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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


25 new stories of trailblazing New Zealand women

Palaeontologist Joan Wiffen, transgender icon Carmen Rupe, politician Tirikatene-Sullivan, and writer Margaret Mahy, some of the women whose life stories have been published on the DNZB.


This week we’re publishing 25 new biographies of women in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB), to celebrate the 125th anniversary of women winning the right to vote:

Anderson, Amy Mona writer, rural memoirist

Bailey, Rona political activist, dancer, teacher

Bartlett, Patricia Maureen social morality campaigner

Blumhardt, Vera Doreen educator, potter, arts administrator

Clay, Marie Mildred teacher, developmental and child psychologist, literacy researcher

Donley, Joan Elsa midwife, home-birth advocate

Edmond, Lauris Dorothy poet and writer

Locke, Elsie Violet activist, writer

Mahy, Margaret May children’s and young adult writer

Paul, Joanna Margaret visual artist and writer

Raymond, Cherry broadcaster, journalist, feminist

Rehu-Murchie, Erihapeti researcher, health, human rights, and environmental campaigner

Rickard, Tuaiwa Hautai Kereopa (Eva) woman of mana, community leader

Rimmer, Eva Marion paraplegic athlete, disability rights advocate

Rupe, Carmen Tione drag queen entertainer, sex worker, entrepreneur

Sturm, Jacqueline Cecilia short-story writer and poet

Szászy, Miraka woman of mana, educator, leader

Te Atairangikaahu Korokī Te Rata Mahuta Tāwhiao Pōtatau Te Wherowhero Māori queen

Tinsley, Beatrice Muriel astronomer

Tirikatene-Sullivan, Tini Whetu Marama politician, fashion icon, wahine toa

TuiSamoa, Agnes Rosa social worker, community advocate

Wallace, Georgina Catriona Pamela Augusta judge, lawyer

Wark, Elizabeth Cecilia (Betty) community worker

Whitehouse, Davina actor, producer, broadcaster

Wiffen, Joan palaeontologist

These women came to prominence in their fields between the 1940s and the 1970s. It would be impossible for any group of 25 women to capture the complexity and variety of the lives of New Zealand women, but we hope this group will reflect some of the diversity of experience. It would be hard to find two more contrasting lives than those of social morality campaigner Patricia Bartlett and transgender sex worker and nightclub entrepreneur Carmen Rupe. The rest run the gamut from writers to judges, community workers to scientists, broadcasters to athletes, activists to actors.

The new entries have been written by subject experts, including Barbara Brookes, Sandra Coney, Tessa Duder, Margaret Tennant, Rebecca Priestley, Roger Robinson and Jill Trevelyan. The entries, which collectively amount to more than 50,000 words, include over 200 images, videos, and sound recordings, many drawn from private collections and not previously published. We plan to have te reo Māori translations of the entries relating to Māori subjects available in early 2019.

This is the first substantial group of new biographies to be released since 2011, as I discussed in my November 2017 Signposts blog. It is the beginning of an ongoing publication programme, in which we aim to publish at least 20 new biographies each year on an ongoing basis.

This week we are also launching a new-look DNZB homepage, reflecting the DNZB’s renewed vigour and focus on the future. We hope you enjoy it, and look forward to sharing many more New Zealand lives with you in the years to come.

Celebrating seventy years of symphony

Happy birthday to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

On the morning of 24 August 2016, to the sound of a karanga, 23 NZSO players, crew and staff arrived at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O te Waiū O Ngāti Porou, in Ruatoria – a township of 750 people near the East Cape.

They were greeted with a whole-school haka and a formal welcome; they shared kai and were shown a traditional kite made by the students; they performed to the school, parents and local community members, including some patients from the local hospital – none of whom had ever seen a live orchestra. As the players walked back to their bus, they were chased by half a dozen small boys who saw them off with an impromptu but enthusiastic haka of their own.

It is not an experience any other national orchestra in the world could claim.

It had been a long journey, in both kilometres and years. The NZSO is New Zealand’s oldest national professional performing arts organisation, and Monday 6 March 2017 is the 70th anniversary of its first public concert. It is celebrating with a free concert in Wellington – and among the audience will be a few who still remember that first appearance seven decades ago.

