I Come from Palmerston North


The fact of the matter is
I was born at Palmerston North Public Hospital
at 12.40 a.m. on the first of April, 1966.

My father, Timothy John Brown, tried to get the date
put back to March 31st in order to claim a full year’s tax rebate
from the government.

The following year the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s
and the Velvet Underground released The Velvet Underground & Nico.
My initials—JSB—are the same as Johann Sebastian Bach’s.

My father and mother are not originally from Palmerston North.
They immigrated there from across the world and never left,
even though they managed to leave each other.

The Palmerston North Boys’ High School yearbook is called
The Palmerstonian. But I do not think of myself as a Palmerstonian.
People from Gore do not think of themselves as Gorons.
I come from Palmerston North.

While still attending PNBHS, schoolboy Craig Wickes played 14 minutes
for the All Blacks against Fiji in 1980. Imagine
the town’s pride and anxiety as, ball in hand,
he ran at his opposite number and bounced
out of contention.

He once threw mud at my friend Robert Rieger.
Robert is the son of Paul Rieger—a long-time Mayor of Palmerston North.
Robert also went on to become very successful
—as a Catholic priest.

1994 was the year Palmerston North changed its subtitle from
Rose City to Knowledge City. I do not know if Mayor Rieger
was responsible for this or not.

Palmerston North sports a teachers college and a university, plus
the Universal College of Learning, the International Pacific College and
the Adidas Institute of Rugby.
Knowledge City probably wasn’t any one person’s idea.

Palmerston North is the spiritual home of stockcar racing in New Zealand.
The local team, the Palmerston North Panthers, have won 9 of the 21
titles since Team Champs were introduced in 1981.

Lots of famous people come from Palmerston North.
Alan Gregg, bass player with popular band the Mutton Birds,
was once asked if he had roots in jazz. He replied
that he had roots in Palmerston North.

I have often wanted to use that joke myself,
and last week I got the opportunity when someone asked me
where I thought I was coming from.

I come from Palmerston North. We are a modest people,
but we are fiercely proud of the bustling, go-ahead city
at the heart of the Manawatu Plains.

In sci-fi movies, people often go back in time in order to try to
change history. This is impossible. You cannot change the past.
And nobody from Palmerston North
would want to.


James Brown lives in Wellington with his partner and two children. His latest book of poetry is Favourite Monsters(Victoria University Press, 2002). He is the 2004 Victoria University Writer in Residence.