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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Hindsight: Pivotal Moments in New Zealand’s History by Mandy Hager

This is an engaging and incredibly practical book for a high school student learning about New Zealand history, or really for anyone with an interest in people, how they interact, and what they are willing to fight for. The title seems to suggest an overview of all of New Zealand history. But this is not the case. Mandy Hager focuses on four main events, only one from the nineteenth century. She tells us from the outset that the book is about ‘people power’, about ordinary people leading change.

Hager starts with women’s suffrage. She goes beyond the usual candidates, and addresses the role of Maori wāhine toa in gaining the vote. She even goes so far as to remind us about those who cannot vote in New Zealand today – such as those in prisons. She directs the reader to sources that can tell them about places where it is still really difficult for women to vote. And she asks of our own country, are we there yet? In writing about the dawn raids, and racism in New Zealand, she puts the same question forward. She connects the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior to acts of violence in other countries and in the present, and discusses the current nuclear debate. The real strength of this book is its focus on making history relevant to today.

The book is gorgeously laid out, crisp photos, well-aligned text with stand-out quotations, keywords, timelines, pie charts, primary sources and did you knows. The writing is very accessible, and is not at all basic. This is an educational book. It should be marketed as a useful textbook for schools, who should snap it up.

It seems strange in this day and age, however, to have a book that looks at New Zealand history without addressing indigenous history and conflicts. This is a great book about the events it discusses, but perhaps the book should have had a different title – even ‘Four Pivotal Moments in New Zealand’s History’. The range is limited. These events have been examined before and less known or unusual choices may have provided more interest. The book obviously tried very hard to be inclusive within the topics it considered. But the Māori perspective on what pivotal events might have been is sadly absent.

Hager is at least aware of this. She stresses in her introduction that the book explores events based on her values, and another writer would, and probably should, choose differently – completely different people and completely different events and point of view. Hager encourages people to examine the histories they are hearing, to look beyond what they are told, to be aware of bias, and to always dig deeper. And you don’t have to be a ‘real’ historian to do this. Hager notes that she has used mostly internet sources, in order for the everyday person to be able to research as she has. In this she encourages the important revelation that everybody has the ability to interpret history. She situates New Zealand history not just in the past, but in the present and future. She concludes the book with advice for researchers in a ‘fake news’ world.

Hindsight is a good introduction to what being a historian is all about. It’s a very refreshing book and of general interest despite its textbook cover. The stand out for me was this quote from Kate Sheppard which remains as relevant today as it was for the suffragists back in the 1890s:

“The question for me is whether we can keep Earth a safe, pleasant place for humankind and the ecosystems we rely on… Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched ground is made up of single drops.”

This is something for us all to think about.

Reviewer: Susannah Whaley

OneTree Publishing, RRP $40


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