Aotearoa New Zealand continues to move towards greater official recognition of the unique status of Māori culture as the original culture of this land. Two recent examples of this trend relate to matters I’ve previously discussed here.
On Friday last week, the Treaty of Waitangi settlement relating to Taranaki Maunga was initialled by representatives of the iwi of Taranaki and of the Crown. If ratified by iwi members and then enacted through legislation, the settlement will recognise Taranaki Maunga and the surrounding peaks and national park as a legal person, Te Kāhui Tupua, whose interests will be represented by an entity made up of iwi and Crown representatives.
As lead iwi negotiator Jamie Tuuta and Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Andrew Little both noted, the settlement will see the name Egmont finally disappear from the map. Egmont will no longer be an official name for the maunga (mountain), which will be known solely as Taranaki Maunga, nor will it be the name of the national park, whose name will change to Te Papakura o Taranaki.
It was people in Taranaki who drove the effort to officially add the name Taranaki alongside Egmont [in 1986].
Those efforts generated enormous controversy. It seems that at different points in time all of us have worried about what changing our mountain’s name could mean for us, our heritage, our region and our country.
I discussed that controversy and the successful campaign to have Taranaki recognised as the name of the maunga in a recent journal article. Restoration of the name of the maunga is only part, though an important part, of the long struggle of the iwi of Taranaki to undo the harms caused by the Crown’s confiscation of the maunga.
At the moment, the official name of the maunga is still that recognised in 1986: ‘Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont‘. More than one person has told me that the name of the maunga has already been changed to Taranaki Maunga, perhaps because of news reporting in late 2019 that suggested the name change would happen the following year. Official place names can only be changed in two ways: through a decision of the New Zealand Geographic Board or the Minister for Land Information under the New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008, or by legislation (most commonly, legislation implementing a Treaty settlement). Neither of these two avenues have yet been used to change the official name of the maunga to Taranaki Maunga.
When the name of the maunga is finally changed by legislation, the name will break new ground by being completely in Māori: ‘Taranaki Maunga’, not ‘Mount Taranaki’. This will be another significant step forward for the recognition of te reo Māori and of Māori connection with place.
Another important recent development has been the decision to celebrate Matariki, the Māori new year, with a new national holiday. The second annual Matariki holiday will be coming up in a few months, and just last week Professor Rangi Matamua, a key figure in the modern revival of Matariki, was named New Zealander of the Year. Professor Matamua has done an enormous amount, through his research and his book Matariki: The Star of the Year, to better inform Aotearoa about Matariki and Māori astronomical knowledge.
The media inevitably likes to focus on particular individuals when telling stories about developments like the revival of Matariki, and Professor Matamua has been described in the media as ‘the man behind Matariki’. This, of course, is not Professor Matamua’s description of himself, and it take nothing away from his achievements to note that the growing public recognition of Matariki has been a collective achievement of many people, starting around the mid-1990s. I discussed some of this history here. It’s only right to celebrate some of the wāhine Māori behind Matariki as well, such as:
the artist Diane Prince, who was a key figure in starting the modern celebration of Matariki in Wellington in 1995
the broadcaster and film-maker Libby Hakaraia, who published Matariki: The Māori New Year in 2004
Māori Party MP Rāhui Kātene, whose Te Rā o Matariki/Matariki Day Bill in 2009 was an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to create a Matariki public holiday.
This is a very partial and somewhat Wellington-centric list. A revival of Matariki seems to have happened in Hawke’s Bay independently of that in Wellington, for example, and there will have been women and men throughout Aotearoa who contributed to the increasing public presence of Matariki. It’s worth remembering that any campaign, whether for restoration of the name of a maunga or recognition of an indigenous seasonal festival, is the work of many individuals.
New Zealand’s premier historian of war memorials, Jock Phillips, once called Whanganui the ‘war memorial capital of the world’. It’s a big claim, but Whanganui certainly does seem to have more than its share of memorials – although not all are directly connected to war.
Whanganui’s most well-known memorials are probably those at Pākaitore/Moutoa Gardens. Three of those memorials have connections to a remarkable wahine Māori, Pura Te Mānihera McGregor (Makarika), whose own memorial elsewhere in Whanganui is fascinating in its own right.
Pura Te Mānihera was born in 1855 at Karatia on the Whanganui River. She was the eldest daughter of Hōhi Te Aotūroa (Ngāti Ruakā and Ngāti Rangi) and Māui Te Mānihera (Ngā Poutama). Her father Te Mānihera was among the Māori who were killed fighting on the Crown side against supporters of the Pai Mārire movement in the 1864 battle of Moutoa. As such, his name appears (as ‘Manihera Maui’) on the Moutoa monument at Pākaitore, with its infamous inscription to the Māori who died fighting against ‘fanaticism and barbarism’.
While still in her teens, Pura herself became involved in the New Zealand Wars, accompanying her uncle Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp) as he led Māori troops pursuing Te Kooti on the East Coast in 1868-69. She reportedly climbed a tree to hoist the Union Jack while under fire and was recommended for a New Zealand War Medal, but this recommendation was denied because she was a woman. Te Keepa and the military campaigns he was involved in are commemorated by a memorial at Pākaitore, which I’ve written about elsewhere.
In 1879, Pura married Gregor McGregor, the son of Scottish settlers in the Whanganui district. From then on she was known as Pura McGregor (transliterated to Makarika in Māori), and in accordance with the sexist naming conventions of the time she commonly appears in the historical record as ‘Mrs Gregor McGregor’. Gregor subsequently became a station manager near Rānana on the Whanganui River, but Pura lived for most of her married life at the couple’s house in Whanganui township.
Pura was a woman of great mana and high standing among Māori and Pākehā alike. Her wartime activities led to her becoming the first Māori woman to be awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1919. Pura also made important contributions to the cultural life of Whanganui and Aotearoa New Zealand generally. She was involved in the Wanganui Beautifying Society, and worked with other Whanganui River Māori to obtain native plants for the area surrounding Rotokawau/Virginia Lake in Whanganui. Similarly, when Gregor was appointed site superintendent for the ‘model Māori pā‘ at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch in 1906-07, Pura helped to recruit Whanganui carvers and builders, and to find materials, for the project. One of her greatest contributions to Whanganui was her donation of her collection of taonga Māori to the city of Whanganui, helping to form the collection of what is now the Whanganui Regional Museum.
Pura’s interests in civic improvement and taonga Māori came together in 1917, when the Wanganui Chroniclereported:
A ‘tiki’ in the form of a Maori canoe, which took part in a fight at Kapiti, has been acquired by the [St John’s Hill Beautifying] [S]ociety and is being carved under the supervision of Mrs. Gregor McGregor, and is being erected on ‘Pura’ Point, overlooking the far end of Virginia Lake.
