Famous dead New Zealanders

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Today we welcome to Te Ara the magnificent resource of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography; and we celebrate the event with the publication of 11 new biographies of some of the movers and shakers of this country in the last half century.

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography owed its birth to the support of Robert Muldoon, whose enthusiasm was reportedly a little dimmed when he discovered you had to be dead to be included. The eminent historian W. H. Oliver was appointed the first general editor; and the first volume of more than 600 biographies of people who flourished up to 1870 was published in 1990 as a sesquicentennial event. The outstanding scholarship and readability of the volume won it the Goodman Fielder Wattie book of the year award the next year.

By 2000 another four volumes had appeared under the editorship of Claudia Orange. There were a total of 3,049 people included in 2,977 essays, with almost 500 available in te reo Māori. That year, as a millennium project, the New Zealand Historical Association sponsored the creation of the dnzb.govt.nz website.

Now, 10 years later, we have incorporated the biographies into Te Ara, and you can search them through our search engine under the Biographies tab. We have retained the ‘trademark’ orange of the original DNZB site, but also taken the chance to improve the look and readability of the old biographies.

The 11 exciting new biographies are enriched with new elements drawn from the Te Ara style, such as division into smaller sections (we call them subentries), use of headings, many images and plenty of audio and video content, which really bring the people to life.

The new biographies include four politicians:

  • Robert Muldoon: now that he is dead he has finally got his way and he has made it into the DNZB, thanks to Barry Gustafson’s excellent text. Take a look at a couple of family weddings, another slice of the famous Simon Walker interview and his notorious announcement of the 1984 snap election.
  • David Lange was Muldoon’s nemesis and Barry Gustafson has also told his story.
  • Bill Rowling was another who was defeated by Lange. John Henderson has written his biography.
  • Sonja Davies is the fourth politician. Her lifelong battles for justice are eloquently recounted by Anne Else.

There are also four creative artists:

Finally, there are three sportsmen who each were responsible for some of the epic moments of the last half-century.

  • Edmund Hillary ‘knocked the bastard off’ in May 1953; and the route up Everest is shown in an excellent map. See also Brian Wilkins’s remarkable photos of big Ed on the Barun expedition in 1954. Shaun Barnett has done an outstanding job summarising the man’s rich life.
  • Arthur Lydiard’s great moment came at the Rome Olympics in 1960 when his protégés Peter Snell and Murray Halberg won gold. David Green has written his life.
  • Peter Blake had many famous moments, but the triumph of Black magic at San Diego in 1995 was undoubtedly the greatest, which was celebrated throughout New Zealand. See also the amusing interchange with his mother on ‘This is your life’.  Stephanie Gibson provides a comprehensive account of Blake’s life.

So we hope you enjoy the new biographies, and do look forward to more big names in coming months.

One comment added so far

  1. Comment made by Julia || December 8th, 2010

    I think that you sould have titled your blog ‘Dead famous New Zealanders’. :)

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