Friday, December 19, 2014

No partridge, and now no quail either

(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, December 17.)

We had a sharp reminder last week of how merciless nature can be.
For several weeks my wife and I had been watching a pair of California quail that had taken up residence somewhere nearby and spent much of their time on our property.

It’s unusual to see quail in an urban environment (we live in the middle of town) and we assumed they were living in the reserve beyond our back fence.
They were very welcome visitors and we did our best to make them feel at home. California quail strike me as benign interlopers. They don’t seem to compete directly with native species for food, they don’t (unlike magpies) harass other birds and they don’t (unlike another Australian immigrant, the spur-winged plover) disturb the peace with raucous calls.

As time went by the quail, which are extremely wary birds, seemed to get used to our presence. For our part, we felt oddly flattered that they felt at home at our place. We hoped that in due course they would appear with a clutch of chicks.
We still assumed they were domiciled somewhere else. Then, a couple of weekends ago, my wife came across their nest as she was clearing undergrowth around the base of a gleditsia tree in the middle of our lawn.

All this time they had been under our noses. Remarkably, they hadn’t been deterred by the roar of the motor mower passing only a metre away.
We fretted that the birds might abandon the nest once their cover was blown, but no; the female resolutely stayed put. The male remained close by, keeping a vigilant eye out for predators.

About a week ago, we were rewarded with the sight we’d been hoping for. Mr and Mrs Quail appeared on the lawn leading seven balls of fluff so tiny that initially it was hard to see them.
We took an irrational pleasure in seeing these comical creatures scrambling to keep up with their parents as they explored the garden, but now we had a new reason to be anxious.

Being ground nesters, quail are highly susceptible to predators. I imagine that’s the reason they typically produce quite large clutches of chicks – sometimes 20 or more. The more chicks, the better the chance that at least some will survive.
Quail chicks also develop very quickly. They can leave the nest with their parents within 24 hours of hatching and can fly (well, as much as quails ever fly) within 10 days. But those 10 days were going to be critical.

We don’t own a cat but some of our neighbours do, and we regularly see them on our section. I’ll sometimes come up across a telltale scattering of feathers indicating one of these hunters has made a kill. (You can see where this is going, can’t you?)
We quickly became accustomed to the sight of the quail family roaming our section, the chicks growing visibly bigger by the day. We felt like proud proxy parents.

But when there was no sighting for 24 hours, I went looking. It didn’t take long. On the lawn, just a metre from our deck, I saw what I’d hoped not to see: two mangled, bloodied corpses, neatly laid almost on top of each other.
My first impression, from their long legs and surprisingly mature plumage, was that I was looking at the two adult birds. It was almost a relief to realise, on closer investigation, that they were chicks. It was amazing how quickly they had grown.

Of their parents and siblings, there was no sign. We could only hope they had escaped. Even if they had survived, we thought it unlikely that we would see them back. They would now regard our place as a danger zone.
In fact the two adults briefly re-appeared after an absence of several days, but we haven't seen them since. There was no sign of their chicks. Perhaps they were being kept in hiding, but it’s more likely that cats got the whole lot.

We all know this is how nature operates, but it’s a brutal lesson when it strikes so close to home.
Does it make me want to shoot the neighbours’ cats? No. Cats do what they’re biologically programmed to do, which is hunt and kill. But it has certainly made me more sympathetic to Gareth Morgan. I’ve been ambivalent about the presence of cats on our property in the past, but I’ll be observing a zero tolerance policy now.

Until a few days ago, I’d been toying with the idea of writing a last column before Christmas on the theme that while we don’t have a pear tree, still less a partridge, nature had given us a present in the form of that quail family. Unfortunately this is not that column.
It’s hard to explain why the birds brought us such pleasure. They just did. We can only hope the adults will try again, and that this time some chicks will survive.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A nation succumbs to emotional incontinence


(First published in The Dominion Post, December 12.)
I think it was the British psychiatrist and writer Theodore Dalrymple who coined the term “emotional incontinence” to describe mass displays of extravagant grief.
Dalrymple wasn’t referring to the neurological disorder of that name, but a sociological phenomenon that was first noted in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.

