Pauline Vaeluaga Smith won the Best First Book Award in the 2018 NZ Children’s Book Awards for her book Dawn Raid, a diary format fictional account of a 13 year old girl whose family is caught up in the Dawn Raids of 1974. Supporting our school wide focus celebrating the different cultures of Aotearoa New Zealand, last week our year 7/8s were treated to an awesome virtual visit by Pauline, in which she spoke live on Youtube about her experiences growing up in the Pacific Islander community and also of writing her first book. Several other intermediate and high schools across New Zealand joined in and schools were able to submit questions to Pauline – Seatoun School was noted for the number of quality questions we submitted and had answered! Thanks to Storylines for hosting this event.
Pauline was an educator in Pacific Studies and was disturbed by the fact that the majority of young people coming through knew nothing about the ill treatment of specifically Pacific Island immigrants in New Zealand during the 1970’s. She decided that the best place to start was with children and therefore started researching and writing the book that won her many accolades.
Pauline told us about the events that led to the action taken by the Polynesian Panthers, an activist group led by the young people of the Pacific Island community. This film above was part of the National government led advertising campaign, heavily suggesting that the problem causing the high unemployment and civic disturbances of the 1970s was the overstayers, and disproportionately blamed the Pacific Island community. More than 3/4 of overstayers were actually from other countries, mainly Europe. The dawn raids were an extended period of immigration officials knocking on doors in the early hours of the mornings hoping to catch people who had overstayed their visas to stay in New Zealand. This mainly happened in Wellington, however, all over the country people were being stopped in the street simply because of the colour of their skin, and asked to produce their papers giving them the right to live in New Zealand.
Pauline was extremely proud that it was the young people who took action – she particularly remembers in her own community that the older generation wanted everyone to keep their heads down and hope the trouble passed, while the young people were unhappy about the poor treatment and wanted to take action. Mimicking the actions of the police, the Panthers found out where politicians and prominent policemen lived and went to their houses in the early hours to wake them up. This made quite a difference actually and the Dawn Raids soon ceased. Further actions were very positive and community minded – breakfast and lunch clubs for the poor, visiting prisoners, supporting older people.
Some of the questions that we asked Pauline:
Did you anticipate a dawn raid on your house and family?
Pauline – No, I was so young I didn’t realise the extent of what was going on. Just after the book was published my Mum told me that the police stopped my dad and asked for his papers.
How did the racist cartoons make you feel?
Pauline – When I heard about how the people stood up against them I felt proud.
What are the long term effects of the dawn raids?
Pauline – The Pacific Islanders, still to this day, feel humiliated by the terrible events of the past.
We love the patterns in the book – how were they inspired?
Pauline – I wanted everyone to know that this is a Samoan/NZ book.
Pauline talked about her experiences of writing her first book – she started with a visual timeline of the main events of the book and then wrote the story including elements of home and school life from there. She loved having a say with the publishers about how her book would look – for example she made subtle changes to the front cover to ensure the girl was more obviously Samoan. Pauline said that young people who wanted to get into writing should just start something and start with what they know, using their own experiences. For example, in this book, the younger brothers who always ran around the house and ended up breaking things were very much like her own family growing up.
Pauline has started her second book which is about the Landmarch of 1978. She has found her genre of writing which is to educate. We very much look forward to reading more of her work.
Thank you to Amy and Madeleine from Room 1 for input on the questions and their answers and to little Naomi from Room 6 who helped me write this post!