Hi, Carolyn here, from We Teach Well, our mission is to promote educational equality by providing English and literature teachers wherever they may teach with truly borderless professional development options. We are inviting writers and educators from around the world to share the cultural and historical issues that sit behind the literature of their country. Today, we are back talking with Angela tatty about New Zealand literature. I hope you enjoyed the first half of the podcast. And if you missed it, and you can go back and find it, it’ll be on our website or on Spotify and iTunes. The reason there are two parts to this episode is that the interview with Angela was so full of good information and helpful suggestions for dealing with not only New Zealand texts, but indigenous texts from any country. Conversations with Angela always last for a long time, because her brain never stops functioning. I’m sure you’re looking forward to this second half. As Angela talks more deeply, about the literature of New Zealand, put your feet up, stick in your headphones, go for a walk, whatever it is that you prefer to do. And join us as we hear more from Angela. I think it’s so important, as you said earlier, in order to understand New Zealand literature, you have to understand New Zealand culture. And I think that’s the same with any literature. And why we think it’s so important that people talking about German literature for example, that you need to have grown up in Germany, you need to be German to understand the world in which these texts were created. We can’t just trust old, white, British, mostly male viewpoints in how we are going to interpret literary texts. But that’s enough for me because it’s much more about you today. And other elements of New Zealand life that are encoded within the characters in the text. You know, those conventions, they’re not rules. They’re not codified. They’re not written down anywhere. But if you’re from New Zealand, you know that thongs are called something else.
Yeah, they’re called jandals. I guess, Maori firms do it much better. You know, when I think of something like ‘Boy,’ and ‘Boy’ is set in 1984 and that’s just the way they roll and and you see them doing things that we very much grew up with. If I remember the 1980s and the 70s you know, if you look back now it’s a bit embarrassing but that was the way it was and and we do have this whole language of our own. We know that when we say that, that’s New Zealand, you’ve got your jandles and you’ve got your jaffas and you’ve got your your chilli bins, it’s all very much the Kiwi language and the bro and that ‘s your cuz. Your bro? Bro.. so my son has a chosen family that is boys that he’s grown up with. And that’s it, you know, you’re all related, but none of you are actually related by blood. Everything, I kind of think, in New Zealand comes back to whanau, it comes back to family. That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t broken families because there are, but your family doesn’t have to be that that you’re born into. Wherever you go you create. And you’ll know this Carolyn, because having lived overseas that’s what we do naturally, we create a new family because you’re away with all these randoms and half the time you haven’t got anyone from your family. And I think and in a lot of characters, you see the innocence of the country. It is about the young people and they’ve got that little bit of innocence. The children before they become the teenagers. And I think I know a lot of characters in New Zealand, where you see that, you see that innocence. New Zealand’s still got an innocence about it, which I think Australia’s perhaps lost a lot more. But that’s because it’s got this small town attitude. And like, everybody knows everybody and that’s the kind of thing that I often see in the characters. I don’t know, I just always get a feeling that it’s, it’s beautiful. And it doesn’t matter what part they are in. Somewhere, it seems to be in every film that you watch, they end up in the bush somewhere. And I think that’s part of being in New Zealand. And I don’t know, it’s an attitude. And I don’t know how to… a perfect example is that last year, my school was teaching ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ And I kept saying, I don’t know, look it’s a great film to watch, and I love it. But there’s something about it that is so New Zealand that if you don’t understand, if you don’t understand the people, then you don’t understand the actual context, you don’t understand the film. You know, about this little boy that’s lost and he’s looking for a family. So often that comes up. Janet Frame wrote about family, Alan Duff, it was about family and, the importance of family and that you stick together, and it doesn’t matter if we’re doing the wrong thing, we’re going to stick together. And I think New Zealanders are very patriotic people and they’re very proud of their country. I look at my friends that are all over the world and just relating back to…. it’s almost like it’s, it’s okay bro, you know. A wee bit more relaxed, and I think often see that in the characters from New Zealand, that there are way more quirky and doing odd things is okay. So it’s okay to go to the supermarket in your gumboots, and it’s okay to not wear any shoes. And it’s okay to ride behind you on your bike that’s got no brakes or gears on the bus. I think I guess the difference, I think in a lot of characters is that I feel often they’re still in the 1980s. People in New Zealand would be horrified by that. But it was really cool to be in the 80s. To really not care if you’re a bit odd, because really, we’re all a bit odd.
