Thursday, 4 October 2018

Dear Oliver: Uncovering a Pakeha History by Peter Wells

As we age and the generation above us passes on we come to realise and sometimes regret that we didn’t ask and listen to their stories – of their childhood, the challenges of their youth, the reality of life ‘back in their day’.

Respected Napier writer, Peter Wells, has delved into his family stories through letters kept by his mother, Bess. The Northe family first came to these shores in 1848 and their lives are woven into the establishment and growth of Napier.

Peter says: ‘With this book I have made my Pakeha family and ancestors into stories…’

As a fellow Pakeha I found much to identify with from my own past such as the middle class snobbery of grandmothers and their insistence about etiquette.

Each chapter begins with a letter and extrapolates out beyond the personal into a social history of the time. This includes major events such as the Wars, including the Maori Wars and the Napier earthquake, as well as more domestic matters such as establishing businesses and raising children.

‘Some stories may be true, some may be my own misunderstanding of stories…’

This is a brave book as Peter shares some of his own journey as a gay man and the responses of his family to this. The trials and triumphs of everyday life through generations are described always with Hawkes Bay, and especially Napier, part of the story. It is fascinating and beautifully written.

As Peter states in the afterword of the book: …it is an attempt at telling a story about being Pakeha in Aotearoa New Zealand through time. Dear Oliver completes a trilogy of stories from Napier’s history. The other histories are about William Colenso and Kereopa Te Rau.

Peter Wells will speak with Elizabeth Smither in a session at the Readers and Writers section of the Hawkes Bay Arts Festival. This session, ‘Between the Lines’, will be held at 12 noon on Saturday 20th October at the MTG Century Theatre in Napier. Tickets $18.00. Book online at

Reviewed by Josephine Carpenter

Catalogue link: Dear Oliver

Friday, 28 September 2018

The Chinese Proverb by Tina Clough

An old Chinese proverb states that if you save someone’s life you are then responsible for that person.

Hunter Grant, an ex-soldier, is staying at his basic bach in Northland when he finds an unconscious young woman in the bush during a storm. Gradually it is revealed that the girl, Dao, has run away from a man she calls Master, and has been enslaved for some time. Master is a drug trafficker who is desperate to find Dao as she knows too much information about him. By association Hunter is in the firing line as well, and takes matters concerning Dao's safety into his own hands using his knowledge as an international security consultant. If you are unconscious and in trouble in the middle of the New Zealand bush it would seem that Hunter Grant would be the best possible person to find you (kind of like having Bear Grylls sitting beside you when your plane goes down). Although in many ways Hunter and Dao are polar opposites, they share experiences of psychological and physical damage; Hunter from the Afghanistan war and Dao from years of enslavement and the death of her parents. Three women help in Hunter's quest to keep Dao safe: Hunters old army friend Charlie, and his two sisters. Hunter's dog Scruff is also an endearing character in his own right.

This is a great pacy story with interesting relationships, good characters and gripping suspense.

Tina Clough is a Hawke's Bay author who has previously published Running Towards Danger and The Girl Who Lived Twice. She was born in Sweden, married a New Zealander and also works as a translator and editor of Swedish medical research papers. Clough's last book Running Towards Danger was set in Hawke's Bay and also dealt with a young woman in distress being pursued by criminals, although in a very different way.

The Chinese Proverb provides an interesting view on how a person copes with changes in society after having no contact with the outside world for many years. For the first time Clough writes from a male perspective, which she manages with aplomb.

For those of you who say you don't like reading New Zealand authors: a) shame on you, and b) Clough's crime novels have more depth than many of her international peers works, and are all the more authentic for having a New Zealand setting.


Tina Clough joins Catherine Robinson in a session during the Readers & Writers section of the Hawkes Bay Arts Festival. Rebel Girls Sunday 21 October, 10.00am in the Spiegeltent, Havelock North.

Posted by Katrina

Catalogue link: The Chinese Proverb

Thursday, 27 September 2018

He Reo Wahine by Dr Lachy Paterson and Dr Angela Wanhalla

He Reo Wahine, by Dr Lachy Paterson and Dr Angela Wanhalla, explores the issues that surrounded and directed Māori women’s lives during the 19th century. The authors are researchers who focus largely on colonial New Zealand and the social, political and cultural aspects of the people present at that time (19th century).

He Reo Wahine is a compendium of letters, court documents and notes that allow us a glimpse into some of the real issues that plagued Aotearoa such as the raids of Te Rauparaha to the invasion of Parihaka. We are able to delve into history itself and see from a first-person view the impact war had on these women and their families.

One wahine talks about the slaying of people in Ngāi Tahu by Ngāti Toa Rangatira leader and composer of the world-famous haka ‘Ka Mate’, Te Rauparaha. The loss suffered by the people of Ngāi Tahu is still remembered by the descendants of those slain.

Through the wāhine Māori voices inked into these pages, we begin to comprehend the deep connection these women felt about the land and new laws that prevented many Māori from keeping them. It is apparent throughout the book that these women were not so reluctant to stand proud and articulate their thoughts where land or court was concerned. Some of these women were successful in re-gaining their lands and others, not so.

The stories that make up the book are woven together delicately so as to allow these women’s voices to come through clearly. The authors have been careful not to assert their own perspectives as they strip back or reflect on different texts, leaving room for further discussion. While some pieces are wholly written in Māori and some are not, all have the power to stir emotions, some angry and some down-right sad.

For a young Māori woman, this book can prove to be mana enhancing in a way that defeats the long-standing assumption that Māori women were uneducated and not respected. A powerful and heart-gripping book that affirms the mana of the wāhine in the 19th century and preserves the mauri or essence of their words – he reo wahine.

On Saturday 20 October, 3pm at the MTG Napier, Patterson and Wanhalla join Barbara Brookes (A History of New Zealand Women) in a Readers and Writers session of the Harcourts Hawkes Bay Arts Festival. The Shrieking Sisterhood: women’s voices from the past, chaired by Tryphena Cracknell, will discuss the diverse ways in which New Zealand women argued for rights. 

Posted by Ali

Catalogue link: He Reo Wahine