Bringing NZ history to life author's aim
Ron Crosby is one of six authors who will speak at the inaugural Marlborough Book Festival on July 26-27. The author of The Musket Wars and Andris Apse - Where Are You? answers questions from festival trustee Sonia O'Regan
Your session is called Following in Their Footsteps because you are inclined to pull on your boots and retrace the steps of people you write about. These trips sound like great adventures. Which will you be talking about at the festival?
I will be addressing two books, The Musket Wars and Andris Apse - Where Are You?, because they appear to both have contemporary significance. The Musket Wars as their outcomes are increasingly important as the Treaty settlement process continues with its rapid momentum. New Zealanders should all have some grasp of our Maori history and why the various iwi are located today where they are, who they are, and their inter-relationships. The events of the Musket Wars ranged over the whole country and covered three very dramatic decades with the spoils largely going to the victors. Their footsteps dot the country and our old artwork, in a manner that is brought alive if one has a knowledge of the events.
The tale of Andris Apse is of the effects of war and Russian occupation for two decades on the Baltic country of Latvia. The Apse family was torn apart by war for 47 years before they each discovered that the other had survived and now lived on different sides of the world. The sadness of that forced separation and the joys and sadness of temporary reunion and further separation by distance make for a poignant tale. However, despite Latvia gaining its independence in the 1990s, the result of Russian occupation for two generations was that an army of Russian administrators and their families now live in Latvia. Putin has repetitively promised in Crimea and now the Ukraine to ‘protect' ethnic Russians in other countries. The Baltic nations face a potential repeat of their dreadful past if Putin turns his attention that way.
How do you choose your subjects to research?
Usually by looking for areas where relatively little has been written but which, at least on my perception, have significance in some manner for New Zealand history.
Is there a particular person who influenced your decision to write history?
For Maori history my father-in-law Mangatitoki Kamariera (Cameron) who had a large collection of Maori texts, and for general history my father too had a large collection of particularly WWII books. For general history interest though my thirst for history was sparked by my father buying a set of Arthur Mee's Encyclopedias which I pored through as a child for many years.
You are a lawyer and now work as an RMA commissioner, and a member of the Waitangi Tribunal. How does your legal knowledge influence your research and writing?
I have always regarded law and history as related disciplines. Practised well, they each involve the ability to draw out precise issues from a morass of facts which are relevant to the subject matter you are writing about.
Do you ever come across a character in your research who you would have liked to have represented?
Not individuals but I certainly repetitively come across groups or nations who have suffered at the hands of those seeking power and wealth who I would like to have represented in international judicial bodies.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I have been fortunate enough to be awarded a Ministry of Culture & Heritage grant to research and write on the history of those iwi and hapu who fought alongside the Crown in the various wars in the 19th century. It is proving a major challenge as the extent of Maori involvement in support of the Crown was more extensive than I had appreciated and is requiring major drawn out research.
The tragedy that research displays was the callous way that Maori support was relied upon by the Colonial government but was then ‘rewarded' by a pattern of continued policies aimed at Pakeha acquisition of their lands by confiscation, and individualisation of title coupled with seriously ‘sharp' acquisition practices by Crown purchase agents. That subsequent Crown conduct was in gross breach of Treaty obligations and indeed what one might have also expected in decent human conduct terms to have been the appropriate gratitude by the colonial settlers for the military support of Maori.
One of the most memorable books I've ever read is . . .
Winston Churchill's six volumes on WWII or his four volumes on the History of the English Speaking Peoples for overseas histories, or Barry Crump's Good Keen Man or Wild Pork and Watercress which to me encapsulate all the good basic attributes of Kiwi humour set against realistic Urewera settings in locations that I have walked through and can relate to. Two authors worlds apart in so many ways!
The Marlborough Express