A pa¯ keha¯ family history captured
Dear Oliver: Uncovering a Pakeha History by Peter Wells reviewed by Josephine Carpenter, Hawke’s Bay Readers and Writers
As we age and the generation above us passes on we come to realise and sometimes regret that we didn’t ask and listen to their stories — of their childhood, the challenges of their youth, the reality of life ‘back in their day’.
Respected Napier writer Peter Wells has delved into his family stories through letters kept by his mother, Bess. The Northe family first came to these shores in 1848 and their lives are woven into the establishment and growth of Napier.
“With this book I have made my Pa¯ keha¯ family and ancestors into stories,” Peter says.
As a fellow Pa¯ keha¯ I found much to identify with from my own past such as the middle class snobbery of grandmothers and their insistence about etiquette.
Each chapter begins with a letter and extrapolates out beyond the personal into a social history of the time. This includes major events such as the Wars, including the Ma¯ ori Wars and the Napier earthquake, as well as more domestic matters such as establishing businesses and raising children.
‘Some stories may be true, some may be my own misunderstanding of stories…’
This is a brave book as Peter shares some of his own journey as a gay man and the responses of his family to this. The trials and triumphs of everyday life through generations are described always with Hawke’s Bay, and especially Napier, part of the story. It is fascinating and beautifully written.
As Peter states in the afterword of the book: …”it is an attempt at telling a story about being Pakeha in Aotearoa New Zealand through time.” Dear Oliver completes a trilogy of stories from Napier’s history. The other histories are about William Colenso and Kereopa Te Rau.
■ Peter Wells will speak with Elizabeth Smither in a session at the Readers and Writers section of the Hawkes Bay Arts Festival. This session, Between the Lines, will be held on Saturday, October 20 at noon at the MTG Century Theatre in Napier. Tickets $18. Book online at www.hbaf.co.nz