COMMENT

As Waitangi Day passed by without a single lump of mud or flying dildo to enliven the news bulletins, I settled down with Auckland politician Mike Lee's fascinating new history* of the 18th Century French navigators' visits to New Zealand.

Present day politicians don't know how lucky they are. I've just got to the point where 1772 expedition leader Marion Dufresne and several of his shipmates were lured to a popular Bay of Islands fishing spot by their old mate, local chief Te Kuri, to be clubbed to death and then, apparently, eaten. Their killers then paraded about in the victims' uniforms, taunting the remaining shipmates. This after months of friendly interaction.

Was it treachery, revenge, pure politics, or punishment for breaking tapu? It seems 250 years on, no one is sure. But it is a rollicking good read. And more to the point, it's our history.

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Publication of this book happens to coincide with last week's call by secondary school history teachers for the compulsory teaching of early New Zealand history in our schools.
In their petition to Parliament, the teachers argue: "Too few New Zealanders have a sound understanding of what brought the Crown and Māori together in the 1840 Treaty, or of how the relationship played out over the following decades.

"We believe it is a basic right of all to learn this at school (primary and/or secondary) and that students should be exposed to multiple perspectives and be enabled to draw their own conclusions from the evidence presented in line with good historical practice."

It does seem exceedingly odd that after 30 years of Treaty settlement negotiations dedicated to making good the sins of the Crown during past dealings with Māori, that this whole process of national reconciliation and redirection, once settled, is quickly buried away in dusty archives, left for historians of another century to dig out.

Over the years, over $2.2 billion has been paid out by the Crown in token compensation for the errors of previous generations, along with fulsome apologies. You might have thought an integral part of the reconciliation process would have been to communicate these admissions of past errors, not just to their fellow law-makers in Parliament and those assembled on the affected marae, but also to future generations — in particular, the children coming through the education system. But no.

Just how many children study any history at school is anyone's guess. The Education Department doesn't keep count. Last year, historian Vincent O'Malley claimed that at least 70 per cent of students leave school without any introduction to New Zealand history. Stating the obvious he thought "a basic knowledge of the history of one's own country is an outcome that any decent education system around the world should deliver. Ours is currently failing to do that."

Apparently there's a fear that introducing young New Zealanders to a warts-and-all-view of our colonial past is some form of brain-washing. But the present system, where students pick up what history they can from family, schoolmates and unreconstructed radio talkback whiners, is hardly satisfactory.

Yet for some reason, our politicians prefer to keep them in the dark when it comes to past history. Well our local past anyway. When it comes to overseas adventures it's a different story. As I've pointed out before, our leaders fell over themselves to shell out around $140 million on a just-ended, four-year-long orgy of commemorations for the centennial of the gory "nation -building" overseas battles of WWI.

It took a petition from a group of Otorohanga College pupils in early 2017 to shame the then Government into allocating a miserable $1m a year to set up the Te Pūtake o te Riri — Wars and Conflicts in New Zealand Fund.

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This was to pay for an annual national event on October 28 to mark the mid-19th Century civil wars between the Crown and Māori. It was mere tokenism, highlighting the continuing reluctance of parliamentarians to front up to our ugly past, despite the Treaty settlement process.

Perhaps a compulsory class in colonial history for all MPs is what's needed first.

•Michael Lee, Navigators & Naturalists, Bateman Books