Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Heads in the sand in Dargaville, as claims about prestigious award unravel

Update: to his credit, Dargaville Online editor John McDonald has pledged to print a retraction of the claim that Noel Hilliam won the Senior New Zealander of the Year Award. McDonald sent me a gracious e mail yesterday in which he explained he had been misled by Noel Hilliam, and that this whole affair has been a 'learning curve' for him.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what Sir Eion Edgar the real winner of Senior New Zealander Award thinks of all this!

2:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what evidence would it tak to convince the dargavillians that 'their man' didn't win this thing? does grant mccabe have to go up there himself with eion edgar?


2:35 pm  
Blogger Liz said...

At least it's been cleared up as far as the inaccuracy goes. Good it needed to be. Very concerning. I'm in media and factual accurate reporting is essential otherwise big trouble can ensue if it is not. I was in Dargaville today..but for different reasons. All quiet there.

6:01 pm  
Anonymous Keri h said...

Excellent coverage Maps!

I am really uncertain what the Dargaville on-line publication - or Noel Hilliam for that matter- thought would be gained
by this duplicitous report?

6:39 pm  
Blogger Edward said...

After several backwards and forwards emails between myself and various people I was contacted by phone earlier today by the editor of Dargaville Online. Below is an edited copy of what I emailed Maps of it. Basically, while I don't think it's good enough on the Dargaville Online's part to publish the article the way they did and to ignore criticism and let it stand, I don't think the editor is a bad guy - just mislead by Hilliam's seemingly never-ending garbage. Hopefully Kiwibank will call for some sort of public statement of clarification on the Darg Online's part.


Yes it seems Hilliam has been leading everyone down the garden path. MacDonald told me he was friends with Hilliam and wanted to be upfront in discussion with me (also apparently i'm the easiest person to track down). While I have sympathy with MacDonald as during conversation he told me he didn't agree with all of what Hilliam claimed with regards to history, and seemed more of a slightly confused (insofar as muddled views on how science and scholarship works) but affable man, I did tell him in no uncertain terms that such statements as put in the first article were very misleading and dangerous, as was taking Hilliam's word on matters of history. To be honest I didn't get an opportunity to say a great deal more unfortunately, as the conversation was more MacDonald defending Hilliam's on the grounds of relativity in beliefs or some such, but I did get the chance to mention, before our conversation ended, that this affair of the supposed Kiwibank award was very unusual and told him what Kiwibank had told me - that Hilliam never received such an award. His reply was that he can only report on the information he receives and that he had put up a copy of Hilliam's award for us to look at. Basically that it was out of his hands - not really good enough for a public publication, no matter how low key in my opinion.
He did mention to me that it was Hilliam himself who emailed him the scanned award in the first place along with a short email articulating his (Hilliam's) shock that he had received such an award.
Basically, the response to the fact that Kiwibank rejects the claim of an award seems to be 'make up your own mind whilst I acknowledge no criticism'. He also asked that this not drag on as he didn't want the newsletter to become a forum for this discussion - while sympathetic I didn't make any promises. I do feel a bit sorry for MacDonald, but I don't want to let this go either as it really isn't good enough.
As for ringing him, I don't have his number as he rang me at work through our secretary and I doubt anything constructive would come of it.
I think perhaps we'll let it sink in and see what he has to say and if Kiwibank forces some action."

6:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'At least it's been cleared up as far as the inaccuracy goes.'

Not cleared up in the place that counts - the newspaper that made the false claim!


6:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'His reply was that he can only report on the information he receives'

Also, what sort of bullshit is this? Journalists are meant to go and out and find information, not wait for it to arrive! If this idiot McDonald had done a simple internet search he would have found that Hilliam was talking bs. He is a total joke.

7:05 pm  
Blogger Liz said...

'His reply was that he can only report on the information he receives'

Journalists are meant to go and out and find information, not wait for it to arrive!

