Book Review: With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in WW1, by Anna Rogers

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_with_them_through_hellAlongside the New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I, there was a large team of dedicated medical (and veterinary – New Zealand also sent about 10,000 horses) personnel who did everything they could to save lives and treat the injured. Anna Rogers has painstakingly researched the history of the medical services and tells their story in all its gory detail, right from the early days when female doctors, nurses and volunteers had a battle on their hands just to be allowed to serve overseas.

With Them Through Hell is an extremely comprehensive book on the medical services, more of a history textbook than a book you would sit down and read in one sitting. It certainly isn’t a jolly hockey-sticks tale of what went on – it’s a far more sobering and factual account, and anyone reading it will be shocked at the challenges they dealt with on a daily basis, both in the lead-up to their dispatch to the war zones and also during the conflicts.

Divided into four sections – Feeling the Heat; From Chaos to Care; Unexpected and Unsung; and Maimed and Mended, which are then further divided into a total of 16 chapters – the book goes into great detail about the part these medical personnel played in the war. There are numerous photographs (predominantly black and white, apart from reproductions of oil paintings) and also copies of letters and cartoons. The photographs illustrate the conditions they worked under, but the text carries far more detail about the hardships they endured during the war.

It must be hard to tell the story of so many people over many years without using quotes from both published and unpublished sources, but I found the quoted material tended to slow my reading of much of the book. This was particularly noticeable in some sentences that contained more than one partial quote, as there was no attribution alongside. The book is substantial, so flicking to the footnotes at the back was not something I wanted to keep doing, and often the source would just be given as a newspaper article.

I read the introduction and then dipped in and out of the book, reading chapters that particularly interested me rather than reading from start to finish in sequence. As each chapter is comprehensive in itself, this is a reasonable way to proceed.

It is great that the medical services’ dedication to duty has been recognised and given its own tribute in With Them Through Hell. For historians and those who work in the medical services today, this book will be a fascinating history of the work carried out by medical personnel and the pioneering advances in treatment they made under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.

With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in the First World War
by Anna Rogers
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995100190


Book Review: Heartland Strong, ed Margaret Brown, Bill Kaye-Blake and Penny Payne

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_heartland_strong.jpgWhile I am a dyed-in-the-wool ‘townie’, it would be hard to travel around New Zealand over the last 20 or 30 years as I have, and not notice how farming has changed. I also think television and the media in general have had huge influence on what a lot of New Zealanders now think of farming in New Zealand. Once upon a time, the countryside was littered with family farms which were in those days handed down to the eldest son. This has been one of the biggest changes in farming. Increasingly, farms are not owned by families but by a corporate and syndicate form of ownership.

From Wairoa to Southland, the book’s team of 14 writers found great examples of resilience and ways in which it was built by different communities. ‘It came up repeatedly that relationships, connectedness and support networks were what made each town,’ the book editors say.

20 years ago, the landscape in rural communities would there would have been farming of sheep and beef but now farms with hard to farm hill country have sheep. Dairy expansion has bought increased total numbers of herds, as well as increasing the size of the herds.

Land management has changed, with storage ponds and a higher number of irrigators which enables farmers to intensify their production systems to grow crops that 20 years ago couldn’t have been grown. All of these changes have affected rural communities. A lot of the farms now need more people to work on them, and to retain good people is increasingly difficult. Less New Zealanders want to work on forms with possible ownership of farms becoming less achievable, so farmers are having to use transient labour. Some rural communities are struggling as a result.

The effect of these changes is not all negative. Some towns are flourishing through the expansion and diversification of agriculture in the area.

The increase in regulation compliance has led to attention grabbing signs on farm gates alerting visitors to all kinds of hazards. There is also an increased monitoring of health and safety regulations, animal welfare regulations; chemical and prescription medicine handling regulations, water quality requirements- fencing and planting of riparian strips on some streams. They are now recording animal movements so they can trace their movements, allowing them to create strategies to lowering the environment impact.