On that occasion the traditionally stoical British public indulged in an uncharacteristic outpouring of mawkish sentimentality, gathering in the streets to weep on each other’s shoulders at impromptu shrines decorated with teddy bears. (Why teddy bears? You tell me.)  
Until recently, that public grief-fest stood as the high-water mark of emotional incontinence. But astonishingly, Australians may have outdone the Brits with their reaction to the death of the cricketer Phillip Hughes.

I say “astonishingly” because Australia likes to think of itself as tough and resilient; a larrikin society where hard men in the tradition of Ned Kelly, Jimmy Spithill, Steve Irwin, Dennis Lillee and the fictional Crocodile Dundee spit in the eye of adversity.
But now the secret is out. Australia’s soft emotional underbelly has been exposed.

Hughes’ death not only triggered an overblown media frenzy that continues almost unabated after two weeks, but seemed to reduce some of his fellow players to gibbering wrecks. Who would have thought Australian cricketers were so emotionally fragile?
Counsellors were working with Australian teams, we were told. Some players might never pad up again.

So traumatised were the Australian players that on the day before this week’s postponed test match against India began, there was still doubt as to whether some would be fit to take the field.
Most memorably, we saw the Australian captain, Michael Clarke breaking down like an overwrought teenager.

“We must dig in and get through to tea,” a quivering Clarke told mourners at Hughes’ funeral, in what sounded suspiciously like a line composed by a PR hack to wring maximum sentiment from the occasion.
We hear a lot these days about PDAs – public displays of affection, usually involving celebrity couples, that are criticised as exercises in attention-seeking. I wonder if intemperate public displays of grief should be similarly discouraged.

Certainly, it’s hard to escape the feeling that such displays are often less about the dead than the living.
Deaths happen in sport – most notably in motor racing, where fellow drivers do their grieving in private and move on.

Strangely enough, I don’t recall Australia’s jockeys being so psychologically damaged by the deaths of two female colleagues in separate accidents in October, only weeks before the Hughes incident, that they cancelled all riding engagements. Jockeys, like racing drivers, must be made of sterner stuff than cricketers.
The grieving for Hughes wasn't just excessive to the point of self-indulgence; it was hypocritical too. As sports columnist Mark Reason pointed out in this paper, it was Michael Clarke who told an English batsman last year, “Face up – get ready for a broken f***ing arm”.

The Australian captain clearly loves to indulge in macho sledging, enjoys pumping up the intimidation, but goes to pieces when a teammate dies as a direct result of gladiatorial aggression on the field. Can he join the dots, or does his ego get in the way?
Of course social media had to get in on the act too, with a mass exercise in dribbling self-pity called Put Out Your Bats, the originator of which – a man so psychologically frail that he burst into tears when he heard of Hughes’ death – was lauded in the Australian media as a hero and a celebrity in his own right.

The Put Out Your Bats campaign captured perfectly the spirit of the social media era. It required little of its participants and achieved nothing beyond making them feel good for having engaged in what they no doubt thought was some sort of profound communal act of catharsis.
To be sure, Hughes’ death was a tragedy – not so much because it robbed Australia of a great cricketing talent, but because every life taken prematurely is a tragedy.

More than anyone, his family would have been grieving, but significantly we heard virtually nothing about them. It was all about the game and its cosseted, self-absorbed stars.
In the same week that Hughes died, my wife lost a much-loved sister. She nursed her in her final days and was with her when she breathed her last.

