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Book Review: Filming the Colonial Past – The New Zealand Wars on Screen, by Annabel Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_filming_the_colonial_pastThe New Zealand Wars have given filmmakers from early days a rich source of material.  One of the earliest filmmakers was Rudall Haward, who initially made silent movies.  He made 3 films featuring the New Zealand Wars. They were The Lady of the Cave 1922, Rewi’s Last Stand 1925 and The Te Kooti Trail in 1927. A remake of Rewi’s Last Stand in 1940 brought this film into the era of sound.

Rudall Hayward’s family emigrated to New Zealand when he was 4 years old from England. His family came from a line of entertainers, touring with variety shows that included short films, sometimes locally made ones. Early films often depicting Māori were Europeans with their bodies dyed brown – shocking, and not at all convincing. Hayward’s instinctive showmanship combined with genuine interest in making films about Aotearoa generated community involvement in his projects.  They also drew in local townspeople and iwi.

This involvement with communities and local iwi has continued throughout the decades in New Zealand. It has become a very important part of telling of the history of how the relationship between Pākehā and Māori has developed through the centuries. The history of our own country is important and needs to be told – filmmaking is an excellent way of doing this.

Politics has also played an important part in how the stories are told, including the amount of money available to be able to portray and ensure these stories can be told.  Television played an important part in this. Television drama series The Governor and independent film Utu, enlisted Māori advisors Don Selwyn, Merata Mita and Joe Malcolm.

Full length feature films River Queen and Rain of the Children were made with mixed reception by critics and the public alike. Many saw River Queen as a bit of a disaster, with delays in production because of lack of money and one of the main actors becoming ill.

Over the years Māori have become part of the mainstream acting community but in early years of colonial film-making, they were not encouraged to apply for parts. They were not seen as having the ability to portray what the writers and directors saw as qualities which would be accepted by the general viewing public.

As well as a change in the number of Māori actors, there has been an uptick in the number of Māori directors, with a number of well known and respected Māori film directors being part of film making history worldwide. Taika Waita and Lee Tamahori are two that a number of us have heard about – especially if you are a movie goer. Taika’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople in 2016 gives a sideways glance to The Te Kooti Trail as the young hero Ricky (Julian Dennison) tells Bella (Rima Te Waita), ‘I’m a Maori warrior and that bottle over there is a British Soldier, I’m defending my wives’.

Lee Tamahori has directed a number of very successful films here and overseas but the one most of us remember was Once were Warriors, which shocked a lot of New Zealand audiences who found the subject matter rather confronting.  When he moved to Hollywood, he worked on films Die Another Day (the James Bond film from 2002) and The Edge. 

The cost of producing historical drama have continued to rise but new technologies have reduced the cost of screen stories in other genres. Most films are now shot digitally, drones have replaced helicopters, and editing has become digitised.

One area of change that most of us of the older generation have noticed is that technology has replaced travel guide books. Travellers who want to engage with the past may choose a digital guide, the Waikato War Driving Tour app, a history of the wars created by the Māori Heritage team of Heritage New Zealand in 2013. More recently, The Ministry for Culture and Heritage have developed an app – The 1846 War in Wellington. They have connected sites, allowing a traveller to follow the paths of the wars while listening to the words of people who fought at each place.

This book is certainly a comprehensive and detailed look at film-making in New Zealand. While I found it a bit heavy going at times, it was overall a fascinating and enjoyable read.  Who would it appeal to?  Anybody really with a fascination with film and TV documentary and drama productions.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Filming the Colonial Past – The New Zealand Wars on Screen
by Annabel Cooper
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN: 9781988531083

Book Review: Frensham, a New Zealand Garden, by Margaret Long and Juliet Nicholas

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_frensham_a_new_zealand_garden.jpgFrensham is a large garden just over a hectare, on the southern edge of Christchurch city. It was developed by Margaret Long and her husband Ron when they moved to the property twenty-seven years ago, the seven-year old-house having little garden around it at that stage. It has been a labour of love for Margaret which she shares in a stunning book as she takes the reader on a tour of the garden through the seasons.

In the prologue Long says ‘I embarked enthusiastically on my gardening journey, creating spaces and purchasing the many and varied plants then available from nurseries.’

Her husband Ron assisted with making structures to enhance the plantings and the name evolved from the rose Frensham, as it had been her father’s favourite rose.

