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Matariki Forum: Where is Maori Theatre now?

Contemporary Maori playwriting has played a vital role in the examination and celebration of our


Courtesy of Playmarket News

Contemporary Maori playwriting has played a vital role in the examination and celebration of our culture in recent years, and in the development path for some of New Zealand's most celebrated work in film and television. Maori Television is now well established, yet we are arguably seeing less Maori voices reaching our theatres than we were 15 years ago, and few new voices. Where is Maori theatre now? This was one of the questions considered as part of Playmarket's inaugural Matariki Playwrights, a forum for new voices and the future of Maori theatre, held in Auckland in June 2008.

Rawiri Paratene Where is Maori Theatre now? I don't know why I'm chairing this because I've got no idea so it'll be very interesting! I thought I might try as a chair - because chair's do this - I thought I might deal with some definitions. We're dealing with "Where is Maori theatre not what is Maori theatre. What is Maori theatre is an interesting and ongoing debate that need not be brought to the fore on this forum, OK? We are looking "where" and so there are some givens OK? That Maori theatre exists and will always exist in many venues from the kainga to the marae to the whare karakia - as our matua talked about earlier and comes in many forms, from the spontaneous theatre that occurs in our day to day gatherings to the highly organized national events like the tangi for Te Ariki, Dame Te Atairangikaahu or Matatini. Indeed, Matatini is probably the biggest theatre event in this country and we all know where that is. It moves around and it's probably one of the biggest theatrical events in the world. More people go to participate in one single Matatini- and when you take the people that aren't actually at the festival that that participated - more people participate in that than have ever gone to a Roger Hall play season. Ok, so that's how big in terms of theatrical events Matatini is. So we will accept that those forms of theatre are Maori Theatre and they are alive and they are vibrant and they are important to this country so we don't really need to cover those aspects. That's not necessarily the Maori Theatre that we are looking at when we ask the question, "Where is Maori theatre now?" That's as far as I had time to write the notes! The Maori theatre that this forum is going to attempt to look at is the Maori theatre that involves plays, involves concerts, involves presentations of dance stuff, involves the events that happen in theatres, on the marae, that come from groups that come from a tradition of public performance whereby you either take a play that has been scripted or workshopped or whatever to an area where a community is going to gather to watch it. Now, that might be outdoors, it might be on a marae it is very likely to be in a theatre or playhouse like this place that we're in. So that's the Maori Theatre that we're looking at. Kei te pai? OK, we've got a very distinguished panel and I thought the form that this discussion would take is I would introduce them one by one and they would have an opportunity to talk - because when we look at where is Maori theatre now, it's always important when you look at that question and there are several of us that are going to look at that where has Maori Theatre been or where did it used to be OK? So, the first person that I'm going to call forth is one of my dearest and oldest mates and one of our great writers and story tellers - Rore Hapipi or my mate, Rowley Habib. Haere mai e te matua. Rowley Habib everyone!