Bereavement didn’t leave my wife in a state of abject helplessness. The day after we held a farewell ceremony for her sister, she was back at work. That’s what people do in the real world. They just get on with things.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stop bullshitting us, prime minister


(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, December 3.)
The day after winning re-election, prime minister John Key warned that one of the biggest risks his government faced in its third term was arrogance. What a pity he didn’t heed his own advice.
Over the past few weeks, we have observed a National government that seems determined to live up to every stereotype about third terms. It has been arrogant, smug and incompetent.

Worse than that, it appears to have undergone an integrity by-pass.
Key has given new Labour leader Andrew Little a dream start, and Little has the ability to take full advantage of it. More by good luck than good management, Labour has found itself with a leader who could prove a real handful for National. 

I would go further and say that if National and Key carry on as they have in the past few weeks, there’s a good prospect of a Little-led government in 2017.
Let’s examine National’s performance in greater detail. We’ll start with the accusation of arrogance.

With very little warning, the government proposed radical changes to security laws and allowed practically no time for people to make submissions. It displayed utter contempt for the normal democratic process.
It didn’t even bother trying to explain why an overhaul of the security laws was suddenly so urgent. “Don’t bother your tiny little heads fretting about civil liberties and the right to be free from surveillance,” the government effectively said. “Just believe us when we say the country is at imminent risk of terrorism. Trust us, because we know what we’re doing.”

Trouble was, the legislation was introduced to Parliament in the same week as the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence confirmed that the former head of the SIS was up to his eyeballs in the leaking of information calculated to damage one of the National government’s opponents.

Trust them? Yeah, right.
The perception of arrogance was compounded by the performance of the Attorney-General and Minister in Charge of the SIS, Chris Finlayson.

This is the minister charged with ensuring our rights are protected. Yet when Guyon Espiner questioned him on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report about why the security legislation was being bulldozed through Parliament, Finlayson testily replied that the government didn’t have time for “chit-chat”.
He subsequently made what purported to be an apology in Parliament, but he didn’t look at all apologetic to me. In fact he looked very pleased with himself.

Finlayson is reputedly a clever man, and knows it; but clever men have a way of tripping over their own egos. He’s also a list MP, and I wonder if he would be quite so cocky if he had to answer to an electorate.
Even before the appearance of the proposed new security laws, the government had shown signs of third-term arrogance.  Within weeks of winning the election, it had pushed through new employment laws that were widely criticised as eroding workers’ rights.

I’m not convinced that the new laws are quite as oppressive as the critics say, but it was the symbolism that struck me. Here was a newly re-elected government using its majority to ensure the speedy passage of laws that were seen as anti-worker.
If it wanted to send out a signal confirming all those old left-wing claims about National acting in the interests of the bosses, it couldn’t have done a better job.

Now let’s look at the charge of incompetence. Consider the following.
■ Murderer and paedophile Phillip Smith, a man known to be clever and manipulative as well as evil, escaped to South America because of staggering naivety on the part of the Corrections Department;

■ The State Services Commission presided over an embarrassing sexual harassment fiasco in which it was seen as supporting the senior public servant whose behaviour was the subject of the complaint;
■ As already mentioned, the former head of the SIS allowed himself to be used in an underhand smear campaign aimed at discrediting a senior Labour politician.

In each case, incompetence and bad judgment on a grand scale. But did we see any of the responsible cabinet ministers, or even department heads, volunteering to fall on their swords? 
Ministerial accountability used to be a core principle of Westminster-style democracy. Ministers carried the can for their departments’ cockups even when they weren’t personally to blame.

It’s a harsh system, but an effective way of ensuring discipline and accountability right down through the chain of command. It means someone has to pay when things go wrong. After all, if no one suffers, where’s the incentive to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
But don’t hold your breath for waiting for ministers in this government to maintain that tradition. It’s just not going to happen.

Finally, there’s the issue of Key and his relationship with Cameron Slater, which brings us to the subject of integrity.
I now seriously wonder whether the prime minister has any, given his pathetic dissembling over whether he’d been in touch with Slater. That came on top of his preposterous claim recently that when he spoke to Slater, it wasn’t in his capacity as prime minister.

