Category Archives: Re-visioning

Amy Brown: Ruins of the Nurses’ Home 1931

Ruins of the nurses' home, Napier

Ruins of the nurses’ home, Napier, after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake. Creator unknown: Photographs of Napier and Hastings after the 1931 earthquake. Ref: 1/4-017193-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22520125

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Ruins of the nurses’ home 1931
Amy Brown

lost dog, patent leather kitten heels, cashmere coats
cloche hats, nyloned calves accustomed to hills

They’ve returned to see where they used to sleep,
formally yet sensibly dressed, paused on a slope
at what they hope is a safe distance.

felled trellis, windows whole in a portion of wall
a dust-shrunk sun, pale pupil staring over

Rectangles and squares have gone trapezia
or broken into unrecognisable triangles.
Surprisingly quiet today — just subtle creaks,

rolling tarmac mangling tram tracks, turf
swollen like one side of a bad cake

odd whines from their sniffing companion.
No need to say a thing, just feel the unseasonable
breeze, breathe it in, live lightly off each rise and fall.

roof shingles on a drunken angle and god
knows what beneath that concrete, no

525 times the three will be moved against their will.
This is a strange minute in which they are still, needing
to stop and watch more than their skills are needed.

pulse, they hope, watches ticking against breasts
shadows trembling over the levelled ‘Nice of the Pacific’

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AMY BROWN was born in 1984 in Hastings. She now lives in Melbourne and teaches creative writing at the University of Melbourne, where she completed a PhD in 2012. Her first collection of poems, The Propaganda Poster Girl, was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2009 New Zealand Book Awards. Last year, her contemporary epic poem titled The Odour of Sanctity was published by Victoria University Press. Amy is also the author of ‘Pony Tales,’ a quartet of children’s novels published by HarperCollins.

Helen Heath: It All Unfolds

Lost, in 5.15 tram from Island Bay, yesterday, Purse in small kit, containing money and ring.

The Evening Post, Volume LXXI, Issue 91, 18 April 1906, p.1 http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=EP19060418.2.5.3

I found this advert on Papers Past while searching for information about my great-great-grandmother. Using this and information already collected by my father I took an imaginative leap into a possible narrative. It was a Tuesday that she took the tram home from Island Bay presumably to the Wellington Railway station. Would she have noticed the bag was missing when she tried to buy a train ticket home? What would have made her distracted enough to leave her bag on the tram? How did she get the rest of the way home? What was she doing in Island Bay in the first place? Why did she have a ring in her bag? Did anyone return it? Did she get home in time for dinner? What follows is a window into a creative process.

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First notes:
The bag was on the seat beside me, I’m sure. I retrace my steps from the tram stop to my sister’s house, up the path to her little rental cottage in Island Bay, with white roses on either side of the gate, up to the front door and into the hall, the parlor. I’d been sitting in the small armchair by the coal fire, my bag sitting on the occasional table beside me. She’d offered me a cup of tea and fresh scones after her dance students had left. When she walks from the kitchen she holds a plate our mother gave her with sprays of blue flowers on it. Her back is ramrod straight, her feet turned out, her chin held high, as if looking down her nose at me. The scones had a thin smear of plum jam spread meanly over them, no cream. I asked her for mother’s ring, it was meant for me, after all; she shouldn’t have kept it when she packed up their things.

I would have helped her if I didn’t have my hands full with the children. She had no husband to cook for, no family mending or laundry, no children to take up her time, just her precious dance students. Once more she mentions the Governor-General’s children, heaven help me to bite my tongue! I didn’t want much, just the ring as a special keepsake, not much. She could have chosen anything at all from the estate and she did. I know it was hard packing it all up but soon she’ll be back home on the boat and I’ll never see it again.

I thank her, place it in my purse. Before I leave I place it in my purse. I should have slipped it on my finger, slipped it on my finger. Now they’re gone.
Mother, Father, Sister, Ring.

Heaton family at Hutt River. Private collection of Helen Heath.

After my first notes I draft and redraft a poem from the notes. Then I think it might suit the form of a villanelle, which I then attempt. This is an early draft and may well change.

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It all unfolds
Helen Heath

After thinking about it my life whole
retrace that ride taken on the wing
my sister, the ring, it all unfolds.

We all know that fortune favours the bold
she knew well mother left me the ring
must me dance around it my life whole?

