Be careful what you wish for, Cameron
Sacha Gervasi's 2008 film Anvil! is a celebration of a heavy metal band which has been struggling for decades to make the big time. The hairy but wrinkled members of Anvil are full of ambition, but almost comically unaware of the sheer awfulness of the music they make. Again and again they are rejected by audiences and panned by critics; again and again they release a new album, and hit the road to promote it.
If the world of scholarship has an equivalent to Anvil, it is surely Noel Hilliam, the retired farmer from Dargaville who has become infamous, over the past quarter century, for making a series of bizarre claims about New Zealand history. Over the years Hilliam has discovered a Viking city in the forests north of Dargaville, Spanish ships in the sandy mouth of Kaipara Harbour, a Nazi submarine filled with gold in the Tasman Sea, and the skeletons of an ancient tribe of giant white people in remote caves. Again and again, Hilliam has failed to produce evidence for his sensational claims, and faced ridicule. Again and again, he has presented gullible journalists with new fantasies.
Back in 2010 Hilliam made a particularly strange and embarrassing claim. After Hilliam rang up its editor, a publication called Dargaville Online ran a story celebrating his receipt of the prestigious Senior New Zealander of the Year award. Investigations by readers of this blog, though, soon revealed that Hilliam had not received the award at all, and Dargaville Online had to run a retraction.
I had hoped that the Senior New Zealander of the Year affair might have dented Noel Hilliam's enthusiasm for fantasy, but his new book To the Ends of the Earth suggests that he is incorrigible. Co-authored by Hilliam's fellow cranks Gary Cook and Maxwell Hill, the book argues that Greeks and Egyptians sailed to New Zealand several thousand years ago, established settlements and raised stone monuments, collected local jade and adorned it with hei tiki and other designs now associated with Maori, and then suddenly retired to the margins of these islands. Historian Paul Moon struck the right note when he told a newspaper reporter that 'there is no evidence at all' for the claims in To the Ends of the Earth.
Noel Hilliam's book may not be popular amongst trained scholars, but it has excited a number of right-wing bloggers. Cameron Slater, for instance, took a break from his campaign against Auckland's wharfies to post a link to an account of the book. Slater predicted that Hilliam's claims 'would bend some Maori out of shape', and said that he couldn't wait 'for the headlines expressing outrage'. Slater and some others on the right are enthusiastic about Hilliam's book because they feel its widespread acceptance would lead to the abrogation of the Treaty of Waitangi and the end of Maori claims for the return of land and other resources. If Maori are deprived of their status as tangata whenua then, the thinking goes, they will cease asking for compensation for stolen land and funding for kohanga reo and other 'separatist' institutions. This comment from the Stuff site is typical:
It is certain that Maori were not the first here and about time everybody knows that. I hope this book gets the coverage it deserves as it will help unite ALL kiwis instead of giving preference to one as though the rest of us are secondary citizens.
Cameron Slater and other right-wingers should be careful what they wish for, though, because Hilliam's tome appears to be built around his relationship with some very strange and rather avaricious people.
Hilliam is a long-time associate of the Universal Peace Nation of Waitaha, a cult whose members claim to be the descendants of extra-terrestrials with psychic powers who landed in ancient Egypt and later travelled to New Zealand via South America and Easter Island. The Waitahans make money off gullible New Agers by selling glossy picture books full of gobbledygook and running tours of their supposed ancient 'sacred sites'.
Last decade, when he worked as a volunteer at Dargaville's maritime museum, Hilliam developed a relationship with Patrick Ruka, a prominent member of the Waitaha cult. After deciding that a carved Maori pou found near Dargaville was an ancient Waitaha artefact, Hilliam got Ruka to perform a 'ceremony' to 'welcome' the object into the museum. The museum eventually repudiated both Hilliam and the Universal Peace Nation of Waitaha.
In Hilliam's new book, a man named George Connelly claims to be a descendant of Egyptian settlers who arrived in this country via Peru. Hilliam presents Connelly's testimony as a sign that some New Zealanders have always maintained an awareness of their connection with the ancient Mediterranean.
