When we think of historians, we often think of teachers of History or celebrated national figures such as Michael King. The credentials of this week’s installment of The Weekend Name Drop list differently, though no less impressively. Meet Ron Cooke.
Name: Ron Cooke
Creative field: Historian, Photographer, Writer
Location: Taumarunui, New Zealand
Best known for: Compiling the Roll Back the Years series as well as the From Low Gear to Overdrive series; premier historian in the King Country, New Zealand
My connection: I met Ron very shortly after I arrived in New Zealand in 1997 when I was hired to teach at St. Patrick’s Catholic School. I would have met him at church or at a school function. In order to learn more about the area, I was directed to read copies of Ron’s Roll Back the Years series located in St. Patrick’s library. Over the past twenty years, I’ve crossed paths with Ron at church or on walking trails along the Whanganui River. Recently, I contacted him for assistance, as I was researching aspects about our area, as well as sorting out details for my students who will be entering a competition run by Ron and the Taumarunui and Districts Historical Society.
Inspiration for this writer: Ron is immersed in his community and passionate about this area and its heritage. In compiling Roll Back the Years, Ron started from an interest in photographs and subsequently sought out stories to compliment them. It was an organic process which flourished. You can read more about his process in this Waikato Times article. The series has been revitalised as a six-volume set and is just as popular and relied upon as the original. When I published my first novel, Ron was very encouraging and I was pleased to receive such acknowledgment from someone whose work I esteem. When I have visited festivals in Whanganui and Ohakune, I have dropped Ron’s name and found that many know him and his work. He’s more than a local legend.
Why you should check him out and share with others: Ron has been compiling histories in our area since the 1970s. Reading Roll Back the Years is still illuminating and inspiring in terms of written and pictorial content, but also in terms of editorial scope. Ron captures multiple voices that, though sometimes appearing contradictory, conspire to create a deeper understanding and appreciation for the stories and legacy of this area. His work has earned him recognition in Te Ara, the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Admittedly, I am not as interested in his trucking series, but some of my blog readers may well be. If not, Ron and the Historical Society have other offerings including books about local communities and Taumarunui Hospital. They are also currently running a writing competition which will contribute to a seventh volume of Roll Back the Years.
Sample of work:
(Excerpt from “A Wild Mystical Unknown Region” – Roll Back the Years, Volume 2, p.187)
The King Country was a large territory over which the “mana” or authority of the Maori King was being claimed. Its boundaries coincided in the north with those of “Rohe Potae”, but in the south extended far beyond them.
The name “King Country” by all accounts is an English term which came into common use in the early 1880s but James Cowan, writing in 1901, states that “the territory of the Ngati Maniapoto and allied tribes became generally known as the ‘King’ Country after the Waikato War” (1863-64).
Nat Winter, an early newspaper editor and Taumarunui historian, wrote the following during the 1920s:
“Of all the districts of New Zealand there is none which has so much romance woven into its story as the King Country. The very name has an arresting sound; ‘The Country of the King’; a kingdom within a colony; the last attempt of the Maori race to preserve some portion of their national independence from the ever encroaching pakeha …”
This was one of the few statements found during research that described the King Country in its truest sense “The Country of the King”.
The Weekend Name Drop is a weekly feature on this blog, promoting people I have encountered who are doing creative things.