Of poppies, pacifists … and pirates

1. Waterloo: couldn’t escape if I wanted to

It’s all, ultimately, the fault of the New Zealand Company.

If the New Zealand Company hadn’t named the township it founded at Port Nicholson ‘Wellington’ after the British military hero and arch-Tory, the nearby city of Lower Hutt might not have named the suburb in which I live ‘Waterloo’ after the Duke of Wellington’s most famous victory. And if the suburb wasn’t named Waterloo, it wouldn’t have so many streets named after military figures and battles. And if there weren’t so many military names in the suburb, there wouldn’t have been so many poppies popping up on our street signs.

The New Zealand Poppy Places Trust promotes the placing of poppy emblems on street signs for streets whose names relate to New Zealanders’ involvement in overseas wars. Local councils, however, are responsible for researching and verifying the military connections of street names, proposing them for recognition and installing the poppy-emblazoned street signs. In 2018, nineteen streets in Lower Hutt were marked with poppies, and a disproportionate number of those are in Waterloo (see the map here).

Only street names that relate to New Zealand service in overseas wars, from the South African (Boer) War onwards, are eligible for the poppy symbol. A question and answer on the Poppy Places website states:

Are the Maori Wars or the NZ Land Wars part of the poppy places project?

No, these events are commemorated in other ways.

The website doesn’t say what these ‘other ways’ might be. As it happens, the military theme of Waterloo’s street names doesn’t encompass names associated with the New Zealand Wars. The one Waterloo street name that is related to the New Zealand Wars is Volkner Grove, commemorating the German missionary Carl Völkner, whose murder at Ōpōtiki in 1865 sparked Crown military action and confiscation against eastern Bay of Plenty Māori who had no involvement in his death. It is not the connection to the New Zealand Wars that explains the naming of Volkner Grove, however; rather, it is one of a number of streets running off Mission Street that are named for famous missionaries.

As you may already have gathered, I’m not a fan of the poppy places project. It seems to further entrench the exaggerated significance attached to the history of New Zealand’s involvement in overseas wars, compared to other aspects of New Zealand history.

At the same time, perhaps the project is doing us a favour by encouraging us to think about the stories behind our street names? Which people and events have been considered worthy of being remembered in the naming of streets, and why?

2. Look to the sky, the spirit of Te Whiti

20190417_150649It’s striking that, right next door to Waterloo and its military street names, a very different history is recognised in the names of some streets and places.

The suburb of Waiwhetū shares its name with the stream that runs through it, and with a pā that formerly existed further downstream. Since 1960, it has been home to a marae, whose meeting house is called Arohanui ki te Tangata (Goodwill to All People). The marae’s founder, Īhāia Pōrutu Puketapu, was a follower of Te Whiti o Rongomai, the Taranaki prophet famous for leading the people of Parihaka in campaigns of non-violent resistance against the confiscation of Taranaki Māori land. In addition to the marae itself, a legacy of Puketapu’s influence is the naming of Te Whiti Park, a public park directly across from the marae, and Te Whiti Grove, a nearby street. I take some comfort from the presence nearby of these names that commemorate the peaceful struggle for justice.

One day, as I was walking around the neighbourhood, I noticed something surprising: a poppy had appeared on the street sign for Te Whiti Grove.

20190304_181639This seemed very peculiar, so I checked Alison Carey’s book about Lower Hutt Street names, Valleys & Bays. Her book confirmed that Te Whiti Grove is indeed named after Te Whiti o Rongomai. However, there is another Te Whiti Grove across the valley in Korokoro, named for Eruera Te Whiti o Rongomai Love. Love, a descendant of the whānau of the Parihaka prophet, grew up in Korokoro, and was the first Māori to command the 28th (Māori) Battalion during the Second World War. Looking at the map on the Poppy Places website, I could see that Te Whiti Grove, Korokoro, was marked and Te Whiti Grove, Waiwhetū, was not. Clearly, a mistake had been made.

I contacted both the Poppy Places Trust and the Hutt City Council, pointing out the mistake and that it was particularly inappropriate for a street commemorating the leader of non-violent resistance to the armed forces of the Crown to be marked with an emblem commemorating service in Crown forces overseas. To their great credit, both organisations recognised the problem immediately, and the incorrect sign in Waiwhetū was quickly replaced.

