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  • Writer's pictureLee Murray

More Books from the Backyard

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

In a renewed attempt to get the word out about our wonderful homegrown books, I’ve started this new rubric called Backyard Tales, featuring titles from my local colleagues, some of whom don’t write in my usual genres. So, let’s dive in….

Journey of a Dance Teacher by Gaye Helmsley

Gaye Hemsley’s love of dance was sparked after she attended a performance of Giselle when she was just ten years old, pestering her parents for ballet lessons from the moment she left the theatre. But perhaps it was merely Hemsley’s lineage coming to the fore as Hemsley’s mother was a dance teacher herself, specialising in ballroom dance. The book follows a chronological order, outlining a period in Hemsley’s life with specific focus on her dancing (and writing) career. One charming addition is they way each chapter is prefaced with a (French) ballet term and its meaning. The prose in Journey of a Dance Teacher is engaging and accessible, offering lively anecdotes and insightful observations of Hemsley’s experiences in her own voice. New Zealanders will love the plates featuring photos taken over Hemsley’s dancing career, including a snaps of the Farmer’s Trading building in Auckland. Also included are photos and tributes from former students, testimony to their affection for their teacher and her influence on their lives. An early employer of Hemsley’s, a Mr Shirley, said of her: “Nice things are like butterflies: they flutter into our lives for a short time and bring us joy, and that is what Gaye has done.” And it is true of this little book, too. For those who know her, this memoir is a joyful glimpse into the life and work of a much-loved local personality.

For copies of this title, contact the author, or ask for it at your local library.

Never Ending Footsteps by Nina MC Payne

Nina M.C. Payne opens her travel memoir Never Ending Footsteps with a quote from Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) who states: “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have, if only we seek them with our eyes open. The Art of a people is a true mirror into their minds.” This sums up the author perfectly, since Nina M.C. Payne is a woman who has spent a lifetime reaching out to others with empathy and compassion in the hope of understanding them better. Much of this ethic comes from her love of travel and adventure, which has opened her mind to possibility and people, as Nehru implies. Payne also claims travel has taught her that her strength lies in having the courage to pursue her dreams. (Interestingly, Payne’s latest project an anthology of New Zealand migrant stories, will do just that, giving voice to the experiences of more than twenty authors, many of whom are writing in a second language.) Covering her travels through her adopted homeland New Zealand, to Southeast Asia, Britain, Europe, and Alaska, Never Ending Footsteps is told in Payne’s conversational voice, and punctuated with her observations and experiences as well as some practical tips for travellers. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on her coach tour through Europe. Never-Ending Footsteps is kindly offered in large print, which makes for easy reading, and includes over seventy photographs from the author’s own collection. A delightful travelogue by a local inspiration.

For copies of this title, contact the author, or ask for it at your local library.

Captured by Māori: White Female Captives, Sex and Racism on the Nineteenth-century New Zealand Frontier by Trevor Bentley.

This book, by Tauranga historian Trevor Bentley was published in 2004 and is just one of a long line of excellent local history books by Bentley which focus the intersection of Māori and European cultures since the latter arrived on these shores. Passionate about his subject, Bentley throws himself into his research, digging up unexpected snippets of information to intrigue readers and encourage them to read on. Just last week, while discussing his latest work in progress including early means of applying a sailor’s tattoo, Bentley revealed to our local writing group how pigment mixed with gunpowder was laid out in the desired design on the sailor’s skin and then ignited, causing scarring (and sometimes resulting in sepsis and death). Captured by Māori is no less intriguing and given that it is a text that focusses on women’s experience, it has served my own research on several occasions. As the publisher’s website describes it:

“Trevor Bentley tells these women’s stories, including those of Charlotte Badger, Ann Morley, Caroline Perrett and Elizabeth Guard, exploring contemporary myths that all of these women were mistreated and held against their will. The white settler population was at once fascinated and appalled by these stories: what did the women have to do to survive, how did they live and, well, what about sex? The settlers were obsessed with the virtue of these women and in the retelling of their experiences most enjoyable aspects of living with Maori were suppressed. Bentley reveals that two of these women actually chose to remain in the Maori world.”

Despite being heavy on fact with its thesis well supported with evidence, there is nothing dry or boring about this work. Quite the opposite: Bentley’s prose is neither dense nor heavy-handed, the author artfully leading us through the material and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions about prevailing perspectives towards the female gender. Supporting his text are numerous black and white plates, and the work is indexed along with the author’s endnotes at the end of the book. A highly readable and engaging narrative.

For copies of this title, contact the publisher, or ask for it at your bookseller or library.


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