Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and welcome to Government House. I acknowledge particularly Hon Marie Hasler, Minister of Cultural Affairs, Rt Hon Helen Clark, Leader of the Opposition, other members of Parliament, members of the Diplomatic Corps, Christine Cole-Catley, Chair of the Frank Sargeson Trust, Mr Jim Stevenson, National Chairman of Buddle, Findlay, and of course the two 1999 Fellowship winners, Tina Shaw and Kapka Kassabova
The Sargeson Fellowship, so appropriately sponsored by Buddle, Findlay - I say appropriately because for lawyers too, words are the raw material of their craft - the Sargeson Fellowship is one of three literary events which are now quite regular fixtures on the Government House calendar. One is the NZ Post Children's Book Awards, which were presented in this room only last month. Katherine Mansfield Fellows are also honoured here. And this evening, for the third time, my wife and I welcome with very great pleasure everyone associated with the Buddle, Findlay Sargeson Fellowship; writers, organisers, sponsors, friends.
Last year's reception was in a tent at Government House, Auckland, simply because the House there is not big enough for an event such as this, and not because of any desire to simulate the hardships that writers sometimes have to endure before gaining the kind of recognition that is accorded by this evening's awards. It was, as I recall, rather damp that day, but that did not affect the warmth of the tribute paid to contemporary New Zealand writers in general, and the two fellows in particular, Sarah Quigley and Catherine Chidgey.
This evening, we can again pay tribute in rather more style. This is surely a highly appropriate place to honour the best New Zealand writers, and the best of New Zealand writing. For one of the chief functions of this House is to honour what is best and most distinctive in and about our country; to recognise New Zealanders who are striving to achieve excellence in their many chosen fields. And of all the New Zealanders who are recognised here, our writers are of the utmost importance, because they, and we, are still pioneers in so many ways; they, and we, are still mapping this place, still exploring who it is that we are, as New Zealanders.
The point of what our writers do is well expressed in lines by TS Eliot from "Little Gidding": "the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we first started/and know the place for the first time."
Because that is what our best authors allow us to do — no longer merely to look at and experience our surroundings, but to see and to feel and to know them more fully: paradoxically, to help us experience New Zealand as a place both wholly familiar and almost foreign at one and the same time. Through the eyes of our best authors, through their words, we see and understand familiar people, things, customs and places, anew.
New Zealand cannot yet claim to have produced a literary titan, although that should not dishearten us: giants like Shakespeare, Goethe or Pushkin are extra-ordinary, in the full and original sense of that word. They are so much larger than life, that they have transcended the usual boundaries of place and time, and belong to everyone and to all ages.
But there are many other voices too, equally important to hear and to heed, with quite profound things to say. There is no shortage of these in our New Zealand literature. Some strike international chords, others are especially apt for those who share the same cultural setting, or the same particular generation. And even though this country may not have produced an author for the whole world and for all seasons, we have produced many, many writers who have, so to speak, "caught the light" of this country and its people admirably, and through their words, have illuminated what they are writing about, both for their fellow New Zealanders and for non-New Zealanders alike. Ours is, to be sure, a small country in a world of very large ones, but, to adapt the title of an Allen Curnow poem, even though we live in a small room, it has, thanks to our finest artists and authors, large windows.
Tonight, we celebrate our New Zealand literature, invoking the name of Frank Sargeson, with whom it really began. And we celebrate the accomplishments of two young women whose work already upholds the strong literary tradition that he so strongly influenced: Tina Shaw and Kapka Kassabova, an Antipodean Joseph Conrad no less. The Fellowships that have been awarded to them will undoubtedly aid them in adding further lustre to our New Zealand literature.
And when we think of the achievements of previous Fellows, and the strength of the previously-published work of this year's Fellows, it is clear that the Buddle, Findlay Sargeson Fellowship has made, and will continue to make, an immense contribution to New Zealand letters, and to our own, and the world's, understanding of "our place" and its inhabitants. And for that, all credit to Buddle, Findlay.
I now invite Mr Jim Stevenson of Buddle, Findlay, to speak to us. After him, Christine Cole-Catley will tell us about the Trust and the Fellowship, and will introduce this year's recipients.