‘The bush fires of 2017 … were the catalyst for Margaret’s wish to have a photographic record of the garden. The idea of writing the book about the creation of the garden…. was reconsidered now, and she realized that it would be the photographs alongside her words which would best tell the story,’ says Marilyn McRae in her introduction.

Frensham is an eye-catching hard cover book, with the author focusing on the four seasons and highlighting trees and plants which are a real feature during a particular month. Complimenting the text are numerous quality photographs by Christchurch photographer Juliet Nicholas. She has ‘lived’ with Frensham for an entire year, photographing its changes through the months and the seasons, and providing a unique insight into the growth and development of the garden.

The Long’s have shared their garden to visitors for twenty five years, being a wonderful venue for fundraising events at any time of the year. I was fortunate to visit Frensham earlier this year with a school fundraising tour of a number of neighbouring gardens, and as I look through the pages of the book I can relive my visit. It is a glorious book which can be picked up time and time again, and will be a handy reference to new gardeners as Margaret’s advice on planting and pruning is invaluable. She has accumulated a wealth of knowledge of plants and gardens over the years both here and overseas which is evident throughout the pages of this informative book with the inclusion of botanical plant names.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Frensham, A New Zealand Garden
by Margaret Long and Juliet Nicholas
Published by Quentin Wilson Publishing
ISBN 9780995105324

 

 

 

Book Review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019, edited by Jack Ross

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_poetry_new_zealand_yearbook_19.jpgI look forward to The Poetry New Zealand Yearbook each year, because it’s so wonderfully filled with all things poetry. It’s also a great way to see the current landscape of New Zealand poetry, with familiar names making an appearance alongside newer poets.

The Featured Poet for this year’s volume is Stephanie Christie. Her poetry carries a strong voice that is raw and metallic. This voice runs through stanzas and lines that are proud to be unconventional; some lines run onwards while other lines are chopped, and then the words within those lines can be chopped again. The chopped lines and great pauses give the sense that the characters in Christie’s poems are languishing, while the use of sentences that run on through multiple lines brings a feeling of desperation. What forms is a unique mix that captures a dystopia-like setting. These are not safe places. In Microchasm,

Physical things leak aphorisms. Wash the hair again
for the second time this week
and all the weeks till we’re dead.

There is also the beautiful addition of an interview with Stephanie Christie, and this is where Christie also talks about how she crafts her art. In answer to a question about her writing style, she comments that she’s ‘magnetised towards words that are impossible to say, where the meaning multiples and gets out of control… mimicking the true ambivalence of the sure statements we shelter behind’. Considering the multiplicities in Christie’s work and how they form can also act as a writing prompt, a sparking point to inspire any poet to experiment with their own work. Christie wonderfully states that her creative practice includes ‘collaborations, poetry in theatre, sound poetry, visual poetry, songs… On a good day, I have no idea what I’m doing and am 100 percent committed to doing it. This is exactly where I need to be.”’

The winners of the Poetry Prize for 2019 are especially enthralling. Wes Lee’s first prize poem The Things She Remembers #1 is a swoon of images that shout and burst. Lee’s images also bring a sense that things are not quite right without actively stating it. She writes from moments that feel a little discomforting—

… A stranger sitting behind me
at the cinema leaning forward and
tugging a lock of my hair /

—to ones that are more stomach wrenching—

The patient who screamed like
a bird / her mouth wide as the abyss /

The New Poems are abound with strong pieces as well. Such as essa may ranapiri’s Gallows, which is full of sturdy images that are so clearly and satisfyingly described:

But you don’t seem to hear focused as you are on
trimming your fingernails. The plink of your ends hitting
the glass. And when I try to tell you in the morning
that the roof isn’t fixed; that I could see the streetlights
and blurred stars seep ghostly through the flimsy remains
of the ceiling, you just change the subject; put on your shoes and
leave through the open door.

I also appreciate the addition of reviews and essays in Poetry New Zealand, since creating discussions about poetry is also a rewarding process that brings new ideas to life. As well as being an important space for the work of New Zealand poets, this new instalment will inspire writers to continue writing and to introduce new methods in their craft.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019
edited by Jack Ross
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995102965

Book Review: A Dream of Italy, by Nicky Pellegrino

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_a_dream_of_italyBestselling author Nicky Pellegrino’s latest novel, A Dream of Italy, is a celebration of some of the most delightful things in life: travel, food, and love.

