Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Triad

The Write On radio show, and associated frantic preparatory book reading, has brought many gems, of both the people and book variety, into my world.

Last night I attended the Dunedin book launch of Facing the Music: Charles Baeyertz and the Triad, by Joanna Woods.

What a fabulous evening!

As well as the obligatory wine and nibbles put on by The Otago University Press at the Otago Settlers Museum, Dr Woods gave an entertaining and informative talk about Charles Baeyertz.

So first off, all those of you thinking of Asian gangs, no, The Triad was one of New Zealand's most successful cultural magazines, which started in Dunedin in 1893 and ran until 1927. So, for those of you who are thinking, never heard of it - I know! And again, Charles who? Exactly. They seem to have fallen out of our collective memory.

In its day The Triad was huge, and its founder, Charles Baeyertz was a household name. He was a formidable and larger than life character who had no qualms abut employing his razor edged wit and critical prowess on visiting and local musicians and artists. He was as equally generous with his praise where it was warranted, and was a huge promoter of arts and culture in New Zealand, and Australia.

Joanna's talk brought to life the man, and how extraordinary his magazine was. As he said in the very first issue - "This magazine is made to sell." He was an astute business man and he pitched the magazine at the masses, exposing them to literature, art and science from around the world, and pulling them in with music and art supplements, and competitions to win cash.

It was the critiquing that won the audience, and Charles was not afraid to wade into controversy. He famously called Dame Nellie Melba "a mechanical nightingale" and The Triad had a longstanding spat with Ezra Pound, among others.

Facing the Music is a fascinating insight into a period of history that most people seemed to think was devoid of culture. As this book shows, New Zealand, in fact had a rich and diverse cultural life, from its smallest towns to the cities. It gives a sense of this remarkable man, and in a way, for me, a sense of sadness that historically, we seem to have forgotten him and The Triad. It's a great read, and I highly recommend it.

Joanna Woods is a terrific speaker, so if you get opportunity to hear her talk, make sure you get along. It was a fabulous way to spend a wild wet and woolly Dunedin winter night.

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