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This extract of Moontan by Alan Clay, first published in paperback in 1994, is copyright. No part of it may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior permission in writing from the publishers. Moontan is now a motion picture staring Annette Devick from Canada and Mark Hudson from Australia (pictured).



1  Civic Action

For a moment the world paused. Moontan took another sip of coffee. He studied his latest attempt to capture the rich turmoil of Aotea Square in the strokes of his pencil. It seemed impossible to quite grasp the flavour of the mix of people. The flocks of tourists, with a sprinkling of large Maori and Islander families, and masses of office workers and business people out for their lunch.

From somewhere beyond the far side of the square came the muted sound of chanting and, glancing up, he noticed Crystal darting in and out of the crowd on her roller blades, her bright clothes and green hair attracting attention like a magnet.

He smiled, played with the coins lying next to his cup, and motioned the waiter for another coffee.

Two police vans entered the far side of the square by the old Town Hall. The chanting was growing louder. it'll be that Civic Theatre march." He overheard a comment from the next table. So that's why they stopped us, he thought.

Crystal skated to a halt beside him. "How's that for Karma?" she asked, placing a bank note on the table. It was fifty dollars- He looked at her. Her clear skin and clean American features shone in the heavy Auckland air.

She grinned. "A guy just gave it to me. Said he liked our style."

He smiled.  'What ahout the clearance?" he asked.

"They wouldn't process it." She shrugged. He looked up at the City Council building which towered some ten storeys above the Aotea Centre, a product of grey square functional architecture, and he silently cursed them.

Crystal leant over the table and kissed him on the forehead.

He drew her attention to the police, and the chanting. "That's why they stopped us," he told her "It's that Civic Theatre action."

She studied the square. Then sat down and clipped open her roller blades. "Either that," she said, "or you created it to give yourself an excuse." She pulled a hat out of her backpack, and emptied a pile of coins onto the table. He wrinkled his nose. Everything was simple for Crystal.

Beside his chair a small flower had pushed its way up between the paving stones to stand poised amidst half eaten ice-creams and cigarette butts. Moontan empathised with its quiet struggle. He watched her counting the coins into piles, and thought about their work together.

"I forgot the Civic action was today," she said, noticing his gaze. "We should check it out."

He nodded, absently. "What would you do if I stopped?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know." She glanced up. "What would you do?" Her eyes twinkled.

He thought for a momenL "I'd get a house with a garden and I'd paint."

"I'll come and visit," she told him.

They laughed at the likelihood of such an event. They had met by chance some weeks before in London, and still took things day by day.

The coffee arrived, and she convinced the waiter to exchange some of the coins for notes.

"So we've got enough to last us till tomorrow," she said. "I don't know how you kept yourself together before I arrived."

"It was hard work and no fun." She threw a piece of sugar at him. "I get spaced out" he told her.

On the wall of the cafe he noticed a poster of the planet. "And sometimes it seems so fragile." He shrugged. "Sometimes I long for something more stable."

She smiled. "It's a state of mind," she observed.

He looked at her.

"Stability, it's a state of mind."

The chanting was getting closer.

A group of demonstrators had unfurled a banner on the outside of the Aotea Centre. "Civic Action for Auckland Arts!" it read.

Moontan noticed the waiter hovering nervously in the background. Sirens were approaching from the distance. For a moment his eyes met Crystal's. He motioned to the turmoil.

"And you think I created it?" he asked. They laughed.

The sound of conga drums joined the beat of the chanting. Crystal's head turned in the direction of the sound, and he watched her body assess the experience. "Let's go and check it out," she suggested.

He nodded, and they grabbed their gear, and left.


The Civic looked derelict and abandoned behind the construction site wall which had closed off the building for the past few months. The only bright colours were from the posters plastered over the wall, but these were also peeling and discoloured and only added to the impression of neglect. And today the picture was completed by the cordon of police standing at arms' length along the outside of the wall. Moontan shook his head.

The march was almost upon them. It was a big one, with colourful banners. Some marchers were costumed, he noticed, and a few near the front were on stilts.

The intersection had been closed to cars by the traffic officers. Crystal walked over to the nearest and started directing the traffic officers with her whistle. He watched her getting tangled in her gestures. The march felt like a wave of energy about to break over them.

There was a commotion by the bank on the other side of the road, and he skipped over to investigate. It was only a drunk, loudly talking to himself.

He caught sight of himself in bank window, and admired the line of his body. A little short, he thought, as he always did, but it looked in good tone. He put his hand in his pocket, and his fingers played with a pair of toy glasses. On an impulse he took them out and put them on. In the window the empty red frames of the glasses made his eyes look wide and round like a young child's, he noticed.

