Archive for the 'Te Ara Hiko newsletter' Category

Life and music

The joy of music: eager young players in the Sistema Aotearoa programme (click for image credit)

The joy of music: eager young players in the Sistema Aotearoa programme (click for image credit)

Last week my 88-year-old mother retired from the orchestra she has played in for the last 24 years – Hamilton’s Phoenix Players. Deteriorating vision was making it difficult for her to continue, so she reluctantly put aside her violin. Her fellow players farewelled her with a special afternoon tea – an emotional occasion for someone who has been a keen violinist and member of various orchestras since first learning the instrument in New Plymouth back in the 1930s. The Phoenix Players (previously the Lyric Players) consists mainly of retired people who put on concerts for ‘old’ people in rest homes and hospitals around Hamilton.  Happily, there will still be music in Mum’s life: she will keep going to NZSO and Chamber Music New Zealand concerts, and has recently signed up for an opera tour of Switzerland, France and Germany, to the trepidation of her anxious offspring!

My mother’s experience is similar to that of many other New Zealanders who enjoy not just the experience of playing in orchestras and ensembles or singing in choirs, but the camaraderie of belonging to a close-knit group and the many friendships they forge through music. These people also make up a substantial proportion of the audiences at shows put on by touring and local groups and artists.

There is no shortage of such performances, for New Zealand has a long and rich tradition of classical music. Choirs were often formed by settlers coming out to New Zealand on immigrant ships, and Māori rapidly took to choral singing. Operas were staged by touring companies as early as the 1860s, and local musical theatre groups were established soon after. From the 19th century many small towns had their own small choir, orchestra or band. Te Ara’s entries on Choral music and choirs, Brass and pipe bands, Opera and musical theatre, Orchestras and Classical musicians refer to our strong amateur and semi-professional base, and also the crucial role of music teachers and conductors, who were often memorable characters. (Mum has vivid recollections of her first violin teacher, Miss Evelyn Dowling, who conducted a Saturday morning orchestra that was compulsory for all her pupils. At the half-time break, the 20 or so children would be told to change from slippers into shoes and Miss Dowling would lead them and her two fox terriers on a run around the block.)

New Zealand’s classical music scene nurtured some gifted individuals who went on to develop professional careers and gain international recognition, including singing superstars such as Kiri Te Kanawa, Donald McIntyre, Īnia Te Wīata and Simon O’Neill, pianists Richard Farrell and Michael Houston, and conductors Warwick Braithwaite and John Matheson. From it also emerged a diverse group of composers including Douglas Lilburn, Jenny McLeod, John Psathas and Gareth Farr.

Please enjoy our classical music entries, and the wonderful images, film and of course sounds that accompany them!

All the world’s a stage

Nola Millar directs a theatre workshop, Wellington, 1968 (click for image credit)

Nola Millar directs a theatre workshop, Wellington, 1968 (click for image credit)

To mark the publication of our three new entries on acting and theatre, Mark blogs about his own history with New Zealand theatre.

My acting career was brief and unspectacular. For a few years from about the age of nine, I occasionally played young boys with names like Albert in productions staged by our local amateur dramatic society. I can’t remember any of the shows, fortunately, but they all seemed to have the same set – an upper-class English drawing-room, with fake French doors at the back, real doors at the sides for dramatic entrances and exits, and a mantelpiece for the hero to lean on moodily from time to time.

I don’t regret my stumbling, stammering stint as a stage actor, because it gave me a lifelong taste for watching real actors doing live theatre. I found that I could see plays set in houses that looked like mine, or not even set in houses at all. There were plays about things I argued over with my friends and plays that even had my friends in them.

So I revelled in the opportunity to contribute to three related new entries in Te Ara – Actors and acting, Theatres, cinemas and halls and Māori theatre – te whare tapere hōu. They reminded me of shows I’d seen and loved – and others I’m sorry I missed.

The endless struggle to sustain a theatrical culture within New Zealand’s small, diffuse and far-flung population is recounted in several of these entries. The chronically creative Dunedin couple Patric and Rosalie Carey extended their living room to create a 30-seat theatre where James K. Baxter’s plays were first performed, and which remains a force in the city’s theatregoing to this day. One theatre that didn’t survive was Wellington’s Downstage, which opened as a theatre-cum-restaurant in 1964 and finally closed its doors in 2013.

Another theme running through these entries is the vast contribution to New Zealand theatre made by Māori. As early as 1868 missionary Thomas Chapman was bowled over by the singing and oratory he heard on a marae near Whakatāne. ‘One old man attracted my attention more than all the rest … This man’s performance has made an impression on my mind that can never be erased … I could not help thinking at the moment, how infinitely superior it was to all the elaborate, theatrical shams that draw people at Home [England] to crowded theatres. Were this old man to sing his song in London, I believe that [theatre] professionals would have nothing to do until he left.’ By the 1950s, however, Māori were regarded very differently by many Pākehā theatregoers, and in at least one cinema – the Strand, in Pukekohe – Māori and Pākehā were seated separately. Half a century later Māori were performing Shakespeare in translation, in their own language, for the world – on film in 2001, and at London’s Globe Theatre in 2012.

Take a look at these sumptuous entries, but don’t think for a moment that reading about theatre, even on Te Ara, is any substitute for watching the real thing.

The Kīngitanga or King movement

King Tāwhiao, by Gottfried Lindauer (click for image credit)

King Tāwhiao, by Gottfried Lindauer (click for image credit)

It is an appropriate time to promote our recent entry on the Kīngitanga, given that the annual Koroneihana (Coronation) commemoration which attracts thousands from Waikato and around New Zealand each year, has just finished.

