Art & Entertainment | Book Reviews | Education | Entertainment Video | Health | Lifestyle | Sport | Sport Video | Search


UC Professor Discovers Timely Poem Lost For 70 Years

A recently discovered poem by Māori writer J.C. Sturm explains why colonisation wasn’t good for Māori. It was written seventy years ago.

Professor Millar believes it’s possible that JC Sturm was a 20-year-old student at Canterbury University College (as the University of Canterbury was then known) when she wrote ‘Brown Optimism.

University of Canterbury Professor Paul Millar, is the literary executor for the Māori writer J.C. Sturm (Te Whakatōhea, Taranaki, Te Pakakohi, Ngāti Ruanui), who was born Te Kare Papuni in 1927, and named Jacqueline Cecilia Sturm (Jacquie) when she was adopted by a Pākehā family at the age of four. Professor Millar is currently preparing an edition of J.C. Sturm’s Collected Works for publication.

A few weeks ago, while sorting through a large amount of unpublished and unattributed writing by her, he came across the poem ‘Brown Optimism’, which The Spinoff is re-publishing after 70 years, along with an article by Professor Millar introducing the poem and explaining its significance.

“The poem was published decades ago, but only recently attributed to Sturm,” says Professor Millar. “We were intending to publish it in the Collected, but when I heard National MP Paul Goldsmith say he thought that on balance colonisation had been good for Māori, the poem leapt into my mind.

“I think it says something about our progress as a nation that a poem a young Māori woman wrote seven decades ago protesting colonisation still reads as an immediate response to a politician in 2021.”

The Spinoff agreed that the poem offered an important perspective on a topical issue, and also that a newly-discovered early poem by J.C. Sturm was significant in its own right and worth publishing as a stand-alone piece.

Professor Millar believes it’s possible that Sturm was a 20-year-old student at Canterbury University College (as the University of Canterbury was then known) when she wrote ‘Brown Optimism’.

“We only have a clipping from a periodical but on current evidence, I think the poem was first published in a student magazine in the late 1940s, though I haven’t yet discovered where. It might even have been composed around 1948 when she was a student at Canterbury, studying anthropology. This was an important time for her, and events around this period sparked her activism,” he says.

“As one of a tiny number of isolated Māori students in the New Zealand university system, she was questioning for the first time the heavy expectations on her to succeed in the Pākehā world. In a later poem she described the experience of being the only Māori among Pākehā through the first decades of her life, as always ‘being out of step, place, tune, joint’ (‘In Loco Parentis’).

“‘Brown Optimism’s anger, overt politics, and prescription for better relations between Māori and Pākehā, shows that, even back then, Jacquie understood how and why colonisation hadn’t been good for Māori, and what was required to begin repairing the damage.”

  • Professor Paul Millar’s edition of the Collected Works of JC Sturm will be published by Steele Roberts Aotearoa. You can read Millar’s entry on JC Sturm for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography here, and Te Haumihiata Mason’s te reo Māori translation of the JC Sturm entry here.

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland