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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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What a character

A monthly column by Wairarapa Library Service where people in our community are interviewed about their love of books. This week, we talk with Carterton Mayor Ron Mark.

I meet Mayor Ron Mark on a Thursday afternoon at Carterton library. He makes us cups of tea.

When I ask what book he’s reading, he tells me he’s been writing one. Well, a foreword for Kiwis in Conflict, a book by Christopher Pugsley due to be published by Bateman Books for Anzac Day 2024.

Ron has read an advance copy and considers it a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how conflict has shaped Aotearoa New Zealand.

Ron mostly reads military history books, so we head for that section of the library.

Along the way is the Māori collection and Ron notices two large-format books by Monty Soutar: Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! – Māori in the First World War and Nga Tama Toa – The Price of Citizenship. “Excellent, both of them. I have them in my home library.”

The bright red spine of 28 [Māori] Battalion also catches his eye. Ron has a first edition from 1956 – the library copy is a facsimile published in 2012. He says first editions are rare because so many copies were buried with Māori soldiers by their whānau.

Ron collects books about the professional soldier and military writer Wiri Gardiner and SAS officer and mountaineer Athol Whimp. “Two extraordinarily inspiring people,” he said.

His Worship The Honourable Ron Mark’s full military title is: Major [rtd], HW, JP, OSRE [Oman], DSPA [MFO], RNZEME, SOLF EME, SSF Former New Zealand Minister of Defence and Minister for Veterans 2017-2020.

Did you know Ron’s full name is Rongowhitiao Arekatera Te Wera Te Puni Maaka and that he’s related to the noted author Patricia Grace DCNZM QSO through his mother, Aroha Maaka, née Grace?

“I’m a Māori boy from Pahiatua. I’m not an academic and I’m not a writer. I am someone who believes that people should be judged by our actions – by what we do.”

One action he is proud of is advocating for the institution we are standing in – the Carterton Library, built in 1881. Ron served on the team that fought to restore the “historically important building” and to establish the Carterton Events Centre. He said he will always remember the day that Gary McPhee turned the first sod of soil.

Ron is often asked to introduce military books at public occasions. He has described Searching for Charlie by Tom Scott as “an alternative look at the real Charlie Upham”. When Ron interviewed the author in 2020 for a Yarns in Barns event in association with Booktown, he brought Upham’s last driver along. She was one of about 300 people in the audience at Anzac Hall and she loved the day.

He also chaired a session in 2022 with Michael Bennett [Better than Blood] and Monty Soutar [Kawai] at Hedley’s Books. The event was so popular that there was seating on two levels.

Ron has been asked to contribute to The Spinoff – he says he’s thinking about it.

Ron Mark was in conversation with Madeleine Slavick, assistant librarian, adult programmes, Wairarapa Library Service.

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