express history page writer Gareth Watkins is well known for his passion for recording not only Wellington’s greatest community members but rainbow people around the country. Lilly Loudmouth is on a mission to find out what makes him tick!
What is the most memorable/inspirational interview you’ve done?
I’m inspired by audio recordings that contain unflinching, vulnerable, passionate and wise voices. I think of Georgina Beyer recounting her journey to becoming the first openly transgender mayor and Member of Parliament in the world, or Ruth Busch who shared recollections of growing up in a Holocaust surviving family in the Bronx and latterly her work in the areas of domestic violence and civil rights. While people like Elizabeth Kerekere and Jan Logie continually make me reflect on who I am, where I am and what I believe.
You are incredibly passionate you are about your recordings. What makes you do it?
I grew up in NZ in the 1970s and 80s when, through times like gay liberation and homosexual law reform, there was a real blossoming of unapologetic rainbow voices and stories. I think the biggest sea change for rainbow content was in the development of streaming audio/video on the Internet in the mid-2000s. Suddenly we had the opportunity of broadcasting to the world our own voices, talking about what is important to our own communities.
Why is it important for these recordings to be kept?
Firstly, PrideNZ.com only exists through the generosity of the interviewees, interviewers and funders. It takes a lot for people to publicly share very personal stories and so I’m very grateful to all of the community members who have made these recordings possible. Secondly, the significance of voices and stories change over time. The recordings are very special now, but you also never know when you are capturing the birth of a new activist movement or possibly the last interview with a rainbow elder. These recordings are taonga, they’re touchstones for future generations to hear who we were, how we spoke and what our dreams and aspirations were.
How accessible are your recordings for our community to hear?
All of the audio recordings are freely available to play and download from the PrideNZ.com website. But there are still limitations – some people don’t have access to the Internet and others may have a hearing impairment. At the moment I’m working on using Artificial Intelligence software to create text versions of the audio. Currently, AI voice recognition still has a few issues understanding the kiwi accent – but in the future, the aim is to have the voices and transcripts sitting seamlessly side-by-side.
Wellington has always been home for you. What do you love about our city?
I love how Wellington is so compact, vibrant and interconnected. It makes me smile and feel grounded when I see other community members owning our city streets. I still fondly remember seeing the late Johnny Croskery around town. He always made people feel welcome and safe, always ending conversations with a loud “have a gay day.” I’m also really thankful for many of our Mayors, local MPs and businesses who have supported rainbow communities. In the last couple of years, Wellington’s had Carmen Rupe immortalised on our traffic lights, the embankment of the airport painted in a giant rainbow, the installation of a permanent pedestrian rainbow crossing, and the Transgender, Bisexual, Intersex and Rainbow flags flown at Parliament. I was just reflecting on this the other day, and how our rainbow ancestors never got to experience this kind of openness in their time.