There are several clues in his name about the whakapapa of 62-year-old Gareth Huw Morgan. And there’s not too much doubt either about his views on a range of other topics – whether that’s cats, or investing, or motorbikes, or taxes, or religion, or pension plans, or philanthropy, or any number of other economic or social issues.
His style is to do his homework, analyse the evidence, and then speak out in a straight-shooting manner. Sometimes that’s through the books he writes. Other times it’s through pretty well any form of the media, such as this online magazine.
Initially, his specialty was economics and he duly gathered in a PhD on that subject at Victoria University. But his interests have kept broadening and, in recent years, he’s become concerned about the widespread ignorance, especially among Pākehā, about the Treaty of Waitangi.
Typically, that concern has led to action, which has included a book Are We There Yet? and a project called Talk Treaty.
Here he chats with Dale about that concern – and about how he got his start.
Both my parents were born and raised in Cardiff, Wales. When the war came, my father, who was a forester, was sent off to do forestry in Ghana – and he was there for 10 years. Then he came back to Cardiff, but there aren’t that many forests in Wales. So, to continue his career, the family had to move.
They flipped a coin, essentially, to decide whether they’d go to Canada, which has a lot of forests, or New Zealand. And New Zealand won. So out they came and settled in the South Waikato, in Putaruru, which is where I was born. During my time growing up there, the town and surrounding areas had about seven sawmills. Of course, now it doesn’t have any. It’s changed dramatically.
Can you tell us a bit about your mum and dad – and whether the Welsh language was a regular part of your household?
We didn’t speak Welsh in the home at all but Mum (Mary) and Dad (Rod) did sing the Welsh anthem and that sort of thing. My father settled into New Zealand life much more easily than my mum did. Dad was pretty busy with work, whereas Mum was left to her own devices really. And that took her quite a while to adjust.
But, adjust she did in the end, and they stayed in Putaruru all the way through to when Dad retired. I’d left Putaruru by then and gone to university. They retired to Mt Maunganui, which is where I’m sitting now as I talk to you.
How much of an influence did that small-town life in Putaruru have on you and the sort of guy you became?
Huge. Absolutely huge. When you’re a kid, you grow up thinking your immediate surroundings are your whole world. You don’t have an appreciation of what’s beyond that. In those days, nobody really travelled. We’d sometimes come across here to the Mount, but that was the extent of it really.
It was a town of about 4000 people then. Still is. At that time, there was a high ratio of Māori to Pākehā, especially in the mills and in the bush where I worked in the holidays from primary school on. Right up through high school and university. It was 80 percent Māori. And it was the same in the primary school as well.
So, it was a very different community from the one where Joanne and I brought up our four children in Wellington. Putaruru was a typical, rural New Zealand small town built around an industry. I loved it. But I was definitely a fish out of water as soon as I moved on to university at Palmerston North. I really didn’t know what had hit me then.
A lot of Pākehā in New Zealand grow up in predominantly Pākehā communities, don’t have Māori mates, never been to a marae, or had a kai at a Māori table. But I sense that, early in your life, you had that experience – and that you’re comfortable with tikanga Māori.
Yeah. Very comfortable. Dad was the boss of a company where 80 percent of the employees were from marae-based communities – and tikanga Māori was part of the relationship with the workforce. Also, just outside of Putaruru, the Salvation Army had what was known as a boys’ home with a lot of orphans out there – and again there was a very high proportion of Māori lads. Dad, through Rotary, did a lot of work out there with those kids. So I had a lot to do with them too.
Actually we’d get up to quite a bit of mischief. We regarded it as just having fun. It was, I suppose, just a part of growing up. But it probably explains why I had such a job adjusting to normal, conventional, urban life. I’d come from such a different environment. But I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world – it was absolutely marvellous.
Putaruru High School punched above its weight in those days, especially in producing rugby players and athletes. It was a pretty high achieving community. Unfortunately, things have changed with the closing of the mills. That financially devastated a lot of people. And Putaruru now is very much a dairy industry service town.
