The perils of being interviewed on TV before the first real coffee

I was interviewed on national TV early yesterday morning, to explain the drama of the day – the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gate Pa, in what is now suburban Tauranga.

You can check out the interview here:

Wright_SydneyNov2011This happened before I’d knocked back enough coffee. But hey…

The battle was the last flourish of the Waikato war, which raged from August 1863 until April 1864, from south of Auckland to Te Awamutu. Like the earlier Taranaki war (1860-61) it drew in the British regulars and naval forces, and was pretty much contemporary with the US Civil War, on the other side of the Pacific.

These wars shaped New Zealand in many ways –physically, from the location and name of towns like Hamilton (named after a commander who fell at Gate Pa) and Cambridge; and culturally, through the myths of race relations that dominated the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, and the re-mythologisation that was imposed across them in the late twentieth century flurry of ‘revisionism’.

Yet we don’t remember any of these battles. Gate Pa drew attention this time, but there was nothing to mark Rangiriri, or Orakau, or the siege of Paterangi. Nor can all these sites be easily found. There are memorials near some  – many surviving from the flurry of 50-year celebrations in the early twentieth century.  One or two battle sites have been preserved with interpretation boards, notably in Northland. But otherwise…nothing much.

Gate Pa was fought in the middle of a road, inside what is now suburban Tauranga. There’s a church and a bowling green where trenches were dug and blood was spilled. But apart from a plaque there was nothing to mark the moment until yesterday when eight carved posts were unveiled.

These wars and their battles are an important a part of New Zealand’s history. I wrote a couple of books on the subject, years ago – and one of them is being republished, in totally revised form. Soon. Watch this space.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

4 thoughts on “The perils of being interviewed on TV before the first real coffee

  1. Thanks so much for posting the clip! You took a complex subject and painted a picture of what happened. I think the comparison to urban street fighting was brilliant. I found the explanation fascinating; I look forward to hearing more about the book that is being republished. Well done all around, Matthew!


    1. Thank you. I spent a chunk of the interview trying to clear my throat without coughing! My interpretation is diametrically opposed to that of James Belich, New Zealand’s top historian, who launched his career in the early 1980s with a reinterpretation of the. NZ wars. I had hoped to be able to engage him in acafemic debate when my original book came out. However he refused an invitation to appear on stage with me at the 2007 Auckland Readers and Writers festival. And in 2008, when my name was mentioned to him during interview on our national radio, all he did was get angry. Kind of flattering to be validated by NZ’s top historian this way but I’d have preferred he had chosen to approach me in person to discuss his problem with my work in his territory. It wasn’t as if I was a total stranger, I had met the guy at university when we were both in the same department.


  2. Well done! I’ve been disappointed at the general lack of recognition given to the recent 150th anniversaries of some of the other key battles, so was pleased to see Gate Pa receive a bit more attention. The way the people of Tauranga, the local iwi and the city council took ownership of commemorating that crucial part of their history is really to be applauded. Good on you for jumping into the front line yourself as well, early morning start and all!

    I note that as part of the commemorations they held a dinner, attended by Willie Apiata VC, which apparently featured a menu true to the period. How appropriate, considering the infamous dinner attended by the officers on the eve of the battle. Ever since I first heard it, that story has always resonated with me.


    1. Thank you! I am indebted to Paul Moon for pointing the TV crew to me. It’s intriguing, actually – of all the battle anniversaries gone in the last eight months, this is the one remembered, and on the basis of being ‘largest’ or ‘most important’. Neither are quite true. It was certainly a spectacular battle, but it was far from the largest – that honour, I think, goes to the siege of Paterangi. As for ‘most important’ – well, that’s moot too. Tauranga was a sideshow; I’d put Paterangi up there as the decisive moment that broke King Country resistance. On the other hand, of course, all these battles deserve remembering – and so it’s great to see at least one of them marked as it should be.


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