Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thematic Photographic: Sweet

This is one of the photos I took in Oamaru (see my last-but-two post for the background). I'm repeating it here for ease of linking, for Carmi's "Thematic Photographic" this week. As soon as I saw that his topic was sweet I thought of this one. For more sweet photographs, visit Carmi here

Political Rant

So, the UK has decided to impose a new tax on airline travel, with the furthest destinations attracting the highest taxes ie South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

At first, I thought that this meant that if we manage to return to the UK (which I would dearly love to do, to see all the places associated with my ancestors that I didn't manage to fit in the first time around), that we would pay a hefty departure tax for leaving Britain. After mulling over all the news reports, I realised that the UK actually plan to tax airline tickets bought there, so that those buying a return fare from New Zealand to the UK and back won't pay the tax. (At least, that's what I thought. At least one newspaper article I looked at suggests otherwise. Maybe if I return I'll fly to Paris and travel from there by train).

Why does this still bother me? First, I think it is a revenue-gathering exercise. There is no sign that the government actually plans to use the money to put into measures to combat environmental problems - unlike airlines and tour companies that give travellers the option to buy carbon offsets, which are invested in environmentally helpful projects.

Secondly, I don't think it is entirely Britain's problem. Travellers from Britain don't fly to Australia or New Zealand. They fly to Singapore, or Dubai, or Hong Kong, or Los Angeles, and from there, after a short or longer stopover, they continue. So - what happens if these countries also decide to tax air travel, and they do it by slapping on an airport departure tax? Double taxation is what happens.

Thirdly, it affects our economy in a rather large way. Tourism is a big earner here. Many of our young people spend a couple of years living and working in the UK, and will be hit when they buy a ticket to come back. There will be other effects.

None of these are the real reason for my upset . Emotionally, it bothers me for several more reasons.

Firstly, because I feel as if I have done the responsible thing - worked, saved, bought the house, raised the family, looked forward to travelling when they were grown, and suddenly I am being told that it is a Bad Thing to enjoy the pleasure of travel. Every tax on air travel is another government trying to make me feel guilty. (I'm pretty good at the guilt thing all by myself).

Secondly, because in New Zealand we feel small and isolated. It feels as if we are being told "none of the popular kids want to play with you any more, because you are too far away." Or "our mummy says we are not allowed to play with you any more."

And thirdly, because after all, we are here because Britain put us here. Not all New Zealanders of course, but a large proportion of New Zealanders, and Australians, are here because of British colonisation. We have strong emotional ties to Britain. Though I don't think they really remember that, any more - not as much as we do, anyway.

Here's a link to a piece in the Melbourne Age
and a New Zealand reaction

(I wonder if they would help the environment more by taxing the short haul flights the most. After all, these are the ones where the tax might actually encourage people to take land-based options such as rail. For New Zealand and Australia, there are no options.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Congratulations Joanna

Good to see in our newspaper this morning that local poet Joanna Preston has won the inaugural Kathleen Grattan award for poetry. This brings with it $16000 and publication of her collection, which I am eagerly looking forward to.

(OK, it's a rather pathetic headline. But at least there is some poetry news in the paper).

And here is Joanna's blog. (And she keeps chickens, too. I have to respect a poet who keeps chickens.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oamaru

Our trip was timed to coincide with the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Festival - a week of celebrations held annually. There are various events such as a garden party, ball, street parade, penny farthing races etc, culminating in a Victorian fete on the Sunday. This is held in the historic precinct by the harbour, an area containing 19th century whitestone buildings which were once used as grain stores - rather more elaborate than such buildings would be today.

Oamaru was at the height of its prosperity around 1880 and had the same population as San Francisco. One town flourished, the other stagnated. Because of this, the old buildings didn't get pulled down in the cause of "development" and Oamaru has been proposed for World Heritage status.

Here's Harbour St the night before, bedecked with flags but rather empty



and here it is at the height of the festivities, complete with Morris dancers



jugglers



a trick cyclist



Traditional crafts were on display



The locals really put a lot of effort into their costumes each year. I was talking to the first of these women, who told me that she has a new costume nearly every year, often making them herself. This one she had made, and may keep it for another year as she will be having a ballgown made for next year.







