Letters – Issue 94

Talking heads

How refreshing that for Nelson Wattie (NZB Autumn 2011) the time has clearly come to no longer “go with the flow” – in this case, the incessant flow of information from writers talking about (their) writing and thereby morphing into what the (media) age increasingly demands, namely: talking heads. Not that Wattie has any quarrel with the particular writers who were interviewed for the book he reviews – nor is he questioning either their individual writerly merits or their collective contribution to the increasingly impressive body of work that is New Zealand literature.

What he is challenging, it seems to me, is our uncritical acquiescence as readers/listeners in the exponential growth of published interviews which distract attention further and further away from the practice – and indeed, celebration – of writing.

Doubtless, those of us who like Wattie grew up in an age where readers scarcely knew what writers even looked like – let alone whether or not they took milk in their tea – found the information deficit frustrating in the extreme. What I find salutary is Wattie’s timely warning that we just might be in danger of going to the opposite extreme, aka information overload. There is a tipping-point beyond which information as such, not to mention more and more information, is not eo ipso a good thing.

Way back in the 1970s, when Seamus Heaney was not yet anything like as famous as he has since become, he astutely identified the dangers and traps that (over-)exposure may entail for the writer and the writer’s craft. Your man knew what he was talking about. Nelson Wattie’s cri de coeur – “now, please stop talking and WRITE” – rang similarly true and touched a chord in this reader’s own heart.

Peter H Marsden


Poles apart

Peter Calder’s review of Gillian Turner’s North Pole South Pole (NZB, Autumn 2011) reminded me of a four-year-old with fingers firmly in his ears, saying triumphantly “I can’t hear you!” I also admit to being scientifically dim-witted, but I read this book with great enjoyment and mounting excitement; and I finished it exclaiming, “If someone had given me this book when I was 15 or 16, I think I might have done a science degree instead of arts!”

Kate Fortune


Te reo

Hey, is it just me or is it the case that there is bugger all in New Zealand Books pertaining to Maori, whether they be writers or reviewers – and let alone anything ever ki te reo Maori? A lot of stuff by pakeha “about” Maori, though – sometimes at several stones’ remove, eh! eg Dalley on Binney on Maori; Ward on Belich on Maori, and why no shared title Nga Pukapuka o Aotearoa?

Surely there is more scope for more of the other official language of New Zealand in your fella’s pages, eh?

Don’t get me wrong. I am a firm subscriber to your fine magazine – engari kei tetahi atu tangata ki tenei whenua hoki, nei? Kei rua nga reo katipa kei kona!

Vaughan Rapatahana
Hong Kong


Business and cricket

I wonder if I could add a comment to your engaging review (NZB, Autumn 2011) of Richard Boock’s splendid The Last Everyday Hero: The Bert Sutcliffe Story, particularly on the failure of his sports goods store.

I was hired by Bert as a very junior secondary schoolboy to break in cricket bats at the store on Friday evenings. Boock refers to “assurances” given to Bert before his departure for the first India-Pakistan tour. Among Dunedin’s chattering classes there was an understanding that assurances meant the provision of management assistance for the store from cricket council members while Bert was away. This support did not eventuate.

But there are two further points. As an employee, I became aware that many – too many – visited the store not to buy but simply to have contact with Dunedin’s hero. The volume of traffic in the shop was quite misleading in terms of profitability. Secondly, I think more coverage could have been given to Cederwall’s role in the partnership. What was his background? Was he as assiduous as Bert in paying off the accumulated debt? It is also important to recognise that Sutcliffe and Cederwall operated in a competitive environment. The Otago Sports Depot, for instance, had a long held and loyal Dunedin clientele. Many sports clubs felt that they could not desert the firm that had supported them over many years – especially during the period of the Great Depression. Boock’s coverage of the exclusion of George Mills from the 1949 England tour deserves an amplifying comment. George was an excellent wicketkeeper and batsman. But the Dunedin version was that his exclusion was due to his being a “wharfie”. Presenting the omission as a health issue was quite simply rejected by Dunedinites who were always quick to detect a slight. I recall Walter Hadlee, a team selector, being treated with great reserve by the Dunedin crowd from that time on.

As well as involvement with Bert’s sports goods store, I was part of his primary and later secondary school coaching group. While I was aware of muted criticism of his effectiveness as a coach, our group acknowledged that we were in the presence of a thoroughly decent man and genuine hero whose enthusiasm for us as individuals instilled in many of us  – even as schoolboys – a deep interest in the game of cricket. That to me is the mark of a great coach.

Gerald McGhie


A worthy companion

When I first saw The Treaty of Waitangi Companion in Wellington’s Newtown Library, I thought “What is this?” It turned out to be a collection of quotations – around Treaty issues but also Maori-Pakeha relations in general from first encounters to the 2000s. As I dipped into it, the words “This is the book I have been waiting for all my life” flicked through my head. I borrowed it, and shortly afterwards bought it.

It is the most fascinating book I have ever read – though I cannot read it for more than about 10 minutes at a time as some of its revelations are so shocking and sad-making. Your reviewer (“Contextualising the Treaty”, NZB Autumn 2011) was much less impressed – mainly, it seems, because he wanted a “companion” to be much more than a collection of quotations, including discussion of how our Treaty fitted into the international scene. He also thought the quotations chosen represented the “claimants and claimants’ advocates”.  It doesn’t look like that to me. It is clear that this is a choice made by three individuals. Any other three would have chosen different quotations from different sources. But not many would have arranged them so cleverly into themes while maintaining a chronology – making a very readable structure. And I love the way the long headings form a narrative storyline to string the quotations together.

But the best thing is reading the real words – what was actually said and written as the Maori-Pakeha relationship developed.

Jane Tolerton


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