Book Review: Pathway of the Birds – The voyaging achievements of Māori and their Polynesian Ancestors, by Andrew Crowe

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_pathway_of_the_birdsAnthropologist Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) described ancient Polynesians as supreme navigators of history. Their double-hulled, sewn plant canoes propelled by woven mat sails explored the far reaches of the Earth’s greatest ocean.

Captain James Cook between the years 1769 and 1779 visited more Polynesian islands than any other European explorer before him.

Andrew Crowe in Pathway of the Birds explores the history of movement among the islands of the Pacific and the means of transport with the development of boat designs and the possibilities and archaeological finds of some of the various remote islands in the Pacific and the deep ocean voyages that were deliberate and planned. He also notes the different species of native birds and lizards and how they differ between the islands, and the tools used by the inhabitants and the purpose for what they were used.

This covers a subject of great interest to many readers with over 400 photos and illustrations breaking up the text.

While I found this book extremely interesting I did struggle at times to take in the information. As a New Zealander whose ancestors come from other places this highlights to me the courage and tenacity of Polynesian inhabitants and their desire to travel and explore the Pacific.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Pathway of the Birds: The voyaging achievements of Māori and their Polynesian
Ancestors
by Andrew Crowe
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869539610

Book Review: New World New God, by Ian Harris

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_new_world_new_godChristian churches in New Zealand are experiencing a drop in numbers attending Sunday worship as the younger generation question the traditional biblical teaching, but Ian Harris’s book New World New God provides new thinking on how to perceive God and his relevance in today’s world.

Ian Harris’s Faith and Reason columns – which have featured in the Otago Daily Times for fifteen years, and in The Dominion Post and Touchstone as “Honest to God” – argue that Christianity in this millennium is not the paradox it appears to be, but religion at its most creative. I have read them over the years in the Otago Daily Times, but having them together in a publication made for a challenging read for me and had me questioning much of my thinking, having been raised in a Presbyterian household, and continue to follow the Christian faith.

Harris believes ‘new doors are opening, new insights into the Bible are superceding understandings that once seemed chiseled in stone and new interpretations of the Christian faith tradition are emerging, that are fully in sync with our secular world.’
The collection in New World New God explores different aspects of Christianity under the chapter headings God, Jesus, the Bible, Easter, Christmas and the Holy Trinity, and each column has the date at the end when it first appeared in newspapers.

He says ‘one purpose of the column is to pass on to people the thinking of leading theologians of our lifetime’ and he includes comments by Sir Lloyd Geering, as well as Stephen Hawking and Phillip Pullman. To survive in the modern world the church needs to change its teaching, Harris believes, focussing on the new ‘God as symbol’ rather than the God out there of traditional theism.

I found this an interesting read, the columns are well written in language which people can understand. The columns can be read individually and I am sure I will pick this up and re read many of the pieces in the future. The author has acknowledged a number of references at the rear of the book which will be useful for further research .

Ian Harris’s career straddles the worlds of journalism and the church, as he grew up in a Methodist parsonage, and he gained an honours degree in English at Auckland University. He has worked for a number of years as an editorial writer on The Dominion as well as church publications. Instrumental in founding the Ephesus group in Wellington whose purpose is to explore new ways of understanding and expressing Christian faith in this millennium, he and his late wife Jill also wrote The Ephesus Liturgies series.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

New World New God
by Ian Harris
Published by Mākaro Press
ISBN 9780994137869

Book Review: The World’s Din: Listening to Records, Radio, and Films in New Zealand, 1880-1940, by Peter Hoar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_worlds_dinPeter Hoar provides us with a very worthwhile insight into the world of sound that emerged for New Zealanders as radio, musical record, and film sound was imported and adapted to local needs. This is nonetheless a partial insight, as it tries to convey in text, and illustrations, mostly a lost world of sound and entertainment forms. While it may only be a glimpse of what our forebears listened to, it remains a fascinating one.

