Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: May 2020 update

Clockwise from top left, Matiu Rata, Diana Mason, Kelly Tarlton and Dorothy Butler, four of the 11 entries
just added to the DNZB.

This month’s 11 new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entries are a mixture of icons and iconoclasts, advocates and adventurers, artists and politicians.

Explorer and entrepreneur Kelly Tarlton dived on many of New Zealand’s most significant shipwrecks, and died at 47 just a few weeks after his Underwater World opened on Auckland’s waterfront.

Matiu Rata was an influential Minister of Māori Affairs and launched the Mana Motuhake party in 1980, while Bruce Beetham’s Social Credit party challenged the dominance of the National and Labour parties in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Parents Centre co-founder Helen Brew campaigned for natural childbirth, while Elwyn Richardson’s educational philosophies helped change the practice of teaching and learning in New Zealand schools in the second half of the twentieth century. Dorothy Butler’s ground-breaking studies of childhood literature and literacy became internationally recognised reference books.

This round also showcases two campaigners in the most politically-charged public issues of the 1970s, anti-abortion advocate Diana Mason and race relations commentator and polemicist Hilda Phillips.

Chemist Robert Gant’s photographs provide a vivid glimpse into the mind of a homosexual man in late Victorian New Zealand, while John O’Shea established a place for the independent filmmaker in the local film industry in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Hungarian-born George Haydn was an important figure in the Auckland arts and literary scene. 

Read all the new entries now in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography:

Beetham, Bruce Craig teacher, lecturer, politician

Brew, Helen Jean speech therapist, birth campaigner and educator, actor, documentary filmmaker

Butler, Muriel Dorothy children’s literature advocate, bookseller, author, teacher

Gant, Robert photographer, chemist, actor

Haydn, George builder, patron of the arts

Mason, Diana Manby medical practitioner, anti-abortion campaigner

O’Shea, John Dempsey filmmaker

Phillips, Hilda race relations campaigner and polemicist

Rata, Matiu Waitai Ngāti Kurī, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Whātua; politician, union leader

Richardson, Elwyn Stuart educator

Tarlton, Kelvin Ewart diver, explorer, treasure hunter, photographer, inventor

A very different Easter

Easter 2020 – in response to the Prime Minister’s request, children around the country decorated their windows with Easter eggs.

With this most unusual Covid-19 Easter almost upon us, the country was relieved to hear the Prime Minister announce that the Easter Bunny is an essential worker who is still welcome to travel around the country delivering eggs.

Despite the bunny’s comforting presence, Easter 2020 will be quite different from any other Easter in New Zealand history.

Religious celebrations

Easter and the period leading up to it have always involved solemn religious observances for many Christians. Church services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday are often some of the best-attended of the year. Some, such as the Auckland Catholic Filipino community, take part in Stations of the Cross processions on Good Friday to commemorate Jesus Christ’s journey on the day of his crucifixion.

This year, however, churches are closed and gatherings cancelled. Instead churches are taking their celebrations online. In Timaru, all the churches in the town will hold online services to join their communities together.

Public holidays and travel

Although we are now very used to Easter being a public holiday, this wasn’t enshrined in law until 1873, and even then many people still had to work. It was quite a while before Easter holidays were extended to everyone, but when they were, these holidays became particularly precious, as until 1944 there was no legal requirement for paid annual leave for workers. The four-day weekend became associated with non-religious activities, and it was a good time to explore the country before autumn set in. New Zealand Railways knew this was a great opportunity to persuade people to take a trip, as illustrated by the glamorous lady at the beach (not keeping her social distance!) in this poster.

Easter train travel hasn’t always been so easy. In 1944 all non-essential rail travel at Easter was cancelled, to the great disappointment of many. New Zealand suffered a coal shortage during the Second World War, and although the miners were asked to work over Easter, the country simply didn’t have enough coal to fire up all the trains. Those most affected weren’t holidaymakers, in this case, but people who had been ‘directed’ by the government to leave home to work in wartime essential industries, usually in cities, and had been hoping to spend the Easter break visiting their families.

