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The poem as a fence

Just thought I’d put up something here on the new fence I’ve been working on. I know it’s not about writing … but then again it sort of is in a way. A few months ago I decided my house needed painting. My fence was rotten as well so I decided to do some decorating.

I’ve always wanted to live in a pink house by the beach. I know my old seventies style house isn’t exactly the era for pink houses but I thought what the heck? I cut the fence up for firewood and then started ticking about how best to replace it.

Fencepost’s were a good place to start! They stayed there a while while I drove past ticking away. Then I read an article about how an organisation in Dunedin have been trying for years to build a memorial to the conscientious objectors in WW1 and about how they keep being given smaller and more obscure plots of land to do that on by the council there.

I knew about the story of the 14 objectors sent to France and England in 1917. I’ve worked for years trying to adapt We Will Not Cease, Archie Baxter’s memoir of that time, into a screenplay. And I’ve even visited William Little’s grave in France. He was one of the 14 objectors and was beaten and starved in France until he took on service as a stretcher-bearer. He died of wounds he received there just before the end of the war.

A number of those other objectors were famously hung on posts at the front for refusing to fight. I happened to have 14 posts and so I thought, ‘Bugger everyone reneging on that memorial in Dunedin! … I’ll build one into my fence.

I decided to go the whole hog then and turn it into a Pacific fence interspersing it with some tapa panels - I suppose it’s hard to take the South Auckland out of a man. I especially wanted to finish it in time for ANZAC day.

The stories of those who fought in WW1 deserve remembering of course … but after learning what some NZ’ers did to other NZ’ers back then I have never felt comfortable celebrating the day too hard out until we somewhere remember those who had the courage not to fight. So now I have my fence I can do that.

As it happens I’ve never had so many yarns with people in the village since working on the fence … sometimes it was hard to get any work done fielding questions! In many ways it felt like I was working on one big 14 verse poem, except this one was written with a paint-brush and hammer.

It also made me realise that everything around us can be used to tell stories. Especially our houses and fences … when I finished I kind of got sad I could just keep going down the whole street. Paint-brushes and hammers are as good as pens after all.

I’ve included some pictures. I hope you enjoy it!

P.S. By the way this a really good link for those of you who want to look at the stories of those 14 objectors in more depth. It’s an incredible part of our history. Click here to check it out.

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