Archive for the 'Jock Phillips' Category

Our heritage is gold

The new Treasury archive building

The new Treasury archive building

On Saturday I had the honour of declaring open the new Treasury archive building put up in Thames by the Coromandel Heritage Trust. When I accepted the invitation some six months ago, I anticipated a weekend of glorious Coromandel sun and an obligation on my part to inspire a present-minded community with the importance of its fascinating history.

I could not have been more wrong on both counts. Tropical cyclone Lusi put paid to the sun (although I did manage a swim in the sea!); and I quickly sensed that I had misjudged the Thames community the moment we drove in. The welcome slogan at the town entrance read, ‘Thames – our heritage is gold!’. I parked the car and we wandered up the main street. First I noticed posters everywhere advertising the Thames Heritage Festival, and then I was drawn to the shop windows by the displays of old bottles, historical advertisements and pieces of lace. There was a heritage window display competition in progress, apparently an annual event, and the shopkeepers of the town had really done it with style.

Thames window display

Thames window display

Next it was on to take a look at the new building. The first thing I discovered was that the home of the Coromandel Heritage Trust did not consist of one building, but two! Eleven years ago the newly formed trust took over the old Carnegie library, a truly beautiful Edwardian building, as a centre to preserve the history and stories of Thames and the whole Coromandel region. They gave it the name, ‘The Treasury’. Then this visionary group of 70 volunteers realised that if they were really going to care properly for the old newspapers, letters, photographs and records of the area, then they needed a new atmospherically controlled building. So they set about to raise the over $1 million needed to provide for the new facility.

The new building is a magnificent achievement. With a striking ‘cookie-cutter’ appearance, which both echoes the old building while not competing with it, the new centre is flood-proof, fully insulated, temperature- and humidity-controlled and earthquake resistant. It has state-of-the-art storage, which I noticed already contained some of the invaluable records of the great Thames engineering firm A & G Price.

In the reading room of The Treasury I noted a wonderful collection of family histories and information about localities, all beautifully protected in ring binders, and another set of folders about every soldier who enlisted from the Coromandel district in the South African War and the First World War. This material will be invaluable for family historians and for people interested in their local history; but it will also become an essential stopping place for anyone interested in the wider history of New Zealand.

Nor did my growing wonder at this heritage-conscious community stop there. That evening we dined at the Thames Club, once the vicarage of Vicesimus Lush, and  ‘Mrs Lush’, dressed in period costume, told us about the history of the house. The next morning we headed up to the Kauaeranga valley, where David Wilton, a committee member for the trust, walked and talked us from one fascinating archaeological remnant of the Kauri-felling days to another. We saw the route of the famous Billy Goat Incline, and the remains of bush dams, booms that collected the logs, and the bush tramway.

If we had time we might have visited the Thames School of Mines and Mineralogical Museum, and the Historical Museum; and if we had stayed the week we could have enjoyed a Heritage Film Festival and ‘The way we were’, a series of lunchtime lectures on local history.

How does one explain the remarkable interest in history shown by the citizens of Thames? It is partly, of course, that the local history is genuinely fascinating:

  • It has a rich Māori history since the peninsula is one side of the whole Hauraki Gulf, which was such an important centre of Māori commerce.
  • It was visited by James Cook, who gave it the name Thames because he considered it the most promising place in New Zealand for settlement.
  • It was the site in 1867 of a major gold rush, which meant that by 1868 the population mushroomed to over 15,000 at a time when Auckland’s was only 12,000.
  • Gold gave birth to one of the country’s first stock-market booms at Scrip Corner, and then to the exploitation of the nearby kauri forest, with dramatic and hair-raising stories of the bush trams and enormous trees that were felled.
  • In the 20th century the area was important as one of a  birthplaces of the ‘green‘ movement.

So there are engrossing stories to be told; and many people have long roots in the area – some going back up to five generations. There are also some wonderful old buildings which help engender a sense of the past.

