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

Advertisements

Book Review: The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_diary_of_a_booksellerYou don’t have to be a bookseller to enjoy Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller. It is a delightful, amusing daily diary that is just a pleasure to read. It is also a tale of the changing nature of bookseller in this digital age. Though his view of bookselling is sometimes rather cynical, it is cynicism touched with humour, especially in regard the oddities of customers and human beings in general.

Shaun bought the second hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland sixteen years ago. He had grown up near Wigtown and, home from university for Christmas, he dropped into The Bookshop to see if they had a copy of Leo Walmsley’s Three Fevers. In the course of conversation, the owner suggested he might like to buy the bookshop. He responded that he did not have any money, which earned the response ‘you don’t need money – what do you think banks are for.’

The diary was written in 2014, and starts each day with a note on how many online orders he had received overnight and how many of the orders he managed to find in his bookshelves. The numbers don’t always match. At the end of each day’s diary entries, he lists the number of customers and the takings for the day, excluding online sales. In between these two notes are passages of amusement, whimsy and often delightful insights into human behavior.

Food features in the book in different ways. Wigtown is Scotland’s National Booktown and there are more than 20 bookshops in the attractive seaside village in Dumfries and Galloway. Each year there is a Booktown Festival which attracts thousands of visitors to buy books and attend many events spread around the village. One night, while attending a festival some years ago, an exhausted author started rummaging around in Shaun’s bookshop looking for food. Shaun, who lives upstairs with Captain the cat, managed to rummage up some simple fare. The idea caught on, now the shop feeds some 200 authors and presenters engaged in the festival. Another angle on food is Nicky, a irregular worker in the book shop who brings in food for Shaun that she has found in the skip at the back of the local supermarket…

Inspired by this as a second-hand bookseller myself, I’m keeping a diary.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

The Diary of a Bookseller
by Shaun Bythell
Profile Books
ISBN: 9781781258820

 

 

 

Book Review: New Zealand’s Western Front Campaign, by Ian McGibbon

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_new_Zealands_western_front_campaign.jpgAmong many qualities of this book, two in particular stand out. Firstly, Ian McGibbon places New Zealand’s rightly praised efforts on the Western Front with between 70,000 and 100,000 men in the full context of the of the massive efforts of Britain with five million men plus many millions from France. As well, McGibbon sets out to debunk many of the myths that have crept into the kiwi World War One narrative.

For instance, he explains away the assertion made by some other historians that Lieutenant-General Godley, commander of the New Zealand Troops, was responsible for the tragedy of the New Zealand losses at Passchendaele. It has been suggested that Godley, knowing that preparations for the battle were not up to standard and thus the attack would likely fail, did not refuse orders to attack from higher command. Rather, it has been said, that Godley put his own career ahead of his men’s welfare to “please his Commander-in-Chief”. McGibbon points out that Godley, like any other soldier, was required to obey orders and if he did not he would have been replaced by someone probably a British officer, who would carry the attack.

There is much more in this extremely well-published book than the debunking of myths and ensuring a realistic assessment of New Zealand’s efforts in the wider context of the Western Front. McGibbon, of course, is hugely thorough in his research: he has long established a fine reputation for this, not least with The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History (ed., 2000). However, he writes in an easy style and while this book is “big”, being A4 size and 408 pages inclusive of notes, bibliography and index, it is very readable.

The book is structured in chronological order, with chapters focusing on key battles such as the Somme and Passchendaele, Messines (1917) and Le Quesnoy; the latter two being victories for the kiwis. But the book is much more than an account of battles. It traces the whole New Zealand effort from the time the New Zealand Division arrived from Gallipoli in great detail, its structure, its training, health and welfare. The New Zealanders were required to work with other nations’ forces and a whole chapter is devoted to “Coalition Warfare”. The home front, “Sustaining New Zealand’s Effort” is also detailed, inclusive of the arguments for and against and then, final introduction of compulsory service.