In words similar to those being used at Easter 2020, Minister of Railways Bob Semple said in 1944,

I know that there are hundreds of womenfolk and men compulsorily directed to work in centres far removed from their homes and I sympathise with them in their very natural desire to be with their families at this time …  but my decision is dictated by cold hard facts, and I would be failing in my duty to the country if I were to agree to unrestricted travel now and be forced to impose even further and more severe restrictions immediately following Easter. [Evening Post, 27 March 1944, p. 6]

Festivals and celebrations, sport and leisure

In the 19th century camps, picnics and hunting trips were popular at Easter, and later many sporting events were held, including the universities’ Easter tournament. Some towns had their annual horse-racing meeting at Easter. Riverton in Southland  still does so – but not in 2020.

In the 20th century, many festivals have become associated with the Easter period, including Warbirds over Wanaka and the Tauranga Jazz Festival, which has been running since 1963 – although not this year. The Middlemarch Singles Ball has been held every second year since 2001 to help the lonely single farming men of the district meet someone special.

Despite being in the depths of war at Easter 1941, many Wellingtonians  enjoyed a performance by an Australian magician, ‘The Great Levante’, at the Opera House. The Evening Post told its readers:  

What Levante does in this revue is baffling in the extreme. Rabbits, ducks, canaries, pigeons, and the like appear and disappear with amazing speed and uncanniness, swords and bullets pass mysteriously through young ladies, a young lady assistant is pulled through a small keyhole. [Evening Post, 4 April 1941, p. 11]

Easter traditions

Many English Easter traditions were brought to New Zealand, such as the Shrove Tuesday pancake race

Traditions such as eating hot cross buns on Good Friday and Easter eggs on Easter Sunday were also maintained in New Zealand. Chocolate Easter eggs were introduced in the early 20th century.

Easter shopping

A feature of Easter in New Zealand for many years has been the tussle between retailers and the government about whether shops can stay open. In the 1990s and 2000s, by which time shops could open seven days a week, most were still required to close for three and a half days each year, including on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, reflecting the continued religious importance of those days. While some people argued that shops should be able to open, others were worried that  staff would lose their right to a holiday. Some shops opened illegally, as can be seen in this clip.

Easter 2020

Though New Zealanders traditionally enjoy opportunities for recreation, travel and shopping at Easter, visiting holiday destinations this year is out of the question. The police have warned people not to drive to their baches; they will be policing holiday hot spots. Supermarkets will close on Good Friday to give essential workers a break, but open on Easter Sunday to ensure access to food supplies. Stay local and enjoy being with your family!

By Elizabeth Cox, 9 April 2020

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: October 2019 update

Clockwise from top left, Ralph Hotere, Marie Bell, Ramai Hayward, Keith Sinclair, Selwyn Toogood and Barbara Angus, six of the 13 entries just added to the DNZB.

Most New Zealanders who lived through the 1970s and 1980s will remember the phrases ‘the money or the bag?’ and ‘an orchestrated litany of lies’. Quizmaster Selwyn Toogood and Justice Peter Mahon, who investigated the cause of the Erebus crash that occurred 40 years ago this November, are just two of the 13 new biographies added to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography this month.

Other well-known subjects include racing car driver Bruce McLaren, whose name lives on in the McLaren motor racing team, and Ralph Hotere, one of New Zealand’s most influential and internationally-renowned artists.

Marie Bell campaigned for child-centred education, while diplomat Barbara Angus broke through the glass ceiling to become New Zealand’s first female ambassador to head a bilateral post.

Tom Ah Chee was the driving force behind Foodtown supermarkets and the iconic Georgie Pie takeaway chain. Historian Keith Sinclair helped redefine our sense of identity, while political scientist Bob Chapman pioneered the role of television election night expert in this country.

New Zealand’s emerging film industry is represented by two entries, silent film actress Witarina Harris and director Ramai Hayward, whose collaboration with her husband Rudall Hayward made an enduring contribution to New Zealand’s film history.

Mathematician Robin Williams participated in the Manhattan Project in the 1940s and went on to a distinguished public service career in New Zealand, while polio survivor June Opie overcame physical disability to lead a successful life as a writer and broadcaster.