What Hilliam doesn't tell his readers is that Connelly, who also uses the name Hori Kupenga Manuka Manuka, has connections with both the Universal Peace Nation of Waitaha and another bizarre outfit, Ko Huiarau. In the 1990s Ko Huiarau attracted hundreds of members, including broadcaster Mary Forbes and Auckland War Memorial ethnologist David Simmons, by claiming to be the modern representative of an ancient government of these islands which had signed treaties with numerous foreign powers, including Britain. Ko Huiarau insisted that when these treaties were recognised it would take control of the whole of New Zealand, and promised to share the wealth of the country with those who joined its ranks. Ko Huiarau has fragmented over the last decade, and now has no clear leadership, but George Connelly continues to promote its ideas. Connelly claims, in fact, to be a direct descendant of the leaders of the ancient Ko Huiarau nation, and thus to be the arbiter of contemporary constitutional issues in New Zealand. Connelly denies the indigenity of King Tuheitia, calling him a 'Tahitian', and accuses Tainui of committing a 'genocide' against his imaginary Waitaha ancestors.
Maxwell Hill lives down the road from Connelly in Taupiri, and has a history of supporting the man's absurd claims. In 2010, for instance, Hill sent a long letter to Waikato's regional council and New Zealand's parliament in which he insisted that Connelly's existence was enough to refute the notion that Maori have any customary rights to this country's seabed and foreshore. Hill's rambling epistle was filled with invocations of Ko Huiarau, and also features a warmed-over version of the myth of Moriori as a pre-Maori people. Last month Hill sent a tangled, often incomprehensible second document to the Waikato council, in which he claimed that the 'research' he did for To the Ends of the Earth proved George Connelly's identity.
There is a certain irony in the way that many right-wingers are publicising Hilliam and Hill's book, and hoping that it might somehow deliver them from the supposedly unreasonable demands of the Treaty of Waitangi. If some of the people behind The Ends of the Earth ever got their way, then the whole of New Zealand might be delivered up to the members of a couple of small and very odd sects.
Footnote: why is Beattie's Book Blog promoting Hilliam's nonsense?
Footnote (2): It is rather comical, but also a little sad, to see the way that the pseudo-historians have once again tried to associate themselves with high-profile Kiwi scholar Paul Moon. In 2009, after the likes of Martin Doutre had persistently nodded in his direction, Moon wrote a letter to the New Zealand Herald to distance himself publically from the Celtic New Zealand thesis.
Now the boosters for Hilliam's peculiar book are trying to brandish Moon's name, circulating a formulaic e mail which Moon directed at one of Hilliam's co-authors, and presenting it as some sort of endorsement.
Over at the Franklin E Local, which seems still to be the house journal of pseudo-history in this country, Michael Botur has been asserting that Moon endorses the theory that Greeks and Egyptians visited these islands thousands of years ago. Botur didn't, of course, bother to contact Moon before making his claim. I'm not sure whether Botur was aware of Moon's 2009 letter savaging the Celtic New Zealand thesis and decided to ignore it, or whether he didn't bother to do the most basic research before writing his article for Franklin E Local.
As usual, the hijinks of the pseudo-historians have backfired. Presumably because of the way his name was being associated with Hilliam's book, Paul Moon was contacted by the mainstream media and asked to comment on the tome. Not surprisingly, he repudiated it in very strong terms, and denied that Hilliam and his co-authors had any credibility as scholars.
I've just exchanged a couple of e mails with Michael Botur, and he continues to assert, in the face of all the evidence, that Paul Moon is a supporter of Hilliam and co's theory that white folks arrived in New Zealand thousands of years ago. Botur seems to regard Moon's very public rejection of Hilliam and co over the past couple of days as a sudden and inexplicable aberration, rather than as the continuation of the position Moon made very clear in his letter to the Herald back in 2009.
I think that, as far as denials of reality go, Botur's blusterings are on a par with Hilliam's easily disproved claim to have won a prestigious award in 2010. Back then the Dargaville Online publication had the good sense to admit that Hilliam had led it up the garden path, but Botur seems determined to stand by his crank. More fool him.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]