Sunday, February 03, 2008


Former New Zealand Society of Authors (Pen NZ Inc) president and President of Honour, Gordon McLauchlan, moved two motions at the monthly meeting of the Auckland branch of NZSA (Pen Inc) on Friday night:

1. That the sponsors of the Montana awards in future ask the committee to take some notice of demographics when appointing judges.

2. That the National Council consider lobbying the government to move the base of some national cultural organisations, notably Creative New Zealand, to Auckland.

Both were carried by large majorities.

At the meeting, McLauchlan made a case built around the following.-

The time has come to stop Wellington’s stranglehold on New Zealand culture. This year again, Wellington will have two judges of the Montana National Book Awards, Christchurch one and Auckland none. Of the eight category advisers only one is from Auckland.
This sort of occurrence is increasing. Even though the population of the country is shifting north at an accelerating rate, Wellington exerts control on every area of New Zealand cultural life by controlling the national cultural infrastructure...

Let me make the point that Wellington would be a fishing village based in Island Bay were it not for Government and its bureaucrats. The city has no productive hinterland, and the only trade is coastal although it is important as a transit point between the islands for tourists. Otherwise Government is its only reason for existence. I complained to a Ports of Auckland executive a few years ago about Auckland’s poor community use of its foreshore compared to Wellington’s, and he said to me, ‘They have one huge advantage, of course: they have no ships.’ So why should Creative New Zealand be based in Wellington? Or the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra? Actually the orchestra was set up the 1940s and paid for on the Broadcasting budget. The broadcasting industry was then government owned. The idea was that a national orchestra (there were no others) would give people a chance to hear on their radios a live orchestra. There were no CDs then, only rough old 45s. The other reason was to give New Zealand instrumentalists a chance to play in a top class orchestra. Both of these reasons disappeared years ago. So why is the orchestra’s grant – uncontested unlike just about every other Government grant – continued? Why are the millions of dollars not given to the main centres to help fund their own orchestras? Why does the Auckland Symphonia have to grovel for funds while the Wellington orchestra gets its entitlement almost automatically and is bailed out by Government when it gets into financial difficulties?

The issue that brought this little rant on was the naming of the Montana judges for this year. Last year? Again Wellington judges dominated. The convenor was from Victoria University Department of English. The fiction category adviser was, I understand, formerly on the same staff. Who were the winners? Mr Pip, quite deservedly, I think. Who were the runners-up? A dead Wellingtonian and an unreadable Wellington novelist published by Victoria University Press. Who lost? Well, most obviously C. K. Stead, whose novel Judas has been published since last year into Polish, French, Croatian, Hungarian, and Spanish. The unreadable Wellington novelist hasn’t, to my knowledge, been published in any other language, perhaps because they haven’t yet found a translator who stay awake to do the job.
After that debacle, the Auckland branch moved that the Montanas should appoint an international judge. What happened to that motion? Don’t know.
So over the past five years nine judges have come from Wellington, five from Auckland and four from the South Island.
Wellington, far from being contrite on this matter, has upped the ante. If we take the past three years into account: six Wellington judges, three from Auckland and three from the South Island.

Let us look at the demographics.

North Shore City…184,821 --- increase between 1996 and 2006: 12,657.
Waitakere City…168,750 and 13,135.
Auckland City …367, 737 and 21,966.
Manukau City …283,197 and 28,290.
Rodney … 76,185 and 9699.
Papakura… 40,665 and 978.

Upper Hutt…36,368 and minus 345.
Lower Hutt… 95,478 and minus 393.
Porirua… 47,367 and plus 744.
Wellington City…163, 824 and 6102 (how many of them bureaucrats?)
Kapiti Coast …42,447 and 3861.
People are actually leaving two of their cities.

The totals here are these.-

■ The six Greater Auckland centres total: 1,121,355.
Growth between 1996 and 2006: 86,725.
■ The five Greater Wellington centres total: 384,584.
Growth between 1996 and 2006: 9969.

All four Auckland cities are larger than Wellington City. The people who came to Auckland between 1996 and 2006 numbered half the total population of Wellington City. Not only has Greater Auckland almost three times as many people as Wellington, it is growing more than eight times faster.