The incident raises the question once again, however, of which stories from our history we draw attention to in our street names and signs. Te Whiti Grove, Waiwhetū, is unusual in commemorating a person of importance in Māori history, and particularly someone who represents a tradition of peaceful resistance. Most of our street names still commemorate middle-class Pākehā men. One way of addressing this, of course, is to name new streets, or rename existing streets, after a wider range of people. But another could be to use symbols to highlight those existing names that represent a more diverse range of stories. If local iwi agreed, street names relating to Te Ātiawa and Taranaki history could be marked with the Raukura, for example.

But wait, I hear you ask: where are the pirates? You promised us pirates!

Aye, I said there be pirates, and pirates there be…

(To be continued)

What’s next for the history of public memory in Aotearoa New Zealand? (part 2)

Cultural difference

A third area for further investigation is cultural difference. The study of public memory in New Zealand has focused primarily on Pākehā of British and Irish descent, in part because this is the group that’s historically dominated the public sphere since colonisation. Damon Salesa has usefully reminded us that the Pacific and Pacific peoples have been largely absent from the writing of New Zealand history and, I’d add, from the public memory of Pālagi New Zealanders.[1] Pacific peoples, and other peoples whose origins don’t lie in Britain and Ireland, will have their own approaches to public memory. What does public memory look like when viewed from, say, a Tokelauan or a Cantonese perspective? Which historical individuals or events loom large, and how have these been represented? For example, how has the 1902 sinking off Hokianga of the SS Ventnor, the ship carrying the remains of some 500 Chinese men to China for reburial, been remembered and commemorated within the New Zealand Chinese community? We need more studies of cultural specificity in public memory, like Senka Božić-Vrbančić’s important book on memory and identity in Croatian and Māori communities in Northland.[2]

Compared to the memory of non-British ethnic communities, Māori public memory is better represented in the existing literature, and indeed in the public landscape itself. Judith Binney, for example, wrote extensively about Māori concepts of history and memory, while Rachel Buchanan has been writing from a Taranaki and Te Ātiawa perspective about the public memory of Parihaka and of colonisation in Taranaki and Wellington.[3] Considering cultural difference can mean looking for public memory in different places from those scholars of public memory may be used to. Anyone who attended Te Matatini, the national kapa haka festival, in Wellington recently, might have seen haka providing iwi perspectives on Captain Cook and the New Zealand Wars, for example.

Māori public memory also problematises the public/private distinction I made earlier. Marae may be private places from a non-Māori perspective, but they are very much part of a Māori public sphere, and are places where historical memory is articulated daily. Even outside such uniquely Māori contexts, there are distinctively Māori histories of public memory to tell. One is the story of how Māori have engaged with European memorial forms and practices. From the late nineteenth century onwards, Māori adopted European forms of memorialisation, such as obelisks and statues.[4] More recently, as I’ve already mentioned, there’s been a turn away from Pākehā forms towards more distinctively Māori commemorative iconography in public places. There’s more to be written about how and why Māori have initiated and funded their own public memorials, and about how they’ve responded to memorials created by Pākehā.

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Statue in memory of Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, also known as Major Kemp, at Whanganui, 1912. 1/1-021036-G, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

Public and private

The relationship between public and private memory is a fourth area that warrants exploration. The boundary between public and private may be fuzzy, and may shift depending on cultural perspective, but I think memories held privately by individuals and small groups can still be usefully distinguished from memory articulated publicly on behalf of larger communities. These two types of memory interact in important and interesting ways, which are yet to be widely explored in New Zealand. As Anna Green, lead researcher for a Marsden Fund project on Pākehā family memory, writes: ‘How we think about past, present and future is often filtered through the lens of our family stories, and this in turn influences the ways in which we act as citizens, as well as family members, in the present.’

Individual and family memories may affect our responses to public memories of collective events such as war, industrial conflict or natural disaster. In some cases, private memories can be sites of resistance to the dominant narratives of public memory. In other cases, people may be able to place themselves and their families in public narratives, seeing their private memories as representative of larger stories. For example, memories of ancestors who served in overseas wars may provide a point of identification with the Anzac legend.

Public memory can also influence private memory. As far as I know, New Zealand historians have not yet taken up the approach of Australian Alistair Thomson who, in his book Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend, used oral history interviews to examine how Australian returned soldiers from the First World War ‘composed’ their recollections of the war. Thomson was particularly interested in the relationship between personal memory and public myth, noting that ‘Our memories are risky and painful if they do not fit the public myths, so we try to compose our memories to ensure that they will fit with what is publicly acceptable.’

Another question for consideration is how public memory changes once those with direct, personal memories of individuals or events are no longer alive, so that memory becomes more reliant on mediation through stories, objects and performances.

Arts and popular culture

The final topic I’d like to touch on is public memory in the arts and popular culture. The way in which history is represented in film and television, literature, the visual arts, music, and so on can have a powerful influence in forming public memory, but this influence is still relatively unexplored in New Zealand. A reasonable amount has been written about how New Zealand history has been portrayed in cinema, most notably in Annabel Cooper’s recent book about the New Zealand Wars on screen,[5] but I’m not aware of comparable work on music, for example. How have the New Zealand Wars featured in popular music, from the gentle parody of the Howard Morrison Quartet’s ‘Battle of the Waikato’ to the thrash metal of Alien Weaponry’s song of Pukehinahina/Gate Pā, ‘Rū Ana te Whenua’?

Likewise, the representation of New Zealand history in the visual arts deserves closer attention. Leonard Bell, Rebecca Rice and Roger Blackley have written about the depiction of Māori history and the New Zealand Wars in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Pākehā visual art.[6] But what of contemporary artists who are engaging with New Zealand history, and particularly with the history of colonial relationships between Māori and Pākehā – artists such as Lisa Reihana, Marian Maguire, Sally Burton, Robyn Kahukiwa, Fiona Pardington, Harry Watson, Nigel Brown and Brett Graham, to name a few? How are such artists responding to, and perhaps helping to reshape, public memory?

Then there is the body of commemorative memorabilia produced to mark particular anniversaries: from official commemorative items such as stamps, coins or medals, to commercial products such as crockery, figurines, postcards and games. Richard Wolfe has written about commemorative stamps,[7] but there’s much more work that could be done in analysing the imagery used in such objects and the stories they tell about New Zealand history.

I’m aware that I’ve only scratched the surface of possible topics in the history of public memory. I haven’t, for example, discussed museums as institutions of public memory, or the public memory of gender and sexuality, largely because others are more qualified to write about those topics than I am. So now, over to you: what do you see as the key challenges and gaps in writing the history of public memory in Aotearoa New Zealand?

[1] See, in particular, Damon Salesa, ‘New Zealand’s Pacific’, in Giselle Byrnes (ed.), The New Oxford History of New Zealand (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 149-172.

[2] Senka Božić-Vrbančić, Tarara: Croats and Maori in New Zealand: Memory, Belonging, Identity (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2008).

[3] See, for example, Judith Binney, Stories without End: Essays 1975-2010 (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2010); Rachel Buchanan, The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget (Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2009); Rachel Buchanan, Ko Taranaki Te Maunga (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2018).

[4] For a case study, see 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.

[5] Annabel Cooper, Filming the Colonial Past: The New Zealand Wars on Screen (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2018). See also Alistair Fox, Barry Keith Grant and Hilary Radner (eds), New Zealand Cinema: Interpreting the Past (Bristol: Intellect, 2011).

[6] Leonard Bell, Colonial Constructs: European Images of Maori, 1840-1914 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1992), esp. ch. 4; Rebecca Rice, Unsettling: Art and the New Zealand Wars (Victoria University of Wellington, Art History Lecture Series 14, 2016); Roger Blackley, Galleries of Maoriland: Artists, Collectors and the Māori World, 1880-1910 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2018).

[7] Richard Wolfe, It’s in the Post: The Stories Behind New Zealand Stamps (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2010).

What’s next for the history of public memory in Aotearoa New Zealand? (part 1)

This post (in two parts) is adapted from a paper I gave at the conference of the Professional Historians’ Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa (PHANZA) conference, held at Massey University, Wellington, 13-14 April 2019. The theme of the conference was ‘After the war: what’s next?’

For the past five years or so, historians have been involved in a major enterprise of public memory: commemoration of the centenary of the First World War. They’ve contributed to exhibitions, commemorative events, documentaries and other activities intended to raise awareness and understanding of New Zealand’s role in the war. Through such activities, historians help to shape public memory; but memory itself has a history, and by studying that history we can better understand the changing ways in which our society relates to its past. In this post, I want to consider where the history of public memory in Aotearoa New Zealand might go next: what are some areas that would benefit from further research and analysis?