There’s a lot of jokes happen in Australia, about Kiwis coming across, and we’re really good at appropriating New Zealanders like Sam Neill and Russell Crowe, sorry, just as examples. And we’re really good at calling them Australian. And you mentioned briefly about how beautiful it is. And it is. And that’s what I think most people in the world would know now, because when they think of New Zealand, they think of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and the sheer beauty. But I had a little bit of a synapse happen when you were talking there about family and choosing family and I was thinking about Lord of the Rings and some of the themes in the Tolkien work about staying close to your people, but also creating new relationships with other people. And creating almost a second family as such, because they were these others who were different from you, but they mattered and so you invited them in. There was that sort of an appreciation and acceptance of the other, that I think, is sadly missing from much of our international discourse. And I think certainly in Australia, So I just wonder whether that would sort of explain a little bit about that, finding another family, you know, is an openness or a willingness and acceptance, to people who are not blood relatives, they’re new, but you accept them anyway. Would that be….
Yeah, and it’s like, you find that connection. So it’s almost like, when there’s another Kiwi around, you sniff them out. And of course, I forget about my accent, and I’m still getting a hard time about it. And there’s something about it, that it’s almost like your favorite foods. There’s a shop in Melbourne that we go to and it’s got a lot of stuff from the Pacific and from New Zealand. And it’s when you find your favorite food and the thing you’ve forgotten, you feel like you’re home. I guess it’s like it when you’re away from your country. You can be taken out of your country, but you can’t take your country out of you. And I think Kiwi all the time, I still have to translate from my husband some words. And I feel that that’s in New Zealand literature. It’s like ‘Mr. Pip’ is not set in New Zealand it is set in Papua New Guinea, but it’s written by a New Zealand author, and it’s one of my most favorite texts in the world. Because, even though it’s not set in New Zealand, I can feel the Kiwi in it. It’s just there, I don’t know what it is. Look, another favorite text of mine is ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran.
Ahh, I haven’t read that yet.
You have to read it. It is, it is, it is just, everything about it is so cool. I just love that there were these beautiful women in this country in turmoil, who fought to read the classics, that definitely weren’t about their country, that they fought to read literature, and how important it was for them. And I think that’s the best thing about literature, is that you get to read and you get to be in other worlds. I mean, I’m a prolific reader, and I didn’t used to like history and now I teach history. But the reason I got into history was because I read about it, and I wanted to know about it. And then I wanted to know if these novels were correct. It’s really easy nowadays, because we’ve got the internet, but in the good old days, we didn’t have that. I read about Henry the Eighth, and this wife that he cut her head off, and then they started their own church. So that, that’s a wonderful thing about literature, it opens the world to us. And I think if you approach it with an open mind, like you, when I was in Singapore, it used to do my head in that they were reading all this stuff from England. And I purposely went to Takashimaya (Department store) because that’s the best bookshop in the world, and bought Asian Literature. I’ve read people like Lisa See who probably wouldn’t be my favorite kind of writer, but I learned so much about the hungry ghosts and I learned all about the country, about the people through reading literature. I had a friend who was going to teach global politics. And I said to her, have you read Wild Swans? She said, No. I said, Well, how can you teach about China if you don’t actually know about their history? ‘Wild Swans’ is perfect. It goes over three generations. You know, and I don’t need to tell you Carolyn, you’re the queen of it.
You’re preaching to the choir here. I did my GradDip at Melbourne University because they were the only place that would let me do a double English method. Everybody else wanted me to do SOSE or some other subject, but I’m not really interested in anything else. But yeah, I mean, that’s where I learnt my history from. Obviously, I was young in the very olden days when they taught me British history and various other types of history solidly in primary and high school. But most of my history knowledge has come from reading novels, drama, plays.
And I love the way that you know that they’re (writers) are prepared to face the violence, because let’s be realistic, our indigenous history is violent don’t matter which country we go to. I’ve taught Hotel Rwanda.
Love that film.
The best part about teaching 20th Century History, is in Term 4 you get to do two conflicts. I mean, we did a whole year of conflicts, but you get to choose two. So I decided for my class that I would choose a conflict, and they would choose a conflict. So I said, I’m going to model and you’re going to follow. So I looked for the conflict that probably stands out the most for me, and the man that changed the conflict, and looked at Mandela and being anti apartheid. And I just love the way, of the authors that are prepared to confront it and say, this actually happened, we need to be….I’ve just bought a new book on a recommendation from a young man at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. I was actually eavesdropping, but he was talking to these these people who I feel lived in Australia, but we’re definitely from a different country, they had quite strong accent. He was showing them an image of these white men and Truganini. He recommended this book that had been written about Truganini, so I’ve just bought that. And….
Is that the last ..something?
