Archive for the 'Jock Phillips' Category

The mighty pen

Poet and academic Bill Manhire (click for image credit)

Poet and academic Bill Manhire (click for image credit)

At a moment when we seem to be remembering the contribution that the sword of war made to our nation’s history, it is salutary to recall that the pen is even mightier. Today we highlight the release of five fascinating and beautifully written stories which tell the history of writing in this country and the contribution it has made to the sense of ourselves. They are Fiction, Non-fiction, Criticism and the arts, Intellectuals and Publishing.

Lydia Wevers, in a nicely measured survey of novels and short stories, suggests something of the range of approaches in our fiction writing. I was struck by the contrast in the styles and interests of the female authors from the male in early New Zealand fiction – women’s tended towards romance, while men wrote rollicking pioneering accounts. However, things are never that straightforward – several women confused the issue, such as Edith Lyttleton, who published about back-country men under the name G. B. Lancaster, and Iris Wilkinson, who wrote, among many other works, a novel about men at war, Passport to hell, under her pen name Robin Hyde. There is much to explore and recall in the fiction story, but I particularly invite you to look at two great film clips that focus on the literary beginnings of Katherine Mansfield and Ngaio Marsh, and a sound recording of Frank Sargeson talking about his realisation that he needed to write with a New Zealand voice.

Alex Calder begins his excellent study of New Zealand’s non-fiction with the problem that the genre has always had a negative identity – it is, as Calder writes, ‘everything published that happens not to be fiction, poetry or drama’. He prefers to use the term ‘creative non-fiction’ to emphasise that just because the subject is the empirical world, the act of writing about it is no less a creative exercise. The subject matter he canvasses ranges from studies of exploration, Māori life and pioneering, through to biographies, history and feminist critiques.

Some of Anne Salmond's history books

Some of Anne Salmond's history books

‘Creative’ writing, whether fictional or documentary, is greatly assisted by three factors – a community of writers, a culture of debate and criticism, and a publishing industry to print and distribute writing. The three remaining stories treat each of these in turn.

Chris Hilliard tackles the community issue in an original discussion of the existence, or non-existence, of ‘intellectuals‘ in New Zealand. He suggests that, by comparison with 19th-century Britain or Europe, colonial New Zealand lacked the supporting structures to allow intellectuals to flourish. But from the 1930s, as university colleges became established and the depression invited searching questions, communities of writers and artists emerged. Christchurch’s artistic and intellectual community, including the Caxton Press, The Group and Tomorrow magazine, looms large in the story.

The Christchurch intellectuals, and especially Allen Curnow, also have an important place in Rebecca Rice and Mark Williams’s elegant exploration of criticism of literature and the arts. They suggest that until the 20th century, apart from newspaper reviews, there was little sustained arts criticism in New Zealand. Crucial to its emergence was the appearance of serious magazines and journals – Phoenix, Tomorrow, Landfall and, from the 1970s on, And, Antic and Art New Zealand. Good writing feeds off dialogue and debate.

Lead type thought to have been used by William Colenso in the 1830s for printing some of the earliest New Zealand publications

Lead type thought to have been used by William Colenso in the 1830s for printing some of the earliest New Zealand publications (click for image credit)

Finally, New Zealand writing could never have flourished in the way that it has without the huge contribution of the publishing industry. In a fine, comprehensive overview Elizabeth Caffin shows how long it took before New Zealand-based publishers provided a welcome to local ‘creative’ authors. There was early publishing, but it tended to be missionary works for Māori, government gazettes or almanacs for settlers. Fiction writers and historians had to look overseas for an outlet. Local publishers Whitcombe and Tombs concentrated on educational works and A. H. & A. W. Reed on populist topics. It was not really until the later 20th century that Reeds took on more serious work, overseas presses set up local houses, and a host of smaller local publishers emerged to encourage creative writing in different genres. Not that the story of publishing in New Zealand is one of ‘onwards and upwards’ – Caffin ends this valuable survey with comments about the impact of e-publishing and the increasing concentration of multinational publishers, as they have merged with each other in recent years.

