A Tale of Two Conspiracies

A colleague of mine congratulated me on reading a book the other day. That’s the kind of thing that happens a lot in my particular research area. Not because my “reading a book” is considered to be an unusual state of affairs for me (although, to be honest, in the last two years of finishing off the thesis I became someone who eschewed books for the most part and relied entirely on the pleasant brevity of articles ((Anyone who reads articles will know that reading articles is rarely pleasant nor brief: I was undergoing some psychological hardships at the time.))) but rather because some of the books I read are of the kind you wouldn’t want people to know you spend time with or just wouldn’t want to read, period.

I am, of course, talking about conspiracy literature written by conspiracy theorists. The book in question was “Tunnel Vision,” by Martin Butler. It covers the North Head Tunnels conspiracy theory and argues that some set of conspirators are hiding something (which might be Boeing seaplanes or it might be discarded ammunition). As conspiracy theory tracts go, well, it’s not bad (which is not to say it’s any good); indeed, compared to Maxwell C. Hill’s “To the Ends of the Earth,” (another recent read) “Tunnel Vision” is wonderfully level-headed (but, as I say, only as a contrast to a book which really stretches the limit of what can be called “research”).

Both “Tunnel Vision” and “To the Ends of the Earth” are self-published books and they have the kinds of problems you’d expect of vanity-pressed historical accounts. Both books are revisionist histories of Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand): Hill’s radically revises the history of our nation (the Greeks and Egyptians got here first and the M?ori came later); Butler proposes what is, in the end, a minor rewrite of New Zealand’s aviation and military history (the first two Boeing seaplanes probably weren’t destroyed in Mission Bay and the North Head military complex may well have a hidden ammunition storage depot deep in the heart of Maungaika, containing undisposed off, decaying ammunition stores).

Both books challenge our accepted history by calling into question the veracity of archival material and proposing that parts of our oral history, suitably interpreted, should be taken more seriously. Like all revisionist histories, there are a number of intellectual fancies in the narrative which are never really admitted to, but end up colouring the analysis. Butler’s book contains a fair number of the things but Hill’s book is a treasure trove. He puts forward claims like “Maui and Rata are the names of ancient Greek and Egyptian navigators” and “The Greeks taught the indigenous peoples of South American how to piles rocks on top of other rocks” as if they are in no way controversial. Hill, like Butler to a lesser extent, never gets round to signalling that his argument rests upon hypothetical claims and radical reinterpretations of the evidence.

Indeed, neither author really ever bothers to deal with the existing literature. Butler’s book attacks a Department of Conservation report and investigation into North Head for, basically, not doing the dig the way Butler (not-an-archaeologist) would have done it and then he calls into question the reading of the evidence by a High Court Judge because he has his own “balance of probabilities” calculation going on (Butler is also not a member of the judiciary). He fails to talk about archaeological methods and whether the work of Dave Veart, the principal archaeologist on the dig, is consistent with current practice and he never deals with the concerns Justice Elias expressed about the collection of eye-witness statements put forward by John Earnshaw. Instead, he relies on his own common sense (without ever asking whether his common sense is something which should trump the work of suitably qualified experts).

This, though, is nothing in comparison with Hill, whose project is so breath-taking in scope (his thesis does not just challenge the history of this place but the histories of Polynesia and South America) that it means, if we were to treat it seriously, almost everything we know would be called into question. Butler’s claim of conspiracy, if true, would not require us to reassess our recent history all that much; Hill’s claims, would. The mythology of Polynesia would become the hazy recollection of a two-year Greek/Egyptian voyage to circumnavigate the globe. The polity structure of South America and the stone temples that made up that complex: borrowed from the Greek and Egyptian sailors who lived and taught among those people for over a century (before being driven out).

Butler’s book is a quest narrative, which shows him inspecting archives and poring over old reports. Where Butler questions recent history he is either pointing out the lacuna historical explanations always seemed doom to have or he points towards inconsistencies in the written record.