This is not to consider the fact that among the fastest growing cities in New Zealand are nearby Hamilton and Tauranga.
Now, I’m not saying demographics should rule. I would fight for Dunedin and Christchurch to have a guaranteed amount of influence on our culture and literature . They are cities which exist on productive enterprise and are economically and culturally self-sustaining. But we need to make some gesture to where most people live. I just want to break this stranglehold that Wellingtonians hold on our culture (many of them with an insufferable smugness) for no reason whatever that I can discern.
Imagine the Australian reaction to the appointment for two years in a row of two judges from Canberra and one from Perth for their premier literary awards.

I have no problem with the National Library being in Wellington, but let’s think about the National Museum and the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The former is an architectural joke and is also an inferior New Zealand historical museum by a large margin. Yet I have to pay for both via taxes and rates, whereas Wellingtonians have to pay for only one via taxes.
One claim is that Creative New Zealand, the National Orchestra, National Radio, the Film Commission and other organisations need to be near the seat of Government. I believe that each of them would be better away from Government, acting independently as they are supposed to.

Perhaps the most egregious Wellington manipulation of literary and taxpayers' money is the 'New Zealand Book Council', which was for years an organisation of self-appointed Wellingtonians, parlty fund by Crearive New Zealand. They had one ghostly Auckland representatuive who could not attend meetings because they would not fund the travel.
And another thing: Auckland is by far the most ethnically and culturally diverse of all the main centres. It represents the changing, cosmopolitan nature of New Zealand. In our evolving culture, Wellington is a side-issue, a cul de sac. So let us wrench our culture and our literature away from the bureaucrats and their servants and give it back to the people.


paul reynolds said...

On the evidence provided you have to say it is slam dunk in favour of PEN.
It certainly deserves a serois debate.
As part of this, people mght like to pnder on Hamish Keith's wonderful pithy polemic , " the reason why Wellington is the cultural capital of New Zealand is because it keeps stealing all the cultural capital"

Ron Hanson said...

call me provincial Wellingtonian but I think it's ridiculous and would be a huge waste of resources and energy, plus I'd probably move to Australia. Auckland has a lot of good things going for bit in terms of infrastructure (especially roading) it's too screwed up to handle it. Sort out the roads and then maybe we could consider it. Wellington is on the rise but surely Auckland and Wellington can grow. What an insult!

I am first and foremost and New Zealand and secondly a Wellingtonian. The world is changing rapidly and New Zealand needs to be poised to secure it's place in it. This means all New Zealanders need to work together, we're all on the same boat. This is not a time for division of diviciveness. I am also an American citizen and am sick to death of this kind of attitude which ultimately drags us all down. May we all move forward together.

Anonymous said...

interesting stuff...but GM describes Te Papa as "an architectural joke", wasn't it designed by Auckland architects? ANON

Anonymous said...

Yes, poeple are leaving Wellington and going to Auckland because all big business is moving up there and people are following the jobs. Does this mean that everything should move to Auckland just because it's bigger? Soon Auckland will be this big bloated, baggy monster (some would say it already is) and all the other cities will just have to shut down. Where is the sense in that?

Anonymous said...

Oh, puh-lease! This is not about being pro-Auckland or anti-Wellington! Read the article again! I for one could not agree more. Thank you Gordon McLauchlan for presenting such a lucid and detailed appraisal.

Hamish Keith said...

Gordon is quite right, but this is an issue bigger than demographics. We really need to ask why every New Zealand cultural lever or button has a Wellington hand or finger on it and why ever major cultural resource is
Wellington based. This is an issue we questioned in the Heart of the Nation survey nearly nine years ago and the fundamental reason why so many Wellington cultural institutions lobbied to successfully bury that report.
Quiet simply does the US allow Washington to shape its culture, or Australia Canberra or Canada Ottawa? Ron Hanson might like to ponder that when he
moves to Australia. In The Big Picture I struggled to expose the
counterfeiting and capture of our national culture. It is not hard to guess
why that happened; people shape a culture not committees, however
geographically or bureaucratically convenient those committees might be.

Hamish Keith

Gordon Dryden said...

Well put case by Gordon McLauchlan.

