Storytelling school

Connections and Collections: The Storytelling Life of Paul Diamond

Paul Diamond has pursued stories all his life.

An accountant turned journalist, Diamond is queer and Maori and now works to help tell stories at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington as a curator, Māori.

Diamond (Ngāti Haua, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi) is about to release his latest book, about the downfall of Charles Mackay, the former mayor of Whanganui killed outside a Jewish clothing store in Berlin in 1929.

Mackay rose to fame after shooting, but not fatally, writer Walter D’Arcy Cresswell, who threatened to declare Mackay gay at a time when sex between men was still punishable by imprisonment.

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After serving six years in Mt Eden prison, Mackay was forced to leave the country. He was living in Europe and working as a part-time news correspondent and language teacher at the time of his death, aged 53.

“He was about my age [now]said Diamond in an interview inside the office of Turnbull’s chief librarian, Chris Szekely, who offered his space for our weather on a rainy Wellington day.


Former Whanganui mayor Charles Mackay served six years in prison for shooting a man who was blackmailing him, and was the first New Zealander to come out as gay. (Audio broadcast in July 2017).

Diamond traveled to Berlin and Whanganui as part of his research for the book, his fourth after A Fire in your Belly (2003), Makereti: Taking Māori to the World (2007) and Savaged to Suit: Māori and Cartooning in New Zealand (2018).

These books covered Maori history and saw Diamond interview Maori leaders who impacted the Te Tiriti settlements, feature one of New Zealand’s first international media celebrities, and then study early cartoons featuring of Maori. His latest wandering into new territory: queer history in the Aotearoa region.

Diamond first learned about Mackay’s story from the writings of Peter Wells and Michael King when he was a reporter for Radio New Zealand in the early 2000s. He and a colleague later commissioned a program about Mackay and discovered that there was a lot of archival information, but the residents of Whanganui were unwilling to talk about the shooting.

Mackay’s daughter was still alive at the time and was initially unhappy that Diamond and her colleague were looking into the case. The girl died and Diamond ended up quitting radio to work as an oral historian, after a stint on Maori television.

Diamond's new post features footage of him researching the book.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

Diamond’s new post features footage of him researching the book.

But Diamond still had all the research, and his new boss at the Department of Culture and Heritage enticed him to investigate further in his spare time. “She said, ‘don’t try to solve this problem, but look at the effect it has had on other gay men’.”

The climate was intolerant – gay identity didn’t exist in 1920s New Zealand, Diamond says. And Mackay was used as an example to keep other gay people in line. “[It was], “this is what happens to people who publicly say they are homosexual, they are blackmailed” … A mayor who shoots anyone, it’s sensational. But there is much more to this story.

Some people thought Mackay and Cresswell were sleeping together, but Diamond doesn’t think that’s correct. But he thinks there may have been a group of men having sex in Whanganui, which is why townspeople destroyed Mackay’s portrait, sanded his name off the town’s Sarjeant Gallery , changed the street that bears his name and did not mention him in the premises. stories.

“It’s not just about forgetting someone. It is trying to oust someone from history. But of course, it actually had the opposite effect.

Now Whanganui organizes gay pride events and groups, and Heritage New Zealand plans to put the Cresswell shooting site at Mackay’s former office at 23 Ridgway St on its developing rainbow list of grateful places of historical significance to the queer community.

Diamond was a journalist for a decade before becoming an oral historian and later a curator.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

Diamond was a journalist for a decade before becoming an oral historian and later a curator.

Diamond says he’s nervous about sharing the book, because the story is Whanganui’s in many ways.

But writing it also made him feel lucky to grow up when he did, as gay law reform was passed when he was in high school.

Diamond was born in Putaruru to a Pākehā mother and Maori father, but grew up in the Hutt Valley. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t belong in either world,” he says.

Both parents were teachers and his Presbyterian mother wanted him to go to a Bible class even though he was not confirmed. Diamond had a great growing community – he was a Boy Scout and a Cub. He walked and cycled all over the Stokes Valley and went to school in Taita with inspiring teachers.

