May 10, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Groundbreaking 28th Maori Battalion Website

3 min read

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage today announced the appointment of Dr Monty Soutar as Coordinator of its 28th Maori Battalion Website Project. Author of Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship, Dr Soutar (Ngati Porou) is a former soldier and academic who has worked as Director of Tairawhiti Museum in Gisborne. He will leave his position as Chief Executive of the Ngati Porou R?nanga in January 2010 to assume his new role with the Ministry.

Dr Soutar will lead the development of the groundbreaking bilingual website / which honours the outstanding contribution of the 3600 men who served with the Battalion during the Second World War. Each veteran has his own web page, to which they and their families contribute material including commentary, memories and images.

The website includes an historical overview of the Battalion at war, an interactive map, contributed stories and memories, curriculum resources for teachers and school students, and a selection of photographs, audio files (oral history, radio recordings and waiata) and videos. Announcing the appointment, Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Historian Bronwyn Dalley said the Ministry was thrilled to have someone of Dr Soutars calibre to drive the website project.

Dr Soutars extensive knowledge of the Battalion’s C Company and his ability to apply that history across diverse media to make it accessible, relevant and a living experience – is an exciting prospect for the Ministry website project he will lead, she said. He has shown what can be achieved with community support and involvement, particularly that of veterans and their wh?nau. Dr Soutar will now bring his skill and experience to bear across the entire 28th Maori Battalion. The project offers a world of possibility to people connected to the Battalion with stories to tell and Dr Soutar has some innovative ideas we believe will turn these possibilities into reality.

On Anzac Day, Maori Television premiered a documentary that centres on the publication of Nga Tama Toa: the Price of Citizenship and features an interview with a panel of experts that includes Dr Soutar. He discusses some of the challenges of putting the book together for the benefit of the other companies who may wish to compile their histories.

The real difficulty is that the interviews with veterans, the letters and photos that one might use are rarely to be found in libraries or museums. Most of this material is held by their families, he said. In the programme we discuss the Maori Battalion website as a place where families can publicly lodge copies of this sort of material.

In the 1994 Dr Soutar led a team of researchers to complete an oral history of the Battalions C Company one of four companies in the 28th Maori Battalion and a frontline infantry unit that drew 945 volunteers from the Gisborne-Opotiki district. In 1996 he was involved in the display of portrait photographs of C Company veterans as part of an exhibition The Price of Citizenship at the Tairawhiti Museum.

The exhibition achieved national prominence and became part of the Museums permanent display. Out of the oral history project and exhibition, grew the idea to have the photographs and material that his team collected included in a published history of C Company.

The result was Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship which took seven years to complete and was published in 2008. In response to public demand, the Tairawhiti Museum reopened the exhibition in March 2010 coinciding with an ongoing project to translate the book Nga Tama Toa into te reo Maori. Run by Te R?nanga o Ngati Porou the project is a live translation, featuring webcast discussions so Maori language learners can study and observe the process of translation. Dr Soutar is a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, a Guardian of the Alexander Turnbull Library and was recently appointed to the Tairawhiti Polytechnic Council.

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