Book review: Unpacking the Kists: The Scots in New Zealand, by Brad Patterson, Tom Brooking and Jim McAloon

Available now in selected bookstores.

Scottish influences in New Zealand are many and varied. cv_unpacking_the_kistsSome historians have suggested that the influence of the Scots on New Zealand is greater than that in any other country (excluding, I suppose, Scotland).

This substantial volume is a major contribution to international scholarship on migrations and cultural adaptation. It demonstrates the contributions that the Scots made to the formation of a New Zealand culture by retaining their connections while adapting to and interacting with other ethnic groups. It is published in NZ and Australia by Otago University Press, and elsewhere as part of the series of McGill-Queens Studies in Ethnic History.

Retain their connections they did! My parents arrived in New Zealand 30 years after the period this book deals with, yet still were receiving the local newspapers that they had read ‘at home’ more than 25 years later, stopping only when their parents were no longer able to send them on.

Covering the period (roughly) 1850–1920, the book traces the dimensions of Scots migration to New Zealand, the sort of people who immigrated, where they came from and went to. Much of the discussion is based on extended case studies of better-documented migrants. It traces their influence on areas such as the economy, the environment, religion, politics, and education. Good use of made of family history records, and the records of local Scottish societies, as well as more usual primary sources.landing_immigrants

As well as the public influence of immigrants, the authors look into the more private worlds of Scottish families, everyday life, leisure pursuits, different types of Scottish groups, and the way in which the immigrants’ traditional cultural activities were maintained, and modified by interaction with other groups.

The authors are historians at Victoria and Otago universities. Others make contributions in specific areas. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is to show the way in which academic historians can collaborate with local historians, genealogists, and community groups.

As befits a work of scholarship, there are lots of notes and a large bibliography. There are tables, diagrams and maps, but no plates.

Until recently scholarly discussion of the Scottish diaspora was restricted to academic journals, with the odd chapter in more general history or geography books. This book joins Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand 1850–1930 (Tanja Bueltmann; Edinburgh University Press, 2011) as more significant contributions. Of course there is some overlap with the earlier book indeed Tanja Bueltmann is a contributor to this volume. Unpacking The Kists is the larger volume, with much wider coverage, and it draws more general conclusions.

Not a book of stories, rather a serious work of historical research, this book will find a ready readership in its target market.

Unpacking the Kists: The Scots in New Zealand
by Brad Patterson, Tom Brooking and Jim McAloon
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781877578670

Changing Times: New Zealand Since 1945, by Jenny Carlyon & Diana Morrow

Available at bookstores now.

I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Jenny cv_changing_times_nz_since_1945Carlyon and Diana Morrow’s previous Auckland-centred Histories and I can say that this book was just as good. Their previous books have been in the Coffee Table book format and while I was not initially sure that I liked the paperback format for this book, I can say that on reading it, the publisher went with the right format.

A big book, it’s spread is wide and it’s topics many and varied.

Taking us back in time, we start at the end of WWII with a somewhat sleepy nation that has awoken to the fact that change is in the air, facilitated by both the demands placed on New Zealand by the just-ended war, and the unspoken role reversal that occurred in many industries as a result of the male populace going overseas…Rosie the Riveter may have been acknowledged but accept her filling this role in peace-time: no way.

Well written and very well researched, the book takes it’s reader on a journey that covers every aspect of New Zealand life from Culture and Character, Leisure and Popular Pastimes, Political Ferment, Feminism and Gay Rights, Race Relations, the huge transformation brought to the Government owned industries and their employees when these were sold off, the 1981 Springbok Tour that so divided us. It really covered every major and minor event that has shaped us since the end of WWII. When reflecting back on the book, I couldn’t help but think how powerful the change of mind set in the women of New Zealand was, and even though it was many years before it was acted on, the seed had been planted.

This is a very readable book, it does what it set out to do especially in showing why change was needed and illuminating the forces that brought change and the people and places that carried change forward, rightly or wrongly. It is not simply a book of people, places and facts, it is a shared journey type of book, it will get you thinking. It has great illustrations and I would like to see a copy of it in every school library in New Zealand, it is a great resource.

Thank you to Auckland University Press and Booksellers NZ for my copy of this book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Changing Times: New Zealand Since 1945
by Jenny Carlyon & Diana Morrow
Published by Auckland University PressISBN 9781869407827

Forty Years On: New Zealand-China relations then, now and in the years to come, edited by Chris Elder

This book is currently available in selected bookstores.