He turned back to the theatre, and suddenly the march was upon them, and he felt his adrenalin race. He let go, and found himself dancing. He made his way through the crowd, and when he reached the other side the flow of people swept him back against the site wall where the police were standing.

On impulse he turned to the nearest of the cops. "So what's the guts?" he asked.

"Just protecting public property."

He seemed relaxed, and Moontan felt relieved. "From who?"

"From you."

Protecting public property from me? Moontan considered it. He watched the stream of brightly coloured people gathering outside the theatre, and felt the power of the chanting. "I am the public," he told the cop. "You should be protecting it for me."

The congas were great, filling the street with energy. Crystal appeared beside him. She had on her red nose, and she started trying to climb the site wall. The cop beside them motioned her to stop. "Don't touch the wall, darling," he told her. She looked disappointed, then turned her attention to the nearby traffic lights, and started climbing the nearest one. The cop shrugged, and shook his head.

He looked at his mates on either side, and they grinned and shook their heads.

Moontan found himself studying the precision of her movements. He admired the quiet confidence each gesture displayed.

Her antics on the pole were getting a lot of attention from the crowd which was quickly filling the intersection, and the laughter and cheers of encouragement fed her performance. It was as if everything in her life happened solely for her benefit, he thought. She looked forward to each new experience with an excitement which was contagious.

Despite the increasing press of the crowd a small stage space had been created around the pole, and jumping down she took off her back pack. "Mesdames et Monsieurs! Welcome to the show!" She enjoyed using her French. "It's great to see so many people here today. I know you've all come especially for my little show..."

Moontan couldn't believe it she was going into a show.


A young Indian lady pushed through to the front of the audience and stood studying Crystal. She was wearing red ski pants and a shirt with a Civic Action logo. In one hand she carried a megaphone, and in the other a mobile phone. She must be some sort of marshal for the action, he decided. He watched her studying Crystal, and then found her eyes on him. He gestured to Crystal, and raised his hands in helplessness.

She smiled, and gave him the thumbs-up signal. He admired the alertness of her body as she stood as if on guard at the edge of the crowd.

Despite the fiesta mood the audience felt strange, he thought, like performing to an army waiting for the order to attack. Then suddenly he felt the wall behind him move, and he turned in time to see the whole panel, against which he had been leaning, fall inwards towards the theatre.

There was shock on the faces of the police, and the street suddenly felt like uncertain territory.

From where he was standing Moontan could see people working on the inside of the site wall with ropes and ladders, and before either he or the cops could move, a group from the street had rushed past them, and down inside the site wall towards the front of the theatre.

The cops stood with their mouths open.

Another panel collapsed further along the street, and a second group was through the wall before the cops could move. The expressions of disbelief on their faces were a delight.

Suddenly the congas grew faster, and more panels of the site wall collapsed. Ladders sprang up onto the awning above the pavement.

Crystal picked up a towel and wiped her face. They didn~t even wait for the end of the show,' she growled. Moontan grinned and rubbed her on the shoulder. She held his gaze for a moment and, in the midst of the turmoil around them, their lips met briefly.

There was commotion from the break in the wall beside them. A cop was trying to stop people entering, and a group had gathered around him.

Moontan sensed trouble.

Suddenly the policeman raised his voice and started pushing people back. Moontan saw his baton raised in the air and felt people about him recoil. Then the policeman was standing alone, growling like an animal. And for a moment he felt the panic of the crowd. Someone made a run past him and was sent sprawling to the ground.

The crowd bristled.

Crystal took Moontan's hand.

Then without a breath everyone was moving forward and the cop was simply brushed aside. Caught up in the surge, they let themselves be swept along by the flow for a few moments. Once inside the site wall they stepped back against the wall of the Civic.

The old shops around the theatre had been boarded up, and there was rubbish scattered against the building. A steady stream of people was moving past them into the theatre.

A short distance away Moontan noticed a ladder leading up onto the awning above the pavement. The Indian lady with the megaphone was standing at the bottom. "What are they doing up there?" Crystal asked her.

"We've got a paint action to brighten up the outside of the building," she told them. "I think there's some spare brushes, if either of you want to help."

They looked at one another.

A powerfully built Maori woman with long black hair climbed down the ladder. "They've got it together," she told the Indian. "Let's get ready to barricade the doors if we need to." The warmth of her face contrasted with the command in her voice.

"Are there any spare brushes up there?" her Indian friend asked. The other nodded, looking at Moontan and Crystal for the first fime and smiling a greeting as she tu~ed to go. "Just go up if you want to," the Indian told them, as she also joined the flow of people.

Moontan clutched at one of the rungs of the ladder to steady himself. As always they'd got themselves into the thick of the action. "Maybe it's a bit dangerous, with the cops?" he suggested.

Crystal shrugged. "If you think like that, it will be." And with a toss of her head she quickly scampered up the ladder.

