Archive for the ‘New Zealand Life’ Category

Feeding The Birds

November 9, 2016



The Kaka, an endangered NZ Parrot.

Back in my homeland, a farm on the dead flat dairy country of the Central Waikato, you’ll seldom see a native bird bar the Wax Eye. This bird is endemic to the South West Pacific and is believed to have first arrived on these shores in the 1830’s after being swept in by way of a powerful storm. (That was the first recorded sighting but one has to wonder that for all the millennia this bird has been about that it took until then to find their way to these islands?)

The Wax-Eye (or Silvereye as they call it in Australia) is classified as a self-introduced native (the faintly comical Pukeko is another) and unlike the actual natives who have withered under the onslaught of aggressive species bought to these islands by settlers who didn’t know any better, the Wax Eye is thriving.

A springtime bird (at least where I come from) it is a delight to feed. Partial to fat, a block of NZ’s finest grass fed butter will draw them in by the dozens and much pleasure can be had watching the social dynamics on display. An otherwise slight handful of yellow feathers, the males can get pretty aggro with each other as they tussle over the best positions from which to tackle the butter.

The feeding frenzy and dominance posturing can otherwise become a bit distracting making individuals easy prey for the family cat so the butter is best placed on high where approaching predators can be easily seen. A fence post or dangling branch does the trick nicely.


The Wax Eye

The Wax Eye has a short season and just as suddenly as it has arrived it is gone unlike the Sparrows, Myna, Starlings, Black Birds, Thrushes, Magpies and Pigeons who are always about. The country Sparrow will eat pretty much anything and are a common sight around the local cowsheds where they feast on the palm kernel and maize silage farmers use to feed the cows feed with when fresh grass is in short supply.

The Sparrows here in the city are a bit different. When they are not eating spiders and insects they are hoovering up crumbs left by people eating on the move but present them with the kind of food their country cousins will attack with gusto and they look a bit blank.

The city Pigeons on the other hand will pretty much eat anything unlike their country cousins who never stop to look at the bread and butter left out for their pleasure. From their roost in the phoenix palms outside the old homestead they head off every morning for feeding grounds unknown.

Unlike the city Pigeon which watches the street with intense precision waiting for someone to drop a crumb or two the country cousin has no truck with humans coming and going in synchronised precision without as much as a ‘by your leave’. Occasionally the cat, unable to resist the call of the cooing bird at rest, will find its way up one of these 70-year-old giants and deep into the fronds only to discover that this critter is a tough customer and that the way down is awkward and difficult.

A little wailing in the dead of night and a precarious adventure with a ladder and torch usually find a satisfactory outcome for all concerned. More amenable to the cats is the odd young pre-flight pigeons that occasionally fall to the ground. A circus ensues as wide-eyed cats gather to dab and prod and otherwise terrorise the hapless victim. An attempt might be made to salvage the wee innocent but once the feline blood lust has flowered there is little hope of a successful rescue.

As in the city, the Blackbird, Starling, Myna and Thrush will gather where there is activity and hang about in a vaguely social manner but I have seldom seen the country cousins tackle a piece of bread or butter – perhaps they are too well fed by the riches of worms and insects available on the wide open land. Their city cousins have an altogether different appetite and will tackle anything. Watching a Blackbird or Thrush gathering bread in a novel sight for me.

There are a couple of four Magpies here in downtown Auckland but they are elusive critters. Sometimes when I happen across one in a park I will stop and stare, enjoying the sight of this intelligent creature doing its thing however the moment they see you looking they are gone, disdain or maybe suspicion writ large in their expression. They seem uninterested in bread, grain and butter preferring to scratch about in the mulch for insects.

The country cousin is no less wary but will often join the other birds feeding on the lawn and nibble at whatever is on offer and with a little time to develop trust a long-term intergenerational acquaintanceship can be forged. Of all the local birds the inquisitive magpie offers some grand entertainment being the playful sort it is but the award for the most entertaining goes to a native, the rarely seen Kaka.

For a while we lived in north of the Waikato on the edge of the Hauraki plains and every year a flock of Kaka, a native parrot, would drop in to feed on the local Kahikatea trees on their way from far off Great Barrier Island to their summer feeding grounds in the Central North Island. About the size of a cat this bird is impressive both in form and temperament.

Starting its adventures with the first light of day they did not let up until deep twilight. When they weren’t practicing aerial acrobatics and screeching up a storm they were teasing the cats and stripping all our citrus of their fruit. Otherwise they might glean a little fun from chasing the odd wayward sparrow or magpie or maybe swing around and around on branches when nothing else was on offer. Both parts easily amused and bored this bird was trouble looking for mischief. Endangered as they are, I thought us very lucky to have an opportunity to see them up so close.


English botanist Joseph Banks out here on a voyage of discovery with Captain Cook in the late 18th century wrote of a vast cacophony of birdsong arising from these islands:

‘This morn I was awakd by the singing of the birds ashore from whence we are distant not a quarter of a mile, the numbers of them were certainly very great who seemd to strain their throats with emulation perhaps; their voices were certainly the most melodious wild musick I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable to which maybe the distance was no small addition. On enquiring of our people I was told that they have had observd them ever since we have been here, and that they begin to sing at about 1 or 2 in the morn and continue till sunrise, after which they are silent all day like our nightingales.’

Decimated by habitat loss and the introduction of predatory species against which they had no defence, the singers of this vast song have dwindled, their voice now a whisper. The dominant chorus now is one fed by the flourishing legions of introduced birds.

This is the chorus I know best and for as long as I can remember their crowded symphony has been the soundtrack against which I have lived my life. So all pervasive is this song in my psyche that I still hear it when I wake even though I am now far removed from that countryside living in a place where the birdsong is spare.

Birdsong is a vast data stream based on tone and viewed in this way it shows itself to be a thing of wonder. We might marvel at the Internet or the multitude of information rich digital signals floating through the ether but nature has already been there and done that. We are playing catch up at a game the birds have long mastered.

There is tree in the heart of the city that is a magnet for sparrows. Toward sunset they return to roost talk and themselves silly. Their chirping method can sound a bit monotonal but if you listen in carefully and you will hear much subtle variation at work in the basic framework suggesting that a wealth of information is being shared in a very economical way.

These humble little creatures with their sharp eyes are more than the sum of their parts and play a vital role in keeping insect numbers in check while efficiently taking care food waste about the streets. Once eaten this waste is nicely deposited around the trees they roost in offering the plant a neat source of fertiliser.

The city Starlings is smart and very partial to butter and bread, the country cousin uninterested. By the 1970s this introduced species was almost wiped out by the widespread use of D.D.T. Their favourite food was the aptly named Grass Grub. Native to these shores this soil dwelling caterpillar fed on the roots of the grasses upon which the nation built its wealth.

Some clever marketing based on fear mongering and the promise of increased production convinced farmers into drenching their land with this miracle chemical. The hapless Starling feed on the poisoned caterpillar ingested this most voracious of toxins and almost died out. Once the mistake was realised a concerted effort was made help the Starling along and many farms including our own invested in specialised nesting boxes. The population quietly recovered and got on with their efficient method of keeping undesirable insect populations in check.


The Starling

The Pukeko like the Starling was heavily undone by D.D.T but since the chemical was banned it has bounced back with vengeance. They are a common sight across the nation and are often found squashed on the road. The Pukeko has no road sense at all and in its natural habitat is an elusive bird, understandably wary of humans who often single this bird out for the gun.

The closest I have ever gotten to this creature is at the peat dome lake sitting slap bang in the centre of Hamilton. Here the Pukeko has taken on a domesticated quality and will come racing when food is on offer. All legs it is quite a sight to see striding about fighting the ducks for scraps. I remember my farming days and the care that had to be taken when mowing the hay. The long grass made for an excellent nesting sight and vigilance was required to prevent multiple fatalities. These birds keep communal nests and besides the little black babies you will find mum, dad and various aunties. I don’t understand why so many see them as nothing. They are beautiful.

Ducks are a big favourite of mine and though I see few here in the city they are numerous back home. An amenable creature, the mallard duck can become a friend and as with the Magpie, a well-established bond of trust can reach out across the generations with children and grandchildren calling into feed at a place they have been educated to know as safe.

The numerous drainage channels about the landscape provide suitable nesting sites for the ducks including the ones along the roadsides. Occasionally a nested pair will fly up into the air and into the path of a car or truck. Sometimes one is killed and the other will stand over the body for days. It is a terribly sad sight. Ducks have a good intellect and their emotional response to life should not be underestimated.

The other day I came across a lone female Mallard resting in the shade of a tree. I tossed her a handful of grain and she set about an excited quacking. When she finished she waddled up to my feet and lifted her head asking for more. Later I sat on a bench in the park and while tossing bits of bread to the Sparrows was surprised by a wee fellow who landed on my hand and began feeding directly.

I carry all manner of feed about with me and everyone likes bread but it is a nutritionally bereft product and I prefer to offer something more substantial like whole grain and seeds but this is not to everyone’s liking unlike butter which appeals to a wide audience. Nutritionally dense, butter is a grand source of energy and a block attracts a mixed and enthusiastic crowd. Individuals will pull a mouthful free, swallow it then assiduously wipe their beak on the grass before having another go. It’s amazing how quickly a kilo with disappear and how much fun it can be watching it all happen. The best pleasures are found in the simplest of acts.


I was bought up to experience non-humans as instinct driven automatons without thought nor feelings and that is how I treated them. My friends and I prowled the countryside wrecking havoc first with our slingshots then air rifles and finally .22 calibre rifles. It was sport, thoughtless, violent and pleasurable.

I thought nothing of it at first, lost as I was in the thrill of the hunt, then after years of deeper observation it slowly dawned on me that these creatures were more complex than I had imagined. As I examined these new feelings I began to feel shame and regret for the pain and suffering I was tossing about like cheap confetti. It was a one- dimensional perspective and I am glad to have laid it to rest. These days my outlook is altogether different and I am appreciative of the wild life that flourishes despite the ravages wrought by humanities steadfast dedication to its own all consuming self-interest.

Sometimes I want to cry out “Put away your smart phones and ear pieces, put aside your cares and anxiety, let go your ambition and haste. Stop, look and listen and be amazed. Hear that bird song, see the ants darting about beneath your feet, walk around rather than walk through that Pigeon looking for food. Take moment and spare a thought and a crumb for those birds gathered at your feet watching you eat your lunch. They might like a little taste as well. Feeding the birds can do wonders for your wellbeing’.


The Pukeko



My Two Grandfathers: The Gardeners.

November 1, 2016




Both my grandfathers were vegetable gardeners through necessity. Bob because he was dirt poor for a good half his life and had a family to feed and Bill because he was a farmer in age when going to town to buy supplies was a luxury. So ingrained in their natures was the task that they both maintained large gardens until their deaths never growing less than enough to sustain both themselves and their long dispersed families.

Bob was a ‘by the book’ man, the legendary ‘Yates Garden Guide’ to be specific, and applied the recommended chemicals at the correct time of year to the sticky mustard coloured clays of the Western Waikato where he lived. His garden was all neatly boxed in straight rows in stark contrast to Bill’s which was a bit of a jungle. Bill was a soil man and the sandy loam of the central Waikato was his canvas.

“Look after the soil” he would say “and the rest will take care of itself” and it did. Both made compost but for Bob this soil building material was simply an adjunct while for Bill it was everything. Besides his numerous compost bins Bill dug long trenches in his garden filling them with leaves, grass clippings and cow manure. He also saved his urine for the fruit trees and the cabbages. Bob would never conceive of such a thing especially when you could achieve the same effect with a bag of fertiliser. I don’t think Bill ever added anything from a bag to his soil, he was an ‘organic’ gardener, Bob was not.

Bill followed a tradition his mother had bought over from the ‘old country’ (Ireland) and kept a corner of the garden “for the fairies”.  The story goes: provide a safe spot for the fairies and in return they will protect the garden. Lush with wild carrot and parsnip, comfrey, lemon balm and a whole assortment of self-sown grasses this technique was not as obtuse as it might at first appear. This untamed patch was a breeding ground for the kind of predator insects that hunted the less desirable creatures that can be a gardener’s nightmare. Bob just sprayed chemicals over everything.

Bob’s garden, as prolific as it was, always struck me as a bit sterile while Bill’s was something of an exercise in esoteric spirituality. Surrounded by a wall of wild parsnip and mustard that stood a good seven feet tall by early summer, his garden thrilled to the sound of bees and butterflies and every leaf hung low under the weight of ladybirds (the ultimate predatory insect). The soil was a mass of worm casts and fungi proliferated. His was an ecosystem, Bob’s was a carefully maintained production facility. That said, both methods worked well and the crops were abundant.

Bob’s speciality was garlic, onions and shallots; Bill’s was carrots and potatoes and when he was in the mood, watermelons. Huge juicy things of the like I have never been able to find at the supermarket. Bob’s wife Cath pickled the smaller onions and all the shallots and together they would harvest, prepare and freeze enough beans and peas to keep them supplied through the year. Bill’s wife Sylvia bottled everything until one year, fed up with the toil and grind, announced that she had had enough and put it to rest. After that they just pulled what they needed straight from the rich soil at the back of the house supplementing with store bought stuff.

I spent much of my pre-school years living with Bob and Cath. I remember the scratchy aroma of chemicals coming from the tool shed and the rich scent of garlic lifting up through the house from the vegetable storage racks in the basement. By this stage Bob was the manager of the local State owned coal mine and had a gardener tending to his crops, trimming his hedges and mowing his lawns.

Bill ploughed up a bit of paddock every year and teased sackfuls of produce from the loam. This was in addition to the garden at the house. He also grew citrus of every conceivable stripe not forgetting plums, apples and feijoa. His Rome Beauties still are the best apple I have ever had and his fig tree was a miracle. A magnet for birds he had set up a system of interconnected rattling cans and with a tug on the wire that reached in through the kitchen window, sent the birds scattering at his leisure. The contest for those florid violet beauties was intense.

In the high summer we would often sit under the plum tree eating the bird pecked fruit lying on the ground, “the birds know exactly which fruit is ripest and if it is bird pecked you can be sure it is good.” Otherwise we talked soil and nothing gave either of us more pleasure than turning over a sod and examining the worms, fungi and various wriggling insects. “A healthy soil provides” Bill would say. When I repeated this to Bob he would look at me as if I was talking a foreign language. In his eyes Bill was a bit dreamy and impractical.

