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Sport 21: Spring 1998


page 39


A warm afternoon in early September: I am standing at the top of Auckland's recently completed Skytower. The city recedes into the distance in every direction; however, there is one direction in particular I find myself returning to—my eye travelling up Remuera Rd, past Mount Hobson and on towards Meadowbank. It is nearly 20 years since I lived in Remuera, on what is now known as the ‘northern slopes’. Driving through the suburb in recent years, I am struck by how much the area has changed. It's an amazing thing how money can run a suburb down.

The resonant spaces of an unassuming childhood have been replaced by the bleeping of automatic car locking devices and the constant ringing of malfunctioning burglar alarms. Travelling through the suburb by car or on foot, there is nothing left of my childhood. Our family home at 5 Eastbourne Rd has now been replaced by a heart-stoppingly monstrous million-dollar condominium. I visited the street in 1995, by which time our house had been deemed unworthy of its location and shipped off in the middle of one night. All that was left was a life-size floor-plan of the basement where much of my childhood was spent. This was another kind of aerial perspective: the floor of the rumpus room, workshop and wine-cellar rendered as a sequence of connected two-dimensional planes, the sheltering walls and roof gone.

From the top of the Skytower, the light is golden and washes over the seemingly flat landscape (the elevation renders undulations in the landscape inconsequential). My ostensibly detached and distant gaze is drawn into this landscape with its memories of a childhood spent on bicycles, tunnelling through bush or knee-deep in the tadpole-laden creek beside Portland Rd…It is not a ‘realistic’ view per se—it is the distanced, ‘formalised’ view from a height. It is the aerial perspective of a Malevich, a Fred Williams, a Kevin Jones. The most surprising thing, however, is that, having never before seen the suburb from this perspective, the view appears familiar. In fact it feels exactly the same as the diagrammatic floorplan of the suburb which, as a child, I constructed and was constantly drawing up in my mind.

page 40

This experience of sighting or recording some intimate ‘truth’ from such a detached and unlikely vantage point has an analogue in the artist's need to find or create a necessary height or distance (in time or space) so as to see afresh past experience, to unearth its street formations and floorplans. The poem, a case in point, needs this kind of space—it can't be formed while nestled hard up to its originating experience.

My year in Australia, aged 21, was an attempt to construct this kind of distance and vantage point, then to furnish it with imaginative materials. The future of the creative enterprise, as far as I was concerned, hinged on this manoeuvre. It was as if everything had been thrown up into the air and allowed to hover there for a time, awaiting whatever might eventuate.

Black and white image of newpaper caption and photograph

After 80 years, St Gerard goes home