Phantom Blog

Phantom Blog

Interview – Ben Brown

Tuia! Tui – Tuia! Tuia te hā. Tuia te kupu. Tuia te kōrero. Tāu te māramatanga… Tihei Mauri  Ora… Tēna Koutou e hoa mā, e pēhea ana te hararei? Whakahari me whakahaumaru taku  hiahia ki a koutou kātoa. Ko Ben Brown tōku ingoa ā ka tu au ki kōnei no te taha o te  pānui whakaahua tuatahi o Te Awhi Rito; e whakatautoko ana i tēnei mahi ma nga pou  tāngata o te rōpū Phantom Billstickers.  

My name is Ben Brown. I’m the inaugural Te Awhi Rito. This is me beside one of the first  run of Te Awhi Rito Posters placed throughout the country by Phantom Billstickers. The  posters mark the beginning of a public awareness campaign on behalf of Te Awhi Rito – The Reading Ambassador (Not, by the way, a translation. but I’ll explain the references  shortly.) and a partnership with the Phantoms. Print production, pasting, infrastructure  and all other boots-on-the-ground support for the campaign is provided right across the  motu by the Phantom Billstickers crew. They tautoko hard. They’re solid. They’re sound.  They’re a little bit subversive. They delivered more than we asked for – I can’t say better  than that. All I had to do was whack up a design, email it print ready according to the  specs and the Phantoms took care of the rest. Pro bono. No stress. 

The kaupapa of Te Awhi Rito – The Reading Ambassador is to actively promote, inspire,  advocate for, represent, engage with, advance, support, affirm and ensure a love of  reading amongst our children – our tamariki and rangatahi. It’s a two-year appointment.  Ambassadors are nominated. They do not apply. They are administered by the National  Library and the Department of Internal Affairs. In February last year, in a meeting at the  National Library in Wellington I was briefed as to what the role would probably entail,  given that Aotearoa New Zealand hasn’t actually had a Te Awhi Rito – Children’s Reading  Ambassador before. Having been so informed, I was then asked – a little more formally – if  I would accept the appointment. It was, I have to say, an OMG moment. 

Oh – My – Great – Big – Never – You – Mind….  

Of course I accept the appointment. I regard it as a privilege. I feel honoured, respectful  and . . . perhaps a little bit uncertain? I’ve worked half my life pursuing the substance, the  matter of reading. I believe in its value and its worth. For thirty years I’ve called myself a  writer. The decades seem to have passed a little bit quicker than I would have liked. There  are fewer teeth in my head now and a lot more grey on top of it, though my slowly blurring  vision prefers the shocks of silver that it sees among the braids. In May 2021 

The posters are not directed at tamariki and rangatahi, but at those closest to them who  might yet wield some influence, model exemplar behaviours, judiciously exercise authority  if their authority still has effect. These are the parents, grand parents, whānau, caregivers,  teachers, older siblings, any other trusted, safe, reliable friends, citizens, civil, corporate  or private collectives, institutional or otherwise. The omens, for now, appear benevolent.  The year is new. The weather as warm as it should be. And the traffic lights on the corner  of Manchester Street and Moorehouse Avenue, Christchurch indicate quite clearly that  everything is green for go and pointing appropriately in the right direction. 

Mana kupu, mana kōrero – The power of words, the power of story

The messaging is deliberately enigmatic, presented in written form in the language of the  oral culture that first gave meaning to everything beneath the long white cloud. This is a  tauparapara. It is an orator’s device, a lyrical flourish, an announcement of intent. Formally  delivered, it would alert you to the commencement of whaikōrero and an orator – he  manukōrero – at the beginning of his work. Within its imagery and its rhythms we might  discern symbols and meanings alluding to some deeper context, seeking it out, as if there  are elements of meaning yet concealed. It is metaphor and poetic. 

As I mentioned, tauparapara is oral in tradition, But this tauparapara was written. It was  composed kei runga i taku rorohiko – on my computer – my ‘lightning brain’ machine. It  was constructed using Latin symbols formally introduced to the ancestors in 1814 by a  missionary named Kendall. In the vernacular of a post colonial narrative I could suggest  the irrevocable compromise of authenticity merely by the application of alien literacy skills, techniques and hardware imported here by the agents of Empire and the great  white colonial oppressor. But that would be counter productive and ignorant of the idea  that a living culture evolves.  