The World’s Din is organised into three parts, based on: recorded technology and musical recordings; then radio technology, and the emergence of radio stations in between the wars; and finally a look at the musical accompaniment to the booming film and cinema industry. Hoar provides some context where necessary, and most of the text is placed within New Zealand social history, the key point being the way locals received the new technology from overseas, and adapted it in a cultural sense. This raises other cultural questions, such as with early commercial recordings of Maori singers. This was helpful to the performers, but they remained very much ‘cover’ versions.

Perhaps it is the chapters on the development of radio which include the most obvious evidence of local expertise, and perhaps of an enduring legacy. Interestingly, Hoar includes a chapter on ‘military radio’ and its influence on the later development of commercial radio after World War One. Not only does he remind us of characters such as Eric Battershill and Clive Drummond, who went from ham radio enthusiasts through the military, and then became commercial radio figures. But he also examines in detail how the early radio operators found life in remote places, whether that be on top of Tinakori Hill (in Wellington), or in the garrison captured from Germans in Samoa, in 1914. These chapters also have interesting archival photographs, including the raising of a large aerial radio mast on the Chatham Islands, and the operator of a radio set in the desert of Mesopotamia, who was enduring over 40 degrees of heat.

Back home, and after the war, there were also forgotten female pioneers in radio, such as Gwen Shepherd in Wellington. Her wedding was apparently broadcast live on 2YA in 1930, with a large crowd also in attendance at Old St. Pauls. Aunty Gwen, as she was known, was just as popular as the avuncular men who got into broadcasting between the wars, though none may have been as well known as Maud Basham (Aunt Daisy) in the post-war era. Hoar not only looks at the content ‘on’ the radio, and debates over musical styles, but also the role of the actual radio in interior design.

Towards the end there is more consideration of the broader cultural context. Although films became very popular over time, there is a sense in which some of the local flavour was lost, as accompanying music was supplanted by the ‘talkies’. And with the talkies came a particularly American form of entertainment, in a period in which the British influence was officially still predominant. It is always difficult to gauge the role of popular culture in historical events, in general, but this book indicates how the local and indigenous cultural forms are present and then perhaps quickly forgotten.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

The World’s Din: Listening to Records, Radio, and Films in New Zealand, 1880-1940 by Peter Hoar
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531199

Book Review: Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_towards_democratic_renewal.jpgAt the time of reviewing this particular instalment on constitutional change from Professor Palmer, freedom of speech as a principle was being debated in New Zealand. This was caused primarily by some visiting Canadians, whose provocative views had resulted in them being declined a public venue in Auckland.

Freedom of speech and assembly are not really part of this book on constitutional change in New Zealand. Not just because we all take these basic freedoms for granted, and there is actually an existing Bill of Rights, but because the book is essentially about changing the institutions of political decision-making in New Zealand, especially with regard to how Parliament operates. This seems to be based on the somewhat surprising notion that Parliamentary sovereignty is too broad, and the authors refer to the apparent ‘untrammelled’ or ‘uncontrolled’ rule of Parliament.

This is in fact the second instalment of this academic exercise in constitutional change. The first book by the authors laid out their new constitution and now, having sought submissions from the public and the legal experts, they are offering their amendments to the original proposal. So most of the chapters reflect on the issues that have been raised in this ongoing process of constitutional reflection. Indeed there is even a chapter full of quotes from a variety of people who made public submissions. These include a long quote from someone using very offensive language that should never have been accepted, especially because the person was given anonymity. There are also a number of photos of the authors with groups of students in self-congratulatory poses.

That is not to say that there aren’t some very substantial proposals being put forward here. These include replacing the Governor-General with a new head of state, and therefore a form of republicanism. The removal of the term ‘the Crown’ from the New Zealand constitution, and thus from the legal system, could have profound implications for the Treaty of Waitangi and claims related to it. Then there are aspects of the political process that the authors don’t like relating to elections and the role of Parliament. Changes here include having a fixed four year term for Parliament, and giving the right to vote to 16-year-olds, if not making voting compulsory as well. Perhaps most significant would be the idea of giving the judiciary the power to review legislation, and, if deemed unconstitutional, to declare it invalid.

