of each. I’m gonna make you hide for a looooong time. But trust me: I’ll be seeing ya.

Okay, kids. Now we can play. You go hide – go, now! Run, Chad, get outta here! I’ll come find you! 100 second countdown, y’hear? Hide real good. Hide well, I should say.

The police car veers off the road and onto the grass. They call Daddy’s name. It has to be 90 metres away. So are the kids.

I’M COUNTING TO THREE HUNDRED, Daddy calls across the field, FOUR HUNDRED! SEVEN! JUST HIDE, ALRIGHT?! AND DON’T COME OUT UNLESS IT’S ME.

Chad cuts through the scrapey bushes and the spindly saplings and the raised gardens where the kids from his class are growing string beans and doubles back around the swimming pool until he shrieks with surprise as he collides with his big sister. They’re out of breath. Their eyes weep with excitement.

Cynthia rattles the handles of the gym shed, the caretaker shed and the garbage shed til the last shed opens up. Inside are towers of plastic chairs, stacked 20-high. The kids slide the doors of the shed shut and wriggle between the legs of stacked chairs. Nervous, giddy, desperate to pee, they keep their eyes covered until they’ve counted to one hundred, then Chad points out Daddy said something about three hundred, and if Cynthia’s heard the words on the wind right, it’s actually seven hundred. They count and count until they lose their place and have to start again. Now it’s more exciting than ever. Silly Daddy. He might not see them for years. 

E Tū Whānau Spoken Word Competition – Northland schools encouraged to enter

Northland schools are encouraged to enter this year’s E Tū Whānau Spoken Word Competition – judged by occasional Northland visitor Te Kahu Rolleston.

The E Tū Whānau Spoken Word Competition 2021 is run by Māori Media Network in conjunction with Māori Radio. All details here https://etuwhanau.org.nz/communities/e-tu-whanau-spoken-word-competition/

  • “Ngā Moemoeā – Hopes and dreams for my world, my future, my whānau” is the theme for the E Tū Whānau Spoken Word Competition 2021. It gives people throughout Aotearoa the chance to voice their hopes and dreams, and to inspire others by calling for positive change. #ETuWhanauSpokenWord
    What’s important to know?
    • Two competition categories: Rangatahi (18 years & under) and Open Entry (19 years & over).
    • Entry to the competition opens at noon, Mon 19/7/2021 and closes noon, Fri 13/8/2021.
    • Entries can be viewed via the Competition page.
    • People’s Choice Award voting opens Sat 14/8/2021, and closes noon, Thurs 19/8/2021.
    • Winners to be announced on the E Tū Whānau Facebook page.Great prizes to be won
    • For each category: 1st place $2500, 2nd place $1000, 3rd place $500, Highly Commended $250.
    • Special prize package for 1st place winners in partnership with NZ Poetry Slam and Action Education.
    • $1500 cash prize for People’s Choice Award (most votes).
    • Everyone who votes goes into a prize draw for $500.All entries must show a connection to the E Tū Whānau kaupapa, and must be original.
    • Entrants must read Competition Info & Rules before entering.
    • Film footage of the spoken word piece being performed (maximum 3 minutes duration), or a photo slideshow if preferred, must be uploaded to YouTube prior to entry.
    • Entries must be submitted via the official online entry form including video URL link to the YouTube footage, plus a transcript of the spoken word piece.Need more information?
    • Check the E Tū Whānau Facebook page for updates.
    • Email any queries to: info@etuwhanaucomp.com or text/phone: 027 2075016
    • See this article featuring competition host Te Kahu Rolleston https://etuwhanau.org.nz/te-kahu-rolleston-spoken-word-competition-2021/
      The E Tū Whānau Spoken Word Competition 2021 is run by Māori Media Network in conjunction with Māori Radio. Please share the competition to whānau, friends, and as many people as possible!
      E Tū Whānau is a movement for positive change. It’s about all of us taking responsibility and action in our communities and supporting whānau to thrive. No matter how big or small, we can all make a difference. The E Tū Whānau values are: Aroha, Whanaungatanga, Whakapapa, Mana Manaaki, Kōrero Awhi, and Tikanga.

Judge Te Kahu Rolleston – interviewed on Te Hiku Media

https://tehiku.nz/te-hiku-radio/kuaka-marangaranga/20125/e-tu-whanau-spoken-word-competition-theme-announced

