So expectations were high for the end-of-year meet with Green MP Golriz Ghahraman as speaker. Disappointingly Don wasn’t there but there were a bunch of writer friends; a bunch of journalists, mostly harmless; political operatives such as Simon Bridges, Sean Plunket, Matthew Hooton and Richie Hardcore; and one I do know, Hamilton West MP Tim McIndoe, whom I sat next to at lunch. He was admirably frank about Certain Things, but, you know, Chatham House rules.
At a front table sat Kirsty Johnston, Lizzie Marvelly and Noelle McCarthy. At the table behind them sat Sean Plunket, star of 2017’s end-of-year meet. My report is here. I thought his best line then was, “After 32 years in journalism you could probably use my ego as tiles on a space shuttle.” He also asked that there be no live-tweeting during his talk “because it’s fucking rude”. Was he live-tweeting through Ghahraman’s talk? Yes, he was.
Steve Braunias, MC of the event, clad in a tropical shirt appropriate for the humidity — a thunderstorm was imminent —.kicked off by declaring, “We’re here to be nice.” Like hell we are, I thought — we’re journalists and politicians. Next, he threw to the floor the nametags of people who were invited but had not turned up : “some c—t called Jamie Strange.” Strange is a Labour list MP and avid writer of letters to the Waikato Times. “The Labour Party begged me to invite him but the fucker didn’t turn up.”
He acknowledged the presence of Marvelly, author of The F-Word, but was critical of Marama Davidson, “author of The C-Word”, for being another non-attendee. More positively: “Hamilton Press Club is a search for meaning — and what is Hamilton but a search for meaning?” Then, sternly, to Richie Hardcore: “Stop texting or we’ll tell Paula Bennett. Won’t we, Simon.”
More positively still, he announced the Wintec Journalism School awards: Donna-Lee Biddle won the Alumni Award for her brilliant Waikato Times series on life in Huntly East. Rising Star was Horiana Henderson (open to employment offers, editors!). Best writer in New Zealand journalism was Madeleine Chapman who, as Braunias said, broke the story on “those wretches from World”. She expressed appreciation for his tutoring, his praising certain pieces and how much it meant: “Steve won’t hold back if he doesn’t like something we wrote.” How Matthew Hooton laughed.
A prize of a rainbow trout was presented to Noelle McCarthy and her husband John Daniell (author of the excellent rugby novel The Fixer) on the occasion of their moving to the Wairarapa. Lucky them, on both counts.
Braunias then uttered the magic words, “I think this is probably an excellent time for me to shut up.”
Ghahraman spoke mostly about identity politics. There was an awful lot about Donald Trump. An edited version of her speech notes is here, mercifully Trump-free.
“I have a degree in sex. We’ll have time for questions later.” (She doesn’t really, and we didn’t.)
“It’s time to load our shotguns.” (I think this was about Twitter.)
Metiria Turei was savaged by every Pakeha male in the media “including at RNZ”. (Astonished emphasis speaker’s own.)
At question time first up was: “That was fucking awesome. How do you not cry when you’re speaking like that from the heart?”
Next, Braunias to Hooton: “Matthew, it’s interesting having a man of your calibre here. Do you have a question?”
Next, Sean Plunket, the angry white man’s angry white man, banged on at length about Metiria Turei. Lizzie Marvelly spoke for us all: “Was there a question here?”
Ghahraman, calmly: “He’s just demonstrating my point.”
An uproar ensued, led by Marvelly and Johnston, I think, with Plunket shouting “Oh, fuck you!”, at Marvelly, I think. As angry white men go, Plunket is a large specimen. Like Walt Whitman, he is large, he contains multitudes. The sight and sound of him swearing shoutily at a woman half his size was unpleasant.
Braunias calmed it down well from the stage and questions resumed. All those that touched on Turei started from the assumption that any criticism was based on her being a woman and a Maori, not on anything she had done. Ghahraman: “Even if it’s aimed at an individual we know where it’s coming from.”
At 3.05 Richie Hardcore, the back of whose T-shirt read “Call My Lawyer”, asked a question. As soon as Ghahraman ended her reply he was back on his phone.
The last question was from Marvelly: “How do you sustain your humanity?”
Ghahraman replied, “Thank you. That means a lot, especially from someone who maintains a standard of composure online. . . Because you’re constantly fighting for humanity, how can you lose it?”