Archive for the 'New Zealand history' Category

‘Take it easy – take the train’

Auckland commuters arrive at the Britomart Transport Centre during the morning rush hour

Auckland commuters arrive at the Britomart Transport Centre during the morning rush hour

Record growth in the number of commuters using public transport in Auckland highlights how quickly information and trends can change – a challenge for any encyclopedia. Te Ara’s entries on Public Transport and Railways aren’t that old; they were published in the Economy and the City theme in 2010, and acknowledged that public transport patronage had rallied since the 1990s and early 2000s. Over the last decade, though, that revival has become a revolution – especially in a city most assumed was as car-crazy as Los Angeles, and always would be.

In August 2015 Auckland Transport reported that the city’s rail journeys over the previous 12 months had reached 14 million – the highest total ever recorded and 21% up on the previous year. Since the early 1990s, when barely a million Aucklanders rode a run-down, neglected suburban rail system, growth has been spectacular: the 2014/15 total was more than double the 2007/08 figure of 6.8 million, which was itself more than twice the 3.2 million recorded in 2002/03. As this chart illustrates, the surge in Auckland commuter numbers means that more New Zealanders are taking the train today than at any time since the early 1960s.

While the most dramatic recent growth has been on the rails, more people are also travelling on Auckland’s much more extensive bus network, with 57 million journeys in the year to March 2015, an 8.5% increase over the previous year. Numbers using the Northern Express busway were up 17%. Even ferry services recorded a 5% increase, with a total of 5.4 million trips. Overall, Auckland’s public transport journeys to March 2015 totalled 78 million, an increase of 10% on the year before.

Rather than just being an exercise in updating statistics, significant changes like this invite us to reassess the way we think about our cities. As Te Ara’s Public Transport and Railways entries explain, all major New Zealand cities experienced a significant decline in public transport patronage during the second half of the 20th century, an era when the car was king. As a result, in the 1990s and early 2000s New Zealand, and Auckland especially, had one of the lowest rates of public transport use in the world. Most people still commute by car of course, and we shouldn’t overstate the rise of public transit. But the recent turnaround is historically significant, and is one of a number of trends that are reshaping New Zealand’s largest city.

Similarly, for decades we’ve thought of Wellington as New Zealand’s rail-commuter capital. Patronage there has also grown since the early 2000s, and with more than 12 million rail journeys in 2014/15 it’s still well ahead on a per capita basis. But in absolute terms Wellington’s commuter numbers are unlikely to top Auckland’s again. With 55% of all New Zealand’s public transport journeys happening there, we need to recognise Auckland as the country’s new commuter hub.

Like most revolutions, this one has a variety of causes. Public transport patronage jumped around 2008 as petrol prices rose, but has accelerated even as pump prices have fallen Traffic congestion, travel times and parking costs are all major influences; for some, concern over fossil fuels and climate change is a factor. New migrants may be more used to public transport and rail travel has also benefited from our growing dependence on smartphones, tablets and laptops, which allow commuters to work or play during their journey. Arguably the primary driver has been long-overdue investment in infrastructure and improvements to the quality and frequency of services, which have clearly unlocked significant latent demand for public transport.

The opening of the downtown Britomart Transport Centre in 2003 was a key first step, and over the last decade central government has invested heavily in upgrading and electrifying the network, duplicating tracks, building new stations, reopening the Onehunga branch line (closed since 1973) and purchasing new Spanish-built electric multiple units, the first of which entered service in April 2014. With main construction work on the 3.4-km underground Auckland City Rail Link due to start in 2018, further growth is expected.

Public transport is a fast moving environment, especially in New Zealand’s largest and most dynamic city. On current trends, 20 million rail journeys will be taken in Auckland in 2016. We may need to revisit these entries sooner rather than later.

A forgotten cartographer and artist

Augustus Koch's illustration of carved figures at Ōhinemutu, Rotorua

Augustus Koch's illustration of carved figures at Ōhinemutu, Rotorua

Augustus Koch is one of the obscure figures of 19th-century art and cartography. Apart from a brief entry in Una Platts’ Nineteenth century New Zealand artists, little has been written about him. I had heard of Koch as the artist who accompanied Ferdinand Hochstetter on his epic explorations of the central North Island in 1859, but few of his illustrations seemed to have survived.

In a new book, Augustus Koch – mapmaker, Rolf Brednich has put Koch back in the historical record with a thoroughly researched biography, illustrated by a selection of his cartoons, drawings and maps. I did a quick check in Te Ara, and discovered that three of Koch’s images are reproduced – all from John White’s Ancient history of the Maori, drawn late in the artist’s life.