The National Orchestra gave its first performance at the Town Hall in Wellington on 6 March 1947. The programme, shown here, included a variety of mostly 19th-century works. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, ref: Eph-B-MUSIC-NO-1947-01-title

The National Orchestra gave its first performance at the Town Hall in Wellington on 6 March 1947. The programme, shown here, included a variety of mostly 19th-century works. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, ref: Eph-B-MUSIC-NO-1947-01-title

Our national orchestra was established in the wake of the Second World War, at a time when people and politicians were finally free to turn their attention to future-building. The new optimism was reflected at the orchestra’s launch on 24 October 1946 when Governor-General Sir Bernard Freyberg, V.C., was introduced as ‘launching a peace offensive in the interests of music’.

It was a humble beginning. The original band consisted of talented but often self-taught musicians, many of whom had never heard a symphony orchestra. They were led by Vincent Aspey, a miner’s son from Huntly who had fortuitously persuaded his mother to buy him a violin he saw in a second-hand shop when he was nine years old.

Seventy years later, the NZSO is an orchestra of international standing. It has played with the likes of Vladimir Ashkenazy, David Oistrakh, Renée Fleming and Sting, and been conducted by Igor Stravinsky. It has recorded extensively for Naxos and EMI and in 2016 was nominated for a Grammy alongside top international orchestras.

The NZSO has performed in the Albert Hall, the Musikverein, the Concertgebouw and the ‘Egg’ in Beijing. Its European tour of 2010 earned it standing ovations and rave reviews – The Neue Luzerner Zeitung called it a ‘sensation’.

Most importantly, through seven decades the NZSO has tirelessly toured up and down the country, bringing world-class music to our local concert-halls.

Not that it hasn’t had its critics, like one ‘disgusted mother of thirteen’ who wrote to her local paper in 1954 calling the orchestra an ‘expensive luxury’ (quoted in Joy Tonks’ The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra: The first forty years). Former Prime Minister David Lange claimed not to see the point of helping fund an orchestra when he preferred Dire Straits.

It’s a question that will surface from time to time, especially in a world where you can carry the Berlin Philharmonic around in your pocket. Depending on where your values lie, there are many answers that come to mind.

One of the most compelling was articulated by an audience member when the NZSO performed Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in Christchurch a few months after the February earthquake. In an email to the NZSO in August 2011, the audience member commented:

Just wanted to let you know that I have come home from the Leningrad performance in Christchurch absolutely uplifted, it was a glorious experience, standing ovation… I felt like I turned the corner and could put some of the difficult last months behind me.

The immediacy and communal vibe of a concert have the power to affect people in a way nothing else can. As the digital age advances, promoters all over the world are finding that consumers want experiences more than products. A live NZSO concert is to a recording what a rock concert is to iTunes – it cannot be replaced.

For us here in New Zealand it’s a long trip to hear a world-class orchestra overseas. The NZSO enables people to have this experience who otherwise could not – as demonstrated by its long but memorable journey to Ruatoria, and dozens of dedicated concerts for small communities, hospitals, schools or rest-homes each year.

The NZSO seeks to provide something for everyone in New Zealand’s diverse communities. 2017 has begun with a tour with New Zealand’s Modern Māori Quartet, and will finish with the annual ritual of The Messiah, an integral part of people’s pre-Christmas celebrations. In between, the NZSO will perform community concerts in Porirua, Palmerston North, Manukau and Takapuna; a Spring Pops tour of seven cities called ‘Pianomania’, with Freddy Kempf; and Lands of Hope and Glory, a (mostly) British programme to coincide with the Lions rugby tour – in addition to its more serious concerts of classic and contemporary repertoire.

Eve de Castro-Robinson was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) to compose The glittering hosts of heaven. It celebrates Matariki, the Māori New Year, and was premiered at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, on 14 June 2013.

Eve de Castro-Robinson was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) to compose The glittering hosts of heaven. It celebrates Matariki, the Māori New Year, and was premiered at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, on 14 June 2013.

The unique way in which the NZSO can serve was demonstrated 10 days after the September 2010 earthquake, when it made its scheduled concert free for residents, hoping the gesture would lift their spirits. Like the Wellington Town Hall in 1947, the Christchurch Town Hall was full to capacity.

