A few weeks ago, I travelled to Wellington for the launch of my 82 year old uncle Jack Duggan’s autobiographical poetry collection. It took place on a Sunday afternoon in the hall of his local inner city parish, St Joseph’s Mt Victoria.
What was most impressive was that one of my uncle’s fellow parishioners at Mt Victoria, New Zealand’s Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand, had graciously agreed to launch the book.
The collection, titled Echoes from the Bones, is a release from local publisher Steele Roberts. It contains almost 300 pages of poems from Jack’s rich and adventurous life.
One of the most memorable is about his image of God as a boy growing up in Bendigo, Victoria. God lived in the spire of the city’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. God had soft brown eyes, and talked to the pigeons. Jack believed – and continues to believe, according to the poem – that one day he will join God and the pigeons inside the spire.
Sir Anand’s arrival was accompanied by some degree of ceremony. Following the formal part of the proceedings, he mingled with the 110 friends and family members who attended. I told him that CathNews was excited that his Australian counterpart Quentin Bryce has agreed to write a reflection for one of our Mary MacKillop special editions.
He readily agreed to write his own reflection, which he subsequently emailed a couple of days later. He wrote of growing up in a Catholic family in Auckland in the midst of the ‘Brown Joes’, as the sisters are affectionately known in New Zealand.
Following my return to Sydney, I put my five minute amateur video of Sir Anand's launch speech on to YouTube so that Jack’s family in Australia could get an idea of the event. I was very surprised when I saw on the YouTube page that, instead of 10 or 20 viewers, I'd had over 400.
I investigated and discovered that the infamous kiwi shock jock Paul Henry had embedded my video on his website. It was an exhibit, put there to prove some point he was trying to make about Sir Anand’s suitability for the position of Governor General.
Henry, who was co-presenter of the breakfast news program on TVNZ, had stirred outrageous controversy by asking Prime Minister John Key during an interview: “Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?''
Sir Anand was born and raised in Auckland in an Indo-Fijian family. He has had a distinguished career as a barrister, ombudsman and District Court judge. But Paul Henry seemed to regard race as a more significant indicator of suitability for Governor General.
When debate followed, Henry received support from many New Zealanders, and initial backing from TVNZ, which reportedly suggested that Henry was only voicing what many people thought. I was unimpressed with TVNZ, and reminded that the current Managing Director of Australia’s SBS TV Shaun Brown was head of TVNZ’s main channel before he came to Australia, where he has presided over a diminution of SBS’s multicultural focus in favour of a sometimes crass commercialism.
My image of New Zealand as a more tolerant and racially integrated nation than Australia was shattered. However Henry and TVNZ capitulated, and he has now resigned from his position. Perhaps my image of New Zealand has been resuscitated. For his part, my uncle Jack wrote to The Listener magazine to defend his friend against Henry’s “offhand swipe [which] must affront all intelligent New Zealanders”.
There could well be a poem about Paul Henry in Jack’s next collection. It’s unlikely that Henry will be cohabiting the spire of Bendigo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral with Sir Anand, the pigeons and God with soft brown eyes.
Michael Mullins is editor of CathBlog and Eureka Street. Echoes from the Bones is available online from the publisher Steele Roberts - http://www.steeleroberts.co.nz/books/isbn/9781877577147
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