Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Michael King

I'd never read a Michael King book before although I'd seen the interview he did with Kim Hill shortly before he died and thought he was pretty switched on. Despite this I'd never had the inclination to read much NZ history but I got given the Penguin History of New Zealand for my birthday a couple of months back and I'd slowly been working my way through it. Finally after some determined reading in the wee small hours over the weekend I knocked the bastard off. Its only now that I fully understand the tragedy of Michael King's death.

Up until now my knowledge of New Zealand history has had more holes in it than a National Party press release. I got a few bits and pieces in 5th form history and occasionally I'd bump into it if it happened to coincide with some other interest. But otherwise our history was just filled with boring stories about stuffy old dead white guys (the brown guys not getting much of a look in). I had some vague ideas about the crown having shafted Maori way back in the distant past, and even did alright on David Slack's treaty quiz, but important events like the Maori Land Wars in the 1860s slipped under the radar. I suspect its the same for most other people my age especially if you happened to go the one of the most lilly white schools in conservative Christchurch like I did.

And then I read Michael King... suddenly our history became interesting and readable and I want to read more. Its not that Michael King has turned me into a history geek... I've got past dismissing history as "1066 and all that" and I've always been happy to read dusty old tomes about other country's history especially if the country had a decent history of violence to attract my interest. Its more that he answered the "so what?" question that kept other books on the shelf and linked dead white (and brown) guys to the reality of 21st century NZ. I suspect I'm not the only person to have this reaction to Michael King.

No other NZ historian has done this and that is the tragedy of his death.