Royal present, royal presence

For my last birthday, a friend gave me a medal from the 1953-54 royal tour of New Zealand. I’ve decided to repay this very generous gift by writing about the medal.

I’ve been a republican since childhood and find it baffling that any country should still, in the twenty-first century, have a head of state selected by an accident of birth. Yet, for a republican, I own a surprising number of books about royal tours. One of the first historical articles I published was about the 1954 royal tour of Australia. Royal tours are fascinating because they were opportunities for an idealised vision of society to be portrayed and celebrated. As the Bulletin put it during the 1954 Australian royal tour: ‘we put up flags and arches for ourselves, and cheer ourselves like mad.’ (I titled my article about the royal tour ‘Cheering Ourselves Like Mad’, but the editor of the Journal of Australian Studies retitled it ‘Forty Years On’ without asking me, a decision that still rankles 25 years on.)

When Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh toured New Zealand and Australia 65 years ago, it was the first time a reigning monarch had visited either country. Most people in both countries identified much more strongly with Britain and the monarchy than they do today. As a result, there was tremendous excitement about the tour, with very large crowds turning out wherever the Queen went (you can see her extensive New Zealand itinerary here).

The medal my friend gave me had belonged to her grandmother, an ardent royalist, and my friend speculated that her grandfather might have bought the medal as a present for his wife. These medals were not for sale at the time of the tour, however. They were given to schoolchildren: 380,000 medals were produced, at a cost of £19,000, and presented in classroom ceremonies. You can see a boy wearing one, and holding a Union Jack, in this photo from the Hocken Library collection (use the tools to the left of the photo to enlarge it). The Queen herself was presented with a gold replica of the medals by Prime Minister Sidney Holland, who remarked that the government thought she might like to ‘share with the children the pleasure of possessing one of these medals’, having seen so many children wearing them ‘when they have made their loyalty and devotion to you so evident’ during the tour.

When the draft programme for the royal tour was initially released in April 1953, it was heavily criticised for failing to include specific gatherings for children. This was quickly rectified, and the medal was only one example of the strong focus on children during the tour. In Wellington, for example, there was a large event for children at Athletic Park, where some 15,000 children and 20,000 parents and other adults gathered.

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh standing in the back of a jeep as it drives past a crowd of children at Athletic Park, Wellington, 12 January 1954. 1/4-106771-F, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

‘The greatest and most tumultuous welcome of all is from [Wellington’s] children’, the voiceover of an official film of the royal tour proclaimed over scenes of the crowds of children at Athletic Park. The emphasis was on unity: ‘15,000 individual wills, they build but a single pattern. These are the future men and women of one far corner of a Commonwealth of many governments, but of one allegiance.’ (The film is available here – the scene at Athletic Park starts at around 9:35 in Part 1.)

The message was one of individuals and countries with their own distinctive identities, but united by loyalty to the monarch. The medal itself helped to convey this message. For a start, the very process of handing out the medal promoted a sense of New Zealand identity at the same time as it reinforced allegiance to the Queen: the act of receiving the medal, shared by pupils throughout New Zealand but nowhere else, promoted a sense of belonging to a common New Zealand community. The design of the medal, likewise, showed the Queen on one side, but had New Zealand symbols – the New Zealand coat of arms and a koru design – on the other.


The focus on children during the royal tour reflected the belief that the Queen, as a mother herself, would be both interested in, and an inspiration to, the nation’s young. In Australia, the President of the National Council of Women hoped that the Queen’s visit would have a positive effect on ‘the most critical section our our community’, the teenager. This was a time of increasing anxiety about the behaviour of young people, particularly the relatively new category of ‘the teenager’.

During the royal tour, the Queen and Duke went on a ‘picturesque drive’ around Lower Hutt, passing along streets very close to where I now live. Yet only a few months later, the New Zealand public were presented with a very different picture of the Hutt: a place where young people were led into sexual promiscuity in milk bars and other dens of iniquity. A moral panic partly prompted by the Hutt’s ‘milk bar cowboys’ led to the publication in September 1954 of an official report on moral delinquency by a committee chaired by Oswald Mazengarb.


The report was almost as widely distributed as the royal tour medal: 300,000 copies were provided free to New Zealand families by the government. A few years later, Auckland psychologist A.E. Manning’s The Bodgie: A Study in Abnormal Psychology (1958) would examine the lives of delinquent youth, with arresting illustrations by Dennis Turner.

20190122_211912-e1548145601883.jpgAlthough the delinquency panic still lay in the future at the time of the royal tour, the Queen’s visit was an opportunity for the nation to reassure itself that the next generation of New Zealanders remained loyal and well-behaved.