  • Competition Info & Rules

  • Dates
    • Entry to the competition opens at noon, Mon 19/7/2021 and closes at noon, Fri 13/8/2021.
    • People’s Choice Award voting opens Sat 14/8/2021, and closes noon, Thurs 19/8/2021.
    • The competition organiser reserves the right to extend dates if required.How To Enter
    • Write and perform a spoken word piece in any style based on the theme “Ngā Moemoeā – Hopes and dreams for my world, my future, my whānau”. Entries must also show a connection to the E Tū Whānau kaupapa.
    • Upload film footage of the work being performed (or a photo slideshow if preferred) to YouTube.
    • Complete an official online entry form including a URL video link to the footage of the performance (maximum duration 3 minutes), plus a transcript of your spoken word piece. Entry Categories & Prizes
    • The competition has two entry categories and cash prizes will be awarded per the following.
    • Rangatahi category (18 years and under) –1st place $2500, 2nd place $1000, 3rd place $500, Highly Commended $250
    • Open Entry category (19 years and over) – 1st place $2500, 2nd place $1000, 3rd place $500, Highly Commended $250
    • Special prize package for 1st place winners in partnership with NZ Poetry Slam and Action Education.
    • The entry that receives most votes will be awarded a People’s Choice Award of $1500. All votes go into a prize draw for $500.
    • Prize winners must give permission for their image and entry to be used for the promotion of E Tū Whānau, and to make themselves reasonably available for media interviews.Judging
    • A panel of judges will select the winning entries.
    • Entries will be judged on spoken word content, quality of writing and performance, and how well the spoken word piece connects with the theme and the E Tū Whānau kaupapa.
    • Entries will not be judged on the production quality of audio or film footage.
    • Judges’ decisions are final, and no correspondence will be entered into.
    • Winners will be announced on the E Tū Whānau Facebook page.
      RULES
      Entries must comply with E Tū Whānau Spoken Word Competition 2021 rules outlined below.
      Who can enter?
    • Entrants must be New Zealand residents.
    • Entrants under 18 years at the date of entry must provide parental/guardian consent and their contact details.
    • Individuals are permitted to participate in an unlimited number of entries – either as a writer or a performer.
    • Individuals or groups can enter the competition, but all performers must give permission for performance footage to be entered into the competition.
    • Employees of Māori Radio, Māori Media Network, and the Ministry of Social Development are not permitted to enter the competition.What is required of each entry?
    • Entries must be original and unpublished, ie: not commercially published for distribution or sale. 
    • Maximum duration per entry is three minutes. Entries that exceed this duration may be penalised.
    • Use of props, costumes and music is permitted (refer copyright requirements below). 
    • Entries will be accepted in any language. An English translation should be provided, if required.
    • The names of all entry participants/contributors and their roles must be noted in the entry form (eg: the person/s who wrote the spoken word piece, the performer/s, the person/s who filmed or edited the performance footage and, if applicable, the person/s who composed, performed or recorded music).Copyright
    • Entrants must be a copyright owner and have authority to enter the spoken word piece into the competition.
    • Copyright owners shall retain ownership of the spoken word piece entered into the competition, but allow E Tū Whānau and Māori Media Network Ltd free license in perpetuity to use the spoken word piece for the promotion of E Tū Whānau.Entry Approval Process
    • Entries will be checked within 24 hours of being received and, if/when approved, will be uploaded to the competition gallery. 
    • The competition organiser reserves the right to not approve an entry. In the event this occurs the entrant will be notified within three days of the entry being received by the competition. 
    • An entry found to contain offensive, defamatory or malicious content may not be approved. 
    •  Entries that contain plagiarised material will not be approved.
    • The offering of incentives for votes is not permitted, and may result in an entry not being approved.
    • The competition reserves the right to remove any entries from the competition. In the event this occurs, the entrant will be notified within 24 hours of the entry being removed.
    • All decisions by the competition organiser are final, and no correspondence will be entered into.Voting
    • Individuals, including entrants and entry participants, are permitted to vote once for any number of entries (including their own) during the voting period via the Competition Gallery.
    • Voting will be monitored, and the competition organiser reserves the right to remove any suspicious votes.

D__OUCH__E

by Michael Botur

From the collection Hell of a Thing (The Sager Group, 2020)

**

1.

Andi finds Lotus on the steps of Auckland Art Gallery. There are black paw-prints under Lotus’s shoes. She’s been playing in the fountain while she waits for Andi, who is late. God damn electric buses only run once an hour.

Lotus could’ve gone inside the gallery already but it’s too awkward, dealing with the guard-dicks on the door, plus she’s finishing her chamomile tea and you’re not allowed to take drinks in, so sayeth the authorities. Their title is minder, officially, these door-dicks. That’s one of the many things the girls hate – why does a painting need a chaperone? This is supposed to be a public gallery where courageous ideas can stand. Let it be free to view 24/7. Let it be an open air gallery. Let the art be unguarded and free.

Door-dick Marcus sees the girls entering and pulls a bollard close. He strokes the velvet rope. Secure. Now the girls have to stand in the lobby’s concentration camp of retractable seatbelt tape and chrome bollards. Marcus is a student too but he does this door-guard shit to try get a better chance of having his art on the walls here.

‘Tickets, please.’

‘Gimme a break,’ Andi says, ‘This is a public place.’

Marcus flops his weary head. His chins crease. ‘You gonna shoplift from us today, Andrea?’

‘True artists don’t repeat themselves, sellout. I’m here to check out wall space. I’ll have a piece in here real soon, trust me.’

‘Kay, well, you’d be the first. Students’ve never had their stuff on display in here, it’s a meritocracy ’n shit so…. Yay for ambition, lady.’

‘Don’t call me lady, fatass. It’s an ARIStocracy. This place invalidates women of color, that’s the problem. It’s all white artists.’

Marcus coughs into his fist.

‘Dude, before you try to say I’m white, okay, I don’t identify as white, so fuck what you’re thinking. Will you let us past?’

‘I still need to check in your bag; stuff’s insured for millions in there. Sup, Lotus.’

Lotus blushes.

‘Why would I want to steal phallocentric white-o-cratic bullshit anyway?’ Andi pushes her backpack into Marcus’s shirt and tie and his fat jiggles. She’s nearly six feet tall, Andi, with shoulders like soccer balls and a thick neck. ‘Here’s my stupid bag.’

Marcus attempts to rummage through the backpack. Andi snatches it out of his grasp and the girls sprint onto the golden parquet and begin catching up on the new artworks. Andi and Lotus have just 20 minutes until the gallery closes.

