< December 2020 newsletter

Dr John Robinson - searching for the truth

Recently we interviewed Dr. John Robinson, former university lecturer, and research scientist and prolific author of books about the historical development of New Zealand. Here he tells us what inspires him to search for the truth.

DA: Where did you come from?

JR: I grew up in working class Waterview.  I learned of class struggle in 1951, when many families in the neighbourhood struggled through the wharf lockout (my father, being a ship’s cook, was in the Cooks and Stewards Union which kept working, so our family was less effected).  We were in a good new State house and health care and education (including university) were free – good socialist ideas; I am a socialist.

I went to Avondale College where four of us earned National Scholarships.  I studied science at Auckland University and gained master’s degrees in mathematics and physics before heading to Cambridge, across the river from Boston for a doctorate at MIT.  I then researched and taught at Imperial College, London, Bristol University and the University of Rhode Island before returning to New Zealand for a research position with the DSIR. 

DA: When did you learn of racism, and the desire for integration?

JR: I was in the USA when President Kennedy was assassinated for standing up to the military and Cuban refugees by refusing to invade Cuba and threaten world war.  He had supported the ongoing fight for an end to racism, the end to racist killings in the southern states.  Then Martin Luther King, who had dreamed of a day when all people would be equal, was assassinated.  Robert Kennedy, who was extremely popular and who would have taken the USA in a better direction, was also assassinated, and the military-industrial complex has continued its dominance to this day.

This was never a struggle for separation; this was a call for integration and equal rights.

That fight came to New Zealand in 1981 with massive demonstrations against the Springbok tour; many New Zealanders were appalled by separation by race.  The South African system of segregation was brutal; a black Harvard student I met in Cambridge had told me that he could never return to his homeland, he could get no job – and he was one of the lucky ones.  After years of internal fighting and international boycotts, apartheid came to an end.  In a chapter on the Waitangi Tribunal in a joint book, One Treaty, one nation, I pointed out that in 1995, the Government of National Unity set up the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to help deal with what happened under apartheid, including the violence and human rights abuses from all sides, as “a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.”  After five years of hearings, with a focus on dialogue, the job was done.  The ledger was closed and the TRC ended in 2000.  The process of conciliation by inclusive dialogue involving all parties was a remarkable success.

In contrast, the Waitangi Tribunal, which was set up in 1975, has been growing ever since and continues stronger than ever, inventing an ever-widening range of grievances.  In 2020, the Tribunal has existed for 45 years, and has been a permanent feature of the lives of all middle-aged and young New Zealanders.  The South African aim was to bring people together, to remove racial barriers and differences in law.  The Tribunal, and the associated grievance industry, wants permanent separation into two peoples. 

DA: Where did your research take you?

JR: Around 1972, there was considerable interest in the fate of the world, with forecasts of collapse around 2030 or so.  This was important, a challenge that had to be taken up, and I moved to the new, holistic subject of futures research.  My private life was a disaster for some years but my career developed as I worked for many NZ and international organisations – until I returned to New Zealand from France in 1984 to find that the effort was wasted, as the topic was no longer of interest and there was no job opportunity.  The future was no longer to be considered, as the right-wing revolution insisted that the free market would solve all problems.  Nor did universities have any interest in a scientist with my science credentials – I was told by one Head of Department that all they wanted was someone to teach the basics, and a new graduate would cost them far less.  I was unemployed.

DA: How did you get into social issues?

JR: Professor Love at Massey (later CEO of Te Puni Kokiri) gave me work studying the situation of Maori and the probable future.  I collated data in many social areas, building sets of social indicators, and followed the trends over several decades, for the most part from move to the cities at the end of the Second World War. 