This slim volume is a skilfully edited digest of the proceedings of two symposia held incv_forty_years_on 2012 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and China. These two symposia were organised by the Victoria University Contemporary China Research Centre, the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. But don’t let those big names put you off! This is a very approachable book.

These symposia (one in Wellington, the other in Beijing) attracted some very high-powered, and knowledgeable, people including the Prime Minister and other political leaders, government officials, academics, business people and journalists. The two days’ deliberations have been, in the words of the preface, “marshalled so far as possible into broad subject areas” which cover a wide range. The establishment of the relationship between the two countries, the current state of relationships, its future challenges, past successes and difficulties, and effects both big and small, are all traversed.

The range of topics covered is enormous – and since the book is just 129 pages some have obviously had summary treatment. But the overall coverage is impressive. As well as the development of closer relationships, and the obvious trade and economic ties the deliberations included the cultural differences, NZ’s Chinese community, and the role of New Zealand and China in the regional (South Pacific) context.

The editor is well placed to tackle the task of summarising these deliberations. Remember Joe Walding? He lead the first mission to make direct contact with China at a ministerial level. He was accompanied by the editor, who at that time was a career diplomat. He returned to China as NZ Ambassador in 1993, and his wealth of experience shows in the way that these deliberations have been organised, and background material added where necessary.

Sections on the history and development of China-New Zealand relationship are valuable in putting the current situation and participants’ thoughts about what might happen in the future into context.

The book is well presented, with a few graphs and (mostly historical) photographs. Frequent asides help fill in the detail. Did you know that NZ is called the “Country of the Four Firsts” in China? That’s an indication of how advanced our relationships with China have been. Most of it is, perhaps surprisingly, easy to read   as the majority of the material is reporting direct speech I guess.

I approached this book with a certain amount of trepidation. I knew little about China-New Zealand relations other than that many things I bought were made in China, and that milk which might be contaminated with botulism is a hard sell. While not every section was equally gripping, I came away feeling much better informed, and I feel much more able to appreciate and understand many things I see in newspapers. One of the speakers refers to the level of ignorance about China in New Zealand being “still quite remarkable”. This book should shed some light into that darkness, and I’m glad I read it.

Reviewed by Gordon Findlay

Forty Years On: New Zealand-China relations then, now and in the years to come
edited by Chris Elder
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739155    

Book Review: The Meeting Place. Māori and Pākehā Encounters 1642-1840

There are many academic reviews of The Meeting ImagePlace and I feel confident that both high school and university students will become familiar with this text.  Is this, though, a useful text for the home?  I felt that my education skipped over a lot of early New Zealand history, and that it was law school where I finally began to understand our early history.  This book really helped me to gain a good insight into early New Zealand history, and subsequently a better understanding of how race relations in the twentieth century played out.

The book examines the interactions between Māori and Pākehā from the earliest of contact through to sophisticated, systematised encounters.  The author, Vincent O’Malley, outlines these encounters chronologically, starting from the earliest contact (and the greatest examples of culture clash/ misunderstandings) through to regular engagement around 1814, right up to the ‘tipping point’ when one culture dominated.  The years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the presence of the British Government and regular settlement in New Zealand by the British meant that the European settlers were able to be more self-reliant.  No longer needing Māori for trade, or being able to resolve matters through British law rather than negotiation meant that the cultures separated.  Pākehā culture rapidly dominated – by 1858 there were more Pākehā residents than Māori in New Zealand. Maori adopted many aspects of Pākehā culture; Pākehā no longer felt the need to engage with Māori and previous efforts in understanding and applying Māori culture waned.

If you are reading this book for fun I suggest skipping the introduction.  It took me two goes to read through and appreciate the introduction – I was concerned the whole book would be as academic and dry.  Instead, there were parts of the book, particularly the very earliest encounters, that I read almost as though it was a thriller – I was keen to learn what would happen next!  Stories where Māori were treated as possessions or slaves really got to me, and explanations of some early cultural misunderstandings were appreciated. The book’s strength for me lies in these explanations, as attempts by the author to obtain sources from both cultures helps to provide context to the encounters.  Concepts around gift-giving are discussed in the early part of the book. At this time (1770’s) Māori gift-giving required the gift to be returned to an equal or greater amount as a way of preserving the mana of the recipient.  It was not necessary, however, that this take place straight away.  Early encounters of trade/ gift giving were well placed to create confusion – gifts Captain Cook and his crew gave Māori (with no expectation of reciprocity) saw gifts being made the following day.  Equally, giving Māori an item and then indicating what was desired in trade was not well received.