Bob had no fruit trees but he knew who did and sometimes in the evening of a the late summer we would go raiding. Probably not the kind of activity a man of his standing in the community should be indulging in but he revelled in the sneaking about and the quaffing of stolen fruit. I admired Bob. He was self-made man who had endured an inordinate amount of suffering through his life. Bill’s life had been altogether easier and while both men were about as different as chalk and cheese both shared a mischievous of humour that suggested in some ways that both were still boys at heart.

Bob was somewhat O.C.D, as demonstrated by manicured perfection of his garden. Bill was anything but. Everything he touched was an experiment in make-do and delightfully ramshackle. Both men had their difficulties as husbands and fathers but by the time I rolled around they had found their rhythm and were ready to pass on what they had learned, grateful I think for a young soul eager to listen.

Both were mentors and both offered me varied glimpses of the secret magic they saw the world and later when I had my own family and set in a garden to feed them I discovered a bit of both men at work in my style. Like Bill I was devoted to the philosophy of soil and like Bob I kept it all perfectly manicured and clockwork. I maintained a wild place for the fairies staying true to ages old tradition while maintaining an interest in the orthodox. Often when I was out the back weeding or spreading compost I caught myself talking to one or another. With Bob it was all about process and organisation, with Bill it was all about ideas, invention and soil.

Both died at roughly the same age, in their mid-eighties. Bill just dropped dead in front of me and Dad while we were out on the farm one morning and Bob spent his last year or so in an Alzheimer’s facility. I remember Bob, a biblical Christian, saying that a man was due “three score years and ten” (60-70 years depending on the source) and should expect no more. Bill’s wife had done her time on the farm and was ready for the easier pace of town life. He didn’t want to go and as it turned out, didn’t have to.






This is Zed Brookes (Hamilton Music Legend)

June 15, 2016


Zed Brookes behind the counter at Tandy’s Te Awamutu sometime in the early 1980’s

Between 1985-95, Zed Brookes was an essential part of the greater Waikato music scene. During his ten years behind the desk, first at Tandy’s then The Zoo Recording studios, he recorded hundreds of demos, EPs, albums and singles in a variety of musical styles from alt-rock to metal, country, pop, experimental, folk ……..well you name it and he did it always with a smile, a quick and wit and unflappable efficiency. Zed, a calm perfectionist, was the master at getting it done right and sounding good, but that is only part of the story. Outside of the studio, Zed has led a number of successful bands including Step Chant Unit and Schrödinger’s Cat and sat in on several others including MOoFish and Silken Blue. Zed Brookes is no household name, not by a long chalk, but his influence on a generation of Waikato music makers, as a mentor/educator, engineer and musician is one that is long overdue for acknowledgement.

Mark Brooks was born July 1960 in Lanark Scotland. He was 5 years old when the family emigrated to NZ, settling first on Auckland’s North Shore before moving to Mt Roskill and then back to Scotland. “I was 7 years old when we returned to Scotland and by then I had lost my Scottish brogue. The kids at school mocked my Kiwi accent mercilessly, calling me Frenchie while throwing stones at me.” Fortunately for the oddly accented Mark, this Scottish sojourn was temporary and a year later the family were back in Mt Roskill.

Zed recalls always being into music and remembers with particular fondness sitting in front of the families radiogram aged around 7, exploring his fathers “curious” record collection which included a number of Hank Williams records and classics like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, a juxtaposition of sounds which informed the proto-musician in ways that would emerge many years later.

By the time his teenage years rolled around, his tastes, in part due to the influence of his father’s record collection were by comparison with his peers at Green Bay High somewhat unusual and included Eno, (here he cites Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as especially influential), The B-52s Devo, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. “I was a teenage music radical,” laughs Zed, “always on the lookout for something out of the box.”

It was Devo who steered Zed toward his first instrument, the bass guitar. The bass guitar is not often the first port of call for a young ‘wannabe’ musician, but Brookes was drawn to both its sound, “I liked the low frequencies,” and in the case of Devo, “it’s looks”. Devo’s bassist Gerald Casale played a custom made bass of unusual design, one that the teenage Brookes found rather fascinating, enough so that he decided to make a replica. At this stage he had an after school job assembling bunk beds in a joinery factory. Using the factories equipment and an old second bass he has as a template, he cut a guitar shape similar to Casale’s then designed and built a preamp and using the pickups from the old bass, assembled his first instrument.

Brookes is a natural when it comes to technical matters, perhaps a proclivity inherited from his father who was a marine engineer, and thought the sciences were going to be the place where he could apply his skills and make a living, so after leaving school in 1978 he took up a trainee position as Lab technician with Scion, a Crown Research Institute based in Rotorua. Scion specialized in forestry research but aside from a project that turned wood pulp into alcohol he found the work boring.

Of more interest was the bass guitar and his downtime was spent practicing in his room at the forestry workers hostel he called home, fielding complaints about “the bloody racket”. His first band was a 3-piece proto-synth band called ‘Zena and the Diodes’, a name he choose because it echoed his burgeoning interest in electronics. Zena, a kind of diode, was also the source of the nickname by which he has forever since been know. “I had three friends called Mark and it was kind of confusing and people started calling me Big Z, after the Z in the bands title, and after a while that became plain Z.”



Brookes at work in his Home based 8-Track Cassette Recording Studio somewhere in early 1980’s.

Zena and the Diodes started off as a covers band whose music was all about “what we could play rather than what we wanted to play and whatever it was that could get us through a gig, usually a mix of blues (which appealed to the local pub audience and some Devo for ourselves).” As the band became more adept it evolved into more of an alt-band and as the line-up stabilized, focused more and more on original material.

In 1981, the band, feeling somewhat frustrated by the small Rotorua scene, relocated to the bright lights of Hamilton City in search of opportunity, the move also bringing an end to any notions Zed has about being a scientist. The band at this time is described by Zed as a proto-synth band with an ever-evolving catalogue of technology that did not include a guitar. “It’s not that we didn’t want a guitar, it’s just that we had failed to find someone who was the right fit.” The lack of a guitarist becoming something of a marketing hook and being as they were at the forefront of a new fashion for synth orientated bands they managed to draw reasonable crowds of the curious every time every time they played the Hilly (Hillcrest Tavern).

With his attention turning ever more to matters musical Zed cashed in his life insurance and purchased a Tascam Porta-Studio 242 (a 4-track cassette recording system) and taught him self the basics of recording while demoing the bands songs. Itching for some extra sound colour, Zed made the switch to guitar when they discovered a compatible bassist in Dean Carter. With a guitar in the lineup and with a new drummer (Neville Sergent) the band decided that along with a change in sound, a new name was in order.

Names were put into a hat and the result was Step Chant Unit. The bands first release, the 1983 cassette EP ‘I.C Dreams’, was recorded on the Tascam but the song that was to make their name was recorded at Mandrill in Auckland for the princely sum of $2500. Zed: “Painting Pictures was an expensive song to record and the time spent making and paying for it basically equaled the lifespan of the band.”


The song was picked up by Wellington label Jayrem and was released in 1985. Painting Pictures peaked at 26 on the national singles charts and suddenly the band found them selves in demand. They were flown down to TVNZ’s Avalon studios in Wellington to film a clip for Radio with Pictures and with the national exposure were able to tour the North Island to reasonably sized audiences and score support slots with some of the bigger touring acts bands like Peking Man. Step Chant Unit ceased operating in 1985 when Zed went to work full time as a studio engineer at Tandy’s recording Studio.



Through the 1980s and 90s you could find a Tandy’s Record Store on the main street of just about every town throughout the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and King Country and it was via drummer Neville Sergent who worked behind the counter at a branch of Tandy’s that Zed met the chains owner Neil Nooyen, a meeting which opened the door to the next phase of his professional career. At this stage Zed was working at a glass factory in Hamilton, (he notes here with some irony that his specialty was cutting soundproof glass, a product he would soon be buying) and had just recently sliced the tips of four fingers on one hand and almost lost a finger. He remember playing four nights in row at the Hillcrest Tavern in considerable pain and leapt at the opportunity to move to a less dangerous job and one more in tune with his inclinations.

Nooyen owned a small lifestyle block on Morrinsville Road at the cities southeastern edge and finding themselves at ease in each other company hatched a plan to convert the hay barn into a recording studio. Zed was tasked with the design and fit out and in 1985 the studio opened for business. Zed: “We started out with my Tascam Portastudio and recorded bands and artists live to cassette until we met Rex Wade who had was running a 4-Track Reel to Reel recorder in a small studio near Pirongia.” Rex joined the team and the studio upgraded with the 4-track being replaced by a 16 track when Rex left. While working at Tandy’s, Zed met former Three Men Missing keyboardist Sue Brown. They married, produced 2 sons and an EP under the name Silken Blue. They eventually parted ways.

In 1993 Zed met Grant Hislop who had recently moved to Hamilton to start two radio stations, (The Rock and The Buzzard re: The Edge). With the radio projects providing a steady cash flow, Grant’s next plan was to finance a record label (Hark, specializing in regional NZ music) and recording studio whose primary focus would be to record music for the label. Local rockers Blackjack approached Hislop and asked him to playlist a track off their album ‘Deal’ which had been recorded and produced by Brookes at Tandy’s in 1992.

Hislop was impressed with the quality of the recording and approached Zed with an offer. With a huge budget at his disposal, Zed was invited to design, build and fit out a state of the art recording facility. He accepted and a few months later The Zoo opened for business on the main street of Hamilton, a 24/7 commercial production facility that served The Rock and The Edge, feed Hark Records and made a little money on the side as the regions first school of audio engineering.



Zed Brookes begins work on the Zoo recording Studio, North End Victoria Street Hamilton 1993.

When The Zoo went into liquidation in 1997, (Hislop’s eventually sold his shares in the radio network he had been building to maintain both The Zoo and Hark’s expansion, but with cash flow expectations not keeping up with Hislop’s ambitions, the whole thing eventually collapsed), the Waikato Polytechnic (now WINTEC) purchased much of the equipment for their burgeoning School of Media Arts and contracted Zed to install it. It turned out to be an agreeable association and Zed stayed on as a tutor and returned to making music.



Zed Brookes in Sydney working on the mix for the Narc’s ‘Push The Boat Out’ 1996.

Schrödinger’s Cat (later renamed Wonderbug before morphing into St. Lucy) operated from1997- 2000. The 2000 EP ‘Joes Brain’ sold out at the release gig at the legendary Hamilton Venue J.B.C (Jazz Blues Concept Bar) and a track ‘Don’t Matter’ appeared on the TV series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.



Brookes with Schrödinger’s Cat and life partner Susie Warwick.

In 1999 Zed worked with Chris and Rhonda (Hoffmans) Johnson (formerly Three Men Missing) on their MOoFish project. A resulting album, ‘MOoFishin’, was released in the USA after the track ‘Dark Side of A Man’s Mind’ received substantial airplay on through the American College Radio network. The album spent several weeks on CMJ College Music Charts.

While working at The Waikato Polytechnic Zed completed a Graduate Certificate in Music and Film Sound through Queensland’s Griffith’s University and in the early 2000s moved to Auckland. After a time working in production at Mai FM he returned to teaching Audio Engineering, this time at MAINZ. Besides his work as an educator, Zed runs a Sound Production Facility from his home on Auckland’s North Shore, makes music as a solo artists Bemuzed and Mr Zeberdee and continues to participate in various band projects, the more recent include DMZ and outfit he formed with former Step Chant Unit bassist Dean Carter. They released one album in 2007 called Ampersand. Zed’s long awaited debut solo-album ‘Oh Cacophony’ is on its way and should be available sometime in late 2016.


Brookes alter-ego Mr Zeberdee with his song Zombies from 2014

Brookes the Educator from his tutorial series Logic Pro for Smarties.

Production, tracking, mixing, or mastering work includes;

Midge Marsden and Bullfrog Rata/The Datsuns/Malevolence/Backyard Burial/ Katchafire – Revival album/The Babysitters Circus – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright – Single,/Maitreya – Aio album/Nina McSweeney/Alan Brown Trio/The Twitch/Ritchie Pickett – All Strung Out in an Bunch album/ Dead Flowers/Hoola Troupe/Goon/Trillion/Liam Ryan/The Narcs – Push the Boat Out album/Matthew Bannister/The Drongos/Rattler/Knightshade/Blackjack – Deal and Kicasso d’Muse albums/Moofish/Book of Martyrs – Purified 7x album/The Boogadagas/John Michaelz & The Stone Babies/Rumpus Room/Kokomo Blues/Scooter/Tweeter/Love and Violence/Tim Armstrong/Bad Jelly/King Biscuit/Tetnus/Calamari Bushmen/Exploding Poppies/Bilge Festival/Davey Beige/Andrew Johnstone-Wallflower album/Silken Blue/Jacqui Keelan/Merenia–Maiden Voyage album/Step Chant Unit/Neil Nooyen/Road to Amber/DMZ/Schrodinger’s Cat/Wonderbug/Adult Mayflys/PD Corp/Jim ‘an’ Joe/Broken English/Pretty Belinda/Second Helping/Te Tapu/Zooper/Enshrine/Dead Pan Rangers/Daisy Chain Halo/5 Girls/Bitumus/Bruce Dennis/Brendan Dugan/Cygnet Committee/Datura/Desperate Chaps/Henderwood/Inchworm/J Harry Long/Joe 90/Leithe/Loose New Romans/No Thrills/Pieces of Cod/Pregnant Hippies/Psyclops/Somersault/St Lucy/Step Chant Unit/Subliminal Warfare/The Crawfords/Three Men Missing/Valhalla/Whisperscream.


 Love Injection from ‘The Wallflower’ by A. Johnstone Recorded and Produced Zed Brookes at Tandy’s and The Zoo Recording Studios Hamilton NZ 1990-93


Bands and Discography:


Zena and the Diodes

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes

Drums: Malcolm Lowfroth (aka Flat Beer), Roy Morris, Paul Morgan

Guitar: Andy Bangs, Graeme Durham

Keyboards: Sue Toms.

