Flash Frontier

Flash around Aotearoa: Te Tai Tokerau Northland

Interviews and Features

Flash writers and locals from the Whangārei district, Deb Jowitt and Sue Barker, tell us about flash in their region and share some stories from Northland writers.


Flash fiction in Te Tai Tokerau had its beginnings not far from our celebrated Hundertwasser Centre with the arrival of Michelle Elvy, founding editor of Flash Frontier, more than a decade ago. Michelle has since left for the deep south, but flash fiction continues to thrive throughout our region. Whangārei Library 3.30 Flash still meets monthly, with ongoing workshops, collaborative events and two anthologies published to date.

Landscapes vary across Northland, from the giant dunes and deep harbours of the Hokianga, the dramatic headland of Te Rerenga Wairua, the ancient kauri forests, and the white sand beaches and islands of the east coast. Likewise, our stories range widely, and draw from a variety of individual experiences. Together, we’ve learnt to cut unnecessary words, to shape sentences to tell a story, and that writing a good flash fiction is not easy. We still take huge pleasure from the magical process of creating short prose and reading our stories to one another. We marvel at the way meaning can be compacted and still tell such diverse tales of amazing depth.

Northland anthology

Changing Landscapes, the theme of our most recent anthology of flash and micro fiction, came out of a particularly wet spring and summer in 2022/2023, when dramatic downpours, cyclonic winds and multiple slips posed unprecedented challenges for our communities. Flashes of brilliance arrived from across Te Tai Tokerau in response to our call for short form fiction on this theme. We are privileged to share some of the new, emerging and established writers from round the region who so generously contributed to the collection.

Deb Jowitt and Sue Barker

Whangārei Library 3.30 Flash


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are made redundant

Emma Philips

“It really is a bugger, all this,” said Conflict. “We were promised boiling seas of blood and riding round on horses smiting people.”

Death pulled back their hood to lick an ice cream cone, already melting in the summer heat.

“Well, we’ve got boiling seas,” said War, nodding at the shimmering ocean, which washed up a plethora of plastic fragments. The four horsemen reclined on the beach, all bedecked in togs except for Death, who had never learned to swim.

“Yeah, but I want smiting,” Conflict mimed vanquishing humanity with a red popsicle.

Famine got up. “I’m going swimming, it’s too hot and I’m getting sunburnt.” She waved her reddening arm in front of her fellow bringers of doom.

“It’ll be the hole in the ozone,” said War.

Conflict jumped up, brandishing the popsicle. “Don’t even talk about that bloody inanimate object taking our jobs, it makes me sick.”

Famine rolled her eyes, shrugged and wandered off into the water.

“Makes a lot of people sick,” said War, putting on black sunglasses and lying back.

“Why are you taking this so easy? Why aren’t you guys angry?” said Conflict. “We are anthropomorphic personifications, we’re biblical and we don’t have to take this from a bloody big hole in the atmosphere!”

“What can we do? It’s bringing about the end faster than we ever could,” said War.

“Come on, War! We were doing a great job bringing about Armageddon.”

“Yeah, and that was hard work.” War watched as a child threw a milkshake cup out a car window, the plastic straw blowing into the ocean. “Let them destroy themselves.”

Death’s ice cream slid off the cone and melted into the sand.


In the carpark

Sara Crane

I’m in the carpark scrabbling for my keys. A slippery bag of seed raising mix under one arm, the small clutch of groceries I could afford this week slung over my shoulder, a bag of sadness in the pit of my stomach. As I look past the sea of silver-grey cars, there’s the rocky outcrop of a familiar hill in the distance. I catch my breath and stand still for a moment.

I know where I am, I say to Nora.

She looks at me with unease. In the car park?

I grip the key tightly and press so hard the car unlocks and locks again. I pause, get the door open and reach out to pat the only tree on its stout trunk. I wonder if it’s one of the old fruit trees. This used to be an orchard. I came picking here summers ago, after school.

There was a cluster of small buildings, workers’ huts, a packing shed, an old villa with a wide verandah.

Nora sighs and gets in the car. You wouldn’t grow stuff like that now. It’s too hot. Don’t know why you bother gardening. They say it’s not going to rain again this year. Water tankers been stolen so many times we’ll probably all die of thirst.

