Review: Book talk: A History of New Zealand in 100 Objects

Review: Book talk: A History of New Zealand in 100 Objects

There was a strong attendance of Friends of Te Papa on 17 April to hear Jock Phillips’ talk about his most recent publication, A History of New Zealand in 100 Objects. The speaker was introduced by Richard Norman.  Although Jock confessed to being a little skeptical at first of the idea, the success of a series based on objects held by the British Museum showed that such an approach to history could be both interesting and provide insights that more conventional approaches might miss.

In planning the project Jock decided to divide our history into eleven blocks of time: pre 1769, (the arrival of Cook); 1769-1840 (Te Tiriti); and then nine blocks of 20 years.  With about nine objects in each block this came to 99 so a further object, the iPhone 3 G, was added.  Unlike all the other objects this one was not found in a museum but was bought on Trade Me by Jock and will be donated to a museum in due course.

The entry for the iPhone provides a good example of the way in which an object can provide an insight into the story of how the development of the mobile phone, both internationally and in New Zealand, has transformed everyday life.  So the phone became in turn a camera, a way of listening to music, a mapping facility and provided access to the World Wide Web.

To give the book some coherence five themes were developed, although there was only time during the talk to introduce two of these.  The first was the theme of military threats.  Under this heading Jock told the story of the taiaha and its role in pre-European combat; the Pukaea or Maori war trumpet and how its misinterpretation led to the clash with Tasman’s crew in 1642 in what is now called Golden Bay and then the story of Cook’s cannon which is to be found just outside the room where we were meeting in Te Papa.

A second theme was the rise of unions and the labour movement.  This was developed by reference to the Westport District Gold Miners’ Union Banner, Richard Seddon’s coronation coatee, Les Adkin’s baton and a photo of Michael Joseph Savage that was commonly hung in many New Zealand homes during the time of the first Labour Government.

The talk was well received and a limited number of books available for sale were quickly snapped up.  A vote of thanks and a gift was presented to Jock by Marion Crawshaw on behalf of the Friends.


Lindsay Taiaroa, member.