This power was apparently already there, but now needs to be broadened. The authors make the point that the international trade agreement (TTPA) would have allowed for corporations to challenge legislation that offended them. However, the authors do not address the loss of economic sovereignty at all, especially during the late 1980s when Palmer was a key legislator. But they do assess the role of certain legal cases that help make their case. One being that High Court review undertaken on behalf of the anti-TPPA campaigner, Professor Kelsey, which highlighted how the Official Information Act was not being complied with. The authors are all in favour of more transparency in government, and enhanced roles for Parliamentary officers (such as the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman). Just as long as Parliament itself is not allowed to pass its Acts under urgency anymore, and thus ruin certain landmark pieces of legislation.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand
by Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561834

Book Review: Down a Country Road, by Tony Orman

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_down_a_country_roadWhat is it that has made and still makes New Zealand’s back country – and in particular the South Island high country – so indelibly endearing to so many?

Tony Orman asks that question in the introduction of his collection of stories about some colourful personalities who have made the remote back country of the South Island their home.

He says ‘a couple of decades ago I set out to collect stories from rural New Zealand with a view to publishing a book. I got leads from friends and fellow journalists while others I just stumbled across while deerstalking and trout fishing.’

Down a Country Road includes twenty four stories of men and women whose lives are entwined in rural New Zealand from the swagmen of the 1930s to a third generation champion dog trialist.

Orman has included an interesting collection of photographs, some old black and white, as well as coloured, which add great interest to his stories and I love the ink drawings by Jim Ayers.

Having been in the farming industry for over forty years I have known a number of people who were very clever at putting pen to paper with a rhyme or verse to express  their thoughts, so I enjoyed the inclusion of the appropriate poetry in this publication. Jim Morris farmed in the Ahuriri Valley and has seen big changes in farming over his career, as he suggests in this verse,

‘They mutter of erosion
In their offices of glass,
And say this block should be retired
Before another season’s past.

They speak of soil and water
And the values they hold grand,
Then go and build another suburb
On some market garden land!’

Tony Orman lives in Marlborough and regularly writes for the Nelson-Marlborough Farming and other agricultural and outdoor publications. A life time interest in trout fishing and deerstalking has seen him publish a number of books on recreational fishing, deerstalking and the wilderness. His latest work will be of interest to anyone who spends time outdoors, it is an easy read, the stories are a good length and can be read individually as the mood takes one.

His final yarn about ghosts is fascinating, I don’t claim any connection with James MacIntosh but it is an interesting tale, and I have been in the Vulcan hotel but not seen the ghostly apparition in room one.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Down a Country Road
by Tony Orman
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664947

Book Review: Searches For Tradition: Essays on New Zealand Music Past and Present, edited by Michael Brown and Samantha Owens

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_searches_for_tradition2015 marked the centenary celebrations of the birth of iconic Kiwi composer Douglas Lilburn. Lilburn’s influence on musical composition extends way beyond the notes on a page or the resonances of a concert chamber. Those lucky enough to gain a residency in his Kelburn house will have felt his presence when composing their own works. Amongst the many centenary events. a conference of noted scholars and musicologists was held by the New Zealand Musicological Society. The theme, also the title of this collection, was a poignant reminder of how far we’ve come. Once we believed, like Mulgan, that we were ‘men alone’, against the elements, against the drift from motherland England. The essays in this collection are base on the conference’s delivered papers but they reveal more than simple historical notations.

The title actually picks up the conversation from Lilburn’s own work ‘A search for tradition’, a talk given at the first Cambridge Summer School of Music in January 1946 in which he spelled out his hopes that a distinctive art music might yet emerge here.. The lecture is a plea for ‘the necessity of having a music of our own … A music that will satisfy those parts of our being that cannot be satisfied by the music of other nations.’

Sixty years on, we have this rather scholarly compilation of essays, divided in to categories of interest. The collection opens, appropriately on the topic of Colonial Traditions, featuring a piece from Elizabeth Nichol investigating our own rich tradition of composition. Back then, most writers were music teachers and men and women with day jobs (not much has changed, there) but the creative pool was deep and vast.