There are also case studies located in a range of New Zealand settings. Only around 20 percent of the population lives in the countryside and while decisions are being made by people that live mainly in urban areas, many do not fully understand or have empathy with their rural neighbours.

While I found this book fascinating, I confess to finding myself out of my depth. This book, in my opinion, has been written for people in the farming industry or on the fringes of it.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Heartland Strong – How rural New Zealand can change and thrive
Edited by Margaret Brown, Bill Kaye-Blake and Penny Payne
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995109599


Book Review: Dead Letters: Censorship and Subversion in New Zealand, 1914-20 By Jared Davidson

cv_dead_lettersAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

This is a curious book. It is obviously about wartime censorship, and provides an insight into the sometimes very strange actions of officialdom, and ordinary people, who feared an enemy within society. But somehow the book’s title does not convey exactly what the author is trying to achieve. The ‘dead’ letters, which were never seen by their intended recipients, are not actually dead. They were in fact preserved, and sent to the national archives, where an archivist (Jared Davidson) brings them to life.

In fact, Davidson brings a handful to life by repeating them in their entirety at the beginning of each chapter. This follows a longish opening chapter in which he provides a good overview of the system of censorship, and the key personnel involved. The chief censor was a British soldier, Colonel Charles Gibbon, who was sent over for the job, as part of his role as chief of general staff in New Zealand. The actual censorship was under the supervision of a William Tanner, based in the Wellington postal centre, and operating under the Solicitor-General’s regulations.

All of the officials were deeply involved in the war effort, as an imperial venture, but their practices went beyond this remit. Mail censorship included all letters written to people in neutral countries, and individuals were targeted for what would normally be legitimate dissent. The atmosphere created within a small society led to suspicions being cast on anyone considered a foreigner, and therefore denunciations followed. This accounts for some individuals whose lives were disrupted, if not destroyed, by the heavy hand of the State after letters were censored, even if not actually subversive.

Davidson has collected a small sample of these cases, basically one per chapter. Some of these people were just misfits, and would otherwise have been seen as eccentric, especially those from European cultures, such as Marie Weitzel, Hjelmar Dannevill, and Laura Anderson. Others had obvious opposition to imperial Britain, either as Irish catholics like Tim Brosnan, or Frank Burns, who decided to evade conscription in the West Coast bush. The author obviously has an interest in the fringes of the labour movement, and the so-called Wobblies, where there was organised dissent and forms of opposition, including the actions against the conscription of married men in 1917.

But mostly these are very individual stories of outsiders, and some troubled souls, who made the mistake of writing candidly to friends and family, or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Davidson is able to follow up these stories, and find some relatives who were not aware of the letters, and the stories within them. There is a sense of justice finally being provided for some individual cases of harsh treatment.

There are also a few problems with the book. The narrative can be somewhat jumbled as it goes from the particulars of a contemporary letter, and then including a lot of contextual information, before trying to complete the story of an individual life story. Davidson has a habit of referring to published authors as ‘historian’, when he is actually referring to academics. Obviously these outsiders and dissenters are of great interest in history departments, but a lot of the detail is very obscure.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Dead Letters: Censorship and Subversion in New Zealand, 1914-20
By Jared Davidson
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531526

Book Review: Waitangi, A Living Treaty, by Matthew Wright

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_waitangi_a_living_treatyLike an electrocardiograph, Matthew Wright’s Waitangi, A Living Treaty plots the peaks and troughs of the Treaty of Waitangi’s beating heart. It is the story of the living Treaty as an idea, rather than of the ink or the words on the paper.

Wright unravels the strands of the Treaty’s DNA – the humanitarian and religious response to the social upheaval of British industrialisation and the moral complexities of empire on the one hand, and the tikanga Māori that was the guiding principle for life in Aotearoa on the other.

This DNA allows us to understand the meanings the text would have had to those who wrote it, or to those who agreed to its promises. But beyond this glimpse into these webs of meaning, Wright steers clear of divining intent from the strokes of a pen. Instead, he crafts a lens for us to view the process through the eyes of those who participated.