The metaphorical thread suggests the whakapapa of kōrero – of story – as an ambassador  of reading might consider it, from the first thought in a writer’s mind to the light of  understanding. These few lines are the core. Were I to announce my kōrero with this  tauparapara in a formal setting, I would begin with a refrain familiar to the paepae.  Structured around simplicity, using the natural cadence and rhythm latent within the  words, the refrain introduces the idea of a common thread drawing seperate elements  together. This is how things become bigger than the sum of their parts.

Tuia… Tui – Tuia …’  

Tuia is the threading through, as with a needle drawing the muka.  

It is the binding together.  

And so: 

Tuia te hā – Threading the breath.  

The breath that precedes and carries the voice. The breath that implies the thought  that the voice will bring shape and substance to. 

Tuia te kupu – Threading the word. 

The word that carries the idea. The word that gives meaning to things in the world  and reveals our relationship to those things.

Tuia te kōrero – Threading the story. 

The story, whether spoken, written or otherwise presented. The story that begins  and ends with words gathered to a common purpose; to elaborate all possibilities and  allow us to explore them. The story that helps us know ourselves and fulfil potential. 

Tāu te māramatanga – Understanding, meaning and insight are yours. Story exists to tell us things about ourselves. This is the ultimate purpose of story,  whatever form it takes, however frivolous or serious, whether fiction, fact or absolute  fantasy. Somewhere in the story is an insight into you. That insight is for you to find, but  it’s yours when you find it. 

Tihei mauri ora – Tihei is the sneeze of life, the first breath, possibly even the first  word…alluding to te hā for our purposes. Mauri – often referred to as a life essence, to me  it is the energy or force of existence. We might think of it as a constant flow through all  things. Quantum mechanics and thermodynamics offer similar descriptors to the nature of  things. Mauri carries with it all the metaphysical aspects; mana, tapu, wairua and so  forth. Ora is life. 

Te Awhi Rito – Reading Ambassador  

Te Awhi Rito is a juvenile harakeke plant. In this, our present context, it is also he tohu – a symbol – representing the Children’s Reading Ambassador of New Zealand. The symbolism is drawn from the body of lore, tradition and tikanga encapsulated in the the harakeke mythos. As often as not referred to as flax, native flax or New Zealand flax, harakeke isn’t a flax bush at all.  

Phormium Tenax is a day lily. Then again, day lilies aren’t really lilies either. The misnomer arises from the linen like fibres, called muka, that give  harakeke its renowned utility and unequalled status as a plant of immense mana in the  tikanga.  

Harakeke ensured the viability and survival of our original Polynesian settlement and its  evolution into Te Ao Māori. Māui tied down the sun and fished up the land with chords  and lines and bindings made of muka. Māori used it to build, clothe, gather food, express  in art. Muka hauled the waka, rigged the sail, secured the anchor stone. Harakeke  appeared in one form or another in every aspect of Māori life.  

As you observe Te Awhi Rito – the young harakeke – you will note the small central leaf.  This is Te Rito – the young shoot – the child, if you will. The leaves either side, they are  mātua – the parents. Either side of them, kaumātua – grand parents. Beyond the  kaumātua are the tūpuna leaves – the ancestors. These leaves fan out from Te Rito in a  supportive, protective embrace. This embrace is Te Awhi. In this way, the harakeke offers  a model of conduct, an insight into the human arrangement of whānau and extending  beyond, to community. 

In reference to the reading ambassador, Te Awhi Rito represents the support structures in  place to support our young people in the pursuit of reading. In an age of Information,  Technology, the library of the world is within reach to anyone with a browser and access  to wifi. The written word has never had more utility, more application than it has today and  will have tomorrow. Yet there are disturbing signs of a downward trend in the literacy and  reading skills of our children and young people. Reading habits are changing. Papers  have been written questioning the emphasis placed on a reading requirement in an age  where an app can do it for you. Ask Siri, she’ll tell you what it says. I personally take the view that if you think the machine can do it for you, you perhaps misunderstand what  reading – in a human context – actually is. To be brutally and fundamentally simplistic – as  far as I’m concerned, reading builds better brains, not reading doesn’t . For ‘better brains’  you could swap in ‘better minds’, ‘better imagination’, ‘better creativity’, ‘better critical  thinking’ etc. But you get where I’m coming from, eh. 

Time; why it’s important and why it’s not  

The easiest, most rewarding way to get our kids, not just reading but wanting to read, is  for us – the grownups – to show them the way in word and deed. Read to them and with  them as often as you can. Start before they even know what words are. Start before they  even know what they are. Give it a sense of occasion. Make it a habit to look forward to  an expected part of the day. If that idea intimidates you, ask yourself why. Then take the  time to find a story you like and just get on with it. It’s really that simple. Reading is how  we engage with written language and written language is our superpower – it elaborates  our world, places us in it and tells us how to do anything we want. All we have to do is  read.  