But even with all these advantages, concern for history still requires the vision and the energy of local people. The Thames community appears to have such far-sighted volunteers in abundance. They can see that keeping heritage alive enriches people’s sense of identity. They also know that preserving heritage makes powerful stories accessible, which may bear fruit in novels or films, or the work of serious historians. In the end, protecting the past will attract others to Thames. It is good for the whole community. For the people of Thames and the whole Coromandel, heritage really is gold.

It's great to be a historian in the Coromandel!

It's great to be a historian in the Coromandel!

Les Cleveland: a genuinely good bloke, and historian too

Christmas Eve 1959, photograph by the multi-talented Les Cleveland

Christmas Eve 1959, photograph by the multi-talented Les Cleveland

‘Journalist, editor, photographer, mountaineer, music historian, and academic’ – so reads the description of Les Cleveland on the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection website. To this we might add ‘musician, author, war veteran and genuinely good Kiwi bloke’. Les was one of those New Zealanders who was an impressively multi-faceted versatile person. In a small society we need talented people who can fill many roles, and Les did so with aplomb.

He was also extraordinarily modest, which is perhaps why, although he died at the end of January this year, the media, from newspapers to blogs, have allowed his passing to happen with barely a mention that I can find. Characteristically, he wanted no funeral and no fuss. But we can’t let the old bastard slip away without a brief tribute.

I can’t pretend to have known Les well; but, as I suspect did many others, I discovered the range of his talents by degrees. I first came across him when I was researching the culture of New Zealand soldiers at war. I wanted to get behind the fine rhetoric and the smug claims about our wonderful gentlemen diggers to try to uncover the attitudes of the men themselves. Someone put me onto a book, The songs we sang, a collection of war songs from New Zealand soldiers in the Second World War. They were earthy and direct, at times smutty, and I felt I was getting closer to the men. I also discovered an LP (there were in fact two) on which the author of the book, one Les Cleveland, had recorded some of these ditties.

To my joy, I then discovered that the very same author and songster was a lecturer in the Political Science department of Victoria University of Wellington, where I too was teaching. This was a piece of luck, because at the time I was teaching a university extension course on Kiwi men. I was always keen to have visiting speakers on the course who could speak from personal experience. Ken Gray used to come along and tell us what it was like in the All Black scrum and on the back seat of their bus. So, I invited Les to come along and talk about the ‘real’ attitudes Kiwi soldiers held towards the war. He was riveting and he showed, often with fruity examples, how soldiers found an outlet for their anti-authoritarian attitudes in the songs they sang and the poetry they recited. He spoke with a down-to-earth directness and an honesty that was instantly appealing.

Intrigued by his ideas, I did some more digging and discovered that he had actually written up these ideas in an internationally published article, and that, in addition to his collection of war songs, he had compiled an anthology of Second World War poetry. Nor was this all. I found that this academic work included pieces about pressure groups and newspapers in New Zealand (which was hardly surprising given as I have subsequently discovered that he was once a reporter for Truth). He had also extended his interest in folk songs by putting out another collection, the Great New Zealand songbook, and had even devised an opera based on gold miners’ songs.

Then I discovered another aspect of Les Cleveland’s creative output. I came across a new book edited by Athol McCredie and Janet Bayly called Witness to change. It focused on the work of three documentary photographers of the 1940s and 1950s: John Pascoe, Ans Westra (both of whom I knew about) and Les Cleveland. I had no idea that he belonged in such august company, but he certainly did. His photographs documented both the passing world of the West Coast – publicans, sawmillers, bushmen, the Kumara races – and also some of the old wooden buildings of the coast and of Wellington. They were an invaluable record of a fading past. I managed to track down his book of images from the West Coast, Silent land.

Witness to change provided some recognition of his contribution as a photographer, and later he had a solo exhibition at the City Gallery Wellington. But it is interesting that even now the web database of New Zealand artists has a page on Les Cleveland, but the only content is his date of birth – 1921 – not even his place of birth, which I think, despite his fierce Kiwi nationalism, was Australia.