Mind you, consider some time the New Zealand "book experts'" bias against non-fiction writing.

One edition of "The Learning Revolution" sold 10 million copies in China in seven weeks (10,261,000 copies overall in China, plus a separate edition in Taiwan), and overall our book has been translated into 19 languages as well as US and English-English.* Even in the much smaller-population Swedish market, sales to date total 45,000 copies.

Ah, well, as Holland-born, Canadian-American-educated co-author Jeannette Vos has now married another New Zealander and is now based here, we might eventually get invited to speak at our first Auckland authors' conferenceÐfifteen years after our book was first published here.

Gordon Dryden
Co-author, The Learning Revolution and The New Learning Revolution, Auckland

* I'm sure you will have on file the sales of other New Zealand fiction writers that have exceeded 10 million copies. In China, incidentally, it is mandatory for publishers to print, on the imprint page of each print-run, the number of copies in that print-run and the numbers printed previously Ð ostensibly a check on tax evasion. So there at least you know if an "all-time best seller" is really one.

Ron Hanson said...

Let Auckland have the big business. We'll keep the culture.

Martin Baynton said...

Bless you Gordon. I’ve been bouncing between London and New York and it was wonderful to mainline a large syringe of sibling spleen venting, though it made me more homesick.

Having lived and worked in both our ‘capitols’ for many years there is no denying the figures presented, but surely only two sets of figures matter - where do all the writers live, and where do they want their organisations of representation situated?

If they declare for Auckland then surely the matter is decided. But might not the very figures Gordon uses be a cause for alarm? Might not Auckland based organisations be even less attentive to the needs of the scattered writing community than they are at present. On the plus side, Aucklanders do, potentially, have more time on their hands if only we could harness it efficiently. With modern technology, committee meetings could take place in rush hour traffic, we could even have them broadcast live on radio so Auckland writers can listen in their cars and the rest of us can tune in on our verandas.

Anonymous said...

Please tell Gordon to keep up his campaign against our self important filing cabinet of a capital, it made me laugh. Keep it coming!

Craig Cliff said...

If Gordon McLauchlan “just want[s] to break this stranglehold that Wellingtonians hold on our culture (many of them with an insufferable smugness) for no reason whatever that I can discern,” he’ll have to come up with some actual reasons why Auckland is more deserving.

His population argument is entirely specious. If sheer weight of numbers was the decisive factor, then not just Creative NZ but every body with a national focus should be relocated to Auckland.

And what does it matter what Wellington would be like without the government? (As an aside, the “fishing village” comparison is exactly why some people dislike Aucklanders… What does it say about Mr McLauchlan’s opinion of places like my home town of Palmerston North?). The fact is Wellington has the arts infrastructure, which attracts a lot of creative types from around New Zealand. A quick look at the bios for 2008 Montana judges ( illustrates how most “Wellingtonians” are imports.

If you’re going to impose a provincial quota system (gasp!) for Montana judges it should be based on the number of people qualified to judge the award in a given region. In that respect, Wellington punches above its weight, no denying that.

Don’t get me wrong: I welcome debate about Wellington’s place shaping NZ culture, but I simply didn’t hear anything convincing coming from Mr McLauchlan, and find it scary that so many people were swayed by his parochialism.

PS: Bureaucrats are people too.

paul reynolds said...

Gordon is quite right, but this is an issue bigger than demographics. We really need to question why every New Zealand cultural lever or button has a Wellington hand or finger on it. This is an issue we questioned in the Heart of the Nation survey nearly nine years ago and the fundamental reason why so many Wellington cultural institutions lobbied to successfully bury that report. Quiet simply does the US allow Washington to shape its culture, or Australia Canberra or Canada Ottawa? Ron Hanson might like to ponder that when he moves to Australia. In The Big Picture I struggled to expose the counterfeiting and capture of our national culture. It is not hard to guess why; people shape a culture not committees, however geographically or bureaucratically convenient those committees might be.

Hamish Keith
[posted on request by paul reynolds]

Anonymous said...

Couldn’t agree more! From a visual arts perspective, the view is even more biased. Grants to Wellington based artists and organisations are disproportionately high.

Ron Hanson said...