Musically, the music was not just whalers songs and sea shanties. This was a country settled by a swath of educated middle classes, she says, and they all brought with them pianos and brass. As early as 1857, composers were bringing European influences and mixing them with local aspects. Harriet Barlow for instance, created a New Zealand Polka whilst John Beale was smitten with particular ravines further south and wrote ‘angiruru Galop. And so it went, Nichol notes – this transplant of European dance traditions into local settings. The amount of publishing that occurred, especially from London and Sydney presses impressed me greatly. Remember, Aotearoa was in reputation only 10 years old on the world stage. Who even knew we were here?

With A.E Wilson’s New Zealand Waltz we start to really see a proper search for identity and nationhood in music. Remember, music was an expression of national identity. Thomas Bracken knew this when he wrote our own National Anthem, albeit as poetry.
The search for our own voice continues with editor Samantha Owens, who looks, at some depth, into the establishment of a New Zealand Conservatorium Of Music. The notion being that music was part of established and respectable culture. I was surprised how early this came about – 1906. Interestingly, the rationale to create such a school came from musicians who’d been taught in Dresden, the heart of culture at the time. The desire for elitism in the arts began early.

Melissa Cross looks at the practice of cultural appropriation in her piece about Alfred Hill. She asks – Maori Songs: Whose Tradition? In the early part of the century Hill joined the craze to collect and ‘Europeanise’ indigenous music and traditions. It happened all over the world as Westerners became smitten by ‘native’ relics and traditions, even music. And so he’d appropriate the Waiata of ‘Maoriland’ for commercial gain, to publish in script for piano and orchestra. This was a time when sheet music sold as well as records would eventually 20 years later.

There’s a section about the Lilburn legacy itself, where we learn in depth about the man himself. Composer, educator, innovationist Douglas Lilburn, originally from Wanganui, was one of our most revered experimental composers.. His career, as one of the essays in this book informs us had three distinct periods, beginning with his time at the Royal College of Music, London, where he was tutored in composition by revered composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

After returning to New Zealand he eventually took up residence as an academic at Victoria University in Wellington and in 1970 was appointed Professor with a personal chair in Music in 1970.

In the 1960’s, along with Jack Body, he started to experiment with electronic music, eventually founding the Electronic Music Studio at Wellington’s Victoria University in 1966 and becoming its Director until 1979. Fiona McAlpine gives us a short but heartfelt and irreverent account of those times in and around his and Jack’s experiments using rudimentary electronic equipment.

On another plane, Michael Brown considers Lilburn’s own search for identity, coming as he was from a Gaelic and British point of reference. This particular piece is a musicologist’s dream, as he dissects a number of Lilburn’s compositions looking for clues. Lilburn was highly praised. He won many prizes and scholarships including the Percy Grainger Competition, 1936, which he won for his tone poem ‘Forest’. McAlpine looks at how Lilburn worked and reworked his electronica into his poems for broadcast on the NZBC. I found it fascinating that such a staunch institution would embrace experimentation like this. Such was the progressive art world of the day. Sadly, there’s no chance you’d hear something like that, outside a youtube clip. Have we really progressed?

This book also looks at the influences on Māori Music in Valance Smith’s piece. There the influences are examined in an almost anthropological way. We are asked if there really can be a ‘tradition’ for Māori music, given it is always been a genre that’s borrowed – first from Pasifica, then the birds, the Missionaries, and later from Europeans.

Interesting was jazz academic Norman Meehan’s piece on the burgeoning Jazz scene in New Zealand, influenced by American and European players but also borrowing from artists like Len Lye, who mixed the arts with music as a sort of rebellious conversation. Aleisha Ward adds to Chris Bourke’s popular study of the development of a Jazz Community in the 1940’s, recognising the professional and artistic mix of players in an era when musicians could really earn a buck playing in nightclubs and dance halls. RNZ’s Nick Tipping has a few words on the traditions searched for in jazz compositions over the years.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This book is a veritable treasure trove, bringing together an increasingly varied collection of perspectives on what `tradition’ means in the context of the music in this part of the world from colonial music to the contemporary revitalization of taonga puoro. Along the way it raises a few critical issues about the shifting sands of biculturalism and national pride, uncovers forgotten aspects of local history, performance practice and even composition itself.