I smile at her and don’t bother to reply.

As we drive back home, I remember the fruity smell of plums and nectarines. I remember sitting outside without a hat or sunscreen. I remember the travellers, the girls who flirted and the dog who adopted me and followed me home to the farm.

I plant another tray of micro greens on the windowsill and water my Amber Lady Papaya seedlings. They are hatching.


The Minister

Christopher Mulcare

My mate, Chris, is one of his private secretaries. He says we need to bring it down and show it to the Minister.

We make a special trip down to Wellington, set up in Parliament Hall to sell him the whole cleantech deal. He’s a busy man, but we’ve got an hour. Besides, there’s the Stockholm gig and those shared beers and intel in the Koru Lounge. We expect a warm reception.

The hour shrinks to 30 minutes, then 10.

Finally, he barnstorms through the door, puts his hand up for silence, wanders around for a few scant minutes, scrutinises the carefully laid-out pictorials, scans the big idea and turns to go. As he’s leaving the room, he says, “That’s exactly what we should do, but WE are not going to!”

And that was that. Quote unquote. [slurp]

Bummer, Dude.

Yeah, anyway, we go and grab a pint across the road to mull things over. His ‘We’ sounded like ‘We’re not, but someone should’. And the look. We give our mate the look. The get on with it look. [mate nods and slurps]

He once said, “Climate change. Nothing will happen until there is a climate for change.”

Yes, you’ve said that before, so what’s the big idea?


Skunkworks! What’s that?

A skunkworks is what we need for the economy, every local economy and region.

A skunkworks is a ‘small autonomous crew of smart and creative people across multiple disciplines who run on the smell of an oily rag and deliver epic projects in short order’.

Ha-ha. Sounds like a Northland caper for sure. Sign me up. Shall we do the paperwork? [laughter]

What’s it called, this skunkworks of yours?


MuM’s the word and MuM’s the Minister.

Everyone’s MuM. Mother Nature, that is.


The clean-up 

June Pitman-Hayes

The old caravan rested beneath the overhanging branches of a giant macrocarpa tree. It’d belonged to the wife of one of Uncle’s mates. Whenever she needed space, she’d hook the caravan up to their station wagon and drive away. Her husband got fed up with that and secretly sold it to Uncle!

When his nephew returned home, Uncle moved his stuff into the caravan, and lived in it for years; right up until the night he fell from Parikiore. Apparently, he’d go up there to stargaze, but that night when he went to relieve himself, he’d stood too close to the edge, lost his footing, and fell.

After the funeral, no one wanted to go into the caravan, so his belongings remained exactly where he’d left them, to gradually moulder away beneath piles of discarded possessions.

The caravan’s door groaned stubbornly as I pulled it open. Dust rose, swirling in the light that streamed through broken windows illuminating shapes of wooden toys, broken-armed dolls, cricket bats, books, shoes outgrown, old school bags, even an Olympia typewriter still in its case; all apocalyptically abandoned through the changing landscapes of growing up.

Generations of vermin had taken up residence, tunnelling, chewing, and excreting their way through piles of discarded clothing, blankets stored in plastic grocery bags, old newspapers, the frayed upholstery of what were once pristine squab covers. They’d even gnawed through the suit bag that still contained Uncle’s bowling whites and best pin-striped.

Grief swelled. Tears brimmed over and down. I slammed the door shut.

For three days, the cyclone raged, twisting and torturing trees, loosening the well-rooted grip of the giant macrocarpa.

It succumbed, falling thunderously down upon the caravan, crushing the remnants of Uncle forever!

The clean-up would have to wait.


When the rains came

Anne McMichael


We built a canoe.

Rusty corrugated iron treasure.

Floated it down the river.

Nearly drowned our sister.

Filthy, brown, silted water crept under doors.

Dad disappeared down a deep, dark, watery hole.

A chink of light saved him.


Silky eels shimmied in the deep under the cliff edge;

a leaping-off dare for boys impressing

bikini clad girls, sunbathing.

A raging, whirling torrent carved out the cliff face,

flung rock and willow like an avenging taniwha.

