Giving voice to an aria

The music for Aria: a dawn song, by Christopher Blake

The music for Aria: a dawn song, by Christopher Blake

Te Ara’s new story on New Zealand composers, written by William Dart, charts the development and maturation of a home-grown composing tradition. In a story devoted to music it was necessary to make lavish use of sound and video recordings and we haven’t stinted in that regard – readers can listen to the likes of 19th-century pioneer Alfred Hill, composing giant Douglas Lilburn, and contemporary composers Eve de Castro-Robinson and Jeremy Mayall, who combines electronic music and turntablism with taonga puoro (Māori musical instruments) to great effect.

One of the more exciting resources for those of us who worked on this story was Christopher Blake’s Aria: a dawn song. This short piece for solo flute was composed in 1991 for the opening of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs (which, in 2000, joined up with the history and heritage parts of the Department of Internal Affairs to become Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, which is home to Te Ara). The ministry had a framed copy of the score and we hoped to use this in the entry and bring it to life with an accompanying recording. Alas, Dawn song had never been recorded.

Being a resourceful bunch, we saw this as an opportunity rather than a problem. We needed to get Chris Blake’s permission to publish the score on Te Ara, so asked him about a recording at the same time. Chris is CEO of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) and so had no shortage of suitably qualified musicians at his fingertips. He arranged for principal flute Bridget Douglas to play the piece and it was recorded at the end of a larger NZSO recording project.

We are delighted to present this recording of Aria: a dawn song to the world at a time when the first build of Te Ara is ending and a new phase beginning.

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki – artist, scholar, critic, historian, battler for humanities

Tāne raising the sky, from Cliff Whiting's carving 'Te wehenga o Rangi rāua ko Papa' (click for image credit)

Tāne raising the sky, from Cliff Whiting's carving 'Te wehenga o Rangi rāua ko Papa' (click for image credit)

Tērā te uira e hiko ana mai,
Ka wāhi rua i runga o Rakaumangamanga
Kua hinga te tōtara o Te Waonui a Tāne

Te Ara today mourns the loss of Jonathan Mane-Wheoki. Jonathan was one of our finest contributors, whose story about contemporary Māori art will appear on Te Ara Shortly. His essay says much about the man: it is a beautifully written piece which Jonathan completed about six months ago as he battled ill health – but he was determined to get it done. With elegant and polite emails he kept me fully informed of his progress, and when the entry arrived it hardly needed to be touched.

And the story that he tells was close to his own interests and passions. He had first studied as a painter under the radical expressionist Rudolf Gopas and was among the artists represented at the pioneering Canterbury Museum exhibition in 1966: ‘Maori culture and the contemporary scene’. He recounts how Māori artists were able to combine modernist aesthetics and Māori traditions into work that has been among the nation’s most creative of the past 50 years. Just think of some of the names – Ralph Hotere, Cliff Whiting, Para Matchitt, Emare Karaka, Robyn KahukiwaMichael Parekowhai and Shane Cotton. Truly Aotearoa would be hugely poorer without such work enriching our world. Jonathan was one of the great supporters, documenters and interpreters of this movement, and we are delighted he felt able to tell that story for Te Ara.

Jonathan’s championing of Māori art is not his only contribution to New Zealand’s culture. I first came across him when he was a young lecturer at Canterbury University who was researching architectural history, especially the Gothic revival. He recently made clear his desire that one of this country’s major expressions of that tradition, the Christchurch Cathedral should, if possible, be restored. His interest in architecture flowed through into his study of Māori history – I recall his beautifully paced presentation to the last New Zealand historians conference on the extraordinary history of the Mataatua wharenui.

After Canterbury University, Jonathan moved to Te Papa, where he directed the art team, and then went on to the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. Along the way he battled fearlessly for research in humanities, helping to get the humanities included within the Royal Society and, in turn, he was recognised by that august body with the Pou Aronui Award in 2012 for his ‘outstanding contribution in the development of the humanities in Aotearoa New Zealand’.