Yes, it’s an academic book. A little dense at times, but if you like to dip in and out, as I have over the last month, you’ll be rewarded with some stimulating reading. This one should appeal to a wide range of enthusiasts of New Zealand music’s past and into future.

Michael Brown is Curator Music at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. Samantha Owens is Associate Professor of Musicology at Victoria University.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Searches For Tradition: Essays on New Zealand Music Past and Present
Edited by Michael Brown and Samantha Owens
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561773

Book Review: He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao by Tīmoti Kāretu and Wharehuia Milroy

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 
cv_he_kupu_tuku_ihoIf te reo is the door, as in the title of this compilation of the words of Tā Tīmoti Kāretu and Tākuta Te Wharehuia Milroy, it is the threshold between the wharenui of the past and the open courtyard of the future. Standing at the paepae, these kaumātua describe the transformations they have both witnessed and led in te reo me ōna tikanga, the language and its customs, creating a taukaea, a bond, from past through present to firmly anchor the future.

Kāretu and Milroy’s work to revitalise te reo me ōna tikanga could be compared to the restoration of poupou (carved panels) in the wharenui of te reo. Guided by knowledge handed down to them, Tā Tīmoti and Tākuta Te Wharehuia carefully bring the faded panels to life, revealing the figures within that will guide new generations of orators as they breathe life into almost forgotten words.

It is fitting that He Kupu Tuku Iho is written entirely in te reo. With its conversational style and personal stories grounding the discussion of core tikanga, the language reaches out even to the learner. Lively discussions between the pair hold the reader’s attention by deftly varying spoken rhythm and subject matter, from the lofty heights of spirituality to earthy humour.

The transcribed words of the authors reflect their voice, cadence, and favoured turns of phrase and expressions leaned upon and brandished for emphasis like tokotoko (walking sticks). This is a written record of an eloquence rarely heard, let alone read.

Tā Tīmoti and Tākuta Te Wharehuia have kept the linguistic fires burning despite passing showers of pessimism about the future of te reo. Now, ka rite ki te kōpara e kō nei i te ata, like the bellbird singing in the morning, te reo rangatira resounds throughout the motu, adorned by vocabulary restored and reintroduced by these kaitiaki reo.

Tā Tīmoti is known for arguing te reo is in better shape than often feared, though he recognises it is changing. Whatever shape those changes finally take, this book preserves the language wielded by these tohunga reo for future speakers, teachers and learners.
Yet this book is a door to far more than language. In chapters on wairua and tapu, Te Wharehuia leads readers through the mist into the world of his childhood, of kēhua (ghosts), tohunga, and a white-feathered guardian morepork that dodges stones thrown by mischievous boys.

And as befits the sharing of such knowledge, there are stern words about treading neither on tikanga nor on the wrong place in an urupā that will echo in readers’ ears long after turning the final page. But on the other side of the kapa (penny), there is warm and helpful advice on how to find the right balance between humour and remembrance when speaking at a tangi.

Complementing Tākuta Te Wharehuia’s kōrero on tikanga, Tā Tīmoti shares his lively but piercing analysis of te reo of yesterday and today. He spots English words dressed in Māori kākahu, and observes the changing flow of the language as it is channelled into the thought patterns of speakers whose first language is English.

Their book sits in a unique space between wānanga and a talk between koroua; between history, current affairs and musings on the future; between autobiography and chronicle. It is informative, never dull, and sometimes hātakēhi (hard case).

As a path in te reo to the pou (pillars) of te ao Māori, this work has few rivals. It is the fruit of two lifetimes of gathering and sharing knowledge. Although the language may challenge some, the rewards of taking this wero and opening the door are many. Ka mau te wehi!

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao
by Tīmoti Kāretu and Wharehuia Milroy
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408800