Hey Hamish,
I'm not really to Australia, Just trying the point of desperate I would be feeling if you guys got your way. What's the problem here? Are feeling threatened? Why can't we call get along?

Birkenhead Henry said...

Parish pump politics of this sort helps explain why the New Zealand Society of Authors is turning into an Auckland organisation rather than a national one.

Hamish Keith said...

I am amazed how quickly this debate had descended to the trivial and childish. It is not a question of your town my town or where I live and
where you live - it is a serious question about just how accurately the cultural infrastructure - almost all Wellington based and resourced - reflects the reality of the national culture - which is everywhere. Yes, it
is in Palmerston North too and Lytellton and Port Chalmers. The conclusions in The Big Picture were not Auckland based or I hope Auckland biased. The
problem is that the cultural bureaucrats of Lambton Quay find it hard to believe that the culture is what it is and where it is, not where and what
they say it is. The example of both Te Papa - about branding the culture instead of reflecting it - and the Venice Biennale - not sending what we do
well, but sending what we think somebody else will think is done well - are classic examples of that bureaucratic mindset. It is not only a question of
the visual arts either - it reaches into those areas where demographics play
a significant part - theatre for example - count the number of subsidised theatres in Wellington and those in Auckland, divide them by the available
audience catchment and wonder. It is bad enough to have the national culture misrepresented and made up by committees, but it is worse to have it coerced
and captured as a part of Wellington City's brand. There are solutions to this and they do not need to be at anyone's cost. Ron Hanson might reflect
that if the nation's culture got a fair suck of the sav wherever it was, he may not have to move to Australia after all - he could take his pick.

Hamish Keith

Trevor Poultney said...

I had a chuckle at what Gordon had to say – and I can image the howls it could well inspire from further south. A couple of shaky words in defence of Wellington as cultural centre though – they seem to have ‘taken’ to the arts very strongly, thus making the most of all those subsidies, and you have also to take the climate into consideration. There are far more cold, wet and windy days in which ‘arty’ things come more naturally to the fore – days on which those lucky Aucklanders may well be distracted by beaches, bush walks and other hairy-chested outdoor activities!

Ron Hanson said...

firstly, the way this thing's come across has very much been 'my town versus your town'. Yes, I was offended by the description of Wellington as nothing more than a fishing port bloated by government bureacracy.

As as New Zealander, I want to see Auckland do as well as it possibly can but it needn't come at the expense of Wellington or setting us on the path of a nasty debate.

We can't measure everything in numbers and what New Zealand needs is balance. Putting everything into one city is, to use a cliche, putting all our eggs in one basket. I've put so much energy into trying to encourage this city to grow and there's no question that moving all the bureacracy would be a major blow to Wellington. Of course it could never happen without a fight and we need to seriously question if this is the best way for all of us to spend our time. Obviously i don't think so.

Aside from this, not all of us agree on your verdict of et al or art in general. Personally I think your big picture's not quite big enough. You've studied art history. Do you really think there will be no more revolutions.

You should consider how you want to go down in New Zealand art history, as source of knowledge or a spoiler for the new generations to come? Nonetheless a spoiler that will be overcome.

Anonymous said...

Gordon - I'd be really interested - given those oft-quoted sales figures and, ur, other matters - just how much in the way of royalties you've received...

other than that, I am completely cycnical about the whole publishing/reviewing situation here (I'd paticularly like some kind of study done about the link up between academic reviewers (for whom I have almost no time) and publishing media.

Other than that - storm in a teacup. Who among us - the great ANZ populace- gives a shit?

Anonymous said...

This is a valid argument, but just a couple of points: the comment on Wellington and the 'fishing village' shows a woeful lack of historical knowledge, especially from someone who has written histories of NZ. Wellington has always been primarily a commercial centre and transportation hub. 'Bureaucrats' are such an easy target (pick any Nat Party press release) but something like 3-4ths of Wellingtonians work in the private sector. Also, it's totally unfair to compare Wgtn to Canberra, Washington DC or Ottawa, all of which were pretty much made-up capitals in which to base federal governments. NZ is not federal and Wgtn has always been NZ's 2nd or 3rd biggest city.