Wanganui Chronicle, 28 September 1917
However, when Pura died on 4 March 1920, this project was evidently uncompleted. In December of that year, the President of the St John’s Hill Beautifying Society feared it would not be possible to complete the carving of the waka, due to Pura’s death. A year and a half later, however, work on the tiki had resumed, and it was now being described as a memorial to Pura:
The canoe, from which the memorial is being prepared, is a very old one, but its timber is in a splendid state of preservation. It has been thoroughly overhauled, cleaned, and painted in a typical Maori manner, and will make an appropriate memorial.
Wanganui Chronicle, 23 May 1922
By January 1923, the waka had been installed at the far end of Virginia Lake/Rotokawau, on the former site of Toronui pā, as a memorial to Pura. It was described as ‘a very old and fine Maori canoe erected on its end, and painted in true Maori style, and is visible from all parts of the lake’. The memorial was surrounded by an iron fence, and there was a plaque at the base stating that the tiki had been erected to the memory of Pura McGregor.
The description of the memorial as a tiki may seem unusual, as that term is more commonly used today for an abstract human figure worn as a neck ornament. However, another meaning of ‘tiki’ (according to Williams’ Dictionary of the Māori Language) is ‘a post to mark a place which was tapu [under a spiritual restriction]’. The use of the word tiki to describe the memorial to Pura probably refers to the Māori practice of using upturned waka as grave markers for people of high rank. Waka whakamaumahara (memorial canoes) has been recorded by Pākehā observers since the 1830s. When rangatira died, their waka might be cut in half so that the prow could be carved and painted, and erected as a memorial. The rangatira might be buried at the site where the waka whakamaumahara is erected, but more likely their remains would lie elsewhere and the waka would function as a memorial.
The waka whakamaumara for Pura McGregor was a memorial only: she is buried, together with Gregor, in Heads Road Cemetery, Whanganui. Unlike European memorials of stone or metal, waka whakamaumhara were not made of durable materials, and were perhaps not intended to survive indefinitely. In the case of Pura’s memorial, it become rotten and was removed in 1988.
In recent years, the Virginia Lake Trust decided to replace the memorial and, with support from the McGregor whānau, commissioned a new steel memorial by local artist Cecilia Kumeroa. The new memorial was opened in September 2020. It preserves the form of the waka whakamaumahara in a more durable material, and repeats the painted patterns from the original memorial as a cut-out design. It’s a striking and modern memorial which very effectively links past and present to commemorate Pura’s achievements in both the Māori and Pākehā worlds.
There are two things about the original memorial, and its modern replacement, that I find particularly interesting. First, it’s a rare example of a memorial to a Māori woman (indeed, memorials to women of any ethnicity are notoriously rare not only in Aotearoa but around the world). Second, it’s an early example of a memorial in a public place that draws on Māori iconography and commemorative practices, rather than copying the commemorative forms of Europe. The move away from European commemorative traditions is becoming more common now, with increasing use of pou (commemorative poles) and innovative memorials like thosedesigned by Tūranga (Gisborne) artist Nick Tupara. By erecting the waka whakamaumahara to Pura Te Mānihera Makarika a century ago, Whanganui took a forward-looking step that the rest of Aotearoa is only just catching up with.
Miriam McGregor, ‘Pura McGregor’, in her Petticoat Pioneers: North Island Women of the Colonial Era, vol. 2, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1975, ch. 19.
Michelle Horwood and Che Wilson, Te Ara Tapu: Sacred Journeys: Whanganui Regional Museum Taonga Māori Collection, Auckland, Random House/Whanganui Regional Museum, 2008.
Stephen Deed, Unearthly Landscapes: New Zealand’s Early Cemeteries, Churchyards and Urupā, Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2015, ch 2.
Ewan Morris, ‘Māori Monument or Pākehā Propaganda? The Memorial to Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, Whanganui’, in Annabel Cooper, Lachy Paterson and Angela Wanhalla (eds), The Lives of Colonial Objects, Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2015, pp. 230-235.
Ewan Morris, ‘“Kia Mau ai te Ora, te Pono me te Aroha ki te Ao Katoa”: The Māori First World War Memorial at Whanganui’, Turnbull Library Record, vol. 46, 2014, pp. 62-79.
In a previous post, I wrote about the fierce debate that took place in the 1980s about the name of Taranaki Maunga (known at the time to most Pākehā as Mount Egmont), and about my struggle to turn my research about this debate into a published article. Now, courtesy of giving myself a push by presenting a paper at the New Zealand Historical Association (NZHA) conference last year, I’ve finally published my article on the debate. It’s been published in a special issue of the Public History Review journal on the theme of ‘Public History in Aotearoa New Zealand’, based on a selection of papers from the 2021 NZHA conference. The articles in this issue of the journal will be good reading for anyone with an interest in history and memory in Aotearoa.
My article (titled ‘”Egmont, Who Was He?’ The Debate Over Restoration of the Name of Taranaki Maunga”) looks at the background to this major place name debate, the themes in the debate, and the reasons for the intensity of the debate. It also draws some connections to the new Aotearoa New Zealand histories curriculum, which features themes relating to place names.
Currently, the official name of the maunga is still ‘Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont’, the compromise solution which emerged from the 1980s debate. However, the name is due to be finally changed to recognise the Māori name Taranaki alone, as part of the Taranaki Maunga Treaty of Waitangi Settlement, which is expected to be completed soon. I hope my article can provide some useful context when this change finally takes place.
Yesterday was Guy Fawkes Day, and it is almost becoming a tradition for New Zealand media to celebrate the occasion by running pieces on two topical issues: Should the sale of fireworks be banned? And should we be commemorating the resistance of the Taranaki Māori community of Parihaka (which was invaded by government forces on 5 November 1881) instead of the foiling of the 1605 plot by Guy Fawkes and other English Catholics to blow up the English Parliament and install a Catholic monarch? For the record, my answer to both questions is ‘yes’, but the focus of this post is a bit different.
As the historian David Cressy notes, after the Gunpowder Plot was discovered and the conspirators had been captured, tortured and executed, the English Parliament passed a law for an annual act of public thanksgiving on 5 November to ensure the nation’s deliverance from the plot was held in ‘perpetual remembrance’. Cressy calls this ‘one of the earliest examples of legislated memory’, which ‘provided a model for subsequent acts of commemoration’. The law mandating the day of commemoration was not repealed until 1859, and the imperative to remember was also captured in the popular rhyme:
Please to remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder Treason and Plot
We know no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Over time, Guy Fawkes Night became a popular festivity marked by socially licensed misrule, featuring bonfires, the burning of effigies of Fawkes and others, and, eventually, fireworks. In the late nineteenth century, authorities had some success in bringing the festivities under control by providing organised entertainment, and the focus changed again during the twentieth century with the commercial availability of fireworks.
