Monthly Archives: October 2009

‘Hobson: Governor of New Zealand 1840-1842’ by Paul Moon

hobson

1998,  307p

If you ask a Melbournian about William Hobson, most of us would mutter something about Hobson’s Bay or the Hobson’s Bay City Council.  I hadn’t really thought about who ‘Hobson’ was: I assumed that he was an old sea-dog living down somewhere around Williamstown, and when I thought hard about it, I wasn’t even really sure if I knew where Hobson’s Bay was.  “Somewhere in Port Phillip Bay” I would airily gesture- thereby setting my Uncle Peter’s teeth on edge over the tautological use of  Port and Phillip and Bay in the same phrase.  (“It’s Port Phillip, Janine, – the Port named after Governor Phillip; not Port Phillip Bay”)

Hobson’s Bay is the bay immediately at the mouth of the Yarra River, with Williamstown on its west shore and Port Melbourne and Middle Park round to the east.  And Hobson, for whom it is named, was not a long-term Melbourne resident but instead spent a three-month stint between September and December 1836 surveying and charting the coastline of Port Phillip, returning to Sydney before a second brief trip accompanying Governor Bourke for an official visit and exploratory expedition in March 1837.  Hobson  was impressed with Port Phillip and was already dreaming of the fortune that could be made there.  In his letters to his wife he expressed hopes of perhaps being appointed Governor there in the future.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, he was sent off to New Zealand to investigate conflict there and on the basis of the report he submitted to the Colonial Office, he was appointed Consul to New Zealand in August 1839.  There seems to have been some slippage in the terminology of Consul/Lieutenant Governor/ Governor that probably signalled much about precedence and status at the time, but which is less significant to us now.  After meeting with the recently-appointed Governor Gipps in Sydney in December 1839, he sailed off to New Zealand arriving 29th January 1840 and was not to leave the country again before his death in 1842.  He didn’t muck around when he arrived: the first copy of the  Treaty of Waitangi was signed  on 6th February, just over a week after his arrival.

Which is, of course, where my interest comes in.  On the flight over to New Zealand, I read a review of Paul Moon’s latest book The Edges of Empire: New Zealand in the mid-Nineteenth Century.  I hadn’t heard of Paul Moon- not that that necessarily means anything- but I had heard of Cynthia Orange and other historians who have written about the Treaty of Waitangi.  From his Wikipedia entry, he seems to be a prolific and at times controversial historian from Auckland University of Technology- perhaps an unusual location for an academic historian?

Certainly in his preface he distances himself from other historians, their methodology and their debates.

In preparing this biography, I have cautiously avoided trying to make the subject conform to a particular theme or line of argument, and any themes that do arise tend to be incidental…Consequently, many of the episodes in this work have been retraced in the way that they unfolded for Hobson at the time, rather than with the didactic and ‘superior’ sort of hindsight that necessarily distorts as it attempts to simplify and clarify. (p12)

In his eschewal of historiography and debate, he relies heavily on fairly lengthy slabs of official correspondence and primary sources predominantly from the New Zealand end.  The Colonial Office is depicted as a lumbering, compromised body ‘over there’- a simplistic approach which overlooks the contested nature of lobbying politics and the machinations of individuals and factions.  These political currents are well described by Adams in Fatal Necessity and more recently in Zoe Laidlaw’s analysis of the Aborigines Select Committee, the lobby group that lay behind much of the Colonial Office approach to indigenous affairs right across the empire.   Moon does, despite his protestations, engage with historical debates, most particularly over the Treaty of Waitangi, but does not extend what I conceive to be the courtesy of naming the historians or their arguments-  instead prefacing his own sallies with “It has been suggested that…”  It’s also striking how few recent references he cites in his bibliography: there is a heavy reliance on works from the early 20th century or the 1960s.  He critiques Paul Scholefield’s ‘hagiographical’ and ‘apologetic’ (p. 12) treatment of Hobson in 1934, but doesn’t take up any of his points in detail beyond this blanket condemnation.

By concentrating on the time 1840 to 1842, Moon does not pick up on the significance of Hobson’s naval background, a theme explored so well in Greg Dening’s Mr Bligh’s Bad Language and in Jane Samson’s Imperial Benevolence: Making British Authority in the Pacific.   He also skips over the significance of the patronage of Lord Auckland, after whom Hobson named the town he chose as capital city.

However, his approach does shed light on the contest  between the missionaries and the Wakefieldian-influenced land settlement company New Zealand Company, both of which vied for Hobson’s attention and decried his limitations to their patrons back in England.  Add to this the corrosive influence of self-serving and canny civil servants,  plucked from obscurity in Sydney on  Hobson’s way to New Zealand, who were just as avaricious as any land entrepreneurs in London or in Port Nicholson, the rival North Island city settled by the New Zealand Company.  Then, if that’s not enough, overlay this with Hobson’s own evident ill-health, evident even to me 160 years later,  looking at the shaky and at times child-like signature of Hobson’s name on different versions of the Treaty of Waitangi.

References

Peter Adams Fatal Necessity: British Intervention in New Zealand.1977

Greg Dening Mr Bligh’s Bad Language, 1994

Zoe Laidlaw ‘Integrating metropolitian, colonial and imperial histories- the Aborigines Select Committee of 1835-7’ in Tracey Banivanua Mar and Julie Evans Writing Colonial Histories: Comparative Perspectives, University of Melbourne 2002.

Cynthia Orange The Treaty of Waitangi, 1987.

Jane Samson Imperial benevolence: making British Authority in the Pacific 1998.

Paul Scholefield Captain William Hobson: First Governor of New Zealand 1934.