He avoids speculation about what really went on in those chaotic few days and its impact on the final wording of the Treaty by treating these events as a momentary nexus of far-reaching trajectories, that briefly came together before carrying on along on their intertwining and divergent paths.

By setting the scene in its historical context, Wright frees us of our contemporary preconceptions. In doing so he also provides insights into the people and groups who shaped the Treaty and into the realities of early New Zealand life and politics.

Wright demonstrates that this knowledge of the background, interests, and interrelationships of the key actors, both Māori and Pākehā, is a more useful tool than hindsight. His analysis applies to the present too, making the reader reflect on his or her own beliefs about the Treaty.

Ostensibly from nowhere, in the second half of the 20th century the Treaty moved from the shadows of so-called nullity to illuminate actors, ideas, and events on the national stage. Wright describes how the Treaty principles were a logical next step as historians and the bearers of the scars of the past united to give the Treaty new force, in a global climate of righting past wrongs, and drawing on the deep roots Wright maps in this work.

This book is food for thought as the final historic settlements are concluded, as the memories that have been unearthed merge into our shared awareness. As Wright argues, as a living document, the Treaty will continue to evolve into new shapes and forms, with new applications that cannot be predicted.

Wright bears witness to the fact that the Treaty and its principles remain a seismic force. While what they have become may well have been inconceivable to the original signatories and authors, Wright shows that this has emerged from the nation-building practice of every person in this place – which is why Waitangi remains a truly living treaty.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Waitangi, A Living Treaty
by Matthew Wright
Published by David Bateman
ISBN 9781869539962

Book Review: Hudson & Halls, the Food of Love, by Joanne Drayton

Available in bookshops nationwide. This book is shortlisted for the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-fiction in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 

cv_hudson_and_hallsHudson & Halls, The Food of Love is a wonderful book. Far more interesting than just their cooking, this tells the story of their two lives – in the spotlight, and in private.

Drayton has done a great job of researching their backgrounds and giving an insight into their personalities. While their television personas were very flamboyant and upbeat, their personal lives contained a lot of sadness. Peter Hudson grew up not really knowing who his real mother (whose background could be a whole book in itself) was, while David Halls pretty much knew who he was – but subconsciously realised it wasn’t what his family would accept.

The fact they came from opposite sides of the world and from very different backgrounds meant nothing once they met – it was like they found their soulmates and their purpose in life. I’m still a little astounded a shoe salesman and a shipping clerk ended up being celebrity chefs, but hey, this was the 1970s when anyone with ambition could become a star!

The book included a lot of things I never knew about the couple, probably because I was a teenager when they were at the height of their fame here. I didn’t know about their shoe shop or their restaurant, and I’m not even sure I knew about their move to the UK after New Zealand television ended their reign.

As a homosexual couple, Hudson and Halls lived in conservative New Zealand during a time of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, but they were genuinely liked by many and a lot of homes owned at least one of their cookbooks. Despite this they certainly suffered some harsh criticism both here and in the UK (if the reviewer of one of their television series published her review today, there would be an outcry and she’d be rightly vilified), but they never gave up.

I doubt many people would have kept going despite so many rejections, but reinventing themselves was something Hudson and Halls did time and time again.

While I knew neither man was still alive I did not recall details about their deaths, and reading about what happened deeply saddened me. I always remembered Hudson and Halls and their spats in the kitchen, but Drayton’s book means I will now remember them more fondly, like a pair of slightly eccentric uncles who could always be relied upon to liven up any family gathering.

