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Patricia Grace: Potiki

This is a very human novel, telling the tale of a group of Maoris who come face to face with civilisation. The group were fishers but, apart from the poor fish, they lived in tune with nature. They had few amenities but they had their stories. They suffered poverty but were prepared to put up with it to keep their way of life. Sometime before this story starts, during the War, their land is”borrowed” for an airstrip. Their houses and meeting house are knocked down to their disgust and they are given accommodation which may be better but on which they have to pay rent. However, when the war is over, the land is not returned to them but converted to a park. Initially, they accept this but then they protest and their protests are heard, with support from others elsewhere in New Zealand. Eventually they get some of the land back and settle back to their old way of life.

However, they are now under a new threat. Their land is on the edge of the sea”with a million dollar view” and good fishing. A developer wants to turns it into a big resort and is prepared to buy them out. The developer – Mr. Dolman, soon nicknamed Mr. Dollarman – makes them various offers which they continually refuse. Of course, all sorts of pressure is put on them but they continue to resist. When the developer – who has a nasty reputation – does not get his way, he resorts to dirty tricks. The land that used to belong to them, behind their land, has been bought by the developer and is developed. He builds in a hidden channel so that their land is flooded. He tries a variety of other dirty tricks, including arson, but they hold out. Grace’s story of their courage, despite their own doubts, is superb. In the end, they win through and keep their songs and their stories and their way of life. For now.

Publishing history

First published 1986 by Viking, Auckland