Heads in the sand in Dargaville, as claims about prestigious award unravel
Anyone who has read the comments thread under the previous post on this blog will have witnessed the speedy unravelling of the claim, announced with great fanfare in the Dargaville Online newsletter at the beginning of the week, that Noel Hilliam was recently given something called the Kiwibank Senior New Zealander of the Year Award.
I was out at my parents' place on Monday afternoon when I got an e mail from Edward Ashby, the Dargaville-born archaeologist who has for some time been monitoring the cultural vandalism and wild claims which come from pseudo-archaeologists on the racist fringes of Kiwi society. Edward was sending me an article from the Dargaville Online which a fellow archaeologist had shown to him. The article claimed that 'Kiwibank's Senior New Zealander of the Year Award has this year gone to local identity Noel Hilliam', and went on to characterise Hilliam as one of New Zealand's foremost scholars of the past. Most archaeologists, hisorians, and museum curators have long known Hilliam as an untrained loud-mouth who puts forward the bizarre claim that white people beat Maori to New Zealand by thousands of years, and who steals bones from Maori burial sites.
'Quite a few archaeologists are passing the article round', Edward told me. 'It feels like a slap in the face to us.' Edward was writing a letter to Dargaville Online about its presentation of Hilliam, and I thought that I'd complement his epsitle with a blog post which queried why Kiwibank would possibly think that Hilliam deserved a prestigious award like Senior New Zealander of the Year. Like most things, the internet moves slowly in the rural area where my parents live, so I avoided doing any googling about the award, and instead banged out a post that focused on the claims made in the Dargaville Online article.
When I got home late on Monday night, I was able to do a few google searches, and I found that there seemed to be no reference anywhere outside Dargaville Online to Hilliam's award. The official website of the New Zealand Awards not only ommitted to mention Hilliam - it announced businessman and philanthropist Sir Eion Edgar as Senior New Zealander of the Year for 2010. Southern man Edgar's receipt of the award had been reported proudly by The Southland Times. I put some of the contradictory claims I'd found into e mails to both Kiwibank and Dargaville Online, and went to bed shaking my head.
By the time I was up on Tuesday morning, the estimable Stephen Judd had already seen my post, done his own research, and come to the conclusion that Dargaville Online's claim that Hilliam had won the Senior New Zealander Award was quite false. 'Is the truth perhaps that Hilliam is claiming an award he has not received?' Stephen asked.
A couple of hours after Stephen delivered his verdict, a slightly miffed Denise Beazley, from Kiwibank's branding department, sent me the following message:
I can confirm that Kiwibank did not give Mr Hilliam the Senior New Zealander of the Year award. Any reference to this is inaccurate. In fact we don’t even sponsor this category.
Kiwibank sponsors the New Zealander of the Year Awards. There are 5 categories – Senior New Zealander (sponsored by Ryman Healthcare), Young New Zealander (sponsored by Coca Cola Amatil), Community of the Year (sponsored by Mitre 10), the Local Heroes Awards and the New Zealander of the Year (we sponsor these last two categories as well as being the sponsor of the overall programme).
I have asked the awards organisers to clear up any misunderstanding, both with the local media and any blogs on Mr Hilliam.
Beazley's message was backed up and elaborated by Grant McCabe, the co-ordinator of the New Zealand Awards, who left the following statement on this blog:
I thought I should respond to the incorrect information that has been reported in the Dargaville Online Weekly Newsletter. Noel Hilliam was not the winner of the Kiwibank Senior Award. Firstly Kiwibank do not sponsor the Senior New Zealander of the Year Award they sponsor the New Zealander of the Year Award and Local Heroes Awards. These were won by Ray Avery and Sam Tutu Chapman respectively.
The winner of the inaugural “Ryman Healthcare” Senior New Zealander of the Year Award is Sir Eion Edgar of Otago. He was chosen through a comprehensive judging process from over 70+ nominations for this award.
Noel Hilliam was nominated for both the Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year Award and the Kiwibank Local Heroes Award. He was not a winner, finalist or semi finalist in either of these awards. Like all nominees he did receive a certificate to acknowledge his nomination.
Noel Hilliam's odd claims about history and his destructive attempts at archaeological 'research' have been an occasional subject of this blog, and it did not take long for some readers to connect fantasies about the New Zealand Awards with fantasies about New Zealand history. Keri Hulme was not surprised by Hilliam's latest antics:
Mr Hilliam has parlayed a certificate for being nominated into being the winner of an award that doesnt exist? Sounds par for the course...
But it appears that Noel Hilliam is not the only fantasist in Dargaville. In spite of the testimony of Denise Beazley and Grant McCabe, and in spite of the evidence of the official New Zealand Awards website, the Dargaville Online is still insisting that Noel Hilliam did win the non-existent Kiwibank Senior New Zealander of the Year Award.
In a special issue dedicated to the subject, Dargaville Online editor John McDonald assures his readers that 'Dargaville Online does not publish its articles without making sure there is a firm basis to the story'. For McDonald, this 'firm basis' consists of a certificate he has reproduced in his special issue. McDonald's reproduction of the certificate is so blurry that some of the text of the document is illegible. It's not clear to me whether the certificate, which I've forwarded to Denise Beazley and Grant McCabe for analysis, is a fake, or whether it is simply the document given to Hilliam in acknowledgement of his nomination for the title of Senior New Zealander of the Year.
What does seem clear is that John McDonald and his paper have been taken in by the sort of misrepresentation that Noel Hilliam has tried so often to perpetrate on scholars of New Zealand's past. The longer Dargaville Online goes on listening to Hilliam and denying reality, the less credibility the little paper will have.