Vivienne Bailey


Lisa can smell the fishy, smoky stink of his breath. She can feel the meaty heaviness of his hand. It presses like a relentless hammer on her head, the menace penetrating the woollen beret, threading tentacles of fear into her brain. She can see the blueness of his uniform, dark in the night.

We’re all here, hundreds of us, members of the Progressive Youth Movement, the PYMs.

‘One, two, three, four, we don’t want your bloody war.’

It’s Hohepa’s voice, joined by others, loud and strong, stronger than the pudgy-faced man we’re waiting for. Spiro Agnew, Vice-President of the USA. He walks down the hotel steps, full of state dinner, bloated and soft. His aides, journalists, secret service agents – an entourage of sycophants – follow.

Lisa twists under his hand. A transistor radio bangs against her head and she hears the snarly voice of Mick Jagger singing You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Paddy O’Donnell laughs and yells out ‘Radio Hauraki, Top of the Dial’, then plays the signature song Born Free. Freedom, freedom, her heart is pounding.

‘Stay away from Vietnam’ banners nudge her back and she pulls away, surges with the crowd yelling, ‘Hell no, we won’t go,’ links hands, her fingers entwined with others.

 ‘One, two, three, four, we don’t want your bloody war.’

She’d sneaked out of the house. Dad had been listening to the TAB results, pencil in one hand, the Best Bets clutched in the other.

When she’d run down the road, past the posters on the walls of Jim’s Dairy, Keith Holyoake’s face wreathed in ‘Vote National’ glared back at her. It’s his fault Hemi is in Vietnam with Victor Company. When are you coming home, Hemi?

 Lisa feels the sharpness of the small diamond, on special from Stewart Dawson’s, turning and digging into her hand, and the lightness of butterfly wings stroking her belly. When are you coming home, Hemi, before the baby?

They turn the corner, heading up Queen Street, banners and placards aloft, waving at the stars.

‘One, two, three, four, we don’t want your bloody war.’


Thousands of kids bump and wriggle against Maia’s body. Their cries are shrill and raucous like the flocks of red-billed seagulls swooping over the harbour. She unfurls her banner. The black words jump out, ‘BACK THE ZERO CARBON ACT NZ’. The letters are perfectly formed, strong like the beating in her chest. She has never done this before.

 Te Ngākau Civic Square bulges with bodies, college and primary school kids, mufti-colour amongst Wellington’s sludgy mist. The sound of whistles, high-pitched and piercing, and the bang of drums, rhythmical and loud, batter Maia’s ears. She remembers images of flying foxes and miniature bats dying in Australia’s forest fires. Walruses and polar bears with no sea ice and jewel-coloured coral in the Great Barrier Reef bleached white as if a giant had released a flood of peroxide into the ocean – the warming of our planet. She forgets the threat of truancy.

‘Our education won’t matter if we’re all dead.’

The wind smothers Maia’s words, and she lifts her banner higher, niggles of panic dissipating in a burst of adrenaline.

‘I’d be in school if the earth was cool.’

Five of them in the group, all from 7E and in their last year, protesting in the School Strike 4 Climate Change, taking a risk, wanting to make changes, to send a message to New Zealand’s government. A clean planet and an earth full of fresh, unpolluted air. Yay! Maia slams her feet into the bitumen.

‘We can, we will save our planet.’ She stamps again, waving the banner in time to the words. The wind stings her eyes and flicks her hair against her cheeks. It’s cold in her white shorts.

‘You’ll bloody freeze in those things,’ Mum had yelled, rolling her eyes. Dad had raised his eyebrow, like he always did. He hadn’t believed she’d march.

Her arms are aching. She pulls the banner down from the wind’s battering and traces the words on her cheek. She’d written them this morning in her reddest lipstick: ‘I love earth’, curving ‘love’ into a heart shape. When she reaches for the banner again, unrolling the fluttering fabric, the small, retro diamond on her finger catches a single ray of tepid sunlight.

The crowd turns towards Parliament. The chants are louder, and Maia touches the dull shimmer of her grandmother’s legacy. The shout in her heart grows stronger.

 ‘What do we want?’ she yells with the others, ‘climate justice.’ Maia thumps the pavement with her boots and pumps the banner into the greyness. Gathering air into her lungs, she bellows.

 ‘When do we want it? We want it now. We want it now!’

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