Objects like the medal help to bring history alive, not only by providing a tangible connection to the past but also by prompting memories. For the friend who gave the medal to me, it sparked vivid recollections of her grandparents: her grandmother’s spectacular hats, her work as a nurse and midwife (nursing shell-shocked soldiers after the First World War and then delivering babies for Greek and Italian women in Island Bay), and her fervent royalism; her grandfather’s life on the farm and service with the Light Horse in the Middle East during the First World War. Now that I am its guardian, the medal links me, too, to the stories of its previous owners, and to all those children who lined the streets, proudly wearing their medals, and cheered like mad.


Jock Phillips, Royal Summer: The Visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to New Zealand 1953-54 (Wellington: Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1993)

The Royal Visit to Wellington Jan. 9-16, 1954 (Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1954)

Ministry for Culture and Heritage, ‘The Royal Visit, 1953-54’,, updated 6 Jan 2016

Ewan Morris, ‘Forty Years On: Australia and the Queen, 1954’, Journal of Australian Studies, no. 40, 1994, pp. 1-13

The ‘full and final’ fantasy

Why Treaty settlements do not mean that we can move on from history

This was a commissioned opinion piece for the Post Treaty Settlements project at Victoria University of Wellington. The opinion pieces were published in 2011 on the project’s website, but are no longer available online, so I am republishing mine here. Apart from a couple of minor points of clarification, I have not revised or updated the original text.

One of the key promises of the historical Treaty settlement process is that we can, as a society, deal fully and finally with past injustices, thereby allowing us to achieve a sense of emotional “closure” in relation to historical wrongs, and to move forward as one people. Unresolved grievances about the past are said to be holding back Māori progress,[i] and therefore hindering the development of the country as a whole. What we need, in this view, is to get “beyond grievance” by dealing with the historical impact of colonisation on Māori once and for all. Often the process is described in therapeutic terms: we are “healing our history”,[ii] or “achieving closure and moving on”.[iii]

The emphasis on the completion of Treaty settlements as both an end point (“closure”) and the start of a new phase (“moving on”) is understandable and, in part, justifiable. It has helped to maintain Pākehā acceptance of the Treaty settlement process, even if that acceptance has often been grudging. Most Pākehā, I suggest, genuinely want to be done with the settling of historical grievances, and their hopes in this respect are not entirely misplaced. It is quite possible that Treaty settlements will be durable, and that future generations will not need to return to the negotiating table over issues such as historical land loss. There is, too, every reason to hope that the settlement of Treaty grievances will mark the start of a new era of more collaborative relationships between hapū or iwi and the Crown. What the post-settlement era will not bring, however, is any sense of finality with respect to New Zealand’s colonial past. There are at least three reasons why we will not, in my view, be able simply to “move on” from the history of Crown breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

First, any historical interpretation is always open to debate and revision. Researchers coming afresh to the history of Crown-Māori relations will inevitably find different answers to some of the same questions that have been asked in the current Treaty settlement process. Even more significant, perhaps, is the fact that future generations may well ask different questions from those that have concerned us over the past four decades or so. This is not to suggest that Treaty settlements have a flimsy historical basis that could be overturned tomorrow. We undoubtedly have a much better understanding of the process of colonisation and its impact on Māori as a result of the research carried out for the Treaty settlement process. But we cannot say that we now have an account of the Crown’s fulfilment or non-fulfilment of its Treaty obligations to stand for all time.

Second, it is misleading to draw a sharp line between historical and contemporary Treaty grievances. Fundamental questions in debates about contemporary issues, such as questions about the status of Māori as indigenous people or of the Treaty of Waitangi as part of New Zealand’s constitution, are rooted in history. Moreover, Māori will continue to protest about what they see as breaches of their rights under the Treaty taking place in the present day. In doing so, they will inevitably look to Māori experiences of injustice in the past, and to past Māori resistance to injustice, for analogies, precedents and justifications. Think, for example, of the way in which the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 was described by many Māori as a 21st-century raupatu (confiscation); or of the historical analogies that were drawn with the October 2007 police raids in Te Urewera.[iv] Such revisiting of the past by Māori could, in turn, cause Pākehā to relitigate the accounts of the past that have emerged from the Treaty settlement process, particularly if Māori seek to give greater legal weight to those accounts. For example, in the debate about the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill, many Māori argued that Māori should not be prevented from establishing customary rights in the foreshore and seabed by loss of adjoining land through acknowledged Crown Treaty breaches. If the test for Māori customary rights were to incorporate recognition of past Treaty breaches, this would undoubtedly lead to renewed Pākehā questioning of those breaches.