Every meaningful human experience down to the mundane and routine. Every imagined  possibility. Every failure. Every fall. Every step and stride and stumble and every miracle  on the way. Every madness. Every monstrosity. Every moment marked as a milestone,  whether magnificent or deplorable. All of it written down somewhere so that some other  human can come along, soak it up and see where it might lead.  

Let me be be clear. Reading to your kids does not mean teaching your kids to read.  Teaching your kids to read is a slightly different game. And it’’s hugely important, so you’d better be prepared when the time comes. But of course, if you’ve read to your kids, you’ll  all be good to go.  

I want to suggest that in a quietly profound way, reading to your children as often as you  can from as young as you like is a BIGGER thing in many ways than consciously trying to  teach them to read. And reading to your three week old or your three day old or your first child born this morning simply for the pleasure it brings is even BIGGER. I can tell you  that, generally speaking, all else being equal, it’s the furtherest thing from a chore you’ll  ever do in your life. It’s the pure and simple pleasure of story time, of moments spent  imagining, with your sons, your daughters, your non-binary offspring if that’s how you roll.  It’s much more than time, its the life of you and your children expressed in words  especially chosen for that purpose, on that occasion, where sounds coalesce into  meanings by an ancient magic that even a three-week old knows without knowing yet,  that hearing a story says – ‘Yes, I’m safe, I’m loved, I belong.’ 

So please, don’t let the best thing you might do in your life slide by because you  somehow convinced yourself you haven’t got the time. If you did, or you intend to, well  I’m sorry. But you’re wrong. It’s not the time you’re short of. It’s the inclination to care.  TIME is everywhere. The universe is full of the stuff. At the end of any day you want to  choose, it’ll be the only thing of real consequence that you and your kids will have.  So read them a story. Make it live. Make it so damn good, they’ll read it to their own kids  one day, just to see them feel what they felt. Just to feel what they saw you feel when you  read it. Then do it again. And again. And again . . . 

Post Script  

In summary then; we want to inspire a love of reading in our tamariki and rangatahi.  Reading for pleasure. Reading for fun. Reading because it makes you think better, feel  better, know better.  

No carrots. No sticks. Just words. W … O … R … D … S. Humanity owes everything to  words. They are our greatest invention. Learning to write and read them is our greatest  innovation. Nothing else comes close. Nothing else even happens. You’d think we’d be all  over it… Well… yeah… nah… maybe… or… maybe not… 

A funny thing seems to have happened as we make our way to tomorrow. These days,  technology and information lays Everything at our fingertips, in our pockets, on our  tablets, laptops and devices, in our cars, our TVs, our toasters – words have never had as  much utility or application – but a clear trend has emerged in the last ten to fifteen years –  engaging with the written word is becoming problematic. Reading as a comprehensive  skill set appears to be in decline. More of our kids are leaving school with reading skills  that can only disadvantage them in an information dense reality. 

A cursory browse through online stats reveals only that an abundance of information is  about as effective as none sometimes. New Zealand, for example, shows an adult literacy  rate unchanged from 99% in well over ten years. But we sit quite snuggly between  Iceland and Ireland so Njals saga and Ulysses keep us right up with the play. Samoa pips  us by nearly a percent. I’m guessing the Bible has something to do with it. The Good  Book worked for Māori back in the 19th Century.

The Adult Literacy Rate is defined by the WHO as ‘The percentage of population aged 15  years and over who can both read and write with understanding a short simple statement  on his/her everyday life.’  

MY LIFE IS SHIT will get you a pass. As long as you know what it means. I’ve seen it  written MY LIF IS SHIT! by a 17 year old locked up in Youth Justice just last year. The  exclamation mark would more than make up for the missing E in my book. That kid  understands. I’d give him a pass. He deserves it for being ignored for at least ten years in  the education system.  

I wonder if we can do better. 

Ben Brown.  

Lyttelton, NZ.  

January 2022. 

The pandemic, property and posters

Your business probably looks quite different now compared to 18 months ago. We know ours does.

The disruption has been unforgettable, but there are also reasons for optimism. Commercial property and the billsticker business might seem to be in different sectors, but there are similar lessons to be learned by both.

Let’s take a look at how both posters and property can profit from changes in customer behaviour prompted by the pandemic.