At the end of the book Drayton shares how long it took her to write the book and how many setbacks she had along the way. I’m very pleased she persevered and made the effort to talk to as many people who knew the couple as possible. I think that is what sets this book apart – the photos are like looking into someone’s personal photo album (which it sounds like she was permitted to do), and the memories of their friends are what elevate it from a mere biography into a very personal look into Hudson and Halls’ lives. I’m sure they’d be horrified at some of the personal recollections of their friends, but the book would be poorer without them. Their friends and family have shared some intimate memories but the book is definitely not voyeuristic.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Hudson & Halls, the Food of Love
by Joanne Drayton
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531267

Book Review: Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing, by Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_tatau‘The history of tatau has…been one of both continuity and disruption, with social, cultural and technological change coming from within Sāmoan society as much from the outside world.’ (p.298)

If you know nothing at all about tattoos or fa‘asamoa (Sāmoan culture, values and traditions) this excellent book will lead you into a whole new world. It focuses on Sāmoan tatau – the lines and motifs that form Sāmoan tattoo designs – and the ceremonies and rituals that accompany the process of receiving a tatau, often considered as a rite of passage for young people. Authors Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot are joined by other contributors, including poets, academics and historians, to describe the complex history and symbolism of tatau over the past 3000 years. Collectively they explore and explain the multiple influences on tatau practices, which include politics, geography, sexuality, genealogy, gender roles, art, literature, health and safety, religion, science and (latterly) social media.

Mallon, a writer and Te Papa curator, is of Sāmoan and Irish descent. His deep interest in the topic was sparked by an ‘early and vague’ memory of his grandfather’s tatau. Galliot is a French anthropologist who has carried out extensive research on traditional tatau and lived in Sāmoa while completing his PhD. Both authors have developed complementary and in-depth knowledge of tatau history and contemporary practices.

‘What [surprised] me, and continues to intrigue me, is … that a set of symbols from a seemingly remote group of islands in the South Pacific could circulate in many forms across a range of contexts and on the bodies of people from all walks of life and across the world.’  (p. 11)

Mallon and Galliot describe how symbols (including logos) from other cultures have been incorporated into tatau designs alongside indigenous symbols over time. The designs and the location of tatau on the body continue to change and evolve, although there is still a strong demand for traditional methods and patterns. Tatau designs are no longer limited to the body and are now evident in art (such as Michel Tuffery’s woodcuts and Fatu Feu’u’s paintings), and other objects as diverse as postage stamps, stationery and tee-shirts. The knowledge I’ve gained from this book has helped me to recognise – and encouraged me to search out – tatau patterns and references in unexpected places. The book includes Flanagan’s remarkable graphic depiction of Avia’s Wild Dogs Under My Skirt poem, centred on the poem’s intense and evocative descriptions of tatau.

The distinctive characteristics of tatau are the ‘location of the markings on the body, their extent and density, and the tools used in the tattooing process (p.14)’.  Although many tufuga (tatau artists) now use masini (machines) with steel needles and black ink, others continue to use traditional tools to make marks on the body by vigorously tapping the skin with sharp ‘teeth’ to perforate it so that pigment can be introduced. I found the chapter focusing on the iconography of tatau particularly informative, as it includes a selection of common patterns and explains what each represents. This chapter also has photos identifying the many different tatau zones (each with a group of motifs) on both male and female bodies. (These zones, and the names used to refer to the tattoo, differ for men, who wear tatau or pe’a, and for women, who wear malu.) Each zone has its own term. Fusi, for example, is the name given to a belt, strap or band of motifs located at the top of the thigh.

The book draws on many different sources, including journals, poetry, photographs, exhibition catalogues and oral histories.

I found the rich descriptions of the rituals, protocol and ceremonies associated with tatau practices of great interest. These customarily included preparing and sharing food, providing sports and other entertainment, and bestowing gifts such as fine mats, canoes, weapons and instruments. The photos and illustrations throughout the book are stunning, in particular the highly detailed drawings of tatau – many of these are hand-drawn and date back to the 1800s. Photos of the tools are stark – the sharp teeth of the combs clearly visible and reinforcing a theme echoed throughout the book: that pain is inevitable, and indeed ‘you cannot find yourself without pain and suffering’ (p.26).

The photos of people with tatau allowed me to look at length at the designs and appreciate the intricacy of the patterns, as well as to consider the time and skills needed to create the tatau. In real life such prolonged gazing would be disrespectful. I’m grateful to the men and women who gave permission for their images to be included in the book. Mallon and Galliot report that a full tatau is rarely seen, instead we may see only a glimpse with the rest concealed beneath clothing. They note that it is not uncommon for social media users to criticise how and where others reveal their tatau.

I see some parallels between Tatau and the earlier Mau Moko: The World of Māori Tattoo (Te Awekotuku and Nikora, 2007) such as the descriptions of the shared influence of the Lapita people who are believed to have practiced both face and body tattooing. The Lapita are considered to be the ancestors of multiple Pacific Island peoples; as seafarers they migrated far and wide across Oceania. Tatau briefly discusses the positive relationships established between certain tufuga and Māori tā moko practitioners, which has included gifting traditional tools to strengthen cultural connections. Both Tatau and Mau Moko refer to the extensive contributions of Sulu’ape Paulo II, a renowned and active tufuga who also supported and mentored Māori artists.

A glossary explains terms used throughout the book and there is a comprehensive bibliography, as well as brief biographies of all contributors.

The hard cover and spine are striking and embossed with symbols that spell ‘tatau’. The cover is partially enclosed by an eye-catching dust-jacket featuring the lower abdomen and thighs of a male body with tatau. The print varies in size throughout the book and some readers may find the smallest print a challenge. In several chapters the orange text on dark pages is also hard to read, especially in low light.

Although Mallon and Galliot have written a meticulous and comprehensive history, in the closing chapter they comment that ‘…this book is far from the last word on Sāmoan tatau. There are other histories to be written and other stories to be told…’ (p. 299). Their book will be a superb reference for future authors who are likewise privileged and trusted to bring these stories to life.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing
by Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN: 9780994136244

Book Review: Outstanding Scenic Walks of New Zealand, by Peter Janssen

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

outstanding_scenic_walksWith increasing numbers of New Zealanders living in cities and green space diminishing around them many are seeking places to get away from it all for a short time during their days off work. A newly published book compiled by Peter Janssen, will be a valuable tool for them to read up about safe places to visit around their area or to take with them when they travel further away on holiday. Janssen a keen outdoorsman with a vast knowledge of New Zealand’s walking tracks, has recommended 200 short walks in his book Outstanding Scenic Walks of New Zealand.

The vast majority of the walks are under two hours with many less than 30 minutes so they will suit those who want an enjoyable outing that doesn’t require heavy boots or a pack. There are twenty six regions included from Northland to Fiordland, and a map of each area highlights where in the region the walk is located. Travel directions are also included with each walk as well as the walking time, whether it is easy, medium or a hard grade and some information on New Zealand’s flora, fauna and geology, which relates specifically to that walk.

The “Walk Tips” supplied by Janssen give advice on equipment needed, security in the walk car parks as well as health and safety issues with wildlife, water and kauri dieback disease. These pages at the beginning of the book will be especially important to new migrants to our country or tourists as they may not be aware of some of the pitfalls which the walker can encounter. The glossary of Māori words is also helpful, and the coloured photographs in the centre of the publication highlight many features along the walks.

I have enjoyed picking this book up from time to time and reading about areas in New Zealand I am not familiar with, I found the nature notes particularly enlightening, even learning new facts about local walks I have been on. The historical facts woven throughout remind the reader how many of our country’s interesting features were formed, and changes along the way due to weather as well as human occupation. It is an incredibly user-friendly guide book, very easy to read, with some fascinating facts for example “New Zealand has 28 species of native bees” , but unlike the honeybee they do not sting.

Travel writer Peter Janssen is the author of a number of practical and informative travel guides including Excellent Short Walks in the North Island and South Island, Exploring Aotearoa, and 175 Classic New Zealand Pubs to Visit. His latest work is a stunning book, the winding track on the attractive glossy cover inviting the reader to open the book, and begin exploring their local area and to take it with them when they trip around the country.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Outstanding Scenic Walks of New Zealand
by Peter Janssen
Published by New Holland
ISBN 9781869665234