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Waitangi Day – never a dull moment

On Wednesday 6 February we will once again commemorate Waitangi Day. Our sister site NZHistory has a comprehensive feature on the day. The feature suggests that on Wednesday there will probably be protests, speeches, drama, laughter, tears and theatre. And, whatever happens on Waitangi Day, it will be an interesting day.

Waitangi Day is a national holiday commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. The treaty was signed between Māori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. A number of these chiefs had earlier been members of the United Tribes who had signed the Declaration of Independence.

Signing the treaty (click for image credit)

There were a number of other signings after 6 February on various sheets. All but one were in Māori.

Various sheets of the treaty

In 1934 commemorations began at the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi after Lord Bledisloe (in the top hat) and his wife Alina (wearing a fur stole) gifted James Busby’s residence, where the treaty had been signed, to the nation.

At the Treaty Grounds, 1934 (click for image credit)

For the centennial celebrations in 1940 a meeting house, Te Whare Rūnanga, was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The centennial is often depicted by an iconic image of Āpirana Ngata leading the haka in front of the meeting house at Waitangi (below). Not all was well, however, with Waikato and Taranaki tribes boycotting the occasion.

Āpirana Ngata leading the haka (click for image credit)

Waitangi Day has only been a national holiday since 1974, when it was also renamed New Zealand Day. The renamed day did not sit well with many and it was changed back to Waitangi Day in 1976 and has been so since.

Protests from the 1970s though into the 1980s were common. The 1984 hīkoi to Waitangi was one of the more well-known.

1984 protest (click for image credit)

Politicians and royalty have felt the sting of protest at Waitangi. This Wednesday promises the possibility of continued protest.

Māori flags at Waitangi Day, 2008 (click for image credit)

But inevitably – depending on the weather – there will be numerous community events around New Zealand, like this Ngāti Kahungunu-run Waitangi Day event in Hawke’s Bay (below) – where the local community will get together for the day. Waitangi Day, love it or loathe it, there’s never a dull moment.

Waitangi Day in Hawke's Bay (click for image credit)

Bliss: two wheels and just a bit of hard work

Biking near Arrowtown in autumn

I have just undergone a major revolution in my view of the world. This is not about politics or religion or other important things such as food or clothes. It is about recreation. I have started to look upon biking as fun.

For some 60 years I have walked and I have biked. But when given a choice for relaxation I preferred walking. Walking along a track in the bush or on the tussock landscapes of this country is one of the great pleasures of life. It invites good conversation with mates and inspires creative thoughts.

In comparison, biking always seemed like hard, hard work. I biked purely because I wanted to get somewhere. Growing up in Christchurch, I would battle against those infernal easterlies as I biked to school or to sports games carrying huge bags of gear. I would arrive sweaty and grumpy.

More recently, I have biked to work, but only because it was cheaper and quicker than any other form of transport. And in Wellington the fierce westerlies and hills are minor challenges compared with the dangers of speeding cars who believe that cyclists have no place on the roads of the city. Every day I take my life in my hands.

As a walker, I used to mutter oaths against mountain bikers who came tearing down tracks at dangerous speeds forcing us trampers into the bushes and turning the tracks into muddy quagmire.  When I tried mountain biking myself I found it, quite frankly, scary. Biking as ‘fun’? – you must be joking.

This summer things changed. First we headed down to Geraldine intending to tramp in the Southern Alps.  We organised our packs, bought our supplies, and then waited for a clearing in the weather. It never came.  Looking into the high country we saw continual westerlies blowing up a storm. The rivers were high and a turgid grey. Call me a wuss, but we simply did not fancy days of getting drenched.

So what to do? Camp fever took hold. I yearned for exercise to strip off some of that Christmas flab. There was sunshine on the plains. Perhaps a bike ride was an option? It was a relatively new bike – good suspension, 30 gears. The first day I headed down a side road out of Geraldine. It was sealed but deserted, not a car in sight. There was a steady west wind blowing behind and before long I was racing along at about 40 kilometres per hour. The country was lush with patches of bush. I began to realise I was having fun. For the next few days, usually accompanied by Susan, to whom I had confided my new enthusiasm, we explored the hinterland – up into the foothills of the Alps for a break and a swim, down to a nice wine bar at the Ōpihi River.

Then this weekend we headed to Arrowtown.  Now we had a real choice – a walk into the magnificent hills behind Arrowtown, or hire a bike to explore the new bicycle tracks of the area? I had discovered that, as part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, the Queenstown trail had just been opened (in September last year). This 110-kilometre-long trail goes along the river banks and over private land to link Queenstown with Gibbston and Arrowtown. A huge investment has gone into the trail, and riding it is a wonderful experience. On Saturday we followed first the Arrow River, then the Kawarau, before heading back alongside Lake Hayes with breathtaking views. We returned tired but thrilled.

