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New Book on “Kiwi” Keith Holyoake

New Book on “Kiwi” Keith Holyoake Reveals His Crucial Role in Shaping New Zealand

A new book by political biographer Barry Gustafson ONZM reassesses the life and career of one of our greatest Prime Ministers and reveals how profoundly “Kiwi” Keith Holyoake shaped New Zealand in the twentieth century.

Sir Keith Jacka Holyoake was born into poverty in 1904 and left school at the age of 12 to work on the family farm. Nonetheless, by 1932 he had become the country’s youngest Member of Parliament. Over the following half century, he represented Motueka and Pahiatua for more than 40 years, was Prime Minister for over 11 years during the 1960s and was Governor-General from 1977 to 1980. Through the Depression, World War II, the post-war economic boom, Vietnam and the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s, his life paralleled the transformation of New Zealand.

“Sir Keith Holyoake was a distinctly New Zealand Prime Minister,” says Gustafson. “The first to tell the British that he could not and would not call himself British and that New Zealanders would even become ethnically and culturally quite distinct even from Australians."

As easily the country’s longest serving Minister of Foreign Affairs, Holyoake consistently opposed nuclear testing, condemned racially selected All Black teams, leading to the cancellation of a tour of South Africa, pioneered, admittedly belatedly, New Zealand’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China, led the successful campaign to defend New Zealand’s dairy export market in Britain as that country negotiated entry to the EEC, and was instrumental in minimising New Zealand military involvement in Vietnam.

“He also played a much greater role in both economic policy and social liberalisation throughout the 1960s than has generally been acknowledged and had to face repeated attempts by more right wing critics to remove him from his party’s leadership.”

Derided by critics as pompous and unprincipled, a master of compromise and consensus, Gustafson has found Holyoake was, in fact, “a man with an astute understanding of people and political issues, skilled at defusing division and preserving order while encouraging gradual progress at a time New Zealand was undergoing domestically and internationally dramatic transformation.”

Kiwi Keith: A Biography of Keith Holyoake will be launched in Auckland on 14 November by former Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Jim Bolger ONZ.

Kiwi Keith: A Biography of Keith Holyoake by Barry Gustafson is published by Auckland University Press, with assistance the History Group, Ministry for Culture and Heritage.


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