The nation’s guide

The Popes' guides to the North and South islands

The Popes' guides to the North and South islands

It was 1973. I had just returned home after five years in North America. I had gone away thinking of New Zealand as a boring little country far from anywhere, with nothing but ‘a few ha-penny bits of history’, as one of our local historians once wrote. Coming back I was hoping to find a more interesting place. I discovered the perfect guide – Diana and Jeremy Pope’s Mobil guide to the North Island, quickly followed the next year by their South Island guide. It was a revelation. Their model was the old green Michelin guides to exotic and highly civilised places like France or Italy. Here was New Zealand presented with the same cultural richness and the same system of grading by stars. It presented a country that I had no idea existed, a New Zealand full of fascinating history, a land with Māori traditions and stories at every turn, and a country with its own distinct regional peculiarities. And all presented in words that were exact and pithy, yet also enticing and full of colour.

For the next 10 years I never went anywhere without the ‘Popes’ guide’. It opened my eyes to my own country, and it did to many others too. There were countless revisions, and three years ago a completely new version in much expanded form about the North Island.

Well, one half of the partnership which gave birth to this masterpiece, Jeremy Pope, has just died. At his funeral service I learned what an amazing New Zealander he was – an activist who worked in the Save Manapouri campaign; a brilliant lawyer who was the legal adviser to the Māori land march; legal director of the Commonwealth Secretariat for ten years when he put all his energies into bringing justice to apartheid South Africa and political democracy to other parts of Africa; a fearless opponent of corruption who established Transparency International, dedicated to bringing public accountability; a passionate believer in human rights who became one of New Zealand’s Human Rights Commissioners when he returned home in 2005; a wonderful raconteur; a one-eyed sports fan, especially when it came to New Zealand cricket; and a loving father and spouse. The funeral orations made clear what a very great man he was.

But the ‘guide’ did not get much of a mention, so let’s add to that list – he was a very great historian. At one stage I pressed, unsuccessfully for ‘Popes’ guide’ to be awarded the F. P. Wilson award for the best book in New Zealand history; and I still feel aggrieved that the suggestion was spurned. For us at Te Ara the guide has been a mine which we have quarried shamelessly, and our ‘Places’ entries owe much to those two books. I am pleased to say that Diana and Jeremy quarried Te Ara in turn for their latest work.

Two years ago when we were planning cultural events for the Rugby World Cup, Bryony Ellis, the director of the REAL New Zealand festival, said that when she was growing up her parents would read out sections of the ‘Popes’ guide’ as they travelled round the country. Could we perhaps do something similar for World Cup visitors? Foolishly I agreed, and so Roadside Stories was born – 140 short (four-minute) audio and video guides to significant places along the main routes of New Zealand. Diana and Jeremy heard about the idea and we met.  They were enthusiastic and happy to be involved. So we proceeded to choose the featured stories by sitting round their dining table in Khandallah and brainstorming the top stops. They were unfailingly generous with their time and ideas. It was a stimulating and enjoyable experience.

At the funeral, one speaker suggested that millions of people around the world had had their lives improved by Jeremy’s work as a human rights lawyer. I have no doubt this is true; and it is important to recognise it. But many thousands of New Zealanders and visitors to this country have had their minds enriched by one of the great guidebooks. We should also acknowledge on the occasion of Jeremy’s death his work and Diana’s in telling us so much about this country.

2 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Jemima Southey (Pope) || September 5th, 2012

    Thank you Jock xox

  2. Comment made by Tom Brooking || September 5th, 2012

    Dear Jock,
    I totally agree re the Pope’s fabulous book which has so enriched my udnerstanding of every part of this country I have visited even if I never thought this was a’boring’ little county with no history to speak of!
    Best Tom

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