The First (1981)

Drums: Steve Tarr

Guitar and Vocals: Paul Hetet

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes

Keyboards: Sue Toms

The Lemmings 1982-83

Drums and Vocals: Malcolm Lofroth

Keyboards: Sue Toms

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes



Step Chant Unit 1983-88

Bass and Vocals: Zed Brookes, Dean Carter

Keyboards: Sue Toms, Stephen Giles

Drums: Neville Sergent

Guitar: Roy Forlong, Mark Wilson, Brian Brighting

I.C Dreams 1993 Cassette EP

1.I.C. Dream

2.Planet Zero

3.Into the Storm

4.Rainy Day


Painting Pictures 12” 1985 Jayrem

Side A: Painting Pictures

Side B: The Game/Painting Pictures Alternative remix


Silken Blue 1991:

Keyboards: Sooz Brown, Grant Brodie

Bass: Zed Brookes

Guitar: Dave Hickling

Silken Blue EP 1991


MOoFish 1999:

Guitar, Keyboards: Chris Johnson

Vocals, Guitar: Rhonda Hoffmans Johnson

Programming, Keyboards, Bass: Zed Brookes

Album: MOoFishin


Schrodinger’s Cat 1997-2000:

Guitar, vocals: Zed Brookes

Drums: Natalie McKelvie

Guitar, Vocals: Mark Tupuhi

Bass: Aaron Watkinson, Dave Terris

EP Joe’s Brain 2000

1.Don’t Matter

2.Joe’s Brain

3.Perfect Wave

4.Shades of Grey


Wonderbug 2000-2002:

Guitar, Vocals: Zed Brookes

Guitar, Vocals: Mark Tupuhi

Drums: Natalie McKelvey



DMZ 2003 >

Guitar: Zed Brookes

Bass: Dean Carter

Drums: Mark Griffiths

Album: Ampersand 2007


Darkelle 2012:

Guitar, Keyboards and Vocals: Zed Brookes, Julz Taylor-Reid

Bass, Keyboards and Vocals: Aaron Watkinson


‘Oh Cacophony’ 2016

Solo album featuring Jan Hellriegel.

Zed Brookes: Producer/Engineer/Instruments/Vocals.

All songs by Zed Brooks.

Racism in New Zealand

May 28, 2016




Great Aunt Eva was a figure on the families periphery and not long before she died at the age of 92 I sat down with her curious to learn more about her life. I asked why she had never married and she explained that there had been someone once but her intuition warned her against it. He was a heavy drinker who later turned into an alcoholic and drank himself to an early grave. “A close escape,” she mused. For many decades a chain smoker, evident in her heavily wrinkled skin and gravely voice, she cadged a cigarette off me- her last as it turned out- and after a couple of puffs stubbed it out remarking that it held no interest for her anymore.

A career dental assistant and sometime nurse she gave up work to nurse her aged mother through dementia, an all-consuming 15-year affair that come with a high personal and emotional cost. In return for giving up her career to care for her mother her siblings renounced all claims on the families Dairy Farm (at Waharoa near Matamata in the Eastern Waikato) and it was given to her for her dedication to “mum”. With the farm income she lived out a long and comfortable retirement playing golf, spending time with family and travelling the world.

Her mother was Irish and her father a Scot who had been in NZ for several decades living on land he had procured by ballot. (The Liberal government of the late 1900’s had broken up the large family owned estates that dominated the NZ rural landscape at the time and through various schemes most notably the Ballot- a kind of lottery- had enabled people without few means the opportunity to acquire land on easy financial terms). He had developed the land into a productive dairy operation and raised a family and buried a wife before he met my great grandmother who had secured the farm next door, also by ballot.

She was infamously canny with money and she paid for the development of her land by handling the accounts of her neighbours including the Scot next door. Eventually they married, combined the farms and produced 5 children. Eva described a happy and carefree childhood and revealed her parents to be kind, hard working and practical. As she described farm life her thoughts fell to a small group of local Maori, (the former ‘owners’ of the land though Eva would not have considered them as such. The orthodox logic of time held that Maori did not understand the economic potential of land and were therefore poor custodians), who lived in whare made from fern and manuka down the back of the farm where it ended on the banks of the Waihou River.

A remanent population of a much larger tribal group that had been displaced by the land wars of the 1860s, this small isolated group lived on eels fished out of the river and whatever else they could glean which included milk, fruit and vegetables from the Johnstone family farm. “They were dirty ill-kept thieves,” she informed me, “lazy and untrustworthy.” A harsh assessment I thought as I considered their condition.

They had only recently lost their land, their culture had been subsumed and they had been banished to the fringes of the new social order. Being from a co-operative tribal culture I assumed that they saw anything growing on the land as mutual property. I imagined them living in their whare, somewhat bewildered by the momentous changes going on about them, unable to engage because of a lack of education and appropriate language skills and surviving as best they could in the only way they knew how. I explained this perspective to Eva whose eyes widened. She seemed startled at this idea and gathering her thoughts she looked squarely at me and wondered if I might be right?

She died suddenly two days later, the last of a pioneering generation whose immediate forebears had fled social oppression in search of freedom, opportunity and in the case of some at least, a desire to create a nation free of the hierarchical constraints they had left behind in the old country. In many regards they succeeded spectacularly but this was nation of two halves.

Besides the liberal voice seeking social equity there was a more potent and powerful voice determined that this new nation maintain a cultural balance firmly tilted in favour of White, Christian and British. This was to be a progressive society but only for the chosen few. It was also a society determined to undermine its founding document, a formal declaration of partnership between Maori and the British Crown called The Treaty of Waitangi.




A Nations Founding Document.

The heyday of colonialism was stuttering to a close and the Maori encountered the British at time when that Empire had become somewhat more enlightened as regards its responsibilities as a ruling power and in this light the Maori managed to negotiate a treaty the likes of which had not been achieved by any colonised people anywhere through this age of cultural subjection. In brief:

‘The Treaty is a broad statement of principles on which the British and Māori made a political compact to found a nation state and build a government in New Zealand. The document has three articles. In the English version, Māori cede the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell, and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects’.

– Te Ara Encyclopaedia of NZ

NZ was a brand spanking new democracy and Maori were full participants from the start and here on these isolated islands at worlds end the two peoples worked and lived side by side fully equal under the law, a state of being somewhat blighted by the European world-view of the time. The wisdom was that the white races were somewhat superior and deserved inheritors of the world a methodology of thinking that led to outrageous treaty breaches as regards land ownership. As a result Maori were often violently disrespected, insulted and manipulated endlessly by a system that promised much but seldom delivered on those promises.

Perhaps this fight for Maori equality is best exemplified through the story of the Maori Battalion, a much-eulogised unit of the NZ army that fought valiantly on several fronts through World War Two. Maori leaders at the time hoped that but fighting harder faster and better than anyone else Pakeha would wake from their dream of superiority start to treat Maori more with respect.

It didn’t happen and as late as 1960 the South Auckland town of Pukekohe banned Maori from hotel bars, barbershops and general seating in movie theatres. This was neither standard nor unusual and wholly against the spirit of the law and the Treaty of Waitangi. It was also a glaring reflection of the attitudes at work in the hearts of many Pakeha and by the 1970s rolled around Maori had had enough and started exerting themselves to the fright of the nation. Almost 40 years later Maori now compensated, consulted and recipients of all manner of formalised apologies are still considered by much of mainstream culture as second rate though few in their right mind would ever dare say so out loud.

A friend recalls being on a course with a Maori guy who she described as pleasant but somewhat haunted. Though they talked extensively and got to know each other well he would never meet her eyes, a trait which upset her. She queried this and he confided that next to Pakeha he felt like a second-class citizen and a lesser human being. To him this feeling was visceral and kept him form fulfilling his potential as a citizen, which was why he was on this particular course: seeking a solution to his pain and confusion.

120 years of land confiscations and cultural subjugation had taken a psychological toll of the sort that scars the intergenerational psyche and this troubled man was but a symptom of this scarring. This pain has manifested itself through mental illness, anger and emotional dislocation serving the behavioural dysfunction that many Pakeha identify as a Maori trait.




A Covertly Racist Society.

The Maori were not the only people to suffer from Pakeha notions racial superiority. Until the 1960s immigration laws were covertly structured to exclude or dissuade anyone not of British or Irish origin including Indians, a policy that was seriously questioned by the UK who considered Indians to be British subjects. While Scandinavian’s, Czech’s, German’s and French got a relatively easy time (NZ often struggled to find enough suitable migrants and when quotas were not filled, Western Europe was the next best stop though few could be persuaded to travel so far from home) the more exotic Dalmatian’s (a major migrant group originating from Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast) found themselves restricted and frequently victimised by laws designed to favour people of British heritage.

During the Second World War NZ accepted 734-orphaned Polish children at the behest of the Polish government in exile. These children infamously found themselves in a climate informed by suspicion and prejudice and were hardly able to cope unlike the robust working class Dutch adults who, fulfilling NZ’s requirements for white similarity, flooded a post war country desperate for skilled tradesmen. Many came from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia and some unfortunates discovered that even a drop of Indonesian blood disqualified them as suitable migrant material.

Early Chinese migrants lured here by the prospect of finding riches on the Otago goldfields in the 1860’s encountered appalling racism and a tax designed to discourage them. The nation was wary of the ‘Yellow Peril’ (it was feared that the Chinese might overrun us through sheer force of numbers) and besides they were heathen opium smokers with strange ways. In 2002 the NZ Government formally apologised to the local Chinese community for past injustices yet despite this acknowledgement the Chinese remain the first port of call when the media need someone to blame for whatever trouble is about- everything from bad driving to property prices.

That same year the Government also apologised to Western Samoa for the abuse this community suffered while a colony of New Zealand (1920-35), which brings to mind the 1970s and the lot of Polynesian migrants who had arrived in droves through the 1950s to fill labour shortages in factories. By the 1970s the economy was undergoing decline and these same migrants were now a useful scapegoat for governments seeking easy solutions to complex problems.

These events, much like our cosy relationship with apartheid era South Africa stand today as rank examples of how low Pakeha can sink when given the chance. With South Africa we reached a kind of nadir when we succumbed time and again to requests from the apartheid -era South African government to exclude players of colour from touring the country with the All-Blacks.

The Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team, played their first match against the NZ Natives during their 1921 tour of NZ and it was reported that it disgusted them. The All-Blacks excluded Maori players from their 1928 South African tour at the request of the South African government and though the Springbok refused to play a ‘native’ team on their 1937 visit to NZ, Maori were not excluded from the All-Blacks.

In 1959 the All-Blacks were invited to tour South Africa and again were asked to leave out players of colour. The outrage at this grievous insult to Maori reached fever pitch with 160,000 people signing an anti-tour petition and thousands more marching down the mainstreets of the nation in protest, all to no-avail.

The rugby field was the one place where Maori and Pakeha found unity and common cause and with this decision the Pakeha administered game of Rugby, blinded by its own self-regard, handed Maori one hell of a slap in the face proving once again that despite the promise of Waitangi, this was a Pakeha country and when push cam to shove, Maori be damned. It took until 1981 for the Rugby Union to change its ways and only after some of the most virulent public protests this country has ever seen.

A Department of External Affairs memorandum from 1953 stated: “Our immigration is based firmly on the principle that we are and intend to remain a country of European development. It is inevitably discriminatory against Asians – indeed against all persons who are not wholly of European race and colour. Whereas we have done much to encourage immigration from Europe, we do everything to discourage it from Asia.’

By the 1960s NZ began to re-examine its ideas about race and culture and in 1971 the then Prime Minister Norman Kirk argued that our future as a people lay with Asia and the Pacific and we should no longer judge migrants on colour, race and religion. Finally we had begun our long march toward a better standard of human regard.


Pākehā is a Māori language term for New Zealanders who are “of European descent.”

Eva, like many of her generation, had never stopped to properly examine the circumstance of the Maori and her experience with a small and disparate band without means living at on the margins had forever framed her outlook, an outlook not uncommon amongst Pakeha of that era. I remember as a child listening to adults publically describing Maori in less than generous terms. By the time I had become an adult the only thing that had changed was that now it that it had become unacceptable to voice these kinds of thoughts out loud and in public. The terms had changed but the method has become more surreptitious.

Maori had bent under the weight on the Pakeha onslaught but eventually sprung back and using Pakeha law, the same law that undid them in the first place, forced the nation to address injustice and while Pakeha have finally acknowledged their treaty obligations certain attitudes remain unchanged (though not unchallenged). Comments behind closed doors like “I am not racist but………” and devious jokes designed to belittle and reinforce stereotypical notions of Maoridom sadly abound. Despite our shared history, Maori remain in many minds the somewhat lesser cousin: tolerated, occasionally respected but somehow never quite up to the mark.

Ides of racial superiority have morphed into resentment about the cost of Treaty, which really hasn’t cost much considering the current value of land and its bounty. Mostly the treaty cash has given Maori enterprise capital and across the nation tribes have been building profitable endeavours that have contributed not insubstantially to the overall wealth and wellbeing of the nation.

Pakeha judgement casts a long shadow and while we deny our racism but it is an undeniable undercurrent that haunts perception. Parliamentary speeches going back a century demonstrate that alongside discriminating and dissenting voices are other voices that recognise the plight of Maori and have long sought redress and redemption. It has been a long battle that remains unresolved in many hearts and minds here in Aotearoa.




Racism Is Alive and Well Though Not Unchallenged.

There is a strain of decency running deep through the heart of Pakeha culture but when confronted by challenges to the cultural status quo we often slip into racial cliché and confused garbling as we seek to reconsider the world and our position in it. Not all of us, but an aspect of us and this reaction is natural if misshapen. Eva was an average person of her time whose truth was shaped by a particular mythology about the world and the white persons place in it. It is a mythology that no longer dominates but regardless Pakeha racism remains alive and active.

I remember my first day as Sales Manager for an Auckland company in 2010. I opened the previous managers company email to discover that some of the staff were sharing anti-Maori jokes. I confronted the people in question and were met with shame-faced denials. I understood that these actions were more to do with thoughtlessness than anything else, much like the words I encountered one day while travelling across Hamilton on a city bus.

I was the helpless and unfortunate witness to a very loud conversation between a group of Pakeha high school girls sitting in the seat immediately behind me. “Where do get off?” asks one girl of another. The girl explains and her companion responds “Oh, that’s a dirty Maori suburb.” “Yeah I know,” she responded, “I hate Maoris.” Her friend laughs “Oh me too.” Sitting behind them were several Maori, both young and old. Like me I am sure they had no choice but to hear and I felt shocked and upset for them, myself and the girls in question. Sometimes ignorance is simply what it is and sometimes it is wilful. I hope in this case it was just plain old ignorance informed by youthful thoughtlessness.