The girls love this place and hate it. They have to visit at least once a week to remain part of the conversation, though most of the artworks on the walls are conservative and deserve to be destroyed. The indigenous stuff needs to be repatriated to its homeland.

From the ground floor up to the mezzanine, the girls give Auckland Art Gallery a lightning tour, looking for new pieces to hmm over. Mostly it’s the same old stale pale males on the walls. They tally up what the value would be if it were all torn down. There is millions of dollars in insurance behind this art. Irreplaceable, sure, but overvalued, not to mention overrated. It’s hard to agree on which piece is the number one most offensive, actually. The ten square metre Jackson Pollock in the South Atrium is pretty undeserving – just another Caucasian abrasion. Then there are the Colin McCahons taking up far too many metres of wall. That wannabe Christ appropriated Māori culture and there’s never been redress.

The girls reach the Contemporary Art rooms which host works by some graduates of Elam School of Fine Arts. Pretty much every Elam-ite has spent a few years in Prague and Berlin then returned to the art school on Symonds Street to tutor, though Andi and Lotus have been told that’s not an option for them. Sellout suckups anyway, those tutors. Total Quislings. One Elam grad has a whole room to himself. His so-called masterpiece: an open bucket of paint on a pedestal. It still has the Bunnings Warehouse ‘SOLD’ sticker on the side. The bucket contains dried white paint solids frozen into a frisbee. The label claims the piece makes an introspective postmodernist statement about Syria. Really, the white disc of dried paint represents a contraceptive pill, the girls agree. A very subtle misogyny, though impossible to ignore.

Andi leads the tour, waving her dismissive fingers at each disappointing artwork. Lotus follows up with her tablet, live-Tweeting her outrage. 

Just as bad as the Eurocentric art colonizing every level of the gallery is the Do Not Touch Please barrier frame on the floor around the Haisla totem pole in the Indigenous Suite, a totem built to honor forest god Tsoda who saved the Haisla people from smallpox. Lotus appreciates the font, a variation on Highway Gothic, very autumn 2010, perfect for the cover of the next edition of her zine, though the message spelled out by the gorgeously ironic font is impossible to stomach. Do Not Touch Please, it says. Like, literally? The frame around the totem pole is a square of gold poles lain in four sections a couple inches above the ground. The girls look at each other and wordlessly agree what needs to be done. They lift the four bars of the Do Not Touch frame, grunting, dismantle it and shunt it aside. In a corner of the ceiling, the security camera twitches. Andi feels it burn her neck. She points her middle finger at it. Fuck rules. Fuck Do Not Touch. First Nations peoples can decide for themselves whether they want to be touched or not.

Andi grabs Lotus’s wrist and checks the time on Lotus’s FitBit. Nine minutes till the place closes.

The Hubbard Room is the next travesty. Its centre is cordoned off with four road cones with caution tape around them, a wet floor sign, a coffee cup with an inch of blonde coffee with a milk-skin floating on the surface parked on the third step of a stepladder positioned under a displaced ceiling panel. Some wires are dangling down. The actual room itself becomes the artwork as people orbit the stepladder. The piece makes a statement about the purpose of art galleries in post-New World Order western cultures. It won this year’s Walters Prize.

Andi swallows, saves her outrage for the Mackelvie Collection of imperialist racist shit upstairs. Seven minutes ‘til closing time. Better get to work. Lotus takes care of the Grade D offensive, following the plan they’ve agreed for today. Lotus lowers her glasses, ensures she’s not being followed then backs into the women’s bathroom. She visits every stall, pulls ten zines from her underwear and uses double-sided tape to stick a copy of Routon to the toilet walls. Routon is revolution without the evil. The plan is the zines will be spotted by patrons, assuming they actually bother to sit on the toilet.

The Grade D operation complete, Andi and Lotus get to work on Grade C.

Lotus trots diligently to the lobby and stands in front of Marcus, who has been pulling the tall blinds closed with a long rod. She doesn’t think of him as a door-dick. He’s a cog in a discriminatory machine, that’s all. Without saying a word – and Lotus hasn’t spoken in days, apart from Tweeting – Lotus twirls, showing off a skirt made of woven plastic fibre upcycled from plastic bags found on the beach at Mission Bay. Marcus asks to touch the dress, his canines creeping over his lips. Letting him touch the dress will buy her comrade a few more minutes. Lotus stands still and silent while he fondles her.

In the Indigenous Room, Andi checks over her right shoulder then reaches under her right legging and pulls out knitting needles. From her left, she produces a mostly-completed woollen web. She moves outside the Indigenous Room, closes the doors, wraps yarn around the handles and with sixty seconds of twisting wrists and fingers links the door handles with knitted woollen yarn, woven tightly enough to hold the doors closed. Andi then reaches deep inside her skort, produces a one page A4 paper manifesto from the front of her underwear and holds it against the wood of the door. She dips back into her skort, under her knickers this time, puts two scooping fingers inside her labia, pulls a glob out and pastes the corners of the poster on the doors with four smears of blackberry blood.

Andi is confronted immediately, palms on her shoulders, fingers digging into her collar bone. As she is guided outside onto the street, she warns door-dick Marcus that if he puts a finger on her she’ll begin civil proceedings of sexual assault and will also lodge a compensation claim with the gallery. Marcus looks at little Lotus to see if she, too, feels harassed. Lotus shrugs.

Fuck this place anyway. No point in patronizing it if it won’t support student artists. Andi bans herself. Lotus stays away in solidarity.   

2.

They return within days, this time in black pants and white shirts and black bow ties.