In that historic first concert, the audiences knew something very special had been created. Their optimism has been proved well-founded over seven decades. At a time when nationalistic rhetoric is gaining momentum internationally, New Zealand’s musical ‘peace offensive’ may be more important than ever – speaking the common language of music and reminding us what humanity is capable of at its best.

The NZSO and everyone who has been touched by it – whether a senior citizen in Auckland or a school student from Ruatoria – have every reason to celebrate what NZSO Chief Executive Chris Blake has termed a ‘national treasure’.

We wish you all at the NZSO a very happy 70th birthday!

What’s new on Te Ara

It’s been six months since we established the Research & Publishing Group here at Manatū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and started taking a coordinated approach to maintaining all our websites. Te Ara is a very important part of the group’s work and we’ve been putting in place processes to ensure its ongoing development and maintenance.

Some of the areas of work over the last few months have included establishing a system for internal champions of each theme – they’ll be keeping an eye on content, helping respond to queries, evaluating and proposing updates and developing relationships with authors and experts. We’ve updated Peoples stories and the Workplace safety and accident compensation entry, reviewed the Shipping, Railways and Public Transport stories, and kept up with regularly changing subjects such as sports and awards. We’re also working through the final te reo translations of Māori content so we can publish these over the coming months, and continuing to upgrade image and multimedia content to replace Flash-based content with fully accessible and mobile-friendly content (e.g., videos and interactives).

Over the next few months we’ll turn our attention to content and technical updates, including reviewing and updating census and other statistics in the Social Connections theme and reviewing the Treaty settlements and Iwi entries. Updates are also under way for the Penguins and Shags stories following new discoveries about their taxonomies, and the Coins and banknotes entry to reflect new banknote designs. Very soon we’ll be testing and releasing a new mobile responsive design along with interface enhancements to improve story navigation, and developing a new approach to keywording.

This work is part of a wider programme that includes a big contribution to the First World War commemorations, with major work appearing in NZHistory’s First World War section, as well as new work on the Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories project. It’s keeping us busy and provides opportunities to update Te Ara in tandem with other websites. Our updates to information about flags, for example, includes a short update on Te Ara linked to a longer piece on NZHistory. More significantly, developing the Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories project gives us the opportunity to review all our existing Treaty and Iwi material and ensure optimum content for our readers.

How many New Zealanders served on Gallipoli?

Gallipoli armistice

Gallipoli armistice

In 2013, I wrote that the long-accepted figure for the number of New Zealand soldiers who fought at Gallipoli – 8,556 – had come about by historical accident. Noting that historians now doubted this figure, I expressed the hope that research prompted by the centenary of the First World War would shed more light on the matter. That research has since been undertaken, and we now know that twice the ‘traditional’ number of New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli. This new figure of about 17,000 lines up well with the fact that about 20,000 troops left New Zealand in time to have potentially been sent to the Dardanelles.

The recent research project overseen by New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry for Culture & Heritage historians investigated three sets of evidence. First, it is now clear that nearly 11,000 men of the Main Body and the first three reinforcement drafts had been thrown into the battle by the end of May 1915. Secondly, Matthew Buck’s research into personnel files – every individual First World War serviceman’s record is now available digitally on Archives New Zealand’s Archway website – shows that more than three-quarters of the 6th Reinforcements, the draft least likely to have reached Gallipoli, in fact did so in October/November 1915.

The clincher came when handwritten notebooks kept by the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) of the New Zealand and Australian Division for the intervening period, June to August 1915, were unearthed by John Crawford in Archives New Zealand. These showed that nearly two-thirds of the New Zealanders who landed on the peninsula in this period were new arrivals, while fewer than one-fifth were men returning from hospital.

The April/May and October/November evidence comes with a margin of error, but the DAAG data is robust. It is now clear that between 16,000 and 18,000 New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli during 1915. Twice as many New Zealand families as previously thought have a direct link to the Dardanelles. These findings give Gallipoli an even more secure place in our national mythology.


For more information about the new research see New research dramatically increases the numbers of New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli, or find out how to research your connection to Gallipoli with Researching New Zealand soldiers on NZHistory.