Saturday, November 13, 2010

Memo to Rose Stirling: an open mind need not be an empty mind

Kaipara blogger Liz, who brought the latest soft soaping of Dargaville pseudo-historian and tomb-robber Noel Hilliam to light earlier in the week, has produced a cartoon which amusingly skewers the obsessions of Hilliam and his ilk, and which reminds me oddly of the collages of Marian Maguire, an artist who doesn't make the mistake of dressing fantasy up as reality.

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...


Anonymous herb said...

if Rose is Maori...why couldn't she spot the obvious crap Hilliam talked...about the Maori language being heavily influenced by Spanish?

I think she might be as big a bullshit artist as him, actually...

let's see her go onto a Ngati Porou marae and present Hilliam's Nazi theories as something respectable and newsworthy. Heh...

2:36 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

It's Maguire, not MacGuire.

One has to love Stirling's complete disregard for evidence-based journalism - when all facts are opinions, you're at your most open minded and fair when you entertain them all. Hooray!

9:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice comment by Marty Mars in the other thread:

Kia ora rose,

I hope you have you have a good read of the post and follow the links provided. The evidence is there - the photos of ancestors descecrated to further the anti-maori agenda is there.

You could turn it around - write an article on grave robbing and its sick parent. Expose these scum to the light, as Maps and others do. This will be mana enhancing for you, your hapu and iwi, and most importantly mana whenua, who are still suffering the descecration of their ancestors today.

The challenge is to be part of the solution Rose not part of the problem.

11:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and from Edward in the other one


Marine archaeologist is not any better I'm afraid, so it seems you missed the point, but I'm sorry if you have been subject to name-calling. I'm afraid, however, like Maps, I don't buy into the 'open minded' reporting excuse though - as I've said in my comments, Mr Hilliam has a right to say and believe what he likes, and you have a right to publish it, but as a journalist providing a public platform for his ideas, the responsibility falls on you to make sure that such claims are critically appraised, balanced by evidence, and opinion is sought by qualified experts. You have failed to do this so excuse us if we remain unimpressed by your response.

As an archaeologist I am continually faced with public misnomers and confusion fed by such myths, and the difficult battle to educate the public of genuine research and the history of our country is undermined by thoughtless "open minded" (read: uncritical) reporting. No one here is against having an open mind or even the right for Hillaim to have his opinions or you to publish them, but 'free speech' and 'open mindedness' does not mean freedom of responsibility.

It is amusing though, how junk-science and pseudo-history theorists are quick to cite freedom of speech, and yet when those who disagree publically challenge these theories they are met with threats of legal action due to claims of defamation. I recieved such threats by Mr Hilliam last year for openly criticising his claims.

Perhaps you should be more thoughtful about who and how you interview in the future and a little less quick to play the tired old 'open minded' card as an excuse. As I said, context-free reporting is a public disservice.

8:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course Rose will never consider one of Doug Sutton's treams' internationally-acclaimed books 'news'.

Doug Sutton isn't a broken-down old redneck with an unhealthy fascination for the remains of the dead.

Rose and her publishers aren't interested.

12:15 am  
Anonymous Keri H said...

I find Rose Stirling's comments really strangely uninformed.
Surely she has to know better than this - especially if she comes from *the*Stirlings?

Or - paranoia! -she is not quite what she promotes herself as?

12:40 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I just started Herodotus's "The Histories" A great read BTW!

But he hasn't mentioned the Peloponnesian Maori yet; but I will report back when I get up to there.

12:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Herodotus was the father of lies.

2:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One wouldn't even need a five-minute Google search. I am a journalist working on a different paper in the same media group (Fairfax) as Rose's paper. After the posting of Rose's article, I had a quick scan of the shared Fairfax electronic archives -- which every journalist does as they prepare to interview someone -- and saw that Hilliam had been written about many times, with his "controversial" views covered and rebutted. All it would have taken is a quick phone call to the likes of Kerry Howe, to get one contrasting quote to Hilliam's nonsense.

1:03 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Exactly, anon! I can't understand how Rose could have failed to perform these simple tasks, and how she could possibly think that Hilliam deserves another article, when all he has are obvious absurdities and conspiracy theories involving unnamed people and unnamed dates.

1:17 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

He was the father of lies - but his father had a father. Truth is - shall we say - subject to subjectivity! The great thing with such as Herodotus is the ingeniousness of their "lies" - and they don't pretend history or in fact anything is "factual" is all very complex.

But this doesn't mean Hilliam is quite on the same plane shall we say as Herodotus - he, Hillamadodotus, the man in question, is more a kind of poor man's Ezra Pound!

1:30 pm  
Blogger Liz said...

But he hasn't mentioned the Peloponnesian Maori yet; but I will report back when I get up to there.

Richard I'm scanning my copy as well. I'm 'certain' we'll find that 'earth shattering evidence' maybe never.

Scott thanks for speaking out about this.I drew that cartoon out of the sheer amusement I held over the article. It was more 'it's a conspiracy!'type of article than anything that could be taken seriously. Hence the cartoon.

Richard and I will report back in about 2 centuries or so when at last 'the truth is out there' Too many X-Files episodes I would think.

6:22 pm  
Blogger AngonaMM said...

Canto 6, 17-21. No reason why Ruggiero's hippogryph could not have descended below the Equator (first journey of 'Orlando Furioso'). Ariosto insists the unnamed hippogryph is no mythological beastie, but a product of nature. It definitely crossed the Pacific on the way to Alcina's island, and (though not mentioned in O.F.) it is not beyond belief that it made a rest-stop in Auckland or Hawaii in late 8th c.

6:46 am  
Blogger maps said...

One of Noel's chums has tried to substantiate the claim about the New Zealand tree in Spain:

'I gather that a Pohutakawa is alive and well in the township of Aorangi Spain, Europe and historical documentation supports how it was obtained.'

Does anyone know a place in Spain called Aorangi? I just did a google for it, and came up blank.

I'm sure we'll get all that documentation proving the history of the tree from Noel, at about the same time he gives us the location of that Nazi sub off the coast of Northland...

3:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's la corunna, not aorangi

probably one of the many trees from NZ planted in europe in the 19th century (lots of cabbage tree around)

but...even on the outside chance it was brought back to spain by a spaniards before cook's arrival, so what? hilliard claims to have evidence whites were here before maori...does he think maori got here at the same time as cook? nothing would surprise...

3:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yep the maori power/history establishment is obviously trying to cover this tree up, and we need a fearless truth teller like noel hilliard, just look at the response of the most famous historian here

'Dr Belich says there are legends about Spanish ships arriving in New Zealand in the 16th Century and that was a time when many explorers kept their discoveries to themselves.

So he says it is entirely possible that Spaniards arrived on New Zealand soil in the 1500s.'

what a cover-up! they're runnings cared! and the sad thing is this is OLD news. nearly ten years old in fact.

and yes it has nothing to do with the claim whites were here thousands of years ago before maori. clear;y they were here before the tree arrived in spain even by the oldest age given for the tree, so - what's the point?

3:21 pm  
Anonymous Hilliam is awesome...yeah right! said...

Kia ora,

I was wondering if you could please provide a reference for me to David William's writings about people unlawfully taking kōiwi tangata from Te Uri o Hau? Is this in the Waitangi Tribunal records? I would really be interested to read more is all.

Thanks and keep up the great blog...I thoroughly enjoy reading it :)

10:45 am  

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