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Great War Stories

On this 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, we are delighted to have played a major role in a series of ‘Great War Stories’.  Each of the seven stories deals with a particular person (or in one case a horse!) and tells of how the war impacted on that individual. A different story will be played in the middle of TV3 News every night for the next seven days.

It has been a long and fascinating journey to this moment. It began about two years ago, when we were preparing Te Ara’s story on the First World War. That war was such a huge, cataclysmic event that affected everybody in this society, so we were looking for a way to make it real at a human level. We came up with the idea of telling the story through its effect upon one individual; so we prepared a short film on George Bollinger. Bollinger was a fairly typical Kiwi bloke in 1914 – a keen rugby player, a strong believer in the British Empire, a member of the local territorial force. When war broke out he volunteered quickly and, being strong (actually at 6 foot 4 inches (1.9 metres), he was the tallest man in the ‘main body’ of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force), he was accepted. He sailed off with the Expeditionary Force in October 1914, then on to Egypt and finally to Gallipoli.

So far so good, but he was different from his peers in one respect – his father was a German, who had migrated to Taranaki in the 1870s. Some people in New Zealand society had no time for people ‘of German birth’, so before long George Bollinger became the butt of rumours and letters to ministers and MPs. How this impacted on George was the essence of the film.

George Bollinger, 1916 (Ref: PAColl-0049-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

George Bollinger, 1916 (Ref: PAColl-0049-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

We prepared a script and put it together in-house, using images from the Alexander Turnbull Library. The formula seemed to work, so the idea emerged that perhaps we should do a series of these war stories for the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

I went and visited Chris Szekely, chief librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library, and asked if the Turnbull would like to join us in this project. He accepted with alacrity. So did Alan Ferris at Archives New Zealand when I asked him the same question. Before long we had an exciting cross-agency project underway. We (the Ministry for Culture and Heritage), Turnbull and Archives each brainstormed possible stories. Then we came together and chose the 25 best ones.

At that point a number of ministry historians – Gareth Phipps, Matthew Tonks, Martha van Drunen, Imelda Bargas and myself – prepared research files on each story. Then these were handed to the noted playwright Dave Armstrong, who had written short scripts for our ‘Roadside Stories‘, audio guides to places around New Zealand, that we made in 2011. He once again prepared scripts for these short films. Our intention at that point was to find actors and put together the stories ourselves for our websites.

Then I received a phone call one day from Anna Cottrell. She explained that she had been proposing to TV3 a series of short stories about different individuals involved in the Great War. She was about to seek support from NZ on Air, but had just found out that we had a similar idea. We met, and very quickly an obvious win-win solution surfaced: let’s work together! The ministry would do the research and checking, Turnbull and Archives would search out the relevant images, documents and film clips, and Anna Cottrell and her team would put together the short films to be shown on TV3. NZ on Air were impressed and so the venture took off.

It has been a wonderful ride. Together with Anna and her team, we chose the first seven stories to be produced and broadcast. We looked for a range that would tell of the experiences of men and women, Māori and Pākehā, battle heroes and opponents of the war, the home front and the muddy trenches. Then Anna, using the research and the scripts, set about filming the stories. She has done a magnificent job.

The first seven Great War Stories are:

  • Lady Liverpool – The men go forth to battle, the women wait – and knit: Monday 4 August
  • Keith Caldwell – Grid’s great escape: Tuesday 5 August
  • Rikihana Carkeek – A warrior of Tūmatauenga: Wednesday 6 August
  • Leonard Hart – New Zealand’s darkest day: Thursday 7 August
  • Henry Pickerill and Harold Gillies – The changing faces of war: Friday 8 August
  • Mark Briggs – The courage of conviction: Saturday 9 August
  • Bess – Lucky horse: Sunday 10 August.

After screening, the stories will also be available, with supporting information, on

We hope you take time to watch the stories and that you learn from them something about the extraordinary impact the Great War inflicted upon the peoples of this country.