Rore Hapipi Kia ora tatou te whanau. Ka nui te mihi - ahau ki a koutou. The contribution I'd like to make is to go back to the beginning of Maori theatre. Maori theatre began with Pakeha writers. I can name a few. You all know Bruce Mason, he wrote The Pohutukawa Tree, Awatea. There was another writer, Adele Schaffer - she wrote plays with a Maori theme. Also ? Stewart. He wrote a play or plays with a Maori theme. And James Ritchie, whose play He Mana Toa Don Selwyn and the Maori Theatre Trust were performing when I first arrived in Wellington. Richard (Dick) Campion was directing it. My involvement with theatre was directly because of Don Selwyn. Don Selwyn and I went to Teachers College together way back in 1954, and so Don and I - we went way back. Don got involved in theatre and I used to go along and watch the rehearsals. I think they formed a Maori Theatre company around about 1973, which evolved from the NZ Opera Company's production of Porgy and Bess. Well, the whole thing was Maori except for a couple of American blacks who came over to play the lead parts and when Porgy and Bess finished, Don Selwyn, George Henare, Josh Gardner, Peter Keika, Huia Maitai, Bill Gray, names I can remember, were in it - they formed the Maori Theatre Trust in Wellington... and they that's why I went to Wellington. I wanted to be near this group. About 1976, I formed this group called Te Ika a Maui Players. The reason I formed it was because, well, one I'd been on the land march and heard about this thing called, "tino rangatiratanga" where we do things ourselves. I saw a whole lot of things with Maoris where there were gaps and there was one gap that I thought needed plugging up which was Maori theatre - where we tell our stories in the theatre like plays, which is a marvelous way of telling stories because you don't have to be PC with a play. You can write things that you wouldn't say yourself and if people accuse you - "oh, you know you shouldn't be saying that!" - I say, "Oh, I didn't say that - the character said that!" The Maori Theatre Trust started off doing what I call, "legitimate theatre". They were putting on plays by Bruce Mason and Adele Schaffer and they had people - Lee Brewer, Dicky Johnson, Dick Campion - all Pakehas producing these plays and y'know, I said to Don, "Why don't you direct a play?" I think there was a feeling that they weren't up to it, the Pakehas did. Finally, I think what got my goat was going along to these plays and I saw these Pakehas telling Maoris how they should be behaving as Maoris. The Maori Theatre turned pear-shaped in the end. They turned into what I call a glorified Maori concert party - spectacle. Rather than putting on small "illegitimate plays" they evolved into this huge thing y'know. Then they tried to conquer the world. They went overseas and it went all to hell. There was talk about creating a National Maori Theatre and there was some talk about establishing it in Rotorua. I saw where the Maori Theatre went wrong. They got too big, they got too ambitious. So, I speculated, you worked in your area. You work with the people that were there. With the Maori Theatre Trust, people came from all over New Zealand. They gave up their jobs, and they converged on Wellington. Maori actors came from all over the show and some of them lost their jobs and didn't get paid and things like that. It was embarrassing all around. So, I decided, "No, just keep it small." I got my group together. Nobody took theatre serious, it was 1976, y'know? I had the problem that nobody wanted to touch Maori theatre with a ten-foot pole - hundred-foot pole really! So, I had to battle that to break down that barrier too. Finally, I got together people. Some of them had been in the acting job, people like Tungia Baker, Keri Kaa were involved - you might know all of these names. Who else Rawiri? Oh! Jim Moriarty, Marnie Morgan. There was Wiki Omen - any of you know Wiki Omen? There were about twelve of us.

Rawiri Paratene interjects: I was there too actually - It's a rather distinguished line up so I'd like to be in it! But yeah, we lasted for about three years and I thought, to be able to get a group together we needed something to work on and I had this idea. I saw it as a court script and I called it, Death of the Land. So, we got our little group - Bruce Stewart was another name there. We put the play on in 1976 in the Newtown Community Centre together with another play that was put on by the Te Reo Maori group in Wellington. From there, we got invitations and in the end we took Death of the Land - it was only a oneact play - up to Auckland. We took it around the place. There were so many people involved. Selwyn Muru was in it, Joe Malcolm - I wrote them all in and then I wrote a play for television called The Gathering and that brought in a lot of people. It brought in Riwia Brown and her sister Haina and Rangimoana Taylor, that got them involved in theatre. The other thing was, I started off writing in 1954 and a magazine that I used to write for Te Ao Hou at one stage Bruce Mason was the editor and from the stories that I sent him, he saw that I had an ear for dialogue. Right back in 1962 he said to me, "Have you considered writing plays?" I looked down on plays. I thought writing plays was an inferior form of writing so y'know when he said that to me I felt like saying, "No, that's a lowly form of writing." How wrong!