Absolutely someone can tell you about the news..BUT it pays to check everything out. Verify everything interview those involved with the story etc etc etc. Accurate sources count otherwise all you get is bullshit and most likely the shove out of the proverbial door for bad reporting..andy way I'll shut up now. Thanks Maps always one to stimulate the mind and make one think

8:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hullo, intolerance?

Isn't John McDonald allowed to have his own point of view on who won this award?

Accept it. People disagree. It's called opinion. We might never know who really won the award.

12:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Isn't John McDonald allowed to have his own point of view on who won this award?'

And the award for stupidest comment of the year goes to...

12:56 am  
Blogger Timespanner said...

In the special edition of the Dargaville Online, published yesterday, the certificate has been rerproduced. Looks on the surface like poor wording by the organisers, with words like "Certificate of Achievement" immediately above "Senior New Zealander of the Year Award" and "Awarded To Noel Hilliam". No reference there to "nomination", or "better luck next time". Looks like Dargaville Online are sticking to their guns on this one.

5:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That certificate is a crude fake.

9:20 am  
Blogger Marty Mars said...

from dargy online special edition

“With respect to the final paragraph in the article, Noel has received both national and International recognition e.g. for his efforts over many years in locating, identifying, and recovering artefacts from many of the shipwrecks on the Ripiro Beach here in Northland. There are local legends and mythology associated with many of these – particularly some of the early ones. Did these people settle here? If so where? Who were their children and so forth. As many of these early shipwrecks are of foreign origin and occurred more that 150 years ago, it seems not unreasonable to make a reference to the origins of human habitation in New Zealand which has been going on for a considerable period of time and is the subject of research for many historians and archaeologists - both professional and amateur.

As a matter of interest, the Editor stood on a beach in Rorotonga in the early 1980’s which has/had a sign on it telling visitors that from that spot in the 1500’s left a great fleet of canoes for Aotearoa/New Zealand. Was the statement on the sign mythology or fact? This also raises the question as to whether these canoes actually arrived
in New Zealand, and if so where did they land? Did one or more of them possibly get left on Ripiro Beach to be covered in sand and remain as yet undiscovered? Who knows the answer? Another mystery yet to be discovered about the origins of human habitation in New Zealand?”

These statements from mcdonald show why this matter should not be left to just fade away. IMO the opinions expressed in these paragraghs, show the true nature of the thoughts, that could allow the publication of the obviously false claims from hilliam without checking or verification.

10:26 am  
Blogger Edward said...

I believe Mr MacDonald has received clarification from Kiwibank now saying that the so-called award in question was in fact just a certificate of recognition of Mr Hilliam's nomination (It seems all who were nominated by the public received such a certificate). I have been told that a retraction will be published in the next issue of Dargy Online, so keep an eye out next week. While I believe Mr MacDonald has taken on the responsibility for the mistake to his credit, I still can't help but think Mr Hilliam may have been trying to deliberately make something more out of it than reality would allow.

As for anon "Hullo, intolerance?", what a strange thought process you have. Relativistic tripe about diversity in beliefs applied to something which only has a definite answer: either it's legit or it isn't. And seeing as it's an award which is given out (even if not funded by) Kiwibank, then we can safely assume it is Kiwibank who can give a definite answer. Or maybe your car is in fact not really your car, maybe you should respect my opinion that your car is in fact my car? Very odd.

10:40 am  
Blogger Timespanner said...

I've now seen another nomination certificate (received by a local doctor, in the New Zealander of the Year Award category). The doctor in question's certificate is correct, as it clearly shows it was for a nomination only (but the doctor still proudly framed and displayed it by his receptionist's desk). Hilliam's certificate seems to have been misprinted, "awarded to" instead of "nominated", adding to the misassumption.

1:52 pm  
Blogger Jayne said...

How bizarre!
Any editor worth his salt would have followed this up at the first mention of inaccuracy, if only to cover his own backside in these litigious times!

Something definitely smells offish about this.

2:32 pm  
Anonymous Keri h said...

Timespanner - misprinted by whom?

