BooksFebruary 21, 2021

Live from the Garden: News and updates from Wellington’s Garden Party festival


All the news and gossip from the free summer festival brought to you by Verb Wellington and The Spinoff, happening this weekend at Wellington’s Botanic Gardens.

2.00pm: Strange happenings during a discussion of NZ sci-fi

Toby Morris writes:

Elizabeth Knox, Kim Hill and Witi Ihimaera took the stage to discuss the anthology Monsters in the Garden: An anthology of Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy. They’re talking about casting the net wide and it sounds like they’ve set the definitions of what fits into that world deliberately and excitingly broad. They’re talking about science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction and to me you could call it “trippy shit”.

And so to sit in the sun among the cicadas and hear such giants of New Zealand culture passionately make the case for more trippy shit is a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Toby Manhire adds:

“You’re being deliberately obtuse!” Kim Hill chastises Witi Ihimaera, who is covering his ears as she attempts to read a passage from a new George Saunders short story. “I accept the nonsense you are talking in the spirit it is intended,” Hill later tells Ihimaera.

12.50pm: Two Tobies are better than one at the Big Family Fun Quiz

The Big Fun Family Quiz just wound up at the Soundshell. Duncan Greive writes:
Toby and Toby delivered a winningly chaotic quiz, with Toby wearing his trademark hat and Toby drawing his beloved Garfield, again.
The four rounds concerned characters from kids’ books and TV, multichoice with excellent recurring potential answers being Witi Ihimaera as the Sun (see 10.55am update) and Cornocobia.
With no disrespect to any Tobies, the highlights were almost all musical: Sasha Cotter and Josh Morgan doing the bomb, the house band doing stoned versions of the themes from Sesame Street and Kiri and Lou, and some outstanding unaccompanied karaoke from various children.
The stage was periodically overrun with children, singing and holding the mic silently and verging on taking control of the whole enterprise, which was exactly the point. No one kept score and everyone won.
Quizmasters Toby Manhire and Toby Morris, plus fans (Photo: Leonie Hayden)

11.20am: Free swag alert!

The Spinoff stand is super busy – come by for a free tote and a yarn with team Spinoff.

10.55am: Navigating the Stars: live

Leonie Hayden writes:

The day started with a rousing performance by Taki Rua theatre of Witi Ihimaera’s Māori creation stories. Adapted from the author’s new book Navigating the Stars: Māori Creation Myths, veteran actor and director Nathanial Lees first led two actors in recreating the story of Tanemāhuta separating his parents Ranginui and Papatūānuku. Next they told the story of Māui slowing down the sun, with a very special guest appearance – the author himself, making his acting debut as Tama-nui-te-rā, resplendent in a golden headdress and mask. A crowd filled with children ably helped the cast trap the sun with their ropes until he roared and submitted.

Helped by musician Ariana Tikao, who provided a stunning soundtrack of waiata and pūoro, the stories used characters from Marvel and popular books to fuse Māori and contemporary storytelling for the enthralled young crowd.

Photo: Toby Manhire
Author Witi Ihimaera making a splash in his acting debut as Tama-nui-te-rā, the sun. (Photo: Leonie Hayden)

10.45am: Welcome to day two

We’re back at the Wellington Botanic Garden for day two of the Garden Party, and today is all about family fun. Right now at the Soundshell, Taki Rua theatre company are winding up their performance of Witi Ihimaera’s Navigating the Stars, and at 11am the nature activity drop-in session kicks off at the Treehouse, helmed by Nature Activity Book author Rachel Haydon. Don’t miss the Big Fun Family Quiz at 11.30am, a family quiz all about books with your quizmasters, The Spinoff’s two Tobys, Morris and Manhire. From 12.10pm there is family storytelling at the Treehouse with Sacha Cotter and Josh Morgan, then with Celeste the Slug, and at 1pm at the Soundshell, Witi Ihimaera and Elizabeth Knox discuss NZ fantasy and sci-fi writing with Kim Hill. To round off the day at 2.30pm, musician Ria Hall talks to Leonie Hayden about her work, and performs a few songs.

3.10pm: Two views of Church & AP

Photo: Toby Manhire
Image: Toby Morris

Lee Lowndes writes:

Speaking with The Spinoff’s Leonie Hayden, the rap duo Church & AP discussed growing up in south Auckland, their influences and upcoming releases. Though both only in their early 20s, 90s and early 2000s hip hop and R&B has been a huge influence on their music today, they told Hayden.

In the duo’s recent single ‘At Thy Feet (Side A) they rapped about the importance of telling stories that reflect their own experiences, in particular police profiling and the gentrification of the neighbourhoods they grew up in. The follow-up, ‘Side B’ is coming soon, but Church said they are more excited about their next release, a true reflection of their self confidence in who they are now as artists and creatives.

Church & AP play San Fran, Wellington, tonight.

3.05pm: Just a few very good dogs

From left: Colin, Tupper, Mochi, Link and Sunny, and an unnamed lover of tummy rubs

2.50pm: A few Tom Sainsbury facts

Mark Kelliher shares five things he learned about the comedian during his on-stage talk with Noelle McCarthy this afternoon:

His favourite film is Murielle’s Wedding.

He was the third person Paula Bennett told that she was leaving politics (after her husband and daughter) and he sat in the front row at her valedictory speech alongside Bennett’s immediate family.

He is reading a lot of Stephen King at the moment.

His recently published book, New Zealanders: The Field Guide, wasn’t his first. He once co-authored a thriller novel with his Swedish house mate and toured the book around Scandinavia.

He is obsessed with ABBA.

Beth Brash (left) talks to Annabel Langbein (Photo: Mark Kelliher)

2.20pm: Annabel Langbein has seen some sh*t

Simon Day writes:

Annabel Langbein once came to a party at my flat. On that night, I’ve always believed that I taught her how to have a good time. I thought I was pretty cool because I crawled between her legs on the dance floor. Little did I know that Annabel has just as much to teach me about life and partying, as she does about cooking.

In the second session at the Soundshell, Wellington on a Plate’s Beth Brash introduced the crowd to Annabel Langbein’s dark side. I’ve always known, loved, and cooked from the books by “New Zealand’s Julia Child”, aunty Annabel, our shiny, bougie celebrity TV chef. I had no idea about the other Annabel – who, it turns out, has seen some things.

She studied at Lincoln, As a young woman she lived in a commune on the Whanganui River. Then she built a boat to sail the world, but only made it as far as Gisborne. There she met a sexy possum hunter who accompanied her to South America where she cooked scones for drug dealers. Next stop was a grimy Brooklyn (decades before the New York borough would be gentrified), where she started a croissant company. This is the defiant, left-wing feminist Annabel I never knew about, and who is captured in her new memoir Bella, My Life in Food.

We learned she’s had a precocious palate since she was very young, shaped by her mother’s brilliance in the kitchen. She grew up around the table, always eating, going to buzzy restaurants with her father, and travelling around the world. Aged seven, she ordered brains at the Hermitage restaurant in St Petersburg. At 10 she marched her plate of scallops into the kitchen and demanded to know what the chef had done wrong. When she learned he’d used a steel pan she told him the vinegar had oxidised, turning the shellfish rancid.

Annabel Langbein is someone I thought I knew well, someone so popular and visible she can create a nationwide shortage after an episode featuring her famous pork belly recipe. But today I was introduced to a whole new Annabel: funny and rebellious and a little bit naughty.

My favourite yarn was about a mistake in her column for the New Zealand Listener where she taught readers how to use the fleshy part of the hand between thumb and first finger to test how well a steak is cooked. Instead of mount of venus, she wrote “mound of venus” – a term used to refer to the female pubic area. According to a letter to the editor, a reader’s husband was alarmed to walk into the kitchen just in time to discover her comparing the steak in the frying pan to her own pubis.

1.30pm: Lunchtime!

From left: Mao & Co, Wildflower Gourmet Toasties, Paekākāriki Pops, Mao & Co

1pm: At the Roaming Hut

Eden French-Putu writes:

The Roaming Hut is down a long concrete path, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Soundshell. I walked far enough for the music from the main stage to fade, and arrived at the intimate scene of a tarot card reading. The Garden Party’s tarot reader Jean Sergent was deep in conversation, so I quietly circled the premises and took it all in. The hut itself is small and cosy, with cane furniture and cute strands of fairy lights. The tarot readings are booked out across the two days, which I’ve also got mad FOMO about. I didn’t want to linger any longer than I had to, but can say that the vibes were cool and the sound of cicadas comforting. Back to the Soundshell I go!

The Roaming Hut at the Garden Party (Photos: Eden French-Putu)

12.15pm: Overheard in the Treehouse 

Small group of visitors to the Tree House visitor centre which looks down across the soundshell:

Person 1: Ooh, what’s going on down there?
Person 2: I think it’s a rock concert.
Person 3: Think it’s talkback actually.

11.25am: Dominion Post editor Anna Fifield on North Korea, China – and Wellington

Toby Manhire writes:

Two champion New Zealand journalists kicked things off at the Soundshell. Anna Fifield, who recently returned from Beijing, where she was China bureau chief for the Washington Post, to edit the Dominion Post, began by telling broadcaster-turned-lawyer Linda Clark about sending a postcard to her dad in 1994: she’d just arrived in Wellington and the complete contents of the postcard read: “I just saw Linda Clark on Lambton Quay!” Fifield told the crowd: “I was star-struck then, and I’m star-struck now.”

The pair talked mostly about Fifield’s acclaimed, bestselling The Great Successor. (“A cracking read,” said Clark.) The book tells the story of dictator Kim Jong-un, a figure that seems often to be a walking caricature, an image that should not, Fifield said, be allowed to obscure the grim reality of life for so many North Koreans. They discussed, too, China under Xi Jinping. As a journalist on the ground, the tightening of the screws was palpable, almost on a daily basis, said FIfield.

And finally, what of Fifield’s decision to return to Wellington, giving up a job on one of the most prestigious and best resourced media outlets in the world? “It just suddenly, in the weirdness of last year, felt like the right time,” she said. “I had a craving for community.”

As for the perilous state of the newspaper business, Fifield said she had confidence that quality journalism could keep the oxygen flowing. And she gave a nod to the advertiser that blankets, and to some extent bankrolls, newspapers in New Zealand today. “A shout out to Harvey Norman,” she said, to a round of applause from the crowd across the gardens lawn.

11.15am: This just in from the merch stand

Customer to managing editor Duncan Greive: “Are you Duncan Garner?”

10:50am: The scene at the Soundshell

Courtesy of Toby Manhire, who’ll be sharing an on-the-ground report shortly.

Photo: Toby Manhire

And another view, by Toby Morris:

Image: Toby Morris

10.45am: What’s coming up

We’re looking forward to a packed schedule today. Right now Dominion Post editor Anna Fifield is discussing her new job and her long career as a foreign correspondent with Linda Clark. At 11am in the Treehouse visitor centre artist Karl Maughan will be talking about his love for painting gardens and his new book, a collection of 150 of his greatest gardenscapes. Later this morning cook Annabel Langbein will be talking with Beth Brash, the programme director of Wellington on a Plate, and at 1pm comedian, actor and author Tom Sainsbury chats to Noelle McCarthy about his work. At the same time, in the Treehouse, gardening writer Matt Morris talks about his book, Common Ground: Garden histories of Aotearoa, a look at this country’s gardens and garden practices. At 2pm in the Treehouse, join actor Isobel MacKinnon for a reading of Katherine Mansfield’s classic short story The Garden Party. Then at 2.30pm, hip hop act Church & AP talk with The Spinoff’s Leonie Hayden, and play us some songs.

10.20am: And we’re off

The sun is coming out, the vibes are good, and the Garden Party is underway at Wellington Botanic Gardens. I’ll be reporting all day from around the site, including the Gardens’ Soundshell, Treehouse Visitor Centre and the pop-up Roaming Hut, located just beside the Soundshell. Find out what’s planned for the day – almost everything entirely free – at the website here.

To kick us off, here’s editor Toby Manhire welcoming Wellington to the festivities.

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books, recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

Image: Tina Tiller

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