As Guy Fawkes Night became a popular festival, it also came to focus less on the historical details of the Gunpowder Plot and more on current events and hate-figures of the times in which the festivities took place. David Cressy writes that:
Foreign and imperial affairs brought new figures into the Guy Fawkes pageant. Effigies of the 1870s included Pope Leo XIII, the Tsar of Russia, the Sultan of Turkey, the Amir of Afghanistan, Araby Pasha and the king of the Zulus. The Irish leader Parnell appeared on the bonfires in 1879…. Historical memory gave way to current affairs.
David Cressy, ‘Four Hundred Years of Festivities’, in Brenda Buchanan et al, Gunpowder Plots: A Celebration of 400 Years of Bonfire Night, London, Allen Lane, 2005
In New Zealand, too, Guy Fawkes effigies of the German Kaiser were burned during the First World War, as were effigies of Hitler during the Second World War. What may be surprising, however, is that in 1881 some Pākehā New Zealanders drew a connection between Guy Fawkes and the Parihaka leader Te Whiti-o-Rongomai.
Today, when people argue that we should commemorate Parihaka’s campaign of non-violent resistance rather than the Gunpowder Plot, the underlying assumption is that the two events could not be more different in their nature and their significance to Aotearoa New Zealand. The Taranaki Daily News, for example, editorialised in 2012:
Fawkes was a religious zealot and would-be terrorist who almost succeeded in killing and maiming thousands of people. On the other hand, Parihaka played host to the dramatic conclusion of a now-celebrated campaign of peaceful activism against land theft in a manner that propelled other activists in other countries to iconic status worldwide.
Taranaki Daily News, 26 June 2012, p 8
At the time of the invasion of Parihaka, however, many Pākehā had convinced themselves (or been convinced by what we might now call disinformation) that Te Whiti, Tohu and their followers were themselves dangerous plotters who posed a genuine threat to public order and safety. Astonishing though it may seem today, it was not outlandish in 1881 for Pākehā to speak of Guy Fawkes and Te Whiti in the same breath. The fact that the Gunpowder Plot was a Catholic conspiracy may be relevant here. This was a time when sectarianism was still a powerful force in New Zealand society, and many Protestants viewed Catholics as superstitious, credulous and in thrall to their religious leaders – the same characteristics Pākehā attributed to the people of Parihaka. But above all, Parihaka had been the subject of so much rumour- and fear-mongering that it could seem plausible to depict Te Whiti as New Zealand’s Guy Fawkes.
In the leadup to the invasion, for example, rumours spread that the people of Parihaka had positioned dynamite in the village so that ‘the Divine interpretation promised by Te Whiti on the 5th November will consist in blowing up the New Zealand forces as Guy Fawkes proposed to do to the House of Commons on that day two or three centuries ago’. Even the newspapers at the time conceded that this rumour was unfounded and absurd. The Poverty Bay Herald, however, published two poems which mocked Te Whiti, linked him to Guy Fawkes, and celebrated the suppression of the Parihaka resistance:
Remember, remember, this Fifth of November,
Native Policy, Armed Force, and the lot.
There is reason to doubt, that they’ll suffer a rout,
If they give way to Te Whiti one jot;
Then let it appear,
To that savage, most clear,
That his day dreams have come to an end —
He is doomed to the Pakeha to bend,
And so say all of us.
‘Monteagle’, ‘Ye Modern Guy Fawkes Plot’, Poverty Bay Herald, 5 November 1881, p 2
Ah! Long shall we New Zealanders a well-known date remember —
The which Guy Fawkes commemorates, the fifth day of November
When Bryce, by British bayonets backed, read out the Act called Riot,
And bold Te Whiti — why he “caved in,” like a lamb so quiet.
‘J.J.P.’, ‘The N.Z. Guy Fawkes’, Poverty Bay Herald, 7 November 1881, p 2
Of course, Te Whiti had not ‘caved in’ but rather been arrested, and would be held in detention by the government, not being allowed to return to Parihaka until 1883. The invasion was a source of huge and ongoing trauma for the people of Parihaka and for Taranaki Māori more widely. For many Pākehā at the time, however, it was cause for celebration. The New Zealand Herald reported:
The Fifth of November, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, has been celebrated this year with unusual rigour, principally it is believed, as enabling the youngsters to hit two birds with the one stone — namely, commemorating the crime of Guy Fawkes, and the capture of Te Whiti. Crackers and squibs were being exploded in the streets to a late hour on Saturday, while bonfires were blazing in every suburb, and on the top of nearly all the hills surrounding Auckland.
New Zealand Herald, 8 November 1881, p 4
Pākehā ‘youngsters’ of today may still enjoy fireworks, but we can hope that the new New Zealand histories curriculum will mean they will have a much better understanding of the events at Parihaka than their counterparts of 140 years ago.
Silence about the wars of invasion that took place within Aotearoa and Australia.
To be clear, I have no problem with people mourning those who died in wars overseas or who returned from those wars physically and psychologically wounded. But I am tired of the cliches that, every year, get pressed back into service on this day.
Meanwhile, with the military-themed street names of Waiwhetū and Waterloo having been in the news over the weekend, it seems timely to refer back to my posts about these names (here and here).
Walking through Wellington the other week, I saw a message chalked on the footpath outside the offices of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. It had clearly been written by one of the protesters (commonly, though not entirely accurately, described as ‘anti-vaccination mandate’) currently occupying the Parliament grounds and surrounding area. The message said ‘Culture of apartheid’, with a jagged line separating two faces, only one of which was smiling.
There’s been some commentary about the misuse of historical parallels by the protesters. New Zealand’s Jewish community has condemned the protesters for comparing the situation of unvaccinated New Zealanders to the treatment of Jews by the Nazis, even as anti-Semitic poison spews out of the protest camp. The RSA also felt compelled to repudiate slogans likening the protest to New Zealand involvement in the Gallipoli campaign during the First World War. (Because we all remember the stirring moment when the Anzacs, under heavy Turkish fire, ummm… refused to take a safe and effective vaccine. Actually, given the strong opposition to the protest from Wellington mana whenua and most Wellingtonians, perhaps the comparison with the Anzacs’ attempt to forcibly occupy the Gallipoli peninsula is apt after all.)
Likening vaccination mandates to the apartheid policy of the former white minority regime of South Africa is another spurious historical comparison made by the protesters. Protest signs say things like ‘End apartheid we go home’, while one I saw the other day wins the prize for combining Nazi and apartheid references: ‘Welcome to Fuhrer Ardern’s apartheid New Zealand’.