But, at a time when over 2,000 titles are published in New Zealand each year, when people flock to literary festivals such as last weekend’s WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival, when last year one of our novelists won the Man Booker prize and two years ago the government invested much time and money promoting New Zealand at the Frankfurt Book Fair, surely we can claim that creative writing has become central to the country. Long live the New Zealand pen! Or, at least, the Kiwi keyboard.

Heritage South

Our stately venue – the Southland Masonic Centre

Our stately venue – the Southland Masonic Centre

If you want to walk in the footsteps of the past, then the far ends of the country are good places to start. The far north has an extraordinarily varied number of historic locations, from the earliest surviving European house to the grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed; and the deep south was the location of early European whaling and sealing ventures and of hugely important early interaction with Māori.

Such thoughts occurred to me last weekend when I was privileged to attend the second Southland Heritage Forum in Invercargill, which was held in the rather grand Southland Masonic Centre. Even before reaching the forum it was wonderful to be a historian exploring a place where grand Victorian buildings and ornate memorials abound – there is history at every turn.

The forum was the initiative of Heritage South, which was established after an earlier forum, held two years ago, that brought together many people from throughout the province who are passionate about protecting and developing the evidences, in stone and in memory, of the past. The definition of heritage that grew out of that initial meeting is worth quoting: ‘Heritage means those things inherited from the past, that we wish to pass on to future generations and which define the culture and character of the south, its communities and people.’ I love the way this definition locates heritage as central to local identity. I am impressed, too, by their wide understanding of heritage – from physical objects and places to memories and traditions, from Invercargill’s wonderful Civic Theatre to Gore’s ‘rolling r’. The forum recognised this breadth by highlighting especially the district’s heritage foods – will I ever forget the oyster soup at the Heritage Dinner on Saturday night?

Driven by a group of energetic women, especially Cathy Macfie, Rebecca Amundsen and chairperson Rachel Egerton, the Heritage South has achieved a lot over the last two years:

  • 12 newsletters
  • four informal gatherings at the Thornbury Vintage Machinery Museum, the Hokonui Pioneer Village, the Waikaia ‘Switzers’ Museum, and Te Hikoi Museum in Riverton
  • a Heritage Month in March 2013, with another projected for March 2015
  • continued development of the Southland Oral History Project.

Then there was the weekend’s forum. It began with an evening on the First World War. Between songs and skits recreating scenes from the Great War, provided by the Southern Institute of Technology, and (of course) a stop for Anzac biscuits, there were talks on the war, with Aaron Fox discussing Southland’s contribution, large in numbers, to that conflict. Over the next two days there was a refreshing mix of keynote speakers, panel presentations and workshops. Jane Leggett gave a brilliant survey of some of the conflicts and choices that heritage advocates had to confront, and there were some fascinating short talks. I enjoyed Graye Shattky’s description of the work of the neighbouring Central Otago Heritage Trust, Jim Geddes’s impressive account of the success of the Hokonui Moonshiners’ Festival, and Win Clark’s pertinent engineering tips on how to preserve old masonry buildings.

Lying behind the discussions was a larger issue. Heritage South is now tasked with developing a heritage strategy for Southland. It is clear that if heritage is to flourish, then it cannot simply be a matter of talking to the converted. There is a need to attract new audiences, to make heritage pay, to align it with tourist goals and to find ways of using the region’s heritage assets to attract people to the deep south. What is it that would get people to leave Auckland and fly south to explore history? Was it vintage machinery, was it a Burt Munro trail, was it whaling and sealing sites, was it Invercargill’s Victorian buildings, was it the early Māori–Pākehā encounters, was it flax-milling or was it whisky?

Sculpture of Burt Munro and his Indian motorcycle – the beginning of the Burt Munro trail

Sculpture of Burt Munro and his Indian motorcycle – the beginning of the Burt Munro trail

The group pondered a catchy slogan – several humorous suggestions were offered: ’It’s swede as’, ‘Of gorse its Southland’, ‘Southland for slow tourists’ and, with Hokonui in mind, ‘The spirit of Southland’. Certainly the Southland Museum provides no answers. It has magnificent objects, but its two signature exhibitions – on tuatara and the Sub-antarctic Islands (much as I find them fascinating) – hardly awaken interest in other attractions just outside the door.

