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No. 31 (June 1960)
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BOOKS

A HISTORY OF NEW ZEALAND
Keith Sinclair. Pelican Books. English price, 3s. 6d.

Once Professor J. Davidson, of the Ausralian National University, invited a future New Zealand historian to write the early history of his country with the Maori set firmly in the centre foreground of his picture and the European taking his proper place in the background. This, in brief, is close to what Dr Sinclair has attempted.

Davidson's article in the journal Historical Studies was an early and effective shot fired in what has since become a campaign against the New Zealand Company. The hired writers of the Company—e.g. Edward Jerningham Wakefield—early set a pattern of New Zealand history writing. This pattern was designed originally to defend the Company against well-merited charges of dishonesty, fraud, greed and sheer inefficiency; it also attempted to blacken government officials, both here and in the United Kingdom, and to depict the Company as a band of patriotic Englishmen selected by Providence to save New Zealand for British civilisation. Because government policy was based upon humanitarian reasoning, because officials tended to consider the Maori first and the settler second, history written on the Company pattern was to be anti-Maori as well as pro-settler. This did not mean, except rarely, that the Maori was portrayed as in essence inferior or sub-human; it merely meant that history was written from the standpoint of the victors. The Maori, except as an impediment to settlement, was ignored. He might be brought in as picturesque detail, he might be praised for his courage; his decline could be regretted, but the tears were crocodile tears.

Recent scholarship has altered this picture considerably. The work of Buck and Firth has enabled historians to see Maori society as much more than just a doomed obstacle. The work of John Miller and Michael Turnbull has illuminated the Company from the standpoint of its records rather than its apologetics. The work of Beaglehole, Rutherford, Williams (and Sinclair himself) has made possible a more accurate assessment of official policy in the 1830s and 1840s. The way has been opened for a historian to do just what Dr Sinclair has done in the early chapters of this eminently readable history. He does write of New Zealand in the early 19th century with the Maori set firmly in the centre of the picture.

So he begins with the bold and successful literary device: ‘In the beginning Papa and Rangi, the earth and the sky, mother and father of the gods, lay close together with their children huddled between them in the darkness.’ He goes on to devote about half the length of a 300 page book to the history of New Zealand before 1870. From the point of view of New Zealand as a British colony, it is a mere 30 years; from the point of view of New Zealand as a Polynesian society, it is an indeterminate number of centuries, broken at the end by the arrival of strange and (eventually) unwelcome visitors.

But even so the historian must put more stress upon the conflict of Maori and settler in this overall period than upon the straightforward history of Maori society before the disruption. Dr Sinclair can give only 12 page to the Maoris before Tasman spoke the prologue to the drama of racial conflict. For the Europeans left records behind them, tangible documents in some quantity; the Maori left simply archaeological remains, the assessment of which is merely beginning, and a store of legend of dubious usefulness to the historian. The historian's first and elementary task is to construct a chronology—to say what happened and in what order. Purely Maori historical materials do not even allow him to perform this initial task.

Dr Sinclair, by the simple facts of the case, could not put the Maori alone at the centre of his picture, but had to set there two figures, the Maori and the settler, regarding each other first with friendship, then with suspicion, and finally with anger. And he tells us a good deal more about what went on in the minds of settlers—those who loved the Maori, those who hated him, those who cheated him and those who tried to protect him—than about what passed through the minds of the Maoris. For the Maoris wrote few letters, published few newspapers, kept no minute books or diaries.

There may exist, in oral tradition, and perhaps even in as yet unknown records, the materials from which a truly Maori history of the period between first contact and final conflict conld be written. If so, it will probably be the job of a Maori scholar to find them and tell us what they mean.

Half of Dr Sinclair's book, then, is a fastmoving, brilliantly written, learned and colourful account of racial conflict in the earlier 19th century. It is a period and a topic which he has made very much his own in detailed research, and his treatment is a part of our literature as well as our history. Parts II and III recount the history of New Zealand since 1870—New Zealand as in essence a European society. But if the Maori receded into the background, the Pacific Ocean does not; Dr Sinclair insists on treating New Zealand in terms of its geography and its immediate neighbours. Apart from this emphasis, the latter half of the book is a prolonged and eloquent sermon preached upon some such text as ‘All men are created equal, and New Zealanders have been determined to achieve equality.’ Most reviews of the book have concentrated upon this later section, and it has stirred up a good deal of controversy. But it is my impression that the first half of the book will prove the more enduring.