So, this multi-talented modest man and good bloke needs remembering. Thank you, Les, for recording with such love the tough hard-bitten world of ordinary New Zealanders. Despite your best endeavours to slip off this earth without notice, your contribution to preserving our history will not be forgotten.

Ship time and civil time

Captain James Cook with sextant, on a commemorative stamp (click for image credit)

Captain James Cook with sextant, on a commemorative stamp (click for image credit)

It all began with a note from Auckland’s Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum about the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. The note suggested that the day to focus on was 7 October 2019, because that was the anniversary of the day that ‘Young Nick‘ (cabin boy Nicholas Young) first saw land – probably Mt Hikurangi rather than the head to which he gave his name. I was surprised at the date. I had always thought that Young Nick performed his history-making feat on 6 October.

I looked up the European discovery of New Zealand entry on Te Ara and, sure enough, it said 6 October; and so did the biography of James Cook. But, knowing that occasionally, just occasionally, Te Ara is fallible, I then looked up Cook’s journal on the magnificent South Seas website. To my consternation I found that the entry, ‘At 2PM saw land from the mast head bearing WBN,’ was dated 7 October. Perhaps the great sea captain had it wrong?! But Joseph Banks, a scientist, must be reliable, so I then searched his entry for the 6th and 7th of October. To my reassurance the entry for 6 October includes the following: ‘At _ past one a small boy who was at the mast head Calld out Land. I was luckyly upon deck and well I was entertaind, within a few minutes the cry circulated and up came all hands, this land could not then be seen even from the tops yet few were there who did not plainly see it from the deck till it appeard that they had lookd at least 5 points wrong.’

How could this be explained? It didn’t seem likely that James Cook, so methodical and careful in all things, could have made a mistake. So I decided to go to the oracle: J. C. Beaglehole’s The journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery. I found my answer. The text of the journals are preceded with a short note: ‘The dating of the Journal is according to ’ship time’, by which the twenty-four hour day begins twelve hours before the day of civil time and runs from noon to noon. Cook’s p.m. therefore precedes his a.m., and his a.m. alone is identical with civil a.m.’ But Banks of course was a civilian scientist, not a naval man, so he dated his journal by conventional days, which begin at midnight. So 2 p.m. on 7 October for Cook was 2 p.m. for 6 October for Banks.

So far so good. But I then began to think that actually the day worth commemorating was not the day that land was seen, but the day when non-Māori first stepped foot on Aotearoa. I went back to Cook’s journal and his description of going ashore is dated as p.m. on 9th October, and in Banks’ journal the date is 8th October, the civil time date. So the landing came, in both journals, two days after Young Nick’s sighting. Imagine then my consternation when I looked up the biography on Cook, and also the Te Ara entry on European discovery of New Zealand, to find that both suggest the landing was three days after the sighting. Clearly the authors had become confused by the conflict of ship and civil time, and had dated the sighting on civil time and the landing by ship time. You can be certain this will be corrected, so that Te Ara, no less than the Voyager museum, can go forward to recognise this important anniversary on the right day!

The words of the treaty

Waitangi Day service at Waitangi, 2011 (click for image credit)

Waitangi Day service at Waitangi, 2011 (click for image credit)

This week, in recognition of the 174th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February, we focus attention on the five excellent stories that sit under Te Ara’s sub-theme of Te Tiriti – the Treaty. Those stories tell the full history of the treaty from its origins to its wide impact on modern New Zealand. They are:

  • He Whakaputanga – Declaration of Independence: the origins of the treaty lie in two gatherings of northern tribes, the first in 1834 to provide for a United Tribes flag to fly on ships and thus represent the country in international commerce, and the second in 1835 to declare the independence of New Zealand under Māori as a way of preventing claims to the country by the French.
  • Treaty of Waitangi, written by the foremost treaty scholar Claudia Orange, describes the steps that led to the preparation and signing of the treaty in 1840, and then the subsequent, largely unsuccessful, efforts by Māori to try to ensure the treaty was recognised.