Willie Davis, playwright and teacher For me, at the moment, where it's happening is with my students in Whangarei and they're predominantly Maori, some Polynesian, and two Pakeha students and because they are Maori and because they are on a performing arts course, they communicate as Maori. Even if they don't know that they are. So we tend to work towards that strength and in the past couple of years we've done two plays- one called, The Whole Whanau which they devised and one last year that we wrote called, The Fallen Stars, Risen Heroes about the Maori Battalion. In regards to the Maori Theatre that they are doing, it's exciting and dynamic because they are able to access emotions on stage that, when I was their age I couldn't. When they are able to do that, in terms of tangi and roimata and hupe on stage, they invite the audience to be able to share in those tears. In regards to where I bring my students to see Maori theatre, in the past four years I've had to bring my students to Auckland. Oh, apart from The Untold Tales of Maui. They came up to Whangarei and that was good, but in the past we've come down. We've seen, Once Were Warriors- the Musical, Whale Rider- the Musical, the Maui musical, the dance piece that was at the Town Hall with Tamati Patuwai last year. I think there's been a movement in regards to our productions and I think what's happened is we've gone big. We've gone from being in the little theatres trying to etch our way into places like what used to exist - places like the Watershed, The Little Maidment- now the ‘b' side theatre. Now it's gone international. There are a lot of reasons for that: in terms of the film industry, and the exposure of Maori and more work for Maori actors throughout our business, because it was really hard at the beginning. Now with the advent of Maori television for our young people with te reo they've got a new outlet. I will always remember Taki Rua Theatre in Wellington being the heart beat of Maori theatre for Aotearoa with the likes of Hone Kouka, Briar Grace-Smith and their work, most importantly not forgetting the massive work that Don Selwyn did for a lot of us in this industry. With him leaving he's left a space so someone better fill it quick - kia ora Rawiri! In order for Maori Theatre to exist you need those kaumatua and kuia around to guide us in regard to our tikanga, to guide us in regard to our reo, wairua and because in our tikanga we need rangatira those whaea, who will tell us off when we kotiti haere when we not meant to, no matter how hard that is to do financially or time wise. In regards to the word, "theatre"- where did it come from? It comes from Greek and it means to behold! So Maori Theatre would be wherever Maori are "beheld"- not "beholding", just "beheld". It's true - yes- on the marae, at our tangi, at our kapahaka, Matatini festivals all those and of course, the advent of the Matariki festival. I don't know, might be a better question to work out - I'd like to talk about what is Maori Theatre but it's off the table.

Rawiri Paratene - Hey, I'm just the chair!

Willie Davis - Ok, then I got the table - because it's too political. My question to that is - when did something that was truthful or honest in regards to our culture become political? If that is the case, then me being Maori is political and I'm not a political person. I'm Maori - Ngapuhi, Ngati Raukawa and I'm proud of that. I'm proud of my inheritance. I'm proud of living a life as much as possible by tikanga that is left by our tipuna- mahue i o matou matua tipuna ki a matou. A, no reira te whanau, that's basically nearly five minutes and that's the thing you see? Tikanga would dictate that you talk forever but within this forum we're dictated by time. No reira, it's nice to see you Rawiri and all my friends that I haven't seen for many years. It's lovely to see. Nice to meet you you fullas. You young fullas, you're now at the head of the waka - we'll be at the back cooking the food! Kia ora!