The problem is for Southlanders to solve and, given the energy and creativity of those behind Heritage South, I am certain they will indeed evolve a strategy. So watch this space – and thank you Invercargill for hosting me so warmly on a cold winter weekend.

Click to read a post about the same forum by David Butts, Manager, Heritage Operations at Manatū Taonga – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Return to quake city, II

Almost three years ago, in the middle of the Rugby World Cup, I returned to my old home town, Christchurch. I was so shaken (probably the right word in the circumstances) by the sight of places familiar from my early life and now piles of stone rubble on the ground, that I immediately wrote a blog post, ‘Return to quake city‘.

Several weeks ago I returned to Christchurch. This time I had a mission. I set out to take photographs at the very same spots where I had taken shots in 2006 – pre-earthquake – for the Te Ara story on Canterbury, so that we can update that entry and perhaps show ‘before’ and ‘after’ images.

Once more I was walking in the footsteps of my childhood; once more I was contemplating the effect of the big quakes. It was a fascinating exercise. Compared with 2011, there were now hopeful, and in places intriguing, signs of recovery. Yet, comparing photos from 2006 and 2014 reveals that few places were left unaffected by those terrifying moments at 12.51 pm on 22 February 2011.

I started at Lake Victoria. In 2006 this had been a peaceful, bucolic scene of a garden city.

Lake Victoria, 2006

Lake Victoria, 2006

When I came back in 2011, the lake had disappeared. The scene was no more than mounds of reddish earth.

'Lake Victoria', 2011

'Lake' Victoria, 2011

This time in 2014 the restoration was remarkable – apart from the lack of oldies sitting in the sun, it could have been 2006 again.

Lake Victoria, 2014

Lake Victoria, 2014

I moved on to my alma mater, Christ’s College, where in 2011 there was serious damage to the old Gothic revival buildings in the quad. This time the entrance had a proud notice fixed to the gate that read ‘Restoration wins two awards’, with photographs of before and after. The old order had returned.

Then it was time to visit the square. In 2011 I could only peer at the wreck of the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral through railings. Now I could wander and get close to the rubble. It was obviously still depressing for someone who had spent many hours singing psalms within its precincts. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos show not only the destruction but also the troubling lack of people in the square.

Christchurch Cathedral, 2006

Christchurch Cathedral, 2006

Christchurch Cathedral, 2014

Christchurch Cathedral, 2014

Yet, there were also hopeful signs. Everywhere there were plantings and colourful murals, and on one side a beautiful chorus of fluttering flags.

Flags, 2014

Flags, 2014

I came across an intriguing notice that read, ‘Audacious – explore the city by ear – resonifying the city’. It went on to explain that the project was designed to bring back sounds to spaces that had become quiet after the earthquake. There was also an advertisement for ‘Canterbury Tales’ – a carnival and procession of liberation through the former red zone.

Wherever I went, comparing before and after, I could not escape the quakes. I had wondered if it would be worth re-photographing the old Deans Cottage in Riccarton Bush, because it was a wooden structure and surely it had been untouched. Not so – here are the two photographs of 2006 and 2014. Scaffolding and barriers just cannot be avoided.

Deans Cottage 2006

Deans Cottage, 2006

Deans Cottage,2014

Deans Cottage, 2014

And when I visited the beautiful Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the pain of loss resurfaced.

Catholic Cathedral, 2006

Catholic Cathedral, 2006

Catholic Cathedral, 2014

Catholic Cathedral, 2014

Yet even here the sight was still better than in 2011.

Catholic Cathedral, 2011

Catholic Cathedral, 2011

The containers were still holding up Francis Petre’s masterpiece, but the rubble had disappeared.

I ended my visit in east Christchurch, driving through the swampy ‘red’ area around the former Queen Elizabeth Park, where sizeable homes now sit vacant while sections around them are stripped bare, and I saw Steeple Rock at Sumner, now minus the steeple. But it was the collection of artworks along the main road at Sumner that attracted my interest. The huge murals sit beneath a cliff, at the top of which fragments of destroyed houses can be seen teetering on the edge. One of these murals shows a scantily clad woman with a worried, pensive look.

