Brian Bargh has a Master of Agricultural Science degree and spent several years working as a water quality scientist and manager, including three years in Papua New Guinea. He has had thirty years’ involvement in environmental and social justice movements and has been a negotiator for the Crown in settling historical grievances Māori hapū and iwi have taken against the Crown. He has also written several reports on grievances for the Waitangi Tribunal. Until recently, he was publishing manager of commercial books for Huia Publishers.
The Struggle for Māori Fishing Rights: Te Ika a Māori is Brian's first book.
Here's 5 minutes with Brian Bargh!
What are you reading at the moment?
I read a collection of books - usually Booker Prize short-listers and a smaller number of non-fiction. At the moment I am reading The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes and have started Lenin a Biography by Robert Service. Also on the staring line is Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin - said to be the best Chinese book out. I read all I can from John Banville (or Benjamin Black), William Boyd, Roger McDonald (Australian author), Tim Winton, Sebastian Faulks, Paul Torday, Patrick McGrath and many others. Kate Grebville and Ian McEwan are pretty big faves of mine.
What’s the last book that you didn’t finish? Why?
Still wading through the Lenin Biography - just too detailed really.
Why did you write The Struggle for Māori Fishing Rights?
I first thought of the idea of a book of this scope and breadth after preparing a book proposal for another writer organised by the then head of Te Ohu Kaimoana, Peter Douglas. The writer we organised did not start the project and so it sat without a writer for 5 or 6 years when we then thought perhaps I should have a go at it. I had always been interested in the progress of Māori fishing but did not really know the details of how things fell into place and once I started researching the subject I really warmed to it. I always thought that the issue of Māori fishing rights had not been covered much in the literature and so felt it a privilege to be able to write about it. I wanted to capture the events and the people involved so that future generations would have a starting point in understanding how Māori came to be prominent in the modern commercial fishing industry.
Do you have a book that you always go back to?
I do like reading about history so Aroha Harris’s Hikoi is always a great lead into various events, as is the book A Show of Justice by Prof Alan Ward. Both books have been at my fingertips for years. But for fiction, I probably never re-read a book.
Who inspires you?
I’d love to write like Tim Winton; he is able to capture the ‘wairua’ of his native Australia - particularly the desert and the ‘big’ country that it is. Not sure NZ has that ‘presence’ or that anyone I have read captures it. Possibly Sam Hunt does so in verse but then that is hard to get excited about. Alice Tawhai does capture the social settings well in her short stories but really is focussed on the poorer of our people. Still, I’d like to be able to write even half as well as any of them.
What was the hardest thing about writing The Struggle for Māori Fishing Rights?
I found the hardest thing was to try and interpret the detail- often legal jargon - so that the reader is not put off by it and can understand the basic concept involved. So I go into some detail to explain where a particular legal concept comes from and why it is important. For example, the ‘commons’ is a concept from old English law and its application by the legal system in NZ needs some explaining and simplifying.
Who is your favourite literary villain and why?
Not sure about a villain - there is good and bad in all. But the characters I most identify with and perhaps admire are those who are good at heart but often have to take extreme measures to ensure justice and fairness prevails. So, for example, I admire Mao Tse Tung for he led China and although there were ‘excesses’ he led a system that provided jobs and houses for millions of people. Similarly, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were outstanding leaders fighting the the corrupt and decadent USA. Those leaders were not saints - they had their faults but always had the bigger picture to aspire to. They are to be admired.
At home here, some of the environmental activists of the 70s and 80s (Gwenny Davis, Guy Salmon and Jerry McSweeny) are heroes in my eyes for they began to turn around this crazy notion that our forests can be cut down and exported for a better society. Later in life they may have strayed from their original grand designs but we must praise them for their initial foresight and intergrity. And dairy farming is now the new threat to our long term sustainability so there will emerge leaders who will take us away from that. We are at the moment fixated on money with little real leadership within the whole political system. So for the time being we wallow until someone with foresight and leadership will come along for us all to admire.