In praise of academic creativity

Scholar and anthropologist Mākereti (Maggie) Papakura, around 1910  (click for image credit)

Scholar and anthropologist Mākereti (Maggie) Papakura, around 1910 (click for image credit)

Today we launch four stories about creativity in academic disciplines in this country – Anthropology and archaeologyMāori studies – ngā tari MāoriLinguistics and Philosophy. The idea that academic work is ‘creative’ may at first sight surprise those who associate the university with boring lectures and examinations – indeed one of my esteemed colleagues suggested that ‘academic creativity’ is a contradiction in terms, like ‘military intelligence’. Creativity, you might say, surely belongs to the arts – such as dance and poetry and painting. Funding agency Creative New Zealand does not support academic work.

These stories firmly undermine such prejudices – the idea of the ‘open society‘ developed by the great philosopher Karl Popper, who taught at the University of Canterbury from 1937 to 1945, or Lisa Matisoo-Smith’s ingenious use of the DNA of rat and chicken bones to trace Polynesian migration across the Pacific are but two examples of the creativity to be found in these stories.

Of the four disciplines represented, philosophy is the oldest, its origins lying with the ancient Greeks. It is a highly international pursuit, but our story shows a remarkable level of contribution by New Zealanders or people based here. They included Arthur Prior and Max Cresswell, internationally recognised logicians, and Jeremy Waldron, a philosopher of law, who is represented by a fascinating conversation in which he traces his life from Invercargill to New York. The philosophers are a brilliant, sometimes eccentric and often colourful breed – Otago University lecturer Dennis Grey caused a bit of a shock to post-Second World War Dunedinites by wearing lipstick to his classes.

Logician Max Cresswell, with train (click for image credit)

Logician Max Cresswell, with train (click for image credit)

Anthropology first began to claim existence as a discipline about the time that Europeans reached New Zealand, but the early practitioners were not academics. As our story shows, early anthropology here came about from Europeans’ desire to understand, and attempt to control, Māori. This included explorers such as James Cook and governors such as George Grey, who was quite explicit that he studied Māori language and culture in order to govern them. Later there were surveyors, interpreters and Native Land Court judges. At the end of the 19th century the Polynesian Society was founded, partly impelled by the desire to record what was widely believed to be a ‘dying race’.

Along with European enthusiasts, the Polynesian Society also attracted some very significant Māori scholars – Āpirana Ngata, Māui Pōmare and Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) – and it is fascinating to look at this story alongside Ranginui Walker’s one on Māori studies– ngā tari Māori. As the 20th century unfolded Māori studies began to emerge as a separate discipline out of anthropology. As early as 1926 Ngata had tried to get Māori language accepted as a BA subject. This did not happen until 1951, when Bruce Biggs was allowed to teach it at the University of Auckland, and it was not until 1978, at Victoria University of Wellington, that Māori studies first became a separate department. Meanwhile, anthropology and archaeology developed their own professionalism and began to explore the archaeology of non-Māori topics such as Chinese gold-mining communities and West Coast coal mines.

Linguist and Māori studies scholar Bruce Biggs undertaking field work in Papua New Guinea, 1959 (click for image credit)

Linguist and Māori studies scholar Bruce Biggs undertaking field work in Papua New Guinea, 1959 (click for image credit)

Linguistics was another late 20th century off-shoot, with its origins in both English and anthropology. Bruce Biggs again played a founding role in the recognition of linguistics. The first separate department was at Victoria in 1988, and once more there was an expansion into exciting new areas of study, many with a New Zealand focus, including the history of New Zealand English and of the New Zealand accent, and sociolinguistics, which explored, for example, speech in work places and how speech is affected by gender. For a young subject, linguistics in New Zealand has been extraordinarily impressive in its researches, and the country has given the world some outstanding lexicographers and sociolinguists. I particularly point you to the eloquent interview with the New Zealand-born and Israel-based scholar Bernard Spolsky, who makes the case for New Zealand becoming a multilingual society.

