Sunday, November 6, 2011

London's controversial research Centre in the news again

I was very interested yesterday to see this news story on the website, originally published in Wellington's The Dominion Post newspaper:

The 'Centre for New Zealand Studies' referred to has been in the news before. Two years ago, for instance, when it was suddenly closed down, causing an uproar among a certain section of New Zealand's creative and academic fraternity who had supported such a worthy-seeming and useful initiative. They even organised a petition. As with the current controversy it seemed hard to get the "real story" and efforts to save the centre were fruitless, despite the efforts of NZ Prime Minister John Key (his 'intervention' apparently falling short of actual financial support). Read more (from September 2009) here:

There's an even earlier chapter in the history of this Centre that begs to be retold. Two years before the closure, in 2007, the Janet Frame Estate criticised a fundraising effort being made on behalf of the Centre for NZ Studies. An associate of the Centre had donated an original Janet Frame manuscript to the Centre and the fundraisers behind the Centre decided to sell that manuscript rather than preserve it for posterity. We felt they rather had their priorities wrong. If they were ostensibly engaged in "research" on "NZ culture" then why endanger a rare and significant piece of it just for the sake of a few thousand dollars? What was the message here? The hand-annotated A State of Siege manuscript was subsequently lost at auction, into private hands. Its original owner Bob Cawley was gifted the manuscript by Janet Frame herself, and Bob had clearly intended his Janet Frame papers to be safely and respectfully lodged in an Archive for the benefit of future researchers (we have his letters to prove it). After his death the papers and manuscripts went under the control of his widow who unfortunately had other ideas including turning some of the Janet Frame material into cash in a misguided philanthropic effort. I suggested to her that the greater philanthropy would have been to honour her husband's wishes and donate the papers to a Library under appropriate conditions.

My protests fell upon deaf ears. I even tried to contact High Commission staff but I was gate-kept and the widow's actions were defended. Slanderous comments were circulated about me in order to try to neutralise my objections (not the first time the various vultures trying to cash in on Frame have tried that strategy in order to discredit me!) It was claimed that I had been "abusive" to the widow. Again not the first time the perpetrators of an abuse have made that accusation against me when I have fruitlessly appealed to their sense of ethics...

Fundraisers for the Centre had first offered the manuscript to the Hocken Library (the 2007 approach to the Hocken was made by the same Janet Wilson who has co-authored the 2011 review of the Centre) but when the fundraisers didn't receive a satisfactory offer they decided to put the manuscript up for auction in Wellington.

There were some news reports at the time - the first, before the auction, in the NZ Herald, came across as a promo for the sale, and didn't question the morals at all: "typed on yellow A4 paper, the manuscript is all the more precious and revealing for its hand-written editing notes, a hand-written title page and dedication. Its reserve is set at $14,000." The item notes especially that: "Proceeds will go to the Centre for New Zealand Studies, at Birkbeck, University of London."

I was interviewed for a news report after the auction, in the Dominion Post:

No comments: