is the title of journalist Steve Braunias' book, which
examines ''20 places on the edge of the world''. This world
is mainly ours, from Kawakawa in the North to Mosgiel in the
South, with quick visits to Samoa and the Antarctic giving
some international dimension.
The back cover explains that Braunias was engaged on a modern
pilgrim's progress for three years, visiting places, whenever
he could, chosen at random from a map. He says he was ''drawn
to their averageness, their nothingness, their banal and
exhilarating New Zealandness''.
It is by no means a travel guide but more like a Kiwi version
of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The writer always manages to
find odd or interesting characters in places he visits and
recounts their particular tales, whether they be amusing or
disturbing, or just weird. Some places seem to become
crime-ridden (in Mosgiel he went on the community patrol,
which is scared to encounter its boy racers), other towns are
sardonically lampooned for being small-minded or just plain
dull. Some get a reasonably affectionate portrait - usually
of some aspect rather than the whole picture.
In St Bathans (''permanent residential population of seven'')
the writer met up with painter Grahame Sydney and his wife
Heidi, poet Brian Turner and others and he paints his own
sharp word sketches of them.
Wanaka also gets a visit - along with Collingswood,
Greymouth, the Hauraki Plains, Hicks Bay, the Maramaku
Valley, Mercer, Miranda, Mt Roskill, Ohinemutu, Pegasus,
Tangimoana, Wainuiomata, Waiouru, Whararewarewa, Whanganui
Everywhere Braunias travelled he must have filled notebooks,
a tape recorder or an exceptional memory, since he records
conversations in such detail and always managed to coax out
delightful stories and quotes from those he encountered.
It is an entertaining book yet best to dip into, as the 20
chapters are self-contained and have a certain sameness in
their pattern of construction when read straight through.
Braunias' technique likes to shuffle back and forth between a
couple of split stories a few times and then come up with
some good catchline or ironic observation at the end.
As a journalist, Braunias perhaps took his visits to Scott
Base and Samoa, both having close associations with New
Zealand, a little more seriously. But at the former he found
''the whole stupid, merciless place was a vacant lot''. In
Samoa he met the prime minister and lampooned him as
''sitting at his desk, massive and puffing, surrounded by
toys'' while some of his people were still suffering after
the 2010 tsunami.
So Braunias is a sharp writer whose ''civilisation'' is shown
to be pretty curious or rather uncouth at times - but all
enjoyable as a bit of a laugh.
Geoff Adams is a former editor of the Otago Daily