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The Spinoff reviews New Zealand #48: the scarecrows of Hamilton Gardens

We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Jos? Barbosa suffers pure horror in the form of Hamilton Gardens’ trauma-inducing scarecrows.

Hamilton gets ribbed a lot, but the city has at least two things going for it: 1) the mighty Waikato River (why was the city built looking away from the river?) and 2) the glorious Hamilton Gardens. Built on the site of what used to be a landfill, the Gardens are an oasis. Appropriately enough, the Gardens are a series of themed gardens such as the Tudor Garden, the Italian Renaissance Garden and Te Parapara, apparently New Zealand’s only traditional M?ori productive garden.

It was during a recent peaceful constitutional through the ‘Kitchen Garden’ that the serenity of the place was shattered by a collection of scarecrows. I was unnerved and even distressed by the grisly parade of nightmares and felt a need to warn others.

Sure Mr Twigs seems like a chill guy, he has the air of a friendly east coast biodynamic farmer, but FFS the guy has twigs for hands. Also look at his vacant stare. The look in his eyes says “some truckers chopped off my hands and jammed sticks in the bleeding stumps and now I travel the earth dropping bits of twigs everywhere and unable to operate Sodastreams.” Horrific.

Basically hostage-taking 101. Sweet denims though.

Legacy mediums always give me the shits, but that is a lot of CDs without covers. I’m white with fear.

Sure, looks innocent enough, but as has recently been discovered[1], Thomas the Tank Engine was really propaganda for emotional and political conformity. Currently weeping for our children’s minds.

Just wanted to pause here and knowledge the impressive fennel crop. Really good.

The unusual cranium structure and glazed expression suggests either Morlock or student politician. Again, I’m fair sweating with terror.

This is exactly how I imagine my face to look when when the sun explodes.

It’s the engorged pelvic area and it’s the mysterious head hiding behind the cardboard Batman mask. But mostly it’s the posture suggesting this b-boy is about to pop the robot on your ass.

This stayed with me for a long time. Verdict: A ongoing gallery of nightmares. Escape is only possible via spiritual and physical death.

Good or bad: OK, real talk: the annual Scarecrow Festival[2] at the Gardens is really cool and kids from local schools make some awesome ‘crows. It’s just that some are a bit scary for a 38 year old digital media content creator, OK? Definitely good.

– Jos? Barbosa

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories.

Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.


  1. ^ as has recently been discovered (
  2. ^ annual Scarecrow Festival (

Spinoff reviews New Zealand #47: Our first ever horror festival

We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Alex Casey reviews Halloween night at Horrorfest NZ. Say what you will about Freddy Krueger, but the man is very well-situated to point out a toilet at a crowded event.

Our gazes followed his long, sharpened knife finger all the way to the window above the loo, frosted for modesty. “Over theeeerrrre” he hissed in a vague American accent, punctuated perfectly with a loud toilet flush. ‘Twas Hallows Eve at Hell’s Horror Fest NZ, a celebration of all things splatter and spooky. Nearby, a man began strumming an acoustic guitar, arguably the most frightening scene of all. Taking place in the ASB Showgrounds, the event is part haunted maze, part drive-in movie, mostly all a terrifying shambles.

Taking place in the wake of costumed-to-the-eyeballs pop culture extravaganza Armageddon, Horror Fest doesn’t look like much when you first arrive. There’s some free Demon Energy up for grabs, a shonky Jigsaw cackling on a trike and an Annabelle doll shrieking with laughter and occasionally telling people where to park. This nun bloke was the scariest, especially when channelling the spirit of John Key via this ponytail stroke caught on camera.

the moment i realised i had made a huge mistake

After a security briefing (no punching the actors, no running, the safeword is ‘pumpkin’) we were let loose into the maze with a small group of boys hyped-up on complimentary Demon. The maze has been built into that big silver shed towards the end of the Showgrounds, maybe best known for equally bone-chilling bargain bin makeup sales, and felt very lengthy. This ain’t no MOTAT mirror maze, put it that way.

We hung back as the boys ran ahead, my partner frozen and mewing in fear as his eyes adjusted to the dark. I don’t want to spoil too much about what happened next, but the maze was incredibly fun and genuinely quite terrifying.

Freddy got papped Here are some of my cool maze tips.

  1. Max out on frights by hanging back a tiny bit and let the people in front of you charge ahead, so all the scares don’t get spoiled.
  2. There is clambering and kneeling and shimmying required to get through things at times, accessibility options feel limited.
  3. Keep eyes in the back of your head as well – you never know when a ghost be ghosting.
  4. Prepare for there to be touching, prepare to be bear-hugged by Jigsaw and dragged into some kind of haunted cupboard shrieking “go on without me”.
  5. Take your time and look around.

