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UC remembers founding political scientist who wrote Pavlova Paradise

19 August 2021

The Hon Dr Austin Mitchell ONZM, a former academic member and friend of the University of Canterbury’s Political Science and International Relations department has died at the age of 86 in Grimsby, England, a city he served as a Member of Parliament for 38 years.


Above: Dr Austin Mitchell at the University of Canterbury as a visiting Canterbury Fellow in 2016 in the Keith Jackson postgraduate room (they were contemporaries in the 1960s at UC). While teaching political science at UC, he wrote his book about New Zealand social life and political economy, The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise.

Trained in political history at Nuffield College, Oxford, Mitchell travelled to New Zealand to take up his first academic post at the University of Otago in 1959. In 1963 he joined the University of Canterbury to help form the new Political Science department, which separated from the History programme that year.

His time at the University of Canterbury lecturing in politics from 1963 to 1967 had significant impact. His lectures are recalled by former students and colleagues as “lively and stimulating, full of intellectual debate and good humour”.

University of Canterbury political scientist Professor Bronwyn Hayward says: “Mitchell’s emphasis on the role of public intellectualism has remained an important element of political science and international relations at UC and the University more widely.”

While at the University of Canterbury, Mitchell wrote the drafts of what was to become his highly popular book about New Zealand social life and political economy The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise (1972). Its title soon became part of the New Zealand English lexicon.

In the 2001 Queen's Birthday Honours, Mitchell was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to New Zealand interests in the United Kingdom.

The University of Canterbury’s Head of Political Science and International Relations, Professor Alex Tan, extended the department’s sincere condolences to Dr Mitchell’s wife Linda McDougall and the family: “Dr Mitchell’s energy, public intellectualism, humour and critical thinking had a significant impact in the launching of political science here at the University of Canterbury and we have been thankful for his ongoing interest in our politics programme over many years”.

In 2016 Mitchell returned to the University of Canterbury as a Canterbury Fellow and taught a special course: ‘Britain and New Zealand – The Great Unravelling’ which examined the evolution of neoliberalism in contemporary British politics and New Zealand politics. Mitchell published these lectures and his critical rethinking of neoliberal politics in a book, Revenge of the Rich: The neoliberal revolution in Britain and New Zealand, with Canterbury University Press in 2017.

He spoke to The Press while he was visiting the University of Canterbury as a Canterbury Fellow in 2016 and was described as having been “an early version of a public intellectual in a culture that had seen few of them”.

Catherine Montgomery, publisher of his book with Canterbury University Press, remembers him and his wife fondly. “I was lucky to meet Austin and his wife Linda when they were at the University of Canterbury for his 2016 summer lecture series. Those lectures formed the nucleus of his book Revenge of the Rich, a characteristically outspoken opinion piece on the impact of neoliberalism on society in Britain and Aotearoa New Zealand. Working with Austin on the book for CUP was great fun and an education in itself, and he was a pleasure to deal with – always warm, witty and generous.”

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark wrote in the foreword of the book, “Austin Mitchell’s passion for reducing inequality shines through. … Mitchell’s writing provokes us to reflect on what our common future could be”.

Austin Mitchell giving a public lecture at the University of Canterbury in February 2016. Austin Mitchell giving a public lecture at the University of Canterbury in February 2016.

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