11 August, 2017

The Double Rainbow by John Newton

When I came to New Zealand I had an English teacher who happened to be Māori. We became friends, and now and then I asked her opinion on local books and authors. She was both well-read and hard to please. It seemed to me that one needed to be extraordinary in order to satisfy her taste. Most Māori and Pākehā writers, however good they appeared to me, could not reach her high standards.

One day I asked her opinion on James K. Baxter. My expectations were particularly low, as I remembered her negative attitude towards religion. To my great surprise, her response was positive and animated. She told me that Baxter was New Zealand’s most famous person and poet and that any literate person would know of him. She added that Māori held him in great esteem as he had set up a community at Hiruhārama in Wanganui. 

In 1969, 43-year-old Baxter moved to Jerusalem (Hiruhārama in Māori) to establish a commune where “the people, both Māori and Pākehā, would try to live without money or books, worship God and work on the land”. The place proved a magnet for disaffected and damaged young people and quickly became the country’s most famous hippie community.

Published in 2009, this wonderful book by John Newton places Baxter’s ideas in the wider context of New Zealand cross-cultural encounters. Without diminishing the poet’s role as an extraordinary individual and charismatic leader, it brings into focus the collaborative dimension of his experiment, investigating the roles of Baxter’s predecessors, followers and inheritors.

“When Māori and Pākehā do these things together 
the double rainbow begins to shine.”


Author: John Newton

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

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