Finally, I recall a man who was always warm and generous towards his peers, who was extraordinarily thoughtful of others, and was a complete gentleman (in the very best sense) in his behaviour. I did not know him well, but I always felt as if he personally really cared about my welfare.

So, Jonathan, rest easy. And when ‘Contemporary Māori art – ngā toi hōu’ appears on Te Ara’s live site we will raise a glass in your memory and in gratitude for what you did to bring cultural history to life.

Designs for living

The showroom of designer David Trubridge (click for image credit)

The showroom of designer David Trubridge (click for image credit)

For those of us who cannot draw more than the odd doodle, the release of our eight new stories on architecture and design is cause for jealousy and wonderment. The inventiveness of people who can imagine a new building, or a new typeface or a new object – such as a revolutionary pair of scissors – is almost magical. The whole group of entries is a testament to the major theme of Te Ara’s last section: creativity.

There are four stories which focus on architecture. To be honest, colonial New Zealand was not especially noted for its creativity or originality in this field. The one exception was in Māori architecture, where, as Deidre Brown shows, Māori developed the idea of large carved wharenui (meeting houses) a style previously unknown in Aotearoa.

Meanwhile, European architects, whether designing domestic buildings, public, commercial and religious buildings, or theatres and halls, stuck to their European background. Architecture was heavily imitative, copying historic styles. Early buildings were a restrained Georgian; but then the battle of the styles developed between classical revival style and Gothic. Gothic, used commonly in churches, was also found in some homes such as Auckland’s Highwic and some public buildings, for example Canterbury’s provincial council chambers. There were some marvels even within these traditions, and I urge you in particular to look at the interactive of Francis Petre’s Catholic basilicas in classical revival style.

Ōamaru courthouse, one of New Zealand's many classical-style public buildings (click for image credit)

Ōamaru courthouse, one of New Zealand's many classical-style public buildings (click for image credit)

The 20th century saw international influences remain strong, but there were striking local variations – James Chapman-Taylor’s homes, which developed out of the arts and crafts movement, the modernist-influenced buildings of Ernst Plischke, the Group Architects‘ attempt to adapt the modernist style to a New Zealand way of life, and John Scott’s magnificent Futuna Chapel, which blended Māori and Gothic church elements with modernism. It is also worth looking at the images and films of theatres and cinemas, some of which were enchanted spaces where ‘everything ordinary was left behind’, as the narrator says in Peter Well’s film about Auckland’s iconic Civic Theatre.

The story of landscape architecture shares with the stories of design – fashion, graphic and industrial – a period of striking growth and creativity in the last part of the 20th century. Although there were garden designers before then, the profession did not really get established until the early 1970s. Since then, landscape architects have helped transform the character of our cities.

Fashion design got its kick-start in the 1940s, when the disruption of imports and a ready market, with American troops here, led to the first local fashion houses. The last 30 years of the century saw an outburst of creative designers and fashion houses such as Zambesi, Trelise Cooper, WORLD, Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester. Exposure at the London Fashion Week in 1999 was international recognition that there was something happening down under – something ‘edgy, dark and intellectual’.

Speedee electric jugs (click for image credit)

Speedee electric jugs (click for image credit)

Industrial design took off in 1962, when both Elam and the Wellington School of Design began professional training. Forty years later industrial designers had helped change the way we experience our every day lives, with such creations as:

  • the electric ‘jug’ (as distinct from the British ‘kettle’)
  • Fisher & Paykel’s DishDrawer
  • Methven’s SatinJet shower
  • Bendon’s seamless bra
  • Phil & Ted’s baby buggy.

As for the third type of design, graphic design, there was some fine work in the 1930s and 1940s, especially some great railway posters. But, again, it was 1962 when the first fully professional training began. The fruits of this were seen in some stunning logos for New Zealand Post, New Zealand Railways and the 1974 Commonwealth Games. In the digital age, New Zealand’s internationally recognised typographic designers included Catherine Griffiths, Sarah Maxey and Kris Sowersby.