The basic outlines of Koch’s life come from two autobiographical manuscripts, written for his family, that are now held in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Born into a middle-class German family, he studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin. His student years coincided with widespread political upheavals, and during the riots in 1848 he defended the barricades against the Prussian army. His cartoons, published in revolutionary newssheets, brought him to the notice of the authorities. He was advised to leave Berlin, and spent the next eight years as a sailor on merchant ships, travelling the world. Meeting his future wife on an emigrant ship travelling to New Zealand, he set himself up in Auckland in 1858 as a freelance artist and draughtsman. Soon afterwards he was engaged by Hochstetter to make a pictorial record of his expedition through the central North Island.

Mapmaker and artist Augustus Koch

Mapmaker and artist Augustus Koch

It was believed that most of Koch’s illustrations of the journey had disappeared, but by a wonderful coincidence they were recently discovered by researcher Sascha Nolden in an archive collection in Switzerland. Nolden has contributed the chapter on the Hochstetter expedition, illustrated by some of Koch’s drawings, unseen in New Zealand for over 150 years.

Later in 1859 Koch was offered the post of chief draughtsman for the newly established Hawke’s Bay Provincial Council, based in Napier, where he stayed for a decade. When Vogel’s ‘Think Big’ policies were getting under way in the early 1870s, Koch joined the Public Works Department in Wellington as a senior draughtsman, and stayed in that position until he was made redundant in 1887 as part of cutbacks during the long depression. In his memoirs Koch says very little about these years as a cartographer – the bulk of his working life – and few of his maps have been previously identified. Rolf Brednich has assiduously searched map collections and archives throughout New Zealand, and managed to identify an impressive number of maps bearing Koch’s name. There are probably more that are unsigned. The second half of the book consists of colour reproductions of a selection of Koch’s maps, showing the variety of work he undertook. It includes maps of roads, railways, construction projects and new town subdivisions from Thames to Naseby. Koch’s skill in design and lithography was clearly recognised by his superiors because he was responsible for a number of coloured maps intended for public display, including maps of Stewart Island, county boundaries, proposed railways, shipwrecks, lighthouses, and a geological map of New Zealand (below) displayed at the 1873 Vienna exhibition.

Koch's geological map of New Zealand, 1873

Koch's geological map of New Zealand, 1873

After losing his job in 1887, Koch must have had a difficult time, as he still had a growing family to support. He undertook whatever work he could pick up, including illustrations for books, most notably White’s Ancient history of the Maori, Mackay’s Manual of grasses and the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. He was involved in the artistic life of Wellington, and was secretary of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts for many years.

Because of the need to reproduce maps, this is a large-format publication, slightly bigger than A3, which needs to be examined on a table. This is a book to treasure – it has put Augustus Koch back on the map as a significant 19th-century artist and cartographer. But I can make a confident prediction that this is not the final word on Koch, because more of his illustrations are likely to be identified now that we recognise his importance.

Bill Oliver, 1925–2015

Historian and editor Bill Oliver, complete with pipe (pic: Massey University)

Historian and editor Bill Oliver, complete with pipe (pic: Massey University)

It’s sad to record the passing on 16 September of William Hosking Oliver, one of the pioneers of the teaching of New Zealand history in New Zealand universities, and the founding editor of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (now part of Te Ara).

Bill was born in Feilding and attended school there and in Dannevirke. He was proud of his Cornish ancestors and his roots in middle New Zealand. He studied at Victoria University College in Wellington, where he came under the spell of History Professor Fred Wood. He went off to complete a doctorate at Oxford University (on British Millennialists) before returning to teach at Canterbury and Massey universities.
It was at Massey that Bill established the first course that focused on New Zealand history, and he published a pioneering history, The story of New Zealand (Faber and Faber), almost simultaneously with Keith Sinclair’s History of New Zealand
(Penguin). Sinclair’s book came to be reprinted many times, and Bill’s was not, possibly because of its more discursive and essayistic style, cast in elegant prose and avoiding the Great Men and Great Events school of historiography. It still reads beautifully.

Oliver and Sinclair were longtime colleagues and friends, both poets and essayists as well as historians of New Zealand. They mingled with other writers and artists in their youth, and fruitfully sparred with each other on DNZB committees.

In the early 1980s Bill Oliver took on the role of founding editor of a new dictionary of national biography for New Zealand. He was determined as ever to make this, usually the most nationalistic of historical monuments, as representative of the actual makeup of the country as possible. This was a difficult challenge, especially in the selection of biographies for inclusion in the first volume, which covered the years in which the islands were discovered by Europeans, the British colony founded and settlement begun. The historians and other interested parties whom Bill consulted and formed into working parties had definite views and firm ideas about who was to be ‘in’ and who was not. Bill’s democratic plan was to include many Māori and many more women than were usually encountered in such compilations. This didn’t leave as much room for the pale patriarchal people and many noses were put out of joint. Bill stuck to his principles and a unique and memorable collection of lives enriched New Zealand’s historiography.