These four entries are packed with fascinating stories of inventive individuals and intellectual pioneers who have helped to reshape our view of the world. I dare you to possibly claim that they are not highly creative people.

Mining history in music

Mining and music do not often go together, but on Saturday 10 May the Orpheus Choir of Wellington presents a concert paying tribute to mining communities worldwide and to events that have irrevocably changed their lives. Premiere performances will be given of three new works related to mining in New Zealand and overseas. The 150-strong Orpheus Choir will be joined by the award-winning Wellington Brass Band and Wellington Young Voices.

The concert features a new work by legendary New Zealand singer-songwriter Dave Dobbyn, who has been commissioned to write a tribute to the 29 West Coast miners who died in the Pike River mine disaster in 2010.

The second work is ‘If blood be the price,’ composed by Ross Harris to words by poet Vincent O’Sullivan commemorating the death of Fred Evans, a miner who was killed during the Waihī miner’s strike in 1912. This work was specially commissioned by the Wellington Brass Band Association.

The major work in the concert is the New Zealand premiere of ‘17 days’ by British composer James McCarthy, inspired by the dramatic rescue in 2012 of 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. This work has been widely acclaimed in Britain, and the chorus ‘Do dreams lie deeper‘ is now sung as a standalone concert piece.

The concert is in the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, at 7.30 p.m. on Saturday 10 May. For those outside Wellington, it is also being broadcast on the same day, starting at 8 p.m., on Radio New Zealand Concert.

A glam bunch of entries

Viewing art, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, 1958 (click for image credit)

Viewing art, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, 1958 (click for image credit)

GLAMs – galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Without their support and the expertise of their staff, the Te Ara Resource Team would not be able to bring you the wide range of images, film and sound files that we do.

This April Te Ara is launching three entries that are very dear to our hearts:

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten Museums – that entry will be launched later in the year.

Since the beginning of the Te Ara project, we’ve had the support of museums, galleries, libraries and archives throughout New Zealand and all over the world. We would like to acknowledge their support and highlight a few things you might not have known about them.

  • Before the establishment of National Archives (now Archives New Zealand), government archives were stored all over Wellington city. When fire broke out in the Hope Gibbons building in 1952, numerous public records were destroyed or damaged.
  • Auckland City Libraries are home to the Sir George Grey special collections. Ranging in scope from illuminated medieval manuscripts to photographs, the initial collection was acquired by Sir George Grey, governor of New Zealand, and gifted to the country in 1887.
  • The National Art Gallery building in Wellington was requisitioned by the air force during the Second World War. The paintings were stored in Hastings for the duration of the war. They were returned to the gallery in 1949.

We would also like to acknowledge just some of the repositories that we work with every day. There are too many to list them all, but here are just a few:

Archives New Zealand, which supplies us with newsreels like this; Radio New Zealand Sound Archives, who are keepers of songs like this, the New Zealand Film Archive, which has supplied us with many films for the upcoming entries in our Creative and Intellectual Life theme, and of course TVNZ Television Archive.

We also source material from specialist archives, like the Christchurch Anglican Diocesan Archives, the Society of Mary Archives and the Presbyterian Archive. Banks like BNZ and Westpac have their own archives and museums. Crown research institutes like GNS Science and Landcare Research also have libraries and archives.

Regional libraries and archives have always shown us a great deal of support, especially when we were working on our Places entries. We would particularly like to thank the Wairarapa Archive, Palmerston North Library, Hastings Library and Tauranga Library.

Te Ara’s resource researchers and writers regularly visit the Alexander Turnbull Library and use the collections of research libraries like the Hocken Library and Macmillan Brown Library.

We also source artworks and archives from galleries in the four main centres, as well as regional galleries like Timaru’s Aigantighe Art Gallery.