I would venture it wasnt a misprint by theawards komiti people...

2:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word is that Hilliam has taken the certificate scanned it and photoshopped it.

2:44 pm  
Blogger Edward said...

Anon may be correct. Certainly seems odd. And I personally wouldn't put it past Mr Hilliam. After all, think of the other blundering misrepresentations he's come up with about history. I should say "in my opinion" here though, as I wouldn't want to receive another letter threatening legal action from Mr Hilliam's "legal council" (himself) for defamation. As it stands, he seems to be eroding his own credibility.

3:33 pm  
Blogger Timespanner said...

There is that possibility, but I'd rather cry "misprint" than "forgery/Photoshop work" at this stage, until more stuff comes to light. I've seen certificate cock-ups before now -- why should this have been an exception?

I look forward to seeing what Dargaville Online say next week about this. Whether misprint or forgery -- their integrity is definitely in the spotlight with this, even though yes, they are just a local community paper.

3:49 pm  
Blogger Marty Mars said...

hang on a second if the title of the award is "Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year Award" - why is Ryman Healthcare's name not even on that certificate?

3:56 pm  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

I have to say, Scott, that I did rather doubt your bona fides when you were ranting awy at the poor old Dargaville Museum committee last year, but this last couple of posts have me eating my words.

Splendid stuff! I love the idea of M. Hilliam sitting in some dark room carefully blurring words on his "certificate of achievement" in order to make it look as if it might plausibly be regarded as some kind of award.

The Auckland Museum post is almost equally amusing and trenchant. Keep up the good work ...

4:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In defense of 'Hullo, intolerance?'

The colloquial misspelling of 'hullo' alludes to the post being a satire on the techniques used by the pseudo historians to malign opposition to their buffoonery.

Edward, it ought to also be known that relativistic tripe are considered more delicious than pragmatic realist tripe for the simple fact that farm animals who are relativistic are less likely to run around in search of escape, thus making the various offcuts needed for tripe rather tough and stringy. Animals that can be proved to be relativistic, and thus yielding relativistic tripe, fetch a premium, especially in the lucrative scandinavian-baltic tripe markets.

5:56 pm  
Anonymous Keri h said...

"Hullo" is not a colloquial mis-spelling: you will find in the OED (as an interjective, which was how the Anon was using it.)

6:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nah, you're wrong Keri and so is the OED.

One sees: the OED is a PC academic institution which incorporates colloquial misspellings into their dictum to the ultimate ends of controlling those on the margins of literacy. Compare and contrast the manner in which counter cultural movements are appropriated by edgy-entrepreneurs/anarcho-capitalists.

As such, and in defiance of their tyrannical claims to our English, I will reposit that hullo is an old english term used colloquially (not in terms of a regional colloquialism, but one which is temporal) to show that the speaker is either old fashioned, a cheeky fellow, a bumpkin, or a combination of the above.

That said, it is not a misspelling. It is a colloquial play on old english and associated connotations.

8:33 pm  
Anonymous Keri h said...

O, I see, anon - this is some kind of overwheening academic cleverness sneering at the non-academic ignorati?

Why dont you have the guts to put your name behind your sneers?

They aint funny. They are leaden and - in this forum- inapposite.

8:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Each to their own, Keri. I find humour in plenty of places you might not.

That said, I cannot justify my preference for anon without slipping into academic cleverness, referencing past uses and users of anonymity and non de plumes, and other Fashionable Nonsense.

I do like the way you used the word 'leaden' though. Really. Not sure why. For me it evokes some charred cauldron or some fishing weight.

Maybe it's not the right forum. That agreed upon.... consider my commenting nixed.

1:05 am  
Blogger Edward said...

What a strange anon. Your prose reminds me of the mad hatter. Though you may be right that I took satire in seriousness. If so, my apologies to the 'hullo' anon.

8:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet more loopiness from Hilliam:

12:14 am  
Blogger Edward said...

Ta da!

4:23 pm  

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