    Yes, there are screeds of halls lined with foil curtains that feel like a futuristic car wash, but there’s some impressive detail along the way. Take a peep into the toilet early on, for example.

After the maze, we were left loitering around, making small talk with a zombie wench with an inexplicable French accent. The film playing at the drive-in was Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, they aren’t animals) and scheduled to start at 8.30pm.

This didn’t come remotely close to happening. About an hour later, people were still lining up and ordering pizza – one tiny truck serving what must have been a couple hundred hungry Halloweeners. We ate all the gum in the car trying to pass the time despite laxative warnings.

Even the organiser’s SM© Laptop was about to throw in the towel.

Tfw battery about to run out With hundreds of people getting restless in their cars – now completely boxed-in for the drive-in viewing experience – things started to get pretty Mad Max real quick. The radio frequencies weren’t working for some, an intermission very deep into the film apologetically begged everyone to promptly leave their cars and grab their incredibly late (snack size, not included in the ticket price) pizzas.

People were yelling, honking their horns and flashing their lights. About two minutes later, the movie started again sans sound and sans half the audience. Look, it was opening night of a pretty ambitious event and I don’t doubt that things will be ironed out for the rest of the week (Horror Fest runs till Saturday night).

But for £100 per car (any more than 2 passengers must pay £30 extra) I’d honestly be expecting Leatherface to give me a free manicure and a glass of champagne at the very least. Alas, here are some tips for surviving the drive-in cinema if you are heading along later this week.

  1. Maybe think about bringing your own dinner, but get snacks at the very least. Bring more than you think you are capable of eating – cars, just like airports and movie theatres, open up secret stomachs you never knew you had.
  2. Watching a movie in a car is cool, but the novelty wears off fast.

    Bring pillows and blankets to make the car seat comfier or prepare to wriggle a lot.

  3. Beware of the ghouls that sneak between cars and boo at your window (could have done with more of this).
  4. Check your radio beforehand, there are a few different frequency options for the movie sound and it pays to know what you are dealing with.
  5. Make sure you don’t have too early of a start the next day, less because of nightmares and more because the movie may finish five years later than you had anticipated.

Verdict: Horror Fest is fine for the die-hard horror fans who also have a lot of patience, but I can’t help but think they should bust open the maze as a separate, cheaper attraction for those of us too chicken/lazy to drive out to Spookers. Good or bad: The maze was good, the movie would have been good if it started on time, the food situation was scary bad (and not in a good way).

The Society section is sponsored by AUT. As a contemporary university we’re focused on providing exceptional learning experiences, developing impactful research and forging strong industry partnerships. Start your university journey[1] with us today.

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism.

Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories.

Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.


  1. ^ Start your university journey (

The landmark Spinoff Review of Books gender balance survey

An international survey shows book sections publish many more male critics than female – and that they review many more books written by men than women. Spinoff books editor Steve Braunias (a man) looks at the state of play in New Zealand. A landmark survey has revealed that more women than men review books at the Spinoff Review of Books.

What’s the gender divide like at other New Zealand literary sections and journals? How come it’s so weighted towards men at the world’s best literary journal, the London Review of Books? And: does any of it matter?

Full disclosure: this story is written by a man. Also, I’m the books editor at the Spinoff. So that’s all very status quo right from the get-go, because discussion about literature seems to be something that’s set by men the world over.

The Spinoff Review of Books began in October 2015. The first reviewer who I commissioned was Fiona Kidman. I’ve very deliberately and very consciously favoured women to review books for the Spinoff ever since.

Likewise I’ve very deliberately and very consciously favoured reviews of women authors – at least I thought that was the case. Wrong. Sad!

The other day I sat down and conducted a landmark survey, which is to say I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote M and F all over it in rows. I went through every page of the Spinoff books section since October 2015 – anyone can do it, just follow the reverse arrows on the home page – and noted the genders of reviewers and of authors reviewed, and also of the authors of the Friday Poem, and the authors of the Monday Extract, and interviewers and interview subjects. It was an accounting exercise in response to a fascinating Diary by Anne Enright[1] in the September 21 issue of the London Review of Books.

Enright made similar calculations of male and female reviewers, authors, and interviewers in the Irish Times. She wrote, “In the first week of 2013 I started to count, in an idling way, the number of books by women reviewed in the Irish Times and found none. They were all by men.”

The figure for that year rose to 29 per cent, Enright estimated. (Her count was no longer “idling”). In 2016, the figure was 39 per cent. “This matches, more or less, what we know about the gender balance in published books … The figure for all published books is often given at something over a third.”

Enright’s three-page essay then shifted to the gender of reviewers. “Growing awareness and dissatisfaction with the situation has been fed by organisations like Vida, an online resource for women in the arts, which started counting book reviews in 2010.” She counted 49 per cent female reviewers in the Irish Times in 2016. Further statistics: men reviewed 48 books by women, and women reviewed 86 books by men. Enright widened the argument in the remainder of the essay. “Affinity is a joyful thing.

I have often admired the ease with which men praise books by other men, and envied, slightly, the way they sometimes got admired in their turn. This spiral of male affections twists up through our cultural life, lifting male confidence and reputation as it goes. Work by men is also read and discussed by female critics; only one side of the equation is weak: the lack of engagement with women’s work by men.”

And where better to look for distressing signs of this “spiral of affection” than….the London Review of Books. Earlier this month, Vida – the organisation mentioned by Enright – released its annual count of published authors and published reviewers[2]. It found that the London Review of Books “has the worst gender disparity”, with women representing only 18 per cent of reviewers and 26 per cent of authors reviewed.

Katy Guest wrote in the Guardian[3] on October 19, “The 2016 Vida count has been released and it demonstrates yet again that the media can’t seem to locate enough female writers. Every year Vida counts the writers featured in dozens of literary journals and periodicals across the world, and finds that the authors represented, and the critics who are evaluating those authors, are consistently about two-thirds men.” Okay.

Let the trolls out: does any of it matter? As in, so fucking what? Who cares?

Isn’t it a case of choosing the best person for the reviewing job, of an interesting author of an interesting – or appalling, as the case may be – book? Or are those questions invalid, defensive, narrow, strangely carping, dumb? I take the matter of gender really seriously as books editor.

The notion of choosing mostly men to write in the Spinoff’s books section bores me to tears – here we go again, the old boys network, yapping, yapping, yapping – but equally the idea of working to fulfill some kind of quota system for women reviewers is just as profoundly, deeply boring. Statistics will kill us all. There are all sorts of considerations at play when it comes to choosing books and reviewers to review them.

Mostly I go by instinct, and hope for the best. Gender is definitely a factor. I think it’s responsible and sensible to consciously select books by women authors, and to deliberately commission women reviewers.

But I wondered whether the reality matched these pious good intentions; and so inbetween the Diary by Enright, and the Vida report, I conducted my survey of the Spinoff Review of Books. Here are the results.

Those figures, as well as interview figures, can be broken down, as follows: And here are the results for poetry, and extracts.

I meant to do a count for essays, too, but forgot.

CORRECTION: THE FRIDAY FIGURES ARE IN FACT REVERSED (52 WOMEN, 42 MEN). Illustrations: Toby Morris What to make of these figures?

I’m well pleased that there really are more women reviewers than men. Hurrah for me but more so hurrah for reviewers of the quality of Linda Burgess, Marion McLeod, Holly Walker, Louisa Kasza, Wyoming Paul et al. However I’m disappointed, perhaps even mildly ashamed, that I chose more male authors to be reviewed than female. (That first review I mentioned, by Fiona Kidman[4] – it was of the debut novel by Joe Bennett …

As an aside, I recall asking Fiona to add more to a point she tentatively raised in her first draft, about Bennett not writing very convincing female characters.) Still, the reviewer figures are a hell of a lot higher than the Irish Times or London Review of Books – and what’s the count like at New Zealand’s other serious, intelligent literary sections and journals, namely the Listener, Landfall, New Zealand Books, and Radio New Zealand? Returning to the Spinoff.

I can’t for the life of me think why I chose more women than men poets – it’s just the way it went, I didn’t have any particular policy, really. The first poets I chose were men because they were people I knew, such as Brian Turner and CK Stead. I’m happy that women have taken the lead and in fact just the other day I was wondering about publishing a book that selected the best poems at the Spinoff; it’d include verse by Fleur Adcock, Simone Kaho, Emma Neale, Elizabeth Smither, Hera Lindsay Bird, et al.

As for the authors of the Monday Extract – I gather that the majority of non-fiction authors are men, so no surprises there. You choose from what’s most available. (Weirdly, John Drinnan once went on Twitter to say that an extract by Woman in the Wilderness author Miriam Lancewood[5] was fake, that I’d written it as a satire; he didn’t seem to think that it was possible that a woman would actually hunt wild animals for food. While wearing a bikini.

Which reminds me – I commissioned a review of Woman in the Wilderness by a woman in the wilderness of Westport, but she never filed it.) The interviewer figures lean heavily towards men, and a very good reason for that is that I conduct most of the interviews as part of my duties as books editor. But that’s no excuse or reason why so few women authors have featured.

Must try harder. But isn’t the essential problem – if there is a problem about any of this – come down to the chromosomal fact of my existence? Once again, the gatekeeper of a literary enterprise is a man.