For heaven’s sake, give us a break. This is altogether too cute and too cocky. People have given Key the benefit of the doubt before, but there must come a time when his credibility runs out.
You could argue, I suppose, that if he has some sort of political death wish that compels him to continue dealing with Slater, that’s his prerogative. But what’s inexcusable is that he plays us for mugs by bullshitting us.

At the very least, he should show us a bit more respect.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Labour picked the right leader


(First published in The Dominion Post on November28, though you won’t find it on the paper’s website.)
Initial reaction to Andrew Little’s election as Labour Party leader was mostly dismissive.

Critics pointed out that he couldn’t win his home town seat of New Plymouth and was lucky to squeak back into Parliament at all. They also made much of the fact that Little won the leadership contest by the narrowest of margins and wasn’t the choice of his fellow MPs.
We were repeatedly reminded that without union support, Little’s bid would have failed – choice propaganda material for the Right, given older New Zealanders’ memories of the damage done by militant trade unionism in the 1970s and 80s.

Then there were the jibes about Little being dour and humourless – a bit harsh, I thought, given that the entire leadership contest was a personality-free zone.
But while all of these criticisms were valid, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Labour under Little is doomed to continue its slide into self-destruction and irrelevancy.

My view is that even if he was elected by the skin of his teeth under a flawed process that gives too much power to the unions, Labour ended up with the right leader.
True, he’s not exactly charismatic, but neither was Helen Clark when she became Labour leader. She went on to win three terms.

I first met Little when he led the university students’ association in the late 1980s. I’ve had occasional dealings with him since then and found him personable, direct and straight.
Those last two qualities in particular are worth noting. Little doesn’t strike me as a man who seeks to ingratiate himself with people by saying whatever he thinks his audience might want to hear.

That sets him apart from his predecessor, David Cunliffe, and I suspect from Grant Robertson too.
Cunliffe was notable for talking tough in left-wing forums but then modifying his stance immediately afterwards.  He also brought ridicule on himself for apologising to a women’s refuge audience for being a man.

As for Robertson, he always seemed just a bit too keen to portray himself as one of the boys – a Kiwi bloke who liked nothing more than a night at the pub watching the footy. I suspect this was an over-reaction to the perception that people might be biased against him because he was gay.
Politicians often don’t seem to realise how transparent and calculating they look, but Little comes across as authentic. 

He comes from an unusual background. His father, a former British Army major, was a National Party stalwart who wrote trenchant letters to the papers, often on Middle East issues.
Major Little had served in the Middle East and was strongly pro-Palestinian – an unusual position for a National Party man. The younger Little may have inherited some of his father’s spirit even though they weren’t politically compatible.

Despite his union background, he’s no ideologue. He’s grounded in the real world and can speak the language of business people. I would suggest that of the four leadership contenders, he was by far the best placed to appeal to the centre ground.
He has made a good start with a series of confident media performances, which wouldn’t surprise those who know him, and a combative stance in the House.  His biggest challenge may not be reaching out to the country, but winning the support of ideologues in his faction-ridden party.

A factor in Little’s favour is that his mix of university education and union experience  makes him ideally placed to bridge the gap between the disparate wings of the party – the latte-drinking, liberal inner-city dwellers on the one hand and the traditional blue-collar support base on the other.
The natural electoral cycle may work in his favour too. National governments are never less attractive than when they assume the triumphalist, born-to-rule manner that sometimes comes with third terms.

Besides, by 2017 New Zealanders may decide it’s time the balance was tipped back in favour of working people. Only last week, statistics confirmed that while the economy continues to grow and business profits keep rising, employees are enjoying only a small share of the gains.
This is a fair-minded country, and it goes against the grain that corporate salaries have risen to grotesque levels while wage earners struggle to keep up with the cost of living. 

