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Berlin Residency Allows Historian to Write Untold Story

Berlin Residency Gives Historian Opportunity to Write Untold ‘Micro-History’

The untold story of former Whanganui mayor, Charles Mackay, who was killed in Berlin in 1929 while working as a journalist, will be told by the latest recipient of Creative New Zealand’s Berlin Writer's Residency, historian, curator and broadcaster, Paul Diamond.

“Described as ‘the greatest and most painful sensation Whanganui has experienced’, the story was forgotten because of its ‘unsavoury’ nature,” says Diamond.

He will spend up to 11 months in Berlin to pen the fascinating story of the former local body politician who was jailed in New Zealand for attempted murder and whose story and memory was actively suppressed by his family and local authorities.

Mackay was shot by a police officer in Berlin while reporting on street fighting between communist protesters and the police for a British newspaper.

“Being in Berlin will help with retracing Mackay’s steps and investigating further research leads. It’ll also mean the chance to research in London and follow up new information about his career at an advertising agency there.”

Mackay went to Europe after serving six years in jail for attempting to murder returned soldier Walter D’Arcy Cresswell. Mackay shot Cresswell in 1920 when he threatened to reveal Mackay was homosexual, unless he resigned as mayor of Wanganui.

After Mackay was sent to prison his wife and daughters changed their surnames. His name and title were expunged from the foundation stone of the Sarjeant Art Gallery in Whanganui, where Mackay Street became Jellicoe Street, and his mayoral portrait was destroyed.

“It’s interesting that Mackay was in London at the same time as his blackmailer and being able to spend time researching in London will mean I can acknowledge Cresswell’s role in the story.”

Paul says Mackay’s life is a ‘micro history’, illuminating such historical moments as the treatment and regulation of homosexuality, and the last years of the Weimar Republic.

“As part of my research, I’ve uncovered a wealth of new information explaining what happened to Mackay after he left New Zealand.

“The book I’m writing will bring these and other threads together, finally retelling an important story connecting New Zealand and Germany,” he says.

About the Creative New Zealand Berlin’s Writer’s Residency

The prestigious Berlin Writer's Residency is offered biennially for an established New Zealand writer to work on an approved project in Berlin, Germany for up to eleven months.


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