27 June 2011

Tuesday Poem: 'Memories of the civil war'

Memories of the civil war

When the Springboks came
we were six or seven or eight.
I didn’t know much
about that
but I knew all about
the Royal Wedding.

Karen says
that she was probably
making veils for her
friend’s Barbie. They’d play weddings
‘But don’t worry,
we’d always drown her afterwards’.

I was in Standard One
and my friend Catherine
was English and had the
same haircut as Lady Di. In class we
wrote stories about royal visits
but not about riots in
the streets of Wellington.

Brian was fifteen
and lived in the Waikato.
‘We were very pro-tour and pro-rugby’.
He begins to explain how
it was the last straw
for the Kiwi blokes
who’d recently been
told they were racist and
sexist and now
they couldn’t even watch the footy.

I think we must have watched
one game on television, because
I remember my South African mother
saying she wanted the Springboks to win.
I remember some other kid
telling me that his mum said
South Africans were bad. Most kids
just said ‘Your mum can’t be South African –
she’s not black!’

Joeli says she remembers being
scared, but she hadn’t been
back long from Iran, escaping
during the revolution. Loud noises
still terrified her.

We’re watching footage on the television
twenty years later. There’s a riot and
I can see the building
where I work.
I had no idea
what was going on
outside my window.

I wrote this about 10 years ago, after watching an documentary about the 1981 Springbok tour. (It was published in Abstract Internal Furniture.) At the time I worked at the National Library, and it was chilling seeing footage of The Battle of Molesworth Street.

Next month it will be 30 years since the tour. Because, as the poem suggests, I don't really remember it, I'm fascinated at how it really tore the country apart. I had an interesting talk with some of my colleagues this afternoon about it - some of them were involved in protests, some of them were arrested. They all had interesting stories and also ideas about what happened and how it hooked into the psyche of our country. I'm looking forward to hearing more stories - I feel like people haven't really talked about it enough. I think there's still some healing and understanding yet to happen.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the hub blog: http://www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/


AJ Ponder said...

Strange times, youth. Leaving behind some things and erasing others. I on the other hand remember much about the protests regretting that I couldn't go on them, and the adults who went talking about nothing except - and then the police came... There is no royal wedding.

A thought provoking poem, but I cannot help but think, and I got this from many sources, from teachers and friends who braved the first protest -- In the huge crowd of protesters nobody so much as raised a hand except to light a cigarette until the police waded in with their batons and their dogs. It is a shame the media should have portrayed the protesters in way they did, and the government too. That manipulation, it was worthy of Fox news. It was a stain on our police force, our media and the government of the time. Strange, strange times, a civil war indeed. One where many stood up and said "we think racism is wrong and we are prepared to use whatever weapons we have to fight it," and the establishment said, "no." And the rural communities, and the people who lived for sport shook their heads in denial and outrage for in their minds sport and politics should never mix. They did not want to see how the two are undeniably inextricable. They wanted to hear that the protesters were trouble and so that is the story they heard.

Emma said...

This is really good Helen. I like all the people in it and all the other things you're saying along with all the tour stuff.

Helen Lowe said...

A great oral history, Helen. I "like."