James Ashcroft, Producer Taki Rua Productions Taki Rua Productions is a national and international touring M?ori theatre company. We consist of two full time staff, myself as Tumuaki/ Artistic Director and our Marketing Sponsorship Manager Renee Mark who is based in Auckland. What struck me with the question - where is Maori Theatre was to begin with the alternative - where do I think Maori Theatre is not predominantly at the moment. For me Maori theatre on the main stage in New Zealand doesn't have a strong enough or regular enough presence. That's not to criticise anyone's programming in festivals or in recurrently funded organizations or in venues, but the question has to be asked - why is that the case? Who is voicing that concern if it's a shared concern? There is an abundance of Maori talent among the acting community which little by little, through experience and necessity of creating a living, branch out into other areas of creativity and within the theatre community such as writers, directors, administrators etc. What's missing in Maori Theatre at the moment is a strength of Maori directors with experience, with Maori producers, with Maori strategists within the arts. The way Taki Rua is looking to address this within our annual programme, is viewing each production we produce as a resource. When you're doing a show, you've got designers, actors, directors, writers, dramaturgs, production crew etc within the working collective. You have the play itself and the rehearsal process. The working environment of creating a piece of theatre is a prime environment to be learning within - particularly for emerging producers or developing directors - that can be made available to M?ori who are wanting to advance their knowledge and their skill base. Over the last two years Taki Rua has made a concerted focus on up-skilling and providing a nuturing environment for emerging M?ori artists with a key interest in directing. The two recent examples - Te Kohe Tuhaka and Ngapaki Emery, both trained actors from Toi Whakaari, were mentored through our Te Reo M?ori season. Mentors include Christian Penny (H.O.D Directing at Toi Whakaari and freelance director), Leo Gene Peters (Graduate of Toi Whakaari's directing programme and director of Taki Rua Productions Strange Resting Places) and Geoff Pinfield (also a graduate of Toi Whakaari's directing programme and freelance director). Where we begin with these artists is ask where they aren't getting satisfaction in being a M?ori theatre practitioner in different organizations or in theatre in general. A lot of that was to do with not being part of a whanau, not having challenges and learning opportunities on the job that matches their hunger. What we have focused on is challenging what the expectations or perceptions are around what being a director is - that to be a director you have to be/ do A, B, C and D. No. You're a director now, of a certain experience and skill level, and that's the challenge that you step up to every day throughout the process. Our responsibility is creating the challenge within a supported environment - pairing the emerging artist with the seasoned practitioner. The focus then becomes journey focused and based in questioning and learning with the collective. Similarly in the position I'm in as a producer, I come from an acting background and I'm still learning producing and that is a constant each day. That's a good thing. So what I'm interested in Taki Rua by creating a focus is - how do we operate as a resource while continuing to deliver an annual programme of works? I'm talking about core investment in a production. With Taki Rua, we have up to four works that we invest in annually. Depending on the production we have a three-year time frame of investment in the development and progression of each work. An example of this is Te Karakia by Albert Belz which was in the International Festival of the Arts this year, which we have developed over an 18 month period. The key for us is that we make a continual investment over that period of time to a work to honour it; to make sure that it's not just being shown to one audience. We're a national M?ori theatre organisation. We want our works to be seen by as many New Zealanders as possible. Strange Resting Places is another example. For that we had a focus of creating a work specifically for numerous audiences. So how can we do that? How can we get a work that appeals to a theatre going crowd as well as a marae, as well as our schools - people who don't get to experience theatre often, and how can we let all of those different opinions of the work contribute to it's growth. How do you continually build on top of that and make that part of the on going growth of the work and those involved? That's what we're asking ourselves at Taki Rua. It's also about pairing emerging artists with more experienced practitioners. Taki Rua comes from the weaving pattern which means to go in two's. The content of what we do is always M?ori lead but often its M?ori content mixed with another... there are always M?ori practitioners involved with other practitioners - Strange Resting Places examines similarities between the Italian culture and the Maori culture; Pakeha and Maori within Te Karakia within a political context, within a social context, within a relationship context. Recently, we've been "heads-down, tails-up" being so production focused, we've realized that there's a need to touch base and communicate more with what Taki Rua is doing on a grander level, especially with those who've been associated with Taki Rua in the past. We need to hear from people - those who are new to Taki Rua; and those who have a previous association - what their perception of Maori Theatre was or where it is or where it could be... We would really value the opportunity to get your names and details so we can try and strengthen that link between where Taki Rua has been in the past, what Taki Rua is doing now, what Taki Rua is going to be doing in the future and where it could be strengthened - that's what we're interested in.

Albert Belz Where's Maori theatre? ... I'm not too sure really - all around us I guess. For me ... it's at the Herald, September 12th there's gonna be theatre, Maori Theatre - It's my new play, Whero's New Net. I guess that's what it is for me at the moment. It was funny listening to you Rore about Bruce Mason asking you about writing a play. I had something very similar. Elizabeth McRae and I we're sitting in the green room somewhere and she said, "What are you doing after this?" and I went ahhh... dunno... and she said what about theatre? And I went, "Haha, yeah. I don't think so..." Coz it just didn't seem like the big television, the big film thing and perhaps Maori Theatre these days - especially with Maori television, the rise of Maori television and even the rise of the Pacific voice (and I mean Tongan, Samoan or whatever) is dulling or blurring where Maori Theatre is perhaps at... Also for myself as well writing in general for Maori Theatre, if writing's the thing you wanna do, you need other writing stuff. So where is Maori Theatre? It's being funded, hopefully. I mean, for me these days by Maori television as well. Through working drama in Maori television, writing for them, and also for film sometimes.