On the bright side I spent several hours on the streets of Auckland talking to Asian and Indian students about Kiwi’s and racism. The response was positive and along the lines of “Kiwi’s are very nice and helpful and no, I have not encountered any racism.” The only negative came from a group of Saudi Arabian boys who were angry at the way Kiwi men interacted with women. “The have no respect, they treat woman as friends and equals and this is against our culture.” To a tee they found this offensive and especially so in regard to their female compatriots. “Kiwi men should not talk with them in such a friendly manner, this is very bad and they insult us when they chat with strangers the way they should only chat with their sisters or mother.”

Culture is a complex thing and should be navigated with care and informed consideration by all sides. Too often this is not the case and results are not pretty. My immediate mental response to these boys was to think “your cultural perspective is outdated” and perhaps I should have said something but I remembered another conversation with a young Saudi woman who is in NZ studying computer science. (She chose NZ because of its reputation for peace, safety and kindness).

Her widowed father, guardian to a family of daughters, did not see the world in this way at all and his daughter described him as “enlightened” and “encouraging”. This and stories I has been reading about female activism in part of the world give me hope that the outlook of these boys is essentially doomed. History is against them and the wars raging across the Middle East at this time are in part but a response to the momentous changes sweeping through the hearts and minds in the Middle East. New ideas about culture and society are displacing the old and the old is responding with anger, the only method it has left in its fight to remain relevant.


Changing Attitudes.

NZ has come a long way over the last 50 odd years. This once racist society has overcome its worst tendencies and is now ranked consistently among the world’s most open and progressive societies. It is a socially bold young nation and our ability to overcome our worst tendencies is a great lesson for the world at large. We must never forget the wrongs that we have perpetuated and the ease at which we often gravitate toward the lowest common denominator but nor should be underestimate our strong collective impulse for better and fairer.

This is a nation without a formal document to define us, our constitution is unwritten but it exists deep in our communal heart. It asks us to be fair and decent, to live and let live, to be trustworthy, virtuous and honest, to consider those with less and to be compassionate in our approach to all things. Pakeha follow this method vigorously as regards other Pakeha but sometimes forget that ‘me’ is actually ‘we’ and that ‘we’ includes Maori, Asian, Polynesian, Indian and all the other diverse peoples with whom we share these islands.

Resentments and misunderstanding still discolour the relationship between the two peoples central to the life of this nation and there is still much healing required before Maori can properly stand tall amidst humanities vast cultural swirl and as for Pakeha…… a little more self-reflective soul searching would do us all a world of good.

The future is a world is one where humanity is not defined by colour, religion or sexuality but by the quality of our actions. Some of us already know this, some are still learning it, others deny it and some have yet to consider it. This is humanity in motion today, an evolving broader culture fuelled by better access to information available beyond the old physical and mental borders that defined us before the age of super-fast communications.

Racism is composed of many factors, some being informed by an instinctual mistrust of strangers (those whose colour and culture are different to our own) and others being informed by social conditioning. I remember as a child being possessed of negative racial notions toward Maori and others, notions inherited from my family and community but as I grew into myself I discovered that these feeling were not my own and I was able to easily shuck them off. To my relief I discovered that I was essentially colour blind and that I viewed culture not as an irrefutable natural law set in stone, rather as a series of habits: some good, some bad making culture –in my mind at least – a malleable method of social organisation capable of positive evolution.

When I sat down to write this story I had little idea of the journey and challenges ahead and how little I actually knew about my own cultures racist past. The research, thinking and consideration has been a cathartic experience that has done my heart and mind a world of good. This effort has better informed me, altered my perceptions and made me better than I was. Who could ask for more?



Though I did not agree with her brand of middle class Pakeha politics I always liked Eva and we become great friends towards the end of her life. I will forever remain grateful to her for that conversation as it sparked something in me that facilitated change. I lived and worked in a small community whose conservative social views clashed with my own my liberal inclinations and still young and unsure of my own voice I had gotten used to nodding my head in agreement with things I did not agree with in order to maintain peace. After that encouraging talk with Eva I felt less inclined to do so and with her death following soon after it freed me of the need to consider regard when discussing difficult topics with loved ones.

Besides the sunroom, kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom Eva kept the rest of her 1940s brick and tile house in the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest effectively sealed. She had no need of it and kept the heavy curtains tightly drawn. The house was dark, cool and quiet, an odd oasis of peace. She was dutiful, cared for her extended family and possessed a good heart capable of grand sacrifice and I could not help but think that has she been born back in Ireland she might have spent out her days serving as a Nun.

Whenever I called in National Radio was playing in the background and the Herald and the Listener were spread out on the little table in the cosy sunroom out the back. She loved Winston Peters and his brand of opportunistic politics: “I like what he says,” she would say but I was never going to agree with her on that topic so I kept my mouth shut and let her talk.

She was a champion of the golf player and several engraved cups in the cabinet at the Walton course where she was a member are probably the only physical proofs left outside her gravestone to remind us that she once walked the earth. Those who knew her in person are now few and far between. Eva is buried at the cemetery off Morrinsville Road near Hamilton and lies next to her beloved mother, Mary. Her time was due as were her generations general attitudes toward non-Pakeha peoples.




Auckland and Hamilton: A Personal Tale of Two Cities.

April 16, 2016


Hamilton, The City of Floating Balloons.

The Southern Pacific Ocean as defined by the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific is an exotic and mysterious paradise that warmed by a benign sun, caressed by a gentle breeze and exists a perpetual state of dreamlike serenity. It is an region that includes Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, The Cook Islands and the North of the North Island of NZ, that gently scented air petering out at Auckland.

Auckland, New Zealand’s most populous city, has a particular feel to it, one that sets it apart from every other city in the country. It is an especially Polynesian vibe courtesy of that breeze, and while it has lost much of the regions heat by the time it touches the city, it is still redolent with the scent of the tropics.

There has always been something of South Pacific the musical about Auckland for me: the volcanic peaks, the tone of the light, the salt air casting off the Waitemata Harbour and whenever I chanced to hear ‘Bali-Hai’ my thoughts turned to that city, a comparison that makes little sense but that is the associative power of the imagination for you.

The farm I grew up on in the central Waikato some two hours south of Auckland was formed from an English mould, all bucolic pastureland interspersed with oak and walnut trees the native flora long banished to fire and the first thing that struck me on those rare Auckland visits was the plant life. Most notable was the majestic Pohutukawa, a rare form of tree in the heavily Anglicised Waikato, and a host of other semi-tropical forms whose names I could not describe but whose features told my untrained eyes a different sort of natural history story to the one I was most used to.

Perhaps the most telling difference between home and Auckland was the grass. Kikuyu is a harsh and brittle grass introduced from Zimbabwe in the 1920s and suited to the hard clay soils of the Auckland region. An unkindly juxtaposition against the soft lush ryes and clovers of the Waikato, it was the one thing about Auckland I didn’t like. Whenever we went to Auckland to visit relatives I would stare out the car window at this grass and wonder at the wisdom of it.

Kikuyu is an ungainly predator that will overwhelm anything in its presence creeping out over edging and up trees. Its trail is unsightly, its texture hard on the feet and its scent ungracious which is perhaps a fertile metaphor for the city itself at least in the eyes of a nation that views the regions hunger for tax resources with a degree of uncultured cynicism, otherwise I was always quietly excited by the city and its incessant bustle. Aucklander’s were different too, unlike like the stoic Irish descendants of the central Waikato, these people seemed worldly and sophisticated.

When I got a bit older my parents took me aside and offered me two choices. I could spend my teenage years at the local High School or go to a Catholic Boarding School in Auckland. I choose the latter because I knew it was what my Catholic father wanted and because I was drawn to the city. I hated the school, a and unkempt institution slovenly bound to bad food and bizarre beliefs, but loved its proximity to Queen Street and K-Rd names I had long regarded with a kind of mystic awe, all bright lights and crowded streets with an energy that made Hamilton feel even more small town and provincial than it was. The thing about the Waikato then was its utilitarianism. It was conservative and suspicious of art and culture, a proclivity it still ferociously clings too despite the concerted efforts of a growing minority to break those chains.

Auckland on the other hand had museums, galleries and public art. It also had shopping. The offerings in the record stores and bookstores went far beyond the middle of the road staples of their Hamilton counterparts, here was a cornucopia of the unimagined and mysterious, a gateway to new horizons in word and sound. Any chance I got and many chances simply taken saw me on the bus into town and wandering from store to store. I had no money but the mere sight of otherworldly album covers and strangely titled books was enough to fulfil a particular longing.

The weekends were the most special. Here I got to hang with my mother’s younger brother the family’s glib and gifted black sheep he was man on the make with a massive stereo system and delirious record collection. He was bad boy with a sharp intellect and over the years that marked my school tenure we cruised the neon lit city suburbs through the early hours in his panel van as he chased down work and money while chowing down on Wimpy Burgers and Radio Hauraki. If only I knew how to describe my double life to my schoolmates then perhaps I would have been regarded with less disdain than I was.

Auckland was a dream, Hamilton was reality and while I eventually returned to reality the dream has kept calling and every now and again I would succumb, pack up my things and settle in until my restless moods undid me and I retreated back to the Waikato. When I was a teen, the bus trip took upwards of four hours. During the four years of my schooling from the bus window I watched the motorway being built and eventually that journey dropped to three and now with a sharply shaven expressway joining the cities, it’s a snip at just under two hours.

The two cities are anomalous in this under populated land being as close together as they are and this proximity joins them in filial manner that neither are comfortable with. Auckland is the older wiser sibling, self-assured and secure of its place in the greater scheme of things. Hamilton on the other hand is a little confused, uncertain and wants to be cool like its older cousin but doesn’t quite know how.

Auckland is a deal maker, a glib media savvy salesperson on the make. Hamilton is a city of industry, a hard grafting manufacturing plant that spits out commodities, research and finely tooled engineering. Both have world class universities, mega-malls and destination concert venues though it must be said that Auckland’s much vaunted Vector Arena looks decidedly shabby against Hamilton’s Claudelands Arena.

As for Rugby, the nations favourite sport, both cities have professional teams and much to Auckland’s chagrin, they are seldom able to beat their local rival despite a much larger population resource. As NZ punches above its weight internationally, Hamilton often out punches its older cousin in any number of ways. This has to grate but Auckland is big enough to pretend otherwise. As for personality, Aucklanders are sharper and more straight up, unafraid to a say yes or no, a quality unusual in a land that uses polite courtesy to hide its shyness. Hamiltonian’s share this latter proclivity and often unsure how to proceed will string you along out of fear of making you uncomfortable.

Auckland is four distinct flavours. The crowded, affluent and professional inner suburbs, the feral West (bigger Hamilton as it has been described to me), the Polynesian South and the North Shore. This latter group aren’t Aucklanders per se, they are a slightly different breed informed by the migratory origin of their population and a dearth of white sand beaches. Here you’ll find enclaves of South Africans, Chinese and English ex-pats plus a kind of Kiwi who is decidedly distinct from the folk on the other side of the harbour, more akin to the traditional sort you find further down country. They are here seeking opportunities not available in the provinces and are more relaxed than their kin on the exact other side of the bridge.

As Auckland is divided by its harbour, Hamilton is divided by a river, the countries longest. The University of Waikato dominates the Eastern bank of the river and between enclaves of students and minimum wage earners are the streets of upwardly mobile University lecturers and administrators. These leafy suburbs wind their way out to the cities southern edge where they give way to the districts of Tamahere and Matangi, former dairy farmland that is now the province of the uber wealthy, all Mc Mansions and European SUVs.

Except for the plush estates around Hamilton’s centrally located peat dome lake, the West side is middle income territory giving way to Bogan Dinsdale on the cities western edge, the gateway to the black sand beaches of Raglan, and Nawton the cities version of Mangere/Otara, ethnically divers and low income. As for Ponsonby/Remuera, you’ll find that 10 minutes south directly down the recently completed $200 million expressway. Its called Cambridge and it does the job beautifully.

These days the differences between the cities is les striking. Hamilton has more people, more options and the Internet has democratised the shopping process. Auckland is bigger than ever and with more people than the entire South Island it is more akin to an international city than just a big one on a far off island at the bottom of the world. Perhaps the biggest differences are the people and the weather.

Hamilton still tends toward the provincial and feral while Auckland, is a  seething multi-cultural mix that it is more or less urbane. At its best Hamilton is down to earth honest, at its worst Auckland is a victim of its own importance and confidence. Hamiltonian’ tend toward pragmatic and suspicious conservatism, Aucklanders throw caution to the wind knowing that the central government will pick up the tab when they get it wrong.

As for the weather, despite their geographical proximity they have little in common. I remember my first day at boarding school and the humidity that dripped off everything making the tiled hallways a health and safety nightmare. Hamilton’s inland humidity has nowhere to go but sit around all summer long chocking the life out of you. Auckland’s is less clingy informed as it is by the ever present cooling breeze wafting off the harbour.

Auckland doesn’t get the great rolling Waikato fogs but I do, missing the deep insulating moisture that rises out of the river and swamplands. This thing is mysterious and satisfyingly claustrophobic sheltering the soul as it does from reality, turning light into warmth and confusing day and night. Being something of a night owl, this is a quality I appreciate.

Auckland gets cold for a minute or two in depth of winter but never bone cold like the Waikato where the frosts set in for weeks crystallising the landscape and torturing the unwary and lightly dressed. The morning frost is the promise of razor sharp blue skies and clear yellow sunlight much as Auckland gets most days regardless of the time of year.

That’s one thing I will never miss about Hamilton, those leaden skies, a dark grey omnipresence that leaks into ones soul without fear nor respite. They hang about for weeks until a storm might whip up over the Tasman sea to the far west and sweep it all away. It’s all very wild and woolly and standard for the land beyond the Bombay Hills a district named for a ship named after the Indian city that bought settlers specifically designated to this area of rich volcanic soils that were destined to grow cauliflower, potatoes and onions for the growing city up the road.

Auckland ends at the Bombay hills from whose peak you can see the entirety of the Northern Waikato. This is the end of Polynesia and from here on the atmosphere is a very different quality. This is the atypical New Zealand of wind swept skies and endless rolling hills, bush, farm and every 30km or so a small town or village. Otherwise it is empty, austere, stark and rugged.