Many of the kids are the children of the farmers, and they get bussed over to St Peter’s in Cambridge or St Paul’s in Hamilton. And poor old Putaruru High doesn’t have the cross section of community that we had in our day. Which is very sad.
As for us kids, we were just typical boys really – finding classwork boring, deciding to make our own fun, wagging school, getting up to mischief and (because those were the days of corporal punishment) always getting belted.
Did you sense the disadvantage that a number of others had – and that some kids were doing it much tougher than your whanau were?
Definitely. In that town, relatively, my family was very well-off. We weren’t well-off compared with many in Auckland or elsewhere. But, in that town in those days, we were definitely far better off than many of the other boys and girls whose mums and dads were mill workers or whatever.
For some reason, though, which I can’t really explain, we all mixed together anyway. I guess there wasn’t a stratification in that society because Putaruru was pretty small, and 90 percent of the people were of relatively modest means. That was the norm.
My parents didn’t pay for anything I did once I left Putaruru. You didn’t have to in those days. If you had a job in the holidays, you could easily fund yourself through university. But where I had an advantage was in the values my parents had. My dad was educated in Oxford so we had a very strong education ethic – which wasn’t the case with the majority of my peers from Putaruru at that period.
Certainly, there were some who did. But I’d say 80 percent didn’t, because they didn’t have the family background or the money to carry on. Having said that, I know some of the guys have been outstandingly successful as logging contractors, tradespeople and so on. Higher education isn’t the be all and end all. But it’s definitely another option for a child. And kids in Putaruru, in those days, really didn’t have that option. So I’m pretty conscious of that.
Life hasn’t been a pushover for you, though, has it? Because I’m aware that you were born with a cleft palate, and I imagine that meant your schoolmates made fun of you from time to time.
Well, when you have a cleft palate, they do a lot of operations on you when you’re really small. But those operations never really finished for me until just before I went to university. And every time they operate, you have to learn to speak again, because they change the shape of your mouth and you can’t talk. You can imagine the opportunity for derision that provides for other kids.
But I had my “associates”. They were my defence mechanism, believe it or not. They were all bigger than me. I wasn’t small, but I wasn’t a big, physical guy. I was a little smart-arse really. And I had friends who were big, who were physical, and who were attracted to me because I was smart and getting us all into trouble. And I was attracted to them because, when push came to shove, they always won. We were a great combo.
Cleft palates aren’t as prevalent a disfigurement these days as they were then. But, still, there are definitely children and adults with that problem in New Zealand. And we all share those experiences of being the butt of jokes because of the way we talk. The irony of that, Dale, is that I’ve made a career out of speaking. And the irony isn’t lost on me.
When you went off to varsity as a 17-year-old, you went into economics. How come it became such a focus for you?
I took economics mainly because I’d done well at science at school. Well, not immediately because I was bottom of the class in my first two years at high school. Then something happened. I don’t know what it was, but I suddenly learned how to learn. Which was great.
And I became pretty strong in the sciences. But I didn’t really fancy doing all the lab work. Sounded like hard yards. So I took economics as a sort of a soft subject. As a filler. Then I fell in love with it, just about immediately, because it was all about the behaviour of people and how people make choices and what they value. I just loved all that stuff. So I kept doing that. And mathematics as well.
What about your Māori connections in those university years?
Well, as far as I can recall there weren’t any Māori in the classrooms in those days. I can’t think of one instance. They just weren’t there. It’s a bit better today, but it’s still got a long way to go. So I never re-established any connections with Māoridom until we started doing this Treaty work over the last few years.
And that came about because I’d lived through the renaissance of Māori values in the 1970s and then the Treaty settlement process – and that sparked my interest. My question was: “Is that it?”
We were settling all these claims, all these betrayals of the Treaty. And I wondered if that was it. “Do we all go to the races now?” I wanted to know the answer to that. So that’s when I renewed my contacts with Māoridom.