Wednesday night’s fundraiser begins with the Manukau String Quartet playing Schubert while the tuxedo’d and ballgown’d sponsors stand against the six metre curtains waiting to applaud. Poised in the dark half of the room, with trolleys and trays, are Andi and Lotus and the other dozen catering staff. They were warned they’d be busy tonight. Lotus keeps the barrier arm open out in the alley while vanloads of food are delivered. The code to open the garage door is 5465. Amber Anderson repeats the code three times in Lotus’s face because Amber Anderson is too God damn busy to stand by and type in four simple digits, mmkay, and there’s a rule against writing it down. 5465. Got it? Yay. Hurrah. The code is good for a month; some of tonight’s staff will have to get up bright and early and come back here to pick up Amber’s platters and breadboards and keg and folding tables as the vans can’t take them tonight. Come down the ramp to the loading bay, enter the PIN, through the service roller door. The PIN opens the gate and deactivates the alarm.

Lotus nods and nods. She stoops lower than her five feet one inch of height. Amber Anderson runs off to yell at some moron who’s forgotten to dust powdered lime flakes on the oysters before carrying them out.

Reductions and nibbles and tasting platters are wheeled in, unpackaged, heated or iced, seasoned, lain on porcelain and silver and served to the hundred-odd people splashed across the floors, fora and stairs of the gallery.

The reason for tonight’s fundraiser is the unveiling of a half-paid-for Banksy discovered in an alleyway in Clendon, transported brick by brick and given the south wall position on the first floor. The gallery borrowed $2.2 million to buy the bricks, which has cut into next year’s budget, hence tonight’s whip-round. There is a Diamond guest list, a Gold guest list and Silver and Bronze integuments so the names and profile photos of likely donors are easily identifiable to members of the board who carve paths through the room, hit their philanthropic target, squeeze his or her shoulder, pump his or her hand and sell sponsorship and brand platforming rights. The Herald has sent its Spy photographer Ricardo. He’s paid to photograph each handshake. It helps turn a suggested donation into an embarrassing-if-it’s-not-confirmed donation.

Looking through the throng at her BFF, Lotus can tell Andi is pissed. Andi – half a head taller than most of the plebs here – is moving like a Terminator, nudging people aside with her big arms. Andi wants the night over. Andi wants the routon to kick off.

Secreted in a corner, cupping her mouth over a platter, Andi hoiks up a batch of her private reserve spit, the snotgreen phlegm at the back of her nostrils she has to pull down with an emphatic hoik and use throat muscles to force onto her tongue so she can perfectly spit the goo into the reduction of spinach and feta she’s about to serve to these creeps. She also spits toward the floor, waddles up to the Banksy and toes the spit onto the bottom of Banksy’s bricks so nobody notices and she doesn’t get told off.

Lotus sees Andi’s snot games but her attention is elsewhere. She’s staring past these fancy zombies, tallying the value of the paintings in the Mackelvie room. This whole desperate art student-resorting-to-catering-thing? It’s a front for the girls’ real purpose: getting deep inside the enemy’s base.

Not surprising, of course, is that the gallery tonight is staffed with Lotus’s biggest fan, the fatass door-dick with the tie and shoulderpads. He’s sidling through the throng and saying Wassup and – ope -no no no, no no no, please don’t do that – Marcus is leaning in for a kiss on the cheek.

Lotus grins 110 percent, forcing her cheeks outward so the ceiling lights burn Marcus’ saliva off and it doesn’t soak past the second layer of epidermis. After a couple seconds’ awkward silence, Lotus realizes no one is watching. She doesn’t have to pretend to hate him without Andi around. He can’t hear her tiny voice so he squeezes her arm and leans in. He’s talking about the artwork on the new Call of Duty game but she’s in sensory overload. She can smell his Listerine and count the number of chest hairs with zits forming where the follicles are blocked with grease. Kind of sexy, in a dorkish way, but Lotus has to get back to work. She can’t be distracted by fantasies of sleeping with the enemy. After serving lab-grown hamburger patties to Heart of the City board members Max Gimblett and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett as they deconstruct Ralph Hotere’s Godwit/Kuaka, Lotus is pulled aside by her boss, who’s so stressed that she is shaking. Lotus HAS to return in the morning to pick up two beer kegs and a stack of tablecloths with driver Willy. Lotus needs to open up and disarm because Willy isn’t trustworthy.

Lotus nods to indicate she’ll be there. She wants to speak, but she’s saving her words for intellectual übermensches. She holds up the numbers using her fingers. 5465. Grin? Grin. Attagirl.

On the dais at the end of the room, Andi is shoving a prawn kebab into the hands of Auckland City Councillor Cathy Casey and shunting her to the right so she’s not blocking Te Whenua, Te Whenua, Engari Kaore He Turangawaewae by Robyn Kahukiwa. It’s one of the few pieces in the place worthy of respect and Andi wants to look at it without a fucking bureaucrat in the way.

At the end of the night, Lotus passes Andi in the stainless steel kitchen and they exchange a few whispered words that mean everything.

Coming in at 7.30. Picking up the shit at 8.

3.

Andi enters Auckland Art Gallery, strides through the lobby and into the bowels of the building. Nobody stops her. She is in disguise as an ordinary aristocrat, after all. Andi wears a navy blue suit, bow tie and five colorful barrettes to draw attention away from her face. Lotus follows eight minutes later disguised in a thick raincoat with a pull-over hood. The girls waited three hours today for rain and in the end it was only a speckle, but the rain justified the disguise. The girls have something serious planned.