The rhetoric of the current protest is dominated by a vague but highly individualistic concept of ‘freedom’. Jehan Casinader recently wrote a good response to the protesters’ outlandish claims that New Zealanders’ freedoms are under threat from a dictatorial government. The individualist emphasis on ‘freedom’ unites the ‘alt right’ and the New Age ‘wellness’ movement, with protest rhetoric drawing freely from both of these ideological strands. However, it leaves the protesters with an impoverished language for talking about fairness or equality: which is where the idea of ‘apartheid’ (with the implication that the unvaccinated are suffering unfair segregation and discrimination) comes in.
South African apartheid has now passed into history, and with its passing the popular understanding in New Zealand of the nature of apartheid has been sanitised. If you ask New Zealanders today to define apartheid, many would probably say something like ‘treating people differently on the basis of race’ (or ‘based on the colour of their skin’). It’s this watered down understanding of apartheid that has allowed the political right to position itself as the leaders of the new anti-apartheid struggle.
For most of the time that South African apartheid was actually in existence, the right in New Zealand was generally opposed to the idea that New Zealand should put pressure on the South African government to end white minority rule. Anti-apartheid activism in New Zealand was largely confined to leftists and liberals. With the fall of the apartheid regime and the widespread acceptance that anti-apartheid movement had held the moral high ground, however, the right’s position shifted.
To be sure, some fringe right wingers in New Zealand display a barely concealed nostalgia for apartheid by perpetuating a myth of post-apartheid genocide against white South Africans which, as Ross Webb has described, has been promoted within New Zealand’s white South African community. But far more common is a strategy of claiming the anti-apartheid mantle for the right. Act Party leader David Seymour recently referred to people coming to New Zealand ‘from South Africa to escape apartheid’ when arguing that New Zealand history is marked by a quest for equal opportunity and freedom. (In fact, most South African New Zealanders arrived well after the end of apartheid.) And last year Seymour compared legislation making it easier to establish Māori wards in local government to the laws of apartheid South Africa.
Whether it’s Māori wards, the current government’s Three Waters proposals, the proposed establishment of a Māori Health Authority, or a range of other issues, any suggestion of specific arrangements to recognise Māori rights and interests is inevitably met with claims of apartheid from opponents, most of whom are on the political right. Sometimes it’s not even necessary to mention the ‘a’ word – it’s usually enough to attack ‘separatism‘ (as if colonisation was not itself a separatist project from the start). The current claims that vaccine mandates are a form of apartheid seem to draw on this existing right-wing rhetoric.
Such claims rely on forgetting the realities of life in apartheid South Africa. When apartheid is described as ‘treating people differently on the basis of race’, a lot is hidden in those words ‘treating people differently’. The official ideology of apartheid was one of separate development for different ‘races’, but separation was simply a tool for white racial domination. Under apartheid, millions of non-white South Africans were forcibly relocated; freedom of movement for black South Africans was severely curtailed; public services such as health and education were not simply segregated but grossly unequal, with whites accessing much better services than others; and non-white citizens had no voting or other political rights, while many black people had their citizenship revoked under the pretence that they were citizens of independent black ‘homelands’. Opponents of the apartheid regime were killed by police and security services, imprisoned and tortured.
Above all, apartheid was a system of white supremacy underpinned by economic exploitation. Apartheid cemented white ownership of productive land that had been taken from the black majority, and tight control of the lives of black people kept the wages of black workers low. Exploitation of the land and labour of black South Africans created wealth that the elite could share to some extent with the white working class, helping to maintain their support for the ruling National Party. Common interests in upholding white supremacy also helped to overcome pre-existing divisions between Afrikaners and British South Africans.
It should be clear from this brief description that vaccine mandates in New Zealand are not even remotely like apartheid (not to mention that this is a temporary policy created in response to a deadly pandemic). There is no resemblance, for example, between a vaccine passport and the infamous pass laws of apartheid South Africa – not only is the intent and enforcement of vaccine passports vastly different from the apartheid pass laws, but those laws were part of a much larger system of economic, political and social control that has no parallel in modern New Zealand.
If apartheid is understood as system of economic exploitation and racial control, it also becomes clear that policies designed to provide Māori with a political voice, to recognise their rights and interests, and to address injustices and overcome inequalities they experience, have nothing to do with apartheid. Here is a very incomplete list of things that are not apartheid:
The establishment of separate health, education or social providers to deliver more effective and culturally appropriate services to those Māori who choose to use them.
Provision for Māori representation on elected bodies to ensure that there is an independent Māori voice to advocate for Māori views and interests.
Māori choosing to form their own structures to manage their own affairs and advocate for their distinct rights and interests.
Recognition and protection of the unique status of Māori culture as the indigenous culture of Aotearoa, one which exists nowhere else in the world.
Māori exercising control over access to their own lands and communities.
Redress to Māori for historical injustices, and targeted funding or programmes to address unequal social, economic and health outcomes for Māori.
The irony of the right’s apartheid rhetoric is that, to the extent that anything resembling apartheid’s system of racial control has been experienced in New Zealand, it has been experienced by Māori. The connections between the histories of colonisation and racism in South Africa and Aotearoa were pointed out by Māori activists during and after the protests against the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand. Māori have, at different times in Aotearoa’s history, experienced forced removal from their lands, armed suppression of political protest, imprisonment without trial, discrimination and substandard government services. This history, too, is forgotten in glib comparisons of present-day policies to apartheid. It’s curious, to say the least, to see Pākehā – including some individuals with significant wealth and privilege – now positioning themselves as the victims of apartheid policies.
Last Monday, 30 August 2021, was the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ernest Rutherford, the New Zealand-born atomic physicist. Rutherford was born at Spring Hill, near Nelson. Although Rutherford’s family left Spring Hill when he was only five, and subsequently lived in a number of other locations, his birthplace is home to a large memorial to him.
Aotearoa New Zealand has relatively few monuments to scholars and scientists, compared to those commemorating soldiers, statesmen and sporting heroes. The Rutherford birthplace memorial is also unusual in its size, its design and the fact that it includes an open-air display of information about Rutherford’s life.
Before the creation of the present memorial, the site was marked with a plaque mounted on a concrete slab, erected in the 1950s. The Waimea District Council purchased the site in the 1970s, and public meetings were held to decide what to do with the site. One meeting in 1981 voted in favour of a symbol of an atom on a tower, but this idea was subsequently rejected because it was feared the site might become the target of anti-nuclear protests.
(Rutherford had nothing to do with the development of the atomic bomb, though some of his students, and other New Zealanders, did contribute to work on the bomb. We can’t know what Rutherford would have thought of nuclear weapons if he’d lived to see their development, but we do know that in the 1930s he spoke at Cambridge University in favour of a ban on the use of aeroplanes in warfare.)
