Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Who's censoring Peter Wells?

In a blog post and an interview with the Herald Peter Wells has accused Creative New Zealand of interfering with his newest book, Journey to a Hanging. The book tells the story of Kereopa Te Rau, a member of Te Arawa hapu Ngati Rangiwewehi and evangelist for the syncretic, anti-colonial Pai Marire religion. After members of his family were killed by British troops during the Waikato War, Te Rau went to the Bay of Plenty, where he instigated and oversaw the slaying and mutilation of Carl Volkner, a missionary who had been spying on Maori rebels for the colonial government in Auckland. Volkner's death outraged Pakeha, and when Te Rau fled from the Bay of Plenty into the Urewera heartland of the Tuhoe people colonial troops soon followed him. Te Rau was eventually apprehended, tried and executed.

Wells says that, in exchange for funding him, Creative New Zealand insisted that he talk with the descendants of Kereopa Te Rau about his plans for Journey to a Hanging. He complains that he was made to feel ‘paranoid about getting the facts right’. He thinks that Creative New Zealand's keenness for him to consult with Ngati Rangiwewehi was a symptom of the 'political correctness' that afflicts New Zealand. This 'political correctness' has, according to Wells, made New Zealand's colonial history a 'taboo' area for researchers and writers. 

I think that anyone who is writing non-fiction should be paranoid about getting their facts right, and anyone writing about one of the most notorious series of events in New Zealand’s nineteenth century history should be particularly paranoid.

I'm puzzled that Wells thinks Creative New Zealand was somehow burdening him when it tried to get him to talk with the descendants of the man whose life he was researching. I can’t think why any researcher wouldn’t want to acquaint him or herself with the oral traditions surrounding the subject he or she was researching.

I read Journey to a Hanging a few months ago, and I remember being surprised when Wells declared that he hadn’t looked at any of the Maori accounts, either in oral tradition or on paper, of the slaying of Volkner, the hunt for Kereopa Te Rau, and the trial and execution of Te Rau. I was even more bemused when he followed this confession with some knockabout criticisims of the supposed political correctness of unnamed historians who had studied the killing of Volkner and the trial of Kereopa Te Rau. How can you decide these interpretations are biased, I thought, when you haven’t looked at half of the story yourself?

I’ve just written a short book about another terrible series of nineteenth century events, the slave raids that some New Zealanders and Tasmanians made on Tonga in 1863. I researched the book in the archives of New Zealand, looking at old newspapers and at missionaries’ letters and diplomatic despatches – but I also went to Tonga and sat around kava circles and heard what the descendants of the slave raids had to say, and looked at old Tongan publications. It’s not too hard to do all this, even if you don’t have command of a Polynesian language. Most Tongans, let alone Maori, speak English, and many oral traditions have been translated into English. Dictionaries are wonderful things.

I've blogged in more detail about Kereopa Te Rau and the killing of Carl Volkner here and here.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Talking the walk

Paul Janman and I have hobbled into the Auckland studio of Radio New Zealand and talked to Lynn Freeman about our walk up the Great South Road. A big malo aupito to everyone who helped Paul raise six grand for the documentary film he's making about the road. I'll be writing up our walk over the summer, and publishing it next year as part of a book called Fragments of the Great South Road.

Paul made this montage (click to expand it) out of his portraits of the various people - some of them old friends, some of them new friends - that we met on the road.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The end of the road

Paul Janman and I have finished our walk up the Great South Road from the King Country to central Auckland. Thanks to everyone who walked and talked with us along the way (that's Ted Jenner, who along with Ben Work helped us make the last few kilometres, in the photograph). Paul's put a new clip up here that uses footage shot during our trek.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Apologies for the lack of posts this week: I've been on the road with Paul Janman and, intermittently, Ian Powell. Paul and I have been interviewed about our journey by TV 3 and Radio New Zealand. We're posting regular updates on our facebook page.

Now I'd better get back to that wind-swept, traffic-strewn berm...