Miria George - Producer, Tawata Productions Tihei mauri ora! Ki a Ngati Whatua, te tangata whenua o tenei rohe- Tena koutou katoa. Ki a Rore, e te rangatira! Tena koe. Ki a Rawiri te kaiwhakahaere o tenei ropu tena koe hoki. Kia ora nga kaituhituhi. Kia ora mai tatou. My name is Miria George and ko Ngati Tuara raua ki Ngati. Kia (inaudible) oku hapu. I've got the flu at the moment and I'm gonna try hard. I'm a writer and a producer for Tawata Productions and Tawata Productions is a kaupapa Maori Theatre company. It was established by Hone Kouka in 2001 and we're based in Wellington. Where is Maori Theatre? Maori Theatre is Level two, Tory St, Wellington. Once a fortnight, a collective - Writers Block meets up and can be up to about thirty writers, and I'd like to mihi to Jason Te Kare and Kahu Hotere and Jamie McCaskill. I do have to acknowledge Amanda Hereaka and Simon Bowden and the Arts Foundation for giving us a home because we were homeless for a while. Writers' Block is a collective of writers who are Maori, are Pacific, are Pakeha, from Asia, South Asia. They are writers of theatre, of film, of television, of radio. It's a huge whanau with which Tawata Productions is directly associated because of Hone Kouka. We're very fortunate to then be able to use every member of our whanau of Writers' Block who have connections to RNZ, who have connections to Maori TV, that can extend the arms and the voice of Maori Theatre to enable us to gain more experience as artists, as writers and as craftspeople. Where is Maori for Tawata Productions? We're in a very unusual position of performing mainly in Wellington and then going off-shore. That's where the demand is for us. In Wellington, we will perform in BATS theatre and another wonderful whare that we are always invited into is the City Gallery in Wellington. In 2006, we did a tour of the Hawaiian Islands in 2007 to Cambridge and London. This year we're going to Perth with the Honouring Theatre Festival with Yirra Yakkin and Native Earth. We're fortunate to have a kaumatua, Enoka Waitoa who is an uncle of Hone's -who was actually here with us when we arrived in Manukau earlier- who was here to ensure, like Willie said, that our tikanga and our reo is at the best level that we can get it to with them guiding us along, with them keeping us safe in our processes. That might be all I've got to say. It's lovely to see such an amazing turnout today so good on you Playmarket. Good on you Jenni and kia ora for that.

Jamie McCaskill Tihei Mauri ora! Ka tangi te titi ka tangi te kaka ka tangi hoki ahau tihei mauri ora! Te whare e tu nei te marae e takoto nei tena korua e nga mate haere haere haere te hunga ora nau mai haere mai, ko te mihi tuatahi ki a koe Rore kia ora e hoa. Ko Jamie toku ingoa. ko ngati tamatera te iwi te pae o hauraki te marae. Tainui te waka ah kei whanganui a tara ki te kainga inaianei. Ka nui te mihi ki au Where is Maori theatre now? I guess, when I started playing around with ideas for theatre, I started when I was about 15 or 16 and I joined a group called, Nga Moemoea A Te Rangatahi and it was with the brother, Chris over here - nga mihi to you cuz. Really good to see you - and we started with stories on the marae; creating stories that we all come up with as bad kids and just creating stories from those kind of things. As a rangatahi, I was inspired to carry on with those kind of stories and explore ways to tell stories and theatre is a perfect ground for me to explore different ways to tell stories. As I continued my career in the performing arts I was really inspired by the stories of Hone Kouka, Briar Grace Smith, Bruce Mason, Rawiri (Paratene) with Blue Smoke. I was inspired by that and it made me, as a young artist, wanna create and tell stories that I'd learnt or lived in my life. I guess as a beginning, I started telling stories I knew as I grew up and often they were funny stories and the way I grew up in Thames. Then I started getting quite political with my writing as I used theatre as a way to discover who I was in the way that I lived as a Maori in our world. Through theatre I've discovered a lot about myself and connecting with other people within the theatre. After being political with my writing, I've discovered with tautoko from Hone and Miria - I've discovered there's more to Maori theatre than being political and being quite angry. We're like anyone else - Pakeha, Asian, anyone else in the world. We experience love, we experience laughter and at the moment, I'm checking out Billy T James coz he's hard case and learning to look at Maori in a different light and put those ideas on the floor. At the moment, I'm currently performing and composed and written with Miria, He Reo Aroha which is a play about love. We experience love and loss of love, gaining love, love of your friends, love of your mahi and it's been really interesting to explore a universal concept within a Maori perspective. I think being Maori is unique enough to explore universal themes. I‘d like to mihi to Playmarket. Thank you for a fantastic day, James at Taki Rua, Hone and Miria - Tawata. No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena huihui mai tatou katoa.