A ute. Farmer. Both swept away.


Vineyards undulate over hills.

Lombardy Poplars whisper softly of sultry summer evenings.

Lovers lollygag under trees.

Brooding flood waters saturate the land.

Morning light reveals ghost-like sheep hanging on fences.

Cows on shed roofs. Mud mountains.


The February sun scorches our skin.

Hands pluck shiny red apples.

A guitar, muted laughter mingling. Smell of blackened sausages.

Rain rivers roar, ripping up trees,

clawing out hillsides. Trees, slash, slag choke beaches.

We climb into roof cavities. Pray.


A bigger flood is coming.

Inundating beach, river, valley. Cities. Islands. Countries.

Underwater Atlantis cities. Uninhabited.

Nature is our salvation… and our reckoning.

Mother Earth is weeping.


Your next home

E J Williams

– Enjoying the Expo, madam?

– Interesting.

– Anything take your fancy?

– Plenty – beyond our budget.

– Price aside – what is it you’re seeking in a planet?

– There’s 2.8 billion of us, so smallish.

– Gravitational pull?

– Around 8.92 m/s².

– Aquatic or land-based?

– Having gills and lungs – both, ideally.

– Diet?

– Plant based, of course.

– I’ve just the place! Affordable, location to kill for, no neighbours for a billion light years, huge oceans, habitable landmass and fully functioning moon and sun.

– Oh, what’s it called?

– Earth.

– Earth? But you mentioned oceans!

– It’s around 70% water!

– What’s the catch?

– There’s one species that is a little out of control.

– Population?

– 8 billion in only 300,000 years.

– How ever do they procreate?

– Madam, you really don’t want to know!

– Just what are these…

– Humans, madam, are bi-pedal, carbon-based life forms.

– Ugh! Anyone else?

– There were billions of mammals, fish, insects, and reptiles.

– But?

– Humans have caused the extinction of around 60% of them.

– What! How?

– Excessive hunting. Habitat destruction. Pollution. On the bright side – more room for you!

– Pollution? Are their digestive gases that potent?

– No! Most of it’s from energy production.

– With a well-functioning sun?

– They prefer to burn carbon.

– Are they mad?

– Quite mad.

– Their climate must be chaotic!

– Yes, but with the right owners, and a little ‘pest control’ it promises to be …

– …Quite the ‘fixer-upper’!

– Some work is required – hence the price.

– And how would the humans respond to an inspection from a potential buyer?

– They won’t even notice.

– Until it’s too late?

– Precisely, madam!


Eddie WilliamsE J Williams had two stories published in the 2021 flash fiction anthology You Might Want to Read This, and in the same year published his novel, A Volatile Mixtape.  In 2023 he won the NZSA Northland Branch short story competition, with his story ‘Lost on the River’. He lives in Waipu and works as Outreach Librarian based at Whangārei Central Library.


June Pitman HayesJune Pitman-Hayes loves stringing stories together.  During the time of Covid-19 June returned to live on ancestral lands overlooking the Whangārei harbour.  From this place the light, colour, and constantly changing moods of the moana casts her adrift on a sea of thoughts and memories that will eventually return on an incoming tide, as a flotilla of creative writing ideas.


Emma PhilipsEmma Philips is a poet, writer and physics student. She was commended in the 2023 Nation Flash Fiction Day Youth Competition, placed second in the Aotearoa Yearbook Student Poetry Competition year 13 division, and won the 2023 Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition Secondary Schools category. Her work can also be found in Starling and other New Zealand publications.


Anne McMichaelAnne McMichael is new to writing flash fiction and is enjoying the experience of sharing and developing her writing. She is a retired teacher of English and drama, a mother and grandmother, and is passionate about gardening and the environment.


Sara CraneSara Crane is a psychodramatist, writer, gardener and llama farmer.  She moved to Parua Bay in Te Tai Tokerau from Ōtautahi at the beginning of 2021 where she caretakes the bush and lives with her husband, dogs, cats, llamas and a flock of black Orpingtons.


Chris MulcareChris Mulcare is currently repurposing after a varied and sometimes wayward career in engineering, industry and government. He enjoys writing stories, painting pictures and building stuff with his rattle gun.

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