This girl's parents were running a street stall, and she was perched up on the windowsill just behind enjoying the festivities



More to come

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Great Wildlife Search

The Otago peninsula (just out of Dunedin) is known for its wildlife experiences, many of course, packaged and priced for tourists. I've been wanting for years to see the albatrosses, however Kay (who worked there last summer) had told me that the observatory there is closed from September to November for nesting season.

In the end I decided to take a drive out on the peninsula anyway, just to see what we could see. After all, we checked out of our accommodation in Dunedin at 10 a.m. and check in time in Oamaru (just over an hour away) wasn't till four.

I wasn't sorry. At Taiaroa Head



we arrived just in time to see a magnificent albatross soaring over the carpark - and it was entirely free to view. Just to underscore the size of this amazing bird, on one pass, it was followed by a seagull madly flapping its wings trying to keep up, while the albatross, many times its size, travelled in an effortless glide.

This is my best photo of the albatross.



Yes, I missed it. (That's a duck in the previous photograph). I guess my bird photography skills aren't what I thought they were, the one in the post a couple of days ago being a lucky fluke.

We also spotted a sealion basking on the beach below. I hoped to get a "head up" photo but it wasn't cooperating. In the end we decided that it just wanted to bask in the sun, and we started to walk away, at which point it made a dash for the sea, which it had reached by the time I had my camera pointed.



This beach had a sign up saying that penguins come ashore here at dusk, (from 8.30 at this time of year). If I had known that, I might have come out the night before instead of lounging on my bunk.

However we were headed to Oamaru which is known for penguins. Upon enquiry, we were told where we might see hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) from about 5 pm on, at no cost, or little blue penguins from dusk, at a charge. So we tried for the yellow-eyed penguins first. The public viewing hide has been constructed on cliffs above the beach. These are not very social birds so they come ashore in ones and twos, their nests well apart. The pair we spotted were well down the beach. Can you see them? (This is maximum zoom - 12x - on my camera).



Perhaps this heavily cropped photo will help.



The little blue penguins are much more social and live in a colony. They have been protected by the fencing off of an area and predator proofing it, which has allowed for the building of a tourist facility and viewing stand rather like one at a sports arena. So, of course, a charge to view. The advantage though is the orange lights installed for easier viewing. Apparently the penguins don't see orange light and think it is dark. Strictly no photographs though, because the flash will put them off. (If I had been bolder, I would have taken a few shots of the early arrivals, before the flash was necessary. But I'm good and play by the rules, mostly). It was quite fascinating to see the rafts of penguins arriving (that's what each group is called), surfing up on the rocks on a breaking wave, and clambering over the rocks to get to their burrows.

Having paid the entry fee, I was a bit miffed the next morning when a young Japanese woman at the backpackers told me she had gone to see penguins on the beach behind the Whisky Company, at no cost at all (but of course, no orange light).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Dunedin Photos

Dunedin was a prosperous city in the 19th century due to the discovery of gold in the region. Later, however, industry and the population moved north. This means that the old buildings weren't pulled down for development as much as in some other cities, and it has a fine collection of Victorian and Edwardian architecture.

This is the wonderfully ornate railway station:





A detail of an old house near the archives building:



About a fifth of the population are university students. Since exams are over, many of the students have left town, but not without leaving their mark:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Road Trip

I took a few days off work, since it was over a year since my last holiday, and went on a road trip. My youngest daughter came along for the ride.

We drove down to Dunedin last Thursday, where I spent the afternoon doing family history research in the Presbyterian Church archives, before checking into our motor camp. Then Kay came to pick us up and we went to an Indian vegan cafe for a meal, followed by a poetry reading. Photos on Kay's blog here. (Scroll down, it is quite a long post).

The next day I went for an early walk along St Kilda and St Clair beach (they merge together), which is familiar to me from the photos Kay has posted on her blog from time to time.





These children were part of a school group who had been staying at the motor camp.



Then research in the Dunedin branch of the National Archives while daughter C browsed in the museum, followed by a visit to the Early Settlers Museum.

We were planning to drive round the Otago Peninsula but I realised I had left the sunblock at the motor camp. So I headed back to put some on, on the way I decided to stop in at Anderson's Bay cemetery to visit a few relatives.



This is the amazing view from the cemetery - I believe the beach is called Tomahawk Beach.



It was a very hot day and by the time we returned to the motor camp I had a nasty headache so there was a change of plans and I spent the rest of the day being very lazy resting on my bunk.