Third, the Treaty settlement process has not brought us to a point where Māori and non-Māori have a shared view of the history of this country. On the contrary, I suggest that we still see history in fundamentally different ways, and that these differences operate at many levels. There are different understandings of the facts of history, and different interpretations of the causes and significance of particular events. For example, Māori and non-Māori still tend to have very different views about why rangatira signed the Treaty of Waitangi, and what signing the Treaty meant to them, although such differences can also exist between Māori and other Māori, or between Pākehā and other Pākehā. More fundamental are our different ways of understanding history, different lenses through which history is viewed: differences, for example, in the relative weight given to oral and written narratives; in attitudes to causation and chance; in the nature of identification with ancestors; and in the extent to which the past is distinguished clearly from the present.[v] While Pākehā instinctively talk about “putting the past behind us” and moving on, te reo Māori reflects a world view in which the past (ngā rā o mua, the days in front) can lie ahead of us.

What we are left with at the end of the Treaty settlement process, then, is not a settled, consensus view of history from which we can safely move on. The idea that any account of history can ever be full and final is a fantasy. Talk of dealing with the past once and for all and then moving forward as one people is at once utopian and faintly totalitarian. As the Australian anthropologist Gillian Cowlishaw writes: “the chaotic rivalry for the truth is a necessary part of social functioning, with historians finding and telling the ways in which we do not know the past, reviving what has not been noticed, finding the new in the old in order to keep the disputes about the truth alive. To close down the past by telling the truth once and for all is a seriously alarming prospect.”[vi] Instead of seeking closure, I believe that in the post-settlement era we will need to remain open to different views of our past, to dealing with unresolved legacies of that past, and to thinking about how our different histories continue to influence the ways in which we meet the challenges of the future.

[i] This is not a new idea. In 1925, for example, Prime Minister Gordon Coates told his Cabinet colleagues that “the sense of injustice which undoubtedly exists is hampering the spread of progressive ideas among sections of the Maori race”, and would not go away unless the Crown provided an  opportunity for “the ventilation of these alleged grievances before some tribunal”: Coates, memorandum for Cabinet, 10 September 1925, fo. 1, MA 85/8, Archives New Zealand, quoted in Mark Hickford, “Strands from the Afterlife of Confiscation: Property Rights, Constitutional Histories and the Political Incorporation of Maori, 1920s”, in Richard Boast and Richard Hill (eds), Raupatu: The Confiscation of Maori Land (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2009), p. 190.

[ii] Robert Consedine and Joanna Consedine, Healing our History: The Challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi (Auckland: Penguin Books, 2001). See also Hiwi Tauroa, Healing the Breach: One Maori’s Perspective on the Treaty of Waitangi (Auckland: William Collins, 1989); Office of Treaty Settlements, Healing the Past, Building a Future: A Guide to Treaty of Waitangi Claims and Negotiations with the Crown (Wellington, 2002).

[iii] Patrick Snedden, Pakeha and the Treaty: Why it’s our Treaty Too (Auckland: Random House, 2005), p. 94. This therapeutic view of the process of righting historical wrongs is certainly not unique to New Zealand: see Manfred Berg and Bernd Schaefer, “Introduction”, in Manfred Berg and Bernd Schaefer (eds), Historical Justice in International Perspective: How Societies are Trying to Right the Wrongs of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 9.

[iv] Many of the articles in Danny Keenan (ed.), Terror in our Midst? Searching for Terror in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington: Huia, 2008) draw attention to historical parallels with the 2007 police raids. However, see Māmari Stephens’s words of caution about drawing analogies with the past: Māmari Stephens, “Beware the Hollow ‘Calabash’: Narrative, Analogy and the Acts of Suppression” in ibid., pp. 181-193.

[v] Judith Binney has explored some of these differences: see “Māori Oral Narratives, Pākehā Written Texts”, in Judith Binney, Stories Without End: Essays 1975-2010 (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2010), pp. 71-85, and the Epilogue to Redemption Songs: A Life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki (Auckland: Auckland University Press/Bridget Williams Books, 1995), esp. pp. 522-527.

[vi] Gillian Cowlishaw, “Arbiters of the Past”, Meanjin, vol. 65, no. 1, 2005, p. 212. See also Bain Attwood, “Settling Histories, Unsettling Pasts: Reconciliation and Historical Justice in a Settler Society”, in Manfred Berg and Bernd Schaefer (eds), Historical Justice in International Perspective: How Societies are Trying to Right the Wrongs of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 237-238.