Fittingly, these stories are to be enjoyed as much for the visuals as for the words. As you pass from image to image you cannot but be grateful for how much the talented people who can draw have enriched our world – in the buildings we inhabit, the objects we use, and the clothes we wear.

Stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War: part two – No front line: inside stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War

The cover of No front line

The cover of No front line

Over the last seven years historian Claire Hall has been working on the Vietnam War Oral History Project, run by Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, to collect the stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War veterans and their families. Using these oral histories, Claire then wrote the book No front line: inside stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War, which has been recently published. In part one of this two-part series, Claire writes about being part of this important oral history project. In part two she reflects on her book and the importance of sharing the veterans’ stories.

Over the last few months I’ve been travelling the country for a series of regional launches for No front line: inside stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War, the book I wrote using material collected as part of the Vietnam War Oral History Project.

The main launch at Parliament on 18 August coincided with the anniversary of the 1966 Battle of Long Tan, which is also Vietnam Veterans’ Day in New Zealand and Australia. A gathering at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on 2 September fell on the anniversary of the death of New Zealand’s first infantryman killed in action in 1967, Victor Company’s Morrie Manton. The final event in Christchurch marked the anniversary of the declaration of the Second World War on 3 September 1939.

New Zealand history is peppered with anniversaries that recall the beginning and end of conflicts, and the losses we’ve suffered as a nation at war. More than just providing a spark for nostalgic reflection, these dates should pull our focus onto the impact that war continues to have on the generations that follow in its wake.

June 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the New Zealand’s first military deployment to Vietnam in the form of a team of non-combatant engineers. Last year it was 50 years since the civilian surgical team was dispatched in 1963. Next year will be a half-century since the first Kiwi gunners left home to bolster allied forces in the escalating conflict.

Through the lens of the stories in No front line, these anniversaries won’t just be remembered for the campaigns or military operations that took place. They force us to judge the Vietnam War on more than just territory gained or lost, or individual operational campaigns won.

No front line was a year in the writing, but the history therein has been shaped, crafted, worked and reworked over a decade. It all began with Rob Rabel’s 2005 New Zealand and the Vietnam War: politics and diplomacy. Ian McGibbon’s official history, New Zealand’s Vietnam War: a history of combat, commitment and controversy, added a military perspective to our understanding in 2010. No front line is the final edition in the trilogy. It adds first-hand accounts to Rabel and McGibbon’s analysis of the war’s place in history. (Disclaimer: these stories are not an official perspective on the Vietnam War. They purposefully challenge established narratives and reveal new truths.)

I am proud of what we have achieved and feel certain of the value of the public history I’ve been part of creating. In no small part because the oral history research on which No Front Line is based was completed shoulder to shoulder with veterans themselves. It’s much more than a war book based on oral histories - it’s a waka huia (treasure box), a vessel in which veterans’ stories can take their rightful place alongside official history, with due respect.

New Zealand Vietnam War veterans and their families at the launch of No front line

New Zealand Vietnam War veterans and their families at the launch of No front line

I am also proud of the trust I was able to build up with the veterans. As one said:

Working within the [Vietnam veteran] community is not an easy thing to do, as you would have found out. We are an entrenched group of people. I am giving you this permission to write my story because of the trust and empathy you have among the Vietnam Veteran community.

I recall this concession as it emphasises a critical fact about the publication of No front line: that without reciprocal trust, without true relationships, the depths this book goes to simply would not have been possible. Many veterans left our interview sessions surprised by what they’d put on record, but certain they wanted their stories shared for others to learn from. That’s how they came to make history in No front line.

A final quote from another veteran:

The oral history interview was an emotional experience for me. For many weeks afterwards I was still shaking from shock. On one hand, I wanted to keep my own experiences to myself and take them to my grave. On the other hand, I had to find the courage to talk about it so future generations could understand the trauma and emotional stress conflicts cause. These stories need to be told in their entirety. They are a legacy which I hope will benefit many generations to come.

Kia tau te rangimarie.

Stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War: part one – Vietnam War Oral History Project

Claire with a Vietnam veteran, Father John Carde, at the Wellington launch of her book 'No front line'

Claire with a Vietnam veteran, Father John Carde, at the Wellington launch of her book 'No front line'

Over the last seven years historian Claire Hall has been working on the Vietnam War Oral History Project, run by Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, to collect the stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War veterans and their families. Using these oral histories, Claire then wrote the book No front line: inside stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War, which has been recently published. In part one of this two-part series, Claire writes about being part of this important oral history project. In part two she reflects on her book and the importance of sharing the veterans’ stories.

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage has dedicated six years to gathering and telling Vietnam War history, prompted by a public history project born from a memorandum of understanding between veteran representative groups and the Crown.

The cornerstone of this programme was the oral history and digital archiving project – the largest ever undertaken. It did much to inform and develop oral history practice, and it bridged the digital divide – we started out in 2007 recording interviews on cassette and within two years had transitioned to a fully digital environment. The expertise behind the project’s success is phenomenal. Here, I need to acknowledge the formative influence of former ministry chief historian Bronwyn Dalley and of my predecessor, historian Paul Diamond. Their mana lent impetus and credibility to the fledgling project, and won the initial approval of veterans and their families.

All the interviewers and staff involved in this project – a team of a dozen around the country – shared a sense of the gravity of what we were doing. You don’t hear the stories we’ve heard or experience the memories we’ve been party to without being shaped by them. We realised early in the piece that in order to do justice to those taking part we had to choose to be there entirely. That meant balancing professionalism with the need for emotional honesty to play a part in the storytelling that was taking place.

Being there also meant adopting the strategy of kanohi kitea – being a face that was seen within communities. As Paul Diamond wrote in No front line’s foreword, we followed the lead of Father John Carde:

Father John Carde … had a reputation as a ‘hard case’ soldiers’ padre, who put on a pack and went on patrol like the rest of the troops. As he put it, ‘My motto when I became a priest was “Wherever His people gather, I would like to join in praising the name of the Lord”, so wherever there were people, I thought, Can I, may I, be part of their lives too? I never wanted to be anything above them, or below them … I just wanted to be part of the mix.’

To achieve this we went where the men were. We turned out to RSAs, reunions, memorial services and formal dinners. In the latter stages of the project we staged exhibitions here and in Australia. That investment in being seen and gaining trust from our core communities was essential to the success of the project.

Over five years we collected 150 long-form life history interviews, boxes of slides and photographs, Super 8 film, recordings, diaries and memorabilia, which are now in the care of the Alexander Turnbull Library. These were the artefacts we used in five exhibitions, which started small and culminated in a permanent display at the National Vietnam Veterans Museum outside of Melbourne. (This also gave me a chance to do a handful of interviews with some of the 16% of New Zealand veterans now living in Australia.)

Entrance to the Home Fires Burning exhibition at Papakura Museum, 2012

Entrance to the Home Fires Burning exhibition at Papakura Museum, 2012

It’s been a highly productive project, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Some veterans flatly refused to be interviewed for a government-run project. On the road garnering support, I’ve been let down by microphones and hearing aids, and I’ve been put on the bill as speaker well after the refreshments have started to flow. As a result, I’ve dealt with my fair share of heckling from the floor – not all of it about the government’s intentions for veterans’ interviews. One group of hearing impaired gunners I addressed in Papakura – without a working microphone – grew bored and suggested that removing my clothes might help them hear better. (I didn’t test that theory.) I’ve taken it all in good heart, and consider such trials to be part of the selection process that allowed me to eventually write these veterans’ stories.

This is a difficult project for me to hand over. The seven years I’ve spent recording and writing about Vietnam War history for the ministry has shaped me professionally and personally. While my role has finished, the digital archiving project continues under the guidance of audio engineer Anaru Dalziel and vietnamwar.govt.nz web officer Gareth Phipps. They will continue to gather memories, memorabilia and stories and add them to the online archive. Our Vietnam War history is in safe hands.