He rode the bus to the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library, was on debate teams, then went to Massey University and got a business degree.

He says a “series of accidents”, including a scholarship, led him to become an accountant.

But Diamond enjoyed reading, being brought up with newspapers and RNZ’s Morning Report, so he started writing for Wellington’s City Voice newspaper, which this year was digitized by the City Council. He credits his “patient” founding editor Simon Collins as an excellent mentor. Diamond also had coffees with admired news personalities, asking them how they got into the industry.

But what really gave him the confidence to try journalism was a counter-column, published in the Evening Post in 1995 in response to journalist Karl du Fresne complaining about a gay pride event. With its publication, it actually came out to the whole of Wellington.

“As one of the ‘anything but flamboyant’ homosexual accountants who, according to Mr. du Fresne, exist “…for every extravagant homosexual of the classical variety of hairdressers…”, my impressions of the annual festival of devotion are different from those of M. du Fresne, began Diamond.

Diamond's column was published in the Evening Post on February 10, 1995.


Diamond’s column was published in the Evening Post on February 10, 1995.

Journalism was much more in Diamond’s aisle – nothing was wasted, he learned how to network contacts. But it was difficult in his first job at the Evening Post, having to explain to the editor what kura kaupapa was, and he eventually moved to public radio.

Drawing on a decade in broadcasting, Diamond – who isn’t a trained historian but remarks it “may not be too late” – went on to land a job managing the history project Oral of the Vietnam War at the Ministry of Culture. There, he deepened his knowledge of the interview and the chemistry that occurs between subject and interviewer.

Diamond believes that investigators — whether journalists or historians — will always bring their own biases and backgrounds to their work.

While working there his mother passed away and in 2009 he left on his own and took a break. Two years later, he lands his current job, even though he doesn’t feel qualified. It’s a role he says is to connect Turnbull’s collections with Maori, and his Maori collections and anyone interested in them. He works with archivists and people with training as curators, librarians and museologists.

Diamond says people are still hesitant to discuss inequality.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

Diamond says people are still hesitant to discuss inequality.

Soon, Diamond will chair two panels celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Papers Past print publications archive with a few panelists journalists: one of the events will take place in Christchurch on Monday, the other in Auckland on September 30.

Diamond used Papers Past to research his new book, finding that Mackay had returned articles from Berlin to New Zealand and Australian newspapers, including one where he wore a green stone tiki to a costume ball, to the Germans’ sensation.

Diamond still has an interest in journalism and says newspapers have changed with society. Maori, once invisible in the news or only briefly referenced as a whole group, have been excused by major news outlets, but people are still hesitant to talk about inequality, he says.

Discovering the collections is a privilege for the curious Diamond, who is said to be “interested in too many things” and that he works best when he has a project to focus on.

Soon he will write an essay based on a photograph of a group of Maori selling melons and peaches around 1860 as part of a planned book on early photography in the Turnbull Library, Hocken Collections and Museum collections. from Auckland.

Diamond was drawn to Mackay's story because the two men were both gay journalists.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

Diamond was drawn to Mackay’s story because the two men were both gay journalists.

He also contributed to a National Library exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Maori language petition to Parliament.

He feels he was drawn to Mackay’s story because they were both gay journalists.

To help her separate from her job, Diamond does yoga and walks and wanders. He particularly enjoys being around Karaka Bay, where his partner lives. As he walks there, he tries to imagine what he looked like when he was holding a Maori kāinga.

But he considers himself less good at putting distance between himself and his projects.

In London, while researching his new book, Diamond found that Mackay frequented a popular gay cruising area at night, and left his clothes and boots to a guard: “I’m convinced that the reason he was in London and Berlin was because of this gay world. ,” he says.

“I wonder if there is anything now that someone could do that would inspire people to do what they did with him. Because now we talk about everything.

Diamond says he follows his instincts when making decisions, not a five- or ten-year plan.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

Diamond says he follows his instincts when making decisions, not a five- or ten-year plan.