The boundaries between public memory and public history, and between public memory and private memory, are fuzzy, but I find it useful to distinguish them nonetheless. By ‘memory’, I mean relatively simplified representations of the past through images and stories, in contrast to the more detailed research and analysis of the past undertaken by historians. And by public memory, I mean those representations of the past that are, firstly, shared to some extent within a particular society and, secondly, manifested in the public realm (public spaces, media, institutions and so on), as distinct from those held by individuals or small groups such as families. Public memory can take a wide variety of forms, including representation of historical events and personalities in museums, memorials, commemorative ceremonies, film, art and popular culture.

The tremendous growth in memory studies internationally since the late twentieth century, often labelled the ‘memory boom’, hasn’t been matched within New Zealand historical scholarship. All the same, there’s been a steady increase in writing on public memory in New Zealand, and the areas of focus for this literature mirror those found in other countries. In particular, there’s now a significant body of New Zealand literature on the memory of war and on memorials. Exemplifying both of these themes, an important early text was Chris Maclean’s and Jock Phillips’s 1990 book on New Zealand war memorials, recently revised by Jock Phillips under the new title To the Memory.[1] The public memory of the First World War has been studied in greater depth than that of other wars, although in recent years the memory of the New Zealand Wars has received greatly increased attention and is now the subject of a major Marsden Fund project led by Joanna Kidman and Vincent O’Malley.[2] More has been written about New Zealand memorials to war than about other types of memorial, and the history of Anzac Day has been examined more fully than that of other historical anniversaries.[3] I won’t review the existing literature on public memory in New Zealand here, but will refer to other work along the way as I set out some topics for future research.

I’ll outline five areas for further exploration in the history of public memory in Aotearoa New Zealand:

  • change over time;
  • local, national and international contexts;
  • cultural differences;
  • the interaction of private and public memories; and
  • public memory in the arts and popular culture.

Change over time

In this year of the 250th anniversary of the first land-based encounters between Māori and Europeans, it’s worth bearing in mind that modern Aotearoa New Zealand was born from the meeting of two memory-minded cultures. Māori remembered the deeds of their tūpuna through place names, waiata, whakataukī and whakapapa, as well as in physical form through carved representations. British memory culture was more calendar-based than that of Māori, and at the time of British colonisation of New Zealand a secular commemorative calendar was developing alongside the existing religious one. Throughout their Pacific voyages, for example, James Cook and his crews were careful always to observe the King’s birthday, and as early as 1820 the missionary John Butler was already thinking ahead to how the first use of the plough in New Zealand would be remembered, writing: ‘I trust that this day will be remembered with gratitude, and its anniversary kept by ages yet unborn.’

Given this long history of memory-mindedness, there’s an opportunity to trace the cultures and practices of public memory in this country over some 200 years or longer, and to consider what’s changed or stayed the same. Jock Phillips’s work on war memorials is relatively unusual in covering the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Apart from an entry in Te Ara by Jock Phillips there is, for example, no long-term study of the commemoration of historical anniversaries in New Zealand, although good work has been done on particular anniversaries or on commemoration within particular time periods. Taking a longer view would allow us to consider how commemorative practices and forms have changed over time, and what factors have influenced these changes.

If we consider public memorials, for example, we can see a number of changes over the past 150 years or so. Memorial forms imported from Britain, such as obelisks and statues, were dominant for a long time. There was, however, an ongoing debate about whether memorials should instead be utilitarian structures or should take non-material forms such as educational scholarships. A trend towards utilitarian monuments was particularly apparent around the Second World War, and many memorials to that war were community facilities such as halls, libraries or swimming pools. More recently, memorials have evolved and diversified in form. There’s been a move away from obelisks, columns, cenotaphs and arches towards a much wider range of forms, with a growing preference for memorials that are more organic and integrated into the environment. Increasingly, too, carved pou and other commemorative structures using Māori artforms and iconography are appearing in public places across Aotearoa. At the same time, new memorial spaces are being created online, with sites such as the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Online Cenotaph or the Battalion Roll on the 28th Māori Battalion website, where people can lay virtual poppies or add information or photos.

This very broad-brush sketch of some changes in the forms of public memorials is simply intended to give an indication of the kinds of changes that are apparent when practices of public memory are viewed over a longer period of time. It leaves unanswered the question of what has caused these changes. There are also other questions we might ask. Has there been a change in what and whom we remember through memorials? Has the level of community engagement with the creation of memorials changed? How have the meanings attached to memorials changed, particularly as the events they commemorate pass out of living memory and are re-evaluated by later generations?