The next day we had to choose again. Would the call of a walk in the woods be too strong; or would we put up with our aching bums and once more hire a bike and do another piece of the Queenstown cycle trail? It was no contest – the bike won out and this time we headed across beautiful country beside lines of wild roses, alongside the Shotover River and then another piece of the Kawarau before heading back cross-country. Boy it was fun.

What explains this revolution in attitudes?

  • The provision of cycle trails away from the traffic is one thing.
  • Good bikes with brakes that work, comfy seats and excellent gears, also helps.
  • You can cover so much more beautiful country on bike than on foot, and around Queenstown there is an awful lot of fine country to see.
  • And, I have to admit, as you get older the rhythmic movement of the bike is actually less strain on the body than pounding up a track on foot.

To be fair, the revolution is not total. There are times when biking uphill against a head wind still seems like very hard work indeed; and there is always the danger of hurtling headlong over the handlebars when the tyres get stuck in a rut. But, for the first time in my life, I have begun to think about biking as a real recreational option. So, next time you are looking for fun, try one of this country’s new cycle trails and join the revolution.

Old-world prejudices, new-world fun

New Zealanders love their fireworks (click for image credit)

New Zealanders love their fireworks (click for image credit)

Tonight thousands of New Zealanders will go into their back yards and light Catherine wheels or gather at vantage points to oooh and aaah at public displays of sky rockets. Guy Fawkes night commemorates an event over 400 years ago in a country the other side of the globe; and the event itself – the thwarting of a Catholic plot to blow up the English Houses of Parliament – keeps alive religious strife which surely we have outlived. So why should we continue to endanger ourselves, our pets, our children and our property by continuing to set things alight on November 5th?

It was this question that encouraged me to search Papers Past and try to discover the history of Guy Fawkes in New Zealand. What I discovered was surprising and intriguing. I found that a few new immigrants from Britain from the 1840s did want to commemorate the gunpowder plot; but many more did not. The result was that until the First World War Guy Fawkes events were spasmodic, haphazard and generally opposed by newspapers who confidently expected that the custom was on its last legs and would die out. Why were opinion-makers hostile to Guy Fawkes fireworks?:

  • They saw the event as a reactionary old-world custom that had no place in this new society.
  • They saw it as perpetuating sectarian bitterness and thought that New Zealand, with its commitment to religious tolerance, should avoid such sentiments.
  • There was a grave fear that in towns of wooden houses surrounded by dry bush and, increasingly, gorse there was a genuine danger of major fires. Fire was the great scourge of colonial New Zealand.
  • In the mornings young boys would come around asking for ‘a penny for the guy’ and this was regarded as pernicious begging.
  • Lighting fireworks was viewed as an act of city larrikins, not responsible family people.
  • Most interesting, there were some who pointed out that fireworks were a Chinese custom, and argued that it was a ‘Yellow’ pursuit that had no place in Anglo-Saxon New Zealand and the sales of fireworks only benefitted Chinese shopkeepers. At that time there was widespread prejudice against Chinese people.

In Australia, where the Catholic population was larger and the fire danger even greater, Guy Fawkes did largely die out. But not in New Zealand. Here, despite endless predictions of the imminent death of the custom, it was kept alive – largely by the aforementioned larrikins. Young kids were determined to have their fun on 5 November, and so they did.

Then sentiments began to change. In the 1920s, as New Zealand cities spread out, fireworks were increasingly set off in suburban backyards. The newspapers noted that it was the dads who now lit the rockets and sparklers, and lorded over the event. The anti-Catholic origins of the ritual were largely forgotten, and Guy Fawkes simply became ‘family fun’. By 1936, even though the fire brigade had been called to 60 fires that had got out of control, the Wellington newspapers described the evening as ‘a magnificent occasion’, ‘a wonderful show’ with ’scenes of splendour’. Certain places became prominent for fireworks – such as Petone Beach in Wellington and Carlaw Park in Auckland – and increasingly community groups began to put on displays for all to enjoy.

Of course opposition to Guy Fawkes never completely died, and Beverley Pentland, the ‘fireworks lady’, achieved fame and our gratitude in the 1970s by her battle to reduce the injuries to children and pets. But, despite restrictions on crackers and other dangerous explosive things, tonight thousands of Kiwis will enjoy the spectacle of fire. As you do so – and this is a very strange remark for me to make as an historian – it might pay to forget the history of the night, its sectarian origins, and just enjoy some family fun.

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.