The book addresses the present-day phenomenon of small towns facing abandonment in the “Old World” of Europe. Salvio Valentini, mayor of Montenello in southern Italy, is determined to revive his “ghost town.” He comes up with a simple, albeit ambitious, plan: sell the houses of Montenello for one euro. In renovating and inhabiting these abodes, the prospective buyers would be contributing to the restoration of the entire mountain town and its future. This project is not the only big issue in the life of the young mayor. His mother Donna Carmela is now urging him to marry and have children, desiring to be nonna (“grandma”) to the future generation of Montenello.

The emails start pouring in. In London, the illustrator Mimi Wilson is looking for a change. Recently divorced, and with her sons now at university, she comes across a newspaper article about Salvio’s proposal for Montenello. The same advertisement reaches Edward Roberts in Sydney, who loves all things Italian, while his Italian partner, Gino Mancuso, does not. For the young relief teacher Elise Hartman, who lives with her partner Richard Lynch in Bristol, Montenello might just be the chance to get on the property ladder. All three look towards this curious, historical town for a fresh, new start.

Pellegrino’s storytelling is rich and tasteful. She weaves together the details of Italian life through the eyes of locals and foreigners, describing the unique gastronomic offerings of the local trattoria, a traditional Italian eatery. Through its narration, setting, and characterisation, the novel also reflects on the contemporary tensions between tradition and modernity.

Pellegrino’s reverie of a novel would appeal to anyone who has read, or even watched the cinematic adaptations of, Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Pellegrino’s A Dream of Italy marries both foreign and familiar experiences. Italy is and always will be a dreamscape on tourist brochures and travel websites. For others it can be a true home.

Reviewed by Azariah Alfante

A Dream of Italy
by Nicky Pellegrino
Published by Hachette NZ
ISBN ‎9781409178989

Book Review: Finding Frances Hodgkins, by Mary Kisler

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_finding_frances_hodgkins.jpgThis year marks 150 years since the birth of artist, Frances Hodgkins. Mary Kisler, Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art at Auckland Art Gallery has written a remarkable book on the life and works of Frances Hodgkins. Her decision to travel to Europe and visit as many of the places where Hodgkins painted has resulted in a travelogue of Hodgkins’ work and the landscapes that inspired her. Kisler also uses Hodgkins’ diary to give us an understanding of the people and events which were so important in the paintings.

Arriving in 1901, Hodgkins was to spend most of her life in Europe with only two brief visits home to New Zealand. During these years she moved on average six times each year, only pausing during the wars when she could not visit her favourite places in France, North Africa, Holland and Spain. She enjoyed the company of others on her travels and accepted offers from friends and acquaintances to stay in new places. Kisler makes wonderful use of Hodgkins’ diaries to describe not only the landscapes, but also the social events that influence her life. Armed with photographs of Hodgkins’ paintings and her diaries and letters, it was a mammoth task to try to match each work to a specific place. While sometimes, this is achieved, a growing awareness of Hodgkins’ clever manipulation of form and space, helps Kisler to understand the way works are often composed of various elements rearranged by the artist.

I was impressed by the gentle patience of Kisler, who also chose companions for her travels. Language, lack of signage and the ravages of time, made her task daunting. The colour plates that sit alongside the text help the reader to follow the development of Hodgkins’ art. Her fascination with shapes and light, and the way she reduces a scene to blocks of colour, helped me better appreciate her work.

Here is a tribute to a truly great New Zealand artist. By melding her diaries, artworks and the actual landscape together, we arrive in awe of the output and quality of work that Frances Hodgkins produced. This was her life, and she worked hard at her craft, which was not always easy. My hope is that the touring exhibition of her work allows us a chance to truly stand in wonder at her works.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Finding Frances Hodgkins
by Mary Kisler
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995102972

AWF19: Vincent O’Malley gives the Michael King Memorial Lecture

The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa will be back in stock nationwide this week.

pp_vincent_omalley.jpgFriday lunchtime at the 2019 Auckland Writers’ Festival and the ASB Theatre was packed out to hear Vincent O’Malley talk about The New Zealand Wars. He challenged us from the very start. We are still a nation in shock from the Christchurch massacre, so you could feel the attention of the audience focus on the speaker when he said this wasn’t an unprecedented event. The change of mood was tangible. Māori lost their lives in a similar way. O’Malley’s message is a simple one. We need to grow up. We need to act like grown-ups and own our history, warts and all. In the past we have chosen to ignore the story, in the same way we tossed aside the Treaty of Waitangi for over a century. Now we must recognise the profound influence that The New Zealand Wars have had on us all.