It matters, a lot, who is getting reviewed, and who is writing the reviews; it’s basically a definition or precis of my role as books editor. The best I can do about it as far as gender goes – well, you know, short of making way for a woman books editor – is to continue to commission more reviews by women of women.

Fiona Kidman, Paula Morris, Louisa Kasza, and Marion McLeod As such, and towards that noble purpose, I asked five women in New Zealand publishing to comment on the issue.

Linda Burgess, author and reviewer:


Just reading them turns me into a female Duke of Edinburgh. I would hate to think that what sex a writer is makes that much difference. Take me into a bookshop and I’ll tell you that most of the books in it are written by women.

That’s because they tend to be the ones I notice. They tend to be the ones I buy, though I have been known to extend my interest to the works of Ian McEwen, Justin Cartwright, Nick Hornby and quite a few more men – all good enough observers of the human condition for me to accept them as honorary women. I’ve been a judge of what was then the Montana Book Awards, and have also been on Creative New Zealand’s funding panels.

People outside mutter darkly about the sex, race or geographical location of writers playing huge significance. Oh rubbish. And even keeping in mind Creative New Zealand’s earnest list of criteria, the only thing that matters is the book, the writing.

Tragically, book pages are shrinking. I think wistfully of the days when Saturday’s Dominion and Evening Post with their excellent books editors had fantastic review pages. Many – too many – books are published here but sometimes even the best ones get scant attention.

This is the issue: not that women need more literary attention.

Louise O’Brien, co-editor of New Zealand Books:

When I was asked to tally the gender balance of reviewers and books reviewed in New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa[6], I admit to butterflies. It’s something that we – my co-editor, Harry Ricketts, and I – talk about, think about, work at, a lot. Our perfectly gender-balanced editorial team (though also undeniably completely P?keh?) is certainly aware of the historical bias and exclusion in publications like ours, though often we feel ourselves constrained without a full range of choices, when selecting reviewers from the relatively small pool of local experts, especially once colleagues, competitors, friends, family, lovers and – perhaps most importantly – ex-lovers have been weeded out.

And our numbers? If my quick count (and assumptions about some gender-neutral names) is right, since October 2015 our pages have featured 86 reviews written by men and 80 reviews written by women, reviewing 159 books by male authors and 124 by female authors. So, better than some, with still some work to do.

Emma Neale, newly appointed editor of Landfall:

My predecessor, David Eggleton, was already consciously working to correct a gender imbalance in reviewers, and it’s something I was made freshly aware of by the Anne Enright article.

I’ll be actively seeking a balance of genders in all Landfall material.

Kiran Dass, Auckland Unity Books:

Anne Enright is one of my favourite writers so I read the published version of her final address[7] as the Laureate of Irish Fiction with interest. The line “The argument about excellence – that women’s work just isn’t good enough – is incredibly hurtful given that there is so much mediocre work by men around,” jumped out at me, and in that context, I have to say I agree with her. How did Paul Auster’s ponderous 4 3 2 1 end up on the Man Booker Prize shortlist?

But if you look at how we are doing here, New Zealand literary pages could always include more books written by women. There are so many excellent ones being published and yet I’m amazed how often books page editors don’t even know about them. Out of curiosity, I had a quick squizz at the podcasts available on the Radio New Zealand website of the books that I have reviewed on Nine to Noon and was pleased to count that 27 of those 36 books were written by women.

While I’m mindful of the politics of what authors, titles, publishers and imprints I get behind, this hasn’t entirely been a deliberate move on my part. I look at craft and content before I consider gender. But the fact the majority of these books are by women writers makes its own suggestion.

The books we review on the Unity Books review slot on Nine to Noon end up on the Unity Books top 10 bestseller charts at The Spinoff.

Tilly Lloyd, Wellington Unity Books:

Congratulations to The Spinoff book pages which run against that assumption that men’s-reviews-and-men’s-books-are-automatically-more-important. Those stats from Enright and Vida organisation are sobering. Yet, you know, even though we Unity people are politicised about the endless equity stoushes for female, Maori, LGQ, working class, and disabled peoples, our numbers reveal that in four years of book reviews on radio, our four female and three male booksellers reviewed books written by…59 women and 94 men.

Startled isn’t the word for it.

The Spinoff Review of Books is brought to you by Unity Books[8].

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism.

Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories.

Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.


  1. ^ a fascinating Diary by Anne Enright (
  2. ^ its annual count of published authors and published reviewers (
  3. ^ Katy Guest wrote in the Guardian (
  4. ^ That first review I mentioned, by Fiona Kidman (
  5. ^ an extract by Woman in the Wilderness author Miriam Lancewood (
  6. ^ New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa (
  7. ^ final address (
  8. ^ Unity Books (