We’d lowered mother’s body down the hole
listened to a church of people sing
my sister, the ring, it all unfolds.

She gives it to me, turns to stoke the coals
placed in a small purse I’d thought to bring
and snap the clasp shut all my life whole.

leave her parlor, peeling wallpaper mould
head for the tram, a pigeon homing
that’s what past, present and future holds.

It’s not my fate to be favoured and bold
I’ve lost mother, sister, and damn ring
after thinking about it my life whole
my sister, the ring, it all unfolds.

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HELEN HEATH is a writer and doctoral student at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her poetry and essays have been published in many New Zealand and overseas journals. Her first book, Graft (Victoria University Press, 2012), was honored as Best First Book — Poetry at the New Zealand Post Book Awards. It was also nominated for the Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2013.

Gareth Shute: Airships

The plan of an airship for Auckland, patented by John Crook of Ponsonby in 1886. Auckland Weekly News, 10 July 1902, p. 001. Ref: AWNS-19020710-1-2. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Auckland, New Zealand.

During the late 1880s, it looked certain that the airship would be the mode of transport of the future. Even down in New Zealand, visions of seeing them against skyline inspired painters to put pencil to paper. The fanciful nature of this future-that-wasn’t is what seems to make it appealing to steampunks everywhere — it’s as absurd as ray-guns and the idea that a species of humanoid Martians could actually live on the toxic surface of the planet Mars. By the early 1900s, children were creating their own toy airships…

“Who says we can’t fly?” Young New Zealanders off for an afternoon cruise in their airship. F.B. Ross, Auckland Weekly News, 12 May 1910, p. 007. Ref: AWNS-19100512-7-1. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Auckland, New Zealand.

All the best science of the time seemed to point to airships as the easiest way to achieve flight and these craft may have had a more enduring impact if it wasn’t for a quirk of geology — the majority of the naturally occurring helium in the world happened to be in the US, so European airship designers were forced to use flammable hydrogen instead. It took a while to appreciate how catastrophic this choice of fuel would be.

Initially, the Germans led the field in pushing forward the design of their airships and the company Zeppelin became a source of awe and, later, fear in countries nearby. It was believed that the airships might be able to undertake massive bombing raids, but targeting a bomb from an airship proved trickier than first anticipated. Instead, they were used as ultra-silent spy planes during the first World War, though the English soon learnt to retaliate with incendiary bullets, causing them to burst into flames.

How an invasion by air would appear. Auckland Weekly News, 10 April 1913, p. 001. Ref: AWNS-19130410-1-2. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Auckland, New Zealand.

After the war, airships began to be used as a means of transport by the general public, though this service was eventually put to rest by the shocking footage of the Hindenburg going down in flames — a news item that circled the world and scared any would-be passengers away. Airships eventually became an emblem of technology’s foibles, as when the most well-known progenitors of heavy metal were predicted to “sink like a lead zeppelin.” One lesson to be drawn is that the future can be hard to predict. Think of all those early sci-fi movies in which the characters were shown talking on video phones, even though it turns out that now we have the technology to see each other during phone calls, hardly anyone can actually be bothered to do so. Another lesson is that technology can take us down fruitless by-roads and it is hard to judge the value of our route until we’ve reached our destination. In answer to the utopian visions of technology, it is always possible to present a more dystopian reply, which draws equally strongly from the science.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if the worst predictions of the peak oil campaigners and global warming pessimists are correct. Perhaps air-travel would once again become unaffordable for the average person, as it was a century ago. Many airports would be left to fall into ruin, located as they often are at the edge of the city. This future vision is not one that many people would seriously envisage taking place, but picturing this type of world does help to re-iterate the unpredictability of what may lie ahead. So when we look back at images of airships dramatically ruling the skies, we shouldn’t marvel at the naiveté of past dreamers, but cast a light on ourselves. What zeppelins do we believe in? Could they come crashing down in flames?

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GARETH SHUTE is a writer and musician based in Auckland, New Zealand. His books include Hip Hop Music in Aotearoa (2004), Making Music in New Zealand (2005), Insights: New Zealand Artists Talk About Creativity (2006), NZ Rock: 1987-2007 (2008) and Concept Albums (2012). He works at Auckland Libraries and is currently a member of three bands: the Conjurors, the Cosbys and the Investigations.