So just trying to find you the author. And I love the way he was talking about it. And yes, it’s called ‘Truganini, Journey Through the Apocalypse’ and it’s by Cassandra Pybus. Anyway, he said, it was the best one written. But he made a really good point because he said, ‘you know, they said she was the last aborigine in Tasmania, no,.. last full blooded aborigine’. And he said, ‘it doesn’t matter how much milk, you add to a cup of tea, it’s still a cup of tea.’ And I thought, I’ve heard that a couple of times now. And especially in the South Island of New Zealand, if you look in your class, and you look down your roll (class list), there will be, well I have three Maori grandchildren, and two of them don’t look any different to their cousins. Just because you look doesn’t mean you know that the people are indigenous. That’s not good enough. I think it’s quite hard here, when you’re doing your VIT (Victorian Institute of Teaching) Registration, and they ask you about teaching indigenous students. It is really hard when I am helping early career teachers, and they go, ‘but I haven’t taught any Aboriginal people.’ We’re lucky now we’ve actually got a couple of students in our school. So it’s good for the staff, and their parents are quite proactive, which I think is exciting, that they are prepared to say, ‘why aren’t you doing this?’ So that’s exciting to see that that’s happening,
Because looking back, there haven’t been any indigenous people in any country that I’ve read about, who were not treated violently by colonial forces and expansion. And that was not just the British, the Spanish, the French,
I couldn’t understand when, I’ve since read it, but when I saw the film ‘The Power of One’ and I couldn’t get it to add up. What were these white people doing there? You know, and then you’ve got to go back and look at the history and you’ve got to look at the colonisation. I guess it’s just something that’s bred into races that this want to be the control. I teach all the 20th centuries that it’s all about people wanting to be taking over other people’s, and but what I think that perhaps is missed, and I find it really interesting talking to British colleagues because they, of course live in a different world. I mean, their country now has got a lot more nationalities. But I think the land as well as, so that would be ‘whenua’ in New Zealand, so the land, and you know the Maori say they’re the people of the land. The importance for the Aboriginal people of country, their country and being connected. ‘Young Dark Emu’ we’re starting to teach that and I’m just loving that because, it just gives a really different perspective to what we thought, the limited knowledge I have that I was taught about or we were taught about indigenous Australians in New Zealand, which I thought was quite good when I went to school. But you know, I thought they were nomadic. And then you find out about the agriculture and all that. And I mean, I find that really exciting that Bruce Pascoe has putting it out. He is telling us, he’s informing us, is making us aware. And I think that’s the whole thing, that’s what literature does. And that’s why you’ve got to be prepared to face the violence. And, you know, I think when ‘Once Were Warriors’ came out, and it was just horrific, and they were teaching it, in year 13, which would be year 12 here, they were teaching it in the English class. And it was done so well. The teacher was actually Australian, and you know, you didn’t want to look at it, you didn’t want to confront it, but you needed to be realistic. And that wasn’t just happening in Maori households. It was happening across the board, but he was prepared to show their perspective, you know, and to show, you know, lots of good things, but lots of heartache.
Here’s a question then. It was an Australian teaching it. I listened to a podcast. Assoc Professor Larissa McLean Davies from Melbourne Graduate School of Education, was talking about the difficulty of getting teachers in Australia to teach Australian texts. She spoke about how they felt uncomfortable with teaching texts that showed racist ideas and stuff. But they were still able to teach ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ’12 Angry Men.’ And I wonder whether we can teach somebody else’s dark side. But we’re not so comfortable teaching our own.
I think that’s, especially here, that’s that’s a good point. It horrifies me that that’s what teachers say, I know some of it’s fear, because they don’t want to muck it up. But isn’t it better to try? And you might get a little bit wrong. But at least you’re showing that you respect? Yeah, I find it really incredible that, when I was in Tasmania, which I absolutely adore, I guess it’s like being at home. And we went to Port Arthur. And we’d also been to the museum I’ve told you that, and I said to my husband, it blows me away that you know, some incredible things that have happened in Australia’s history, Myall Creek massacre, and the the changing of the law in Australia. I also teach law and economics. And then you look at something like Martin Bryant and the horrendous massacre, and how Australia responded. They were so proactive. In fact, after the mosque massacre in New Zealand, they looked to the changing of the gun laws in Australia for guidance to see what they’ve done because they changed it so quickly. But we don’t really talk about those things. It’s like, Well, why not? You know, okay, it’s come from something bad but something good came out of it. And, I think that’s really important, and I’m really impressed at Port Arthur how they have preserved the history. But they have also acknowledged the horrific thing that happened there, in a very tasteful way. And it doesn’t overshadow everything else. Because I think, you know, Port Arthur is about the history, and that’s the important bit. But I think we’ve got to be more realistic. And we’ve got to start talking about the skeletons in our closet, you know.
