New Zealand Reading list


Friends coming to NZ often ask me for a reading list. Here’s what I emailed one friend:

Best convenient maori-english-maori dictionary is Reed Pocket Dictionary of Modern Maori

Be aware that in the last few years there is a huge shift in proper pronunciation of Maori. A lot of even well disposed pakeha don’t pronounce stuff correctly and a lot of racists enjoy mispronouncing. One of the keys is to pronounce all “au” sounds as the vowel in toe or hoe. Thus Hauraki Gulf is Hoe-ra-ki, Taupo is Toe-paw. Best guide is usually younger announcers on Radio NZ National. Older announcers try but sometimes get it wrong. Maori Channel 5 on TV is unique – the closest thing in OZ is SBS TV.


Absolutely brilliant are Waitangi Tribunal Reports on various cases. They set out the history and are available in the city library on open access and probably on their website.

Penguin History of New Zealand, 2003, Michael King is THE classic. Unfortunately some of the paperbacks were released to market with some pages repeated and some missing. So flick through to see if your copy is a good one.

James Belich  two volume work A History of the New Zealanders, consisting of Making Peoples (1996) and Paradise Reforged (2001). (I haven’t read this one, but Joanna recommends)

A wonderful piece of writing for kids and adults alike is ‘The kauri and the willow : how we lived and grew from 1801-1942’ / Elsie Locke. Wellington Government Printer, 1984. Each little story in the book is only one or two pages and it’s easy to dip in and out of.

Dick Scott has written heaps of pretty accessible and good stuff, but he’s no great academic so you won’t get earth shattering new syntheses.

Joan Druett wrote ‘Tupaia, Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger; (2011) Auckland, New Zealand: Random House
her history is of the mold of Anna Clendening and Anne Salmond using available sources to tell the story from an aboriginal viewpoint

Jack Lee’s brilliant little book, Bay of Islands, sets out early white history of north island quite well. Colonial irony that greedy gun trading which armed indigenous people allowed them to fight off white aggression and land grabs.

For south island early white history (sealing and whaling insights) see The World of John Boultbee, 1977 by A.Charles Begg, Neil C. Begg. The Begg brothers also wrote a good book about Captain Cook in the Pacific

Social history:

Speaking for Ourselves Alwyn Owen, Jack Perkins 10 oral history interviews FROM 1986 AWARD-WINNING ‘SPECTRUM’ RADIO SERIES

Gavin McLean is worth a read – he’s a nice chap and works for the History Group of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage (I wish Oz had full time historians. He started as a maritime historian, which is how I know him. I haven’t read his recent publications which from the Ministry website include “Frontier of Dreams (2005, co-edited with Bronwyn Dalley), Heartlands: New Zealanders Write About Where History Happened (2006, co-edited with Kynan Gentry) and two widely acclaimed 2007 centennial publications for publisher Reed Books.”

For Chinese in NZ try Stephen Young’s website

Patricia Grace – Maori writer I love!

The Bone People – Keri Hulme. Wonderful humanity but don’t let anyone do a plot spoiler for you.

Elizabeth Catton – The Luminaries – not to my taste. I couldn’t accept the improbables or wade through it all.

Of course the old classics, Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame

And don’t forget the islander culture in NZ.  I quite enjoyed Albert Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home

All NZers know Edmonds Sure to Rise Cookbook

Another wonderful insight from an early Polish visitor is:
Tikera: Or the Children of the Queen of Oceania Hardcover – March 15, 1973. published 1877. by Sygurd Wisniowski (Author), Jerzy Podstolski (Translator from Polish) Dennis McEldowney (Editor)  Wisniowski was in NZ in 1860s but did not visit war districts

NZ On Screen film archive
great collection of NZ historical film and TV
Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, includes nz dictionary of biography


tags: fiction literature poetry


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