Alongside this achievement was the publication of a parallel volume of Māori-language lives of Māori people. This bicultural initiative was another pioneering achievement, assisted and continued by Bill’s successor as general editor, Claudia Orange.

One of the distinguishing features of Bill’s editorship was his guiding hand in matters of structural editing and style. Staff were treated to Bill’s handwritten comments on their editing, in terms of the balance and structure of a life as well as in identifying detailed (in Bill’s hand, always ‘detailled’ – he never could spell that word) points of fact and nuances, drawing on his immense knowledge of New Zealand history and the primary sources of information. These comments were expressed in economic and graceful prose. (Bill’s editorial principles and practices have been outlined in a previous post to this blog).

Bill was awarded a CBE for this achievement, and the project was fortunate to have his ongoing interest and attention, as he continued to provide advice and detailled [sic!] commentary for all future volumes of the DNZB after his retirement.

I suspect that all who worked alongside Bill (not ‘for’ him – he seldom pulled rank) will count it among the most satisfying, stimulating and rewarding periods in their lives.

In recent years Bill’s activities have been compromised by ill health, though his mind and interest have remained active. Few people, and certainly not Bill himself, had anticipated he would live to such a ripe old age, but those who have had the pleasure of his company will cherish the memory of the gentle and wise man who was happy to discuss all manner of contemporary subjects, and also to share the details of a long and full life. He’d had to give up most of his ‘vices’ over the years, but his memories of them were animated and cheerful. Recently he told me about his time manpowered into the broadcasting service at the end of the Second World War, and chortled over the jazz records he ‘borrowed’ from the service and took home to enliven student parties. He’d been reading to me from Rachel Barrowman’s recent biography of Maurice Gee, enlivened by erudite and amusing commentary. I’m going to miss his quiet charm and wise conversation. Nice that he’s left an enduring legacy and a cohort of friends and colleagues to celebrate knowing him.

Pressing forward

Equal pay cartoon on Coalition for Equal Value Equal Pay tea towel (pic: private collection, Fran McGowan)

Equal pay cartoon on Coalition for Equal Value Equal Pay tea towel (pic: private collection, Fran McGowan)

The other day I read a rather gloomy article entitled ‘Gender pay gap still there: so what are we doing about it?’ On average New Zealand men still earn roughly 10% more than women for an hour’s work – and the gap has actually widened in the past year. Equal pay for women has been an issue here since the 19th century, when feminists identified it as one of the prerequisites for women’s emancipation. As the Te Ara entry on Women’s labour organisations shows, despite many years of activism, this goal has not yet been reached, even though the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1972. While the gross injustice of men being paid a higher rate than women for doing exactly the same job has been rectified, female-dominated occupations such as early childhood education and aged care are still poorly paid, a reflection of the low value society still places on the work of looking after and nurturing others – work traditionally done by women. Moreover, career progression is often fraught for women in all kinds of occupations, especially for the large number who work part-time or take breaks from the workforce to raise children.

There are promising signs though. Recently Lower Hutt rest-home caregiver Kristine Bartlett, with the support of the Service and Food Workers Union, took a test case against her employer, TerraNova, arguing that her measly pay of $14.46 an hour was less than the rate men with similar skills would earn, and was so low because she worked in an industry where most of the employees are female. The Employment Court found in her favour, ruling that female-dominated industries should receive pay equivalent to what would be offered if that industry was male-dominated, and after TerraNova appealed, the Court of Appeal agreed with the Employment Court decision. Inspired by this landmark victory, Wellington nurses Erin Kennedy and Ann Simmons have just gone to court, alleging that hundreds of women working as nurses and caregivers are being significantly underpaid.

I will be following this case with great interest, but in the knowledge that the fight for equal pay and pay equity has a very long history, and that progress has been slow and hard-won.

On 19 September we will mark another Suffrage Day, and New Zealanders will once again be reminded that New Zealand was the first country in the world where women gained the right to vote. It is good to celebrate this, but we should also remember what has still to be achieved. As Margaret Sievwright, one of those who campaigned successfully for the vote, remarked in 1894, ‘We have reached one milestone, it is true, the milestone of the suffrage; we pause, but only again to press forward.’

