The Crocombes arrive at USP, Suva, 1969 – left to right Marjorie, Kevin, Narida, Tata, Ron. Photo: Crocombe Family Archives/22072902
Marjorie and Ron Crocombe lived up to exacting standards in their personal and professional lives and their combined efforts impacted and inspired uncountable others. We were privileged to know them, writes former USP director Rod Dixon.
Marjorie Tua’inekore Crocombe (née Hosking) was born in 1930 in Rarotonga, the youngest of 11 children of Dr. Rupert and Vaevae Hosking of Titikaveka.
Marjorie was educated at Titikaveka Primary School (1936-44) and in 1944 won a Maui Pomare
scholarship to finish her secondary schooling in New Zealand, initially at Epsom Girls Grammar School (1945-6) and later at Whanganui Girls College where she became the first
Polynesian Head Prefect (1947-50).
It wasn’t until many
years later that she realised that her time at the school had been instrumental in allowing more New Zealand Māori girls to
complete their secondary schooling at Whanganui Girls’. In an interview with Katrina Lintonbon (Cook Islands News,
13 June, 2020), Marjorie
recalled that: “When she thinks about it now, there were only three
students that weren’t European when she was at the college. She
used to wonder why “Miss Baker” would come to see her every night to see how
her studies were going.”
“All those years later I
finally realised what she was doing, she had been fighting with the school’s
board of governors to allow Māori girls to
attend the school,” she says.
“There was so much racism
1951, Marjorie trained as a teacher at Ardmore Teachers
Training College, graduating
in 1952. After a year’s teaching at Henderson Primary School, Auckland (1953-4), she
returned to Rarotonga to begin
work for the Cook Islands Department of Education, and
in 1955 became the
first Cook Islands female lecturer at Nikao Teachers College. During this time, she also worked
on developing primary school readers in the Cook Islands Māori
a dance in 1955 she met her future partner, Ron Crocombe. Ron had come to Rarotonga initially
as Clerk of Works in the Public Works Department and was then appointed as Resident Agent on
As Marjorie recalled to journalist
Katrina Lintonbon, Ron was on his way back to New Zealand from Atiu and asked if she
would join him.
“I said to him no way! For a start I don’t even
“We can get to know one another on our way back to New Zealand.”
They were married in 1959 in Masterton, NZ and a 50-year partnership began.
same year, Marjorie accompanied Ron to Canberra where he had been offered a PhD
scholarship in Pacific History. She was initially barred from entering
Australia under the racist “White Australia” policy, but finally, under
protest, was allowed entry.
While Ron worked on his thesis, Marjorie commenced work on The Works of Ta’unga; Records of a Polynesian Traveller in the Southern Seas, 1833–1896 (ANU Press, 1968). This work, (co-edited with Ron) “combined the two strands of ethnohistory and an Islands-focused historiography” to become one of the foundational texts of Pacific History (Lal and Munro 2006).
In 1962, Ron and Marjorie and their family moved to live and work in Papua New Guinea following Ron’s appointment as
Executive Officer, and from 1965, Director of ANU’s New Guinea Research Unit. In Port Moresby, Marjorie became a lecturer at the Teachers College and the
Administrative College, as well as conducting a regular ABC radio broadcast “Malanga Moana” covering
Pacific music and current affairs (1966-9).
In 1965 during sabbatical, she undertook a part-time Anthropology degree
at the University of California (Los Angeles) and in 1968, studies in Pacific history
at the University of Hawaii.
In 1967 she began a degree at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), studying creative writing under Ulli and Georgina Beier and publishing her research into the work of the influential Mangaian missionaries to Papua, Ruatoka and his wife Tungane. All this was achieved in addition to bringing up two children without added help, for Ron and Marjorie refused on principle to employ domestic servants.
In Port Moresby, Marjorie was again forced to confront racial discrimination as Ron later recalled. “The first time she went to buy meat at the main Burns Philp shop in Port Moresby she was refused service. She came home in tears after being told that natives can only be served through the outside hatch. She had been in many countries but never treated like that. She never went back, but it was a small part of the accepted code of the Australian system in Papua New Guinea”.
In 1969 the
family moved to Suva, following Ron’s appointment as Foundation Professor of
Pacific Studies at the newly established University of the South Pacific. At
USP, Marjorie completed her Arts degree majoring in History and Education. Influenced
by her creative writing teachers at UPNG, she helped establish and became first
President of the South Pacific Creative Arts Society (SPACS), a post she
retained for 23 years (1977-2000). Once again she was required to battle
established thinking, this time within a University that, at the time, placed greater
emphasis on economic and social development than on the creative arts.
a platform for a ‘New Wave of Pacific Writers’ through its journal Mana with
Marjorie as Editor. Many of the early writers published in Mana,
including Albert Wendt, Konai Thaman, the late Alistair Te Ariki Campbell and the
late Grace Molisa, were or became internationally famous writers and scholars,
leading the Cook Islands academic Emily Powell to wonder, would there have been
a Pacific Literature at all if Marjorie and her colleagues had not established
SPACS and sustained Mana with their own tireless work? “Writers
and publishers from the wider region,” writes Dr Linda Crowl, “owe a deep debt to Marjorie’s foresight and
Marjorie completed her Master of Arts degree at UPNG with a dissertation
entitled – Maretu’s Narrative of Cook Islands History – later published
as Cannibals and ConvertsRadical Change in the Cook Islands (USP
At USP, both Ron and Marjorie were indefatigable advocates
of a decentralized university with Ron writing and teaching the first ever
degree level correspondence course offered by USP Extension, An Introduction
to Pacific Land Tenure in 1974. At the same time, Marjorie worked as
Director of the Fiji Extension Centre, then at the Solomon Islands Extension
Service, and finally as Director of USP Extension Studies (1983-88), with responsibility
for delivering extension studies to the University’s 12 member countries.
