Did you know that when New Zealand’s first bank note was issued in 1934 it included a portrait of the Māori king, Tāwhiao, because no one could produce a suitable image of George V? Or that when the nation’s coat of arms was redesigned in 1956 Attorney General John Marshall sent it back to the designers with instructions to make the figure of Zealandia look more like the Hollywood star Grace Kelly?
These are just two of the fascinating stories to be found in Te Ara’s seventh major release, Government and Nation, which was launched by His Excellency Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, governor general, before an appreciative audience of 200 at Parliament last night. The theme editors for the new section were Stephen Levine and Nigel Roberts, distinguished political scientists from Victoria University of Wellington. They have worked for two-and-a-half years planning and overseeing the content. Contributors include a former prime minister, a former Supreme Court judge, a former clerk of the House of Representatives, and a score of political scientists, historians and Māori academics from the country’s top universities.
There are 98 entries, about 250,000 words and more than 2,000 images in Government and Nation. The material is organised in nine sub-themes:
- Education, which provides an overview of that sector from pre-school to tertiary education.
- Institutions of Government, which covers the central institutions that keep the state functioning, such as Parliament, cabinet, and governors general. I particularly enjoyed the entry on premiers and prime ministers, which includes Gordon Coates as a stained glass window, Mickey Savage as a piece of embroidery and Norman Kirk as a pop song (‘Big Norm’).
- Legal System includes in the Police entry a delightful film about the country’s first police dog, Miska.
- Nationhood and Identity is a very rich set of entries ranging from coins and postage stamps to public holidays and the honours system. Make sure you don’t miss the national anthem performed in all three of New Zealand’s official languages.
- New Zealand and the World has entries on the country’s relations with countries and regions including the United States, the Pacific, Asia and Antarctica. A fascinating resource can be found in the Australia and New Zealand entry, where we see how the two countries solved their problem about claiming Phar Lap, by distributing the horse’s body parts across the Tasman.
- Political Participation is a big group of 17 entries about political parties and the operation of democracy. Elections and campaigns includes a wonderful interactive that presents the political history of New Zealand in a series of diagrams covering every election since 1890. And don’t ignore the television clip about the famous ‘worm’.
- State Sector and Policy provides clear introductions to how the boffins in government really work. It even explains clearly in another fine diagram how the electricity sector operates – particularly useful if, like me, you have always been bewildered by its structure.
- Te Tiriti – the Treaty offers comprehensive coverage of the Treaty of Waitangi and its institutional children such as the Waitangi Tribunal.
- War and Defence is another big group of 17 entries, which is a testament to the significance of war to this land. There are magnificent overviews of the New Zealand wars, First World War and Second World War and some powerful film clips, ranging from excerpts from Jamie Belich’s New Zealand wars television series to our own short film about George Bollinger.
Government and Nation is perhaps Te Ara’s most significant section yet, since it explores the very essence of who we are as a nation. We hope you enjoy it, learn heaps about this country and have a few laughs along the way.