Many measures, such as health, life expectancy and education, were steadily improving (many actions to help Maori were vigorous, and successful, there was no neglect) over time, while others such as justice worsened.  Many which had been improving stagnated after the changes of 1984, and others, such as youth suicides, got much worse.  The increase in sole parent families was particularly distressing, but several social scientists told me that their careers would end if they ever questioned the Domestic Purposes Benefit, which, while excellent in many ways, supported young mothers while they refused a permanent relationship with the fathers (there is no easy solution, but it deserves discussion). 

From that data it became clear that continuing Maori disadvantage was a class phenomenon, which was not improving, as time and again new data repeated that of the previous year.  The current emphasis on race and not class has been a major factor in the way that social differences remain considerable today.  You do not solve a problem by ignoring the base cause; modern racial differentiation provides a red herring, a distraction, to keep attention away from the free trade policies that have led to the poverty of working-class Maori – and of working-class non-Maori.

DA: Why did that work end?

JR: Around 2000 I was carrying out research at the the Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit at the Victoria University Stout Centre for the Crown Forestry Rental Trust - a study of the relationship between Maori wellbeing and land loss in the northern South Island.  The data for the end of the nineteenth century described a population recovery (evidence of increasing wellbeing, with recovery from the considerable population decline of the mid-century) even while an increasing area of land was being sold.  I described in The corruption of New Zealand democracy, a Treaty industry overview how my report was emphatically rejected by the Crown Forestry Trust.  They claimed that it would obscure the true nature of the supposed “cataclysm” which afflicted Te Tau iwi between 1850 and 1900; the facts told the wrong story.

This was disturbing.  But more telling was the growing demand that all such research should by carried out “by Maori for Maori”.  My skills with mathematics (mostly just arithmetic) had helped me to get work but that dried up (I was told the Maori chap who got the next contract I was in line for was hopeless – work that would be simple for me was beyond him, but he had the racial qualifications).

There was certainly no desire to extend the demographic work, so I decided to do that in my own time.  I developed model calculations, making following the facts back from the census data of 1857 back to 1840, and further back to the beginning of that century.  In doing this I came to realise that the standard, accepted picture, with a minimal impact from decades of bloody inter-tribal fighting and collapse after the Treaty brought peace, was nonsense.  This could not be published as the editor of the demographic journal, the New Zealand Population Review, echoed the Crown Forestry Rental Trust.  Their criticism was that the analysis “is essentially promoting a particular political viewpoint i.e., that European colonisation was beneficial for Maori.” 

DA: What drew you to write about the historical development of NZ?

JR: I was becoming ever more concerned at the rewriting and distortion of New Zealand history, along with the damage this was doing to our democracy, as racial division was expanding.

I took a close interest in the local (Island Bay, Wellington) Treaty settlement with Ngati Toa.  I thought first to examine the basis of grievance and learned that the historical account, on which the whole claim was based, had not been written.  In the event, the island of Island Bay, Taputeranga, was handed to Ngati Toa in recognition of bloody conquest even though it was Ngati Mutunga who drove Ngati Ira from their lands.  Ngati Toa gained $10 million in recognition of Ngati Toa’s former maritime empire (they used to go across Cook Straits to ravage and massacre many tribes there) and effective control of much of the coast – and much more.

The whole process was carried out behind closed doors by the Minister of Treaty Settlements, to be rubber-stamped by a Parliamentary Committee who were totally supportive of those voicing a grievance.

This whole process was built up on a re-written account of New Zealand history, which ignored the widespread inter-tribal wars that tore the country apart before the Treaty brought peace and insisted that colonisation brought nothing but distress to Maori.  I decided to search for the truth.

DA: But could you understand Maori?

JR: I had been told repeatedly – by Ranginui Walker, Steve (later Tipene) O’Regan, and others – that only Maori could ever understand Maori; that only 20th or 21st century Maori could understand 19th century Maori.  It seemed as if knowledge and human empathy were carried by genes. 