Sumner, 2014

Sumner, 2014

It reminded me of another artwork, on the wall of the Christchurch Art Gallery – which, despite having been a symbolic beacon of hope as the centre of operations after the earthquake, is now boarded up for $50 million worth of repairs. There too a lone woman looks down on the city.

Christchurch Art Gallery, 2014

Christchurch Art Gallery, 2014

These images of women – worried, serious, reflective, yet also strangely determined to weather it all – perhaps symbolise a city that slowly, slowly, slowly, is in recovery mode.

In praise of academic creativity

Scholar and anthropologist Mākereti (Maggie) Papakura, around 1910  (click for image credit)

Scholar and anthropologist Mākereti (Maggie) Papakura, around 1910 (click for image credit)

Today we launch four stories about creativity in academic disciplines in this country – Anthropology and archaeologyMāori studies – ngā tari MāoriLinguistics and Philosophy. The idea that academic work is ‘creative’ may at first sight surprise those who associate the university with boring lectures and examinations – indeed one of my esteemed colleagues suggested that ‘academic creativity’ is a contradiction in terms, like ‘military intelligence’. Creativity, you might say, surely belongs to the arts – such as dance and poetry and painting. Funding agency Creative New Zealand does not support academic work.

These stories firmly undermine such prejudices – the idea of the ‘open society‘ developed by the great philosopher Karl Popper, who taught at the University of Canterbury from 1937 to 1945, or Lisa Matisoo-Smith’s ingenious use of the DNA of rat and chicken bones to trace Polynesian migration across the Pacific are but two examples of the creativity to be found in these stories.

Of the four disciplines represented, philosophy is the oldest, its origins lying with the ancient Greeks. It is a highly international pursuit, but our story shows a remarkable level of contribution by New Zealanders or people based here. They included Arthur Prior and Max Cresswell, internationally recognised logicians, and Jeremy Waldron, a philosopher of law, who is represented by a fascinating conversation in which he traces his life from Invercargill to New York. The philosophers are a brilliant, sometimes eccentric and often colourful breed – Otago University lecturer Dennis Grey caused a bit of a shock to post-Second World War Dunedinites by wearing lipstick to his classes.

Logician Max Cresswell, with train (click for image credit)

Logician Max Cresswell, with train (click for image credit)

Anthropology first began to claim existence as a discipline about the time that Europeans reached New Zealand, but the early practitioners were not academics. As our story shows, early anthropology here came about from Europeans’ desire to understand, and attempt to control, Māori. This included explorers such as James Cook and governors such as George Grey, who was quite explicit that he studied Māori language and culture in order to govern them. Later there were surveyors, interpreters and Native Land Court judges. At the end of the 19th century the Polynesian Society was founded, partly impelled by the desire to record what was widely believed to be a ‘dying race’.

Along with European enthusiasts, the Polynesian Society also attracted some very significant Māori scholars – Āpirana Ngata, Māui Pōmare and Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) – and it is fascinating to look at this story alongside Ranginui Walker’s one on Māori studies– ngā tari Māori. As the 20th century unfolded Māori studies began to emerge as a separate discipline out of anthropology. As early as 1926 Ngata had tried to get Māori language accepted as a BA subject. This did not happen until 1951, when Bruce Biggs was allowed to teach it at the University of Auckland, and it was not until 1978, at Victoria University of Wellington, that Māori studies first became a separate department. Meanwhile, anthropology and archaeology developed their own professionalism and began to explore the archaeology of non-Māori topics such as Chinese gold-mining communities and West Coast coal mines.

Linguist and Māori studies scholar Bruce Biggs undertaking field work in Papua New Guinea, 1959 (click for image credit)

Linguist and Māori studies scholar Bruce Biggs undertaking field work in Papua New Guinea, 1959 (click for image credit)

Linguistics was another late 20th century off-shoot, with its origins in both English and anthropology. Bruce Biggs again played a founding role in the recognition of linguistics. The first separate department was at Victoria in 1988, and once more there was an expansion into exciting new areas of study, many with a New Zealand focus, including the history of New Zealand English and of the New Zealand accent, and sociolinguistics, which explored, for example, speech in work places and how speech is affected by gender. For a young subject, linguistics in New Zealand has been extraordinarily impressive in its researches, and the country has given the world some outstanding lexicographers and sociolinguists. I particularly point you to the eloquent interview with the New Zealand-born and Israel-based scholar Bernard Spolsky, who makes the case for New Zealand becoming a multilingual society.

