Issue 82 - March 2018
Book Review: The Boy from Evans Bay

Boy_from_evans_bay-intro.jpgAuthor: Sir Michael Hardie-Boys

Publisher: Evans Bay Press

Reviewed by David W Marks QC

Sir Michael Hardie-Boys (1931‑ ) practised as a solicitor and a barrister, in Wellington. He seems to have been a true ‘amalgam’.

In 1980, he was appointed to the then “Supreme Court” (nowadays “High Court”), to sit in Wellington. He was then appointed to sit in Christchurch in 1981.

He was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 1989. He sat (in his turn) as a Privy Counsellor in 1995. He was appointed Governor‑General for a five year term commencing 1996.

This is his memoir.

I do not recognise the name of the publisher. If that means it is published independently, that is no adverse reflection.

It is well‑written and engaging. While Sir Michael acknowledges the encouragement and advice of Ms Ann Mallinson NZOM, a publisher, I gather that this is very much his own writing. The product is distinctly readable. It moves at pace.

For an Australian barrister, I found most interest in Sir Michael’s explanations of the actual work involved in each of his working roles.

He is specific about, for example, the characteristics of judicial officers before whom he appeared. He backs assessments with anecdotes. He gives an impression of work as an advocate in Wellington in those days. Those recollections are, however, comparatively brief.

Of greater interest is his recollection of his time on the High Court in Christchurch, and on circuit to the major regional centres on the South Island.

This includes the way the judges and lawyers socialised, formally and informally. In Invercargill, the profession did not socialise with the circuiting judge, which made visits less enjoyable. But that situation was corrected, diplomatically.

He records, of Greymouth, that West Coast juries seemed reluctant to convict. Remarkable and improbable things were said in that courthouse.

Sir Michael did not enjoy the work of the Court of Appeal as much. He preferred trial work. Nevertheless, his description of this court’s working arrangements, including the character of the judges with whom he worked, is a rare insight.

He admired Sir Robin Cooke (later Lord Cooke of Thorndon), then the President of the Court of Appeal, and speaks of his qualities leading the Court.

The Court of Appeal’s work, in dealing with the first Bill of Rights cases, had a positive influence on officialdom. The decisions led, for example, to police tightening procedures for searches.

Sir Michael’s turn sitting as a Privy Counsellor came around. All arrangements were made.

At that point, there was a complication.

Prime Minister Bolger, through the Attorney‑General, sounded him out about appointment as Governor‑General.

Sir Michael had had little to do with the Prime Minister. But he now guessed why he had been invited to a recent, eclectic gathering in Wellington, where they had spoken fleetingly. (Specifically, the Prime Minister had asked him whether he was a Republican, which had seemed odd at the time.)

In August 1995, his appointment was announced, to commence March 1996. He left to sit in the Privy Council shortly after.

He describes the daily work of the Privy Council, again giving a rare insight. The Law Lords arrived in chauffeured limousines, and breezed past security at the top of Downing Street (where the judicial committee then sat). Sir Michael would arrive on foot most mornings, and have to explain again to the Bobby on the gate who, exactly, he was.

He describes his family’s transition to Government House, again giving a personal glimpse.

I do not know how well it was appreciated in NZ that Sir Michael went to Europe in early 1996, to study how his role in appointing a Prime Minister might be affected by NZ’s new, partly proportional, electoral system. An election was imminent.

There were European parallels. He spent time with politicians and academics. On his return, he outlined a simple verbal formula, which has stood the test of time.

Then there is the day-to-day work of the Governor-General and Lady Hardie Boys.

Quite some pages lay out the attendances, meetings, ceremonies, overseas relations, and travel, in this role. While it is detailed, Sir Michael is setting out to record his experience in an important role, at a particular point in time.

For example, great care, by him and others, contributed to positive relations with France (still then a power in the Pacific), and with China.

International relations can be conducted with subtlety, to good effect. Thus some countries knew (or were briefed) that Lady Hardie Boys is an artist. They arranged for apt programmes with her, while Sir Michael dealt with other matters. In this way, NZ and the host country broadened their engagement.

Likewise, thoughtful briefing led Sir Michael to invite Jiang Zemin to sing, after dinner in Christchurch. The Chairman accepted, singing a touching love song to his wife, Wang Yeping. Suddenly, a new side of the Chairman was revealed. There was a return invitation, for the Governor‑General to lead a party to China.

Perhaps unintentionally, Sir Michael makes the case for the craft of diplomacy.

His chapter “With the Tengata Whenua” is fascinating, as I did not appreciate quite how New Zealand works in this sphere. This chapter demonstrates how far te reo has found its way into standard NZ English. Customs must be observed. This is a vital area of politics, not the least because of the Treaty of Waitangi.

There is also a chapter about his role as Commander in Chief. His father (also a judge), had served in WWII, including in the near Pacific. But Sir Michael does not record, for himself, more than school cadets. We follow his growth in this field, during his term as Governor-General.

There are three potential issues with this book.

First there is no index. This did not overly trouble me. It will be an impediment to researchers.

Secondly, it is more intimate than I expected. There are discussions of his and his wife’s ancestry; of their family and friends; of family events; and of social activities.

Sir Michael says that he set out to provide a record, for his family, but that the book had grown into much more. That is apparent.

But I did not mind that at all. It was delightful to see how New Zealand society functioned and developed from about WWII, periods of change.

Thirdly, there are occasional, telling remarks about people. Elias CJ (speaking at the launch) said that there “are some pointed comments about a few deserving targets, but for the most part what strikes you is the evident enjoyment Sir Michael takes in people of all sorts …”.

Availability

I bought in-store at Unity Books, Wellington: they have an on-line store.

It is also available from the NZ Portrait Gallery (the beneficiary of sales), via admin@nzportraitgallery.org.nz.