Blog Archives

Lessons from history, Bronwyn Labrum

Rough on Women: Abortion in 19th Century New Zealand
Margaret Sparrow
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739360

Someone I follow on Twitter reported that a friend of hers had no idea that abortion is yet to be decriminalised in New Zealand. This was tweeted in the context of the debates about the 2014 general election, when issues about abortion were barely raised. Increasingly liberal practice since the late 1970s has made abortion services more widely accessible, and extremely safe. But those who were part of that social media conversation, as well as a much wider audience, deserve to read this second, much needed book from the redoubtable Margaret Sparrow, well-known for her long career in reproductive and general health and publicly recognised for her services to medicine and to the community.

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Posted in Gender, Health, History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

No drive-by answers, David Cohen

Sorrows of a Century: Interpreting Suicide in New Zealand, 1900-2000
John C Weaver
Bridget Williams Books, $60.00,
ISBN 9781927277232

All of us seek happiness, Pascal declared centuries ago, even at the point of a warm gun. “This is without exception,” argued the author of the Pensées:

Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

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Posted in Health, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

A poverty of compassion, Rod Oram

Child Poverty in New Zealand
Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple
Bridget Williams Books, $50.00,
ISBN 9781927247860

“New Zealand has the necessary resources to reduce child poverty, and equitable and efficient ways to secure these resources are available. The question is not about our capacity, it is about our political will.” This is the unequivocal conclusion of Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple in their book Child Poverty in New Zealand. They base it on their exhaustive analysis of the scale, complexity and damage of child poverty, and the myriad ways we could tackle it.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review and Sociology

Yesterday today, Glyn Harper

How We Remember: New Zealanders and the First World War
Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739353

With the centenary of WWI now upon us, a flood of books on New Zealand’s role in that conflict can be expected. The first of these appeared in late 2013, and this trend will continue for the next few years. Amongst the books on offer in 2014 is How We Remember: New Zealanders and the First World War edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts. Few of the publications that will appear over the coming years will match How We Remember for its diversity or its insights.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Sociology and War

Outstanding achievement or pitiful war? Janet Hunt

Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand
Eric Pawson and Tom Brooking (eds)
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781877578526

Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand is a revised, expanded and renamed edition of Environmental Histories of New Zealand (Oxford University Press, 2002). The new title is both more inviting and in keeping with an updated cover that clearly signals what is within: it is in attractive earthen tones and features William Sutton’s painting, Hills and Plains, Waikari 1956, in which the neatly segmented fields of the North Canterbury plains occupy the centre, framed at the top by tan-hued foothills and the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps and, at the bottom, by grey, featureless blocks of farm buildings. The dark shapes of macrocarpa windbreaks are conspicuous in the foreground and in the far distance. The view is devoid of indigenous vegetation, or animal or human life. It is a landscape that has been well and truly remade.

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Posted in History, Natural History, Review and Sociology

Delivery suite, Rae Varcoe

The Rise and Fall of National Women’s Hospital
Linda Bryder
Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408091

Many readers will be familiar with the furore which arose when Linda Bryder‘s A History of the ‘Unfortunate Experiment’ at National Women’s Hospital (2009) concluded that Herb Green’s management of pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix was not an experiment and that Dame Sylvia Cartwright was in error. Bryder’s view was that Green’s non-interventional management of such cervical abnormalities was in line with that of other academic units overseas and, as the patients were not randomised, but treated on a case-by-case basis, the treatment was not experimental. This continues to be an area of vigorous debate (see letters in the New Zealand Listener for 19 and 26 April 2014). The Cartwright Enquiry book was a diversion from the research and construction of this comprehensive history of National Women’s Hospital for which Bryder received a Marsden Fund grant in 2003.

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Posted in Health, History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

The Goliath of public opinion, Gyles Beckford

Peace, Power and Politics: How New Zealand Became Nuclear Free
Maire Leadbetter
Otago University Press
ISBN 9781877578588

I remember that visit of the USS Truxtun to Wellington in August 1976. It was cold and dreary, matching the battle-grey paintwork of the ship. We were a loose amalgam of students, unionists, peaceniks, and a sprinkling of concerned suburbanites under the umbrella of the Campaign Against Nuclear Warships. We stood outside the Queen’s Wharf gates with banners and placards, and plenty of jeers and abuse for the small knots of sailors coming ashore.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Sociology

Chronicling the near present, Joe Atkinson

Changing Times: New Zealand Since 1945
Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow
Auckland University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781869407827

Whoever coined the title for this new history of New Zealand’s recent past clearly did not want to give anything away. It is hard to think of a blander, less committal title than Changing Times. Isn’t all history about changing times? Such a title might be taken to reflect our populist and relativist age where conclusiveness or the attribution of historical progression are widely considered to be culturally insensitive. Can history be written in such an age?

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Scots collective and singular, Kirstine Moffat

Unpacking the Kists: The Scots in New Zealand
Brad Patterson, Tom Brooking and Jim McAloon
Otago University Press, $70.00,
ISBN 9780773541900

I have always enjoyed the inventiveness of collective nouns, favourites being an exaltation of larks and a worship of writers. If these are extended to national groupings, what springs to mind in relation to the Scots? In spite of my Scottish birth, I have to confess that my initial musings were decidedly stereotypical: a frugality of Scots; a dourness of Scots; a tartan of Scots; a presbytery of Scots. I am not alone. In the 1486 Book of St Albans, there is a reference to “a disworship of Scots”, while Google offers “a filth of Scots”. It is precisely these limited kinds of national stereotypes that Brad Patterson, Tom Brooking and Jim McAloon seek to challenge and complicate in their thoughtful, authoritative Unpacking the Kists: The Scots in New Zealand. Throughout, the authors argue that the history of Scots in New Zealand is one of complexity and diversity.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

What are ya, mate? Hugh Roberts

Pacific Highways (GriffithREVIEW 43)
Julianne Schultz and Lloyd Jones (eds)
Griffith University, $35.00,
ISBN 9781922182241

Is New Zealand peculiarly burdened with the curse of national introspection? Even to pose the question is to succumb to that curse; or perhaps to reduce it to its hall-of-mirrors core: “the defining characteristic of the New Zealander is to be endlessly preoccupied with discovering the defining characteristic of the New Zealander.” Can we ever stop worrying about “who we are now” and just start being it? Well, not yet, if the latest edition of the GriffithREVIEW is anything to go by.

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Posted in Essays, Fiction, Literature, Non-fiction, Poetry, Review, Short stories and Sociology
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