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Dick Scott

PARIHAKA PUFFERY  (Ask that mountain)

The closing down of the illegal Parihaka commune only attained present-day visibility because of a 1954 book by Pakeha Communist, Dick Scott, “The Parihaka Story,” and its 1975 update, “Ask That Mountain.“

Scott was the first writer to widely publicise the story of the destruction of Parihaka village in Taranaki by colonial forces in 1881. It has proven to be a very influential story. Wrote former Listener journalist (and fellow Communist), Denis Welch “Not many books change the way people think but, like its near-contemporaries Silent Spring and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Scott’s did: his dramatic tale of the passive resistance shown by Te Whiti and his followers, and their shameful treatment by the colonial authorities, was eventually to play a key part in radicalising young Maori and raising Pakeha consciousness about the racism inherent in this country’s development.”

Who is Dick Scott and why, in the early 1950s did he choose to write a book about an obscure piece of NZ’s colonial history? From a Manawatu farming background, Scott mixed with the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) during WWII in Wellington and went on to formally join the Party in Palmerston North. Scott’s first exposure to the CPNZ’s Maori programme was Party member Ron Meek’s 48 page pamphlet “Maori Problems Today.“ Meek’s work had argued that both the Maori and the Pakeha working classes shared the same struggles and was written to assist in “forging a bond of unity between Maori and progressive Pakeha.“ Meek wanted the CPNZ to take up Maori problems, in order to secure “an intelligent and powerful ally … to make the inevitable change to a real New Order to come faster and less painfully.”

Scott went into journalism and in the late 1940s was one of several undercover Communists working on the Labour Party’s daily newspaper, “Southern Cross“. These included Scott’s friend and comrade, cadet reporter, Noel Hilliard. Already working on the manuscript that became “Maori Girl,” Hilliard asked Scott to review his work. Scott used his secret party status to advantage. He infiltrated the “right wing” anti- Communist group “Catholic Action“, had clandestine dealings with the US embassy and gained union positions, all by keeping his Party membership secret.

In 1946 as a 22 year old, he even accepted a Manawatu Labour Party nomination for the General Election. The CPNZ made Scott withdraw his name as they feared the embarrassment should his true loyalties be discovered. Later in Auckland, Scott held night time meetings with young unionist, Eddie Isbey, in the Parnell Rose Gardens. Formerly a Communist in London, Scott advised Isbey to stay out of the CPNZ. Isbey joined Labour instead and later became a Minister Outside Cabinet.

Scott did become an open Communist for a while however and edited the Party’s newspaper “People’s Voice” for a brief period. Scott says he left the CPNZ in the early ’50s, but his earlier secrecy and admitted dishonesty must cast some doubt on that claim.

About this time, aged 29 and bedridden with measles, Scott began reading from a 640 page legal tome “Bryce v. Rusden“, the story of a defamation case, associated with the 19th Century military incident at the Taranaki Maori settlement of Parihaka. The case had been heard in the High Court in London. Rusden lost. Former Native Minister, John Bryce, was awarded £5,000 in damages, a vast sum in those days. According to one of his close acquaintances, Rusden was “a violent Tory in everything except where natives were concerned' and 'even more violent as an advocate.” Not to put too fine a construction on it, a known pro-Maori partisan [aka “Wigger”] like the Reverend Octavius Hadfield, from whom Rusden had got much of his hearsay information about the events he claimed to be chronicling. This was the man whose discredited polemic, “Aureretanga: The Groans of the Maoris,” Dick Scott became so taken with.

Scott had co-incidentally picked this book from the library of Wellington businessman Siegfried Eichelbaum. When Mr Eichelbaum died, his daughters had invited him to pick a book from his library. Of the four girls, at least two, Anne, later married to economist Wolgang Rosenberg and Cath, later married to unionist Pat Kelly, were CPNZ members. Scott was inspired to look into the Parihaka story and travelled to Taranaki to undertake research.

On the 5th of November 1881 Native Minister John Bryce had sent 1600 Armed Constabulary and volunteers to close down the illegal Parihaka commune after numerous provocations by its inhabitants. During this exercise, not a single person lost their life, and the only casualty on either side was a boy whose foot was stepped on by a trooper’s horse. Yet Scott managed to puff it up into what he later promoted as one of NZ’s most shameful episodes.

Scott worked on “The Parihaka Story” through 1954. He was able to afford to devote time to the project because CPNZ member and dentist, John Colquhoun, kindly employed Scott’s wife Elsie as a temporary dental assistant. The book was printed by sympathetic former “conscientious objector” Owen Smith and came out in time for Christmas 1954. “The Parihaka Story” polarised left and right. Wolfgang Rosenberg gave it a very favourable review in the union journal, “The Building Worker“, leftist Bob Goodman praised it in the “Auckland Star“ As Scott has said “Two of my favourable reviews were written by [Communist] refugees from Nazi Germany. They were from two friends. Any good review I got, looking back, were from people I knew.”

The “Listener” was subtly critical of Scott’s evident partiality. It said “Mr Scott is a passionate advocate for the Maori -- his history, product of much research, would be even more impressive had he written it with less bitterness and violence.”

The Taranaki Daily News was more scathing. It ran several articles attacking the book’s accuracy and alleged bias. “… It is surely no coincidence that a leading member of the Communist Party has recently published The Parihaka Story reviving GW Rusden’s long-disproven allegation of wrongs done to the Maori,” wrote Alexander Boyd Witten-Hannah on 29 January 1955. Two weeks later, Witten-Hannah wrote of being visited by a Mr Pokai, who: “… came to my home and told me of his feelings in words that give a complete answer to the malicious innuendos in a recently published book by a Communist journalist, obviously designed to revive the memory of old wrongs for political advantage.”

Scott says his early political leanings were well known. “I have to be honest, I had been a member of the Communist Party when I was young, but I wasn’t then.” In December 1955, Scott learned that “Foreign Languages Publishing House” in the Soviet Union was proposing to include “The Parihaka Story” in their 1956 history section. Scott later received a cheque for the then substantial sum of 300 Guineas from his Soviet publisher.

In the 1970s, Scott reworked the book and had it re-published as “Ask That Mountain.” It has gone into eight printings and around 25,000 copies. As PM Helen Clark said in 2004. “Most famously, The Parihaka Story in 1954, as developed into the fuller account Ask That Mountain in 1975, has had, in the words of Denis Welch, ‘as profound an influence on our national sense of history as any book ever written.’ Having visited Parihaka, I can only affirm what Dick Scott found when he brought that story into New Zealand’s general consciousness – that it is a special place with a special history which must never be forgotten.”

Special history, indeed! Special pleading, more like – a marathon piece of special pleading carefully crafted by a white Communist to foster racial discord.

By Peter Hemmingson