Archive for the 'Uncategorised' Category

What’s new on Te Ara

It’s been six months since we established the Research & Publishing Group here at Manatū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and started taking a coordinated approach to maintaining all our websites. Te Ara is a very important part of the group’s work and we’ve been putting in place processes to ensure its ongoing development and maintenance.

Some of the areas of work over the last few months have included establishing a system for internal champions of each theme – they’ll be keeping an eye on content, helping respond to queries, evaluating and proposing updates and developing relationships with authors and experts. We’ve updated Peoples stories and the Workplace safety and accident compensation entry, reviewed the Shipping, Railways and Public Transport stories, and kept up with regularly changing subjects such as sports and awards. We’re also working through the final te reo translations of Māori content so we can publish these over the coming months, and continuing to upgrade image and multimedia content to replace Flash-based content with fully accessible and mobile-friendly content (e.g., videos and interactives).

Over the next few months we’ll turn our attention to content and technical updates, including reviewing and updating census and other statistics in the Social Connections theme and reviewing the Treaty settlements and Iwi entries. Updates are also under way for the Penguins and Shags stories following new discoveries about their taxonomies, and the Coins and banknotes entry to reflect new banknote designs. Very soon we’ll be testing and releasing a new mobile responsive design along with interface enhancements to improve story navigation, and developing a new approach to keywording.

This work is part of a wider programme that includes a big contribution to the First World War commemorations, with major work appearing in NZHistory’s First World War section, as well as new work on the Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories project. It’s keeping us busy and provides opportunities to update Te Ara in tandem with other websites. Our updates to information about flags, for example, includes a short update on Te Ara linked to a longer piece on NZHistory. More significantly, developing the Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories project gives us the opportunity to review all our existing Treaty and Iwi material and ensure optimum content for our readers.

How many New Zealanders served on Gallipoli?

Gallipoli armistice

Gallipoli armistice

In 2013, I wrote that the long-accepted figure for the number of New Zealand soldiers who fought at Gallipoli – 8,556 – had come about by historical accident. Noting that historians now doubted this figure, I expressed the hope that research prompted by the centenary of the First World War would shed more light on the matter. That research has since been undertaken, and we now know that twice the ‘traditional’ number of New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli. This new figure of about 17,000 lines up well with the fact that about 20,000 troops left New Zealand in time to have potentially been sent to the Dardanelles.

The recent research project overseen by New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry for Culture & Heritage historians investigated three sets of evidence. First, it is now clear that nearly 11,000 men of the Main Body and the first three reinforcement drafts had been thrown into the battle by the end of May 1915. Secondly, Matthew Buck’s research into personnel files – every individual First World War serviceman’s record is now available digitally on Archives New Zealand’s Archway website – shows that more than three-quarters of the 6th Reinforcements, the draft least likely to have reached Gallipoli, in fact did so in October/November 1915.

The clincher came when handwritten notebooks kept by the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) of the New Zealand and Australian Division for the intervening period, June to August 1915, were unearthed by John Crawford in Archives New Zealand. These showed that nearly two-thirds of the New Zealanders who landed on the peninsula in this period were new arrivals, while fewer than one-fifth were men returning from hospital.

The April/May and October/November evidence comes with a margin of error, but the DAAG data is robust. It is now clear that between 16,000 and 18,000 New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli during 1915. Twice as many New Zealand families as previously thought have a direct link to the Dardanelles. These findings give Gallipoli an even more secure place in our national mythology.


For more information about the new research see New research dramatically increases the numbers of New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli, or find out how to research your connection to Gallipoli with Researching New Zealand soldiers on NZHistory.

Small but perfectly formed

Reed's Lilliput books and a 20 cent coin

What is it about unusually small things that make them inherently attractive and collectable? I have in my possession three diminutive books and their novelty size is the only real reason I hold on to them.

In the 1960s and 1970s, New Zealand publishing house A.H. & A.W. Reed produced a series of tiny books measuring 35 by 50 millimetres. The series included a Māori-English dictionary, a book of Māori place names and another of Māori proverbs, all of which I own. Amazingly, they contain between 500 and 600 pages within their bright vinyl covers.