Marly Youmans: The Wish for Roses

Hazel Tuttle

“This is, regrettably, the only picture I have of my great-aunt Hazel Tuttle, who committed suicide in 1919. She is shown trimming the great bush of rambling roses at the hotel her mother operated in Wolf Lake, Indiana.” — Fredric Koeppel

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The Wish for Roses
Marly Youmans

You were as graceful as a hazel wand —
A kind of magic spell, the arc of arm
Reaching to cut the roses from the wall,
The outward swing of your long, snowy skirt.
You were a hazel wand in that man’s hand;
He would make magic with your heart and bones.
He swept you off your little buttoned boots,
Made promises that love could hardly keep.
And so a world of roses slipped away,
Mother and sisters left to wave and sigh.
Who would have thought his warmth could be a trick,
His prairies as romantic as a plow?
What lies he told — you tied a sack with strings
Around your narrow waist and slowly bent
To enter dark, the soddie rank with fug
Of five unkempt children, their mother dead.
You dreamed of roses, dreamed of mother, too —
And wrote to ask if she would take you in.
But she said no, Hazel, that you must bend
And bend again to serve that family.
Look at the only photograph — the wand
Of you, the rose, the loveliness of hair
Light-kissed, and intricately wound and pinned.
Would it have been a sin to flee away,
To sink into the roses of your home,
Accepting thorn and fragrance equally,
Knowing yourself the briar and the rose —
Forgetting children, fleeing hoax and smoke,
The man so fleet to whisper words of love,
Forgetting crypt (the house made out of sod),
The apron tying you to fire and stone:
Poor child, I hope you dreamed a world of rose
That morning when you drank the lye and died.

    For Fredric Koeppel, in memory
    of his great-aunt, Hazel Tuttle

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MARLY YOUMANS is a writer. Her recent books are an adventure in blank verse, Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Pubishing, 2012); several collections of poems, including The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012) and The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011); and a novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer, 2012 / The Ferrol Sams Award + Silver Award, ForeWord BOTYA.) Forthcoming novels include: Glimmerglass and a reprint of Catherwood in 2014 and Maze of Blood in 2015 (Mercer).

FREDRIC KOEPPEL is a an award-winning wine and food writer. Hazel Tuttle was his great-aunt. Hindsight is grateful to him for the opportunity to share her story and image. In his words: “I had the tale from my mother, who didn’t even know of the existence of her aunt Hazel until she found a photograph when she (my mother) was 16 and asked her mother, Hazel’s sister, about it. What happened was that sometime around the end of WWI, a man from Montana, traveling from the east, came through Wolf Lake, Indiana, and stayed at my great-grandmother’s hotel. He was a larger-than-life Westerner and swept Hazel off her feet and they quickly married. When she got out to the endless emptiness of the high plains, she discovered that her new husband was a widower with five children and that they lived in a sod house out in the middle of nowhere. After a few months of isolation and taking care of five kids, Hazel wrote to her mother asking if she could return to the family fold, and her mother wrote back and said, basically, that she should not even think about disgracing her family that way and she better stay with her husband and his children. So in 1919, Hazel Tuttle drank lye and died, horribly.”

Chris McDowall: Hexagonal Maps of New Zealand’s Political Geography

In mid-December 2013, the British Library did something wonderful.

We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain.

“The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.”

In the weeks following the release, incredible images have surfaced on many of the blogs I follow. I was particularly taken with a set of odd hexagonal maps Ollie O’Brien posted on the Mapping London blog. One map in particular stood out to me.

01-inspiration

This strange map comes from John Leighton’s 1885 book The Unification of London: The Need and the Remedy. O’Brien provides this concise overview:

“London is split up into neat hexagons, colour-coded according to their proximity to the centre of the metropolis (defined as St Paul’s Cathedral rather than the more normal Charing Cross.) […] It looks like John Leighton was proposing a wayfinding system for London based on each area’s “zone colour”. Lamp posts would be used, with one handle always pointing to the north to orientate people, and colours, numbers and letters to show the zone. Bus blinds would have multiple colours indicating the zones buses passed through, and taxis would use appropriately coloured lights to indicate where they were willing to go. In a way, the idea of a uniform signposting system across London, across multiple objects and devices, is kind like the London Legible project, only 110 years earlier.”

You can see all scanned pages from The Unification of London: The Need and the Remedy on Flickr Commons — they are amazing.

