Stuff interviews Downfall author Paul Diamond


‘Paul Diamond has pursued stories his whole life.

An accountant-turned-journalist, Diamond is queer and Māori and now works to help tell stories at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington as its curator, Māori.

Diamond (Ngāti Haua, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi) is about to release his latest book, about the downfall of Charles Mackay, the former Whanganui mayor killed outside a Jewish clothes shop in Berlin in 1929.

Mackay rose to notoriety after shooting, not fatally, the writer Walter D’Arcy Cresswell, who threatened to out Mackay as gay at a time when sex between men was still punishable by imprisonment.

After serving six years in prison, Mackay was made to leave the country. He was living in Europe and working as a part-time news correspondent and language teacher at the time of his death, aged 53.

“He was about as old as me [now],” Diamond says in an interview inside the office of the Turnbull’s chief librarian Chris Szekely, who has offered his space for our time on a rainy Wellington day.

Diamond travelled to Berlin and Whanganui as part of his research for the book, his fourth after A Fire in your Belly (2003), Makereti: Taking Māori to the World (2007) and Savaged to Suit: Māori and Cartooning in New Zealand (2018).

Those books covered Māori histories and saw Diamond interview Māori leaders who had an impact on Te Tiriti settlements, profile one of New Zealand’s first international media celebrities, then study early cartoons featuring Māori. His latest strays into new territory: queer history in regional Aotearoa.

Diamond first came across Mackay’s story in writings by Peter Wells and Michael King while a reporter at Radio New Zealand in the early 2000s. He and a colleague later had a programme commissioned about Mackay, and found there was plenty of archival information, but that people in Whanganui weren’t keen to talk about the shooting.

Mackay’s daughter was still alive then, and was initially unhappy about Diamond and his colleague looking into the matter. The daughter died, and Diamond ended up leaving radio to work as an oral historian, after a stint at Māori Television.’

Read the rest of the interview here.