Judith Binney

Dame Judith Mary Caroline Binney DNZM FRSNZ (née Musgrove, 1 July 1940 15 February 2011) was a New Zealand historian, writer and Emerita Professor of History at the University of Auckland. Her work focussed on religion in New Zealand, especially the Māori Ringatū religion founded by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki and continued by Rua Kenana.[1] She also wrote extensively on the history of Ngāi Tūhoe.

Dame Judith Binney

Judith Mary Caroline Musgrove

(1940-07-01)1 July 1940
Died15 February 2011(2011-02-15) (aged 70)
Auckland, New Zealand
Alma materUniversity of Auckland
Spouse(s)1. Don Binney
2. Sebastian Black
Scientific career
FieldsNew Zealand history
InstitutionsUniversity of Auckland


Binney was born in Australia in 1940. She graduated with a first-class honours degree in history from the University of Auckland in 1965, and started work at the university as a lecturer in the History Department the next year. She retired as professor of history in 2004. She wrote biographies of both Te Kooti and Kenana, as well as a book on Kenana's followers, and another on Pākehā missionary Thomas Kendall. With Judith Bassett and Erik Olssen she wrote People and the Land, a history of New Zealand aimed at readers of high-school level.

For services to historical research, she was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 1997 New Year Honours.[2] In the 2006 New Year Honours, she was promoted to Distinguished Companion of the same order.[3] In 2009 she accepted redesignation as a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit,[4] following the restoration of titular honours by the New Zealand government.

In 1998 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. She was awarded $60,000 at the Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement in 2006. Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark stated: "Judith Binney’s work plays a vital role in recording our history, with a focus on Māori communities. Her writing draws on oral histories and communal memories, and uses photographic sources as an integral part of the written historical discourse."[5]

In 2007, Binney was named an inaugural fellow of the New Zealand Academy of Humanities, and she was a historical consultant for Vincent Ward's film, Rain of Children (2008).

In 2010, she won the New Zealand Post Book of the Year and General Non-fiction Award for Encircled Lands: Te Urewera, 1820–1921 (Bridget Williams Books). The book documents Tūhoe's quest for self-government of their lands, granted to them in law more than a century ago.[6]

Binney was married twice: to painter Don Binney,[7] and later to Sebastian Black.


On 4 December 2009, Binney received serious head injuries after being struck by a truck while crossing Princes St in Auckland City.[8] On 15 February 2011, she died in her Auckland home, aged 70, of an illness unrelated to the accident.[9] She was survived by her husband, Sebastian Black.


More than any other historian Binney highlighted the fundamental differences in the belief systems of Māori (especially Tūhoe) and European civilization in New Zealand. She showed great understanding of the traditional manner of non-linear thinking of Māori that lasted long into the post contact period and has strong echos in the 21st century and was a strong advocate of Maori separatism. In particular she showed how understanding Māori history is based on what she named the myth narrative, where ancient stories are interwoven with new events to create newer myth narratives. She emphasized that Māori history has a quite different purpose to Western history, with its strong emphasis on preserving and enhancing the mana of a whānau or hapū rather than examining and explaining historical events in a sequential, rational manner based on documented evidence.

She contrasted strongly the Māori belief in evidence based on mysticism, spirits, prophesy, in song and stories to explain why events happen with the quite different Western system. In particular she offered readers a clear insight into the Māori use of a non linear time scale, with events and people being switched back and forwards in time to support the theme of a myth narrative.[10] The academic work she undertook laid the foundation and framework for the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal settlement with Tūhoe which resolved many of the complicated issues to do with mana and resources that stretched back to 1863.[11]


  • The legacy of guilt: a life of Thomas Kendall (Oxford University Press, 1968).
  • Mihaia : the prophet Rua Kenana and his community at Maungapohatu (with Gillian Chaplin and Craig Wallace. Oxford University Press, 1979).
  • Ngā Mōrehu: The survivors (with Gillian Chaplin. Oxford University Press, 1986).
  • The people and the land: Te tangata me te whenua: an illustrated history of New Zealand, 1820–1920 (with Judith Bassett and Erik Olssen. Allen & Unwin, 1990).
  • Redemption songs: a life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki (Bridget Williams Books, 1995).
  • Encircled lands: Te Urewera, 1820–1921 (Bridget Williams Books, 2009).
  • The shaping of history: essays from the New Zealand Journal of History, 1967–1999 (Bridget Williams Books, 2001).


  1. Barton, Chris (18 June 2005). "It's history, but not as we know it". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  2. "New Year honours list 1997". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 1996. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  3. "New Year honours list 2006". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2005. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  4. Special Honours List (12 August 2009) 118 New Zealand Gazette 2691
  5. Profile on New Zealand Book Council website
  6. "Te Urewera, Part III: From self-governing native reserve to national park", November 2012 Māori Law Review
  7. University of Auckland's Don Binney obituary
  8. Fisher, David; Barratt, Joseph; Neville, Alice (6 December 2009). "Historian badly hurt by truck". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  9. "Renowned historian Binney dies". The New Zealand Herald. 16 February 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  10. "Stories Without End", J.Binney, Bridget Williams, 2010. Introduction.
  11. "Champion of Tuhoe brought history to life", Catherine Masters, 17 Feb 2011, obituary, NZ Herald
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