1987, Marjorie was sitting in her office at USP’s Laucala campus when soldiers arrived
with orders to “off the (satellite) machines” as Fiji’s September coup was
under-way. Uncowed by threats of violence, Marjorie spent a brief afternoon in
detention, guarded by a young and apparently respectful armed soldier, musing how
she might overpower him and “pin him to the ground in one helpless pile of
20 plus years in Suva, Ron and Marjorie’s home at 6 Mariko Street, was a refuge
for Pacific students – in John Herrmann’s words – “a marae, in essence ‘a home
away from home’ for many students and staff members from across the region … (providing)
a homely outing, a quiet exchange, some informal counselling, and above all
else, some island songs from home”.
retirement from USP in 1988, Marjorie was appointed Senior Lecturer
Foundation Director at the Centre for
Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland (1990-1993).
Returning to the Cook Islands she was appointed Deputy Chair of the Cook Islands Media Council, a member of the Biodiversity Committee, and of the Education Sector Review, the Higher Appointments Committee, the Cultural and Historic Places Trust, and the Cook Islands Research Association while also supporting innumerable NGOs and lecturing at USP Cook Islands.
Ron’s death in 2009, she co-edited (with Rod Dixon and Linda Crowl) a book on his life and
work, entitled Ron Crocombe: E Toa:
Pacific Writings to Celebrate His Life and Work.
age, Marjorie continued to champion poetry and literature, and, as
Rachel Reeves noted, remained “outspoken
about encouraging Pacific writers to analyse contemporary life through poetry,
art and stories”. This bore added fruit in 2003 with the publication
of the 400-page Akono’anga Māori – Cook IslandsCulture featuring
25 local authors writing on aspects of Cook Islands culture, economy and
society, followed in 2016 by Art and Architecture of the Cook Islands (co-edited
again with Rod Dixon and Linda Crowl).
honours, Marjorie was named by Island Business their 1990 Pacific Islands Woman of the Year, and in 2000 the Cook Islands Business and Professional Women’s
Association as their Woman of the Year. In the 2009 New Year Honours
List, Marjorie was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to the Cook Islands, the Pacific,
education, literature and the community
In 2011, her alma mater
honoured her with the award of a Doctor of
Letters (honoris causa) in recognition of “her exceptional academic, literary
and community achievements”. The citation included 6 full pages recording all
of Marjorie’s published works covering subject areas including Pacific History,
Pacific Literature, Education, Current Affairs, Information Technology, and
Pacific Women as well as 22 edited publications.
The following year, USP Cook Islands campus commissioned a full-length
portrait from the Pacific artist Nanette Lela’ulu. The artist pictured Marjorie
in doctoral robes with bare feet on a woven mat emphasising her ‘groundedness’
in the Pacific. Ron’s empty chair standing beside her in the portrait depicted
the now absent ‘other half’ of a 50-year partnership.
On the University’s 50th Anniversary in 2018, USP Cook
Islands celebrated Marjorie’s pivotal role in the development of Pacific
Literature with publication of the book Mana – 50 Years of Cook Islands
Writing, a tribute to Marjorie Crocombe.
In the same year, Marjorie fulfilled another goal by successfully
lobbying the University to develop a full degree programme in her much-loved Cook
Islands Māori language. Attending the opening of the Confucius Classroom at USP
Cook Islands, Marjorie took the opportunity to question the Vice Chancellor as
to why the University taught Chinese but not Pacific languages. As the University approached its
50th Anniversary, she argued, that the teaching of Pacific vernacular language programmes would help affirm the University’s commitment to regionalism. The (then) Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna had been recently installed
in the largely ceremonial, yet influential, role of Chancellor of the
University and Marjorie was quick to lobby him for a degree in Cook Islands Māori. The degree was
introduced in 2018 and once established, was followed by Tongan and Niuafo'ou, Vagahau Niue, and Rotuman.
The first students with a Diploma in Cook Islands Māori graduated
Anyone who has borrowed books from the Crocombe’s
extensive library will have noticed an Ex-Libris plate on the inside front
cover of each book containing the words of the French-American Quaker
missionary Stephen Grellet, which reads – “I shall pass through this world but
once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show, to any
human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not
pass this way again.”
In living a
fulfilling life, not deferring nor neglecting but actively seizing
opportunities to do good, helping innumerable lives along the way, Marjorie and
Ron lived up to their exacting life motto. Their combined efforts have impacted
and inspired uncountable others. We were privileged to know them.
Marjorie is survived by by three children, six grandsons and four great-grandchildren.
Gray, Geoffrey and Doug Munro, 2018. “Ron & Marjorie Crocombe and
Harry Maude: Partnerships, Ethnohistory and Publishing”, in Bérose - Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de
from the book of Marjorie Crocombe’s life”,
Cook Islands News,
Reeves Rachel, 2016, "Marjorie Crocombe honoured and
described as a beacon of light", Cook Islands News, 6 June.