Skip to main content

The Voy­agers: Remark­able European Explor­a­tions of New Zea­l­and, Paul Moon: Penguin.

There’s a per­verse sort of pride that’s known only by those who live on the edge of the map.

Peer­ing over the rim at star­light glan­cing off the shells of those pro­ver­bi­al ‘turtles all the way down’, it’s hard not to enjoy the know­ledge that you’re still liv­ing some­where that, for all the wider world cares, could just as eas­ily be Aus­tralia or Canada. Maps from the com­plet­ist-only lat­ter days of the Age of Explor­a­tion depict Australia’s dis­tinct­ive rhino-horn north­ern shoreline shrug­ging blankly into a South Pacific mess that ter­min­ates with a haphaz­ard attempt at the south­east­ern extremit­ies of Aotearoa.

Of course, the area was well known to many. While white folks were grow­ing out their mut­ton-chops and load­ing up enough Bibles, blun­der­busses and ’baccy to win pas­sage into this last New World, the tangata when­ua were bund­ling up the wrap­ping from the kete o te wān­anga – the three bas­kets brought down by Tāne to form the basis of Māori ances­tral know­ledge. It was the integ­ra­tion of these two know­ledge sys­tems – indi­gen­ous mātaur­anga Māori and pos­it­iv­ist European tax­onomy – that would form the earli­est West­ern ideas about what exactly lay down at the last stop before Antarctica.

Pro­fess­or Paul Moon’s new book, The Voy­agers: Remark­able European Explor­a­tions of New Zea­l­and, is itself an admir­able odys­sey. Moon sketches a pic­ture of New Zea­l­and as it came into exist­ence in the minds and on the pages of the country’s first European vis­it­ors – leav­ing out no detail of these explorers’ rough traffic through already-old Aotearoa.

Moon has scoured the journ­als of over 20 early vis­it­ors, group­ing our guides into sol­diers and sail­ors, trav­el­lers and set­tlers, mis­sion­ar­ies, artists and offi­cials. It’s plain to see that this divi­sion will allow the read­er to look through var­ied sets of eyes, cast­ing Aotearoa by turns as sav­age hin­ter­land, untamed Eden, unruly out­post and play­ground for bar­bar­ous spirits.

This was the age in which the myth of the White Saviour, beloved of every­one from Dis­ney to James Camer­on, was in full for­ti­fic­a­tion; and doubt­less many of The Voy­agers were eager to don the Mes­si­an­ic mantle. But in Moon’s story, indi­vidu­als’ civil­ising urges register as fleet­ing flick­ers in a lar­ger show. These vis­it­ors often arrive into stor­ies long under­way, their own dra­mas soon dwarfed by those of the land and its people.

Still, some names would come to linger as the maps were drawn. Here are the ori­gin­al Wake­field, Colenso, Bid­will – even Edward Short­land, wholly unaware of the dec­ades-long drama to which his name would one day become linked. These names join oth­ers – Te Raupa­ha­ra, Hone Heke, Te Morenga – in a story whose blend of the epic and intim­ate, of appre­hen­sion and mātaur­anga, assures its place in the canon.


March book recommendations





Incom­plete Works, Dylan Hor­rocks: Vic­tor­ia Uni­ver­sity Press

On the con­tinuum of post­mod­ern New Zea­l­and visu­al art, Dylan Hor­rocks has nev­er much bothered nail­ing down wheth­er his own place lies closer to Mur­ray Ball or Colin McCahon. He’s been too busy churn­ing out per­son­al, emin­ently relat­able work in the vein of indie com­ics artists like Alis­on Bech­del or the Hernan­dez broth­ers. Incom­plete Works col­lects short­er Hor­rocks stor­ies from 1986 to 2012, provid­ing an excel­lent entrée into the work of a loc­al essential.






Reform: A Mem­oir, Geof­frey Palmer: Vic­tor­ia Uni­ver­sity Press

If your memory of Sir Geof­frey is lim­ited to his year keep­ing the lights on in the Beehive’s ninth floor, your polit­ic­al edu­ca­tion will find in Reform a doc­u­ment that does just that. Palmer brought to gov­ern­ment a humil­ity con­ceal­ing a tire­less yen for pro­gress­ive law-mak­ing – qual­it­ies that the read­er of Reform will find in abundance.





Tom Goulter

Tom is FishHead's book columnist. A Master's degree in Creative Writing from Victoria's International Institute of Modern Letters launched Goulter on the life of an itinerant man of letters, wandering the fractious United states in search of.. whatever it was Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were after, probably. Instead of getting shot by rednecks (yet), he returned to Wellington, where he essays semi-regularly into popular culture, psycho-geography, underground film-making, and the uncanny in all its myriad forms. Not a day goes by that he does not wish Manners Street still had Crystal city on it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.