Always Song in the Water: An Oceanic Sketchbook

Gregory O’Brien

Beginning in Northland and heading into the blue beyond, Always Song in the Water is a book of encounters and epiphanies, a dinghy ride through New Zealand’s oceanic imagination.

Every spring on Gregory O’Brien’s front lawn, on a ridgetop in Hataitai, an upside-down dinghy blooms with flowering clematis. In this book, O’Brien takes his metaphorical dinghy to the edges of New Zealand – starting with a road trip through Northland and then voyaging out into the Pacific, to lead us into some under-explored territories of the South Pacific imagination.

With creative spirits such as Janet Frame, Ralph Hotere, Robin White, John Pule and Epeli Hau‘ofa as touchstones, O’Brien suggests how we New Zealanders might be re-imagining ourselves as an oceanic people on a small island in a big piece of water.

Always Song in the Water is a book of encounters, sightings and unexpected epiphanies. It is a high-spirited, personal and inventive account of being alive at the outer extremities of Aotearoa New Zealand. ‘This is my field notebook, my voyaging logbook,’ Gregory O’Brien writes, ‘this is my Schubert played on a barrel organ, my whale survey, my songbook.’

Among the many artists whose work is featured are John Pule, Robin White, Phil Dadson, Fiona Hall, Euan Macleod, Laurence Aberhart and the Sydney-based painter Noel McKenna, who produced numerous works specifically for this book.

 

Author

Born in Matamata in 1961, Gregory O’Brien is a poet, artist and writer of non-fiction. As well as exhibiting his work widely and illustrating numerous books, he has authored or contributed to books on Ralph Hotere, John Pule and architect John Scott, amongst many others. He also co-authored Parihaka: The art of Passive Resistance (VUP, 2000) and Kermadec: Nine Artists Explore the South Pacific (Pew, 2011). O’Brien is the author of two introductions to art for the young and curious: Welcome to the South Seas (AUP, 2004) and Back and Beyond (AUP, 2008), which both won the Non-fiction Prize at the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. His most recent books include A Micronaut in the Wide World: The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy (AUP, 2011), Beauties of the Octagonal Pool (AUP, 2012), Whale Years (AUP, 2015) and See What I Can See: New Zealand Photography for the Young and Curious (AUP, 2015). He has received many awards for his books and, in 2013, was given the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (Non-fiction) and an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award. He was granted an MNZM award in 2014 and, in 2017, an Honorary Doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington.
 

Review

Always Song in the Water is like a splendid tapa cloth left out to dry on the salt of Oceania. It admits all-comers into its wet and capacious tapestry – shoes, seabirds, icebergs, painters, whales, stranded pianos, poets, horses, ghostly containers, dinghies, oil spills, surfboards, reef knots and travelling saints – and so lays claim to a hospitality as vast and ancient as Oceania.’ – Sudesh Mishra, University of the South Pacific

 

September 2019, 240 x 175 mm, 264 pages, Colour illustrations
Paperback with flaps, ISBN 9781869409340, $45