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Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay

Author Paul Diamond talks about his new book Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay. The event took place at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington, on 7 December 2022.

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  • 00:01 - Welcome from Neill Atkinson, Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage
  • 01:26 - Paul Diamond
  • 53:10 - Questions from the audience


The event held on December 7, 2022, at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington featured author Paul Diamond discussing their new book "Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay". The event marked the conclusion of a monthly seminar series in partnership with Manitou Taonga, Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Paul Diamond, a curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library since 2011, journalist, and broadcaster, has authored several books and the discussion of their latest work delved into the long and intriguing project centered on Charles Mackay.

Diamond's research, supported by entities such as Creative New Zealand and the Goethe Institut, spanned over 18 years. Part of the event was dedicated to discussing the mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding the case of Charles Mackay, who had been involved in local governance in Whanganui. Key highlights of Mackay's political life included their tenure as councillor and mayor, instrumental in the introduction of electric trams, signifying progress in early 20th century New Zealand. The fact that Mackay was also a lawyer and had significant involvement in community infrastructure provided context to their eventual downfall.

Attentions were turned to the circumstances that led to Mackay's incarceration: an altercation involving Walter Darcy Cresswell in 1920, culminating in an attempted murder trial that sentenced Mackay to 15 years of hard labor, of which they served six before leaving New Zealand. The event revealed new research and proposed that the public understanding of Mackay's sexuality and ensuing controversy may have had a wider impact on the treatment and perception of gay men during that era in New Zealand.

Furthermore, the discussion traced Mackay's life from their upbringing, education, professional career, and later life events through various artifacts, photos, and documents — offering insights into their character and experiences. Paul Diamond highlighted how homosexuality was perceived and treated at a time when any such intimacy was illegal. Diamond connected Mackay's story with the broader narrative of queer people's historical struggles for recognition and acceptance.

The research continues to evoke curiosity and controversy as it delves deeper into the past, seeking to understand the significant figures and the societal context of the time. The event concluded with an opportunity for attendees to purchase the book and eventual signing at the National Library store, thereby continuing the journey of rediscovery and discussion around the life and legacy of Charles Mackay.

This summary is created using Generative AI. Although it is based on the recording's transcription, it may contain errors or omissions. Click here to learn more about how this summary was created.

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Record date:7th December 2022
Location:Taiwhanga Kauhau (National Library), Wellington
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Archive:The master recording is archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library (OHDL-004701).