He shrugged and followed her up onto the pavement awning, and as soon as he got his head above the whirlpool of the street he felt better.

Above him a concrete ledge made a step out from the side of the theatre, and above that the facade of the building towered inscrutably. Crystal was already on a ladder up to the ledge, where he saw that several large stone urns were being painted.

A cheer went up from the street as those still outside saw the building being painted.


Speakers burst into life somewhere beside Moontan, as he sat perched on the ledge. The intersection was still closed to traffic on all sides, and the cars and trucks were banked up in confusion.

"Good afternoon. We're broadcasting live from the Civic Theatre in downtown Auckland, which is now the central city's first arts centre."

Crystal was still painting her stone further along the ledge. They were the last of the painters still up on the building and, perched above the chaos of traffic and police in the intersection, he felt powerful and at the same time small and vulnerable.

"If you're listening outside the theatre, I just want to remind you to keep cool. You're welcome to enter the building peacefully and find a group to station yourself with inside," the speakers continued.

Most of the activists were inside the building now, and the police were regrouping at various points across the intersection.

"For those of you listening at home, catch the action here tomorrow evening, when we're planning a full programme of entertainment, to celebrate the new Civic Arts Centre."

The familiar sounds of the new Ponsonby Crawlers' album bounced over Queen Street. The sound provided a background sound track to the event, and Moontan found himself enjoying the epic drama unfolding before him.

A TV van was attempting to negotiate the road blocks. They were stopped by the police. Two men got out and started talking with the cops, while a third climbed on top of the van and set up a camera on a tripod. Crystal made her way along the ledge and sat beside him, her brush still dripping with paint. He took it from her, and wiped it on the wall beside him. The strokes formed a rough heart shape, and he added the initials MandC.

She kissed him.

There was a sound of a loud-hailer from the street, but the voice was drowned by the music from the speakers.

"Let's get out of here," he told her.

She shook her head. 'Too much for you again, is it?"

Only Crystal could make sitting half way up the side of the building, with the riot squad in the street below, seem like a normal everyday event. He grinned, the expression freezing slowly on his face as he watched a long column of police emerge around the corner and march up to the front of the building. It seemed endless.

His stomach felt suddenly tight with apprehension. He looked at her, and without a word they were on their feet. Their backpacks were sitting further along the ledge. He motioned her to go down, and made his way over to get them.

The beat from the speakers dropped suddenly in volume, and there was an announcement that the Mayor had agreed to meet representatives of the Action.

He picked up the bags, and, ignoring the ladder, leapt lightly down onto the awning roof.

As he landed however he saw the first of the police appear on top of the awning around the corner of the building. "Cops behind you!" he called over to Crystal. She was almost at the top of the ladder.

The police were moving fast.

Moontan realised he wouldn't make it, and he turned and started running in the opposite direction. What was he running from? he wondered as he headed round the front of the theatre. He heard someone give a long blast on a whistle, and glanced back to see Crystal disappearing just as the police reached the ladder. He stumbled, and when he regained his balance he discovered more police on the roof in front of him. He was trapped.

In the street a loud-hailer spluttered into life.

He stepped to the edge of the roof, and looked down into the street. It was awash with cops. He noticed the camera crew on top of the truck, and in that moment of confusion the performer in him seized the initiative.

He reached into his pocket, and pulled out his glasses.

"Step right up gentlemen for the show of a lifetime. Yes, that's right, here at the Civic today, at this special police event," he announced. "Now, we're gathered here today to look at the way we're living together in this city, and whether we're all satisfied with the situation."

He heard footsteps behind him and, ignoring them continued: "Now, I know we all have different views..." Then he felt a pain in the side of his head, and a moment later felt himself falling forward off the awning.

The startled faces of the police in the street as he landed on top of them, was an image which would stand in his memory for the rest of his life.


It was after midnight and there was still a dull throbbing in his head.

He lay half awake, his mind pursuing thoughts like an unfocused hunter. Crystal was almost asleep, her warm body snuggled softly against his. They had made love for hours. Her body had been soothing, and for a while the ache had disappeared. He brushed her forehead with his lips.

"Have you ever thought," he murmured, "how similar performing is to making love?"

She snuggled closer under the bedclothes. "You think too much," she told him sleepily. "Clowns shouldn't think so much."

Crickets were singing in the moonlight outside. He lay listening, finally allowing the sound to lull him into sleep.



This extract of Moontan by Alan Clay, first published 1994, is copyright. No part of it may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior permission in writing from the author.


Moontan is available in paperback from the Australian online Bookshop

And why not check out Alan Clay's new clown film, Moontan, which was shot last year in Wanganui, New Zealand, staring Annette Devick from Canada and Mark Hudson from Australia, (pictured).


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Last updated 7th January 2007