Title: Henry Lawson Among Maoris

Author: William H. Pearson

Quoted in: Henry Lawson Among Maoris

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1968, Wellington

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Paul Millar

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Mangamaunu — Kaikoura — 25/6/97


Dear Mr Macallum,

Many thanks for your kind letter. Such letters brighten me up and help me a lot when I feel inclined to brood over mine own old folly;

* Two letters to Tom Mills, mentioned by Mills in N.Z. Railways Magazine, 2 April 1934, pp. 27-8, have not been found. There were probably other letters.

I.e., Rev. W. J. Habens, Inspector-General 1878-99, and Secretary for Education 1886-99.

page 170which brooding, which only happens now on rainy days and in hours of enforced idleness, encreases the magnitude and blackness of the world's apparent ingratitude and treachery towards myself to such an extent that I feel like a danger to vested interests and a menace to society at large. I have dismissed the young heathen for Midwinter Holidays with a week added on account of the Record Reign foolery. We parted on the best of terms-the said heathen with a fixed idea that the extra holidays were of my own giving, and their gratitude to me is only tempered by their thankfulness towards Mrs Lawson who first reported the holidays to them, and who, I have reason to believe, they fancy, persuaded me, in the face of some opposition to grant the boon. They said that the last teacher wouldn't do that for them. I looked up the names and dates in English History and explained the matter; they listened with inforced school attention, but weren't interested. Seems to me that when an impression does get on their minds, like say a clot of flax gum on their hair, it stays there, and other stray impressions stay too, or drop off if there's no room, just as the case may be. Old impressions must be rubbed out with considerable force, or not at all, and new ons rubbed in with more.

The prevalent impression on the 23rd of May* was that next day was St Patricks day. I have thought it out and come to the conclusion that that impression can be traced to the fact that most of the Maoris here are Catholics. Some of the children thought it was their birthday (the church records are lost and mothers seem to depend, as does Department strictly-on such little matters as the ages of their children, on the school master-in event of any formal emergency) Well, the youngest picaniny in the school said it was our, (Mrs Lawson's and my birthday) Anyway, they knew there'd be no school, and thats all they wanted to know. But we are haunted just now by the eldest girl (16) a pure blooded aborigine-if there ever was one-of the heavy negro type, whose father killed her mother 11 years ago, (fit of jealousy) and on whose family (3 or 4 sisters) there seems to be a brooding cloud. This girl, they say, would take to the bush, if the last teacher punished her, and climb a tree and sit there and brood for hours-for days if they didn't find her and get her home. Poor girl-but I shouldnt care to punish her if there were knives handy. The father, by-the way, was "teased" (favourite Maori word for expressing it) by other Maoris concerning his wifes easy nature, and, coming home, he called her out to turn the grindstone while he sharpened a butcher's knife for "pighunting". She turned away mechanically or naturally like-a Maori wife, I suppose, and presently he felt the edge of the knife, and, being satisfied, he grabbed her suddenly and cut her throat-Well, he got 11 years, and is just out, (but not here); the girls were babies then, but it left an impression on them that anybody with a knack of observation could see today. I think I could tell a member of that family anywhere, in twenty years time, by the brooding cloud on their forheads and in their eyes.

Well, Mary haunts the school and will continue to do so during the holidays. She hangs round the wife like a dog, poor girl. "They're all

* 24 May, the Queen's Birthday, was a school holiday.

page 171away" she said once. "and I do feel so awefully lonely. Mrs Lawson." You need to hear a Maori woman say that to get at the pathos of it. Mary, by the way, as I found yesterday, still takes to the bush and broods. She, in her slow brooding way, cut a portrait out of the Illustrated London News, letterpress and all, and carefully trimmed it and pasted it on the wall at home-place of honour second to catholic frame, (half picture half fresco) representing the birth of Christ-and she would have put it in that place, no doubt, if she could.-She told Mrs Lawson, in confidence that she loved that man-(the portrait). It is a portrait of the Czar of Russia of all the men in the world-son of him who was killed. Mary's Mother was killed, and-theres a chance for a psychological sketch for me I think! The other children are bright-cheerful would describe it betterwith the exeption of one or two half and quarter castes, in whom it was almost startling to me to see that discontented, sulky-resentful is nearer the word-spirit* that Olive Schreiner mentions in her article on South African mixed blood. The nearer the white the more so-it seems to me; but it is not so noticible in the girls-because they are girls I suppose. I was going to say that all my nigs, are bright; and, and in the school, though only 20 on the roll, and average attendance "13-05"-I have material for all possible Maori Child character-and outside for adults. I'd be crowded and do worse in a large school. White or full blooded Maori children, but give me the Maori child by a long chalk. They read better than white children and earlier, but there might be something yet in the contention that you can only teach the Maori to a certain point-Well, I don't know, but must find out. The few examples the Government puts to controvert this idea may go for nothing. Whites here intensely clannish, in the narrow sence of the word. Regard the Maoris either with contempt or aggressive dislike, for no reason that I can see, except localism-or that they could explain; But you must read all about it in my book. Corporal punishment no good, I tried it a little in one case for example. Taken chee[r]fully and seriously in that case, but no effect. When you understand the school you don't want a cane. Children sensitive and very truthful, so much so that in one or two cases I find it painful to tax a child with "copying" or anything of that kind, or where "meanness" is suggested. Children speak Maori and English. Boys read with none of that maddening repetition and droning you hear in white schools. This is due partly to strick and sensible instructions in the "Code". The child that repeats a word fails in that branch with our inspector. Boys read boldly and well, but the difference between them and the girls in this respect is very marked. Girls, I think are the best pupils in white schools-the boys are in every way in mine. Sarah Barnett, the Ishmeal and bad scholar of the school-who would grow to be a Sarah Bernhardt or greater if she were white-has just wholloped and scratched Clifford Renwick, a freckled, typical "flaxstick" from across the river, notable for his championsp of his sisters, and the local ill feeling towards the Maori (his father fought in the war (scare)) Sarah gets in her fierce little report first. "Please" with her eyes flashing and dark face more dusky with indigna-