Kirk Torrance Kia ora koutou. Nga mihi ki a koutou. Kia ora for the karanga to speak here and to Rowley who wrote a play and I was in his play - I think one of his last plays he wrote, and one of the first that I was in out of drama school. The process I was in turned into a bit of a nightmare but Rowley stood strong and I made a desperate phone call to Hone Kouka - " bro come and rescue us" - at the first arts festival here in Taupo Hone was on the next plane and he helped us deliver Rore's play - and Nancy (Brunning). Where is Maori Theatre? I think it is - from what I see and as a working, participating actor it is in a form of recession. I see it in the hands of those currying the favour of those that release the funding. It is and always has been, an uphill battle, I think and excuse me James - it kind of fires me up a bit because it's not about up-skiling the directors - no disrespect to the directors - it's about up-skilling the writers to write the plays so the directors can direct it! From my own experience - trying to get plays on and then trying to write them to a theatre guideline telling me that I have to write it with four characters and this is how a Maori acts - I say no, this is not how I write theatre. This is not where I think Maori Theatre is. Maori Theatre is with those who encourage it such as Playmarket who went out and create these sort of forums for people to come out and talk about these things. I've only written one play and that was with Writers' Block with Hone. We were one of the founding members there and it took a great deal of effort for all involved to get these workshops on and it wasn't because it was Maori Theatre. It's because it was so hard getting funding and it's so hard asking people to do things for free and it pisses me off that we are still having to ask people to do things for very little, to give your heart and soul for something and find it hard to make a living. So, I think it's more about how things are funded, who funds it and the personalities involved in the releasing of those funding as well. I found that - undeniably - a personality clash can mean that your play won't get on. So, that's where I think Maori Theatre is and those that hold or have the key to unlock the funding for you to be able to do what it is that you do.

Tainui Tukiwaho I'm so excited! This is such a cool thing! Just what we're doing, sitting up here with these cool people who've said really nice things- it's just so cool. Kia ora ano tatou! Ko Tainui Tukiwaho toku ingoa. No Rotorua ahau. Ko Rahera Ropata te ingoa o taku whaea, ko Rangiteaorere Tukiwaho te ingoa o toku matua. They're two very close people to me. It's an interesting thing - I went to high school with Miria and I didn't recognize that I have to qualify myself as Maori until I went to Auckland and I went to Unitec. I went to school and then we were sitting down and we were introducing ourselves and my teacher she stopped us and she said, "Um, sorry could you say that again?" and I said, "Say what?" "Um, where you're from," and I said, "I'm from Rotorua." and she said, "did you hear that everyone? That's how you say it." And that was the first moment - that was the first moment I realized that I was- not that I realized I was Maori- but that everyone else kinda wasn't!? laughter and it was quite a defining moment for me. So, "Where Is Maori Theatre?" When I first got asked that question I was like- "oh man, this is a hard question." So I went around asking all these people that I was working with. Everyone um'd and ah'd about it which is why it's such a good question, but they come back to me. They'd had really good ideas but this question of where it is - wonderful thing about this panel that came out is- it's obviously in Wellington because it's not up here! You guys are doing wonderful things in Wellington with Maori Theatre. I've been wondering to myself where it is. Y'know the last Maori play that I did see was, Te Karakia and I had to fly to Wellington to see it. That was the last one that I saw. That was heavily advertised - I know that there was other stuff around which to touch on what you said (Kirk) funding getting publicity out there so people know that stuff is happening. It's just sad. That's how I know things are happening but I'm hearing about them after the fact so I'm missing out. It's something I wanted to touch on and maybe have questions about - what is the accessibility of the Maori Theatre that we have now- not to undermine any play that has been written in the past, I think they're wonderful things and I think they've built to a point of Maori Theatre like the bro here was saying about being political theatre - but I haven't seen anything personally, maybe because I've been in Auckland and not seen much Maori Theatre, I haven't seen personally anything that's moved past that point and so I kind of feel like Maori Theatre is still here. I don't mean like just here, but it hasn't moved beyond that point. Please see ‘Responses' for further discussion from the floor, and note Playmarket are welcoming your response to be published online.  05/11/08

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5 Nov 2008