Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, BA, DLitt, NZOM, 1925–2009

Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, BA, DLitt, NZOM, 1925–2009

Te Papa acknowledges the life and writing of poet, playwright, novelist, and memoirist Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. His work is noted for its attempts to reconcile the complexities and displacements he experienced as a result of his New Zealand/Cook Islands ancestry.

Campbell was born in the Cook Islands and spent his first seven years there. His Cook Island mother died of tuberculosis in 1932, and his New Zealand father succumbed to drink a year later, with the result that Campbell and his brother were sent to an orphanage in Dunedin.

Despite speaking little English, within a few years Campbell was top of his class. He also represented Otago in soccer. But he never felt he belonged and struggled at university. Moving to Wellington, he fell in with a group of poets, including James K Baxter, Peter Bland, and Louis Johnson (the ‘Wellington group’). His first poetry collection Mine Eyes Dazzle appeared in 1950.

After gaining a BA in English and Classics from Victoria University, Campbell began work for School Publications (now Learning Media), putting his literary talents to good use as editor of the School Journal.

He produced poetry, novels, and radio plays at regular intervals throughout his long career. Negotiating between Cook Island and European traditions remained an ongoing concern. His name ‘Te Ariki’ links back to the chiefly origins of his mother’s father in the Cook Islands. He identified with the Ngāti Toa tribe of the Kapiti Coast area, where he lived, but said in 1965, ‘I am of mixed race. The years of solitude get you down. You are different. You are without a tribe.’

Campbell married poet Fleur Adcock in 1952, and they had two children, before later divorcing. He then married Aline Margaret (Meg) Anderson (1937–2007), with whom he had a further three children.  

In 1997, Campbell was awarded a Pacific Islands Artist’s Award, and in 1999 he received an Honorary DLitt from Victoria University of Wellington. In 2005, he received a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for his poetry, and that same year he was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

He is survived by his five children and his writing.


  1. Thanks Pamela for providing a link to this poem – the second stanza is very vivid.

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