Radio caller takes issue with Māori albatross names

Newstalk ZB host Marcus Lush has once again had a colourful clash with a caller on Māori names, after caller Judith raised concerns about how toroa/northern royal albatrosses are named.

At about 11.45pm, Judith admitted she hadn't been listening, but wanted to raise a rather "controversial" topic.

Starting off the call by saying "I just want to probably change subjects because I haven't been listening, but I'm just wondering who chooses the name for the albatross chicks?"

The Department of Conservation runs a competition where people submit their entries to name the latest albatross chick before it leaves New Zealand and flies to feed near South America.

The last two years the chicks have been given Māori names, with this year's name being Atawhai, meaning kindness.

But seconds later, Judith dropped the "I'm not at all racist" line, before saying "I don't know why the albatross chicks have to be called a Māori name all the time," with Judith suggesting other names, such as Reg or Jack, and her very own entry Bob.

Albatross are making their way back to Taiaroa Head. Photo: supplied
An albatross nests at Taiaroa Head. Photo: supplied
Lush responded saying that people send in names they think are best, and found the judging criteria, which lists relevance, originality and creativity.

"Do you think Bob would fit in with that criteria?" Lush asked, but Judith kept pushing her point in a 14-minute back and forth, to the delight of callers.

Judith responded, saying: "Well, not particularly, no. I just wonder why it is always a Māori name because I don't think albatrosses are particularly related to the Māoris."

Lush quickly jumped in, confirming albatrosses are not people, but Judith wasn't having a bar of it.

"They're not a bird that's, you know, depicted particularly by the Māori community, they go all round the world don't they?"

Lush responded, informing Judith they're the only bird of their type in the world that nest on Aotearoa's mainland, on the Otago Peninsula, making them special to Māori.

"So that in itself would say that, from my reckoning, they have always been there," he added.

Judith came back with another argument: "But has that mainland always been Māori, or does it have to be a Māori name?"

ZB's Lush then intervened, telling Judith "I think you've got a problem. I think you've got a bee in your bonnet about this.

"They're not related to Māori because they're a bird. They've always been there. To Māori albatross represent beauty and power... they are depicted in cave drawings and meeting houses."

Judith bit back, saying "they're also very important to ordinary New Zealanders".

Lush asked her elaborate, but Judith said she couldn't relay history. Instead, she went on to say "they're a beautiful bird".

He then questioned "why would you want to call a bird Bob?" before saying it's not an English bird.

Judith responded asking "is it a Maori bird?" before demanding Lush to define what a New Zealand bird is.

Once the chick fledges in September, she will take to the skies and fly 9000km across the Pacific Ocean to feed near South America.

It will be four years before she returns to the Southern Hemisphere's only mainland albatross colony at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula to breed.

It's not the first time Lush has had a run-in with a caller regarding Māori place names.

Last year, Lush was shocked to receive two calls during his show from New Zealand-born women who insisted on mispronouncing the Māori names of the places they'd been born.

Even after being told the correct pronunciation, both callers made it clear they would never start pronouncing it properly and insisted that it was their right to say the place name the way they'd always been told to say it.

"If I told you how it was pronounced, would you do it?," the host asked the first caller, an 83-year-old woman from Ōpoho, Dunedin.

"No. Because it's mine. My region," the woman replied.

The caller insisted she meant "no disrespect to anyone" but the host pointed out it was disrespectful as he said the caller was "being wilfully ignorant".

"Like hell I am," she responded.

A second caller, from Mosgiel, rang up to express her solidarity with the other listener, saying "an elderly person should be respected in the way she grew up".

"We don't talk like that down here," the caller said.

"Wow. You are extraordinary. This call almost should go into Te Papa," Lush replied. "You are deliberately misrepresenting a language."



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