Why should the average home own this book?  The Meeting Place really helps to explain the environment, events and tensions in bi-cultural Aotearoa / New Zealand.  This is our story.  The stories told and context provided is one of the more balanced and nuanced explanations of our early history.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

The Meeting Place: Māori and Pākehā Encounters 1642-1840
by Vincent O’Malley
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 97818694059 6

Book review: An Indescribable Beauty by Friedrich August Krull

cv_an_indescribable_beautyThis book is in bookstores now.

I love finding new ways to look at our history. It’s so tempting to think of colonial times as English vs Maori that it’s easy to disregard all the other nationalities and peoples who arrived on all those ships, all those years ago. On 22 January 1859, the Equator delivered a young German man from Neubrandenburg to Wellington, and I am very glad he came.

Friedrich August Krull must have been an extraordinarily warm, capable and interesting man. The person who emerges from these letters is a curious and welcoming observer, and a charming teller of tales. I really wish I’d had this book during my history degree, because it gives you a real sense of what it would have been like to live here in the nineteenth century. Krull describes the people, places and ways of living so deftly and vividly that I felt a shock of new understanding.

It was a different time. Societies and lands were being formed, broken, and reformed in new patterns. Maori outnumbered Pakeha and the threat of interracial violence was never too far below the surface. Krull’s observations of the Maori he met are fascinating: he comments on their strange customs but seems to be free of the common European urge to ‘civilise’. He exchanges gifts and makes friends wherever he goes.

The natural environment was different then too. My favourite part of my journey with Friedrich was tramping with him through the bush: gluttonous foliage and deafening birdsong for miles upon miles upon miles. The mozzies must have been dire but he doesn’t dwell on them, describing instead his enchantment with the fresh and bursting beauty of the nineteenth-century Wellington landscape.

The publisher has sprinkled period illustrations liberally throughout the text, but I found them to be a distraction. With such a vivid, luscious film unspooling through my head from Friedrich’s words, the tiny, drab watercolours and amateur sketches looked dreary and at odds with the story. I also found I had to intentionally ignore the illustrations’ captions, in order to not interrupt the flow of the text.

But, in the main, Krull’s letters have been lovingly and beautifully published. The book is physically solid and satisfying – it feels exactly the right size, weight and texture, and the design and typesetting is superb (well done Greg Simpson). I particularly liked the choices of fonts, which work together in a way I wouldn’t have thought of, but which is exactly right.

Interestingly, the publishers have made the decision to use modern spellings of place-names, including macrons for Maori words where appropriate. While I understand this drive to change the author’s voice for the sake of clarity, I would have been curious to learn, for example, how Krull spelled ‘Maori’ in German.

Overall, then, I highly recommend letting Friedrich August Krull take you on a guided tour around his Wellington. He is so enthusiastic, so curious, so eager to learn, to be pleased and to teach. An Indescribable Beauty is an unexpected joy.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

An Indescribable Beauty: Letters home to Germany from Wellington, New Zealand, 1859 & 1862
by Friedrich August Krull
Published by Awa Press
ISBN 9781877551338

Book review: Secrets and Treasures: Our Stories Told Through the Objects at Archives New Zealand

This book is in bookstores now.

Just so it’s out there, I love history. Always have, always will. The teacher always made the difference for me when studying any subject and this book is no different. Secrets & Treasures is written like Ray Waru is standing with you, talking and teaching you about every detail he picked up in the short time he had at Archives New Zealand, while holding up amazing photos to accompany his words.

The book itself is simply beautiful, to compliment the outstanding work inside. Waru has done a huge amount of research, and has said in interviews the idea started with the tapes from the Erebus disaster (a topic which takes up eight pages of this almost 400 page book). The book is split in to five parts plus an introduction, and covers a huge range of topics, from the little-known Declaration of Independence of 1835, to the creation of New Zealand’s own currency in 1935, to the complaints the film censor received about The Life of Brian.

Part 4 ‘The Black Museum’ is the section that sucked me in the most. As the name suggests, it’s full of the secrets your grandma probably remembers but never wanted to tell you. These include the Crewe Murders, the Parker-Hulme murder and Amy Bock the ‘male bride’. My favourite part from the section is the story of The Bones in the Box. The first page is dominated by a photo of a seemingly harmless box, which, of course, contains bones. More correctly, the cranium of Francis Roy Wilkins. The story of Wilkins is hugely interesting and shrouded in mystery – his murder in 1947 is still unsolved. Creepy.

