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Sport 8: Autumn 1992


Her novel, A Short History of New Zealand, began with these sentences:

'One's name is Brent and the other is Hemi. One is white and one brown, and they are running under the moon. Ahead and behind and in all directions stretches away the landscape of the plains. You could say they are the cop and the robber. You could say they are the colonist and the colonised. You could say they are the Pakeha and the Maori.

'They are running through most of a long night. Sometimes they stop for breath. Sometimes Hemi reaches the end of his tether and turns on Brent. Pursuer is pursued, back over the same ground. But then it resumes, the other way. They run and keep running.'

The novel is set in a very small town—what used to be called a settlement—in the North Island. It has one cop, a young man who belongs to the local rugby club and takes long training runs with his team-mates. One night he's taking a last look around when he hears something in a storage shed. He goes looking. There are some tense moments in the silence and darkness of the shed—he's sure someone's there but can't find him— and then the burglar, a Maori, makes a break for it, straight out and down the wide main street, the cop in pursuit. In a couple of minutes they've left the town behind. They're out on the open road, running under the moon through that empty landscape, sometimes on the road, sometimes across page 98 ploughed fields, through bush, along stream-beds, back to the road again.

The Pakeha sprints. So does the Maori. They slow to jogging, recovering breath. The Maori sprints and the Pakeha almost loses him—but not for long. Sometimes the pursuit slows to a walk, or stops. They talk back and forth across a safe gap, reason with one another, threaten, shout insults. Then they run again.