Hill, however, pulls together a host of largely unrelated material and creates his own narrative from it. Butler’s work is a quest you too could undertake: if the subject material was religious rather than historical, then you could imagine the “Adepts of Butler” starting out towards Wellington, and its National Archives, to follow in his footsteps and read the sacred texts that pertain to North Head. Hill, though, engages in a project that requires more than just a mastery of library catalogues and a determination to track things down. Hill brings together seemingly unrelated articles (mostly not peer reviewed) and books ranging from the work of Thor Heyerdahl to Gavin Menzies to question everything we think we know and put forward a new theory (presumably located in a ringbinder to rule them all ((That was terrible and I apologise.))). Hill can find an association, it seems, between any two (seemingly-unrelated) things.

For example, Hill brings together theories about Melanesian and Polynesian petroglyphs looking (vaguely) like Egyptian hieroglyphs (apologies to the makers of the original petroglyphs but, if they are meant to look like their Egyptian counterparts, well, they really do look like very shoddy replicas. Obviously, when away from home standards slip), badly-drawn maps, words that sound like other words and similarities between myths of different cultures to create a conceptual space where all these things make sense (street sense) only if we accept that a postulated circumnavigation by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians not only took place but, very importantly, a second lot, several decades later, was sent out to find out what happened to the first.

Hill’s evidence about these matters is not evidence in the sense that you can point at historical discrepancies, lacuna and the like. Hill’s thesis requires that we just sweep away orthodox history. Butler’s claims are, at the very least, theoretically testable. If certain new evidence came to light it could confirm his or refute his view. Hill’s claims… Any refutation of them would just be more evidence of the conspiracy (a PC one at that) which denies the true history of this place.

In my next post I will look at the kinds of argument and evidence Maxwell C. Hill uses to advance his radical reinterpretation of human history, which will then be followed with a post on contrasting this with Butler’s much more modest, much more reasonable (but still quite problematic) claims.


John Reagan says:

Hello Matthew
Regarding Martin Butlers attempt to have a dig aroung North Head.Perhaps you should read his site,tunnelvision.net.nz.It shows what he is up against with trying to get a permit to dig.Sounds that between DOC and HPT,they are putting up obstacles to prevent the dig.To bolster there chances,they are now getting the local Iwi involved.If they have nothing to hide,why not let him have a dig around?If he finds nothing,then he will be seen as another fool.However,if he is correct and finds hidden tunnels,there will be alot of red faces in DOC, Government and Academia.
If he has no luck with DOC,I know of an entrance on private land adjacent to the Hill.It is still accessible.
The truth cannot be buried forever.

Hi, John.

I know a little bit about this: Martin apparently complained that Dave Veart was obstructing him on this matter, which lead DOC to remove Dave Veart from the case. As Dave is the only person at DOC interested in the North Head case, Martin has essentially removed the only person who would support further investigation from being consulted about said further investigation (which means they are now referring to Dave’s (and John Treadwell’s) reports rather than asking Dave “Should we investigate and allow a new dig based upon this new information?”). Aside from that, it’s right and proper that the local iwi should be consulted: North Head has been given back to the Confederation of Tamaki Tribes and thus if there is to be a new investigation, the iwi need to be consulted. It is their hillside Martin wants to dig up.

Note: I support further site investigation of the Head by Martin. I just think the proper channels (like consulting the local iwi) have to be gone through before such a site investigation is undertaken.

John Reagan says:

Hello Matthew
Merry Christmas to you.
What is the latest update on Martin Butlers attempt to dig on North Head?
It would certainly be a great Christmas present for him!

Hello, John.

I haven’t heard anything from Martin since he got back from his holiday so I don’t know what’s happening on that front. Dave Veart is about to retire from DoC, however, so if Martin is right that Dave has been blocking him (which I’m not convinced of), then maybe he’ll have more luck in the middle of next year.