Here the air is shaped by the breath of the winds sweeping up from Antarctica and across the surface of the brooding and Tasman sea, the gateway to Australia. Gisborne, Tauranga and Napier have hints of Polynesia about them but the ominous landscape that rises up behind them tells a different story and as for the South Island, windy Wellington on the North Islands furthermost point is the first hint that things are about to get crazier.

Fault-lines, raging sub-Antarctic weather, dripping forests, granite grey landscape and snow. This is an entirely different place with different attitudes. Auckland and Hamilton can be marked by their business orientated conservatism, The South Island favours socialist collectivism. Here the comforting warmth of the north of the north gives way to a more stoic realism fuelled less by sushi and more by mutton fat.

So here I am again for the umpteenth time living in Auckland, a city where much of my extended family has gravitated to over the decades, and a place I am uncertain of calling home. I always think fondly of Hamilton until I remember its self-satisfied and well-healed ruling class who lavish the city with gifts while paying homage to libertarian political philosophies, the kind that hint at an innate selfishness of the type that sets in once wealth has confirmed a certain intellectual superiority.

As for the cities influential conspiracy lobby, a loud and boorish collective of the ignorant and misinformed convinced that fluoridisation is eroding their liberty and giving them cancer, these folk determinedly soak up public time with their endless demands for attention. They stand in stark contrast to the cities small and determined arts set, those with dedicated cultural aspirations who live in the shadow of sport, the one constant that gives the city meaning. If winning an olympic gold medal is your dream, then you ought to move to Hamilton tomorrow, the region produces olympic champions the way it produces milk. It is also a dab hand at making hit songs though this hardly matters in the broader context of…….. sport.

Hamilton is still a callow teenager with an underdeveloped cerebral cortex, the biggest cow-town in a land of cow-towns, the brightest light in a dimly lit hinterland. Auckland’s a little more grown up, not much more, but enough to allow the eccentric, subversive and go getter anonymity and space to breathe. In Auckland a man can walk around in a dress and no one blinks an eye. In Hamilton a bald man out on a Saturday night will suffer an endless stream of abuse from half-cut kids pointing out your deficiency as they cruise up and down the main street, bored drunk and clueless.

From a high point (of which there are few) you can look out across Hamilton and wonder where it is hidden as it is beneath a towering canopy of deciduous trees the gift of long dead British settlers determined to reinvent this region as little England. From a high point in Auckland (of which there are many) you can look and see the Sky Tower, a space age ode to gambling culture and a statement that says none to subtly, I am big and I am here.

Both cities are more alike than either would admit, dedicated as they are to the cause of money. They are also both remarkably peaceful, safe and benign though Hamilton, marked as one of the countries most geographically and climatically stable areas, holds down all the communications infrastructure of national importance. Auckland on the other hand sits on top of fault lines and a restless volcanic field. Built around 48 extinct volcanoes, it is expected to blow up at any minute. When this happens I can always go back to Hamilton the city that once infamously called itself the place ‘Where it Happens’ an irony that escaped no one.



 Auckland, The  Sky Tower City.

Hamilton Drivers: You Suck.

April 8, 2016



On a recent visit to Hamilton I was shopping with my wife at a central city supermarket and as we returned to her vehicle a man with three children in this car drove straight at us. It was a deliberate act that included a sudden rush of acceleration and a grim defiant stare. There was more than ample time for us to cross the lane had the car remained at the speed it was going but our emergence seemed to trigger a reaction in the driver of the kind I have encountered so many times before in this city.

I am not a car owner and spend a lot of time walking and my 4 years living in the Hamilton CBD taught me that pedestrians and cyclists are viewed negatively and it was not the first time a driver had accelerated and driven straight at me while crossing the road, it is exactly as I would expect of Hamilton.

This negative perception of Hamilton drivers was reinforced when I moved to the Auckland CBD some 16 months ago. The first thing I noticed was the vastly different attitude toward pedestrians. The Auckland CBD is organised with the pedestrian in mind and with many ‘pedestrian only zones’ and routine crossing lights which feature handy timers that tell you exactly how long you have to cross the road, all of which conspires to make it a an easy and safe place to traverse on foot.

The Hamilton rule is that once the little green man starts to flash red, it’s game on. The cars are start coming straight at you even though that flashing red figure is just an indicator informing the pedestrian that the lights are about to change and you have around 20 seconds to complete you crossing manoeuvre.

One day I slammed my hand on top of a car that came perilously close to hitting me. The driver, a Pakeha male of advancing years screamed back at me “the crossing light is red you f***ing a***hole.” In actually the crossing light had just started flashing red as I approached the centre of the road. Not only had he misunderstood how the crossing lights worked, he seemed to have no understanding of the first and most absolute rule regarding pedestrians; they have the right of way. This incident was not isolated, it was typical.

A friend once noted “Many Kiwis still drive like they are still on the farm” and perhaps this is key to understanding the fault at work with the psyche of the Hamilton driver who tends to drive like a rugged individualists beholden to no one but themselves. Aucklander’s more used to congestion and crowded roads seem to have had this habit somewhat breed out of them. Up here you could easily go balmy with frustration, the roads being as crowded as they are, and cultivating a more patient attitude is essential to peace of mind.

Historically Kiwis are not patient people, used to absolute freedom of movement in our underpopulated land and our general attitude seems to be that anything that hinders our journey is an affront to our ‘rights as citizens’, a response cyclists seem to engender in spades. I have listened numerous conversations where drivers (always Pakeha) describe cyclists as a ‘a bloody nuisance’ while laughing about the pleasure they glean from driving at them in a manner designed to frighten and intimidate.

The population of the Auckland CBD is around 40,000, mostly recent migrants and overseas guests from built up cities in Asia and India and they have much to teach us about the art of city driving. They will slow up when encountering you crossing the road and often stop and wave you on when they see you waiting to cross. They drive with more care and awareness, probably because they are used high-density cities and have grown up understanding that city driving is a co-operative endeavour rather than a battle for supremacy.

When exiting a car park building your average Asian or Indian driver will wave you on before they move across the footpath toward the road. Your standard Pakeha driver will just pull out scattering unwary walkers who then have to either wait for the car to pull out into traffic or negotiate a way around it in order to continue on their way. While Auckland Pakeha don’t speed up at the sight of you, neither are they bothered if you are halfway across a road, they will drive on as if you aren’t there. While Aucklander’s lack the aggression of Hamiltonian’s they are still lacking an elemental awareness of those beyond the inner sanctum of the car.

It has been often said that Kiwis are the nicest people in the world until they get behind the wheel of a car and not being a driver I have often the occasion to experience this first hand as an observing passenger. The standard Pakeha driver flings the vehicle about with scant regard for other drivers let alone pedestrians and cyclists whose presence elicits a squawk of frustration from the driver always desperately in a hurry to get nowhere fast.

My migrant friends, mostly Indian, have an entirely different attitude. They drive with a great deal more awareness of other people and their needs. For these driver’s courtesy and patience is an inbuilt virtue and if by some chance you time your road crossing badly, there is no blaring of horns and rude hand gestures, rather a smile of understanding that says “we all make mistakes.”

I don’t know for sure what is going on in Hamilton but there is something untoward in the driving culture, something unpleasant, aggressive and reactionary. Perhaps the problem is patience or to be precise, a lack of it. A virtue born of necessity, Hamiltonian’s have had scant need to cultivate patience on the cities fast flowing and uncrowded roads and the result is an unsophisticated and impatient driver who often makes the Hamilton visit a less than pleasant one.

Raul Castro and Why he should have Negotiated the TPP For NZ.

April 4, 2016



Cuban President Raul Castro.

“Democracy and the Free Market,” Obama beamed to his Cuban audience outlining the path to prosperity.

“Free Health Care, University and gender pay equality,” Cuban President Raul Castro shot back reminding America before it starts telling Cuba what to do it needs to gets its own house in order first.

The context was Obama’s recent and historic visit to Communist Cuba who have been on America’s blacklist since the early 1960’s when a plan to host Soviet nuclear missiles and point them at Washington didn’t go down as well as everyone on the ‘yes’ side might have hoped. With the world only moments away from nuclear war the Soviets backed down but it has taken this long for the US and Cuba to start properly speaking again.

While Cuba is certainly no great model of democratic freedom Castro had a point, taking America to task as he did about social equity. To his credit Obama acknowledged this gracefully responding, “America is not above criticism.” A nicely played piece of diplomacy where he suggested ever so subtly that America is, in certain areas of social development, behind the main thrust of developed nations and really needs to start getting in on the game.

America’s evangelical mission to democratise the world belies the fact that its own Democracy rates down the scale for effectiveness and transparency. It is a system whose integrity has latterly been undermined by a vast industry of lobbyists who spend some nine billion US dollars a year buying influence from elected representatives, a practice outlawed or severely constrained by most other mature democracies.

American law considers lobbying to be fully in line with the nations constitutional right of free speech and despite the myriad regulations aimed at keeping lobbying above board, politicians and special interests are forever finding new ways of subverting the rules. The money is just too good to ignore and as we all know, money can be a terribly corrupting influence when mixed into a political cocktail.

As for the Free Market, that shinning brass ring of a world where business is conducted on a level playing field across international borders and where goods and services flow unimpeded from farm and factory to consumer without trade barriers and subsidises distorting competitive value……. America’s rhetoric belies the actuality.

America is still home to some of the most restrictive trade barriers in place anywhere and the nation supports a bewildering array of manufacturing, farming and other subsidies that make a mockery of the so called ‘Free Market Purity’ of the American business model. America is a nation who encourages one and all to open their doors to American business without properly reciprocating. This ‘Do as I say not as I do’ position grates but it is impossible to argue with a nation as immersed in it’s own mythology as America is.

Americas’ central vanity is that it is world’s greatest country in every conceivable way and if your country is not like America then it is somehow wrong. “This great country,” “This great city,” “This great State,” the words that preface every American introduction to all things America. Yet America at times seems like the fervent Evangelical Christian Preacher who stands and decries immoral lifestyles to his rapturous audience while entertaining rent boys in clandestine motel rooms. America’s problem is that it talks the talk without fully committing to its own idealism.

If all this sounds Anti-American, then I apologise. There is much to admire about this democratic collective and it’s manyfold positive contributions to the world but its tendency to wave the flag of superiority in defence of its position does not stand up to rational scrutiny. The now infamous scene from the opening episode of the US TV series ‘Newsroom’ (2012-14) underscores this point. The star anchor of a fictional network Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is asked during a public Q&A: “Why is America the greatest country in the World?” His answer was so astonishing it became actual news and perhaps the first time someone fictional or otherwise actually said what many Americans already suspected but were reluctant to articulate least they be perceived as unpatriotic:

Will: There’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labour force, and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only 3 categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defence spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined. 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student. But you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the worst, period, generation, period, ever, period, so when you ask, “what makes us the greatest country in the world?” I dunno know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite? It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons, we waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbours. We put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in our last election, and we didn’t we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things, and to do all these things, because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.  Enough?


The advent of the TPP ( an American led international free trade deal between Pacific nations including New Zealand) has bought New Zealand closer to the American method than ever before and perhaps the time has come for this little trading nation to examine its heart with the goal of confirming our place in the world. NZ is a robust and pioneering Socialist Democracy with a long tradition of human rights focused public organisation. We are secular, progressive, caring, generous and commercially sharp, having traded our way to first world prosperity despite our distance from often-hostile international markets. Our problem lies with the deference we tend to bestow toward other nations while failing to acknowledge our own strength as an international leader, opinion maker and all round positive influence, one who indeed walks the walk while talking the talk when it comes to human rights, commitment to democratic values, freedom of expression and free trade.

We are in danger of selling aspects of our soul for a slice of the American pie, that while a tasty enough tends toward empty calories and second-rate pastry fat. While we grapple with the supposed promise of the TPP we are forgetting the potential of our existing free trade deals, ones we have negotiated off our own bat and all without the caveats that come with US style horse-trading. America not only wants our business, it wants our hearts and souls as well and the concessions we have agreed to, aka Pharmac, underline the potential dangers ahead as regards our rights to democratic self-determination.

While I may not be fully in tune with Raul Castro’s politics (Cuba’s treatment of dissidents is questionable) I certainly admire his balls: ‘you wasn’t to trade with us America? Fine, just none of your bullshit please. We go into this as equals or not at all’. Sadly, NZ has erred toward the ‘bend over and pick up the soap’ route, afraid that if we don’t do as we are told we will end up excluded from the holy grail of markets, Club USA.

Prosperity and Austerity: A Brief History of the Economic Tensions that Define Modern New Zealand.

March 22, 2016


John A Lee 1936.

John A Lee: Portrait of a Well Meaning Extremist.

John A Lee was 21 when the First World War broke out. He had been on the road since he was 14, sleeping rough and eating inadequately. He had been in and out of institutions (mostly for petty theft) and had picked up tuberculosis somewhere along the way. Not especially interested in the idea of fighting for King and Country he nevertheless volunteered immediately imaging death on the battlefield preferable to death in a hospital bed if that was the way his disease was going to take him. It was the condition of his lungs kept him out of uniform but he persisted and with the help of an understanding Doctor was finally able to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in 1916. He often said that he went to war as an observer and not as an ardent soldier nevertheless his time in service was remarkable.

He singlehandedly captured four German soldiers manning a machine gun emplacement on the Wytschaete Road near Messines in Belgium in 1916 and later that same year saved his Taranaki Company from a machine gun nest when he and two others crept up around behind it and captured forty two men and two machine guns. His left forearm was amputated after he was caught in an explosion during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916 and his war was over. For his efforts he was awarded the DCM, The Distinguished Conduct Medal.

His war adventures go some way toward describing his character and temperement but only pain half the picture. Born in 1891 he was the child of a solo mother in a time when such a thing was considered shocking. (His father was by all accounts a wild and charismatic entertainer with a gambling habit). His siblings shared different fathers and his mother often sought charitable help to keep everyone fed. He described their family life as one of ‘grinding poverty.’

He attended school infrequently and drifted into a life of petty crime. A sometime ward of the state he experienced the harsh indignities of the workhouse/borstal system (the infamous Burnham Industrial School) an experience that was to inform him for the rest of his life. An incorrigible escapee he was often on the run and through various misadventures learned the art of subterfuge in order to maintain his freedom.

He educated himself at provincial libraries and remained a voracious reader throughout his life. He was a particular and devoted student of socialist writers Jack London and Upton Sinclair and by the time he joined the army he was so deeply committed to the concept of socialism that he was nicked named ‘Bolshie Lee.’ His last jail stint ended in 1913 after he was released from Mt Eden Prison for smuggling alcohol into the King Country.