In the late 1980s, Rutherford’s biographer and convenor of the Rutherford Birthplace Project, John Campbell, proposed a memorial based on a display about Rutherford’s life. A number of organisations threw their weight behind the proposal, and the memorial was completed at a cost of some $400,000, opening in December 1991.
The memorial consists of a series of semi-circular terraces descending from a small mound in the middle. Display boards telling the story of Rutherford’s life are located in the terraces (there’s a list here of the topics covered). On the mound in the centre of the memorial is a statue of Rutherford as a child. He’s depicted as a young boy with an unusually large head, carrying an arithmetic primer.
My guess is that the shape of the memorial is intended to be reminiscent of Rutherford’s model of the atom, with the statue located in the atom’s nucleus. But the structure also suggests Rutherford’s ever-widening fame and engagement with the world. As the introductory panel explains, the site shows Rutherford’s progression from ‘humble beginnings in rural New Zealand’ to ‘world eminence’ as a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, ‘New Zealand’s most famous son’. The countries where Rutherford won his fame are represented by trees planted in the corners of the site: tōtara for New Zealand, maple for Canada and oak for England. According to the introductory panel, the memorial is meant not only to pay tribute to Rurtherford but also ‘to show New Zealand children that they too can aspire to great heights.’
By the end of his career, Rutherford had been made a British peer, Lord Rutherford of Nelson, and his coat of arms is reproduced on the wall of the memorial.
The Latin motto means ‘To seek the first principles of things’, and the shield is quartered by the growth and decay curves of radioactivity. The supporter on the left is Hermes Trismegistus, the legendary patron of alchemy, but I was most interested in the supporter on the right.
This ‘Māori warrior’ seems to function simply as a generic representation of New Zealandness, like the kiwi on the crest of the coat of arms. But it made me wonder what, if any, connection Rutherford and his career had with Māori.
Rutherford’s parents had both been born overseas (his father James in Scotland and his mother Martha in England), but came to New Zealand as children. Martha’s family settled in New Plymouth, but were evacuated to Nelson in 1860 as ‘Taranaki refugees‘, Pākehā who fled during the First Taranaki War. Martha was a school teacher, while James began his career as a mechanic, but moved into flax-milling. James’s flax-milling business took the family first to Havelock in the Marlborough Sounds, and then in 1888 to Pungarehu in Taranaki.
By the time Rutherford’s family moved to Taranaki, Rutherford was boarding at Nelson College, but he spent school and then university holidays at Pungarehu, and helped lay out the levels for the mill ponds, which were used for soaking flax. Rutherford was digging potatoes at Pungarehu when he received news in 1895 that he had won a scholarship to study at Cambridge University in Britain, and reportedly responded by saying ‘That’s the last potato I will ever dig.’
The Rutherford’s home and mill at Pungarehu was located on Lower Parihaka Road, and Pungarehu is close to the Māori settlement of Parihaka. The resistance of the Parihaka community to the imposition of land confiscation had led to its invasion by government forces in 1881, only a few years before the Rutherfords moved to Taranaki. Some twenty years of conflict in the province had left Taranaki Māori stripped of the land and autonomy they had fought hard to maintain.
Māori had dominated the flax (harakeke) trade in the early colonial period, stripping flax by hand for use in rope-making. But the invention of the mechanical flax-stripper in the 1860s, together with the taking of Māori land and the accompanying loss of their economic base, left Māori in the role of labourers and providers of raw material for Pākehā mill owners. Mills were generally small, and located near flax swamps.
It seems reasonably likely that Rutherford would have come across Māori in and around the flax mills his father operated. James Rutherford did well from his flax-milling business, going on to open another two Taranaki mills at Ōpunake and Warea. The late Ian Matheson, a historian of the New Zealand flax industry and former Palmerston North City Archivist, commented in an article on flax in New Zealand Geographic:
Lord Rutherford’s father was a flaxmiller in Nelson and Taranaki during the 1880s and 1890s. Profits from his business helped give young Ernest a start in life. Just think, the humble flax plant indirectly contributed to the splitting of the atom!
Quoted in Gerard Hindmarsh, ‘Flax: The Enduring Fibre’, New Zealand Geographic, no. 42, 1999, p. 49.
It may be drawing a long bow to see a connection between James Rutherford’s flax mills and the splitting of the atom. But it is helpful to understand the colonial society from which Rutherford emerged, and the way in which, within that society, growing Pākehā prosperity came at the expense of marginalisation of Māori. Such an understanding is a useful counter-balance to celebratory narratives of the lone genius emerging from humble origins to take on the world.
Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish writer Walter Scott, and I mark the occasion by publishing the second part of this post, based on a lecture I gave in 2017.
Why did British settlers and their descendants give places in Australia and New Zealand names associated with Walter Scott? I’ve already suggested some reasons: Scott’s worldwide fame, his status as a symbol of British culture, and the desire of immigrants for reminders of home. It’s notable that many, though not all, of those giving Scott-related names to places were Scottish. I think there’s another reason, however: for at least some colonists, Scott’s stories provided a template through which to imagine the experience of settlement in romantic but ultimately reassuring terms.
In his book Writing the Colonial Adventure, Australian academic Robert Dixon describes how the Waverley novels allow the hero to pursue dreams of adventure, but ultimately end with the reassertion of social stability rooted in possession of property. White settlers in New Zealand and Australia could experience directly or, if they lived further from the frontier, vicariously through newspaper accounts, the dangers of conflict with indigenous peoples, raids by bushrangers, and natural disasters such as bushfires, floods or earthquakes. If they were of a romantic bent, they could imagine themselves as embarked on their own heroic adventure, while always aware that the ultimate aim of colonisation was the pacification of the wild country, the subjugation of its indigenous inhabitants, and the creation of secure property rights for settlers under a British-derived legal system.
Dixon’s discussion of the Waverley novels is a prelude to his consideration of the writing of Thomas Browne or, to give him his nom de plume, Rolf Boldrewood. Browne, a prolific Australian novelist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose most famous book is the bushranging tale Robbery Under Arms, was openly influenced by Scott and took the name Boldrewood from Scott’s Marmion.
Before he became a writer, Browne ran a succession of cattle and sheep stations, starting in 1844 with a station in the southwest of what is now the state of Victoria. He called the property Squattlesea Mere, a name that, as a self-described ‘devout worshipper of Walter Scott’, he borrowed from Scott’s novel Woodstock. He later recalled Squattlesea Mere in terms that self-consciously drew on the tropes of adventure stories:
There were wild beasts (kangaroos and dingoes), Indians (blacks, whose fires in ‘The Rocks’ we could see), a pathless waste, and absolute freedom and independence. These last were the most precious possessions of all. … I felt as if this splendid Robinson Crusoe kind of life was too good to be true. Who was I that I should have had this grand inheritance of happiness immeasurable made over to me?