The balance of power in the labour market has shifted radically. The trade union tyranny which New Zealand experienced a generation ago is no longer the risk. A much bigger problem now is corporate tyranny and arrogance.  
It follows that the prospect of a Little-led Labour government may not be quite as far-fetched as it first seems.

 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Unfortunately, the migration door swings both ways


I’VE RECENTLY been reading a book by the English journalist A A Gill. The Golden Door is a book about America – a country that fascinates Gill, and in which he finds much to like.
Gill’s observations about immigration particularly resonated with me. Writing about the great wave of humanity that left Europe for America in the 19th century, he cites some striking statistics.

Between 1800 and 1914, 30 million Europeans emigrated to the New World. If that doesn’t sound a big number, consider it in this context: Ireland lost one in four of its population, Sweden one in five. Five million Poles, four million Italians and three million Germans crossed the Atlantic.
As Gill points out, “all entrances on one stage are exits elsewhere”. While we tend to think of migration to America in terms of what that country gained, Gill reminds us that it represented an enormous human loss for Europe. Every departure was “a farewell, a sadness, a defeat”. The Irish would hold wakes so that they could mourn those leaving.

He writes movingly of the “gut-wrenching finality of separation”. Those departing would hug their mothers, drink a toast with friends, take a last look at the old house, pat the family dog, and leave. Very few would ever return.
Gill reminds us too that the people who left were usually the ones who could be spared least. “Like a biblical curse, the biblical land called the young and the strong from Europe: the adventurous, the clever and the skilled.”

There are clear parallels here with the New Zealand experience, because ours is an immigrant society too. We can’t be sure what motivated the Polynesian voyagers who first settled New Zealand; some suggest overcrowding on their home islands, depletion of food resources or warfare.
Others theorise that they may simply have been driven by an adventurous urge to discover and colonise new lands. But whatever the explanation, they were obviously looking for something better – and perhaps they too were the young and the strong, the risk-takers.

My own forebears were certainly not prepared to accept the status quo in the countries of their birth. On my mother’s side they were Irish Catholics, economically disadvantaged and politically powerless. On my father’s side, they were getting out of a country (Denmark) that had recently been invaded by the Prussian army.
Life in Europe held even less promise for my wife’s family. Her parents were forcibly transported from occupied Poland to Germany during the Second World War and put to work in an arms factory. At the war’s end there was nothing to go back to; their families had been wiped out and Poland had effectively been taken over by Stalin’s repressive Soviet Union. It took 20 years for them to find their way to a safe haven in New Zealand.

Every New Zealand family has its own immigration story to tell, but in every case someone made the risky decision to leave behind the known and familiar and take a chance on the other side of the world. It’s equally true of the many immigrants now arriving from Asia.
But what occurred to me, reading Gill’s book, is that in recent decades the pattern has also reversed itself.

New Zealand has experienced its own exodus. Just as our forebears left Europe for a better life and new opportunities, so, ironically, large numbers of our own children have left New Zealand for much the same reason.
Members of my generation have had to resign themselves to the likelihood that their offspring will end up making their future in another country. Even more ironically, many have gone back to the country their ancestors abandoned: Britain.

There are echoes here of the 19th century experience in countries like Ireland. We too have lost many of our youngest and most talented. The crucial difference is that, thanks to cheap international air fares, we are spared the unimaginably painful experience of saying goodbye knowing we’ll probably never see them again.
My own situation is not unusual. Of our four children, three live overseas: two in Australia and one in California. Only two of our six grandchildren are growing up as New Zealanders. Many of my nieces and nephews, too, find life elsewhere more rewarding.

