Book Review: Finding, by David Hill

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_findingDavid Hill has a remarkable output of fiction for young readers. This latest novel traces the history of several generations of two New Zealand families, one tangata whenua, the other Scottish immigrants.

There are eight sections to the novel, each written from the perspective of a family member of each generation. I found this a really interesting way to bring the history of this place and these people to life.

Hill builds an interesting, well-balanced and credible picture of life in New Zealand, in a country area, and is particularly effective in drawing the relationships between the families. There are shared stories which are retold and sometimes recreated in each succeeding generation.

The importance of the land on which the families live, and the river which runs through it, comes through strongly; the shared experiences – happy, sad, dangerous, amusing – help in developing a real sense of knowing the families and understanding the need for and importance of trusted friends and neighbours.

The voices in each section are authentic and the stories are full of interest, danger, excitement and a great understanding of how New Zealand has been shaped by our inhabitants.

There are things which I am sure readers will identify with – for example the axe which almost did for Duncan becomes a kind of taonga and helps to save Alan’s life; the reaction of Hahona’s family when they first hear the bagpipes, and how that reaction becomes part of the shared family histories; the interconnections of the families through marriage – all these and much more are woven into a lovely generational story.

I can see this being a great book to use as a teaching resource, but as well I think it will appeal to a wide readership.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Finding 
by David Hill
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143772392
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Book Review: The Camera in the Crowd, by Christopher Pugsley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_camera_in_the_CrowdI was amazed to find that the first films reached New Zealand in 1896 – I knew it had been around in the early 20th century, but hadn’t realised it went that far back.

The Camera in the Crowd focuses on the 25-year period that followed film’s introduction, using footage from Nga Taonga Sound & Vision, our national film archive. (An organisation I have a great deal of admiration for after they sent me the link to a documentary my late mother appeared in about 30 years ago.)

The book talks about the early days of film and of the cameramen and theatre owners who brought the world to life for New Zealanders. When I was a young child, friends of my parents had their own home theatre and we used to enjoy going there to see movies – something we took for granted in the 1960s but which looking back was something pretty amazing for a time when not every home had a television.

Reading about the early pioneers of film was fascinating – for a start, I had no idea the Salvation Army had been heavily involved in filming New Zealand’s history.

Christopher Pugsley is a leading historian with many titles under his belt and this book is meticulously researched. It’s the type of book you will dip in and out of as the mood takes you rather than one you’ll read from start to finish. It focuses on New Zealand’s history, both at home and during our many military campaigns overseas.

Some items have a little movie camera icon next to them and that indicates the footage can be found online by going to Nga Taonga’s website and entering the title number. I urge you to take the time to look at these videos as they bring our past to life in a way the book on its own is unable to do.

While this is not a complete history of the period in time The Camera in the Crowd covers, it does feature some very interesting and important events, including royal visits and New Zealanders at war. There’s everything from whaling to sports to culture.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this book will only appeal to history buffs because it deserves a much wider audience that that. Those with an interest in early movie making will find it illuminating (pardon the pun), while those with an interest in society and how it evolved will enjoy reading the historical reports and items from newspapers of the time.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Camera in the Crowd
by Christopher Pugsley
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN  9780947506346

Book Review: Risking their Lives: New Zealand Abortion Stories 1900-1939, by Margaret Sparrow

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_risking_their_livesDame Margaret Sparrow, since qualifying as a doctor in the 1960s, has played a significant role in promoting the availability of reproductive health services in New Zealand. She openly states that it was thanks to her own ability to access contraceptives, and on one occasion a mail-order abortion drug, that she finished medical school at all. A prominent member of groups including Family Planning and the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, she still makes appearances at pro-choice protests. Recently named Public Health Association champion for 2017, Dame Margaret has been speaking at various events recently, continuing to promote her causes and occasionally startling younger women with frank discussions about masturbation.

She has lent her collection of historical contraceptive devices to be exhibited at Te Papa. She displays a golden speculum-shaped trophy in her living room. In short, Dame Margaret Sparrow is a bloody legend.

Risking their Lives is the third in a series recording abortion history in New Zealand. The earlier books covered the periods 1940 to 1980, and the 1800s. Compiled from coroner’s reports, newspaper reports and some biographical information about key figures who instigated change, the book intersperses historical context with the sad stories of many women whose circumstances led to their deaths from abortion-related causes. This book covers the section of time in between the previous two, during which increasing awareness of deaths from septic abortions led to changing political priorities about women’s health. Eventually.