They were wrong, and I was soon fascinated by the stories and thoughts of early New Zealanders.  These were real people, like you and I.  They grew up in an isolated tribal society and came face-to-face with the modern developed world, with literacy and science, metals, law and national governments, different ideas and religions – with connections to the rest of humanity.  That was a lot for them to take in.  Many showed great intelligence, gained familiarity with the new systems and ideas and, in the face of the collapse of their society as the inter-tribal wars blossomed, changed their whole culture from its ancient superstitions and warlike ways.

These were real people, and like all real people, they were not all of one, uniform opinion. They often differed, formed – and broke – alliances.  This was just like any community, and political group, today.  To think that Maori – that is all Maori – thought or wished for one thing at any one time, is daft.

DA: What drove your books?

JR: I wanted to understand the people, and sought information on their lives and ideas.  I found many puzzles, which I wanted to work out.  This was familiar territory, problem solving.  Thus, why did the king movement, led by a peaceful old warrior and friend of the Government, Te Wherowhero, go to war?  After all, he had reached agreement with Governor Brown in 1857.  The answer is that he was elderly and became a puppet, unable to control the warlike ‘hawks’ around him; and then he died in 1860, to be replaced by his weak son, Tawhiao.  Even then the majority did not want war, but were driven to war by the aggressive actions of Ngati Maniapoto.

I learned how many Waikato Maori opposed the idea of a king; that fighting in Taranaki was the consequence of a feuding within Te Atiawa (some wanted to sell some land at Waitara, while one chief, Kingi, wanted to rule against sales for all the tribe) which had started before they returned from Kapiti in 1848; that Hone Heke was a junior chief, a gang leader who was opposed by senior chiefs of Ngapuhi; and much more – our history is rich and complex.


  • THE CORRUPTION OF NEW ZEALAND DEMOCRACY, A TREATY INDUSTRY OVERVIEW This book explores that background and outlines some of the consequences of the insistence on grievance, with a people becoming ever more divided. Racial privileges based on the accidents of history are now part of New Zealand law and are dividing a nation that was built on the worthy aspiration of one law for all. The continuing division of the land and writing of new law in back room deals, from which the public are excluded is corrupting our once proud democracy.
  • WHEN TWO CULTURES MEET, THE NEW ZEALAND EXPERIENCE An excellent book for those who are seeking the truth about the nation's early history. This is the story of two very different peoples and the steady building of the one nation promised by Hobson at the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • THE KINGITE REBELLION focusses on the reasons why some Maori set up a rival monarchy, how the king was chosen and how the movement evolved. It explains the reasons for the rebellion, the battles and their outcome.
  • GATE PA AND TE RANGA, THE FULL STORY (with John McLean) explains the reasons why almost 2,000 British troops were sent to Tauranga in 1864. The book traces the fighting from Maketu through Gate Pa to Te Ranga.
  • ONE LAW OR TWO MONARCHS (written with Roger Childs) This book examines the early history of Polynesian settlement together with the subsequent European interest, and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Throughout, the book relies heavily on accounts of the people who were living through the events of the time.
  • DIVIDING A NATION, THE RETURN TO TIKANGThis book is a scan across the history of the old ways, and reports of recent disruptive actions where special race-based rights are claimed and supported by calls for the primacy of tikanga.
  • UNRESTRAINED SLAUGHTER, THE MAORI MUSKET WARS 1800-1840 describes the period 1800-1820 when about one-third of the Maori population were killed.

John on his books:

“These books were not politically correct, not following the required conventional wisdom of British wrongdoing and Maori cultural superiority.  It was only possible to publish when John McLean set up Tross Publishing as an independent publisher.  With Tross I joined others in several joint works, which included reports of the considerable increase of race-based legislation.  That basis of racist law is made clear in New Zealand legislation, where a Maori is defined as a member of the Maori race.

There was also the straightforward account of the coming and settlement of Maori, through to the kingite rebellion and the subsequent peace, One law or two monarchs, written with Roger Childs”.

Most can be ordered from Tross Publishing

You can read more about John HERE.


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