E hoa, e te ringa toihau nui o Te Ara, te kaihautū o te wāhanga Māori, tēnei te mihi nui, tēnei te mihi aroha hoki ki a koe
It is with great sadness that we record the departure to an exciting new venture of Basil Keane. In recent years Basil’s official title was ‘director of Māori digital projects at Manatū Taonga’, which reflected his wide-ranging creativity in digital publishing, but he first arrived at the ministry as editor Māori for Te Ara. Basil came to us from the Eastern Institute of Technology after Rangi McGarvey had established the mana of the editor Māori position, so there were very big shoes to fill. We were not at all certain that we would be able to do so. The interview panel was chaired by Ranginui Walker, and I remember that the moment Basil left the interview room, Ranginui turned to us and said, ‘There’s your man’.
Some of the things which impressed us all at the interview proved to be great indicators of the contribution Basil would make over the next 10 or so years. First, there was his huge excitement and forthright enthusiasm for the potential of Te Ara. He could see straight away the role it might play in the Māori community, and he dedicated much of his boundless energy to achieving this. Second, there was his intuitive understanding of, and creativity about, the possibilities of digital technology. No-one else among the community of Te Ara geeks was so quick to discover natty new apps or ingenious sites. Third, there was his deep knowledge of Māori history and culture generally. Ranginui became very excited about Basil’s interest in the Kotahitanga parliament and urged him to continue working in that area. So it was great to see Basil complete his thesis on Kotahitanga two years ago, with Manatū Taonga’s support. In the community of Māori historians, he was a real leader. One of Te Ara’s finest contributors, Paul Meredith, notes that Basil was ‘very much a thinker about Māori history.’
Once Basil took up the reins, he did a brilliant job. It was a complete privilege to work with him through the next nine themes of Te Ara – not forgetting the Places entries, where Basil gave every entry a really close look-over from a Māori perspective. He was also a great travel companion on our trips around Aotearoa to launch those entries, and it was amazing how many Wharehouse stores around the country he managed to find on these fleeting visits.
I really enjoyed working with Basil on those nine themes. He quickly won the confidence of Te Ara Wānanga (Te Ara’s Māori advisory committee), showed leadership in drawing up rough entry lists and then listened carefully to the changes and hints dropped by members of the Wānanga. When it came to choosing the authors, Basil’s knowledge of expertise and local sensitivities in the Māori world was irreplaceable, and when the draft entries came his judgements about their strengths and missing bits were always acute. When it came time for him to write entries himself, they were consistently clear, accurate, hugely well-informed and pitched at just the right level. Just look for example at his wonderful entries on Pounamu (his very first), Te hopu tuna, Kotahitanga, and Whāngai. In all he wrote 25 Te Ara stories – about as many words as a good book.
Basil was also a really clever and generous promoter of others’ work – indeed one of Te Ara’s most popular blog posts was his ‘A beginner’s guide to finding Matariki’, which was designed to promote Paul Meredith’s path-breaking story about Matariki. In all Basil penned over 30 posts on the Signposts blog – including some classics, such as ‘Pit bull on the menu’ and ‘Top 10 things we share with Australia’. He was consistently a passionate enthusiast for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, and drew on all his considerable powers of diplomacy to respond to those who challenged the iwi identification of certain tīpuna.
Over time Basil took on a real leadership role within Manatū Taonga. He had a powerful vision for the different ways that web technology might be used to benefit knowledge about Māori subjects. He was a great supporter of NZHistory.net.nz, and he was generous and understanding in guiding us ignorant Pākehā about what was fitting for a Māori audience. Many in Manatū Taonga called on his wisdom about appropriate tikanga for welcomes, launches and any public occasion. I appreciated that Basil could be quite firm and clear about what was needed, but always made his point without rancour or a loud voice. We quickly learnt to listen and follow his advice.
Finally Basil’s humorous engagement at morning coffees, his forthright contributions to the Dom Post quiz, and his perverse and highly opinionated judgements about Hurricanes rugby, Black Caps cricket and Warriors rugby league will be remembered fondly.
What a loss for Manatū Taonga; but I hope Basil is as proud as we are of his massive achievement. The 150 stories about Māori subjects in Te Ara will be his legacy.