*Liquor was prohibited in the King Country for more than 70 years although tales of ‘sly groggers’ who smuggled alcohol into the district abound. Prohibition began in and ended on 13th November 1954 after the locals voted for an end in a referendum.

His 1963 book ‘Simple on a Soapbox’ was Lee’s account of his time in the first Labour Government and addressed his the events that lead to his expulsion from the Labour party and was one of the three books on the shelf of my childhood home that weren’t Readers Digest Condensed Books. I used to wonder at the title and often took it down to examine the cover art, a sort of modernist style sketch that I found endlessly fascinating.

Of course the subject matter itself was way and afar beyond my ability to understand but not so his autobiographical work ‘Children of the Poor’ which I found later in the school library. A rip-roaring account of his time in institutions and on the run from the law it is also a powerful political polemic that takes square aim at the social and economic injustices Lee was keen to expunge from society. I was shocked and moved by Lee’s portrait of social injustice in New Zealand and experienced my own first primitive political stirrings as a result.

I later learned that this book created quite a storm when it was published in 1934 lifting the veil as did on mainstream attitudes toward the poor, disadvantaged and disenfranchised. His critics accused him of overstating his case and exaggerating his experiences nevertheless it was an influential work that sold by the truckload and stirred much debate and reflective soul searching.

Lee, variously described as charismatic, fiery, impetuous and witty, believed that New Zealand was uniquely placed to create a unique brand of democratic socialism that recognised the nations inherent individualistic qualities (i.e. that perhaps socialist collectivism was not the best method for our primary industries) while providing for the disenfranchised and standing up for the rights of the workers.

With the tsunami of the Great Depression sweeping over the land Lee wrote ‘We are living in an ethical twilight, with the ideals of the new in our hearts and the pattern of the old upon our minds.’ In his mind Capitalism was collapsing and all societies had to choose, he believed, between fascist reaction and socialism. ‘We will lead you on a march that will inspire the whole of the earth’ he prophesied and indeed, the experiments of first Labour Government (1935) were closely watched and had a profound influence on many societies seeking solutions to the challenge of the Great Depression.

Lee was first elected to parliament in 1922 (the youngest ever MP at that time), lost in 1928 and won again in 1935 with single biggest majority ever achieved in the young nations history but despite his value to the party as an orator, policy maker and charismatic frontman (as a war hero his presence was invaluable), his impetuous and fiery temperament set off warning bells with the parties leadership.

Savage Vs Lee



Michael Joseph Savage on the campaign trail

Like Lee, Michael Joseph Savage came from a background marked by poverty and hard labour and like Lee he was a self-educated and well-read socialist and with that education came a desire to improve the lot of the working person. Savage, who was a first hand witness to the tragic lot of the working poor and socially disenfranchised, described his take on socialism as ‘true Christianity in action’ a political philosophy that was interested primarily in social and economic justice rather than hard-core socialist ideology. In Savage’s mind, capitalism wasn’t beyond redemption, a position that was at odds with radicals like Lee who believed that capitalism was essentially a failure. This difference in perspective proved the breaking point in a friendship that had had otherwise been very close.

Savage had inherited the leadership of the party after his predecessor and fellow Australian Harry Holland died suddenly of a heart attack while attending the funeral of the Maori King in 1933, an accession that was rigorously opposed by Lee who felt that Savage was too cautious in his approach yet in the eyes of the electorate, then as now suspicious of extremism, the centrist and conciliatory Savage was the perfect figure for the day and carried Labour to their first electoral win in a landslide victory in 1935.

Lee began to resent Savage and Savage become wary of Lee (describing him as ‘too wild and unconventional’) and despite Lee’s obvious abilities as an organiser and manager; Savage kept him at arms length. The frustrated Lee did not help his case for a Cabinet position with a constant stream of abusive backbiting aimed directly at Savage whose considered approach to change clashed with Lee’s radical urgency.

In 1938 Savage fell ill with colon cancer but he postponed the required surgery focused as he was on a raft of reforms and the looming European war. Sensing opportunity in Savage’s misfortune Lee stepped up his campaign against him with the publication of an essay in 1940 titled ‘Psychopathology in Politics’ which implied that Savage’s physical condition had destroyed him mentally.

Savage responded at that years Labour Party Conference by stating that Lee had made ‘ two years my life a living hell with all the venom and lying innuendo of the political sewer, using my illness to destroy me as a political force’. As a result Lee was expelled from the Labour Party and 24 hours later, early on 27 March 1940, Savage died at his home in Wellington.

Lee had been undone by his inability to control the aspects of his nature that allowed him such success on the field of battle. His temerity given full reign became an obsessive urge that undermined his position in Labour’s inner circle, and whatever he thought about Savage, the party and public did not agree.

Lee’s response was to launch a new political movement called the Democratic Labour Party renamed the Democratic Soldier Labour Party for the 1943 elections. Lee’s autocratic leadership style had a negative impact on the new party and confirmed that Labour’s decision to keep him out of the central leadership had been a wise one. Lee lost his Grey Lynn seat and political career was effectively over. He devoted the rest of his life to writing, critiquing Labour (‘Labour is a despotic machine, hostile to democratic values, and victim of an unholy alliance of greedy unionism with corrupt politicians’) and running a successful bookshop, Vital Books. He died at his home in 1982, aged 91.


Reform Within Capitalism

Savage’s government of reform shaped the economic and social direction of New Zealand for decades to come creating in the process not only one of the world’s wealthiest nations, but also one of the fairest. 40 years after Savage’s historic victory, NZ had the distinction of having the most equitable distribution of wealth in the world.

Despite their differences Lee and Savage helped transform the nature of the society they had inherited. Dispensing with the social and economic traditions inherited from Britain, they and their contemporaries set NZ on a new course of economic self-determination that made humanitarian concerns the central factor of economic policy and the process redefining the nature of nationhood and the purpose of society.

Labour won 4 consecutive elections before losing the government benches in 1949. It would be 8 years before they would govern again. In the meantime the new conservative National party government maintained Labour’s ‘cradle to the grave’ universalist welfare state, building on those early foundations and further enhancing NZ’s status as a world leading social laboratory.

Tension is a defining factor in any robust democracy and in New Zealand this tension has manifested itself in a endless tug of war between private and public interests and the challenge of governments, both of the political left and right, has been to maintain a balance that does not tip the scale too far in either direction. As New Zealand matured as a democracy one thing became certain to among most political players, this electorate did not tolerate extremism, favouring instead a sense of fair play that considered the needs of the majority above the needs of the few. A delicate balance that governments by in large maintained successfully until the 1980s when the nation set itself on a new direction.

With Lee’s passing in 1982 the nation buried the last of the reforming architects of the 1930s. Two years later that legacy became the target of a robust ideological war of attrition that was to become the defining hallmark of that decade. The 4th Labour government introduced free-market liberalism by stealth.

The previous conservative government headed by the autocratic Robert Muldoon was a strange mix of heavy-handed interventionist socialism and conservative social values that divided the community on a series of issues. The early 1980’s were marked by anxiety and an atmosphere of tension as New Zealand examined itself with rigorous intensity. By the time the 1984 election rolled around the electorate was ready for change. The nation had looked into itself and did not like what it was seeing and a new Labour government with revolutionary social agenda marched triumphantly into office.

Led by the charismatic David Lange this government was ready to met all the expectations of a community ready to take a bold step forward into the future but for one factor. The new minister of finance Roger Douglas surprised everyone, including the party itself, with a reformist economic agenda that was totally at odds with Labour’s traditions. Trade barriers were dismantled, financial rules were loosened, unions were disempowered and much of the nations state owned infrastructure was sold off in what could be described as a knee-jerk reaction to the previous forty years of state control.

The Doors to Fortress NZ were thrown wide open and the nation was set to wheel and deal its way to a new level of prosperity, or so the sale pitch went. With hindsight it is easily argued that the economy was due an overhaul and some liberalisation was necessary but for ordinary working Kiwis the extent of the changes came as a psychological shock. None of the caution of Savage here, this was the anti-Lee given full reign.

The government fractured, warped and ate itself as the reformists argued for further and more radical economic liberalisation while the traditionalists called time saying enough was enough. A new conservative government elected in 1990 took up the argument.

Centrist Prime Minister Jim Bolger held his radicals in check for a considerable time before being rolled by the extremist faction headed by Jenny Shipley. The nations first female Prime Minister was an avowed right wing conservative of limited ability whose biggest fault was her lack of perception regarding the wider electorate and its intolerance for ideological politics. Mistaking her inner circles enthusiasm for extreme reform as the pulse of the nation she found herself quickly and unceremoniously dumped at the next available election.

Since then the electorate has selected economically centrist governments dedicated to New Zealand’s tradition of social progressiveness but 81 years after the first Labour government addressed the dire social condition of working people, our love affair with unfettered free market economics has bought us perilously close to that which we left behind many decades ago.

Today our income disparity rates among the widest in the developed world, total combined national debt has reached staggering heights and many of the acquired rights of working people have been watered down if not struck for the law books. Child poverty is at it’s worst since the 1930s and public housing is being sold off at a time when the working poor are finding it difficult to pay the rent.

The official response from the current conservative government has consistently been “there is no poverty in New Zealand,” or in other words, “nothing to see hear move along,” a similar response to the conservatives of yore as they faced the looming threat of the Great Depression.

In early 2016 comments from the conservative Minister of Finance Bill English warned that a period of ‘Austerity’ might be necessary to address national debt. As with the rest of the developed world the conceit in New Zealand has been that that it is the Corporations and wealthy individuals who create jobs and that by providing them with tax breaks we are encouraging them in their noble endeavours.

These tax breaks have been instrumental in powering the nations debt as the government has been borrowing to fill the gap between tax revenue and the needs of the community. The statistical evidence reminds us that it is in actually small business that provides for the bulk of working people yet the mythology overstating the contribution of the 1% persists meaning that ‘Austerity’ will be directed at those who can least afford to bear it.

I return here to John A Lee. In 1932 he persuaded the Labour Party to organise mass meetings to address the conservative governments ‘retrenchment’ response to the Great Depression. At a meeting in Dunedin Lee declared: ‘we are at war against those who are trying to drag the people down to degradation and poverty. We are starving our way to prosperity in a world of plenty, and it can’t be done’.



My grandfather Bill was a young Dairy farmer in 1935 when the Savage led Labour government came to power. The price for butterfat was low, his debt was high and like so many other farmers he was wondering if he was going to lose his land. Lee and Savage were monetary reformers determined to use the mechanics of the banking system to benefit the nations people and the plan was use Reserve Bank credit to pay Dairy Farmers a guaranteed price for butterfat. (This was one of the areas of disagreement between the two men. Lee wanted to take the use of reserve band credit much further than Savage was prepared to do. Savage preferred a more orthodox approach using a mix of conventional debt borrowing and government credit fearing inflationary kickbacks if too much new money was set loose in the economy).

Bill had been to see both Lee and Savage speak and returned to the farm convinced by their plan and besides the ruling conservatives (the traditional party of the farmers) had nothing offer beyond belt tightening.

The first Labour Government paid Dairy farmers a pound for a pound of butterfat, more than enough to shore up the farms finances. It allowed him and his contemporaries the income to invest in their local dairy Co-Operatives and create solid middle class lives for their families. For the rest of his life my grandfather spoke fondly of both Savage and Lee and the differences these men made to his life.

My paternal grandfather, forever after a proponent of monetary reform (using the Reserve Bank to create and distribute debt free money to stimulate growth and pay for the necessities that couldn’t be covered through general taxation) shared something of Lee’s suspicion of overly powerful Unions (in order to strengthen the position of working people in society the first Labour government had made unionism compulsory and thereby powerful, a power which many, including Lee, claimed made them somewhat corrupt) and transferred his vote to Lee’s Democratic Labour movement hence the books pride of place on the families bookshelf.

I grew up in the 1960 and 70s safe in the bosom of a middle-income family, the third generation to be raised on that piece of land my grandfather had wrested from infertile former swampland. We were not rich but neither did we want for anything and there was never any doubt that our prosperity was due to the likes of Lee and Savage. Their story is not history; rather it is a prescient tale about the swings and roundabouts of political fashion, a story that reminds us that when testing times come knocking complacent orthodoxy is not the solution but then neither is radical extremism. The truth lies always in the vast grey rather in the carefully drawn black and white and best of New Zealand has always been found in that grey.

Government has a sacred duty to step up when times are tough and provide where private interests cannot and will not and to ensure that the needs of ordinary citizens are adequately provided for. Contemplating the heady times of the 1930’s and the approaching Austerity of 2016 I realise as much as everything has changed, so much stays the same. I am also reminded of the importance of perspective, a quality valued little the arena of ideology.

Books by John A Lee:

  • Children of the Poor, 1934.
  • The Hunted, 1936.
  • Civilian into Soldier, 1937.
  • Socialism in New Zealand, 1938.
  • The Yanks are Coming, 1943.
  • Shining with the Shiner, 1944.
  • Simple on a Soapbox, 1963.
  • Shiner Slattery, 1964
  • Rhetoric at the Red Dawn, 1965.
  • The Lee Way to Public Speaking, 1965
  • Delinquent Days, 1967.
  • Mussolini’s Millions, 1970
  • Political Notebooks, 1973.
  • For Mine is the Kingdom, 1975
  • Soldier, 1976
  • The Scrim-Lee Papers. 1976 (with CG Scrimgeour & Tony Simson)
  • Roughnecks, Rolling Stones & Rouseabouts, 1977
  • Early Days in New Zealand, 1977
  • The John A. Lee Diaries 1936–1940, 1981



John A Lee 1981, the year before his death



A Brief History of The Modern Era of Hamilton Recoding Studios, 1980-2015

January 27, 2016

    TandysStudio1  Tandys Recording Studio Hamilton

When I sat down to write this account about the modern era of Hamilton Recording Studios the first obstacle I encountered was the lack of chronicled information. Despite the fact that for a time the studios in question were vital to the various musical scenes in operation throughout the city and the focus of some intense creative activity, so much the wider story had been lost to memory. It was a labyrinthine puzzle but quietly the stories emerged revealing a tale of studios rising, failing and being gutted to create new studios in new locations. It is the story of passion, innovation and self-taught engineers struggling to maintain a professional recording industry in a small but rapidly growing city looking for a creative identity.