John Reagan says:

Hi Matthew
A few points.I believe that if the Iwi were not involved in the process,then DOC would have put another obstacle in Martin’s way.I dont believe that Dave Veart wants to have anyone digging on his Hill.It is convienent for them that the Hill is due to be handed back to the Iwi.If I were the Iwi,I would probably want to know if there were any hidden tunnels,planes or ammunition buried in my back yard,before it was handed over.If something happens in the years to come,will the Iwi be held responsible for any costs?If it is shown that ammunition was left under the Hill,the cost could be in the billions!
Martin is after a low impact dig,cant be any harm in that,surely?
Why would the Iwi not allow any digging?Its not as though it is virgin land,it has been dug up and changed for the past 130 years.
I believe that there is more under the hill.If Martin has no luck getting permission from DOC to dig,I will let him know where the entrance on private land is located.
I note that you support more site investigation.What are your thoughts if Martin does not get permission?Would you think he was hard done by?Would you see it as stonewalling,or part of a fair process?
Cheers Matthew.

John, I support Martin doing a dog on the hill (as long as he has a professional archaeologist working with him – such a professional archaeologist need not be a member of DoC or have trained in New Zealand, in case you’re worried I’m trying to play both sides here – as well, archaeological digs need to be done properly or not at all) but I do think he has to consult local iwi. It is their hill after all (it has been handed back already, I believe) and they, frankly, are well within their rights to allow or not allow such an investigation.

I don’t think Martin would be hard done by if he doesn’t get to do the dig; it’s not as if he has a right to go round digging up hillsides. As I am someone who has read the various archaeological reports from the digs Veart and Treadwell undertook, I’m not convinced at all that there are additional tunnels within the Head. Martin’s new data is interesting, but a) at least one site is likely to be the remains of a gunpit Veart knew existed but could never locate and b) one of the areas Butler has identified might turn out to be a bayonet practice area trench that we think was constructed and then filled in in the early 20th Century. Certainly, it may well turn out that I’m wrong (and if I wore a hat I’d promise to eat it) but, at the moment, I still don’t think there is much good reason to buy into the conspiracy that people are stonewalling Earnshaw, Smyth and Butler from finding out the “truth” about North Head.

John Reagan says:

Hi Again Matthew
Dave Veart was on the Hill all these years and couldnt find the old gunpit?A bit sad really!Did he not have access to a ground penetrating radar?
Where does the information about a bayonet practice trench come from,I have spent some time investigating the Hill and never heard of it before.Where is it located?I am intrigued.Does that not in itself warrant a permit to dig,to see if the trench and gunpit are there?Any archaeologist worth his salt would be chomping at the bit to uncover these new finds.That is what they are trained to do.
Once again though,as the new custodians of the Hill,the Iwi may want to see if anything lies beneath.
Well,I guess we can agree that Martin will never be given permission to dig then.

Well, Dave tried to locate that gunpit but due to the tightness of the finances surrounding the official DoC investigation, had to move on and investigate other areas of the Head.

As for archaeologists chomping at the bit, I am told there are people at DoC who are keen to see Martin’s new site investigation go ahead. Indeed Dave, who I saw a few weeks ago, thinks the new sites should be looked at, but Martin has complained that Dave has been obstructing his efforts and so Dave has been told he cannot consult on the case. The one person who was likely to back Martin now can’t. It’s all very sad.

John Reagan says:

Where are the gun pit and bayonet trench located?

Hi, John.

Sorry for the long delay: I didn’t have a copy of Martin’s book to hand. If my recollection is right (and it might not be: I had the relevant conversation some months ago) the readings leading away from the Six-Inch Battery (p. 325 – Figure 2) might be the remains of said trench (this is a highly conditional claim), whilst the area marked as “room” on figure 3 (p. 326) might be the missing gun pit (once again, a conditional claim).

As I say, I’m for investigating these sites to find out what they are (or what they aren’t).

John Reagan says:

I forgot to add that I agree with you that no dig can take place without an archaeologist being present.