In the short-term, we were both hit hard by Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Many of our respective clients were not able to use the space they had paid for, which led to pressure on payments. Yes, it hurt.

While this is unfortunate, it also points us towards some solutions.

A new focus on extracting value from space

Our marketing clients and your tenants (and potential tenants) have needs that are evolving. It’s not just a numbers game – X metres of space rented at X dollars. 

In a hyper-competitive market, there are opportunities to rethink space in ways that appeal strongly to growing or cash-rich customer groups.

For instance, Phantom has developed new ways of segmenting its network so advertisers can cash in on the opportunities that matter to them. We can put together a package of posters near supermarkets, to help FMCG clients reach shoppers on their way to one of the few businesses able to operate during a lockdown. 

Instead of simply selling square metres, we’re offering advertisers the ability to buy an audience they value.

We see commercial property owners taking a similar approach. They might be faced with a dip in demand for traditional office space but an unmet need for shared and co-working spaces. By tweaking the layout, adding multifunctional areas, custom video-conferencing rooms and even an espresso machine, property owners are adding the kind of value new tenants will pay for.

We’re both in the marketing business

Commercial property owners have always appreciated the value in finding the tenants who are the very best fit for their space. That’s the tenant who will pay top dollar and stay the longest.

The turmoil of Covid-19 and its associated lockdowns may have disrupted business-as-usual. But uncertainty has bred agility. This climate rewards businesses that have a relentless focus on segmenting customers, tweaking the offer and providing more specialised solutions. In the long term, this is good for both our businesses.

“We’re all in this together.” It may be a cliché, but there’s cold hard cash in it.

Phan Mail – Volume 196

50 free posters for your first post-lockdown gig. Come and get ‘em

This is a very simple offer.

You’re a live performer. You want to promote your first gig since the most recent lockdown was eased. We’ll help you, with 50 A3 posters.

It’s that simple. Send us your artwork and tell us your preferred dates for the posters to go up. We’ll take care of the printing and placement (subject to availability of Phantom frames in your area). First come, first served.

There’s one free 50-poster campaign per customer. And don’t worry if lockdown hasn’t ended in your area yet – this offer will still be there when gigs eventually start up in your hood again.

Sticking up for live music since 1982

At Phantom, we’re committed to the vital task of capturing attention and turning it into an audience.

We’ve been doing it since the early 80s when we first started sticking posters on walls. These days we offer a wide range of poster formats and a nationwide network of over 6,500 poster frames around Aotearoa.

We love all the clients that advertise in our frames but we’ll always have a particularly soft spot for the arts. You guys have been doing it tough over the last few years. Now more than ever, we reckon it’s time to support the people who entertain audiences and make our country a more interesting place.

So tell people about your first post-lockdown show, once you’ve locked it in. We’ll give you 50 free Phantom posters to do so.

Find out more and book your free poster campaign by firing off an email now to

And if you’ve been meaning to book your vaccine but haven’t quite got round it, you know what to do. It’s the key to a carefree summer of festivals, gigs and meet-ups.

Diary of a Billsticker – Seattle and Portland, USA

10 November 2009

I’m writing this on the eve of Guy Fawkes’s night and yet I did this poster run a month back in early October. I flew to Seattle and the shuttle bus driver became lost getting me to a Holiday Inn. That’s strange. She also managed to incur the wrath (held back, breathing changed) of several other passengers as she went past their stops. That’s weird. Why would a person do that? I felt incredibly diplomatic as a Kiwi and we always feel the need to patch things up. I did. That’s laborious.

What do we know about Seattle? Well, it’s very easy to tell that it’s a superlative gig town. There are thousands of posters on the lamp-posts for local bands and DJ’s. Mostly these are coloured A3 photocopies. As I was putting up NZ poetry posters (mainly Nicholas Thomas, Pablo Nova, Janet Frame), a cop went past and waved and smiled. I enjoyed that. There was some kind of action in Seattle to ban postering a few years back and this action failed. Good. There is a need for expression, more so now. I think the local poster company in Seattle is called Poster Giant and it looks to me like they do a good job of handling many campaigns simultaneously. That’s required. They obviously maintain the sites.