I read the Treaty. Read a lot of books on the Treaty too. Talked to Māori academics and so on. And got the appreciation of the Treaty that I now have – that it is really a central issue in New Zealand and it’s an ongoing document.
So, while Māori have been very magnanimous in settling for two cents or less in the dollar on the Treaty breaches, there’s still the outstanding issue of actually honouring the Treaty in everyday life.
We’ve started down that path, but we’re still very much at the start. And the concern for me, is that Pākehā, generally, have no idea what the governments have been up to since 1975 and during the settlements over the last 20 or so years.
That gulf in understanding is our biggest barrier to making progress. So I see a huge need for the education of Pākehā in what’s basically “civics”. In New Zealand’s history. In our present-day society. In what our country stands for. In our constitution with the Treaty at its centre.
We need to make a substantial investment in that, so we can go forward.
Would you go as far as making civics a compulsory subject at school? Perhaps even at the core of the curriculum?
Yes, I would. I also think Māori, as the other official language, should be compulsory. Not just for Māori, but especially for Pākehā. And that’s because we Pākehā tend to think that our norm is the only norm – and that nothing else matters. But Pākehā society is only one of New Zealand’s societies. And Māori is another society with its rights to fulfil its aspirations too.
As New Zealand becomes more and more multicultural, we’re not going to make any progress unless we understand that. Anyway, by law, it’s now required that we have to, as a whole society, take in the essence of Māori aspirations as well as non-Māori aspirations. So, it’s all there in terms of what the government has done. They just haven’t brought the people along with them.
That’s the hurdle. And we have a chance of clearing that hurdle if we put te reo Māori into our primary schools. The good news on this is that a lot of schools are doing it already. As for many of the old Pākehā … Well, you’re not going to convince them about this issue. You basically have to wait for them, or us, to die out.
But it’s happening through the schools. It’s coming. You know, I go to mainstream schools and I’m sometimes flabbergasted by the amounts of Māoritanga and all the work being done. I’m actually pretty impressed. So, I’m optimistic. I just don’t think it’s going to happen by being imposed from the top. It has to come up through the grassroots of our education system.
I get the impression that from the experience you’ve had, and from the research and work you’ve been doing, you can see the needs – whereas a number of your contemporaries and colleagues are still hesitant.
That’s right. But, when I hear Pākehā children talking to their parents about it, I feel hopeful. I think it is coming from the younger ones up, rather than the older ones changing their minds in a hurry. Māori have had to live with this every day. I’m not telling Māori how to suck eggs. They know this stuff backwards, in general. But Pākehā, overall, simply don’t know it.
I believe that on any issue, anyone can have an opinion. But there’s an opinion – and there’s an informed opinion. And they’re vastly different. Basically, we’re on a journey – and, as Pākehā, we need to inform ourselves more and more about it. And we don’t need to be scared that it’s a win-lose situation, because it’s absolutely a win-win if both societies respect each other.
I wonder if that respect, and a better relationship between Māori and Pākehā, will be of value as the new arrivals settle here and make our communities even more multicultural.
I think it would, because we would’ve learned that there are different ways of doing things, and people do have different values, and ethnicity is an important differentiating factor. We’re all New Zealanders. That goes without saying. But that’s not what’s under discussion here. As I think Tipene O’Regan said at one stage, he’s a New Zealander, and he’s Māori, and he’s Irish. So you can be these different things at the same time. You can belong to several different communities of interest.
A part of our problem is that we’re being very monocultural in Pākehā New Zealand. We’re not tolerant. We think that it’s our way or the highway. We’re not as bad as the Aussies, obviously, but we haven’t really tolerated Māori ways – or respected the Treaty documents.
I’d like us to really get to grips with that founding document because that would make us much more tolerant and accommodating and understanding – and ready to embrace the inevitable which, as we all know, is that Pākehā of British origins are a diminishing proportion of New Zealand’s population.
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