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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Unsettled: Small Stories of Colonisation by Richard Shaw.

Richard Shaw’s new book The Unsettled: Small Stories of Colonisation is the sequel to his acclaimed family memoir The Forgotten Coast.

Richard is a professor of politics at Massey University. It was not until he was in his fifties, after his father died, that he began to research his family history and discovered an unsettling truth.

His great-grandfather Andrew Gilhooly was a member of the Armed Constabulary and participated in the invasion of Parihaka on 5th November 1881. Furthermore, he was there for four years as part of the occupation. Afterwards he returned to farm on land unjustly confiscated by the Crown from Taranaki Māori and sold or leased to settler farmers.

The three farms Andrew and his wife Kate eventually ran enabled them to break with centuries of Irish penury and reinvent themselves as settlers, members of a tightly knit coastal Taranaki community that orbited round the Catholic church and the family farm.

Shaw raises a gnarly question: How could those who were themselves the victims of British colonisation in their homelands justify doing the same to Māori?

In The Unsettled: Small Stories of Colonisation Shaw elaborates further on the life of Andrew Gilhooly but also weaves into his narrative the stories of other pākehā familes with long settler histories who made contact with him after The Forgotten Coast was published. Like him, they are coming to grips with the fact that there are parts of their family histories that had been kept secret.

The stories they were told were about heroic forebears, hardworking pioneers who had risen from their arrival as landless peasants to become wealthy landowners. But there was no mention of the fact that their families came to acquire their land through the dispossession of Māori and prospered as a result of colonisation. Now that they are aware of this, these individuals are trying to find ways of dealing with this unsettling truth and to do something positive about it.

I found The Unsettled: Small Stories of Colonisation an absorbing but disturbing read. Although I knew about the shocking events that took place on the day of the invasion of the pacifist community of Parihaka, founded by Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, I was unaware of the aftermath of this event, having never learnt about the New Zealand wars and the negative impact of colonisation at school.

The introduction of the Aotearoa New Zealand histories curriculum means that young New Zealanders will be more aware of the processes and impacts of colonisation than previous generations.

Richard Shaw’s account of the intentional dispossession of Māori, and the treatment of prisoners following the events at Parihaka, which he has written about in such a succinct and very accessible way, will be a valuable resource for teachers.

As part of the new curriculum, students are also asked to research their local histories, and some may discover, as the families in this book did, that some disturbing events have taken place. The Pākehā families, whose stories Richard Shaw has shared in this book, and who felt unsettled by their families past histories, are doing something about this and are positive role models. They have had the courage to bring their stories out of the shadows and to give an honest account of the part their ancestors played in the colonisation of this country.

In our family too we recently discovered that there is a connection to Parihaka. John Bryce, the Native Minister, who led the violent invasion of Parihaka by colonial troops in November 1881 is distantly related to my husband’s family through marriage.

Knowing the truth of what happened matters for all of us. Reading The Unsettled: Small Stories of Colonisation deepens our understanding of how our past histories have shaped our present lives, and how we can learn from our mistakes to create a fair and just society in the years ahead.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Massey University Press


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