A history of Aotearoa in seven musical instruments

Māori girl playing a Jew's harp, early 1900s (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Tesla Studios Collection (PAColl-3046))

Māori girl playing a Jew's harp, early 1900s (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Tesla Studios Collection (PAColl-3046))

Following the success of Neil MacGregor’s radio series and book, A history of the world in 100 objects, it seems as though everyone is writing history through objects – and who am I to buck a popular trend? So, here are some key themes in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand, traced through musical instruments.

Pūtōrino – the natural environment. The pūtōrino is unique to New Zealand, and has both a flute-like ‘female’ voice and a trumpet-like ‘male’ voice, depending on how it is played. The story goes that Hine Raukatauri, daughter of Tāne, loved her pūtōrino so much that she decided to live inside it by turning herself into a case moth. The case moth’s long, tapering cocoon resembles, and may have inspired, the shape of the pūtōrino. Not only were taonga puoro, Māori musical instruments, made from natural materials but they were also inspired by the shapes and sounds of the natural world which Māori observed so closely.

Human voice – community. The power of the human voice unites us as human beings – almost everyone can sing or chant, after their own fashion. From the karanga welcoming visitors to the marae to traditional waiata telling of love, loss or ancestral deeds; more recent Māori songs of remembrance, celebration and political protest; folk songs recording the pleasures and pains of everyday life; wartime songs relieving the tension and boredom of military life; national anthems sung together on important occasions; the vocal virtuosity of beatboxing, an integral part of hip-hop culture; or the joy and power of singing together in choirs – singing reminds us that we belong to communities. Singing can be a means of self-expression, too, but even then we can take shared pleasure and pride in the talent of individual singers, from Kiri Te Kanawa to Lorde.

Jew’s harp – culture contact. The Jew’s harp is a small instrument played by placing one end in the mouth and plucking a reed attached to the frame, producing a twanging sound. Māori had a similar instrument, the rōria. Because they are so portable, Jew’s harps were brought to New Zealand from the earliest days of Pākehā settlement, and were used as part of the payment for the New Zealand Company’s ‘purchases’ of vast areas of Māori land (in Whanganui, for example). Like so many other new technologies and ideas, they were taken up enthusiastically by Māori, replacing traditional instruments.

Bugle – war. Māori had a number of instruments – such as the pūtātara and pūkāea (shell trumpet and wooden trumpet) – whose sound carried over long distances and which were therefore used for signalling in time of war. The bugle was used in a similar way by Pākehā. During the New Zealand wars, the bugle featured in such stories as that of Bugler Allen, killed at Boulcott’s Farm in the Hutt Valley, and Te Kooti’s lieutenant Peka Makarini, who used misleading bugle calls to confuse colonial troops. Bugles were also used in the First World War and later conflicts, and now play an important role in commemoration of war during the Last Post ceremony.

Piano – domesticity. For Pākehā, the importation (and, later, the domestic production) of pianos helped to create a sense of home. A piano in the home was both an important part of the décor and a focus for entertainment, with family and friends gathering around the piano to sing and dance. For women, playing the piano could sometimes be a respite (however brief) from household chores. There was a class dimension to all of this, of course – not everyone could afford a piano – and in time the more affordable, but arguably less participatory, radio took the place of the piano in living rooms.

Drum – diversity. Drums are often associated with uniformity – keeping people in time and in step. Yet they can also represent New Zealand’s diversity of cultures and beliefs. Traditionally, Māori had a range of rhythmic instruments, but unlike their Polynesian cousins they did not use drums – their closest equivalent was the pahū, a wooden gong. During the colonial period, drums were part of the equipment of war, but were also used by Māori who were dedicated to peace. Drums are an important part of New Zealand’s diverse marching and parading traditions, whether those parades are political, religious, military or carnivalesque in nature. More recently, migration and cultural exchange have brought a much wider range of drums and drumming traditions to New Zealand, including those of the Pacific, Africa and Asia.

Guitar – fun. As in much of the rest of the world, guitars are central to popular music of all sorts in New Zealand, including folk, country and blues, pop and contemporary Māori music. Guitars also give New Zealand popular music some of its distinctive inflections, from the classic ‘jinka jink’ Māori strum to the jangling or droning guitars of the Dunedin sound and the Pacific flavour of New Zealand reggae (heavier on the guitar and lighter on the bass than the Jamaican original). Above all, the guitar has become New Zealand’s good-time, party instrument. Nothing symbolises this better than the enduring popularity in New Zealand of a relatively obscure Engelbert Humperdinck B-side, ‘Ten guitars’. The song has become a cultural reference point for everyone from bored troops in Vietnam to sculptors. So, all together now: ‘I have a band of men and all they do is play for me…’