treasure trove stories of new zealand

Once upon a time in a land called the 70s, there was no such thing as a “refuse transfer station”.

My mate Ronald and I used to spend our Saturdays at “the tip”. We would wade through the sea of rubbish, its tides dictated by the push of a yellow Caterpillar rather than the pull of gravity. Overhead, seagulls whirled, eyeing up a tasty morsel or two.

It was a place of discovery.

We were ‘discardologists’ – experts in finding treasure amongst the trash. We did it for fun, we did it for money, but most of all, we did it for the thrill of the hunt. What we found was sold, traded, or smashed (we were 11-year-old boys after all).

The only danger was being chased by the bulldozer driver who (quite rightly) believed everything at the tip belonged to him, even though he chose to crush most of it beneath his tracks.

Treasure at the tip

There were books, comics, magazines, and more. We found a few real gems, including tortoise-shell opera glasses, cut-throat razors, and a WWII ANZAC commando knife.

But my enduring memory is the large steamer trunk I found one day, lying on its side in a pile of grass clippings. What was inside?

It could’ve been anything, or nothing.

I tipped it over and lifted the lid.

Anzac knife

Black-and-white photos, sewing needles and thread, well-read letters, neatly folded material, and tea coupons. The trunk’s slightly musty smell competed with the stench of the tip. I’ve always imagined that whoever dumped it took Gran’s telly, lounge suite, and the coveted painting, and discarded all the rest.

As I methodically worked my way through the trunk – not wanting to miss any treasure no matter how tiny – I shaped the woman’s story from the fragments she left behind.

In a way it felt wrong, verging on voyeuristic, to be rummaging through her life. But in another way, I felt like I was privy to what film-maker Cameron Crowe calls “the big moments in small people’s lives”.

The trunk has now lived with me for more than forty years, and over that time, the story “in” the trunk and the story “of” the trunk have coloured my life.

The School Journal – telling our stories

I love stories. They’re an important tradition and have shaped our world. But while the telling or reading of them is enjoyable, it’s not an end in itself.

We tell stories to evolve and grow; we record our history and experiences to transcend them. Stories can broaden our perspectives and make a difference in the world.

stories of new zealand

For the last ten years, I’ve had the privilege of working with our stories – the stories of Aotearoa New Zealand – with the team that develops the School Journal for the Ministry of Education. And while there are plenty of great commercial literacy materials for use in New Zealand schools, the School Journal is a curated collection of New Zealand stories, both fiction and non-fiction.

The language it uses is ours and the illustrations show our people, our world.

For recent immigrants to New Zealand, the School Journal allows them to engage with waiata, whitebait, and wetlands; jandals, jerseys, and jellybeans.

While the School Journal has showcased work from New Zealand authors, illustrators, and photographers for over a century, since 2007 it’s been crafted to align closely with The New Zealand Curriculum. Within the framework of the curriculum, the editors have creative freedom to ensure that all our stories are told.

The Stories of Aotearoa New Zealand

The Journal’s non-fiction articles are commissioned to ensure that students are reading deeply about their past and present in order to inform their futures.

Students will find protest stories of Parihaka, the Waihi miners’ strike, and suffragettes; the immigration stories of Polynesian voyagers, Polish children, Chinese miners, and Iraqi refugees; the war experiences of the Māori Battalion, the White Mouse, and the tunnellers of Arras; personal stories of Brando Yelavich, Michel Mulipola, and Edith Amituanai; and contemporary stories of post-quake Christchurch, fishing with reti boards, and the chess club of Nūhaka.

The School Journal also includes fiction from some of New Zealand’s best-loved authors, such as Kate De Goldi, Ashleigh Young, Paul Mason, André Ngāpo, and Bernard Beckett. There are stories of post-apocalyptic adventure, human zoos, school camps, and child detectives. In recent times, comics – both serious and humorous – have also found a place in the Journal, with work from Dylan Horrocks, Andrew Burdan, and Giselle Clarkson.

Schools in New Zealand are very lucky. Teachers in other countries would love to have a free resource as rich in history and diversity as the Journal.

In these days of “alternative facts” and the rewriting of history, it’s more important than ever for our stories to be seen and heard, not bulldozed under and lost forever.


Alex Collins Lift Education
Alex Collins oversees the day-to-day management of all three divisions of Lift Education. His journey has been a varied one – one that has included work in the theatre, on film sets, in primary classrooms, and in publishing as an editor, project manager, team leader, and now chief executive. He is passionate about education for all, and providing educators and students with the skills, knowledge, and tools they need to succeed.

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