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NEW MAGAZINE FOR THE PACIFIC WORLD

Pacific Viewpoint, published twice yearly by the Department of Geography, Victoria University of Wellington, £1 per year. Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1960

This Magazine covers a wide area, not only the Pacific Islands and New Zealand but also South East Asia and China. The first issue has not much New Zealand material, but there is an article ‘The Maori in Town and Country’ by J. Booth which brings together some results of recent research, and incidentally mentions Te Ao Hou's Auckland issue in some detail.

The editor, Prof. Buchanan, contributes an excellent article on ‘The Changing Landscape of Rural China’ which gives an objective and most illuminating description of the way Communist China solved its enormous economic problems.

I understand that future issues will have a slightly more New Zealand flavour; I certainly hope so. Although the first issue is of very high quality, there are many interesting local problems that can be studied by a paper of this kind which, although edited by a geographer, is much broader in its interests than the typical productions of the geographic professionals.

E.G.S.

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“Historic Wellington”. Alexander, John H. Wellington: A. H. & A. W. Reed. 48 pages. 6s. 6d.

With “Historic Wellington” Mr Alexander has made a notable contribution to the preservation of our provincial history. Although he could be criticised by the purists for the historical content of his text Mr Alexnder is primarily concerned with recording for the future a visual record of early Wellington. His collection of drawings has done this admirably and will serve for many years as a source of reproduction for future historians, biographers and admirers of Wellington's early buildings.

There is no orderly presentation of material in this book, but each section with its drawings is a delightful story in itself well written by Mr Alexander who, with the aid of a keen human insight, gives a down-to-earth readable interpretation of the history of each family or building. He includes early churches, commercial and government buildings, the homes of old well known Wellington families and then moves out into the country portraying expertly, among others, the old homestead of Hakaraia Rangikura at Rangiuru Road, Otaki.

All told this is an excellent publication which Wellington can be proud of. My only criticism (and I have left this to the last so as not to obscure the good I wanted to say about it) is that Mr Alexander failed to record in his illustrations the old home of Edward Gibbon Wakefield on the Terrace. In view of the very large part played by Wakefield in the early Wellington story I would have thought this would have been a “must” in any illustrated record of historic Wellington.

J. F. ROBERTSON.

RACE RELATIONS

“Brown Conflict” by Leo Fowler. George G. Harrap. English price, 13s. 6d. Reviewed by the Rt. Rev. W. N. Panapa, Bishop of Aotearoa.

I can recommend Mr Fowler's book to all New Zealanders, both Pakeha and Maori, as one that we can all read at the present time profitably, and that for three reasons.

Firstly, it comes at a time most opportune when race relationship in New Zealand and all the world over is more than merely a live topic. Perhaps we in the past have opened our mouths too widely and given the impressions that we lead the world in the matter of racial integration. It is a good thing that we should take stock of ourselves and realise that no one is necessarily accepted on reputation but only on one's daily worth; and whether we like it or not, we must be ready and willing to suffer for the misdemeanour of our own people.

Secondly, the title of the book is a good one and true: “Brown Conflict”. It was conflict right from the beginning and it is well for us to remember that only through conflict can we measure up to one another and find, in the words of Robert Burns, “a man's a man for a' that.” The historical background of the book was an interesting period in New Zealand history during the latter part of the nineteenth century. And so the story unfolds itself in a milieu of the pioneering days as the years of conflict, the settlers wanting more land, and the Maoris fighting to retain it. As the Maori proverb puts it succinctly: “He wahine he whenua e mate ai te tangata.” Man dies for his womenfolk and land.

And last but not least, in that particular setting, Mr Fowler tells his story well and ture. All his characters are more than fictional, indeed they are live persons we have all met down the years. Perhaps one could best sum up one's own impression of a delightful book by quoting the old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

“On this site stood Mawhera Pa where James Mackay completed the deed of sale of Westland with the Maoris—May 21, 1860.”

Thus reads the inscription on the plaque which is to be erected in Tainui Park, almost opposite the end of the Cobden Bridge on the Greymouth side. It was unveiled on May 21.

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MODERN BOOKS
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