Guns, so why don’t we have guns? And you’re right, we need to teach these things. Why was suddenly Australia able to do a massive buy back or whatever. And without any real pushback? That idea of living in a place where they don’t have guns? We’re accustomed to it. But an American, perhaps teaching the text wouldn’t know about that. You’re right, we do need to teach these things.
I agree, we do. We need to teach the ugly things as well as the good things. If you don’t understand where you’ve come from, you can’t go forward.
That’s right. How can you go forward?
Yeah, and when I look at literature in New Zealand, some incredible literature, and some of it’s from a white perspective, and some of it’s from a Maori perspective, and some of it’s just a perspective. I find it very difficult to, to sum up New Zealand, because I think that it’s, I see it as a bi-cultural country. It’s actually multicultural now, but the commitment, certainly in the classroom, and certainly their commitment also to Pacific Islanders, a major part of the North Island. There are a lot of Pacific Island families on the North Island, and that’s going to become more of a reality with things like climate change. Singapore really helped to open my eyes even more that, you may not agree, but you need to respect. Singapore had it in law, which is, I guess, a bit more what Singapore’s like, but I have often talked to people about how there’s lots of religions in Singapore, but the main religions get two public holidays a year each. I think that, you don’t have to agree but you have to accept. Everybody’s history, it doesn’t matter what country you look, I can’t think of one country that’s got a clean slate. But you need to know about the history and you need to know about the bad stuff. You don’t know what you don’t know. And I guess maybe that’s a fear about teaching. I mean, I just ballbusterd in, I got thrown straight into teaching Australian history. Okay, well, I had a limited knowledge, but I used literature to up-skill me, and I don’t always get it right, but I’m not frightened to teach about indigenous Australia. And we’re continually looking for texts so that we can share the perspective at a level and that’s why I love ‘The Black Cockatoo’. And we’ve taught a few over the years. When you were talking before about the teaching of the ’12 Angry Men,’ of course, I laugh, because, you know, when we look at what VCAA are telling us that we should be teaching at year 12, well, what we have to teach it year 12, there are some indigenous texts there, but there’s still things like ’12 Angry Men’ and things like that, there’s still a lot of texts that are, and I’ve taught aa lot of texts that I’ve thought were from very, very white perspective.
I don’t have a problem with teaching 12 Angry Men or To Kill a Mockingbird because I mean, I love them as texts, and it lets me show them films like ‘Mississippi Burning’ and introduce them to the riots and things that have happened in other countries because of racism. What I object to is that they’re the only ones they teach. Some of my younger colleagues get tired of hearing this, but I’m pretty sure when I went back to do year 12, so I was about 23, was 1978 maybe, I did English and literature. And we read six or eight texts in English. And we read eight in literature. And we did some Australian ones, we did David Martin’s the young wife about a young Greek woman who’s brought over here to marry her husband. And we also did Dostoevsky and Chekhov. It’s fine to teach 12 Angry Men, but only if there’s room in what you’re doing for other things.
It still amazes me here, that Australia has got some of the best authors in the world.
And they’re not being taught in classrooms. They’re not from whatever perspective. I am really lucky at my school because the Head of Engish is very much on top of it. Very committed to teaching Australian texts. And we have some wonderful people in our middle years who are really pushing that we are doing the indigenous texts. And I mean, I read a lot of stuff. I try to read the country that I’m living, and I try to read their authors and I went and saw ‘The Dry’ the other day, which I have read. And it’s just wonderful to read something that’s so Australian. And I had a friend over yesterday, and we were sitting there and we were talking about Tim Winton. Well, I heard him speak a couple years ago, when he put out ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’, and it was just amazing. I loved him because it was so natural, and just Australian. I guess maybe that’s how I look at New Zealand authors. They’re just New Zealand. Peter Jackson, he’s taken some of the biggest texts in the world and put them on the screen and, The Lovely Bones, I adored that book, I hated the ending and Peter Jackson changed the ending for the film and I actually preferred it.
I read the book, but I didn’t see the film.
