Memo to Rose Stirling: an open mind need not be an empty mind
While Liz was poking fun at Hilliam's paranoiac fantasies, Rose Stirling was leaving a comment on this blog in defence of her presentation of the man as a serious historian in the article she wrote for a recent issue of the Dargaville and Districts News. Here's Rose's response to the open letter I wrote her a couple of days ago:
First of all - I never called [Hilliam] a marine biologist - oops.
I do not know who monitors these pages but I do not believe name calling is very intellectual.
I am Maori of Ngati Porou and Ngati Paoa descent. I am proud of my Maori ancestory. To say that I am racist because I interviewed someone who believes that Maori were not the first to settle NZ is like saying I must be a chef because I interviewed Gordon Ramsey per say.
I'm proud to be Maori but I'm also proud to be a Maori with an open mind. I intend to report on Mr Hilliams findings in the very near future and a second opinion will be sought and reported on. This first news item was to break the news.
Here's my reply to Rose's message:
Thanks for responding Rose.
It's all very well to speak of keeping an 'open mind', but there is a difference between an open mind and an empty mind. I'm afraid that your article raises serious questions about your competence as a journalist.
A five minute google search would have shown you that Noel Hilliam does not have the qualifications and track record of publications that would allow him to be fairly called an historian, that he has made a series of bizarre claims over the years that have been proven quite false, that he has been repudiated by serious scholars, by Dargaville Maritime Museum, and by the tangata whenua of the northern Wairoa, and that he has links to an openly racist organisation which uses his 'research' to advance its agenda.
Any journalist worth their salt would have done some basic research on Hilliam and, at the very least, gotten in touch with some of the man's many detractors and included the opinions of these people in a profile of him.
Saying that you're going to get the facts right and present a balanced opinion the next time you write something about Hilliam doesn't cut it.
And trying to wriggle off the hook by citing your links to iwi whose rohe are far from the northern Wairoa is, frankly, pathetic. You don't get a free pass just because you can whakapapa back to iwi in different parts of the island. You have a responsibility to the mana whenua of the indigenous people of the northern Wairoa - the people whose burial caves have been robbed by Hilliam, and whose artefact was desecrated - and you have failed to meet that responsibility.
Have you stopped to wonder how someone whose ancestors' remains have been disturbed by the man whom you presented as a serious historian might feel about him? David Williams, who represented Te Uri o Hau in Treaty negotiations, has written about the pain that grave-robbing caused the iwi in the nineteenth century, and about the way that Hilliam has reawakened that pain by blundering into caves in recent decades. For someone who proclaims their Maoriness, you seem very blase about the free pass you have given to a man with a long history of insulting Maori and desecrating Maori taonga.
The decent thing to do would be to apologise and to retract your patently false representation of Hilliam as a serious scholar.
You talk about writing yet another article on Hilliam, but wouldn't it be far better for you to bring your readers' attention to the work of the scores of serious scholars investigating Northland history and prehistory? These archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, literary scholars, and sociologists consult and respect the communities they work with, proceed in a systematic manner using the research skills they gained through careful study, and turn their work into rational arguments which are available for public perusal. Wouldn't they be more worthy of your attention than a totally untrained retired farmer who breaks into burial caves at night, destroys and desecrates taonga, and produces nothing more coherent from his 'research' than rants against 'political correctness' on the websites of anti-Maori organisations like the One New Zealand Foundation?
You defend your item as a quick attempt to 'break' a piece of 'news', but why, I wonder, do you consider Hilliam's repetitive ravings 'news', rather than the many and continuing publications of scholars like Doug Sutton, who has led the most detailed study ever of prehistoric Northland pa, or Stephen Turner, who has investigated the history of the community around Lake Omapaere in recent years using radical new techniques, or Trevor Bentley, who recently published the first proper biography of the legendary Jacky Marmon, the first white settler of the Hokianga and a crucial figure in Northland history?
And if you wanted to show off the best side of Dargaville, wouldn't you want to write about Kendrick Smithyman, one of the town's most erudite and eloquent sons, rather than produce another piece about Hilliam, a man who has caused your town nothing but embarrassment?
I've amended the description of Hilliam from 'marine biologist' to 'marine archaeologist'. Hilliam has no skills in either discipline, and he has made so many claims to so many different fields of expertise that it didn't occur to me or to others here that I'd misread your description of him. I'm half-expecting the bloke to claim to be an astronaut next...