Waru’s writing is really quite flawless; it flows easily, making what could have been a very dry and uninteresting book into something that makes you keep wanting more. Although I wouldn’t put it in to the ‘coffee table book’ genre, it is something you can pick up and just flick through. Pick a page and start reading, or as I did, start at the beginning and read right the way through.

Waru doesn’t overbear you as the reader with information; he’s picked up some of the key moments from New Zealand’s history, and carefully written about them in such a way you just want to keep turning the pages. He’s not long winded – he knows what he wants to say, and does so in a timely fashion.

To go along with Waru’s text is some stunning photography. All of the new shots were taken by David Sanderson, an employee of Archives New Zealand, and an amazing photographer in his everyday life. There is a fantastic YouTube clip of Sanderson explaining how the cover image was shot. It’s definitely worth a watch, I don’t have a huge interest in photography, but it totally blew my mind learning the ways you can use a camera if you know how.

Although the text stands really well on its own, there’s no way this book would work without the images. Sanderson’s ability to capture something beautiful in the axle that supposedly weighed down the body of Harvey Crewe, or a reel canister filled of scenes literally cut from film reels, is really remarkable.

The depth and manner of Secrets & Treasures make it a definite must for every home around New Zealand. Waru’s words with Sanderson’s photos make it easy to read from cover to cover, or just to pick up and flick through when it’s sitting on your table. I can think of at least five people I would definitely buy this for at Christmas, it should be on everyone’s list. I haven’t even begun to cover what the book contains in this review. Trust me, it’s worth a look.

New Zealand history may not span over a huge number of years, but the depth of history we have discovered and have documented is amazing for a small country. And this book shows off a really small part of it incredibly well. Waru said on Radio New Zealand he believes there’s easily a series of books to be written about the items hidden away in the depths of Archives New Zealand. I believe it’s something that should be invested in – people often perceive history books to be dry and boring, but Secrets & Treasures throws that theory out of the water. Plus, every day history is made, so there’s always going to be material for the books. There’s no end to it.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

Secrets and Treasures: Our Stories Told Through the Objects at Archives New Zealand
by Ray Waru
Published by Random House
ISBN 9781869796891

Book review: Images from Albertland: Harold Marsh 1876-1948 by Paul Campbell

Ask in-store at your local bookshop about this book

Historical documentary photography from the Kaipara Harbour region is a niche subject area in which to publish, but in the case of Images from Albertland, it proves itself worthy as the tipping point for anyone with a bent for local history.

Named after the (then) recently deceased Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband), Albertland comprised the 70,000 coastal acres surrounding the Kaipara Harbour. Its people, the Albertlanders, were British immigrants who sailed to New Zealand between 1862-1880, with the vision of establishing a classless, non-conformist society.

Farmer and photographer William Harold Marsh lived in Albertland throughout his life, and the book chronicles his community’s story through a lens. All of the images are in black and white, taken from the archive at the Albertland Heritage Centre, Wellsford. A range of glass plate and film photos are included, and it’s astonishing to have such a clear record from this time. The book includes portraits, landscapes, domestic and street photography, and while most images are candid, there are also posed shots such as local weddings, or the image of the four Meiklejohn brothers donning battle uniforms and mounted on horses while at a training camp in 1905.

The photography is fascinating from an historical perspective, providing an insight into the arduous pioneering life of this tight-knit community of immigrants. A sense of isolation is apparent right through the collection, even in photographs populated with people. For example, a family building castles at the beach depicts the subjects surrounded by nothing other than gusty tree branches and an ocean; later in the ‘Harbour Highways’ chapter is ‘Legendary Kaipara fisherman, Ted Pooks and his sons clearing nets’ with only the wide reflections of a yacht and dinghy to keep them company.

Most affecting are Marsh’s personal photographs, for instance the self-portrait of ‘Pop Marsh’ showing him writing alone awhile suffering from the post-WWI Spanish flu epidemic, also the images of him and his children preparing to photograph an eclipse of the sun, or his children scoffing watermelon on the veranda. Marsh is capable of honing in on the detail of everyday life, using faces and subtle backdrop cues to weave an emotional tapestry.

The book’s text is well-written, informative, and packed with first-person accounts, but is not laid out in the most accessible of formats, something particularly critical in coffee-table-style books requiring a strong visual appeal. That said, it’s the photographs which should capture readers’ attention, and they do – they’re ones to savour before going off to find out more about this remarkable episode in New Zealand history.

Reviewed by Caitlin Sinclair

Images from Albertland: Harold Marsh 1876-1948
By Paul Campbell
Published by Echo Publishing
ISBN: 9780473185480