These are all fascinating stories which tell of tragedy and loss, of hopes dashed and millions of acres of land taken. But they also tell about the creativity and goodwill of many New Zealanders, especially following the fierce debates of the early 1970s. The debates and tensions have not stopped, of course, but New Zealand state and society have responded at times in imaginative and fruitful ways.

What comes through powerfully after reading these five stories is the importance of words. When the Declaration of Independence was signed the document was in Māori, and then translated into English. The word ’rangatiratanga’ was translated in English as ’independence’. Five years later the Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up, at first in English, but when it was translated into te reo Māori, ‘rangatiratanga’ was seen as the equivalent of ‘chieftainship’ not independence. Since Māori were guaranteed under the treaty their ‘rangatiratanga’, misunderstanding was almost certain. Added to this was the fact that in 1835 the Māori word ‘kingitanga’ had been translated as ’sovereignty’. But in 1840 ’sovereignty’ became ‘kāwanatanga’. In such mistranslations and confusions many later difficulties resided.

Road sign showing the Māori name and the English name for Aoraki/Mt Cook (click for image credit)

Road sign showing the Māori name and the English name for Aoraki/Mt Cook (click for image credit)

The importance of words does not stop there.  One of the cases examined by the Waitangi Tribunal was on te reo Māori, the Māori language. The tribunal declared it to be a taonga (treasure) which should be protected under Article Two of the treaty. Words, Māori words, had become protected. And, as the entry on settlement processes explains, one of the aspects of some settlements has been restoring traditional Māori words as place names. The country’s highest peak was once more Aoraki; Ninety Mile Beach was returned to its original name Te Oneroa a Tōhē.

Finally, the story on the principles of the treaty takes the argument further. The tribunal declared that what was important in the end about the treaty was not the precise words, but rather the ’spirit’ of the treaty. This encouraged successive governments to begin drawing up a set of ‘principles’ of the treaty. In other words the story ends with precise words becoming less important, and meanings, or the spirit, becoming the essence. In the journey from words to spirit, we learn much about the long and hugely important history of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Man of vision – subantarctic expedition 7

Rodney Russ and his Zodiac at Campbell island

Rodney Russ and his Zodiac at Campbell Island

Today we travelled across rolling grey seas from Campbell Island to Bluff. It is a long 36-hour journey. Most of us spent the day reading, eating, organising photos and going to lectures. Little blog-worthy in all that. So instead I went and had a chat with Rodney Russ, the energetic genius behind Heritage Expeditions. His is a fascinating and inspiring Kiwi story.

Rodney grew up in Nelson in a family of farmers who worked the land once owned by Sir David Monro, speaker of the House and father of Charles, who is credited with bringing rugby to New Zealand. As the eldest son, Rodney was expected to inherit the land, but, in his own words, he was ‘born under a wandering star’. So on leaving school, he tramped in the hills and worked in a shearing gang. In 1968 he became a trainee with the Wildlife Service. He found himself working on rare and endangered birds with some remarkable people – Brian Bell, Rod Morris and Don Merton.  He was one of Don Merton’s team which successfully transported the surviving black robins (of ‘Old Blue’ fame) from Little Māngere Island to Māngere in the Chathams. Rodney operated the Zodiacs. Later he discovered a population of kākāpō on Stewart Island/Rakiura.

Rodney’s discovery of the subantarctic islands came when he was still a trainee.  He was sent down to the Auckland Islands as ‘the boy’ to drive boats for a joint US/New Zealand/Australian expedition in the summer of 1972–73. He returned there in 1974 and the following year was in the party that removed sheep from the northern block of Campbell Island. While at Campbell he managed to get onto the precipitous Dent Island, where he rediscovered the flightless teal, which was extinct on the main island.

