Archive for the 'Jock Phillips' Category

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.

Anniversary seasons

Hay's float, Canterbury centennial floral procession, February 1951 (Image: Private collection,

Hay's float, Canterbury centennial floral procession, February 1951 (Image: Private collection)

Anniversaries do not just happen. They come about because people decide that past events are worth commemorating.  And sometimes people seem to get an anniversary bug particularly strongly and we get anniversary seasons. In 19th-century New Zealand, while important anniversaries like the centenary of James Cook’s landing in 1769 passed almost without notice, there was a season of anniversaries at the end of the century.  It was kicked off by Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, followed by a series of provincial 50-year jubilees in 1890 (Auckland and Wellington), 1892 (Nelson), 1898 (Otago) and 1900 (Canterbury). Then in 1940 there was another season as the nation and the provinces reached 100 years.

For the next 40 years we turned away from our past, and certain events which might have been widely commemorated, like the 50th anniversary of Gallipoli in 1965 and Cook’s 150th in 1969, were largely ignored. When in 1990 the sesquicentennial of the nation came along, we found it hard to get too excited. It took women, on the 1993 anniversary of women’s suffrage, to rekindle an anniversary enthusiasm.

We are now entering another anniversary season – the 150th of important New Zealand wars battles this year, the centenary of the First World War for the next four years, the 125th of women’s suffrage in 2018 and Cook’s 250th in 2019. So it was an inspired decision by a combined grouping of PHANZA, the W. H. Oliver Humanities Research Academy at Massey University and Te Manawa to hold a one-day conference on Friday, entitled ‘Commemorating: history and anniversaries’.

Some of the papers dealt with past anniversaries. I drew on my forthcoming Te Ara story to suggest that the commemoration of an anniversary is a totally contrived happening. It is never automatic, and is therefore a reflection of cultural and political concerns. In 1940, for example, the centennial focused on the hard work of the pioneers and the progress which a century of endeavour had brought because the Labour government was keen to inspire such attitudes with a world war just beginning. Similarly Vince O’Malley, examining the 50th commemoration of the battle of Ōrākau in 1914, showed that this was almost exclusively a Pākehā event which served to emphasise the value of fighting for the Empire. Local Māori felt very uncomfortable about giving support to such a celebration. O’Malley’s paper made a fascinating contrast with a presentation by Amy Hobbs and Te Kenehi Teira who described the commemoration at Rangiriri last year. The initiative came from the local iwi, and was marked by wonderful new carvings and by hugely impressive kapa haka on the anniversary day. Compared with 1914, few Pākehā politicians were present.

This presentation brought the focus onto contemporary concerns. To my mind it was the issues of how anniversaries should be observed today, rather than how they have been observed in the past, which made the conference so pertinent and engrossing. Here are some of the issues that were broached:

  • Dates: Margaret Tennant raised an important issue with a discussion about founding days. She is writing the history of the Red Cross, and discovered that it was not an easy matter to decide exactly when the New Zealand Red Cross actually began. But anniversaries do not live easily with complexity - a date must be found.
  • Myths: Damien Fenton, in examining contemporary observation of the Battle for Australia Day, showed that anniversaries need simple myths - so the historical questions as to whether there really was any intention by the Japanese to conquer Australia had to be avoided. Historians and anniversaries do not always live together comfortably.
  • Types of memorial: Puawai Cairns is involved in planning Te Papa’s First World War exhibition, and she talked about her idea of bringing back some stones from the beach at Gallipoli. This is a traditional Māori form of remembrance – note the memorial to the pioneer battalion at Whanganui where soil from major Great War battles was originally placed in the corners of the memorial (although was later stolen!).
  • Alternative anniversaries: Peter Clayworth, Marie Russell and Joan McCracken discussed the initiative of the Labour History Project, Turnbull Library and Museum of Wellington City and Sea, who got together to commemorate the 1913 strike with an exhibition, a series of talks and weekend walks around sites in Wellington.
  • When to stop? Paul Thompson raised an interesting question with respect to the Wellington Museum of City and Sea’s annual Wahine Day. Over the last few years the number of survivors of the Wahine sinking attending the event has diminished. So how do you decide when to stop?
  • Sounds of the past: Finally, in a wonderful session, Jack Perkins from Radio New Zealand talked of different ways radio could be used to record anniversaries.

It is not often that a day sitting in a lecture room can engage an audience consistently. Perhaps on this occasion it was simply the quality of the speakers (and I have not even mentioned two excellent talks by Michael Belgrave and Bronwyn Labrum). More likely, I suspect, the interest came about because many in the audience were thinking about the upcoming anniversaries and wrestling with issues of whether and how they should be remembered. In all it was a great start to our anniversary season.

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.