Short history reviews, Dale Williams

Waiheke Island. A History
Paul Monin,
Dunmore Press, $34.95

Aucklanders are in love with the romantic idea of a sizeable, liveable island just 20 kilometres from their urban sprawl. But Waiheke’s wide range of natural resources have always been desired and fought over, long before the age of leisure craft, as historian Monin makes plain in this formal, traditional account.

He places firm emphasis on Waiheke’s long and dramatic Maori history, and makes a valiant attempt to reconcile conflicting tribal versions of who conquered what and when, and who had a right to dispose of it as they chose. A labour of love, this sympathetic and readable human history deals with pre-European settlement and power-plays, European contacts and more tribal conflict, Waiheke’s brief moment as a destination for delinquent youth deportees in the 1840s, more settled times of pioneer farming, land disputes, war, intensive mining and forestry, and an early switch to tourism once the resources had run out. The account ends in 1920, a watershed when the last tangata whenua community departs and the era of residential subdivisions begins. A pervasive interest in land deals dominates the text.

Chiefs suffered loss of mana as events began to overtake their power to control them, as Maori ownership of resources declined, as deals were lost, as debts increased. They gained only modest recovery of mana from their leadership in Christian worship which hardly matched the multi-dimensional role of the traditional chief-tohunga.



These Fortunate Isles: Some Russian perceptions of New Zealand in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
John Goodliffe,
Canterbury University Press, $39.95

Long-time Canterbury University Russian lecturer Goodliffe has selected, annotated and extensively commented on seven different views of New Zealand that were expressed in Russian literature of the nineteenth century. From the pessimism of early writers who regarded us as islands of misery, grief and despair and the very epitome of barbarity, to later ones enamoured of our social experimentation of the 1880s and 90s, some accounts reveal thorough research or first-hand experience, while others, like that of A A Titov, make diverting reading for all the wrong reasons. Titov, who appears to have interviewed his vodka bottle, peoples his New Zealand with eucalyptus forests filled with boomerang-throwing natives and the ingenious pagu bird which stands on its beak to spin like a top.

Authors covered include Anton Chekov and Jules Verne. Production values: A4 card-bound exterior, tidily desk-topped contents; no illustrations.

In the nineteenth century, Russian writers had created a tradition whereby criticism of the Tsar’s government, the backwardness of Russia’s social institutions, and the plight of its people was, so to speak, smuggled into works of fiction and into writings on matters ostensibly unconnected with Tsarist Russia.


Dale Williams is a Wellington writer and editor.


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