Letters – Issue 60

Laconic inaccuracies

Bryan Gilling does himself no favours with his extraordinarily laconic and frequently inaccurate review of my book Te Ara Ki Te Tiriti: The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi. The constraints of space prevent me from detailing all of his many distortions, but a few examples should suffice to demonstrate the point.

First, Gilling alleges that I violently dislike Hobson. Nothing could be further from the truth. In addition to having written a biography of Hobson, I have always afforded him (as indeed all persons I write about) a fair and dispassionate hearing based on the surviving evidence. Gilling might find the use of these crude and misleading exaggerations personally titillating, but, sadly, they suggest a prejudice which is borne out in the remainder of his review.

His assumptions about the sort of sovereignty Maori possessed at the time the Treaty was signed, for example, are both poorly applied in his analysis and reveal a blind-spot in his awareness of the approach the Colonial Office took to “the New Zealand question”. Moreover, they reflect widespread (although admittedly dated) presumptions of some Pakeha authors about the nature and character of Maori sovereignty, which I am sure many people would find bordering on being offensive.

Gilling’s general conclusion, which he eloquently summarises as “so what?”, is nothing short of startling. My book points out, for the first time, that the commonly held belief that the Treaty extended British sovereignty over all people in New Zealand is, in fact, wrong. I have demonstrated that the Treaty was only intended to assert British sovereignty over British subjects in the colony, and that Maori sovereignty would remain unaffected by the official British presence in the country. If Gilling finds this central issue uninteresting, I am at a loss to know what he would see as significant.

Finally, as Gilling questions the value of my book, I would be happy to refer him to credible reviews, such as those of Rawiri Taonui of Auckland University’s History Department, and James Ritchie, whose credentials in the sphere of Treaty issues are well-established.

Perhaps if Gilling examined the evidence more closely, and paid greater attention to what he was reading, his appreciation of many of the nuances of the issues surrounding the creation of the Treaty would be sufficiently pronounced to enable him to make informed evaluations on the topic.

Dr Paul Moon,



…and low standards

Congratulations on trying for balance. Anna Jackson’s mainly unfavourable review of four New Zealand YA books in your June 2003 issue was titled “Why bother?” She condemns three of the books as having impoverished language and basic syntax. Meanwhile, your editorial in the same issue points out that “why bother?” is unfortunately the attitude of most literary editors towards children’s literature when choosing books to review.

Put these two viewpoints side by side, and one can tease out an even more difficult question: “Why bother to publish and review New Zealand novels for young people if most of them don’t reach the standards set by top overseas writers?”

This is the crucial question. Most of the stories published for young people in New Zealand are short, plot-driven, action-packed and single-themed, with the main genres being sport, adventure, humour and social issues. They are written to provide quick reads. With the notable exceptions of Joy Cowley, Tessa Duder, Maurice Gee, Sherryl Jordon, Margaret Mahy and Jack Lasenby, our authors are apparently not encouraged to write strongly imaginative stories with in-depth character development, rich language, multiple themes, and historical and mythological setting ie books similar to award-winning novels from overseas (and of course, also similar to Alchemy, which is the only book to meet with Anna Jackson’s approval).

Is this dearth of rich and substantial local literature due to our very small market? Is it because most of our publishers think that only easy-to-read stories will sell enough copies here? If it is, we’re stuck in a Catch-22 situation. The majority of New Zealand children’s novels will continue to be “thin” and unreviewed (or negatively reviewed) in the general media, while teachers and librarians will carry on spending their budgets on well-reviewed, longer and more challenging novels from overseas.

Lorraine Orman,


Tagged with: ,
Posted in Letters
Search the archive
Search by category