Advertisements

The Resident Judge wonders 6/10/09

…if the American private security firm Blackwater changed its name to “Xe” so that people would stop talking about it because no-one could pronounce the name?

‘Falling Leaves’ by Adeline Yen Mah

fallingleaves

When this was distributed as the next month’s read for my CAE bookgroup (a.k.a. “The Ladies Who Say Oooooh”) my heart sank.  “I’ve read this”, I thought.  But as I read further into it, I realised that it was not a clone of  Amy Tan 3-female-generation saga, as I expected it to be.  I had not, in fact, read it and now that I’ve finished I wish I hadn’t anyway.

This is a grubby, self-serving, vindictive book.  The author has left her (now deceased) parents’ names unaltered, along with that of her husband.  She did, however, change the names of her siblings.  I think that the issue of changing or not changing names in an autobiography really highlights the sore spots and anxieties in an author’s telling of their story.

The book is one long howl of wounded dignity and pain.  The author’s mother died after giving birth to her, and her father remarried a young, beautiful French-Chinese woman that the family called ‘Niang’, an alternative form of “mother”. The besotted father is putty in her hands, and betrays his allegiances to the children of his first wife- although admittedly, the relationship between a widowed father and the child whose birth precipitated the mother’s death must always be a fraught one.

This is a toxic family.  Niang certainly does appear a cold, manipulating, scheming woman who sows jealousy and dissesion amongst her children and their half-siblings.  They are all- parents and children- dominated by the love of money, ruthless in their determination to get ahead; remorseless in their own quest for parental approval.  The author, as narrator, portrays herself always as the innocent victim of others’ perfidy- a rather self-serving and perhaps not always accurate assessment.  There is no loyalty to family, and certainly no loyalty to country among the immediate family- they collect and discard nationalities at will in their thrust to get ahead.

Why did she write this book?  One can only think that it is her revenge, served cold and in print.  And wait- there’s more!  Not only did she write this book, but she rehashed her revenge  in her second book Chinese Cinderella which from its description, sounds like the same book fictionalized.

I feel complicit in her vindictiveness by even having read this book.

The Resident Judge reckons 4/10/09

…that the clutch bag, which is supposed to be all the rage for Fashions on the Field is another way of ensuring that women remain decorative and useless.  As if the hobbling high heels are not enough, now we have to shuffle along,  clutch bag in hand or wedged tightly under the arm.   How is one to hold a drink, hold on to one’s hat, nibble on a canape etc. with just one hand?  Not really my problem and not high on the world’s priorities but frustrating and demeaning nonetheless

The Resident Judge reckons 2/10/09

…that a “fully automated table game” in a casino is a poker machine.  It’s a poker machine if it’s in Bayswater or Box Hill or Melton, but somehow or other if it’s at Crown Casino, then it’s ta-da!! a “table game”. How convenient, seeing that Crown Casino has a limit of 2500 poker machines.  Let’s just read that again. Two thousand, five hundred poker machines.

‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey

silvey

2009, 299 p.

Set in 1965, this book opens with a dilemma.  Charlie Bucktin, the bookish, nerdy, teacher’s son is startled by a knock at the louvres of his sleep-out when Jasper Jones, the town ‘bad boy’, calls him out into the backyard.  Somehow or other Jasper Jones cajoles him into assisting with the disposal of the body of a young school acquaintance that Jasper found hanging from a tree in his special place in the bush.  This young girl was Jasper’s secret girlfriend and Jasper is terrified that he will be blamed for her murder.  For me, one of the main problems with this book started at this point: I just didn’t buy into Charlie’s involvement and why two innocent boys would dispose of the body.  Hence, the whole premise of the plot was shaky for me as a reader.

For me, the book didn’t start well.  It took almost 25 pages for young Charlie to be faced with his opening dilemma.  The book then spooled into an equally long conversation between Charlie and his Vietnamese friend Jeffrey about the respective qualities of superheroes.  There is a self-indulgence about the length of these digressions and internal dialogues, and an indulgence too in the number of themes the author crams into the book: first love, friendship, bullying, police brutality, racial prejudice, marriage breakup, incest, youth suicide, social exclusion.

As if this wasn’t enough (and it is!) the book is framed within a homage to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.  This, too, is rather heavy-handed.  We have the hermit misfit, the childhood taunts and dares about ‘raiding’ his house, the trips through the forest at night (albeit, not dressed as a ham) and the revelation of a mild father standing up to a bully, evoking Atticus  shooting the rabid dog.

All of this suggests to me a lack of good editting in curbing an energetic young author.  And he IS young- his Wikipedia entry claims that Craig Silvey was born in 1982.  At this point, though,  I have to doff my hat.  He is writing about small town life set 17 years before he was even born and he doesn’t put a foot wrong.  He captures beautifully a world where television was incidental, where kids’ consumerism was limited by pocket money, where community events were not so strictly segregated and segmented by age brackets and where kids had a wider geographic zone not necessarily under the constant surveillance of their parents.  He portrays well the anxiety about disappearing children and the perceived, if brittle,  authority of community figures like mayors and police officers.  There must have been careful research here and the book carries it effortlessly.

I’d be really interested to know how readers much younger than I respond to this book.  It would lend itself well to film, and the coming-of-age aspect and the nostalgia for a simpler time would endear it to baby-boomer viewers- in fact, possibly more than to the young adolescent readers for whom it was probably written.

The Resident Judge Reckons 1/10/09

Well- not reckons, but does wonder.

gony

The pre-sentence hearings are currently underway for the men accused of the bashing murder of Liep Gony.  The case is being reported in considerable detail in the newspapers.  Surely these two men could then turn around and claim that they could not get a fair trial in Melbourne.  Why are pre-sentence hearings reported anyway?