Dr Monty Soutar

Historian, Writer, Teacher helping connect our past with the future - Story by Tony Cutting

Dr Monty Soutar (PHD) has a wonderful story of how you can develop through discovering your past and then designing your future.  He has not only achieved this for his own career but has influenced and inspired many others to look at the same formula to develop better people and a better world.

Dr Soutar (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa) was raised by his Dad (Paroa) and Mum (Ruatoria) throughout the Gisborne, Whakatane, Kawerau regions attending a number of primary schools’ dependent on where his Dad was teaching.  This included Manutahi Primary in Ruatoria where he would launch his teaching career later in life.

Kawerau Intermediate led on to Hato Paora College a Māori Boys school in the Manawatu.  Here like most boys he played rugby during the winter and the options for summer where cricket or work.  He choose to work. After successfully navigating his way through School Certificate he took three years to get his University Entrance, mainly due to being expelled for a short period and taking some time to find his way.  He persisted as he was determined to go to Teachers Training School and that required UE.

After Training College he moved on to Massey University and during his study there he moved from Rugby Union to playing Rugby League with his mates.  He played for both Kia Ora and Rangitane Rugby League Clubs. 

He left Massey with his Hons Degree (Education & Maori Studies) and started his first teaching role at Manutahi Primary School back in Ruatoria.  The next few years would shape his career as he discovered, while teaching, that his pupils (95% of whom were Maori) became more interested in school when the curriculum included learning about their own history.  Yet there were very few resources about local history that teachers could draw on. He sent a proposal to the Secretary for Maori Affairs to establish a research position at the Maori Land Court in Gisborne focused on researching and writing local Maori history. Successful in his proposal he set about reading documents and minute books which were available at the time (mainly Land Court records) and interviewing Kaumatua from local hapu.

This project had also thrust Monty into the world of history and writing.  Having not previously written more than a few essays of a few hundred words in length during his university years he would eventually write a book of more than 180,000 words.
The Army had always been a calling for Monty and he would move for two years into the armed forces.  Here he met Tina his beloved wife and started to grow his interest in this area.  

He was approached by Professor Mason Durie and left the Army to become a lecturer at Massey University.  During a thirteen-year career, teaching with Massey University he would also complete both his Masters as well as a PHD (Māori Studies).  In parallel to his PHD he got himself involved with researching the 28th Māori Battalion (C Company) which including writing his book Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship

About Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship
This wonder book offers a truly unique insight into the impact that the Second World War had on the iwi of the Tairawhiti district (on the east coast of the North Island) focusing on the region’s war effort not only overseas, but also at home and in government. Through personal recollections, eyewitness accounts, numerous anecdotes and highly illustrated throughout, the book tells the fascinating story of the Battalion’s war. It captures the special ‘spirit’ of the Māori Battalion, which became renowned for its courage and daring in battle, as well as for its contribution in manpower to the war effort.

This writing project started in 2001 and was published in 2008.

He found a home for his passion with the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and during this time became the kaitiaki of the 28th Battalion’s website http://www.28Māori battalion.org.nz/ .  

Dr Soutar moved back to Gisborne in 2005 and an opportunity to become the director of the local Tairawhiti Museum presented itself.  In this role he managed to skillfully lobby and develop a Museum which was facing severe budget cuts.  This work led to a role in 2009 as CEO of the Runanga for Ngati Porou and yet another major milestone achieved as this was the time settlement with Ngati Porou and the crown was underway.  He completed two-years’ service with Ngati Porou then returned to work for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage which he still works for today.

Throughout his career since finding his passion for history, research, writing and teaching he has come to realise the importance of mahi focused on making the world a better place.  Helping many fill in the “blanks” by utilising the collaboration between history and education.  

He described during our interview an overseas trip with a group of eighty people (including thirty rangatahi under the age of eighteen) through North Africa, Greece and Italy where not only did they learn more about our history, but also how much respect the people in these regions have for the Maori soldier.

He has sat on government-appointed boards of several organisations including the Alexander Turnbull Library, Archives New Zealand and the Historic Places Trust. He is a member of the First World War Centenary Panel, the Ngārimu VC and 28th Maori Battalion Scholarships Board and the Waitangi Tribunal.  

Dr Monty Soutar has shown us all that once you find your passion, anything is possible.