The illustrations in this book are impressive. Unfortunately there is not a separate index of them, but they are included in the page index. The maps in particular are a feature: in colour and very easy to follow. Most have been prepared especially for this book, although there are original battlefield maps as well. The large format of the books enhances the illustrative content which not only includes many photographs sourced from overseas and not previously used in New Zealand publications, but also some of the best of the art from the war.

This publication was supported by The Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s War History Trust as part of the First World War commemorative project by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and launched recently at the Beehive where I met and talked with author, Ian McGibbon. After 40 years working as a military historian for various government agencies, finally as General Editor (War History) at the Ministry, Ian spent about four years meticulously research this book. In his speech at the launch he made mention of this research method being instilled into him through the example of Major General Sir Howard Kippenberger who was appointed Editor-in-Chief of New Zealand’s largest-ever publishing project, the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45. Kippenberger set a high standard for the official histories, refused to contemplate censorship and demanded objectivity by his authors and editors. Principles which, by the example of his latest book, McGibbon has clearly absorbed.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

New Zealand’s Western Front Campaign
by Ian McGibbon
David Bateman Ltd
ISBN: 9781869539269

Book Review: Burma ’44, by James Holland

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_burma44A photo caption, “Every man had to dig himself a hole in the ground” almost sums up the nature of the Battle of the Admin Box, as told in James Holland’s astonishing account of a crucial but forgotten battle fought by a “ragtag collection of clerks, drivers, doctors and muleteers….” that saved Britain’s 14th Army – the forgotten army of the war against Japan.

After many disasters and an almost total loss of faith, the British in 1944 were planning the retaking of Burma, the hard way, across the Indian Border and through the jungle. They were under new command with General Slim supported by the newly arrived Commander and Chief of the all forces in the East, Earl Mountbatten. Everything was going according to plan with a careful build-up of well-trained men, veterans from many other fronts such as Alamein. Food, ammunition and most importantly top quality fighter aircraft, Spitfires, were all available and ready to go.

But the Japanese had other ideas. They wanted to invade and conquer India. And they moved first, catching the British, who were preparing to go on the offensive, by surprise. Their path lay through Arakan, in North West Burma, an area of dense tropical forest with heavy rain and sweltering heat, making conditions very difficult. The area was defended by units of the 5th and 7th Divisions of the Indian Army, a collection of many nationalities and faiths.

The real focus of this book is what became known as the Battle of Admin Box. But is not until Part Two on Page 161, that the amazing story of this battle begins to be told in detail.
Prior to that, James Holland skillfully develops the context of the battle that took place over those few fateful days in February 1944.

Part one is really a tale of how the Britain’s Indian Army of the Raj, an army basically of occupation, was turned by defeat, retreat and humiliation into one that was well led, trained and resourced with modern equipment; that had learned how to fight, had discovered that Japanese soldiers were not superhuman and by withstanding and winning a most brutal and murderous assault, eventually triumphed.

There were later, bigger battles, at Imphal and Kohima which have had considerably more attention by historians. But perhaps for the War on the Indian sub-continent it can be said that the Battle at Shazeya was, as someone said of another battle, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. And it was not even fought by a majority of trained soldiers but a “ragtag…”

Readers, taking up this book, would be well advised to observe carefully its construction. Get a clear understanding of the maps before starting and also of “The Cast,” noting that there are no footnotes but lots of quotations from officers and soldiers. References to these are found at the back, along with an order of battle, timeline, glossary and comprehensive index.

The story is actually told by “The Cast” from their own diaries, letters and oral histories, skillfully woven into a comprehensive account of events.

This book is good, modern military history: very readable.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Burma ‘44: The Battle that Turned Britain’s War in the East
by James Holland
Published by Bantam Press
ISBN: 9780593075869

Book Review: Recipes from the Kiwi Pizza Oven, by Alan Brown

Available in bookshops nationwide

recipes_kiwi_pizzaBaking a pavlova in an outdoor pizza oven? “Yeah, right,” was my first reaction when I saw the recipe in Recipes from the Kiwi Pizza Oven: Wood, Fire and Friends by Alan Brown. Then I read the instructions and, maybe, it can be done.

Not only is this book magnificently illustrated by photographer Todd Eyre,  it has also got the most amazing range of recipes and comprehensive instructions to go with them. Not just weights and measures of ingredients but the practical aspects of how to fire up the oven – fire to the sides, not the semi-circle at the back, which is what I have done.

The introduction is where you get the first impression that this is not just a recipe book.  It immediately impresses that while having a wood fired outdoor pizza oven can be a lot of fun, it is not a plaything. Rather, it can be  a very practical 24-hour oven which can handle everything from a pavlova and a treacle tart, to char-embered veg, pork ribs and, of course, pizza.

The practicality of this 258-page book is further emphasised with each recipe, which begins with an opinion of the quality and character of the ingredients, then the ingredients themselves, advice on the temperature requirement and other cooking or baking instructions.

I don’t usually fire up my pizza oven in the winter but I just might for a couple of pizzas for lunch tomorrow:  spiced brisket in coconut milk for dinner, and  overnight baked African  cornbread with friend egg and bacon for breakfast on Sunday.

Oh, by the way, I use a hand-held temperature gauge which will be even more useful  now that author Alan Brown has indicated the different parts of the oven to burn at different temperatures.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Recipes from the Kiwi Pizza Oven: Wood, Fire, Food and Friends
by Alan Brown
Bateman
ISBN: 9781869539450

Book Review: The Secret War, Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939-1945, by Max Hastings

I accidentally left this book out in the rain. It survived, but I was disappointed that no secret messages were revealed by the water.  It would not have been surprising: every secret messaging system, code cracking device, manner of ‘trade craft’ and espionage device used in the Second World War is revealed in Max Hastings The Secret War, Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939-45.

As you would expect, Max Hastings has done his research and produced non-fiction in a deeply woven narrative style that makes it as fascinating as any Le Carre novel. Within 558 pages, plus notes, Hastings  covers a very wide canvas of wartime espionage, from the mostly successful, like the Bletchley Park operation, to the “incompetence and myopia of German intelligence”.  The intelligence operations of all the major participants in the war, America, Germany,  Japan, Russia and Britain are analysed in depth.  A lot of it is grim reading.

The struggles of people in occupied territories were all part of the darkest depths of war, with government secret service agencies providing money, weapons and expertise from behind the German lines in Russia as well as in Yugoslavia and France – even via resistance  groups in Germany. The Soviets were particularly active in Germany, with groups such as the Red Orchestra. The Russian-supported partisans behind German lines were largely,  but savagely successful in tying up many divisions of German troops, who were equally savage in their  reprisals, burning whole villages, deporting whole communities (as did the Soviets).  Meanwhile, Churchill demanded violent but less savage action from resistance groups in Western Europe which among other things, provided good intelligence. This book of course also tells about the huge failure of intelligence related to the Dutch hesitance. The British intelligence in this case was wholly infiltrated by the Germans, with many British and Dutch agents being captured and shot. The British had no idea that their operation there had been utterly compromised.

The treachery of a swag of British agents recruited by Moscow, including Caincross, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt and others is chronicled in depth and also interwoven into the whole context of wartime espionage. Clearly, Hastings has benefited from many of the records of what went on during the war years that have been declassified by governments including Russia (although it is understood the rich pickings of Soviet archives are being curtailed to a large extent).

For anyone interested in the history of the Second World War, this is a volume which exposes the underbelly of the conflict with its heroism, technical brilliance, bizarre and often comical behaviour, of many mistakes and many deaths in the shadows of the war.

Don’t bother leaving it in the rain, the pages stick together and you might miss out on a secret.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939-1945
by Max Hastings
Published by William Collins
ISBN 978000750399