Are you out there, Mike?
Snapshots from a white girl’s past: 1976 – Ottawa, Canada. My Kiwi grandma comes to visit and gives my brother a T-shirt with a funny cartoon character on it – a dancing man in a skirt with his tongue poking out. “That’s a Mary,” she explains. A few months later we fly to New Zealand and on the plane we get plastic toys – little green monsters, again with the tongues. Something else to do with that Mary, I think.
1984 – Christchurch, New Zealand. Our class at my lilywhite primary school visits a marae. We stand outside with the parent helpers, waiting to be let in the gate. A middle-class mum with sunglasses on her head catches my father’s eye and smirks. “Mary time,” she says.
He gives her a hostile stare. She’s picked the wrong guy for a spot of casual racism – he’s a paid-up member of the PC brigade. A bearded, Springbok-protesting, chardonnay-glugging lover of all things indigenous. Later, as we mumble our way through our M ori song, the only person really putting their lungs into it is Dad. And the parents aren’t even supposed to sing. I’m dying.
But I’m lucky I grew up with that voice in my ear. It was a powerful counter to the other voices. The jokes: “Tane
and Hori went into a bar...” The views: “They couldn’t even invent the wheel.” The relatives at the Christmas
table: “They were a warrior race, so when a poet or an inventor came along they bopped him on the head and killed him.” The thoughts on te reo: “It’s a dead language.” The insults yelled to the few brown kids at school: “Burnt toast!”
May 2018 – New Zealand. Mike Hosking is on the radio, in the newspaper and online, sharing his views on “the trouble with te reo”.
Mike, we’ve never met, but I feel I know you. I feel I even partially understand you. I get that in these wishywashy, pussy-footing times, you consider yourself a fresh voice of reason. You’re not here to make friends, you’re here to state facts. No one can be bothered with te reo, you say. Don’t shoot the messenger.
But it’s not fresh, Mike, it’s old. Those of us who remember the 20th century have heard it all before. Your views come from a musty place deep in the bowels of New Zealand. You even made it into this week’s cover story, sampling the depiction of M ori over 200 years. You should be pleased, Mike. As you said, history is a subject you truly rate. And here you are officially consigned to it.