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Road shots

People are generous. Paul Janman has asked for some money to help him complete his film about the Great South Road, and has already received fifteen percent of what he wants. Tomorrow Paul and I begin our two hundred kilometre walk from the Puniu River up the Great South Road to Auckland. I had imagined that folks would want to see our sweat and blisters, in humiliating photographs shared through social media, before offering any donations. I've been preparing for the walk by looking through some images we've collected of the road. 
Otahuhu: the bronze rider advances, as slowly and determinedly as Zeno's tortoise, up the Great South Road to his long-razed stables. 
RAK Mason's Great South Road, 1920: berries from the family orchard and Latin conjugations have the same taste of dust. 
Looking into the enemy Tawhiao's country, through the Devil's Nest and Pokeno, where the convoys parked. All afternoon the trees stood straight and still, like sentries; in the twilight they lurched like ambushers.
All religions are available to the road's pilgrims. In Otahuhu we were Wesleyan; in Papatotoe we bowed before a sightless golden Buddha; in Manukau we hummed Chaldean hymns. 
Ratana's vision: a ladder reaching from a convertible all the way to heaven. He walked north. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, December 04, 2015

David Garrett's dystopia

In a guest post at Kiwiblog, the website of National Party pollster David Farrar, former Act Party MP David Garrett has called for the government to immediately and permanently ban all Muslims from immigrating to New Zealand. 
Garrett's post has caused a lot of comment. Some of his critics have pointed out the symbolic harm that would be done to New Zealand democracy if the state were to begin to discriminate against potential citizens on the basis of their religion. But Garrett's proposals would lead to actual as well as symbolic damage to democracy and civil liberties. 
Let’s imagine that Garrett gets his way, and that a law banning Muslim migrants from this country is passed. If such a law is to function effectively, then systems will have to be set up not only to exclude from New Zealand self-declared Muslims, but to make sure that Muslims don't slip into this country by disguising their faith.
Let’s say that John Smith from Britain decides to immigrate to New Zealand, is accepted, because he has skills and money and a job waiting for him, and ticks the No box when confronted with an official form that said ‘Are you a Muslim?’ But Smith actually converted to Islam a few years ago in Britain. He didn't admit to his faith because he wants to live in New Zealand, and because he believes that his ideas about God and the universe are none of the business of immigration officials. After he arrives in Auckland Smith begins to attend a local mosque. He also listens to Sufi music at home, enrols in an online course in Arabic, and buys his meat from a halal butcher.
If the ban on Muslim migrants is to have any force, then people like Smith will have to be identified, detained, and deported. In order to identify people like Smith, the police or some other arm of the state will have to monitor the Muslim community. CCTV cameras will presumably have to be set up outside mosques and halal butchers. Citizens living near new migrants would presumably be encouraged to listen carefully for the sounds of Sufi chanting, or the Muslim call to prayer. Even Muslims who are legitimately living in New Zealand will routinely have their privacy and other civil liberties curtailed. And all of this effort will be devoted to monitoring the thoughts in people’s heads.
David Garrett has previously advocated the state-sponsored sterilisation of New Zealanders convicted of crimes against children. His latest proposal is just as dystopian.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Walking the book

Fragments of the Great South Road from Public Films on Vimeo.

My feet are feeling apprehensive. Next Sunday Paul Janman and I are driving to the Puniu River, on the border of the King Country, and beginning a walk up the Great South Road to Auckland that should take us ten days and cover two hundred kilometres. I'll be using the walk to try to finish my book about the road; Paul will be trying to progress his film.

Here's the press release we're sending out today:

The Great South Road has seldom been considered as more than a mere thoroughfare by most New Zealanders. Filmmaker Paul Janman and scholar and writer Scott Hamilton want to change that. 

Between 6th and 16th of December, Hamilton and Janman will walk about two hundred kilometres from the edge of the King Country at the Puniu River up the Great South Road to Central Auckland. The Great South Road was built to bring a British army into the Maori Waikato Kingdom, and Scott and Paul want to confront some of the layers of myth and history that have settled on the route. They will show how the war for the Waikato still resonates in the twenty-first century, and how the Great South Road is still a route through which changes and conflicts flow.

Along the way the walkers will be joined by locals, historians and artists who will share stories of their lives and their local landscapes. The public can track and even join the walkers via an embedded google map and regular updates on facebook. Cinematographer Ian Powell will record and process additional analogue footage and film editor Corbin Beitelstein will make video updates of Scott and Paul's discoveries.

Funding for a book has already been pledged to Scott Hamilton for this project by Auckland's Mayor Len Brown. This trip will also give Hamilton an opportunity to finish his research and gather still images for the book. 

Now I've got to try to wear in the pair of shoes I just bought.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]