Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington
Gate 3, Kelburn Parade
Wellington 6140
New Zealand

Tony Simpson and "The Sugarbag Years" (1974)

Stout Research Centre seminar series

4.10pm 22 May 2024

In collaboration with the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies this talk is part of the seminar series Re-Reading Works on Poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand which takes a fresh look at some major Aotearoa cultural works on poverty. Across six weeks historians, curators, researchers, writers, and performers ‘re-read’ books, plays, novels, songs, and academic analyses from across the 20th century shedding light on the historic trajectories of poverty in our country. In looking back this series invites an evaluation of our contemporary situation, providing context for current issues such as inequality, our low wage economy, beneficiary shaming, gendered poverty and the long-lasting effects of colonisation.

Tony Simpson’s pivotal study The Sugarbag Years: An Oral History of the 1930s Depression in New Zealand was first published in 1974. Widely read and cited in the decades since, it acquired paramount status as a testament to the desperate struggle of men, women and families during the economic collapse of the 1930s and the harsh response of many of those in power. This presentation by oral historian Anna Green will begin by exploring how Tony Simpson went about this oral history project and finding those whom he interviewed, and consider the initial reception of the book. Turning to the present, it will then ask how contemporary approaches to memory and remembering, drawn from the interdisciplinary field of memory studies, might expand our understanding of these Depression oral histories? Green will also pose a question for the audience: what should be the place of the 1930s Depression and The Sugarbag Years in the new national history curriculum?

Anna Green is an oral historian, an Adjunct Professor at the Stout Research Centre, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington , and currently president of the National Oral History Association Te Kete Kōrero-a-Waha o Te Motu. She taught history at tertiary level in Aotearoa New Zealand and the UK, and her research and publications are in the fields of oral history, public history, and memory studies history and theory. She is currently writing a book about intergenerational family memory among the descendants of nineteenth-century British and European settlers.


This event will also be a live streamed webinar

Photograph of the cover of The Sugarbag Years, first published in Wellington, New Zealand by A. Taylor, 1974. Image supplied.