They’re hesitant to enter the Mackelvie collection at first. Just being in the room feels like a vote of support for Western supremacy. It’s all Edwardian and Victorian oils on the walls in here with three marble sculptures and four bronze. The oldest of the paintings dates to 1603. The most valuable is insured for 10 million Euro. All of the paintings are deeply problematic. There’s the Lawrence Alma-Tadema portrait of Cleopatra which appropriates Afro-Arabian cultures. Then there are the more subtle inflections – a bongo drum in the background of Bundy’s The Day of Sedgemoor; the body language of the male authority in Pope Makes Love To Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by William Frith.

The girls crouch, creeping around the room, ready to sprint, keening their ears for the twitch of the ceiling cameras. If security knew what they had planned, they’d be arrested already.

‘D’you think Marcus is on shift?’ Lotus rasps.

Andi is momentarily speechless. Lotus breaks her silence only to waste words on some door-dick?

‘Who? That guard-boy? Yes, no? Who cares?’

‘It’d be good to know,’ Lotus mutters.

‘The hell’s that supposed to – will you do your thing already?’

Lotus takes her slingshot from her handbag and aims at the security camera. She unpackages the tampon Andi has wrapped in silver foil, puts the soggy crimson cartridge in the barrel of the slingshot, aims at the camera and launches the bloody bullet. It hits and leaves a smear of dark red juice on the camera lens.

Andi reaches into her underwear, extracts a 110ml tube of spray adhesive from her vagina, peels off the $4.99 Gordon’s Art Supplies sticker then takes a scroll of A3 protest art messages from her left breast pocket. Each of the twelve A3s is lain on the public bench, quickly sprayed with adhesive then plastered over the chief white male imperialist in each of the Victorian artworks. First to have his face covered up with poster paper is the distasteful 1915 Simpson and his Donkey by Horace Moore-Jones, a truly sickening slapstick designed to manipulate the public into support for the modern-day Crusader conquest of Turkey. Other paintings are plastered with protest too. Posters over moustaches. Posters over tricorner hats. Excited, nervous, hearts hammering, the girls barely breathe.

The chiffon-wearing waif beside the swan pond in the Frederick Goodall painting from 1788 is now standing beside a square of white paper with some scandalous words. The diaphanously draped sister in John Godward’s Memories finds herself staring at a man with a staunch white poster for a head. Andi and Lotus plaster posters over every repressive male until the room is woke, then stand against the wall as the cops arrive.

Door-dick Marcus is glimpsed, pacing, pissed-off, conflicted, piles of blubber under his hunched elbows as he thinks about what to do. Two electric blue police constables ask the girls to come out to the street. There’ll be no force, no cuffs, no roughness. The girls put down their spare posters and adhesive and descend the stairs, sniffing. On the way out, before her arm is bent and she drops the pen, Andi produces a silver Sharpie from her cleavage and with three strokes draws a penis on the mouth of the portrait of Governor Grey.

4.

Andi and Lotus fall into their flat at 4 am. They’ve managed to find an Uber with a Driver of Color. His headlights carved through the black and then he was gone. An IMMIGRANT has done the hard labour to drive them to KING’S land. So much significance in those words, significance doubled, no, TRIPLED by the wines they glugged in the pub after the pigs let them go. MAAAAAAhahahahaha. Jesus fucking Christ. The driver was a business student at AUT University, originally from Waziristan. His life story was utterly fascinating and the girls wish they could have more time to honor him. The girls don’t deserve this flat. Too spacious. You could fit fifty families in here. They stare out different windows, studying the towers of Kingsland lit like Christmas lights.

Lotus wraps her duvet around her, yawns as if to say goodnight, but Andi slaps the island tabletop in the kitchen and announces a meeting. Don’t you dare go to bed, Lotus Chua. Revolution begins, bitch. This is no time to back away.

It’s been an insane night – day as well, actually. It was 3.04 pm when they were arrested. Lotus filmed the whole thing. The car ride to Auckland Central Station was eight minutes. They were each dumped in holding cells while police tried to get confirmation from Auckland Art Gallery’s chief executive whether she wanted charges lain. Fingerprinting and photographing the girls took 90 minutes. They were then returned to a holding cell, which Andi didn’t want to be released from as she was engrossed in conversation with an indigenous cellmate whose rights had been violated. The two were released after being given a formal warning, typed on a sheet of paper with an NZ Police letterhead.

The mission to achieve the Grade B offensive was successful, no doubt about it. The challenge for the girls now is to achieve a Grade A. Up the ante. Push the structure over.

Lotus, wobbling on her feet with tiredness, nods to agree she’s keen, she’s down, she’s committed, absolutely. The state has shown it will retreat when confronted. Lotus will join the daylight strike against the target, she’s just battling the yawns right now, YERRRRRRR, she’s seriously sleepy and has to say goodnight.

Andi tells her comrade that’s absolutely fine, go for it, girl, you enjoy your beauty sleep. Andi is loading the coffee machine with two bullets of Nespresso as she puts out the threatening platitudes. While the coffee is pouring, Andi is pushing tiny tablets of No-Doz out of their package. Pushing the No-Doz into the espresso Lotus Chua better seriously fucking drink unless she wants to be outed as a Little Eichmann.

Andi isn’t sleeping tonight and nor is Lotus. Back off now and there’ll never be a student presence in the city’s public art gallery. Back off now and the establishment will win.