I chose to use Leighton’s London Indexed in 2-Mile Hexagonals for my Hindsight inspiration because I have a long-held fascination with the mathematical properties of hexagons. I started playing with possibilities, unsure quite which direction I was heading in, but I knew that I wanted to make a hexagonal map of New Zealand.

After a few false starts, I landed on the idea of exploring the question, “How might we use hexagons to make better election result maps?” One of my frustrations with media reporting of election results is that, even though all the electoral areas are roughly the same size in terms of population, the maps tend to draw the eye to sparsely populated rural regions and de-emphasise dense urban areas. This can be partially mitigated by including breakout inset maps, but these fracture the map into many parts and make visual comparisons between regions difficult. Consider, for example, this New Zealand Herald map of 2011 general electorate vote results. Large rural and wilderness areas, such as the West Coast and Kaikoura electorates, dominate. Small but densely populated places like Hamilton and Tauranga are almost invisible. This is problematic because it gives a misleading impression of how people voted.

NZ Herald 2011

In considering these maps, I recalled some cartograms — maps that warp space by substituting a thematic variable for conventional distance and area — that the cartographer Daniel Dorling produced in his 1996 book, A New Social Atlas of Britain. Specifically, I remembered that Dorling had built some of his cartograms by dividing England into a set of tessellated hexagons.

I sat down with scissors, paper and a hex grid from a 1977 edition of War of the Ring, and began building a hexagonal cartogram map of the New Zealand 2011 general electorate regions. After finding a satisfying layout that roughly preserves neighbour adjacency, I downloaded the electorate vote data from elections.org.nz and wrote a D3.js script to automate the creation of cartograms. I’ve made the final source code as a Github gist.

01-physical-map

In the maps that follow, each hexagon represents one of the 63 general electorates. My first attempt simply coloured the electorates according to the colour of the winning candidate’s party:

  • Blue for a National Party victory;
  • Red for a winning Labour Party candidate; and
  • Dark grey for electorates won by a third party. (John Banks won the the Epsom seat for Act New Zealand and Peter Dunne took Ohariu for United Future.)

01-map_no_labels

Overlooking the absence of labels (we’ll get to those in a bit), I already find this map useful insofar as it enables me visually to compare the rural and urban seats on equal terms.

Next I shaded the hexagons according to the share of the vote the winning candidate received.

  • > 60% of the vote results in a completely opaque hex.
  • 50 – 60% of the vote and the hex is 75% opaque.
  • 40 – 50% of the vote and the hex is 50% opaque.
  • < 40% of the vote and the hex is 25% opaque.

01-map_shaded

I noticed that, although the electorates have roughly similar populations, they vary considerably in turnout rates and the number of votes cast. Of the general electorates, Wellington Central has the largest turnout count (39,816 from an electoral population of 58,799 voters) and Manurewa had the smallest (26,457 from an electoral population of 54,662). Consequently, I scaled the area of each hexagon according to the count of people who cast a valid vote in the 2011 general election. I think the area-scaling needs a bit more work, but I am happy with the general direction.

01-map_scaled

I’m unable to fit the entire labelled map into this blog’s format, however, you can play with the entire map here. I’ve broken New Zealand into three parts for the detailed view. First, the upper North Island. Note how strongly Auckland dominates the country’s population, holding 21 of the 63 general electorates. Also observe the low voter turnouts in the Labour strongholds of Manukau, Manurewa and Mangere.

01-detail_map_1

The second map shows central and lower North Island electorates, from Waikato through to Wellington. As one might expect, the largest voter turnouts are in and around our capital city.

01-detail_map_2

The South Island is a significantly larger landmass than the North Island, but it has a far lower population. This is apparent in the cartogram.

01-detail_map_3

The full visualisation is available on bl.ocks.org. There are more things that I would like to do to improve the visualisation, including providing rollover interactions with detailed statistics, adding legends to explain the colour and size values, animating between years and applying a similar treatment to the party vote data. But I am happy with the experiment to date and surprised at where I got to from that initial strange hexagonal map inspiration image. I think this could turn into something genuinely useful.

… and I’m honoured to be the first Hindsight contributor!

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CHRIS McDOWALL helps preserve and promote cultural heritage as Manager of DigitalNZ Systems at the National Library of New Zealand. Previously he worked as a researcher and cartographer at Landcare Research, and completed his PhD at the University of Auckland on the problem of representing vague, dynamic geographic phenomena. You can find him blogging, tweeting and otherwise making magic in various corners of the internet.