Iris and Me: Philippa Werry in conversation

“Be for once a white boat adrift, in debt to no lighthouse.”
― Robin Hyde

Iris Guiver Wilkinson, aka Robin Hyde, was one of the most remarkable and talented writers Aotearoa New Zealand has ever produced. A great writer who left behind a remarkable body of work.

Her adult life was marked by many challenges  – physical disability, mental illness, the difficulties of being an unmarried mother in the male-dominated, misogynistic society of the time.  There was another side to her life as well; her bravery, amazing drive, perseverance, determination and also her deep need to travel and journey and explore both in the physical sense and as a person.

Philippa Werry’s latest novel Iris and Me looks at Robin Hyde’s entire life, touching on her both her childhood and her final days, but the book is primarily focussed on her time in China and her journey there, including her time as a war correspondent during the Sino-Japanese War.

When Philippa offered us the opportunity to interview her about  Iris and Me and the life and times of Robin Hyde, we jumped at it.

We wish to extend our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Philippa for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing such an illuminating insight into both her work and the life and world of Robin Hyde. We would also like to thank The Cuba Press for arranging the interview.

You can watch the video below, or on our YouTube channel. You can borrow Philippa’s previous books from the library; see a small selection below.

Iris and Me / Werry, Philippa
Philippa Werry’s  latest novel Iris and Me looks at Robin Hyde’s  entire life touching on her both her childhood and final days , but the book is primarily focussed on her time in China and her journey there. Including her time as a War correspondent during the Sino-Japanese War.” ( Adapted from catalogue)


Armistice Day : the New Zealand story : what it is and why it matters / Werry, Philippa
“At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month each year New Zealanders remember the end of the First World War. Armistice Day, Philippa Werry’s new book for children, commemorates the day when fighting stopped in Europe. Partnered with best-selling Anzac Day, it makes an excellent reference for the whole family. Kiwi soldiers returned home to a terrible influenza epidemic, as the population grieved for the loss of life. Memorials were erected and families sought to return to the battlefields overseas to visit graves of their loved ones. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)
Harbour Bridge : Auckland, 1958-59 / Werry, Philippa
“Auckland in the 1950s: a time of rock’n’roll, milk bars, bodgies and widgies and teenage rebellion. The Auckland Harbour Bridge is under construction. Simon likes watching the bridge being built, and talking to his uncle and his mates about what’s happening on site. Meanwhile, Simon’s best friend Marty is obsessed with the Space Race and younger sister Jo can’t stop worrying about the fate of the dogs and monkeys that are the world’s first space travellers. Everyone says that life on the North Shore will change once the bridge is finished …but what does that mean for Simon and his family?” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Lighthouse family : coastal New Zealand, 1941-42 / Werry, Philippa
“For Frances and her family, living on a lighthouse, the war is both far away and scarily close. There are rumours of submarines in the Pacific. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, taken Singapore and bombed Darwin, so what’s to stop them invading New Zealand next? But soon Frances, the only girl on the island, will have more to worry about than the threat of a Japanese invasion”–Publisher’s information. Includes brief factual information about World War two, Japanese in New Zealand and lighthouses.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The New Zealand Wars / Werry, Philippa
“The story of the 19th century New Zealand Wars, a part of New Zealand’s history that many people wish they knew more about. The book describes how the wars came about, where and when they were fought, who was involved, and how they affected women and children. It explains the emergence of Kīngitanga or Māori King movement, the land confiscations and the story of Parihaka. Other chapters look at war memorials, graves and monuments, the work of the Waitangi Tribunal, how the wars have featured in New Zealand art, music and literature, and how they are being remembered today, including new ways of working towards understanding and reconciliation.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
Enemy at the gate / Werry, Philippa
“It’s December 1936 when the first polio cases are suspected. Soon a polio epidemic is sweeping the country. Schools are closed, swimming pools and movie theatres banned to children, and travel is restricted. Tom is the best runner in the school, but you can’t outrun polio, and nobody knows when it will strike next.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Waitangi Day : the New Zealand story : what it is and why it matters / Werry, Philippa
“Reviews the historic events behind the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and charts the celebrations, tensions and protests witnessed in the years that followed, concluding with a summary of the Waitangi Day events held around the country on 6th February today.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Quarantine / Werry, Philippa
“”Being in quarantine sounds like being in prison”, I said, shivering. Lily nodded.” A bit like that. Except that the prison is your own home”. It might sound familiar in 2021, but this is New Zealand in 1936-37. The disease is infantile paralysis, or polio, and nobody knows where it will strike next. When even the adults are afraid, Tom finds refuge in his dream-to run in the Olympics like his hero, Olympic champion Jack Lovelock.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Making Space: Interview with Wellingtonian historian Elizabeth Cox

The hidden history of women and architecture in New Zealand is one that, until very recently, has been a story full of prejudice and bias. Pioneering women architects and women working in architecture in NZ were often undermined, overlooked and almost certainly underpaid.

However, the story of that history has now been brought vividly to life by Elizabeth Cox, senior historian at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, who specialises in both women’s history and architectural matters.

The heavily illustrated and ground breaking Making Space: A history of women and architecture in New Zealand redresses that bias and covers these struggles of pioneering women architects of the past.

Elizabeth herself works as a senior historian at Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and also runs a consultancy business exploring the history of New Zealand’s heritage buildings. She has worked at both Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and the National Trust (UK), as well as being a trustee of the Futuna Chapel in Wellington.