Read all the new entries now in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography:

Ah Chee, Thomas Henry supermarket and takeaways entrepreneur

Angus, Barbara diplomat, historian

Bell, Marie teacher, lecturer, educationalist

Chapman, Robert McDonald political scientist

Harris, Witarina Te Miriarangi Ngāti Whakaue; film actor, te ao Māori advocate

Hayward, Ramai Rongomaitara Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu; photographer, actor, director.

Hotere, Hone Papita Raukura (Ralph) Te Aupōuri; artist

McLaren, Bruce Leslie racing driver; racing car designer, constructor and team owner

Mahon, Peter Thomas judge, Erebus air crash commissioner

Opie, Alice June Norma polio survivor, clinical psychologist, writer, broadcaster

Sinclair, Keith historian, poet

Toogood, Selwyn Featherston broadcaster, quizmaster, actor

Williams, Robert Martin (Robin) mathematician, public servant, university administrator

13 new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entries

Christine Cole-Catley, Maurice Shadbolt, Howard Morrison and Shirley Smith, some of the people whose life stories
have just been published on the DNZB.

This week we add 13 new biographies to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB):

Adams, Jacqueline Nancy Mary (Nancy) botanist, artist, museum curator

Allen, Frederick Richard All Black, captain, coach; clothing manufacturer

Andersen, Gordon Harold (Bill) trade unionist

Biggs, Bruce Grandison Ngāti Maniapoto; ethnographer, linguist, champion of te reo Māori

Clark, Thomas Edwin industrialist

Cole-Catley, Christine McKelvie writer, publisher, educator, activist

Fisher, Gurshon (Gus) fashion entrepreneur

Laking, George Robert diplomat, departmental head, ombudsman

Morrison, Howard Leslie Te Arawa; singer, entertainer, community leader

Nobilo, Nikola winemaker

Salmon, John Tenison ethnographer, entomologist, conservationist, author

Shadbolt, Maurice Francis Richard author, journalist, playwright, film-maker

Smith, Shirley Hilda Stanley lawyer, human-rights campaigner

In September 2018 we relaunched the DNZB after a seven-year hiatus with 25 biographies of trail-blazing women, celebrating the 125th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. This new group marks the first round of our new annual publishing programme; we are aiming to publish a minimum of 20 new entries each year on an ongoing basis.

The DNZB’s original print publishing programme concluded with the publication of volume five in 2000, which covered people who first made their mark between 1941 and 1960. The DNZB’s selection policy excluded anyone still living at that time, so this year we will publish online biographies of prominent people from a variety of fields who have died since the print series’ cut-off year, 1999.

This new selection runs to more than 27,000 words and more than 60 new photographs, videos, and sound recordings. The authors include subject experts such as Chris Bourke, Terry Dunleavy, Sarah Gaitanos, Kate Hannah, Cybele Locke, Margaret McClure, Ian McGibbon, Andrew Pawley, Claire Regnault and Philip Temple.

The next group of entries is scheduled for publication in October 2019. Translations of entries about Māori subjects into te reo Māori are in the pipeline.

Te Tai Treaty Settlement Stories launched

Te Tai Settlement Stories: Ngāti Awa screenshot

On Friday 9 November 2018, Manatū Taonga along with Ngāti Awa launched Te Tai Treaty Settlement Stories at Te Mānuka Tūtahi marae in Whakatane. Te Tai is a bilingual multimedia web story project showcasing individual and collective stories about Treaty Settlements.

Ngāti Awa of Te Moana-a-Toi (Bay of Plenty) are the first iwi to share their story on Te Tai – you can read about their journey in te reo Māori or in English.

These are real human accounts – difficult and painful to tell, but also testament to the determination of many involved. Through them all New Zealanders can understand the events which have shaped modern Aotearoa.

Once you’ve immersed yourself in the story of Ngāti Awa on Te Tai, did you know that there are biographies to read in the DNZB? Wepiha Apanui, Ngāti Awa leader and carver who led a team of carvers to build the wharenui Mataatua. Carl Völkner and James Falloon who were killed. Chief Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi who fought in 1865 and Ngāti Awa rangitira Eruera Mānuera, who tasked Hirini Mead with leading the Ngāti Awa Treaty claim.

We look forward to working on new stories in 2019.