O’Malley spoke eloquently for an hour, filling in the gaps in our knowledge, helping to educate his audience. Two of his recent books have been very influential in moving our understanding forwards, first the massive The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 in which he states that our defining conflict did not take place on the Western Front or at Gallipoli, but in the Waikato from 1863-64. A war of conquest and invasion by the Crown. His latest book, The New Zealand Wars: Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa, was launched just before the festival. At 270 pages against the almost 700 pages of the earlier book, this seeks to be a digestible guide, something that can be read and used in schools as a basic text book.

O’Malley’s talk was full of facts, many of them surprising. For example, two-thirds of the British army during the New Zealand Wars were Irish, and many became disillusioned with what they were doing. There were too many parallels with the treatment of Ireland. Many of the soldiers ended up marrying the Māori women from the iwi they had conquered. They had been fighting against people who had no standing army, people who were fighting for their lives and their lands.

In the 1850s there was a brief time of peace and prosperity. O’Malley reminded us that at that time Māori were driving the economy and the country’s exports. They were producing enough food to feed large cities like Auckland as well as themselves. It was in the 1860s that peace was shattered, war broke out in Taranaki and it appears that Governor Grey was determined to destroy the Kingitanga. ‘There was nothing noble about the massacres,’ O’Malley reminded us, and the execution of hundreds in Gisborne is ‘a stain on our history’.

We are still living with the consequences of that time of war today. Three million hectares of land were confiscated, and those confiscations were indiscriminate, with those who did not fight or sided with the crown also losing their land. 20% of Māori in Gisborne were killed, compared to the 5% of the population that were killed in the First World War.

O’Malley’s call to action is that we teach our own history in our schools and look after our battle sites. We must make sure our children know about this and we must get around the hang-ups that the Ministry of Education still has about the whole subject. Only by doing this will we break some of the intergenerational problems that have built up. We need to lobby both local and central government for more to be done. The sites that relate to our history are often neglected and hard to find. We need to make people aware and interested, create trails and history that we can follow on the ground.

The talk ended with rapturous applause for O’Malley and all he is trying to do.

Reviewed by Marcus Hobson

The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa
by Vincent O’Malley
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN: 9781988545998

Book Review: Zigzags and Leapfrogs, by Maris O’Rourke

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_zigzags_and_leapfrogsBorn on a small island in Scotland to a local girl and an Australian serviceman, Maris O’Rourke was raised in a working class, dysfunctional, often violent household, around the UK and Europe. She went on to become the secretary for education for New Zealand, the director of education at the World Bank, an international education consultant, and an author.

Her memoir Zigzags and Leapfrogs introduces the reader to her first grandchild and the excitement of being called Nan in the opening chapter, before taking a step back to Scotland and delving into her early years.

At aged nineteen Maris obtained a passport and set off to see the world, beginning with Canada, then Hawaii, and on to New Zealand, where she met her husband Philip.

Settling in the North Island the couple became involved in skiing on Mount Ruapehu and even after her children arrived, Maris spent many hours with them in the snow, as well as continuing to study and work.

The inclusion of poems, photographs, short stories and paper cuttings together with vignettes of her life make this a fascinating read as we come to understand how O’Rourke juggled her personal life with professional responsibilities.

In 2008 Maris attended a poetry course and introduced herself to the group saying, “Each year I like to do something completely different, something challenging, something risky that gives me what I call a frisson of fear….. I’m a complete novice about poetry-  so I’m here to learn.”

These thoughts are reflected throughout her memoir and I gained the impression O’Rourke has had a life well filled and well lived. She has skillfully written of her joys and disappointments but through this inspiring read, her determination and ambition shine through as she juggles motherhood, high powered jobs, as well as continually re-educating herself.

It is a good read, flows well and her humour helps to lighten some of the darker patches in her life, so this book is a great example how perseverance brings success and would be of value to people at all stages of their life .

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Zigzags and Leapfrogs
by Maris O’Rourke
David Ling Publishing
ISBN 9781927305515