When Pākēha met Māori

An Interview with Playwright Peter Hawes

Goldie. Written by Peter Hawes, directed by Colin McColl. 2004  

Why Goldie, what does he tell us about the intersection of Māori and Pākēha? 

Peter Hawes knows he took plenty of dramatic licence when he brought the polarising painter Charles F Goldie to the stage. Characterised by director Colin McColl as both intense and elitist, yet enquiring and genuine; Goldie’s attempts to understand the history and spirituality of Māori were trapped by his own popularity - the public demanding endless repetition of his wistful, nostalgic portraits.  Hawes describes the painter’s later life (he died in 1947) as living and working in a “fog of powdered lead…an Old Master’s shroud trapped in a  modernist body.”

Michael Hurst as Goldie in Goldie

Can - or should - Pākēha tell these stories?

When the play opened in 1987 Hawes received an utu saying ‘it is not for Pākēha words to move Māori tongues’. Today, he says, the first half of the play confronting Goldie’s reputation-cementing 1898 work,  Arrival of the Māori in Aotearoa is a metaphor for who owns the land, the battle, still, of who owns everything.

“I tried to show the width between the two races, in a long scene. There’s an empty middle with the painting, and on one side would come the Māori, the Pākēha on the other. It was the time of Māori renaissance, the actors were learning Māori and every night would add what they’d learned that day to their speech. The second half, I wanted to re-write, it lost that beautiful confrontation, it showed the difference that Māori and Pākēha could not understand each other.”

 What cultural advice did you have?

Amster Reidy a Wellington kaumatua, was an advisor to Downstage, and he’d tell us what we could and couldn’t say or do. We didn’t have a clue, it was a pioneer effort.

"I tried to show the width between the two races, in a long scene. there’s an empty middle with the painting, and on one side would come the Māori, the Pākēha on the other."
Peter Hawes, playwright

Michael Hurst as Goldie in Goldie

On the Upside Down of the World. written by Arthur Meek, directed by Colin McColl, 2011

The solo play, starring Laurel Devenie, is based the diaries of Lady Mary Ann Martin, wife of the Chief Justice of New Zealand, William Martin when she arrived in Auckland in 841. She writes of her impressions of the colonial town, her growing relationship with Māori and her expanding place in the world.

What attracted you to Mary Anns story in the first place? 

It was a lived experience that contradicted some negative preconceptions about early settlers and their interactions with Māori. Like my own forebears, Mary Ann arrived in NZ a nobody with zero prospects 'back home'. Somewhere between a refugee and a ‘refusee'. At first, she tried to use her taught template to guide her relationships to her neighbours and the landscape. She quickly realised she had to change or starve. As she learned Te Reo, and welcomed Māori into her life as neighbours and equals, she began to flourish as a person and discover how to live a purposeful, happy life. I'm trying to figure out what it means to be a Pākēha New Zealander, so Mary Ann's experience inspired me on a personal level.

 Did you get help from Māori that might be more correct' for today’s audiences?

 I can't speak to what might be a more correct viewpoint than Mary Ann's lived experience, but because she wrote her book for an English audience we had to reverse engineer some conversations from english back into te reo. Tainui Tukiwaho helped us with the spoken Māori used in dialogue, and Herewini Easton helped me with the text when I published the play. We also had some helpful audience members suggest minor word and syntax amendments (for the Māori AND the English!).

Staging for Goldie directed by Colin McColl

"I think different aspects of the story will ping louder for different audiences in different places and at different times..."
Peter Hawes, playwright

How did you interpret a Victorian view of ‘the colonies’ and Our Māori, for a modern audience?

After 150 years, it's definitely a translation exercise. I think the skeleton of Victorian social values is similar to our own, but the flesh is totally foreign to us. I felt I had to completely submerge Mary Ann's primary motivation in life - her strong Christian faith - because I didn't think it was something a contemporary audience could relate to. The reason I was able to tell this story at all is that Mary Ann's calling to encounter, engage and love her neighbours, manifested itself in trade with Māori and mutual provision of services. Something that children of the free market easily recognise as the basis of contemporary love and understanding.

 What would be different if you were writing and staging today (six years later)?

I think different aspects of the story will ping louder for different audiences in different places and at different times, but the heart of the show is the implication that a sense of belonging can come from engaging with your neighbours. Learning to speak their language and listening to them as equals. I hope none of us ever live in a society where that message falls out of fashion.