But the land had not, in fact, been ‘made over’ to Browne, but rather taken from its Aboriginal inhabitants, and he goes on in his memoir to spend several chapters recounting what he calls the ‘Eumerella War’ with local Aboriginal people. The settlers won the war and, as Browne puts it: ‘Our border ruffians being settled for good and all, we pioneers were enabled to devote ourselves to our legitimate business – the breeding and fattening of cattle.’
Another settler who gave his property a name with Walter Scott associations was Robert Christison of Lammermoor station in Queensland. Born at Foulden, Berwickshire, son of a Church of Scotland minister, Christison emigrated to Australia with his brother in 1852, at the age of only 15. Christison’s life story was told by his daughter Mary Bennett in the book Christison of Lammermoor, published in 1927. Bennett recounts the following story from Christison’s childhood:
One day, long remembered, Bob was sent with a message to a neighbouring minister. The kindhearted man asked him if he had read Ivanhoe, and lent him the book. Bob devoured it almost at a reading, while day and its concerns faded unheeded, and new worlds opened to his vision. He was another knight without inheritance, and the earth a Holy Land for service and adventure.
This is the only mention of Scott’s writing in Christison of Lammermoor. But Bennett emphasises the importance of this incident by calling it ‘long remembered’ and by placing it just before Christison’s departure for Australia is recounted. Christison, we are given to believe, was inspired by his reading of Scott to seek a life of adventure in a new country.
When Christison reaches the land that is to become Lammermoor station, the book provides an ecstatic description of his first view of ‘the high land of trees and watercourses’:
All at once he seemed to see the Lammermoor Hills standing above the Merse, as the table-land stood above the rolling downs. He had thought of many romantic names for the homestead that he would build. Now he set them all aside for Lammermoor.
There’s no mention here of Scott’s Bride of Lammermoor, only of Christison’s childhood memories of the Lammermoor Hills, but a man who read Scott as a child and had been thinking of ‘romantic names’ for his property can hardly have been unaware of the name’s literary associations. It’s interesting that, as with Thomas Browne (who refers to christening his property Squattlesea Mere ‘in my mind instantly’ because the name was ‘so exceedingly appropriate’), Christison’s naming of the station is depicted as a spur-of-the-moment decision, and yet one that is so right that it is almost predestined.
Christison’s station was located on the land of Yirandali Aboriginal people (also known as the Dalleburra). There’s been some historical debate about Christison’s relationship with the Yirandali. Unlike other owners of sheep and cattle stations in Queensland, Christison encouraged the Yirandali to continue living on their ancestral land, and it was only after he sold Lammermoor in 1910 that many of the Aboriginal people were moved off to government reserves far from their home. Christison’s daughter Mary Bennett later became a prominent advocate for Aboriginal rights, and her biography of her father is not only a work of filial piety but also a polemic about mistreatment of Aboriginal people, using her father as a model for how things should have been. Yet Christison’s treatment of the Yirandali was not always as benign as Bennett makes out, and he profited from the use of their labour on the station at minimal cost.
Christison did make the effort to learn some of the language and, importantly, the place names of the Yirandali. A map in Bennett’s book shows some of the wealth of indigenous names that continued to blanket the landscape, even as Christison added new ones – Lammermoor, Merse, Foulden – from the landscape of his childhood. In her book, Bennett has Christison recall, before he leaves Lammermoor for the last time, ‘the aboriginal names of the noble chain of waterholes that form the head of Tower Hill Creek’: ‘Kooroorinya, like the roar of its waters in flood’; ‘Pilmunny, … a favourite cattle camp, where once the Dalleburra had used to hold their bora ceremonies’; and so on.
Writing about the disastrous expedition of the explorers Burke and Wills in the 1860s, the historian David Denholm has commented that ‘We shall have to blame William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott and other Romantics for giving Colonial Australians the means to shape their dreams with such splendid foolishness.’ In a sense, place names associated with Walter Scott bear witness to the dreams (whether foolish or otherwise) that settler Australians and New Zealanders brought with them or inherited from Britain, dreams of adventure but also of property and stability.
Yet these dreams were shadowed by anxieties, even nightmares: by fears of degeneration of the British ‘racial stock’ in the colonies, of threats from without from Chinese or other non-white peoples and from within from class conflict. And underlying all, though rarely spoken of, an anxiety about their right to possess land that had so recently been taken from Aboriginal and Māori peoples. Perhaps names such as Abbotsford, Waverley, Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, Ravenswood, Deloraine, Lochinvar, Lammermoor – names redolent of leather-bound volumes, centuries-old tradition and middle-class respectability – provided a reassuring reminder that they were part of a great and powerful empire; an empire that ruled not only the waves, but also the Waverleys.
Robert Dixon, Writing the Colonial Adventure: Race, Gender and Nation in Anglo-Australian Popular Fiction, 1875-1914 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995)
Stuart Kelly, Scott-land: The Man Who Invented a Nation (Edinburgh, Polygon, 2010)
Joyce Miles, ‘Oh Young Lochinvar is Come Out of the West…’, Placenames Australia, September 2008, pp. 1, 3
Malcolm Prentis, The Scots in Australia (Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2008)
A.W. Reed, The Story of New Zealand Place Names (Wellington, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1952)
Ann Rigney, The Afterlives of Walter Scott: Memory on the Move (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012)
Benjamin Wilkie, ‘Space, Commemoration, and Iconography: Scottish Monuments and Memorials in Australia’, in Fred Cahir, Anne Beggs Sunter and Alison Inglis (eds), Scots under the Southern Cross (Ballarat, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2015), pp. 157-165
15 August 2021 will be the 250th anniversary of the birth of the birth of the Scottish poet and novelist, Walter Scott. The anniversary is being marked by a programme of commemorations in Scotland, and by a one-day symposium on ‘Walter Scott in the Settler Colonies’ in Wellington. This is the first part of a blog post adapted from a lecture I gave to the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club while I was living in Edinburgh in 2017.
In recent years, authorities in both Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia have been asked to reconsider place names that commemorate controversial figures from colonial history. But what are we to make of places in these two countries named, not for military leaders, governors or monarchs, but for the literary works of one of the Anglophone world’s most popular writers of the nineteenth century, Walter Scott?
Scott’s fictional tales of adventure, history and heroism – many, though not all, set in Scotland – were well known across the English-speaking world. From Canada and the United States, to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, his admirers chose to honour him by bestowing on houses, streets and towns names taken from Scott’s life and, more particularly, his work.
What’s unusual about this global trend is that most of these places are named, not for Scott himself, but for the titles and characters of his novels and poems. Shakespeare may be the only other writer in English whose characters were considered so well known that their names could be given to places. There’s surely something a bit strange about naming a place for someone who never existed outside the pages of a book.