The Kīngitanga or King movement has been in existence for over 150 years. The origins of the movement can be found in land tensions of the 1850s where Pākehā sought to buy land from Māori who were increasingly unwilling to sell.  The hope was that a Māori king might be able to bring unity for those Māori attempting to stave off demands for land. From 1853 Mātene Te Whiwhi and Tāmihana Te Rauparaha began the search for a king. The final selection was the great Waikato chief Pōtatau Te Wherowhero.

Pōtatau Te Wherowhero died in 1860 and was succeeded by his son Tāwhiao. His reign was perhaps the most eventful of all the Kīngitanga monarchs.  In 1863 his people suffered an invasion by the Crown, followed by the confiscation of 1.2 million acres of Waikato land. In 1881, Tāwhiao and followers symbolically laid down their arms and declared they would never take up arms in warfare again. In the 1890s the Kauhanganui, the parliament of the Kingitanga, was set up. The iconic Lindauer painting of Tāwhiao with full facial tattoo shows an impressive, chiefly figure.   It was his image that was used on the first banknotes issued by the Crown.

Following Tāwhiao was his son Mahuta, who was king from 1894 to 1912. Mahuta was in turn succeeded by Te Rata, who was king from 1912 to 1933. However, in the first half of the 20th century a dominant figure in the Kīngitanga was Te Puea Hērangi, known as Princess Te Puea. She opposed Waikato men going to fight in the First World War, as King Tāwhiao had stated in 1881 that Waikato would never again take part in war. She was the driving force behind the establishment of Tūrangawaewae at Ngāruawāhia and the partial settlement of Waikato’s land grievances in 1946.

In 1933, King Korokī succeeded his father, Te Rata. Like his father, he was supported by Te Puea during his reign. In 1953 Queen Elizabeth II visited Tūrangawaewae marae and Korokī’s daughter, Princess Piki, took a prominent role in escorting the Queen. In 1966 Princess Piki succeeded her father and became Te Arikinui Te Ātairangikaahu. She was the first Māori Queen and among Waikato people was known as ‘The Lady’. A particular success under her watch was the settlement in 1995 of the Tainui-Waikato claim which was spearheaded by her step-brother Sir Robert Te Kotahi Mahuta. When Te Ātairangikaahu passed away in 2006 she was the longest serving Māori monarch. She was succeeded by her son, King Tūheitia Paki.

The Kingitanga is still a strong force today. As well as the annual Koroneihana, the Kauhanganui parliament continues to meet, and annual meetings are held on marae affiliated to the Kīngitanga which are known as poukai.

Pike River mine disaster

The memorial to those who died in the 1896 Brunner mine explosion

The memorial to those who died in the 1896 Brunner mine explosion

The explosion at the Pike River mine near Greymouth is a sad reminder that underground coal mining will always be highly dangerous work. Wherever there is coal there is also likely to be methane, or firedamp as miners call it. Methane is given off by coal and is highly combustible.

Te Ara’s entry on coal and coal mining lists the major losses of life from mining accidents in this country, all but two of them caused by explosions from firedamp. The major disasters were:

  • Kaitangata in south Otago, 1879, when 34 miners died from an explosion.
  • Brunner on the West Coast, 1896, when 65 were killed from choking gas. This was the largest death toll from any New Zealand industrial accident.
  • Ralph’s mine, Huntly, 1913, when a firedamp explosion killed 43.
  • Dobson mine on the West Coast, 1926, when an explosion killed 9.
  • Glen Afton mine, Huntly, 1939, when 11 were asphyxiated by carbon monoxide.
  • Strongman mine, also on the coast, 1967, when 19 died following an explosion.

Yet, although the scale of these accidents is horrifying, our entry reminds us that in fact many miners, perhaps more in total, have died through individual accidents than in the mass tragedies. From 1900 to 1914, 98 individual miners lost their lives.  We also include a list of individual mining deaths at Denniston north of Westport.  It shows that in the 25 years from 1881 to 1906, 26 people died from mining – more than one a year.  Some were killed by falls of rock or coal; others lost their lives on the famous incline, hit by runaway trucks or in the case of Charles Ribey, by ‘a moment of absent-mindedness’.  Only one lost his life from an explosion of the type which caused the mass explosions.

With danger of accident and death ever-present, the coal mines spawned a tight and protective community, which the present tragedy has again highlighted.

At this time all our sympathies are with the families and friends of the 29 miners at Pike River.

Te Ara Hiko, December 2009

Shows and field days

Prize-winning bulls in the Grand Parade, axes and chips flying in wood-chopping contests, show-jumping, shooting galleries, candy floss and merry-go-rounds – New Zealand’s country shows…Continue

Have you been to an A & P show?

Tell us your story

‘The garden of New Zealand’

Taranaki, with its dominating mountain and grassy plains, is a distinctive landscape. During its rich history it has seen major conflicts of the New Zealand wars, including Parihaka in 1881. For culture nuts, it’s got the Govett-Brewster, Puke Ariki and Tāwhiti Museum. You’ll find all this and more in our latest Places entry, written by Taranaki historian Ron Lambert. It was launched by local MP Jonathan Young at the New Plymouth Civic Centre on 11 December.

Read more…

Don’t miss…

This month on Signposts, our blog


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    It’s true that, by itself, the Beehive (the executive wing of parliament) looks odd. It looks even odder when seen next to the other parliamentary buildings. Read more


  • Travelling-on quiz

    Early in the year I declared 2009 was to be my year of travel and, true to my word, it has been so far. I have just returned from a fantastic five-week holiday that led me to wonderful destinations… Read more


  • New Sea-land

    Just in time for New Zealand Book Month (and early Christmas shopping), Te Ara’s new book, New Zealanders and the sea, has hit the shops. Read more

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