* spirit] expression written above, MS.

page 172tion.
"Please Mr "Lorrence" Clifford Renwick called me a-a-Black Nigger!"

Clifford says that he can't help it Mrs Lawson, If they call him and his sisters "white somethings" hes gone to call them black niggers!"

The "something" is probably a string of fierce and excited Maori, sounding savagely abusive and scandelous but to the effect that Clifford is a "remnant of the feast" and they wouldn't eat his head-an old Maori "oath" the literal meaning of which as little known to the children, as ours to us, or our children.

The book will be mostly N Z Character sketches, personal reflections some old debts paid to one or two unfair critics, literary and otherwise, and scenery-with the Native School as a peg to hang on. The chapters characters & seem to fall into place of their own accord and I feel happier over it and more enthusiastic than I ever did in my life before. Have written well on into the book but will have to write all the holidays and spare time to keep up with the chapters. Two Australian scenes, called the Cinematograph, with the darkening snowey peaks of the Kaikouras for a ground, and "Out on the Wastes of the NeverNever" and "Clancy" for accompaniments have dropped into the book, and read like a summary of all I have ever written or may write about Australia. I felt like writing to you, somehow, perhaps because of your kind reference to Mrs Lawson. I knew she was a gem, from the first. I was right in that as in most other things where drink did not madden my instinct. She is a favourite everywhere and worshipped here; which reminds that when a Maori woman opens her heart to a white woman, she loves that white woman and would trust her with her life, and might lay it down for her. It may be so with the men, but they are more like us now-mixing more with the whites.

I wan't to show some of my kind relatives (who never assisted me or thought of me except perhaps as a soft idiotic fool to get money and work out of) who advised Bertha against me from the first, and kindly told her all my worst points-whilst, on the other hand, and in common with one or two good but mistaken friends, they persuaded me against being "trapped" and ruining my prospects when I "ought marry money"-I want to show them, if they be worth showing, that I have made a success of my married life-and hers. I think I've married money too, as well as fame, but that will be seen. And I want to show the true friends, bushmen and others, who trusted and believed in me through it all-I want for their sake to write myself up to the top of the Australian gum But Bob Pohar[a]ma has come home with no wild pig-save the tusks of an old Captain Cook Boar that chased him a good part of the way before he could reload his rifle; and he hasn't succeeded in getting a "wild sheep" either-probably because mustering is going on on the hill station-So I must go down to old Mrs Hehii-who was a baby left over from Rapaurahah's (the Conqueror from North Island) last victorious and cannabalistic feast-and stretch out my neck and flap my wings and "quack" at her to make her understand that I have no meat and want to by one of her geese. And, like as not, she'll mistake the pantomine, or add another detail to it and send me up a dozen duck eggs. She did once, having, no doubt, taken my gestures and quacks for an exaggerated page 173representation of the pakeha's idea of a goose or duck laying eggs. By-the-way-old Hehii-and a very cannabel he looks-understands English, but doesn't "savey" "goose" only geese-geese a gander, and a goose are and is alike "geese" to them. They laughed so when I asked for goose that I got a suspicion it might "mean something" in maori (especially when I thought of the eggs) so I was at some pains to explain by the aid of a flock of geese with one solitary one at a distance; but don't think I succeeded for they only laughed more happily [Two lines of script torn from the bottom of the sheet]

With kindest regards from Mrs Lawson and myself.

Yours truly

Henry Lawson