These days Hamilton boasts a serious number of recording studios led by The Porch, a facility that can be counted among the nations best, but this wasn’t always the case. While Hamilton and the wider Waikato region had a couple of small production facilities and the odd 4-Track ‘home’ recording studio prior to the 1980s, if any of the cities bands or musicians required something more from their recordings, it was off to Auckland they went and the welcome was not always as warm as it might have been.

Stories abound of grumpy engineers who drew the short straw and got the ‘Hamilton Band’. It was during one of these experiences with an engineer and some derogatory comments about Hamilton music at a well known Auckland sound recording facility that budding sound engineer Zed Brookes (there with his band Step Chant Unit putting the final touches on their soon to be hit single ‘Painting Pictures’) decided that he was going to create a decent recording studio in Hamilton and so by-pas the less than satisfactory attitudes of Auckland.

At the time the bands drummer Neville Sergent was working behind the counter of a Hamilton branch of a Tandys Record store, a chain that that proliferated across the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and King Country. The chains owner was musician/songwriter/performer Neil Nooyen who was thinking about building a recording studio where he could work on his own music. Sergent introduced the Brookes and Nooyen and in Nooyen, Brookes found the capital he needed and in Brookes, Nooyen found the skills and enthusiasm required to make his dream happen.


Tandys Recording Studio.

The barn on Nooyen’s lifestyle block just off Morrinsville Road (at the edge of the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest) proved to be suitable and in 1985 Brookes set to work designing and building and the result was a warm and inviting studio space at the end of a gravel driveway about 3 minutes off the main road. The studio began very simply, just Brookes and his Tascam 4 Track Cassette Porta-Studio before upgrading to a 4-Track analogue system sourced from new partner Rex Wade’s Pirongia based Studio. The Nooyen/Brookes/Wade partnership lasted less than a year before Wade left to set up his own studio on Tramway Road (The Tramway Road Studio). By this stage the demand for Tandys services were enough to convince Nooyen to invest some serious money. The result was a state of the art 16 track facility.

Belying its bucolic façade, Tandys was hive of activity that often ran 24/7 trying to keep up with the demands of a hungry musical community. While Brookes initially carried the bulk of the workload he quietly built up a team of young enthusiasts to assist. Dennis Marsh had learned the basics of sound live mixing working behind the console for his brother Phil’s band; legendary Morrinsville based rock covers band Bad Jelly. Between gigs Dennis spent his time at Aerial Railway, a basic 16 track analogue facility set on a commune just north of Coromandel, expanding his craft under the supervision the studios creator Johnny Irons. When Dennis heard there was a new studio open for business just down the road from his home in Morrinsville, he turned up and offered his services.

Brookes: “Dennis was a good foil to everything. He could be annoying, (when he felt strongly about a recording he would argue his point until he got his way) but every so often totally nailed it. He was a bit of a hippy really, a free spirit who came and went as the winds blew him.” Dennis was killed on his way home to Raglan after finishing a live mixing gig in downtown Hamilton when the car he was driving hit a horse that had escaped onto Te Rapa Straight on the cities Northern boundary.

Dennis Marsh RIP.


Marcus Pope, a young and talented intern, met a similar fate while helping Brookes move house. After dropping some boxes off he got into his car and ran off the road and was killed instantly in circumstances that could only be described as freakish. Brookes: “Nowadays he’d probably be identified as ‘on the spectrum’ but he was a good kid and loved audio. I think about him all the time.”

Brookes met both Scott Newth and Grant Brodie when they came to Tandy’s to record with their respective bands. Both demonstrated a talent and enthusiasm for the mixing desk and “just stayed on, learning as they worked”. Brookes: “I met Scott Newth when he came in with his synth pop band Love and Violence and got on really well with him. He managed Tandys studio for a time in the later years, then we worked together at the Zoo studios. We tag-teamed it on heaps of projects, we knew each other’s production style well and could offer slightly different flavours to client’s projects. Scott ended up pursuing the indie thing and I went more commercial.”

Scott Newth became the 6th member of the Datsuns, recording much of the bands early work and running their live mixes, a job he still does today. Grant Brodie (Grok, Inspector Moog, Dribbly Cat Attraction) graduated from Tandy’s and went to work at The Rock 93FM’s production studio in downtown Hamilton. When the station was purchased from its founder Grant Hislop, Brodie stayed on with its new owners Media Works, and now manages the media groups Auckland based production studio, a role he has maintained for over 20 years.

In 1993 Brookes left Tandys to set up The Zoo Studio in central Hamilton. Scott Newth took over the running of Tandys for a brief time before handing it over to local sound enthusiast Dave Whitehead who ran the studio until it closed in 1997. Nooyen had been expanding his chain of record stores at around the same time the Internet driven digital music revolution was gaining momentum and after opening a superstore store in central Wellington, Nooyen found himself precariously over extended and the studio was sold to raise funds. Not long after, the Tandys chain of record stores (named after the iconic American record store) shut up shop for good.

Dave Whitehead, who had been dabbling with film sound, went to Wellington and started White Noise, a film sound production company. Over the last 20 years he has worked on over 60 film and TV projects including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogies, Tin Tin, District 9, Snow Piercer and Elysium.

As for Tandys, the equipment was purchased by local student radio station Contact Fm (the University of Waikato) where it was grafted onto the Fridge, the stations production studio.


Tandys Zed and Scott Brodie

Zed Brookes behind the console at Tandys (with Scott Brodie of Grok)

Originally the studio ran off Brooke’s 4-track Tascam Portastudio and his effects units and synthesizers, then upgrading to Rex Wades’ Tascam 8-Track Reel-to-reel and Tascam mixer and a custom-built patch bay with JBL monitors before upgrading to Fostex 16-Track. A client (a debt collector) sold the studio a Studiomaster 8-buss console he had repossessed from a Rotorua studio and was storing under his bed.
Brookes: “We got it for a good price and later expanded it with another 8 channels to get 24. We bought a Roland MC500 MkII sequencer for our MIDI stuff (everything was entered in numbers), eventually upgrading to an Atari computer with Creator and a Unitor adaptor for striping time code to tape. I remember I even wrote code for it to work out room modes. We bought an Akai S900 sampler and got the trigger input option for triggering drum samples. That thing was worth its weight in gold. We bought some nice microphones, some Omni mics and we got some very expensive B&Ks that were amazing. We had an early 500 rack with some nice modules. We bought one of the first Sony DAT machines, you had to add an extra 15% reverb to your mixes as the rest would just vanish off the DAT.”

Some of the artists who recorded at Tandys Studio: Neil Nooyen, Pretty Belinda, Jono Jack, Silken Blue, Step Chant Unit, Tim Armstrong, Stonehenge, Adult Mayflies, Jim an Joe, Valhalla, Andy Bramwell, Steve Jackson/Desperate Chaps, Steve Hancock, 3 Men Missing, Andrew Johnstone, Book of Martyrs, Blackjack, Brendan Dugan, Ritchie Pickett, Bruce Dennis, Calamari Bushmen, Daisy Chain Halo, Whisperscream, Coustic Harmony, Quantum Leap (QL), Rare Vision, Rik Bernards, Rob Egan, Roy Forlong, Run For Cover, Sound Insight, Merenia, Merv Pinney, Navigator, The Crawfords, Hoola Troupe, Pieces Of Cod, Kaimai Cowboys, Ken Hughes Jr, King Biscuit, Living Proof, Tony Edwards, Love and Violence, Cold Shock, Doug Pepperell, Epic Thruster, Fire and Ice, Gary Spain.

Tandys Recording Studio released the very first Hamilton CD in 1990, a compilation album of songs by various Hamilton musicians and bands called ‘Just Teasing’.

  1. Neil Nooyen – Hang on Sloopy
  2. Broken English – Second chance
  3. Desperate Chaps -She couldn’t love me
  4. Love and Violence – Wish (Oh girl)
  5. Jim ’an’ Joe – (Can’t do it) without you
  6. Pretty Belinda – Cyclone Bola
  7. Step Chant Unit – Doesn’t time fly
  8. Love and Violence – Messages (Egyptian paradise)
  9. Neil Nooyen – No. 17
  10. Zed Brookes – Ugh, Wipeout
  11. Silken Blue – Prisms
  12. Second Helping – Frosty winter blues
  13. Te Tapu – Here we go again


Tim Armstrong: Guilty 1991 (Filmed inside Tandys Studio)


Hoola Troupe: Never Good Enough 1990


Merenia: U Know I Like It 1991



The Fridge Studio Logo

The Fridge Recording Studio.

The Fridge (named so because the studio was set inside an old industrial fridge complete with fridge doors and no windows) was formerly the radio stations production studio but with the arrival of ‘state of the art’ gear from Tandy’s, it became the recording venue of choice for the cities thriving alt-music scene and operated in its first incarnation until 1998.

The Student Union funded Contact FM was one of the victims of the ‘ideological war of attrition’ being waged by the right-wing/Libertarian political group ‘Student Choice’ against the Student Union’s compulsory funding model that ‘subsidised’ operations like Contact. Between 1996-1998 Contact starved for funds struggled to survive. Broke and spiritually spent the station shut its doors on the 17th June 1998. The Fridge went into hiatus until being revived in 2009 when Contact FM was re-established on 88.1FM, (a low power frequency signal). With local sound engineer Dan Howard at the helm, the Fridge ran for several more years until finally shutting its industrial grade doors for good in 2014.

Among the many acts who used the Fridge during its first incarnation were:

Grok, Nodrog, Hand of Glory, Big Muffin Serious Band, Dribbly Cat Attraction, The Emersons, Wendyhouse, BwaDaRiddim. Greg Locke (The Trons) often used this studio to record bands, as did Dave Whitehead, Scott Newth and Gordon Bassett.

The Hamilton compilation CD ‘The Fridge’ was recorded in the studio and released in 1995:

  1. Dean – Unfortunate flux
  2. 5 Girls – ITN Glamour
  3. Widdershins – Comfort Women
  4. Tugboat – Old timer
  5. Aquarium – Dispatch
  6. Boil Up – Karmagetit
  7. Nodrog – Don’t Grow
  8. Cave – Sicko
  9. Tsunami Band – Spit out the sun
  10. Phones and Accessories – Motorola
  11. Inchworm – 1987
  12. Wendyhouse – Skinny medley
  13. Hand of Glory – 16 tons
  14. Bwa da Riddim – Dob
  15. Mobile Stud Unit – Bob
  16. Big Muffin Serious Band – Who walks in when I walk out


Recordings from The Fridge 2009-2014:

The Prime Numbers – unreleased EP 2009, The Shrugs – Behold / Silver Bullet single 2009, Dynamo Go – Poor Alfred single 2010, Dead Fires – Hinterland single 2011, Dick Dynamite and the Doppelgangers – Live at The Fridge 2011, Hot Blooded Ripper – Live at The Fridge 2011, Penelope The – The Fridge Sessions 2011, Devilskin – demos 2011, The Shrugs – Costume Drama, 2012 Sora Shima – You are Surrounded 2014, Wizz Kids – The Fridge EP 2014


Dick Dynamite and The Doppelgangers: Deviant (From Live At The Fridge) 2011


Musicare Recording Studio and Peak Records 1989-

At around the same time as Tandys was breathing new life into the Waikato music scene out on Morrinsville Road another sound revolution was underway at the polar opposite end of the city on Sandwich Road, just off Te Rapa Straight, the cities northern gateway.

This story begins and ends with and self-taught Christchurch sound engineer Lawrence Arps who had found his way to Hamilton via repeat visits as the guitarist with covers bands Shady and Trooper. While in town, the bands would hire live rigs from Claudelands based Musicare Sound and later when Lawrence decided to move to Hamilton and took up with local cover acts Ragged Edges and The Break, he got to know the crew at Musicare Sound well enough for them to recognize that he not only had an interest in sound, but was a ‘pretty capable’ technician and between 1981-1987 Lawrence was kept busy doing live sound on Musicare rigs for various local (Midge Marsden, Knightshade) and touring acts at iconic city venues like The Hillcrest Tavern and The Lady Hamilton nightclub. Using the live rigs, Lawrence also did some informal recordings at various locations around the city including a session with songwriter Mike Farrell who was demoing the songs that ended up on Midge Marsden’s career defining ‘Burning Rain’ album.

In 1987 Lawrence left Musicare temporarily to work full-time at Home Run, a 16-track analogue facility in a factory space at the top of Sandwich Road (where it meets Te Rapa Straight). While Home Runs bread and butter was producing jingles for local radio it did take on a few bands from time to time. Arps: “As I became more proficient with the recording process I produced an album for The Wetbacks which lead to Knightshade (who I was mixing live). They asked me to produce their first two EPs.”

Home Run, struggling to stay solvent, went out of business in late 1989 and was bought up by Neil Reynolds owner of Musicare Sound who moved his operation from Claudelands to the Sandwich Road studio. Arps found himself back where he had started.

Arps: “Over several years we recoded many songs, albums, jungles, audio books, and soundtracks. Notable recordings include the 8Forty8 album ‘Edge of Time’, The Politicians album ‘Test Pattern’, Joy Adams’s ‘Come Home Baby Darling’ single (1990 NZCMA Country song of the year) and Craig Pollock’s (Knightshade) solo album ‘Just Looking’ (All released via Musicare’s label Peak Records). After doing some recordings for the Wintec Maori Performing Arts Department I ended up doing the Aorangi Genisis album (a Broadway style Maori language musical) and 5 albums of Kohanga Reo resources, as well as several other Maori language albums. Around this time I also helped mix ‘Acoustic Spirit’, an album by Dave Maybee and Peter Skandera.” (‘Acoustic Spirit’ was nominated for a NZ music award in 1994).

Lawrence left Musicare in 1994 and went onto teach Audio Engineering at Tai Poutini Polytechnic where he rewrote the Certificate course, helped rewrite the Diploma course and Live Sound course. “I moved into management in 2000 and oversaw the establishment of MAINZ Christchurch, designing the floor plan for the Polytechnic’s first recording studio. Through these years I also ran a trust helping young musicians prepare for the Smokefree Rockquest and now I’m in Wellington where I am employed as deputy Chief Executive at Whitireia New Zealand”. Arps still plays guitar and is currently producing an album for his band MochaChocoLatte.

