Monday, November 19, 2012

Braunias challenges the idea of glorious civilisation in forthcoming book

Journalist Steve Braunias cocks a snook at lofty, Kenneth-Clark-like notions of what constitutes ‘civilisation’ in a new book that is bound to create controversy.

Braunias spent three years travelling around searching for ‘signs of New Zealand civilisation’ in small towns and suburbs that, he says, attracted him by ‘their averageness, their nothingness, their banal and exhilarating New Zealandness’. 

The resulting book, Civilisation: Twenty Places on the Edge of the World, is in many ways an affectionate portrait of these places, from Kawakawa in the north to Mosgiel in the south – and the people who live in them. ‘They were probably New Zealand at its best,’ Braunias writes.

But some come in for a roasting as sinister and crime-ridden, small-minded, or just plain dull.

Among places that come under the Braunias microscope are Collingwood, Greymouth, the Hauraki Plains (specifically Elstow, Te Aroha and Kerepēhi), Hicks Bay, Maromaku Valley, Mercer, Miranda, Mosgiel,  Mt Roskill, Ōhinemutu, Pegasus, St Bathans, Tangimoana, Wainuiomata,  Waiöuru, Wānaka, Whakarewarewa, Whanganui and Winton.  

The award-winning journalist also went offshore to Scott Base in Antarctica. ‘It was worse than I thought,’ he writes. ‘Antarctica obliterated signs of life, annihilated it; the whole stupid, merciless place was a vacant lot.’ While there, he encountered Prince Albert of Monaco, ‘a short, tired man who spoke with an American accent’.

Samoa, as the home of many New Zealand immigrants, was also on Braunias’s radar, and he reserves his sharpest barbs for the current prime minister, who is described ‘sitting at his desk, massive and puffing, surrounded by toys’ while presiding over a human rights abuse in the form of shanty town Falelauniu, where residents of the coastal settlement of Sigo were resettled after the 2010 tsunami. “It didn’t look like a village. It looked like what it was: a slum,’ he writes.

One of New Zealand’s most experienced journalists, Braunias is a staff writer and columnist with Metro magazine, and his 'Secret Diary' columns appear in eight newspapers. One of New Zealand's most experienced journalists, he has been a columnist and book editor at the New Zealand Listener, senior writer and columnist at The Sunday-Star-Times and a contributor to North & South. A regular panellist on TVNZ7’s The Good Word, Braunias has won over 20 journalism awards, the Montana Book Award, fellowships to Oxford and Cambridge Universities, the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship, and Copyright Licensing Writer’s Award. He also writes for many primetime TV series. This is his sixth book.

Civilisation: Twenty Places on the Edge of the World by Steve Braunias, Awa Press
Note- Release date: December 8, 2012. RRP: $36. 

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