With unique experiences under his belt, now was the time for higher education – but not, as one might imagine, in ornithology or botany. Instead Rodney enrolled at Otago University and completed a double degree in theology and history. He speaks warmly of what he learnt from the distinguished historians Erik Olssen, Tom Brooking and Gordon Parsonson. During the university vacations he began to offer a holiday programme in South Island national parks. He discovered the joy of teaching people about their natural and historical heritage.

Now came the crucial decision. He realised that the Wildlife Service was shortly to be followed by DOC; he did not look forward to a life of writing reports in front of a computer and felt that the prevailing trends were too elitist and arrogant. Long-term conservation, he believed, grew out of community attitudes. The best protection for the environment in the end was to educate people about the natural and historical world. Participatory tourism was the idea – people could learn while having fun. So in 1985 Rodney set up Southern Heritage Tours. He offered guided trips around the Otago goldfields and winter cruises to Fiordland.

In 1989 came the first commercial tourist trip to the subantarctics. Rodney chartered the research vessel the Acheron and took eight or nine people south. It was a success, so the next year he took over a Tauranga boat, Pacific Ruby. It was normally used for Pacific tours, but the cyclone season offered an opportunity in the New Zealand summer. Now 18 people were taken along. It was not always very pleasant – the boat came to be known as ‘rolling Ruby’! But the venture showed a clear demand for educational tourism in the subantarctics.

Then in 1993 Rodney got a call about the possibility of chartering a Russian ship capable of taking 50 people, but he had to guarantee to hire it for 100 days. This meant that Antarctic trips would have to be added to the range of voyages. He immediately went to the bank to ask for $1 million in working capital. They laughed at him. But he found the money somehow, and Heritage Expeditions was formed.

In 2008 the programme was further expanded when Rodney decided to hire a Russian boat, now named the Spirit of Enderby, for the full 365 days a year in what is called a ‘bare boat charter’. Heritage Expeditions hires the whole crew – the team of Russian sailors, the magnificent chefs and the hugely knowledgeable team of scientists and lecturers. Each summer Rodney’s outfit offers six trips to the subantarctics and two to the Antarctic; and over the New Zealand winter they sail north to explore the Russian Far East waters – the Kuril and Commander Islands, where polar bears join the other forms of arctic sea life to give thrills and knowledge to the customers. He notes that as someone who does not drink vodka and refuses to offer back-handers, it is not always easy working with the Russian bureaucracy; but persistence has made it work.

Several aspects are hugely impressive about this visionary operation. One is that Rodney himself is totally hands-on. He still, as in the 1970s, gets into his dungarees and gumboots and operates the Zodiacs to drop people off at fascinating places. He gives the lectures on history. He is a born teacher. As for the back-office finances and logistics, he leaves those in the hands of a general manager in Christchurch. Secondly, Rodney has retained the conviction that tourism can, and should be, an educational experience. The lectures and in-the-field discussions were superb.

Nor does the vision stop there. Rodney is now building an 80-foot sail-assisted motor vessel to attract fee-paying passengers who wish to take part in research explorations. He is looking at hard-core birders, botanists and photographers, mostly Kiwis and Aussies.  He is planning documentary film trips. The idea that tourism and knowledge will in the end serve to strengthen the conservation of nature and history is an inspired vision.

Even for one who spent about four months reading and thinking about the subantarctics while writing the entry in Te Ara I have learnt heaps in the past seven days. It has been an unforgettable experience. To Rodney, your team of naturalists and your taciturn Russian crew, thank you heaps.

Farewell from Campbell Island

Farewell from Campbell Island

Postscript: I returned to Bluff on 30 December. There I discovered two things: 1. The whole time that Rodney had been lecturing to us, driving round in Zodiacs and planning our education and entertainment, he was also on the telephone constantly dealing with a crisis – his other ship was caught in the Antarctic ice. It was world news, but Rodney kept his calm demeanour.

2. As we  sailed into Bluff I looked up at the hills with roads carved into them and houses dotted everywhere. It brought into stark relief, after seeing the subantarctics in all their unspoilt glory, just what human beings do to the environment!