Kiwi Keith: A Biography of Keith Holyoake

Barry Gustafson


‘Sir Keith Holyoake, New Zealand’s most successful post-war Prime Minister, has waited a long time for the biography he deserved or any comprehensive assessment for that matter. . . . This book will surprise everyone who used to use the sobriquet “Kiwi Keith” in irony, believing the pompously spoken Wodehouse character was not much like the rest of us.’ – John Roughan, NZ Herald


New Zealand’s leading political biographer and author of the bestselling biography of Robert Muldoon now writes a definitive life of another prime minister, Keith Holyoake.

One of our great farming politicians, Holyoake was Prime Minister for over eleven years chiefly in the 1960s, Governor General from 1977 to 1980 and an MP for over 40 years.

Though ‘Kiwi’ Keith was often derided as pompous and unprincipled, a master of consensus and compromise, Gustafson shows a man with astute understanding of people and political issues, skilled at defusing division and preserving order while encouraging gradual progress. He explores in depth Holyoake’s performance as Minister of Foreign Affairs, his opposition to nuclear testing and his very reluctant commitment to assist the Americans in Vietnam. He shows his support of economic diversification and the strengthening of New Zealand’s economy; of the liberalisation of the criminal law, of divorce laws, of licensing hours and of the establishment of an Ombudsman. He also covers Holyoake’s impressive skills as a party politician and his love of hard work and lively debate, his pleasure in working with his hands especially at his property at Kinloch.

In Kiwi Keith, Gustafson deftly sets Holyoake’s life in the context of a complex and changing society, revealing his ability to sense the spirit of the times, to exploit the luck that came his way and to stay in power for so long.




Barry Gustafson ONZM, professor emeritus of politics at The University of Auckland where he first taught in 1968, helped to establish a New Zealand Studies Centre at Peking University, Beijing; was a visiting researcher at Stanford University and the European Union in 1990; carried out research at various US and British Universities in 1994; and, in 1997, was Fulbright Visiting Professor at Georgetown University. He is the author of a number of books including histories of the New Zealand Labour and National Parties and highly acclaimed biographies of Prime Ministers Holyoake, Savage and Muldoon. The latter, His Way: A Biography of Robert Muldoon (AUP), won the ARANZ Ian Wards Prize.


December 2007, 240 x 154 mm, 420 pages, illustrations
Hardback, ISBN 9781869404000, $59.99