These four entries are packed with fascinating stories of inventive individuals and intellectual pioneers who have helped to reshape our view of the world. I dare you to possibly claim that they are not highly creative people.

Writers, adieu

Te Ara writers (from left) Peter, Ben, Megan and Mark

Te Ara writers (from left) Peter, Ben, Megan and Mark

Yesterday Te Ara bid a very fond farewell to four of our writers, who leave us after completing all their stories for the Creative and Intellectual Life theme, which will be launched in October.

Ben Schrader joined us when he worked on the Wairarapa regional story in 2006; Mark Derby and Megan Cook began working here in May 2008, after we had finished all the natural science content and were focusing on historical and social subjects; and Peter Clayworth arrived three years ago.

It’s not easy writing stories for Te Ara, and the four have done the job magnificently. The challenge is to present up-to-date, accurate stories aimed at a general audience and in a web-friendly manner. You first have to read everything that has been written on a subject to take your understanding to the very frontiers of knowledge. On occasion, when other researchers have not travelled the territory before you and written helpful secondary texts, you have to start from scratch and search newspapers and original documents to piece together a story. So, some Te Ara stories become original contributions to knowledge – for example Ben’s one on Street life, Megan’s on Strip clubs, Peter’s on Weekends and Mark’s on Camping (amazing that there are no researched books on the history of camping and the weekend, true Kiwi institutions!!). Sometimes there is so much material already published that you have to read and read and read, and then try to boil it all down.

Once you have collected the evidence, you have to make it work on the web – distill the essence of the story in clear, simple, direct prose, all neatly organised into pages of around 500 words, signposted with headings and enriched with natty topic boxes that amuse and illuminate. Creating a good topic box is a real art – look, for example, at Ben’s great box on Elbe’s Milk Bar in Lower Hutt, or Megan’s one about the addition of the smell of rotten cabbage to LPG.

Once you’ve written your story, then you have to turn it over to the scrutiny of fellow-historians, such as myself. Questions are asked, red pencils come out, and we all try to ensure that everything that you, the reader, would want to know about a subject is appropriately answered.

So now we have a clear, neatly ordered text. Then images and media (or, as we call them, ‘resources’) are chosen to illustrate the story, and the writer is faced with a new task – to write captions that both illuminate the wider story and explain the resources themselves. You also have to choose biographies of appropriate people to link to each page, and select further sources that might be useful to readers.

Finally, there is the task of dealing with the queries that come in from editors and the growls that come down from the senior editor’s desk (ie, from me), and the story is ready to go up on the web.

But that was only half the writer’s job. Their other role was to check, restructure and, at times, even rewrite stories that have come in from outside authors (experts in their field but not always familiar with the requirements of a Te Ara story). Often this was a comparatively easy task; but on other occasions it required the sleuthing skills of a detective and great tact and sensitivity. As checker, the writer had to ‘own’ the story from then on – writing the captions and overseeing it through to publication.

We, and you, have been wonderfully served by the four departing writers, for each has brought to the task their own interests and background knowledge. Ben brought a fascination with the city and a passion for architecture and design; Mark brought a fluency in te reo Māori and a wide knowledge of labour and Māori history; Megan brought an interest in gender and ethnicity and developed a real interest in subjects as varied as rugby league and modern dance; and Peter brought a broad knowledge of labour and social history and an extraordinary ability to sleuth the truth out via Papers Past. He was also our morning Dompost quiz king. Together these four people were responsible for about 350 of our 1,000 stories.

So we are sad to see these four fine historians leave; but it is a mark of how close Te Ara is to finishing the first run-through of all the initially planned subjects about New Zealand and its people. In the future the task will be to keep Te Ara refreshed and up-to-date, and to add new content as the country changes. We are confident that a smaller team of writers will be up to the task. But they have a great tradition, firmly established by our departing friends, to live up to.

Farewell, Ben, Megan, Mark and Peter – thanks for the huge contribution you have made – and thanks from all our users.