Will they eventually come back? We can only hope so.
When the subject comes up in conversation with my kids, certain themes emerge. Whatever attachment they feel to the country of their birth, life is economically more rewarding for them elsewhere and the opportunities are greater.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that New Zealand is a low-wage country. My children say they could possibly live with that, but what they can’t accept is the severe disjunction between wages and the cost of living here.
Alas, getting living expenses into line with wages, or vice-versa, is a challenge that seems to be beyond us.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

People who stare at quarries


(First published in The Dominion Post, November 14.)
The world is in the grip of an epidemic of infantilism. How else can anyone account for tour parties travelling around the world to gasp in awe at the Weta Cave or the newly unveiled model of Smaug the dragon at Wellington Airport?
We’re told that Hobbit pilgrims from overseas burst into tears on arriving at Hobbiton. Perhaps someone should have gently explained that it wasn’t really where Bilbo Baggins lived. It was a farm in the Waikato.

It reminded me of the time I was driving over Haywards Hill and noticed a group of people standing beside a tourist bus gazing misty-eyed at the hillside quarry where the Helm’s Deep battle sequence was filmed for Sir Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I felt like shouting, “It’s just a bloody quarry, for God’s sake”, but I probably would have risked arrest. Given the national reverence for Jackson and the contribution his fantasy epics have made to the country’s GDP, there could well be laws prohibiting such heresy. 

Thirty years ago I read The Hobbit for my children. They were enthralled, but the story struck me as rather slight – certainly compared with The Lord of the Rings.
How Jackson could stretch it into three films, with a cumulative length of nearly eight hours, almost defies belief. I can only assume each film in the trilogy is padded out by the same interminable battle scenes that, to me, made the Lord of the Rings films indistinguishable from each other.

Interchangeable sequences seem to be a common feature of fantasy films. I’ve tried to watch several of the Harry Potter movies on television, but after the first 30 minutes or so I can never tell which one it is. They all ultimately morph into one super-long, generic Harry Potter film in which the plots and mumbo-jumbo dialogue (another feature in common with the Lord of the Rings movies) hardly seem to vary.
Now here’s the question. Why, at a point in history when people are arguably better-educated than ever before, and therefore presumably less susceptible to myth and superstition, has Western civilisation produced a generation so seduced by make-believe?

It’s not just The Hobbit and Harry Potter. Look at the international media frenzy over the announcement that a new Star Wars instalment is imminent. You can be sure this news was trending big-time on Twitter, which is now the ultimate measurement of how important anything is.
Look at the excited reaction by film critics when a new Spider-Man or Batman movie hits the screens. These escapist trifles are treated as if they were as profound as something by Shakespeare or Tolstoy.

Look at the phenomenal success of 2009’s Avatar – surely one of the silliest films ever made – and the hype surrounding the promised release of a sequel in 2016.
Look at the tens of thousands of people who attend sci-fi and fantasy conventions such as San Diego’s famous Comi-Con, where they dress up as Darth Vader or Dumbledore and queue patiently for a glimpse of people called actors, who are revered for pretending to be someone else.

What’s going on here? My Oxford dictionary gives a clue. It defines infantilism as childish behaviour or the persistence of infantile characteristics or behaviour in adult life. Think The Big Bang Theory, which gently satirises four highly educated men who refuse to grow up.
That definition seems, to me, a pretty good description of the Hobbit fan syndrome. But it only gets us halfway toward understanding the phenomenon, because putting a word to it doesn’t really explain how or why it happens.

What’s clear is that the so-called millennial generation – which means, roughly, those born after 1980 – includes a large cohort that is affluent, easily bored and eager for new sources of distraction and gratification.
They seem to find it in escapist fantasy. This is harmless enough, except that the line between fantasy and reality has a tendency to become blurred – witness the Hobbit fans who shed tears of ecstatic joy at being shown a farm near Matamata.

Here’s one possible explanation. There is ample research to support the theory that humanity is hard-wired to believe in something bigger than ourselves. Conventional religious belief has largely fallen out of favour; we’re too sophisticated and sceptical for that. But perhaps the need to believe remains.
Maybe hobbits, superheroes, wizards and Jedi knights have filled the vacuum. Unlike religion, they demand nothing in return – surely an irresistible advantage.