As shown in the book, women who were pregnant and did not want to be were really between a rock and a hard place: strong social disapproval of childbearing out of wedlock led people to desperate remedies that could kill them. Married couples also feature in these stories; some women who died from abortions already had young children and felt they could not afford another.

Unsurprisingly, this is pretty grim reading. Margaret Sparrow acknowledged as much at the book launch, thanking Victoria University Press for committing to publishing her work despite knowing that abortion death is hardly bestseller material. As she read out one of the narratives, in which a woman on her deathbed was being quizzed by police about which drugs she and her friend might have procured, I suddenly remembered the words on a painting about illegal abortion from 1978: This woman died, I care. This, I thought, must be part of the purpose: to tell the stories of these 90-odd women, who didn’t need to die like that. To show, however belatedly, that someone cares.

After a setting out of historical context, the book divides its stories by the themes of medical causes of death, contraception, the law, then the professions of people most commonly caught up in abortion-related trials and scandals (doctors, nurses, chemists and others). I eventually found this layout slightly confusing, as with each new chapter the stories would start back in the early 1900s and progress on to the late 1930s. Given the evolution of social and medical perspectives being shown throughout the book, I might have found it easier to follow a more strictly chronological arrangement.

The chapter on contraception provided a surprise highlight. Following discussions of contraceptives in the media of the day (disapproving editorials on the one hand, euphemistic newspaper advertisements for “remedies” on the other) the chapter goes on to describe and contrast three pioneering women in the field of birth control: Marie Stopes in the UK, Margaret Sanger in the USA and Ettie Rout in New Zealand. They come across as fascinating characters: they knew each other and had at various times collaborated then strongly disagreed. They all seemed, in their own way, to be rather eccentric. But given the strength of conviction needed to keep pushing their work through, against prevailing social norms, a touch of unconventionality might have been helpful.

The most obvious audience for this book might be students of social and medical history. The book is however a stark reminder to any reader about how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. It certainly made me grateful to be living with a female reproductive system now rather than 100 years ago. Abortion back then was dangerous, certainly, but naturally-occurring miscarriages could also kill women, and childbirth carried far more risks before modern medicine cut down the rates of fatal infections.

Reading these women’s stories may be an act of bearing witness: This woman died, I care. But we are also reminded that for any progress to be made, people like Margaret Sparrow needed to care. As she notes in her epilogue, we still have abortion in the crimes act, and while so much has improved for women’s health, there are still barriers. The connections between these kinds of stories and the present day need to be heard, because people need to keep on caring enough to keep pushing for change.

Reviewed by Rebecca Gray

Risking their Lives: New Zealand Abortion Stories 1900-1939
by Margaret Sparrow
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561636

Book Review: Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885, by Michael Belgrave

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dancing_with_the_kingGrowing up with the late night time sounds of the steam trains puffing their way around the Raurimu Spiral – a sound interspersed with the melancholy cry of the Ruru (Morepork) – I had no idea of the significance the main trunk railway line had to the politics of the post Waikato War and the shaping of New Zealand politics. That is until I read Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885.

Author, Professor Michael Belgrave, from Massey University, has an extensive list of titles, many of them related to the Treaty of Waitangi and has also has carried out much research and written many substantial papers for the Waitangi Tribunal. Understanding this background is to understand why this book provides an extremely authoritative account of the post-Waikato War, rise of the sovereign authority of the Māori King within Rohe Pōtae and then the gradual loss of sovereignty and influence 20 years after its birth. The fall was symbolised by the first sod being turned for the main trunk line at the aukati – the boundary – between Māori controlled King Country and the Victorian Empire conquered Waikato. As the main trunk line pushed into the King Country, it served not only to open up the Rohe Pōtae but create a wholly new relationship between Māori and Pākehā eventually leading to united New Zealand Aotearoa.

The story of what happened after the sod was turned is well told in Vincent O’Malley’s, The Great War for New Zealand, which traces the political consequences of the Waikato land confiscation, or Raupatu, right up to 2000. Within Belgrave’s 428 page masterpiece of research is an illuminating account of how the Kīngitanga established itself strategically, economically and politically and prospered in peace – for a time.

Dancing with the King opens with an account of the defeat of Rewi Maniapoto and his small band of supporters of the Māori King at the battle of Ōrākau, marking the end of the Waikato War. The second Māori king, Tāwhiao, led the defeated Waikato tribes into armed exile within the Rohe Pōtae, where the Queen’s writ did not extend and Pākehā dared their lives to cross the aukati.

They established towns such as Te Kuiti and Ōtorohanga. While there was much hardship and deprivation among the Waikato refugees, these towns had a degree of prosperity, even without the aukati, with trade from local Māori in wheat and kumara, even without the aukati and with Pākehā.

The book’s title is a reference to what happened next, described by Belgrave as “diplomatic history”. War gave to a long period of negotiations. “Māori leaders and colonial government negotiators both adopted, however reluctantly on the European side, the language of sovereignty and diplomacy in their dealings with each other”. But it was not just negotiations between two sides: there were many layers of interest on each side. On the Māori side, Tāiwhiao could only move as far as the many iwi, hapu and whanau would let him. The political structure of Tāwhiao’s kingdom can be likened to a federal structure with each different iwi chief having a part to play. Over time Tāwhiao’s power to call the shots became subdued.

On the Pākehā side, there were in fact two governments, the New Zealand Government in Wellington and the British Government in Westminster, and they were not always in agreement with regard to Māori issues While the British parliament had given the colony self rule in 1852 by way of the New Zealand Constitution Act, Britain was still the ultimate power. Tāwhiao quite often stirred the pot of argument between the two, especially when he and his band went off to see the Queen in London. He didn’t actually see the Queen but made a very good impression as to the rights of Māori with the people and government of Britain. The story of that visit is one of the highlights of Belgrave’s work, as it is a good example of how the British Empire was managing issues with indigenous peoples in many countries they had conquered, rightly or wrongly.
It is the detailed accounts of the negotiations between the various layers of the Māori side which for this reviewer proved fascinating. Belgrave’s research brings to full view the impact on traditional Māori land ownership. This was based largely on the establishment by an iwi by war of occupation, food gathering or conquest with collective ownership imbued within the authority of the chief.

On the European side, land ownership was established by survey and registration, sale and purchase with individual rights of ownership. The colonial government set up the Native (later Māori) Land Court essentially to establish, the European method of ownership by deciding among competing chiefs as to which iwi owned which areas of land. But within the Rohe Pōtae, no trig stations were allowed to be built for some time. Any attempt to erect them often met with them being destroyed. And there was great resistance to allowing the Māori Land Court to operate within the King Country. Much of this resistance was due to the involvement of lawyers and surveyors in establishing tribal boundaries.

This reviewer, as a young newspaper reporter attended a Māori Land Court hearing in Tokaanu in 1966 where the process of deciding on a dispute of 600 acres on the side of Mount Ruapehu was decided by the judge on the authenticity of the waiata (chant) carrying the iwi’s history. Whanganui and Tuwharetoa were the claimants. Tuwharetoa’s waiata was considered to be the most accurate and thus the title of the surveyed block of land was awarded to that tribe.

And so the dancing and feasting went on and the accounts of the four hui held between, former Governor and now Premier Grey and Tāwhiao between 1878 and 1876 are as colourful as any court ball.  “The dancing that took place did not involve traditional Māori haka or poi, but waltzes, Schottische, polkas and quadrilles.” But in the meetings before the dancing there was also the deep seriousness of political dancing with high stakes. Tāwhiao, as he always did, demanded the Waikato be returned wholly and Grey responded that that could not happen. But Grey did offer a settlement which according to Belgrave “Grey immediately went on to make what would be a substantive and detailed offer of peace, to settle the issues of King and Queen.”

There would be three more hui involving Tāwhiao and Grey and it would be a spoiler if the outcome was revealed here. Eventually though, the first sod for the railway at the boundary of the King Country was dug with three spadesful by Chief Wahanui on behalf of Māori loading them into a former children’s’ toy barrow which Premier Stout wheeled down a short plank “turning the sods onto the grass”. While the ceremony signalled the start of the opening up of the King Country it ended the independent sovereignty of the King Country.

A disappointing footnote: Having grown up in the Ohakune, this reviewer has always proudly stated as being from the King Country only to discover, while reading Dancing with the King, that the southern boundary of the Rohe Pōtae crosses westward over Mount Ruapehu’s highest peaks, Te Heuheu and Paretetaitonga leaving Ohakune on the wrong side of the aukati.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885
by Michael Belgrave
Published by Auckand University Press
ISBN 9781869408695

Book Review: Christchurch Ruptures, by Katie Pickles

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_christchurch_rupturesThe Christchurch earthquakes were a devastating physical phenomena which have continued to cause upheaval across Canterbury to this day. While we are all familiar with the land and buildings being forever changed by this process, we are less conscious of the implications for history and society.

Katie Pickles is a History lecturer at the University of Canterbury. In this short BWB text, she looks beneath the surface at the long term implications of the quakes on the perceived image of Christchurch. To do this adequately, she first explores the history of the city. This includes Maori settlement, the European arrivals, education, transport, architecture and many more aspects which helped mould the city prior to the quakes. In itself, this is a fascinating read showing the radical feminist groups, the artists who saw Christchurch as the centre of innovation and the educational experiments in early communes.

Her in-depth analysis then shows the impact of the earthquakes on the future image of the city. With the loss of so many of the colonial landmarks, it has become possible to reclaim the sites and landforms which pre-dated European settlement. To this end, she dwells on the part Ngai Tahu are playing in the establishment of areas of interest, names and purposes of certain sites.

I found the 170 pages a deep but satisfying read. While I might not agree with all of her conclusions I can follow the arguments and appreciated the accessibility of this pocket history of Christchurch. It has stimulated much discussion among Christchurch residents and it will be interesting to see if her predictions unfold. I would suggest this as a great book club read. The debates would be lively.

While we are still repairing the cracks, sinking foundations and rattled nerves, we are also excited to watch the new city rise from the rupture.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson (Christchurch resident)

Christchurch Ruptures
by Katie Pickles
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780908321292

Booksellers Summer Reading Catalogue – Biography & History

Following our launch last week of the Summer Reading Catalogue in fourteen great Indie bookstores, we are giving our loyal readers a summary of what we are recommending for the coming holidays. It might help you solve a few gift ideas, as well as giving you something to ask Santa for!Poppies NZ Summer Cat 13_sml_Page_4_forvis

Arts and culture biographies steal the local limelight. The feature for New Zealand biographies is  A History of Silence: A Memoir, by Lloyd Jones. Lloyd Jones is the feature title for New Zealand biographies. Written by one of our foremost novelists, Jones investigates his own family history after the Christchurch earthquakes in this moving autobiography. The other kiwi biographies featured are Self-Portrait, by Marti Friedlander and Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer, by Jill Trevelyan, which charters the forty five year history of the Cuba Street dealer gallery and the evolution of modern art in New Zealand. The McLeavey biography was recently reviewed by our Projects Manager Megan Dunn, in her other life as an art writer, on art website Eyecontact.

Johnny Cash: The Life, by Robert Hilburn was reviewed this week on our blog by Gordon Findlay. Despite there being a lot of alternatives to this biography, including two autobiographies – including two autobiographies by the man in black himself – this new work is praised as telling “the other eighty percent (of the story), in a comprehensive, stylish way.” For some autobiographical doses of celebrity sparkle, check out David Jason: My Life, or Bonkers: My life with laughs. And for those who want to engage with events of historical importance there’s the best-selling I am Malala: The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai (review coming), Equal Justice, by Rabia Siddique and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who launched Modern China, by Jung Chang.

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson leads the history stack, with a glowing review on this blog by Elizabeth Heritage. We also have two great books by Awa Press, How to hear classical music, by Davinia Caddy, and How to sail a boat, by Matt Vance. Both books come highly recommended by our reviewers, for enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

With the centenary of the first world war fast approaching, we also feature a couple of sobering war history books – Catastrophe: Europe goes to war 1914, by Max Hastings, about what went on in Europe that led to the first world war; and The Battles of Monte Cassino, by Glyn Harper and John Tonkin-Covell, about the second world war and the battles in Italy during that period.landscape_tree

Next week, we will feature another huge range of New Zealand non-fiction, including some fantastic big photographic books, a couple of which are included in our bumper Christmas book giveaway, which begins today.

– Booksellers NZ