It is always a pleasure to showcase the collections of New Zealand galleries, libraries and archives on Te Ara. We hope that you enjoy the images, films and sound files in these new entries and join us in thanking all the librarians, archivists, curators, technicians and collection managers who make these resources available.

Les Cleveland: a genuinely good bloke, and historian too

Christmas Eve 1959, photograph by the multi-talented Les Cleveland

Christmas Eve 1959, photograph by the multi-talented Les Cleveland

‘Journalist, editor, photographer, mountaineer, music historian, and academic’ – so reads the description of Les Cleveland on the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection website. To this we might add ‘musician, author, war veteran and genuinely good Kiwi bloke’. Les was one of those New Zealanders who was an impressively multi-faceted versatile person. In a small society we need talented people who can fill many roles, and Les did so with aplomb.

He was also extraordinarily modest, which is perhaps why, although he died at the end of January this year, the media, from newspapers to blogs, have allowed his passing to happen with barely a mention that I can find. Characteristically, he wanted no funeral and no fuss. But we can’t let the old bastard slip away without a brief tribute.

I can’t pretend to have known Les well; but, as I suspect did many others, I discovered the range of his talents by degrees. I first came across him when I was researching the culture of New Zealand soldiers at war. I wanted to get behind the fine rhetoric and the smug claims about our wonderful gentlemen diggers to try to uncover the attitudes of the men themselves. Someone put me onto a book, The songs we sang, a collection of war songs from New Zealand soldiers in the Second World War. They were earthy and direct, at times smutty, and I felt I was getting closer to the men. I also discovered an LP (there were in fact two) on which the author of the book, one Les Cleveland, had recorded some of these ditties.

To my joy, I then discovered that the very same author and songster was a lecturer in the Political Science department of Victoria University of Wellington, where I too was teaching. This was a piece of luck, because at the time I was teaching a university extension course on Kiwi men. I was always keen to have visiting speakers on the course who could speak from personal experience. Ken Gray used to come along and tell us what it was like in the All Black scrum and on the back seat of their bus. So, I invited Les to come along and talk about the ‘real’ attitudes Kiwi soldiers held towards the war. He was riveting and he showed, often with fruity examples, how soldiers found an outlet for their anti-authoritarian attitudes in the songs they sang and the poetry they recited. He spoke with a down-to-earth directness and an honesty that was instantly appealing.

Intrigued by his ideas, I did some more digging and discovered that he had actually written up these ideas in an internationally published article, and that, in addition to his collection of war songs, he had compiled an anthology of Second World War poetry. Nor was this all. I found that this academic work included pieces about pressure groups and newspapers in New Zealand (which was hardly surprising given as I have subsequently discovered that he was once a reporter for Truth). He had also extended his interest in folk songs by putting out another collection, the Great New Zealand songbook, and had even devised an opera based on gold miners’ songs.

Then I discovered another aspect of Les Cleveland’s creative output. I came across a new book edited by Athol McCredie and Janet Bayly called Witness to change. It focused on the work of three documentary photographers of the 1940s and 1950s: John Pascoe, Ans Westra (both of whom I knew about) and Les Cleveland. I had no idea that he belonged in such august company, but he certainly did. His photographs documented both the passing world of the West Coast – publicans, sawmillers, bushmen, the Kumara races – and also some of the old wooden buildings of the coast and of Wellington. They were an invaluable record of a fading past. I managed to track down his book of images from the West Coast, Silent land.

Witness to change provided some recognition of his contribution as a photographer, and later he had a solo exhibition at the City Gallery Wellington. But it is interesting that even now the web database of New Zealand artists has a page on Les Cleveland, but the only content is his date of birth – 1921 – not even his place of birth, which I think, despite his fierce Kiwi nationalism, was Australia.

So, this multi-talented modest man and good bloke needs remembering. Thank you, Les, for recording with such love the tough hard-bitten world of ordinary New Zealanders. Despite your best endeavours to slip off this earth without notice, your contribution to preserving our history will not be forgotten.