So, when the opportunity to talk to Elizabeth about Making Space: A history of women and architecture in New Zealand arose we took it. We wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth for taking time out of her busy schedule and for such an insightful and informative interview.

This interview was done in conjunction with Caffeine and Aspirin, the arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM and was conducted by Tanya Ashcroft. You can hear the full interview, as well as find Elizabeth’s books available to borrow, below.


A friend indeed : the saving of Old St Paul’s / Cox, Elizabeth
“Built in the 1860s, a century later the much loved Old St Paul’s Church in Mulgrave Street, Wellington, was in grave peril, at risk from possible demolition, dismemberment or removal from its site. A friend indeed : the saving of Old St Paul’s provides an account of the many Wellingtonians who raised their voices to save the church, including architects, historians, parishioners, and the Friends of Old St Paul’s.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Making space : a history of new zealand women in architecture
“Brilliant, hardworking and creative, women architects have made many significant contributions to the built environment, creativity and community of Aotearoa New Zealand. This groundbreaking book spans over a century, telling the story of women making space for themselves in a male-dominated profession while designing architectural, landscape and urban spaces.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Parihaka Day: Kōrero with Kura Moeahu

If you haven’t heard of Parihaka,
Be sure
Your grandchildren will
And their children after them

From “He waiata tēnei mō Parihaka” by J.C. Sturm.

5 November 1881. Tucked between Mt Taranaki and the sea is a settlement of almost three thousand people. For the past two decades it has been a centre of political, ethical and religious thought in Aotearoa, a site of tino rangatiratanga in the wake of warfare and confiscation. Electric lights have been installed; councils held; a campaign of non-violent resistance maintained over several years. The settlement is Parihaka.

But just before daybreak, colonial soldiers are sighted nearby–Armed Constabulary and mounted rifles. Local media are arrested in an attempt to mask what is about to happen. So begins the Day of Plunder, what has been called “one of the worst infringements of civil and human rights ever committed and witnessed in this country.”

140 years later, 5 November is remembered as Parihaka Day. Dawn ceremonies are held at sites across the motu, and there are increasing calls for official recognition. As part of this, we recently reached out to Te Rūnanganui o Te Āti Awa ki te Upoko o Te Ika a Māui Inc. Tiamana | Chairman Kura Moeahu to discuss the importance of Parihaka, and its powerful role in the country’s past and future.

Armed constabulary awaiting orders to advance on Parihaka Pa. Collis, William Andrews, 1853-1920 :Negatives of Taranaki. Ref: 10×8-1081. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23081905

Parihaka Day is coming up on 5 November. What could people do to mark it this year?

Kura Moeahu: Waking up at 4am and sitting quietly outside reflecting on what took place that morning on 5 November 1881, hearing the bugle in the distance from Pungarehu signalling 2000 soldiers to advance onto Parihaka, a peaceful village. The first to meet them were the children singing, skipping rope and playing only to be shunned and physically assaulted by the soldiers, horses and the guns the soldiers carried. Secondly, reflect about the women who met the soldiers with food and water and like their children were physically abused and the food knocked out of their hands, and in days that followed raped as payment to the soldiers and had to carry the whakama (shame) for the rest of their lives and the intergenerational trauma that followed that still exists today. And thirdly think about the men who were encouraged to sit quietly on the marae, as the soldiers surrounded them, placed a cannon up on the hill aimed down at them. Sitting quietly listing to the words and inspiring delivery of both Te Whiti and Tohu commanding the men not to retaliate, reminding them that “should the bayonet be put to your neck smite not in return for surely, we will be obliterated…”. You ask what people could do, simply rise at 4am on 5 November and reflect on the ordeal and strong resilience to not retaliate in the face of adversity.

How would you like to see Parihaka discussed in the recently updated school curriculum?

Kura Moeahu: Parihaka is only one part of the total Māori suppressive behaviour of another culture on ones rangatiratanga and tuakiritanga. To gain a deeper understanding of Parihaka one must go back and understand the historical impact of colonial and imperialism protocols of a foreign system and infrastructure from its arrival, the impact of Christianity and legislation speedily passed to maximise for the benefit for white colonial privileges.

Parihaka has been recognised as a forerunner of international non-violent resistance. How did this global connection begin, and how has it continued to develop?

Kura Moeahu: It emanated out of the actions of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, whom Ghandi studied and saw how powerful passive resistance and a strong Māori economy was supporting the towns around Taranaki. It continues to be developed through stories, and waiata. Within the rich waiata held by whanau, hapū and iwi allows for deeper analysis and examination through wananga that generates thoughts and the creation of Matauranga Māori.

Parihaka Pa. Collis, William Andrews, 1853-1920 :Negatives of Taranaki. Ref: 1/1-011758-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22789285

What current and future role do you think Parihaka has in terms of addressing climate change?

Kura Moeahu: It is encapsulated in the saying “Honour and glory to God on high, peace on earth and goodwill to all men”. Honour and glory to God on high reminds us to reconnect with our spiritual side. Peace on earth is the section dedicated to looking after our environment and taking care of the work. Goodwill to all men reminds us to care for everyone including our enemies.

How do you see Parihaka developing over the next decade?

Kura Moeahu: Developing tourism, education, health and environmental strategies, create opportunities for the people of Parihaka to tell their stories through visits, virtual 4D experience, usage of technology.