Andi is placing her laptop computer on the kitchen island and switching it on, jabbing the password in, tapping her foot, chewing No-Doz, laying down a rectangle of poster paper to draw on. What the girls are having right now is a summit, and apogee, a peak, a pass. Lotus shivers inside her blanket, holds the fabric against her ears, trying to quell the yawns.

‘Oi! Wakey-wakey!’ Andi is clicking under her friend’s chin. ‘Stop dreaming about your boyfriend. Draw a comic about your imaginary marriage if you’re that desperate. I need your attention here.’

Andi takes a sharpie and begins sketching the plan on the back of the poster. She forces Lotus to finish the drawing. Make it look good. Buy in. Get complicit. Spread the struggle.

5.

It is 4.59 am when Andi types 5465 into the keypad and the roller door opens. Birds scream in the trees. The black sky is stained blue. Amber Anderson Caterer will shortly receive a dawn phone call from IMS Security to ask why she’s using a supplier’s security access code even though no catering has been planned tonight. Amber Anderson Caterer will tell those inbred rejects to fuck off and call back when their computer ain’t spazzing.

The sky is indigo now with pink diluting it. They can’t afford to have anything other than moonlight in here. The girls struggle to find the light switches so it takes four minutes and 48 seconds to cut the wires holding each Mackelvie monstrosity to its wall. The girls bump into each other once, twice, – FUCK!- as they scamper around the room, tearing each painting down and chucking the artworks in the middle of the floor. None of the paintings can be simply yanked – Andi knows this, having tried to tug a couple of them off as she was plastering them with her manifesto. There’s a certain twist, then a jiggle, then a hard oomph to yank the screws out of the walls.

Thirteen pieces of European art are unclipped from the wall within three minutes. An alarm sounds after the Waterhouse is pulled down. Motes of plaster dust dance in the light. The darkness thins and the girls’ eyes adjust. Blue floor, grey walls, black city with a coat of orange. The alarm remains a consistently shrill 99 decibels no matter how many misogynist artworks are pulled onto the pile. Sledgehammers and drills in the ear.

The girls are pleased to see chips of dried paint and gold splinters as they stack the pile. The art’s damaged, chipped: Fantastic. Andi scampers to the Indigenous Room, seizes two lengths of the bronze barrier arms and drags them through to the Mackelvie Room. The girls erect a barrier around the pile of paintings. DO NOT TOUCH PLEASE is redacted with a Sharpie so it reads D____OUCH____E.

They’ve failed to plan for the absence of lighting. This isn’t enough daylight to film with. They’re working in watery blackness. Lotus finds the Torch app on her phone and lights the pile of paintings. The thickness of the gilded frames has given each painting several inches of height. Combined, the stack of paintings is four feet deep.

Andi kicks the glass cabinet housing the fire extinguisher and axe. She has her weapon. Yusss.

Lotus takes photos while Andi hacks at the paintings with the fire axe, using her feet to stomp them into position for choice chops. She injures her foot trying to stomp through the Bramley, which weighs 150 kilograms. Chips fly into the air as Andi hacks at the Bundy, the Burne-Jones and that so-called lovemaking one by he-who-shall-not-be-named which is deeply rape-y. Andi’s thick shoulders endure the lactic acid, the burn, the exhaustion, but she’s glad when the destruction is done. After three blows, the axe is stuck in a thick wooden backing. She has to kick it loose. Andi picks up a shard of oily board and snaps it over her knee. Lotus continues to document the Grade A offensive with the camera on her iPhone. It’s a three step technique, over the next two minutes, systematically damaging the paintings. Andi penetrates half of the canvases. The other half at least have wedges cut out of their frames. Three works have glass on their faces; Andi ensures these are all smashed.

Before they’ve fled the scene, Lotus sends the video reel and a couple of the best photographs from her phone to the NZ Herald newsroom. It’s 5-ish, now, possibly 5.30. Print time, the girls hope. Yo, bourgeoisie? Eat yourself for breakfast.

The girls exit through the service entrance into an orangey world that smells of coffee and exhaust pipes and damp shadows steaming. The sun is coming up. The seagulls are stirring.

From Albert Park the girls dash hand in hand down Vulcan Lane, across Queen Street, up past the beggars, the bungy rocket, Sky City and over to Victoria Street West and towards the NZME building where Andi hunts for the NZ Herald  logo as she produces a small reservoir of vaginal mucous. She moistens the corners of her last manifesto then plasters it on the glass walls of the entrance of the building. The Herald must take notice. The manifesto demands to spread through media. What the girls did was Grade A. What they did deserves discussion.

The girls are picked up moments later and invited to get inside the cop car. Not even manhandled, just politely asked in, then informed they’re under arrest. Sick with post-adrenaline nausea, they’re glad of a warm ride to the station, a blanket and a cup of sugary tea.

6.

Andi begins reading Long Walk To Freedom on the bench in her cell. The bench is a rude rectangle of stainless steel riveted to the wall. It’s not even ironic architecture. It’s unintentional bad taste design. She feels like writing an essay on it.

As if the design-crime weren’t bad enough, they’ve taken her shoelaces and piercings. The conditions really are barbaric. No fresh water, no mattress. Andi is mentally composing her letter of complaint to the United Nations when her cell is unlocked and she’s told “Time to go.”

‘Seriously? You’ll dismiss People of Color that easily? Pfft.’

Andi is escorted through a series of yellow-painted concrete corridors which veer off one another at 90 degrees. She’s sure the corridors are lain out in a swastika shape and is attempting to prove it when she’s released into a visiting room. Mum is on the phone on the far side of the plexiglass; Dad is pacing the room, chewing the end of his necktie nervously, his Italian shoes clacking on the hard cold concrete. Mum’s hair has been razored painfully short and angular; Dad’s has spilled into a silver topknot some barber has convinced him is trendy. Mum and Dad explain they’ll kill the next two hours at a café across the road. The police charges have been negotiated by Uncle Baz, who is a barrister with Kensington Swan. There will be zero court time so long as the girls agree to sell their piece to the gallery. Thanks to the video on the Herald website, the Mackelvie Room revolution has gone viral. It’s all the art world can talk about.

In the backseat of the car they toss her a Weekend Herald. The headline is a brand, a burn.

Protestors’ $20m Gallery Bomb.

*

Andi doesn’t see Lotus for ages. The two lay low at their parents’ houses until the contract is settled and there’s definitely going to be money and the charges are definitely not going to happen.

Heart of the City has talked to the girls’ lawyers. The girls’ lawyers have talked to the girls’ parents. The girls’ parents and lawyers have talked to Elam and Whitecliffe and Creative New Zealand. Nobody has talked to the Herald until the whole thing’s been finalized.

Known to have cost $20 million to create, the installation titled D__OUCH__E tops every art discussion worldwide. Douche is preposterously postmodern, powerfully provocative, creatively confrontational. The way two of the paintings face one another in the perfectly-positioned pile obviously represents the artists’ demand that the art establishment face itself, concludes Peter Schjeldahl of the New Yorker.

Andrew Paul Wood describes Douche as “A work of gynocentric genius and a timely rejoinder to Georgia O’Keeffe’s triptychs and Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.”

The Guardian suggests a Turner Prize may be likely for Andi, considering her mother still holds a baronet title for a family castle near Penzance. She’s English, if she chooses to be.

There are endorsements from Banksy, from Damien Hirst, and the Demarco European Art Foundation.

Douche is sold for an undisclosed sum to a buyer who allows it to remain in Auckland Art Gallery. The piles of chopped paintings are fixed forever in the Mackelvie Room with epoxy resin and invisible screws and piano wire. The walls of the Mackelvie Room remain exquisitely damaged, sporting tiny white craters in the plaster where the wire fixtures have torn chunks of wall out as they crashed, details which are thought to represent a desire for the fall of Cecil Rhodes and other pillars of the old establishment.

Andi visits her installation regularly, asks the door-dick to screen off the room, as her deed requires, and sits on a padded bench and stares at her artwork, usually clad in an expensive shawl from Donatella. She thinks about Frith and Goodall and Godward fighting for a position in the Royal Academy of Arts. She thinks about her younger self fighting for a bowl of fried cabbage in the queue outside the Hare Krishna yurt on campus.

Lotus catches up with her occasionally, during Douche board meetings, though she’s busy supporting Keas and Brownies at the Howick Scout Hall. Her daughters have just hit five years old and while Marcus is a good father and drives her to art gallery fundraisers every month, Lotus doesn’t have much time for the revolution any more.

Congratulations Vera Dong – Northland regional winner – National Flash Fiction Day 2021

Family Meals

Vera Dong

Every Chinese Spring Festival Eve, Mum invited Dad’s parents, sisters and brothers for a family meal. Our cold, dim kitchen held a traditional mud stove, and a honeycomb briquette one. The month leading up to the meal, less water was boiled, more food-ration coupons were saved. A week before, Mum spent every evening in the kitchen, sitting down only to ease her back pain. White and red radish pickled in sugar and salt; preserved duck eggs, boiled, cooled, and cut; identical thin wedges like toy boats docked in a quiet harbour. Pan-roasted Ci Gu (taro) from Mum’s garden; soup with pork bones from Dad’s chess mate butcher; white-liquor pork sausages and gluten-rice-ginger meatballs were made by Mum’s mother living on a farm two hundred kilometers away. They were a once-a-year treat.

Our chopsticks did not work hard that night. We needed space to relish Mum’s spring- onion noodles after our guests said Wan Shi Ru Yi (all goes well) and goodbye.

Mum and Dad renovated the kitchen soon after the food ration was lifted. A brand-new two-head gas stove sat in pride in the middle of the old kitchen. Every Sunday evening, Mum’s kitchen was a hot sauna: steaming ginger-pork buns; bubbling chicken soup with peppery pork and baby bamboo shoots. Mum sat there smiling, watching us dipping the buns into rice vinegar, soaking the chicken and pork in sesame, garlic and red-chili sauce.

She apologized for not being able to feed us good protein when we were growing up. Steam softened wrinkles around her eyes and lips. Tears in her eyes sparkled like bright stars.

Many years later, we visited Mum in China. With her back bent, she managed ginger-pork buns and meatballs. Her grandson wanted burgers and asked if we could order a takeaway and have it delivered.

***

Check out all the shortlisted entries, winners, and regional winners at NFFD here.

FREE four day film workshop in Whangarei – write a script, make a film

This July school holidays, Script to Screen (in partnership with Northland Youth Theatre) are returning to Whangārei to run our 2021 Northland Film Workshop. Once again, this free four-day film workshop aims to help Northland based rangatahi develop skills in crafting a story idea, writing a script, and acting for the screen. I’m wondering if you could spread the word to anyone you know aged between 15 – 23 year olds that might be keen to come along this year?

No experience or prior knowledge of filmmaking is necessary. This year, filmmaker Hamish Bennett (Bellbird, The Dump, Ross and Beth) and actor Laurel Devenie (Shortland Street) will teach participants about finding a story they want to tell, crafting a narrative that is compelling on screen and acting for the screen.