 

Friday, November 7, 2014

When a whanau places itself above the law


(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, November 5.)
If you had to name the vital principles underpinning our civilised, democratic society, what would they be?
One would surely be the rule of law, which provides a framework by which injustices are dealt with, disputes resolved and the weak protected against the powerful.

Respect for the rule of law is one of the factors that distinguishes liberal democracies from countries where despots rule, and where justice, if it exists at all, is administered very selectively.
It follows that without the rule of law, society would unravel. Yet a determined challenge to the rule of law in New Zealand has been allowed to continue unchecked for seven years.

The country has watched with mounting dismay and incredulity as the Bay of Plenty whanau of the late James Takamore has repeatedly defied court orders to allow the exhumation of his body and its return to Christchurch, from where it was taken in 2007.
First the High Court, then the Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court all decreed that the wishes of Takamore’s Paheka partner and children should prevail over those of his whanau.

It’s clear that Takamore himself wished to be buried in Christchurch. But when an attempt was made in August to disinter his body from the whanau urupa near Opotiki, police and funeral directors were blocked by an intimidating group of Maori protesters. Rather than risk violence, they retreated.
At that moment, the goddess of justice must have let out a quiet sigh of despair.

In this case, the whanau have placed themselves above the law. They have used a cultural pretext, the sanctity of Maori custom, as an excuse to defy the courts and bully a grieving family. And a timid Crown appears to have no answer to their arrogance.
A High Court judge who has tried to mediate, apparently in the vain hope that sweet reason would succeed where court orders failed, has given up and passed the parcel – an embarrassing, much-handled parcel that no one wants – to the Solicitor-General.

No one will be holding their breath in the expectation of a sudden breakthrough. After all, why would the whanau capitulate now, when they have succeeded in repeatedly making a mockery of the legal system and proving its impotence?
Effectively, we seem to be back to square one. The scandalous procrastination continues.

The whanau claims good reason for doing what it did. After Takamore’s death members of the whanau travelled to Christchurch where they reportedly found his body lying unattended in the funeral home. The Tuhoe people regard this as an egregious breach of tikanga (custom) and a slight to the dead person.
I’ve also seen it argued (by a Pakeha) that Takamore deserves to lie among his own people, where his remains will be honoured and cared for.

I understand that argument up to a point, but it assumes he would have been neglected and forgotten had he remained in Christchurch. That’s an insult to his widow and children.
In any case, all that is irrelevant. We have a judicial system that has evolved over hundreds of years to determine a just and fair outcome in complex situations such as this. It’s not perfect, but it gets things right most of the time.

Maori as well as Pakeha are protected under this system. Maori accepted British law when they signed the Treaty (in fact asked for it, because of the problems caused by unruly colonists) and have become adept at using it to their advantage.
But the law is not a game of pick-and-choose. The system depends on people accepting the decisions of the courts whichever way they fall. Maori cannot embrace the judicial system when it works in their favour and disregard it if they think their tikanga takes precedence.  

It hardly needs saying that the rule of law is imperilled when people see a renegade group brazenly defying the highest court in the land and getting away with it. What’s to stop other disaffected litigants deciding to have a go?
There’s surely a simple, if unpleasant, solution. It’s ultimately the job of the police to enforce the law. Instead of timidly tip-toeing around the issue in the interests of cultural sensitivity, the police should guarantee sufficient force to protect those wanting to exhume the body. Anyone who interferes should be arrested for breach of the peace and contempt of court.

I’m sure that if a motorcycle gang defied the law from behind the walls of its fortified headquarters, the police would call in a bulldozer. It’s happened before. But it seems a different set of rules apply on the Kutarere Marae.
For every day that Takamore’s whanau are allowed to go on defying the courts, the rule of law is weakened. And James Takamore’s immediate family is left to ponder its apparent powerlessness.

I wonder when someone in authority – a judge, a politician, the police commissioner, anyone – will eventually muster the moral courage to call the Takamore whanau’s bluff.