Musicare’s equipment has continued to put to good use with Dave Maybee and Jason Horner recording Joy Adam’s award wining country music album ‘Higher Ground’ (featuring artists such as John Hore Grenell, the Trenworths, Liam Ryan -The Narcs and Ritchie Pickett). Jason also recorded The Nerve’s ‘Gobby’ album (1997) and assisted Dave Maybee with the Coalranger’s 2003 album ‘Harbourlight’ (Recorded in Lyttelton with the Musicare studio on location). The studio remains a popular production and demoing facility now based in the Hamilton suburb of Pukete.


Politicians: Energy 1985


8Forty8: Don’t Turn Your Back 1993


Joy Adams Come Home Baby Darling 1990




The Crew at the Zoo (Owner grant Hislop on far left of image)

The Zoo Recording Studio, 1992-97

The Zoo Studios, (564 Victoria Street in Hamilton) started off as the Rock 93FM production studio, recording advertisements, station imaging and occasionally some artists, Morrinsville based Country rocker Richie Pickett being the first, but Grant Hislop, owner and founder of The Rock had more ambitious plans for the production studio envisaging a ‘state of the art’ recording facility where he would record local bands for a label called Hark, whose mission statement was to nurture the untapped talent abounding in regions like the Waikato.

It was when local band Blackjack approached Hislop with their Zed Brookes produced album Deal, (recorded at Tandys in 1991) seeking airplay that Hislop realised he might have found the right person to help him get his studio idea off the ground. After several meetings, Brookes agreed to leave Tandys and go to work for Hislop full time. At 564 Victoria St. Brookes set to work on his most ambitious project yet, building and designing a state of the art digital recording studio, one destined to match the best that Auckland had to offer.

Blackjack’s bass player Scott Davies was the manager of Hamilton Demolition (an iconic fixture of the cities DIY scene) and through him Brookes was able to source most of the required building material including the soundproof glass for a fraction of the cost of new materials. Brookes describes the construction process: “It was a bit of a community effort. Sooz Brown (Three Men Missing/Silken Blue) sewed the entire inner fabric lining for the studio as one single piece and other local musicians with particular skills in design and carpentry pitched in as required at mate’s rates in effect creating a ‘million dollar studio’ on a very low budget.

ZOO CRoom Rear


Brookes: “When I came on board, the Rock production studio was running off a stupidly heavy TAC Scorpion desk wired up backwards, the result was that the studios Shure SM57 microphones were acting as little speakers. When we rebuilt the studio, we were looking for consoles that had some sort of automation, so for a while we had a Soundtracs Solo console. Then we moved up to an Amek “Big” console imported from the UK. This cost about $80,000 and Grant (Hislop) had to sell his shares in the Rock and The Edge to pay for it. It had computerised recall and automation like a low-budget SSL.

After removing the old console and rewiring every single insert jack ‘the other way around’ the import company forgot we needed it pronto and eventually, after stressed-out phone calls, they sent a guy down with the console on a trailer. To make matters worse after the first power-up the consoles power supplier caught fire, so we had to put the old console back in, and rewire everything until we could get a replacement power supplier from England about 10 days later. This was pre-internet, so updates involved dialing-up the manufacturer’s computer on the phone.

Initially big soffit-mounted JBL monitors were our main speaker system, and later on some Tannoy concentric monitors were added (amazing sound). Early recordings were on multitrack analogue tape, but eventually we bought some modular Alesis digital tape decks (“Blackface” ADATS), revolutionary technology that eventually required every single component inside them be replaced. Mix automation went from an Atari with eMagic Notator controlling the console mutes to a PC with the Amek’s proprietary Supertrue software controlling VCAs, mutes and MIDI triggers. The MIDI was a bit erratic to say the least. Our first hard drive died after 2 days. We also had some samplers – an Akai S1000 (which was awesome), and a really primitive (but kind of cool) Ensoniq Mirage.”

The Zoo officially opened on the 19th April 1993 with the Muttonbirds performing live to air in the studio via The Rock in a show dubbed The Electric Kitchen, a couple of weeks later the studio hosted another Electric Kitchen, this time featuring the Greg Johnson Set. (Other later Electric Kitchen Sessions included performances by Emulsifier and The Dead Flowers).

Properly baptized the Zoo was open for business. Nelson band The Exploding Poppies (winners of the 1992 Smokefree Rockquest) were the first band to use the studio, and the resulting song made it onto a NZ on Air – Kiwi Hit Disk, a sign that everyone at the Zoo took as a positive omen for the future.

Brooke’s managed the studio for a while, but with Hislop’s label Hark Records gaining momentum and increasing demands from his growing network of regional radio stations for in-house production new staff was hired to assist. Dean Leary (8Forty8/Hoola Troupe) and Darren McLean were hired to manage the day-to-day operations with Scott Newth, Grant Brodie, Dave Lowndes and Dave Whitehead acting as assistant engineers to Brookes. With the city lacking any formal training facilities for sound engineers, Dave Lowndes later established The Zoo School Of Audio Engineering.

Despite the fact that the studio was operating 24/7, it was struggling financially and without the income from the Rock and the Edge, (Hislop had sold his shares in the popular radio stations to finance the Zoo), Hislop debunked to Wellington to take up a radio management position in order to earn some money to keep his dream alive but without his enthusiasm, vision and drive on hand, the studio started losing clients and with mounting debts was forced to close in 1997.

Later that year Wintec (The Waikato Polytechnic) purchased the studios assets for their fledging School Of Audio Engineering and contracted Brookes to install the equipment and supervise the initial courses. It proved to be a good fit and Brookes stayed on for a number of years teaching sound engineering and songwriting.


Zoo Glass Painting

Zoo Studio Painting on Glass by Andrew Johnstone


Artists who recorded at the Zoo, including demos, singles, EP and album projects:

Blackjack, Jacqui Keelan, Tama Dean, Dusty Rhodes, Andy Bramwell, Craig Pollock, No Utopia, Zarzoff Brothers, Midge Marsden, Tim Armstrong, Sydney Melbourne, Dave Maybee,

Tim Mellalieu, Max Creepy, Subliminal Warfare, Knightshade, Bad Jelly, Tetnus, Stan Morgan, Pania Moka, Strangetown, Dave Williams, Inchworm, Denied Serenity, Andrew Johnstone, Richie Pickett, Datura, Living Proof, The Narcs, Dead Flowers, Blinder, Silken Blue, Fuckpig, Acrobat, Murray Jeffrey, Liam Ryan, Andrew Newth, Ashley Puriri, Bittersweet, Bitumus, Blunt, Chris and Rhonda Johnson aka Moofish.

Darryl Monteith, Death of a Monkey, Exit Wound, Fat Mannequin, Girls Talk, Greenstone, Hip Shooters, Ian Whitehouse, John Michaels and the Cheap Dates,

Julz Cairney, King Biscuit, Kumquots, Living Proof, Loose New Romans, Love and Violence, Makere Roa, Max Creepy, Midge Marsden, Mike Garner, Native Soul, No Thrills, Pitt Ramsey, Psyclops, Rare Vision, Romantic Andes, Ronnie Taylor, Scott Davies, Silken Blue, Slip of the Tongue, Stan Morgan, Subliminal Warfare, The Set, Tim Armstrong, Tombstone, Tony Koretz,

Trevor Shaw, Tumbleweed, Vivid FX, War Pigs, Wayne Panapa, Whisperscream, Wiki Thompson, Zooper.


Inchworm: Come Out Come Out 1995



King Biscuit: Crazy Dreams 1994


Fat Mannequin: Room and Spine 1997


The WINTEC School of Audio Engineering.

Besides acting as an educational facility, Wintec’s studio was available to hire and helped fill a gap in a city still desperately short of quality recording facilities. The Datsuns recorded ‘Super Gyration’ (their first single) here in 2000 and Katchafire, their first album, 2003’s ‘Revival’. Other notable local artists to use the facility were Psyclops, Scooter, Moofish, Tweeter and Leithe, otherwise Brookes was kept busy mastering numerous media projects that included Auckland band The Weather’s (helmed by Matthew Bannister, former member of iconic flying Nun band Sneaky Feelings), Ed Cake produced album ‘Aroha Ave’. Brookes also mastered Bannister’s solo album ‘Moth’ here.

With Wintec’s considerable financial resources at hand, Brookes added an early version of Pro-Tools (V3) to the studios kit and acquired 16-track 2” Studer tape recorder that was renowned for a curious fault- the ‘transporter’ often failing to stop when instructed to do so. The school purchased one of the first CD burners, a very unreliable Studer that cost $18,000, the blank CDs feeding it cost $30 each.

Brookes eventually left Wintec to take up a position at MAINZ Auckland and since the studio has ever continued to expand in scope. As well as serving the thriving School of Audio Engineering it is also used in numerous capacities by Wintec’s broad Media Department.

The dreams of the Tandys, Musicare, Home Run, The Fridge, The Zoo and numerous other smaller enterprises might have ended in an unsatisfactory manner for those involved, but their legacy lives on in a large catalogue of diverse recordings which mark a coming of age for the Hamilton music scene. Once isolated and somewhat insecure about its ambitions, Hamilton music as it stands today thrives footing it with the best the nation as a whole has to offer in genres as diverse as Jazz, Rock, Metal, Opera, Rap, Hip-Hop, Pop and everything experimental and Alt. On shaky foundations, great things have been built.


The Datsuns: Super Gyration 2000


Katchafire: Giddy Up 2003




Waitangi Day, A Good Outcome for all Concerned.

January 27, 2016

A few weeks back I was stopped by an anti-Treaty protestor on Queen Street in Auckland who informed me in no uncertain terms that Egyptian explorers had discovered the islands of New Zealand a thousand years before the Polynesians, (shoving some photos of rocks that may or may not have Egyptian like markings on them under my nose as proof), therefore making null and void the Treaty of Waitangi. “A compelling case is it not?” he said nodding vigorously while I looked about desperately for an escape route.

Yes, Waitangi day is just around the corner, annual event that brings the crazies discontented and self-righteous out in force, folk represented at one extreme by privileged Pakeha like Mike Hosking whose line is that Maori just need to get over themselves, (I mean how likely would you be to just ‘get over’ an orchestrated and ongoing campaign designed to divest you of your most valuable asset), and at the other end by Maori radicals who would see all non-Maori sent ‘home’ tomorrow, an intellectually indefensible position that ignores the fact that most non-Maori have nowhere to go to, coming from genetic lines that have been here long enough to make us fully as one with the soil of these islands.

The series of events which lead us to the current state of affairs begins 175 years ago when a group of Maori chiefs signed a treaty with the British Crown at the northland settlement of Waitangi that gave the Crown the exclusive right to buy lands Maori wished to sell and in return, Maori were guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions and were given the rights and privileges of British subjects in return for their co-operation. Later that year the British claimed full sovereignty over these islands kicking off the story of modern New Zealand.

While some Maori leaders wanted no part of the British plans for these islands, others accepted that the growing wave of European migrants was not going to stop and they had better get used to it and find a way to adapt. Some also hoped that British law would unify the various the Tribes and put a stop to the endless wars of conquest and retribution that had been plaguing the Tangata Whenua (a Māori term that means ‘people of the land’) for the last several hundred years. For these tribal leaders, the Treaty of Waitangi was a pragmatic act that they hoped would secure a better future for Maori.




In many ways the Treaty was a resounding success. Unlike the less than satisfactory fate that befell almost every other colonised people at this time, the Maori were never racially marginalised nor excluded from the mainstream of political and social life. Maori men received full voting rights in the fledgling NZ democracy in 1867, (12 years before European men), and in 1893 all women, both Maori and Pakeha, were ‘allowed’ the right to vote.

The problem was land, the new settlers wanted it and Maori, still figuring their way around the European philosophy of land ownership, found themselves ripped off left right and centre and when land sales were not forthcoming, some new migrants took it upon themselves to form militias and simply take it at the point of a gun which lead to the only internal war New Zealand has ever experienced.

Between 1840 and 1860 Pakeha and Maori faced off in a series of conflicts that introduced the British to trench warfare (a Maori innovation) and the world to the concept of non-violent resistance, an idea developed and refined by Taranaki tribal leader Te Whiti. It was a brutal time and while Maori lost a great deal of land, they proved themselves to be a formidable foe, but in the end war proved to be the least effective way of appropriating land so for the next 120 years or so the Crown used legislation in various guises to sequester land as required, deliberately breaching the tenants of the Treaty under the guise of law.



Redmayne, Thomas:Attack on the Maori Pah at Rangiriri. [1863].


By the time the 1970s rolled around Maori had had enough and Dame Whina Cooper sparked a fire than wasn’t going to be put out when in 1975 when she led a march from Northland to Wellington protesting the unjust and ongoing confiscation of Maori lands. In 1978 Eva Rickard led an occupation of the Raglan Golf Course in the Waikato, an incendiary act that caused a great deal commotion, arrests and breast beating but she won, claiming back a large tract of ancestral land that had been ‘borrowed’ by the Government for the building of a WW2 airfield and that somehow had ending up as a golf course for local Pakeha.




1975: Dame Whina Cooper (aged 80) begins her historic land march


At the same time in Auckland a fuss was brewing over a parcel of land on Bastion Point, one that the Government had ‘borrowed’ in 1882 for strategic defence purposes, (it was feared that the Russian’s were planning an invasion and Bastion Point and its position overlooking the harbour entrance to Auckland was the perfect place for defensive gun impalements), and that had not been returned as promised.

It ended up in the hands of the Auckland City Council who in the early 1970’s were planning to sell off the land for housing development. This upset the local Iwi who moved in and after 507 days of ‘illegal’ occupation were forcibly removed by 600 police and army personnel. Messy as the whole business was, it proved a turning point for Maori. Bastion Point was eventually returned to the Iwi concerned and the era of intense soul-searching, apologies and financial restitution for past wrongs had begun.


Maori Protestors occupy Bastion Point 1977


The relationship between Pakeha and Maori has not always been easy but underneath all the shenanigans there has always been a strong impulse toward unity and by and large, two culturally disparate people have forged an extraordinary bond while building an exceptional first world democracy.

In the end Maori are only doing what the law allows, challenging a breach of contract and the reactionaries are doing what reactionaries do, finding ways of invalidating the Treaty for whatever ends they are serving. For the rest of us, the Treaty has given cause for honest self-reflection on the nature of justice, obligation, kinship, loyalty and nationhood and the result has been deeply rewarding for almost everyone concerned.