77 | Michael King - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

77 | Michael King - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

Greatest Kiwi Of All Time: No. 77 - Michael King (Down 13 from 64 last year)

History.  It’s storytelling without embellishment.  And one of the best storytellers of our generation was Michael King.  

Michael King was born in Wellington and grew up just north in Paremata.  He went to Victoria University, studying history, and working part-time at the Evening Post.

They say journalists write the first version of history.  It’s an apt observation because King - New Zealand’s preeminent historian - would start off as a journalist.  

One of his first projects for the paper was to chronicle the moko - the traditional facial tattoo worn by, at that time, only a handful of older Māori women.  He worked with photographer Marti Friedlander to tell their stories in the newspaper.

Moko would also become Michael King’s first book.  Although not Māori himself, King took pride in his understanding of Māori culture and history and would work closely with local iwi, building close relationships with people, before picking up the pen.  

King would publish works on Te Puea Herangi, Frank Sargeson, Dame Whina Cooper and, later, Janet Frame.  

In 1989, King would be commissioned to write the definitive history of the Moriori.  He would turn this into a book, published in 1989.  What he uncovered would challenge contemporary understanding of the native Chatham Islanders.

In 2003, King published The Penguin History of New Zealand.  It would be his most successful book.  Six months later, King and his wife would die in a crash on State Highway 2, near Maramarua.  He was 58.

Michael King, a historian who took the time to truly understand the subjects and people he was writing about.  Perhaps our greatest historian, but definitely one of Today FM’s Greatest Kiwis of All Time.