Local, national, international

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Jubilee celebration crowd at Bridge Street, Nelson, 1890. 10×8-0269-G, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

Time is one dimension worth exploring further in research on public memory; interaction between the local, the national and the international is another. Fiona Hamilton, Kynan Gentry and Jock Phillips have examined the ways in which commemoration of historical anniversaries in colonial New Zealand was a focus for interprovincial rivalry, and for resistance to the idea of a New Zealand national story, particularly around the colony’s 50th anniversary in 1890.[4] Historians could usefully consider what’s distinctive about the ways in which particular local or regional communities remember their pasts, and how local or regional memory has been incorporated into national memory, or has resisted such incorporation. In talking of national memory, I’m referring to memory at the level of the New Zealand state, and the role of central government in shaping and promoting national memory is another important topic for exploration.

Public memory within New Zealand also needs to be seen in a wider global or transnational context. I’m not talking here about comparisons between New Zealand and other countries, although that would also be illuminating, but about the ways in which New Zealand public memory itself has an international dimension. For a start, New Zealand has been affected by international trends, such as the move to utilitarian memorialisation during the Second World War, which I mentioned above. Events within New Zealand or involving New Zealanders are commemorated overseas (witness the New Zealand Wars memorial at Anglesea Barracks, Hobart, or the New Zealand Memorial in London’s Hyde Park, for example), while overseas individuals and events are commemorated here (as with the statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside Wellington Railway Station, or the plan for a Holocaust memorial in the Auckland Domain). Transnational ethnic ties also mean that New Zealanders may contribute to commemorative projects in other countries that have no obvious connection to New Zealand: Scottish New Zealanders, for example, contributed £40 (around $6700 in today’s money) to a memorial for Major-General Hector Macdonald erected in 1907 in Scotland.[5] For all these reasons, the history of public memory in New Zealand can’t be viewed in isolation from the wider world.

[1] Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials (Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs/GP Books, 1990); Jock Phillips, To the Memory: New Zealand’s War Memorials (Nelson: Potton & Burton, 2016).

[2] For an article that brings the historical memory of the First World War and of the New Zealand Wars into the same frame, see Charlotte Macdonald, ‘The First World War and the Making of Colonial Memory’, Journal of New Zealand Literature, no. 33, 2015, pp. 15-37.

[3] On Anzac Day see, for example, Maureen R. Sharpe, ‘Anzac Day in New Zealand: 1916 to 1939’, New Zealand Journal of History (NZJH), vol. 15(2), 1981, pp. 97-114; Scott Worthy, ‘A Debt of Honour: New Zealanders’ First Anzac Days’, NZJH, vol. 26(2), 2002, pp. 185-200; Helen Robinson, ‘Lest We Forget? The Fading of New Zealand War Commemorations, 1946-1966’, NZJH, vol. 44(1), 2010, pp. 76-91; Stephen J. Clarke, ‘The One Day of the Year: Anzac Day in Aotearoa/New Zealand 1946-1990’ (MA thesis, University of Otago, 1994); Jenny Macleod, Gallipoli (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), ch. 6.

[4] Jock Phillips, ‘Anniversaries – Provincialism in anniversaries, 1890 to 1940’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/anniversaries/page-2 (accessed 10 April 2019); Fiona Hamilton, ‘Pioneering History: Negotiating Pakeha Collective Memory in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries’, NZJH, vol. 36(1), 2002, pp. 66-81 (see particularly pp. 72-75); Kynan Gentry, History, Heritage, and Colonialism: Historical Consciousness, Britishness, and Cultural Identity in New Zealand, 1870-1940 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), pp. 126-127.

[5] Part of my ongoing research into New Zealand reactions to the death of Hector Macdonald.


At my work this week, some of us have been taking part in an activity called ’10 before 10′. Each morning we receive a randomly-generated word, and our challenge is to spend 10 minutes before 10 am writing something inspired by that word, which we then circulate to all the other participants.

Today’s word was ‘disaster’. Although not directly about this blog’s theme of history and memory, the short poem I wrote does somehow still seem relevant.



First, the banner headline – ‘Breaking News’ –

then the first shreds and shards of detail,

the stab of knowing what cannot be un-known,

cannot be disowned.


The drifts of information settle

like heavy snow.

Resisting the temptation to succumb

to the numbness within,

we pick up our shovels

and begin to dig ourselves out.