10 Questions with Ella Kahu, Te Rā Moriarty, Helen Dollery and Richard Shaw


Q1: Tūrangawaewae was first published in 2017 and has reprinted a number of times. Why is it so successful?

Part of that has to do with the fact that it’s a required text for a large compulsory course within Massey University’s BA – so, there’s a captive audience there! But one of the real thrills for us has been that the book has appealed to a wide range of people and that our students often recommend (or pass on) the book to others. Our sense is that this is because it touches on issues that go to the heart of this country’s sense of what it is, and we know – because we’ve been told this by people who’ve read it – that people want to tussle with and make sense of these things. So, yes, in the first instance we wrote the book for a university audience but it’s since become really clear to us that, like all learning, it resonates well beyond the walls of the university.

Q2: What prompted a new edition?

The passage of time. It’s probably as simple as that. The book is grounded in history but, at the same time, deals with issues, questions and concerns that are highly topical, and therefore prone to changing. Some of the over-arching conceptual architecture of the text hasn’t shifted around much, but the real-world issues that we use to flesh out that theoretical material change really quickly! So we need to move with those times, and make sure that the book contains empirical material that is fresh, current and relevant. The visceral shock of the Christchurch mosque attacks made New Zealanders question who we were and what we valued; and more recently the Covid epidemic has prompted a constant reappraisal of collective identity.

Q3: What are some of the key changes/updates in the new edition?

As well as just updating the issues, we were keen in this edition to strengthen the Māori content of the book to better represent the duality of the history of Aotearoa New Zealand. Each chapter now has He Tirohanga Māori section which highlights a Māori view of that topic.

Q4: What do you hope students will get from the book?

The most important thing, for us, is that we enable our students – and anyone who reads the book – to question the views, beliefs and attitudes that perhaps they’ve uncritically held and never really put under a microscope. We are not trying to turn people into political activists, but all of us inherit ways of seeing the world that we largely take for granted. We are keen for this book to give people the opportunity to ask themselves questions such as: Is this the way things really are? Are there things I’ve been missing all these years? Is there another way to understand this thing? If this book encourages people to think about those received wisdoms, we will be happy.

Q5: Has the way students engage with the course changed over the 8 years it has been offered?

We think so, yes, and to some extent we think this might reflect some of the wider changes that have taken place in Aotearoa New Zealand in recent years. One of the interesting things we’ve found is that, especially for our younger students, some of the narratives we address in the final module of the book look a little different to the way they might have looked to earlier generations. It’s no longer clear to us, for example, that our young people accept that story of New Zealand egalitarianism: their lived reality is often such that the idea that this country is a place that prioritises egalitarianism is just not a thing at all.

Q6: There must be some lively debates in tutorials. What gets students fired up?

One thing that fires students up (especially our older students) is anger and frustration that they didn’t get taught “this stuff” at school. By “this stuff” they mean the history of Aotearoa New Zealand and the ongoing impacts of colonisation. So we are thrilled to see the changes in the school history curriculum coming through. Relatedly, and less positively, for a small minority of students that same idea, that colonisation has negatively impacted Māori, leads to fierce denial and defensiveness for a small number of students. The other thing that gets them fired up in internal tutorials has been the generational burdens that younger New Zealanders face as a consequence of the choices of older voters.

Q7: As with the other books in this series, there is a great team of writers over a wide range of disciplines. How hard is it to manage multiple contributors and multiple editors?

It hasn’t been hard at all. Quite the reverse: the editors have all worked together on the course for which this book is a required text, so we work well together. We also have complementary strengths (and the occasional weakness that someone else can always cover for!), areas of scholarly expertise and so on, so working together on the book was – most of the time anyway! – pretty straightforward. Actually, that diversity is one of the things that made it such fun: we’re all well used to working alongside colleagues from our respective disciplines, but there’s something fresh and enriching about working on a project like this with friends and colleagues who see things in ways which differ to our own.

Q8: Were there any challenges in deciding what to include in the book?

The challenges were all about what we couldn’t include in the book! The thing about a book, of course, is that it’s finite, so those decisions about what’s in and what can’t be accommodated can be tricky. Each of us could have thought of a whole pile of additional topics, but then the book would have been 75 chapters long! And each chapter within that book, a book unto itself!

Q9: Was there anything that came as a surprise, or illuminated a particular aspect of identity and belonging for you?

For me (Ella) it was He Tirohanga Māori. Reading the ways that Te Rā took the topic of that chapter and gave a uniquely Māori perspective was just so enlightening for me! I also really enjoyed Stella Pennell’s take on digital identity and the power of the corporates.

Q10: What are you reading/listening to/watching at the moment?

At the moment, Richard is re-reading NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, which is right up there with the best speculative fiction that people like Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin have produced.

Helen is reading Becky Manawatu’s Āue, Gigi Fenster’s A Good Winter. There’s lots of social commentary for course discussions. And for light relief, Billy Connolly’s Windswept and Interesting.

Right now, Ella is tripping around Australia for 2022 and so serious reading/listening/watching is not on the agenda. We read/watch whatever we pick up in second-hand shops along the way, although always looking out for local (Australian) content.

Te Rā is currently reading ‘He Pukapuka Tātaku i ngā Mahi a Te Rauparaha Nui’, which is a manuscript written by a Ngāti Toa Rangatira ancestor, Tamihana Te Rauparaha, on the life of his father, Te Rauparaha.