Keith Sinclair was a Professor of History at the University of Auckland, a 4th generation New Zealander, and a poet as well. He published what is largely acknowledged as the authoritative and classic history of New Zealand in 1960, and I first read it shortly thereafter. The book remains in print, and although Sinclair died in 1993, it continues to be updated, most recently in 2000, by a fellow academic, Raewyn Dalziel. The update is important since it covers the period of New Zealand's severe economic recession in the `70's, in part as a result of the loss of their preferred trading status with Britain due to its joining the Common Market, as well as the subsequent "liberalization" of NZ's financial markets. My copy stops in 1960, yet provides an excellent account to that date.
The islands that now comprise New Zealand were the largest land masses that were not inhabited by humans until relatively recent times. It was only during the period of the European "Middle Ages" that the Maori, a Polynesian ethic group, discovered and began to populate them, around 1300. Sinclair devotes 25 pages to cover this period. The first European that reached the islands was the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, 1642. But it took more than a full century, and its "re-discovery," by James Cook, in 1769, that actual settlement was contemplated, and eventually commenced. Politically, New Zealand started out as an Australian colony, but became a colony of Great Britain, directly, in 1841. Even from the very beginning, there was a strand of thought among the country's founding settlers that New Zealand should be a Utopian experiment; these thoughts reached at least some fruition. As for the Maori however, there fate was largely similar to that of the American Indians: loss of land, marginalization, with the attendant issues of drug and alcohol abuse. Sinclair quotes the observation made in 1872, by the English writer, Anthony Trollope, concerning the Maori's future: "There is scope for poetry in their past history. There is room for philanthropy as to their present condition. But in regard to their future - there is hardly a place for hope."
With its exceedingly small population, (less than metropolitan Atlanta today) and despite its isolated setting, security was a major concern. Nonetheless, they proved to be a significant force in many global alliances, serving with "ANZAC" forces at Gallipoli in World War I, and fighting both the Japanese, as well as the Germans, in the North African Western Desert during World War II. During the (American) Vietnam War, I still remember two New Zealand medics, who had been involved in treating Vietnamese civilians, being ambushed on Highway 1, in December 1968.
In terms of Utopian experiments, Sinclair uses a quote from Professor Frank Parsons as an epigraph for his chapter "State Experiments": "New Zealand is the birth place of the Twentieth Century." This chapter is one of the book's best, and most informative. NZ was indeed a pioneer in formulating governmental policies that ensure a fairer and more just society, with attention to the less fortunate. Many of the policies enacted into law during the American New Deal of the 1930's were enacted in NZ in the 1890's, including Social Security. Sinclair also uses as an epigraph, a quote from the great conservative thinker, Edmund Burke, from his Reflections on the Revolution in France
: "Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants." Also, NZ was the first country in the world to grant the right to vote to all adult women in 1893. Samuel Butler was a sheep farmer in New Zealand for a number of years in the 19th century, and his utopian classic, and social satire on Victorian England, Erewhon
, was partially based on that experience.
I managed a 10-day trip to South Island in 1980. A repeat visit is long overdue, but, for certain, I will re-read this history, in its updated format, before the re-visit. A 5-star history.