The spread of Scott-related names around the English-speaking world is a symptom of his international fame. As Ann Rigney writes in her book The Afterlives of Walter Scott, ‘Scott provided colonial exiles with a memory of Britain and its imagined landscapes, along with a memory of the pleasures they had experienced when first encountering his romances and poems.’ Scott’s writing could be a comforting reminder of home, while also providing reassurance that the emigrants had brought with them a great literary tradition.
In Australia and New Zealand, Scott was seen as an important figure in the colonies’ cultural inheritance from Britain. Yet the very fact that he was considered a hero of British culture may, to some extent, have worked against his adoption as a cultural icon by colonial Scots. Scott was eclipsed by the poet Robert Burns where public commemoration in New Zealand and Australia of Scottish literary figures is concerned.
There were Burns clubs in both countries but seemingly no societies perpetuating the memory of Walter Scott. Eight statues of Burns were erected in Australia between 1883 and 1935, while there are another four Burns statues in New Zealand. There is only one Australasian statue of Scott, erected as late as 1962 in the Victorian town of Ballarat.
Erecting statues and forming clubs is a community activity, requiring cooperation and consensus, and this may explain why it was Burns rather than Scott who was commemorated in these ways. Perhaps Burns had greater appeal than Scott as a communal rallying point for expatriate Scots because he was seen as embodying a distinctively Scottish tradition, in contrast to Scott’s incorporation into a wider British heritage. Burns may also have more easily transcended differences of class and political ideology, with conservatives, liberals and radicals alike finding elements they could approve of in his poems.
When it came to commemoration through place names, however, Scott reigned supreme. I suggest this is because it was largely individuals, not communities, who were responsible for naming. In the early days of European settlement in Australia and New Zealand, many places were named by individual explorers, surveyors and settlers. A number of the names relating to Walter Scott started as the names of houses or properties, and only later became the names of towns or suburbs that grew up around these properties.
Bestowing familiar names from Britain on colonial landscapes was a way of domesticating these places, making them feel more like home despite the strangeness of flora, fauna, climate and terrain. It was also a way in which settlers claimed possession of the land, asserting their ownership against that of the original Māori and Aboriginal owners. The land was already extensively covered with indigenous names, some of which were retained or modified by the new settlers, while others were replaced. Many of the names the settlers gave to Australasian places came from Scotland: 17% of non-Aboriginal place names in Australia are of Scottish origin, according to the historian Malcolm Prentis.
There are few places in either Australia or New Zealand named after Scott himself. A number of Masonic lodges were named for him, such as the Sir Walter Scott Lodge of Light in the New Zealand goldmining town of Thames. Curiously, too, there were gold mines named for Scott in both New Zealand and Australia. There’s a Sir Walter Scott Reef Mine in northern New South Wales, while in New Zealand the Sir Walter Scott mine at Karangahake was located south of Thames. At Karangahake there were also several gold mining claims named after Scott novels, apparently inspired by a set of the novels that were read by the men in the mining camp.
If there are relatively few places named for Scott himself, how about places named for his home in Scotland, Abbotsford? Abbotsford is a name that is closely associated with Scott, but we should be cautious about assuming that Abbotsfords around the world were all named to commemorate him.
Abbotsford is the name of a suburb of the New Zealand city of Dunedin, whose main claim to fame is the dramatic landslip that occurred there in 1979. This Abbotsford was not, however, named for Scott’s home, but for an early surveyor and settler in the area, Edward Immyns Abbot.
Another Abbotsford was established in the province of Hawke’s Bay in the 1860s. This town, too, was named for a man called Abbott – in this case, Frederick Abbott, who established a sheep station there near a ford over the Waipawa River. In the 1870s the town’s name was changed to match that of the river. The townsfolk were clearly aware of the name Abbotsford’s connection with Scott, however. Visitors to Waipawa can find, near the town’s centre, two streets named for Scott novels, Waverley and Kenilworth, intersecting in the shape of a St Andrew’s cross.
While there are no towns or suburbs in New Zealand named after Scott’s Abbotsford, there are some in Australia.
Although European settlement of Australia was at an early stage during Scott’s lifetime, it was far enough advanced that Scott knew people who emigrated to or spent time in the colony of New South Wales. One was a young man named George Harper who worked briefly for Scott as a gardener before emigrating to Sydney, which he reached in 1821.
Scott provided Harper with an introduction to the New South Wales Governor. In gratitude for Scott’s help, Harper named the property he was granted to the southwest of Sydney, Abbotsford, and wrote to Scott to tell him so. But Harper’s expression of thanks didn’t end there. In 1827 he returned to Britain for a visit, bringing with him a collection of ‘natural curiosities’, including two live emus which he gifted to Scott. I’ve written elsewhere about Scott’s experience with what he charmingly called the ‘Emusses’ – let’s just say Scott was not a grateful recipient of Harper’s gift.
Returning to Australia in 1829, Harper took up residence at his own Abbotsford, where he proposed to lay out a township, but this plan was never realised. However, communities called Abbotsford were to be found elsewhere in Australia.
The Melbourne suburb of Abbotsford gets its name from an early estate in the area, which was apparently named after Scott’s home. There’s also an Abbotsford in the inner west of Sydney. It’s named for Abbotsford House, built in 1878 by a local Scottish-born doctor and politician, who called his house after Scott’s.
It was in Sydney’s Abbotsford that one of Australia’s best-known writers, Henry Lawson, died in 1922. Lawson, who was frequently impoverished and who flirted with socialism and republicanism, had little in common with the comfortably-off and conservative Scott. But Lawson was linked with Scott in death through place names. For not only did Lawson die in Abbotsford; he was also buried in Waverley Cemetery. The suburb in which the cemetery is located got its name from Waverley House, built in 1827 for Barnett Levey, a merchant, founder of Australia’s first permanent theatre, and the first non-convict Jewish settler in Australia.
Waverley was the best-known and the most widely-used name associated with Scott. Scott wrote that he called the hero of his first novel Waverley because it was an ‘uncontaminated name’, with no associations other than those that readers ‘shall hereafter be pleased to affix to it’. Despite the cautionary tale of New Zealand’s Abbotsfords, it seems safe to assume that places called Waverley were, more likely than not, named for Scott’s novel.
In Australia, as well as Sydney’s Waverley, Melbourne has the neighbouring suburbs of Glen Waverley and Mount Waverley, and there is a Waverley in Launceston, Tasmania. There are a number of other Waverleys in Australia, from homesteads to streams and hills.
In New Zealand, there are suburbs called Waverley in Dunedin and Invercargill. There’s also a town in Taranaki called Waverley, although it was originally known by a Māori name, Wairoa. It was established as a military settlement in 1866, during the wars in Taranaki between Māori and colonial troops. In 1876, after the wars were over, the town’s name was changed to Waverley, probably inspired by Scott’s novels. The name was ostensibly changed to avoid confusion with other towns called Wairoa. However, I wonder whether the townsfolk may also have been seeking to assert the town’s British identity following the insecurity of the wars. Taranaki is also home to another town whose name has literary associations, Stratford, established around the same time that Wairoa’s name was changed to Waverley.
