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Book clubs  •  13 March 2018


Short story club – 31 May 2018

Read the story being discussed on Jesse Mulligan’s show on Radio New Zealand on 31 May 2018

‘Sailing ships’ (extract from ‘Speaking with my grandmothers’)


The Oriental put down at Petone

from where you were taken

by whaleboat to Evans Bay that spot

where merry ducks paddle their own canoes and darken

the clear shallows with their shit

your father brought

some books

a Gaelic bible

one or two willow pattern jugs

a blue embossed milk jug

a mahogany table

he took

one hundred acres of country

and one town acre

fifty chains of seafront at Lyall Bay

for some sovereigns and blankets

and beads and hatchets

and there’s the rub

your legacy a ring a vase or two

and a label you couldn’t

have dreamed I’d wear

and I’ve found only of late, like a child

discovering illegitimacy in a certificate

hidden in the bottom of a knickers drawer,

the contrivances of that rush for the great land

grab before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed; we can thank

Gibbon Wakefield for that, the sailing ship

rushing down to Cape Verde Islands past the Cape

of Good Hope and on and on

through the harbour mouth

arrival: 30 January 1840

the date of your birth as it happens

for you’d been there all along

what a gasp of relief in the salons of London

we beat the bastards with seven days up our sleeves

look, you’d laugh if it wasn’t serious,

as they say, the city mapped

out in tidy


across a terrain as yet unseen by its planners

up hill

and down dale

well, no, up mountainsides

and down passes,

this town of ours kind of flattened

across the creases

of an imaginary map

a touch of parchment surrealism here

no wonder the lights

are wavering

all over the place


not a straight town at all



© Fiona Kidman, 2000


This poem was first published in Big Weather: Poems of Wellington edited by Gregory O’Brien and Louise St John, published in 2000 and reissued in 2018. It has also featured in Fiona Kidman’s volume of poetry Where Your Left Hand Rests, 2010.

Big Weather Gregory O'Brien

An anthology of 100 poems celebrating Wellington.

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