Richard Greenaway – Local Historian extraordinaire

Genealogy librarian at Christchurch City Libraries, Richard Greenaway, has been awarded the 2008 A.C. Rhodes History Medal. The medal is awarded annually by the Canterbury History Foundation to recognise and honour a significant contribution to the study of history in Canterbury, particularly one that has excited interest in history in the wider community.

Richard has given advice and information to countless users of the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Christchurch City Libraries. When he became archivist at the library in 1980 he began a project to transcribe church registers, assisted by many genealogy volunteers. This card file is a fantastic resource for family history researchers. He has also written library guides for family research, addressed genealogy meetings and conferences, and created local history resource lists for suburban Christchurch. His entertaining cemetery tours which take place during Heritage Week have seen him appear on television and be interviewed in newspapers.

His first book, Church on a sandhill: All Saints, Burwood, was written when he was a student at the University of Canterbury. He graduated MA(Hons) in history in 1972. His thesis was on Henry Selfe, a member of the Canterbury Association and the settlement’s agent in Britain from 1856 to 1866. Among his many articles and book chapters are four contributions to the Dictionary of NZ Biography and a bibliography of the eastern suburbs of Christchurch. To commemorate Women’s Suffrage Year he wrote, in 1993, Unsung Heroines, a collection of short biographies of women of note, who, he believed, had been forgotten or neglected in the records. in 2000 he produced another series, Rich man, Poor man, Environmentalist, Thief.

Richard draws on an encyclopaedic memory of dates, names, places and events.

Gao Xingjian

The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China

Things Chinese being of the moment with the world’s focus on Beijing I thought I’d write about Gao Xingjian, a Chinese writer whose works are banned in China and who in 2000 became the first and only writer in Chinese to win the Nobel prize for literature. I haven’t read any of his work but after reading this piece in the Guardian I definitely will. The library has some of his work in Chinese and two titles in English –  One man’s Bible and Buying a fishing rod for my grandfather

I was drawn to this quote “It’s in literature that true life can be found. It’s under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth”

A further quote from his book The Case for Literature talks about his philosophy of “without isms”.

“Without Isms is neither nihilism nor eclecticism; nor is it egotism or solipsism. It opposes totalitarian dictatorship but also opposes the inflation of the self to God or Superman. It hates seeing other people trampled on like dog shit. Without Isms detests politics and does not take part in politics, but is not opposed to other people who do. If people want to get involved in politics, let them go right ahead. What Without Isms opposes is the foisting of a particular brand of politics on to the individual by means of abstract collective names such as ‘the people’, ‘the race’ or ‘the nation’.”