It’s very, very similar, except the ending changes. And I guess it’s a, it’s a hard thing to describe. But they’re, they’re just their country. They’ve got something about them that just says, and they’re all very natural. Sam Neill, he’s just amazing as an actor, and he’s just so New Zealand, so much so that he’s actually got a place down in Queenstown. He’s got a vineyard, that’s just New Zealand, you know, lots of wine drinking, we like to think that’s what we are. That’s the sophisticated side, they’re not the people to wear their gumboots to the supermarket. And I guess, that’s in any society, isn’t it, that you get the different people, the sophisticated people and the not so sophisticated people. and I’m really happy to be in the not so sophisticated. And that’s, that’s what you need to see in the literature from the country, you need to read ‘The Dry,’ not so much because it’s about solving a mystery. It’s about the heat there, the drought and the impact of the droughts. The Piano, when I watched that at the movies, I just about cried and thought is that really what New Zealand was like, but yes it was, that was what it was like for the pioneers. It was tough. They were wearing those stupid long dresses in a country that rained a lot. Well you’re gonna get dirty! That’s all part of the essence of a country and people can learn so much through the reading of the literature or the viewing of the films.I guess it always makes you feel like home when you see that because there’s just something about it that says it’s home.
Well, on that note Angela, we should probably wrap up. Thank you so much you’ve been very generous with your time. But if I could ask you to do something that you said before that you would have trouble doing. If you could recommend up to three texts. So I’m not going to ask you to just pick one. But up to three texts that you think most faithfully represent New Zealand culture, what would they be?
I think ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, is a beautiful film. So go back and read the book that it’s based on, which is ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’, written by Barry Crump. And Barry Crump was the last person in the world that you’d pick to be an author. I don’t know that he owned any good clothes he might have, but whenever you see him he has on the same hat, and it just really looks like he’s come off the farm. That’s what the New Zealand people are about. New Zealand people, if they say to you, come over, come for a meal, stay the night, they actually mean it. They’re not just saying it to be nice. I seem to spend my whole life saying no, no, I mean it. I mean it, actually come to my house. The door is open. Love to have you. very hospitable.
I don’t know whether people in Australia are like that anymore. Because I’m much the same. If I ask you to come over, you know, come over and have lunch. Well, I’m going to keep everything open and available for the next 10 hours. And, you know, you don’t need to leave. But I don’t think people do that anymore.
I think you see that. He does that very well. (Barry Crump) He’s he was a comedian. And so he had a really light way of looking at things. I guess a lot of the time New Zealanders look at things quite lightly, not serious things. They look at life a wee bit lightly and ‘oh well,’ it’s like the bro, ‘Yeah, she’ll be right mate.’ Even like, we were talking before about language and I think about my husband. When I send him a message he often seems to be back. Sweet. Okay. He’s not a big talker anyway, but you know that that’s his language. Yep. It means yes. Okay. And so I think that’s ‘Wild Pork and Watercress.’ There’s just so many beautiful authors, and I’ve mentioned all of them before that actually give a beautiful perspective of New Zealand culture.
Well, maybe you could think about that. And once we’ve got the list of the ones you’ve already mentioned, that’ll fill up slots, I’m sure.
Yeah, if you look at authors, like if you look at Witi Ihimaera, or Patricia Grace that gives the beautiful Maori culture. And then ‘Whale Rider,’ it sums up New Zealand. There’s lots of children’s books that Margaret Mahy and people like that wrote. It’s just about New Zealand children and it’s just about kids. That’s what our kids grew up on and that’s an essential part of New Zealand. I think I forget, because I haven’t lived in New Zealand for I think it’s 12 years now. And I tried to read what’s happening at the time, where I am at. David Hill, I taught him when I was at school, he’s a an easy read for for teenage kids. And talking about the volcanoes, that’s a way of life in New Zealand you know, the volcanoes and earthquakes is another thing that’s a way of life in New Zealand. That you just know that one day you’re going to encounter one of those. So I think talking about things like that. It’s quite hard because there’s a range. When you look at someone like Janet Frame or Kiri Hulme, it’s quite different literature to say Wild Pork and Watercress, so I could probably talk for hours…..
Absolutely which is why I said up to three.
Someone like Ngaio Marsh, a beautiful crime writer
And it’s probably time to wind this up.
It’s been lovely talking to you.
And to you too Angela, has been great to catch up. Best wishes for this year. It’s looking like the beginning of the year is still going to be a little odd. Gotta hope that it doesn’t go backwards. Thank you again. That is the end of the second part of our interview with Angela Tutty, an English teacher from New Zealand. If you missed the first episode or want to go through it again, you can find both parts and all the episodes on our website, or in iTunes and Spotify. For more information about our organisation you can visit us at weteachwell.com and if you have any questions or would like to send some suggestions of literature you’d like to know more about, then email us at [email protected] We hope you are enjoying this podcast and please, if you are, make sure to like it, share it with your friends, and subscribe to our mailing lists so that you can stay up to date with all of our latest news initiatives and upcoming episodes.