Quaintly branded ‘Lilliput’ after the island inhabited by miniature humans in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels (1726), the wee volumes were published with tourists in mind. They were very popular – according to Gavin McLean’s book Whare raupo: the Reed Books story, the Lilliput Maori dictionary sold 61,200 copies in the 1970s. Despite this, they became too expensive to produce and Reed decided to stop publishing them in 1977.

I wonder how many buyers actually read these books. And how reliable is the information they contain? Reed worked with Māori scholars and leaders when publishing their extensive catalogue of Māori books and while the company’s approach would probably not stand up today (owner Clif Reed, whose knowledge of te reo Māori was sparse, wrote all three of my books) by the standards of the time they were pretty consultative. I’d love someone with the requisite expertise to put these books to the test.

Quiz: Kapa Haka

Reflections on Ath

Taking over Khandallah – Ian Athfield's sprawling Wellington house (click for image credit)

Taking over Khandallah – Ian Athfield's sprawling Wellington house (click for image credit)

Wellington’s most creative architect ever, Ian Athfield (or ‘Ath’, as he was widely known), died on Friday 16 January during a procedure to treat his cancer. His death will be greatly mourned among the city’s architectural community, many of who have spent time working in his hillside office and home in Khandallah. But he will also be missed by those Wellingtonians who for over 50 years have watched Ath’s buildings rise in the cityscape and smiled at their whimsicality or felt a sense of wonder at the juxtaposition of their shapes and forms.

I first became aware of Ath in the 1970s, when I was a boy of about 10. Our neighbours had commissioned him to build them a house in Miramar and they invited us to go and have a look. In those days Ath insisted his clients help to build their own homes, so when we arrived they were busy with the concrete mixer. There was enough completed to see the emerging forms. The house was on a steep site and comprised multiple rooms on several levels and a trademark round tower – first used on his own house. Most exciting though were the children’s bedrooms, which had to be reached through a tunnel-like concrete pipe. I felt very jealous of my friend Simon.

These houses and those of fellow Wellington architect Roger Walker were lauded for their playfulness and were nicknamed ‘Noddy houses’. More formally the style was known as the Wellington School. Both architects rejected the open-floor plan of the Modernist style, instead building houses that were a succession of rooms. Each had individual architectural expression, often with steeply pitched gables or lean-to roofs that referenced New Zealand’s colonial architecture. Ath was not to be defined by one style, and from the late 1980s he charted innovative new directions in post-modern and neo-modern idioms. Yet it was his earlier houses for which he will probably be most remembered.

By this time too he was securing commercial work, such as the former Telecom Building, and was pioneering the emerging field of urban design. The best example of that was Wellington’s revamped Civic Square. This project included his stunning public library, arguably the city’s best public building. Ath recently admitted that the square had not met his expectations as a social space, something he thought more street cafés and/or a market could encourage. Among his projects that were never realised was his and Frank Gehry’s stunning design for Te Papa.

Ath was a provocateur and reformer. He rebelled against officious planning regulations. During the 1980s many of his houses featured twin chimneys, sometimes interpreted as a two-finger salute to planners. He defied rules that prevented people working from home by locating his office in his house. Ath also added several apartments onto his house, for extended family or friends to live in a communal fashion. He saw this as part of a vision to make suburbia more liveable and joked that his house would one day take over Khandallah.

His strong views could be divisive. Ath’s belief that buildings should constantly change and not be frozen in time put him off side with heritage advocates, including me. His early 2000s plan to radically rebuild the neo-Gothic Canterbury Museum caused an uproar in Christchurch and was thrown out by the Environment Court, an outcome that Ath saw as a lost opportunity. Still, his appointment to the Board of the Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand) in 2010 might have led him to soften his views. In 2014 he proposed that his home be considered for heritage listing as ‘organic heritage’. This would allow it to be modified. Heritage New Zealand is still to consider the proposal.

Ath considered his home his best work. Since 1971 the house’s bulbous white tower and cascade of rooms has been a landmark presence on the cityscape. It is a fitting memorial to his work and love of Wellington.

Historian and author Ben Schrader was a Te Ara writer. He has been involved with the Heritage New Zealand assessment of Ian Athfield’s house.