Spaces are limited so those interested should register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/northland-film-workshop-2021-registration-160459268993

Tuesday 13 July – Fri 16 July

9am – 2:30pm each day

Northland Youth Theatre, 86 Bank St, Whangarei 0110


Morning Tea, Lunch and Afternoon Tea provided. However, if you have special dietary requirements (gluten free, dairy free, keto, paleo, etc) please bring food with you.

You can find more info about the workshop on our websiteEventBrite,  Facebook Page / Event or on Instagram.

Would you like to help Speculative Fiction Writers of NZ? They could use you…

Want to meet other authors and network beyond your local groups?Keen to make use of all those awesome non-writing skills you have?Want to bring your own interests and enthusiasm to your favourite speculative fiction group?
Then join the SpecFicNZ Core!


Join the Core and boldly go where you’ve never gone before!There’s no need for previous experience—just a willingness to pitch in and learn as you go.Projects for which we would love extra helping hands:Revamping the SpecFicNZ website Engaging online as part of our social media presenceOrganising workshops, retreats, and other eventsPursuing grant moneyOrganising programmes and projects such as our member reviews, catalogue, and anthologiesComing up with new and fabulous ideas for initiatives for our membersThe Core meets monthly via Zoom. Email admin@specfic.nz to register your interest:

Ngaio Marsh Awards for Best NZ Crime Writing – Whangarei Libraries Event.

On Thursday June 10, four authors whose books have been part of the Ngaio Marsh Awards for Best NZ Crime writing convened at Whangarei Central Library, greatly entertaining a packed house of crime fiction fans.

Photos here:

Whangārei Mystery in the Library 2021 series
Join five northern authors for an evening of criminally good conversation.

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with Whangārei District Libraries, invites booklovers to a thrilling evening of criminally good discussion with five talented northern storytellers.

Whangārei poet, novelist, and award-winning short story writer Michael Botur will chair a panel featuring fellow 2021 Ngaio Marsh Awards entrant Caroline Lawson, Kerikeri thriller writer Catherine Lea and past Ngaios finalists Andrea Jacka and Stephen Johnson.

The authors will discuss where their inspiration comes from, how they bring fascinating characters to life on the page, craft page-turning storylines and infuse their tales with real-life issues as well as touches of crime and mystery.

Registration Essential
Spaces are strictly limited.
Please register by email to libraryevents@wdc.govt.nz

The panel

Michael Botur is a poet and author whose short stories have won awards in New Zealand and the United States. Takahe magazine described him as “a writer considered one of the most original story writers of his generation in New Zealand”. He’s published several acclaimed short story collections. Crimechurch is his latest novel.

Andrea Jacka – Although an avid reader from the early days of Peter and Jane, it wasn’t until Andrea reached her early forties that she began to write. This soon became a passion, then an obsession and resulted in her first novel One for Another, a thriller set in 1880s Idaho which became a finalist for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel.

Stephen Johnson is an Australian-born television news and sports producer who has swapped the TV studio for a writer’s garret overlooking the Tamaki River. His debut novel Tugga’s Mob, a finalist for the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards, was inspired by three seasons working as a tour guide on double-decker buses around Europe in the 1980s.

Caroline Lawson is a Northland author who grew up in Fiji. Memories of a Community Cop is ‘more than a biography’, the story of local policeman Quin Turton’s life on and off the job after moving to Northland as a young man. “A delightfully written evocation of a life well lived … a worthy addition to anyone’s library.”

Catherine Lea is a Kerikeri author who worked in the technology industry before becoming a thriller writer. Her six novels range from comic police procedurals to high-octane thrillers entwined with US politics. Her book Child of the State was shortlisted for the Silver Falchion Award for Best Thriller by the Killer Nashville festival in the United States.”

Concerned about housing? Submit a poem to Landing Press

We want poems from people who maybe have never written before but have a small story to tell about housing.

Concerned about housing? Submit a poem to Landing Press

Landing Press, Community Housing Aotearoa, Emerge Aotearoa and others are sharing the call to contribute to a poetry project. 

The poems will be published by Landing Press later this year and will include all aspects of housing – ownership, renting, homelessness, memories of houses, houses lived-in in other countries, political, funny nostalgic, painful.

Landing Press’s goal is to bring together experienced and first-time writers in one book. 

Here is the call for submissions from Landing Press:

Submission guidelines

For those interested in taking up the challenge, submissions of up to three poems (each a maximum of 40 lines) should be emailed to Landing Press by 18 June 2021 for experienced writers, and 31 July 2021 for those needing help to get started. Each poem should be on a separate page along with name and contact details (email address, postal address and phone number).

Poems and requests for help should be emailed to landingpresshousing21@gmail.com.

Why poems?

Poems can be very simple. They can tell a small story, offer an insight or a new perspective, shift people’s heads, and they can bring together experienced writers and first-time writers in one book.

Who is Landing Press?

Landing Press is a small Wellington not-for-profit publisher. We publish poetry that many people can enjoy, and we want to give a voice to people who are not often heard.”

Kaupapa

“In this new project we want to work with community housing providers and many others across the housing sector.

What do we want for this collection of poems about housing?

We want poems about every aspect of housing – owning, renting, having no house, memories of houses, houses lived in in other countries, political, funny, nostalgic, painful. We don’t just want poems by people who have written a lot. We want poems from people who maybe have never written before but have a small story to tell about housing.