Perhaps surprisingly, given its strong Scottish heritage, New Zealand doesn’t appear to have any other towns or suburbs with names clearly linked to Scott, but there are streets with names such as Waverley and Ivanhoe. Australia has a wider range of Scott-related names, including suburbs or towns named Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, Ravenswood (after a character from Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor) and more.
But why did colonists in Aotearoa and Australia name places for Scott’s writing? I’ll consider that question in the second part of this post.
A key challenge for any national history curriculum is striking the right balance between prescription and flexibility, and between national and local contexts. The introduction of a national histories curriculum represents an overdue recognition that local histories need to be placed in a larger context. In addition, while students should be encouraged to explore and interpret histories for themselves, they will struggle to do so if the curriculum does not provide them with some basic intellectual and factual contexts within which to understand these histories. I therefore support the overall approach of the curriculum, in seeking both to equip students with the skills of historical inquiry and to ensure that they understand some key concepts and contexts.
The structure of the draft New Zealand Curriculum content is based on an ‘Understand, Know, Do’ model.
Understand: big ideas
I agree with the Expert Advisory Panel that an additional ‘big idea’ should be included in the curriculum to recognise that Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories are connected with histories beyond these islands. It is impossible to understand events in Aotearoa New Zealand without understanding how people, ideas and technologies have moved between Aotearoa and the wider world. Adding this idea to the curriculum also helps to address concerns that focusing attention on Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories could be parochial and nationalistic.
I am unconvinced by the big idea ‘The course of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history has been shaped by the exercise and effects of power’. As currently described, this idea is so generic as to be almost meaningless, and would be true of any society. I suggest that it be either deleted and replaced by the new idea about New Zealand and the world, or given greater focus and more specific reference to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Know: topics and themes
The draft curriculum content is meant to provide an overarching structure and can never cover all historical topics. There is also a limit to how much can realistically be covered when history is just one part of a much bigger curriculum. However, I agree with the Expert Advisory Panel that many key aspects of Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories are largely missing due to the compression of the histories curriculum into a short and high-level document.
While historians and others would no doubt argue about the seven topics included in the Cabinet paper and announcement of the national histories curriculum in 2019, these provided a good starting point for discussion. They have been widely picked up in the media, because they are easy to understand and cover a range of issues within Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories. However, these topics are only partially apparent in the draft curriculum.
Instead, the draft curriculum has eight themes that appear under the three national contexts in ‘Know’. Most of these themes are useful for understanding New Zealand history. However, I am concerned that the ‘international conflicts’ theme gives undue attention to New Zealand’s participation in overseas wars. I would prefer to see this topic treated as one small part of a focus on New Zealand’s relationships with the wider world. The last two themes (the state and the people, and the state and the Pacific) also give too much attention to the state, at the expense of relationships within communities and between people(s).
I endorse the comments of the Expert Advisory Panel about major topics that are missing or lightly covered in the draft curriculum. As the Panel’s report notes, the inclusion of these topics ‘has the potential to create a more lively curriculum for many students and young people’. I am particularly concerned about the limited coverage of gender, class, and the diversity of New Zealand’s communities.
I am also disappointed that the draft curriculum almost completely ignores the history of those things that bring meaning and pleasure to people’s lives, including the arts, sport, popular culture, religion, food, clothes, and social beliefs and practices. Topics such as these could be a great way of catching the attention and interest of students, while still illustrating bigger themes: for example, the history of sport can reveal much about gender, class, racism, national identity and international relations.
Do: inquiry practices
Learning how to investigate and think critically about the past is fundamental to understanding history. I am pleased that students will be expected to develop skills of critical inquiry as part of the history curriculum.
The first of the three inquiry practices in the draft curriculum is identifying and using sequence. They will also learn that stories can be told in different ways, ‘depending on the frame of reference used in sequencing’. I worry that the emphasis on ‘frames of reference’ could lead to an approach which sees all interpretations of history as being equally valid, regardless of the evidence. Historical narratives and interpretations should always be grounded in evidence, and the evidence will be stronger for some views than for others.
The third inquiry practice is interpreting past decisions and actions. This involves taking account of the attitudes and values of the time, and the situations in which people found themselves, when students are interpreting the past. Students in later years are also expected to ‘make ethical judgements concerning right and wrong’ about people’s actions in the past.
Understanding people’s actions and motivations in the past on their own terms is an essential part of historical inquiry and explanation. Making moral judgements about the past, by contrast, is not a necessary part of history. I do not agree with those who maintain that historians should take no view on whether past actions were right or wrong. However, when historians express an opinion about the morality of people’s behaviour in the past, it is because historians are human beings grappling with the complexity and challenge of being human, not because moral judgements are central to an understanding of history.
I suggest that the inquiry practices also need to provide students with an understanding of how we can know about the past, and how what we know changes over time. Students should learn about the many types of evidence that help us to understand what happened in the past, including:
people’s oral or written recollections of events that they experienced
stories passed down orally from previous generations
documents written at around the time of the events being investigated
visual evidence, such as paintings, whakairo or photographs
waiata and songs
places, structures, objects and other material remains from the past.
In addition, students should be introduced to reasons why our understanding of the past changes over time. These reasons include new evidence being discovered, new methods and types of evidence being used, and new questions being asked about the past.
Finding inspiration and excitement in our histories
My biggest worry about the new histories curriculum is that students will find history dull and dispiriting, while my greatest hope is that they will be inspired and excited to learn more about the past, and will carry this excitement through into their adult lives. A lot will depend on how the curriculum is taught and how it is made relevant at the local level by bringing in rohe and local contexts. But the national curriculum itself has a role to play. As historian Charlotte Macdonald puts it, the curriculum can ‘open the door to the excitement, wonder and discovery in the study of history for school pupils.’
At present, the draft content for the New Zealand Curriculum feels somewhat dour and depressing. By contrast, the draft content for Te Marautanga o Aotearoa includes more to inspire and excite ākonga. I am a strong believer in facing up to the confronting and uncomfortable parts of our past, including histories of dispossession, discrimination and marginalisation experienced by Māori and by other groups within Aotearoa New Zealand. However, if students do not find history interesting, providing information about past injustices and struggles will fail to motivate students to address the legacies of injustice today. I am not arguing for a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine of difficult histories go down more easily. Rather, I want to see a curriculum that will engage students’ imaginations with the drama and the dreams, the strangeness and the familiarity, the triumph and the tragedy of Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories in all their diversity.