Work in progress

Reflections on Anzac Day

It is Anzac Day 2020. New Zealand, like most of the world, is under lockdown because of COVID-19. In our street, as throughout the country, we ‘stood at dawn’ in our ‘bubbles’. The coronavirus pandemic and Anzac Day have brought us together.

There’s been talk on both sides of the Tasman about the Anzac spirit during COVID-19. That in part refers to unity and self-sacrifice, but also comradeship and down-to-earth common sense. These qualities serve us well in the current pandemic. With her characteristic clarity and compassion, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set the rules: ‘Stay home. Save lives. Be kind.’

We are told to practise physical distancing while staying socially connected. I share a bubble with my husband Taki and our dog Lani. We are supported by neighbours that now include people in the street we didn’t previously know, connected as a WhatsApp group. My yoga and Pilates classes have gone online via Zoom, as has my Saturday lunch group. Orpheus Choir rehearsals are now virtual on YouTube – not like singing together but they bring us together in our happy place. Friends, family, children and grandchildren connect via Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp from their bubbles around the world. Some still write emails or use the phone. We are instantly connected.

Ironically, this very welcome interaction reduces the solitude that is a normal part of a writer’s life. Also I have been preoccupied by what’s going on in the world. There’s so much to follow. As I walk in the hills or along the Hutt River with Lani, I listen to podcasts and interviews, or contemplate the state of the world. Normally I would think about what I’m currently writing, but these are extraordinary times.

Then again, the times and people I write about were also extraordinary. My current subject is Brigadier Reginald Miles, distinguished hero of World War I, Commander of the Royal Artillery in World War II until he was captured. His escape is one of the great prisoner of war escapes of all time, and his death in mysterious circumstances months later one of the most disturbing.

As a biographer, I look to the past for different perspectives on our own lives. Today I’m with Reg Miles on the Western Front in World War I, working with his letters that have survived over 100 years. Wounded in Gallipoli and again in France, he wrote about his experiences as much as censorship allowed. When his letters eventually reached New Zealand after months at sea, they were passed around and re-read many times. His family learns about his marriage, his wife and child in Ireland, and the birth of their second child in London. They will all three get influenza during the pandemic in 1918. Reg will have been away five years before he returns to New Zealand, leaving behind many of his companions who died in the field.

Here in 2020, New Zealanders are winning the war against COVID-19 simply by staying home. It’s not over yet but it feels like we’ve dodged a bullet.

Dean Parker, 1947–2020

I’m shocked and deeply saddened by Dean’s death this week. I feel the loss of losing a new friend as much as a colleague. It was my great pleasure to come to know Dean as he worked on his play, Shirley and Bill. He rewrote it after the recent playreading at Circa, taking into account many comments and suggestions from those who saw it, wanting to get it right. He looked forward to what he hoped would be a full production at Circa Theatre in the future.

Dean commented that he was incredibly lucky that the reading occurred before the Covid-19 lockdown. Lucky also that Circa’s production of his play Wonderful was in those weeks before the theatre closed its doors. I saw Wonderful, and it was just that, the best theatre experience I can remember in a long time.

Tremendously gifted, Dean was also modest, generous and great fun. A huge loss to his friends and family, and to all New Zealanders.

photo by Philip Merry

Exhibition on Jewish Women

The Jewish Community in Szombathely has opened a new exhibition with special emphasis on women. I’m delighted to learn that The Violinist was a useful source. The sharing and recovery of the past continues. See the leaflet: leporello-elekt_eng

Róbert Balogh, who has translated the curator’s narrative and forthcoming album from Hungarian to English, sent me photos that historian Krisztina Kelbert located in the Savaria Museum of Szombathely. (I went there in 2008 but came away empty-handed!)

I found it particularly moving to see the happy face of young Klári in 1940 and the striking picture of her mother Zsuzsa (1941) that captures her warmth and wisdom. I’m only sad that Clare (Klári in her former life, before she came to New Zealand) did not live to see this. She struggled hard to remember her mother’s face. The third is Klári’s aunt, Rózsi Brill (1938), who survived the Holocaust and came to New Zealand with Clare.  An earlier photo of Klári and Mihály shows they would rather be outside playing – or in Klári’s case, playing the violin! But it’s wonderful to have all these.

 

HK14984_Galambos Klára_1940

Horváth Lászlóné 2009

Horváth Lászlóné 2009

HK5315_Brill Rózsi_1938HK5734_Galambos Klára and Mihály

Theatre Matters

Hot news in July 2012:

  • A useful resource about New Zealand film and television and theatre is Screentalk, New Zealand On Screen.  The latest interview is Ian Pryor interviewing iconic actor Ray Henwood. Talking about his life and career, Ray pays tribute to Nola Millar ‘First Lady of New Zealand Theatre’.

 

  •  The New Zealand Theatre Archive has been awarded Lotteries funding to continue their interviews of  people who shaped our modern professional theatre.

 

  • I was saddened by George Webby’s passing last month. I first interviewed George in 1995 for the Toi Whakaari o Aotearoa: New Zealand Drama School Oral History Project, and later again for my biography of Nola Millar who was his friend and mentor. George took over the New Zealand Drama School from Nola on her death in 1974 and directed it for 16 years. The same qualities that make him a successful educator and theatre director – generosity, wisdom and much more (not least a wicked sense of humour) shine through his accounts of his life both in interview and in his memoir, Just Who Does He Think He Is? (Steele Roberts 2006). We joked that we were joined at the spine – our books were reviewed together, they sit together on my bookshelf as they did on his. He is warmly remembered. Ralph McAlister and Danny Mulheron pay tribute to George on Radio New Zealand Upbeat.