Lots more photos to come.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That Other Election



Yes, the one in New Zealand - not as newsworthy or exciting as the one in the US, but every twelve years they coincide.

Here is an Australian doing what the Australians do best - mocking New Zealand.

That's OK, we give as good as we get. It was a former New Zealand Prime Minister who once made a famous comment that New Zealanders leaving for Australia raised the average IQ of both countries...

We have a complicated electoral system here, though not as complicated as some, which means that we get two votes - one for the candidate to represent our electorate, and one for the party which is to govern the country. So, of course, in the twelve years since MMP began, we have never had a majority government, they always have to form a coalition with one or more smaller parties. There are a long list of these contesting each election, but most fall under one of the three r's: the radical, the reactionary, or the ridiculous.

In the latter category is the Bill and Ben party, to whom we owe the best quote of the election night coverage:
"We can't be voted off, we found the hidden immunity idol".

New Zealanders thought otherwise. The minor parties that did make it into Parliament were the Green Party, the Maori Party, the right wing ACT, centrist United Future, and left wing Progressive Party (one seat each for the last two). So now we are waiting to see how our rather centrist new right wing Prime Minister will hold off the more right wings demand from the ACT party, possibly by playing them off against the Maori Party.

One thing about outgoing Prime Minister Helen Clark is that she was superb at holding together unlikely coalitions.

John Key on the other hand promised in his victory speech to make New Zealand safer, more prosperous, reward (or was that encourage?) ambition, and help those who can't help themselves. He didn't quite promise to do it in six days...

Another newspaper article suggested that New Zealanders are quite realistic and that what they expected of Helen Clark is more of the same, and what they expect of John Key is more of the same, with tax cuts. He could well be right.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Poetry and the Listener

There are two mainstream publications in New Zealand that make quality poetry more accessible to the general reader - the Listener and North and South. The only other journals that regularly publish poetry are the small circulation literary magazines.
North and South being monthly publishes twelve poems a year. The Listener is a weekly which publishes television listings, but also articles, reviews etc of general interest and therefore by publishing a poem an issue, brings us fifty two poems a year. Except that sometimes it leaves them out. And recently it has been suggested that they will stop publishing poetry because of the economic recession. For more on this see Beatties Book Blog here.

As a reader, the first thing I look for when I get my weekly copy of the Listener is the poem. I'm always disappointed if they've missed it out. It is one way of getting exposure to a wide range of New Zealand poets. If all I wanted was the TV listings, I could get them from much cheaper rival publications, or from the newspaper.

Writers of novels don't rely on magazines. It may be hard to get a first novel published, but the only real way is to write it and send it out to publishers, directly or through an agent. Poetry is different. I've been surprised at some of the names I've heard nominated for "best first book of poetry" in our book awards, because often they are poets who have been publishing in magazines for year. The market for poetry books is so small, that publishers want to see a good publication history in magazines before they will consider a book deal. There are few enough magazines out there that the loss of even one is - well, I won't say tragic, when there are real tragedies in which people lose their lives - but it is very disappointing.

Doubly so because the Listener apparently pays quite well, from what I've heard.

New Zealanders - if you want to contact the Listener, the arts editor concerned is Guy Somerset, and the website has contact details.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Bookless

Well, not actually bookless - my shelves are quite crowded and there's always the library. However, I signed up for the e-mail list at our local branch of Borders. This week's coupon was for 50% of a full-price book which seemed well worth the effort of a special trip.

I don't browse at Borders nearly as much as I used to. It is right beside one of the myriad of routes that I can take between home and one of my two jobs. However, if I go there on the way home I am faced with a very tricky right-hand turn into peak hour traffic to get out of there again, so I tend to avoid it. Instead, I tried to make a quick visit in the middle of the day while travelling between the two jobs (meaning a left turn, much easier as we drive on the left here).

I quickly remembered the other reason I've been avoiding the place. The mall is building a new multi-storey parking building on the convenient car park that I used to use. By the time I found a car park that wasn't rendered useless by construction activity, I had a long walk to get to the books.

And when I got there, I really couldn't find a special book that called to me - that said "I am the book you have to have, one to be part of your life forever, one for which four weeks loan from the library just won't do." There was one, which I won't name, which I had wanted to buy a couple of months back when I had a book token, but the paper quality turned out to be so poor that I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Of course, in about three days, after my voucher runs out, I will probably remember several books that I really, really want, but for now my mind is blank.