What do we know about America? Well, just this last weekend I was in Chicago postering. As I left Chicago I noted that the main local newspaper (The Tribune) was in bankruptcy. I was now flying to Philadelphia where the local newspaper there (The Inquirer) is also in serious difficulty. It feels to me like many people in America are now expressing themselves (and their music, theatres, businesses, issues) through alternative ways and this includes posters and fliers. The old reliable stalwarts. The corporate style media has obviously failed. This corporate type of media mainly became about share prices and ignored people. In business, when you cut costs, you also run the risk of cutting your own throat. Of course, the internet features in all of this, but I think the main reason the newspapers are in the ditch is because long ago they lost contact with the population. Mr Hugh Bris came around and arrogance then ruled. Television in America is strange too, everyone has such perfect teeth. Yet there are many good journalists out of work. That’s sad.

There’s something about Seattle and Portland both being highly creative cities. Portland especially is very bohemian and reminds me of Dunedin and also of Cuba Street in Wellington. I had a great time postering in Portland.

Microsoft is centred somewhere around Seattle. Nike is centred somewhere near Portland (in Beaverton). The greatest Rock guitarist of all time, James Marshall Hendrix, was born in Seattle. That says it all. Portland has the greatest bookstore in the world, Powell’s Books and my very favourite author, Thomas Pynchon, worked for Boeing in Seattle for two years in the early 1960s. This was whilst he worked on his breakthrough novel ‘V’. I’ll bet you’ve read it and understood it. Try ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’.

But it was in Seattle where Kurt Cobain came through the ranks and changed music at a time when it was dangerously boring. When music is dangerously boring it is also bad for people. Life becomes inhibiting. Here’s what Jim Carroll (who died about a month back) said in a poem about Kurt Cobain:

“And instead you were swamp crawling
Down, deeper
Until you tasted the Earth’s own blood
And chatted with the buzzing-eyed insects that
heroin breeds”
– Fragments for Kurt Cobain – Jim Carroll

And I’ll finish there. Wouldn’t you?

Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson

A Tinker’s Cuss – Jim Wilson’s Blog. 25th August 2021

It is National Poetry Day in New Zealand on Friday this week. It is a bleak and lonely week to have National Poetry Day even though poetry helps us reach to the very bottom of our souls. We look around the world and there is nothing but trouble, but poetry is mostly sweet in one way or another.

For me, it highlights friends who are no longer with me and the yearning for the time we spent together in better days gone past.

Friendships are mostly what has gotten me through life, good mates that I could clear the slate with, to tell them about every single time I wronged and every single time I felt wronged in return. My life has been up and down and that feeling firstly came from my mother who was the tempestuous type, when she loved you she really loved you and when she took you into the coal room with a leather belt she did damage. The worst kind of damage she did me was when I really needed her and she didn’t respond at all.

I was doubled up with Black Pete Raponi in Her Majesty’s Prison at Paparua over the winter of 1975. Peter was one of the most beautiful men one could ever meet. He was from up north and I believe he was adopted as a child by Pakeha parents. They had given him the world, but something was missing within Peter that nothing or no one could ever make up for. Peter was left to yearn his whole life through. This kind of yearning is not good for people and it did a lot of damage to Black Pete. He was a very good chemist burglar and he and I would often set off in my big black Rover 100 with gas cutting gear in the back so as to cut open the safes in chemist shops. This kind of behavior made us really good friends. I could count on him and he could count on me. He liked to overdose and he did it regularly. When you went to revive him he’d sometimes say: “No, leave me alone to enjoy it….it’s mine….I want to enjoy it.” Usually he’d be revived in the very nick of time.

He would often repay the same favour to me, that is to say he would often revive me in just the very nick of time. These chemist shops often held pure pharmaceutical Heroin, New Zealand being the last country in the world to stop prescribing Heroin for pain, and it was often mixed into cough mixtures in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

These chemist shops almost always had Pharmaceutical grade Cocaine, and then Morphine powder and “cans” (ampoules), and Omnopon, Palfium, Pethidine, Opium Tincture and so on and so forth. It was like a holiday in the South of France and in that state one couldn’t be annoyed by anything.

A famous writer (Anita Brookner) once said that time misspent in youth was often the only freedom one ever had in one’s life and I agree with that. No one in our group raised an eyebrow at the behaviour of another. There was no moralising and no one judged anyone else. Abnormal behaviour was tolerated. New Zealand, back then, was a place that one had to bust out of, one way or another.

Poetry, among it’s hundreds of very fine features, also helps us escape. In life, are we not here to help each other?

I have just bought a beautiful 1963 Volkswagen Kombi “Samba”. On National Poetry Day I’m going to load up my “Bubble” (New Zealand is under Covid induced “lockdown”) and drive them the long way to the supermarket whilst someone reads poetry until another takes turn at doing the same.

No doubt I’ll be glowing from ear to ear. I call this “Freedom”.

Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson