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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Marcus Hobson

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

Gender Divides and the Michael King Memorial Lecture, Auckland Writer’s Festival Sunday 19 May

A lot of folk today looking pretty shattered − but still smiling. This year’s Auckland Writers Festival has been absolutely full steam ahead the whole time, packed full of fascinations and inspirations. Thank you and congratulations to the organisers for delivering extraordinary experiences.

My first session today was oneJackley_Jessica I’d been really looking forward to: Gender Divides, a
panel discussion on feminism between Sandi Toksvig, Eleanor Catton, Jessica Jackley (right), and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, chaired by Judy McGregor.
As with Science and the Big Questions yesterday, the topics were so broad as to make discussions in such a tight timeframe necessarily superficial. However, there was still a lot to be gleaned.

Catton spoke about the challenge, as a successful female artist, of having to be feminist as well as having to be heard. She said that women making good art is itself a feminist act. Toksvig commented that successful women in public life feel a responsibility to represent all womankind, not just themselves − a responsibility men never seem to feel to other men.

mark_zuckerbergI was particularly struck by Catton’s comments that she hates lists (eg of writers) that contain just one woman’s name. The presence of that one name does not legitimate the absence of all the other women. It was also very interesting to hear from Jackley, a social entrepreneur and micro-financer, about the different expectations of male and female entrepreneurs. Males are able to look scruffy (in a Zuckerbergian (left), been-up-coding-all-night kind of way), whereas females are expected to look immaculate at all times in order to be taken seriously.Author, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku

The session closed with McGregor asking the four panellists what advice they would give a 12-year-old girl, and I loved their answers. Te Awekotuku (right): never lose hope. Catton: you can do things that you’ve never seen done before. Jackley: you can write your own rules. Toksvig: look to the past and you will have the brightest future.

My final session for this year’s festival was, unfortunately, the weakest one. I went along to the Michael King Memorial Lecture expecting a high standard of considered, wide-ranging thought and communication, commensurate with King’s own impressive achievements. What we had was entrepreneur Ray Avery talking about his autobiography and his book about New Zealanders of note, which he urged us to buy.

One of the first things Avery (below) did was ask how many of us had heard of him, commenting that “being slightly famous is very complicated”. He spent nearly an hour telling us about his life, a classic rags-to-riches story. He also boasted about committing adultery, which I found alienating. However, he has undeniably had a largely positive impact on the world: as he told us repeatedly, the company he runs Avery_Ray(providing eye surgery in the developing world) has restored the sight of an impressively large number of people.

Avery’s main point seemed to be that the meaning of being a New Zealander is to be like him: entrepreneurial, resourceful and “with no respect for the status quo”. With this strong sense of identification between the traits he admires most in himself and our perceived national character, it is no wonder Aotearoa is his adopted country.

This weak point notwithstanding, this has been a superbly stimulating festival. I have discovered lots of new thinkers and authors whose ideas and works will provide food for thought in the months and years to come. Thank you to everyone who spoke – and I’ll see you all next year!

Events attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage