ReadingRoom

Dick Scott, RIP: Toi Iti’s tribute

All this week we acknowledge Dick Scott, who died on New Year's Day, and was the author of one of the most seminal books ever published in New Zealand. Today: a tribute by Toi Iti.

How do you make a country like ours? Like actuals. How do you rock on over to an already populated place and say, “Hey, I know you’ve been here for aaages but yeah, you’re sorta kinda criminals now. Lol. Here’s the new laws we just made up… yeah nah, they’re totally legit, honest, they even have these cool stamps and signatures on them and stuff. Sooo anyway, we’re going to buy your land from this other bloke, probs confiscate a fair bit too and yeah, pretty much take over. I know, I know, look, I don’t want to but it’s the law, and I’ll totally have to shoot you if you break it. It sucks, my hands are tied. But seriously bro, it’ll be sweet. In 150 years tops, we can crack a cold one, spark the barbie, jam some six60 and it’ll be aaall goods."

I probably paraphrased it a bit but I think that’s kinda how it went. Laws, guns and the promise of a brighter future. Basic shit. Also, when it comes to conquering, the conquerer will always make sure that his story of how it went down sticks. Of course, for the conquered, they have to put up with that story, his story, or his-story aka history, for like, ages. Which was pretty much, “Māoris sold their land then wanted it back. Damn Indian givers. That and they were being insurgents and lawfully had their land taken. But actually, at the end of the day, they are just intrinsically inferior as evidenced by our superiority and if they deserved the land and their own laws and king etc then god would not have let us smash them like we did. We are right you are wrong. God save the queen." Or something like that.

But times change and cultures shift. Yay! Two world wars pass, Africa and the Middle East get carved up for diamonds and oil, India gets independence and North America’s civil rights movement happened. Among other things. Before you know it, Marxist academic types start listening to jazz, smoking pot and re-scribing our history. Wtf?! Heros, memorialised in civic bronze became villains, villains who were historically reduced to tabloid caricatures became heros and his story, the story that had become history, no longer stood the test time. Wow.

In 1975 Ethiopia abolished it’s monarchy after 3000 years, Bill Gates kicked off a little start-up called Microsoft and a NZ journalist, historian and former member of the Communist Party, Dick Scott, wrote Ask That Mountain: The story of Parihaka.

He was a gem of a pākeha really, old Dick. The kind you bring down to the Marae for a kōrero. And that’s what happened. He got invited to Parihaka and was given hongis, hootch and stories. And what stories they were. Real page turners. Prophets, skullduggery, theft. All the good stuff. Of course Māori knew these stories by heart, after all, they were their stories. But for Ma and Pa Pākeha? What a revelation.

A hundred years after the event, Scott meticulously pieced together a yarn that was harshly honest and brutally believable. A stark recount of what happened before, during and after the pillaging of Parihaka. And people read it. Pākeha people. Classic. They were like, “We did what? Oh that’s terrible. How could we? Those poor people, they were so peaceful, lovely people, and that Te Whiti chap was like our very own Gandhi! Only I suppose Ghandi was more like Te Whiti really wasn’t he? Since he was around a lot earlier. Imagine that, one of our own natives influencing someone famous like Gandhi. How thrilling.”

I’ll be honest, I can barely read the book. It makes me super angry. The kind of anger my therapist tells me is secondary to a primary emotion. Which is sadness. It’s a sad tale. So much arrogance, greed and colonial dick-headedness. So much bravery, humbleness and hope. I found myself shouting at the book like you might shout at the TV during a game. “Oh c’mon! That was a forward pass ref! Are you blind?! That’s not how you buy land! You can’t lock people up for that! It’s just not cricket!” At least with sport you’re just playing sport. “Burgers and fries, nobody dies,” as my mate used to say. He sucked at sport.

Apparently Dick had scant interest in being a writer. Or a historian. It was more a social justice thing. He wanted to “correct the record and tear off a few blankets of the cover up”. Chur Dick. He went much further than that though. He helped shift the boundary line for historians and researchers alike and played an important part in opening up the general public and their politicians to a whole new story. A better story. The actual story of how we made NZ.

Dick only just made it to the second decade of the new millennium. He passed on the 1st of January 2020. E moe ē te rangatira, kua oti tō mahi ināianei. Mē hoki ki tō maunga. Sleep chief, your work is done now. Return to your mountain. Paimārire.

Tomorrow: a memoir of Dick Scott by his daughter Jacqui du Fresne.

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