Gingering up Te Ara

The Te Ara team today mourns the departure of our fabulous ginger-headed lead designer, Heath Sadlier, as he moves on to a new job in Auckland. In the eight years that he has been with us, Heath has transformed the look and feel of Te Ara, and he has grown from an unassuming new boy to a creative and much-loved leader whose inventive ideas many of us at first rejected, slowly accepted and eventually heartily applauded.

Eight years ago Heath was an unemployed recent-graduate of the Wanganui School of Design. In innocence of what the design needs of the encyclopedia might be, we had appointed only one designer, Helene Coulson, who herself had just graduated from the Wanganui school. Gradually it became obvious that design work on about 3,000 images, film clips, plus ambitious interactives, was too big a job for one designer. Helene suggested employing one of her Wanganui mates on a short-term contract. So Heath turned up; at first he was rather nervous, but was quick to listen and obediently follow instructions. The job was pretty boring – mainly optimising images – and the poor man had to share with another short-termer a cramped dark inside office which we accurately labelled ‘the fridge’.

About six months later we did manage to offer a long-term contract for a designer and Heath got the job. And that was when his skills became obvious. Some of his design work such as the interactive mercali scales for illustrating earthquakes sizes remain as popular today as when first unveiled. He took the lead in putting together a pattern-book of design interactives. Some of his developments became Te Ara standbys, such as the ‘thumb-tag maps’ where we were able to illustrate some of the nation’s lakes or memorials with clickable thumbnails. His film-editing experience led to some great clips – look at the virtuoso editing of our Warbirds over Wānaka film; and his ability to sequence stories shone through. Everyone loved the interactive which follows Alphonse Barrington’s epic journey at the head of Lake Wakatipu in 1864. Heath designed each day’s diary extract to be marked by a camp-fire, until May 6th when the diary records ‘Nothing to eat; cannot light a fire’ – so Heath’s fire splutters and dies.

After a year or so, Helene left, and we took a punt on this jovial fresh-faced ginger-head still in his mid-20s: Heath became lead designer. We knew the man could design, but what astonished us was the speed with which he became a manager. He immediately realised that his first task was to put together a happy team and this meant empowering people, giving them a clear sense of personal responsibility.

Then he turned his energies to design matters. There were a sequence of new developments:

  • ‘Page-flows’ which allowed users to read a pamphlet page by page.  Take a look at the Kauri Timber Company catalogue.
  • ‘Zoomify’ which allowed users to explore a historical image in full-screen detail. I found myself lost for ages poring over this image of the New Zealanders on the beach at Guadalcanal.
  • ‘Detail view,’ where the focus begins with the detail and then you can scan back to the full image.
  • The presentation of film clips was greatly improved with higher resolution and full-screen delivery.
  • Realising that Flash was a technology in trouble, he future-proofed us by simplifying the code and moving to JavaScript.

What was deeply impressive about all this was Heath’s superb combination of an acute design eye, an understanding of technological changes, and a total commitment to issues of historical integrity and copyright.

Now came the big challenge. While liking much of the initial design for Te Ara, Heath had quickly identified some of the problems which users faced. Previously we had considered the design for the site itself as a job for big outside web design firms, not our young inexperienced in-house designers. Heath had no such doubts and gently suggested that he begin working on a redesign. A bit nervously, we agreed. The nerves were unnecessary. Heath delivered a brilliantly worked-out project which has been a huge success. Realising that user needs were everything, Heath worked with a firm of user specialists to identify exactly the issues with the Te Ara design, and then set about solving them. The aim was clearer navigation, more intuitive signposts, better display of some of our hidden elements such as the short story, the browser and related entries. Yet he did not touch the things which worked, such as Te Ara’s branding, the palette of rich colours, the use of topic boxes. The result was a clean design that built on the past but created a contemporary feel.  We have had almost universal approval, and it is no accident that since the redesign our visitor numbers have soared.

That was not all. Last year we prepared a set of ‘Roadside Stories’, which covered interesting historical tales along the major routes of the country. We recorded audio files, collected images and then wondered about how we communicated them to audiences. Heath took the lead in coming up with inventive solutions, such as making short films and presenting them on a new ministry Youtube channel. He also started to develop plans for the repackaging of Te Ara content as iBooks.

You would think such an all-round genius would be a terror to work with. No such luck – Heath has been a wonderful colleague. During work he was a great source of laughter and the meetings around his desk selecting colours and images for Te Ara stories (which might have been battles of will), became among the most enjoyable moments of this project. Heath was everyone’s confidante, a natural leader who took many small initiatives to bring individuals into the team. He took it upon himself to organise fortnightly social occasions which he sparked off inevitably with an hilarious animated gif.

Mate, it’s been a privilege to work with you; and Te Ara is hugely better as result of your passion and insight. The best of luck for the glorious future you deserve.