Don’t be an Egmont!

2019-10-26 04.54.52

At 5 AM saw for a few Minutes the Top of the peaked Mountain above the Clowds, bearing NE; It is of a prodigious height and its top is cover’d with everlasting snow. … I have named it Mount Egmont in honour of the Earl of Egmont — This mountain seems to have a pretty large base and to rise with a gradual assent to the peak and what makes it more conspicuous is, its being situated near the Sea, and a flat Country in its neighbourhood which afforded a very good asspect — — being cloathed with Wood and Verdure.

James Cook’s journal, 13 January 1770

It’s 250 years since Lieutenant James Cook, captain of HMS Endeavour, saw and renamed the mountain that Māori knew as Taranaki. Cook named it Mount Egmont after John Perceval, the second Earl of Egmont and First Lord of the Admiralty. Cook never set foot in the Taranaki region, but he was impressed by the mountain, which he likened to Tenerife (one of the Canary Islands) and which the Endeavour‘s botanist Joseph Banks described in his journal as ‘certainly the noblest hill I have ever seen’.

Taranaki was just one of many places given a new name by Cook as he sailed around Aotearoa New Zealand — and plenty of other places were named after Cook during the subsequent colonisation of the country.

Statue of Captain Cook in Marton, New Zealand, which is named after Cook’s birthplace in England.

250 years later, the name Mount Egmont will finally be disappearing from maps as the result of an agreement between the iwi of Taranaki and the Crown. The agreement will see the mountain given legal personality (in the same way as has recently been done for the Whanganui River and Te Urewera) and managed by a joint iwi-Crown governance entity. It will also result in recognition of Taranaki Maunga (mountain) as the landmark’s sole name. This agreement is the culmination of a long campaign by Taranaki Māori for recognition of the mountain’s original name.

Taranaki Maunga (or Mounga, as it’s often spelled in the Taranaki dialect of Māori) is enormously significant to all the eight iwi of Taranaki. (For any non-New Zealand readers, I should explain that Taranaki is the name of the mountain, but also of the region that surrounds it, and of one of the local iwi or tribes of the region.) Māori from Taranaki view Taranaki Maunga as an ancestor, and their identity is inseparable from the maunga.

Restoration of the mountain’s Māori name had some Pākehā supporters in the first part of the twentieth century. In 1938, the mayor of Hāwera, J.E. Campbell, told a meeting of the Aotea Māori Association that the mountain’s name was ‘a disaster’ and that ‘the old name of Taranaki’ should be substituted for Egmont ahead of New Zealand’s centennial in 1940. This view was supported by the Rev. P. Moki of New Plymouth, who said ‘Taranaki always had been and will be the name for the mountain recognised by the Maori race throughout the Dominion.’

Māori began calling publicly for the name Taranaki to be restored to the mountain in the 1970s, but it was in the 1980s that the issue really came to a head. In 1985, the Taranaki Māori Trust Board submitted a proposal for the maunga to be officially named Taranaki to the New Zealand Geographic Board, the body responsible for assigning official place names. The Geographic Board decided that the mountain’s official name should be ‘Mount Taranaki’, with ‘Egmont’ continued as a secondary name in brackets. There was then a three-month period during which objections to the Board’s decision could be lodged.

The release of the Geographic Board’s decision provoked a furious debate, the intensity of which is hard to believe some 35 years later. There were numerous letters to the editor, particularly in Taranaki newspapers, petitions were organised, and many official and voluntary organisations in Taranaki took a position on the matter. Essentially, the debate pitted a large number of Pākehā who objected vehemently to the Geographic Board’s decision against Māori and more liberal Pākehā who supported it. (Justin Gregory has produced a very good piece for Radio New Zealand looking back at the debate — you can read or listen to it here.)

Ultimately, the Minister of Lands Koro Wetere accepted a revised recommendation from the Geographic Board in 1986, that the mountain’s official name should become ‘Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont’, thereby recognising both names and allowing people to choose for themselves which they wanted to use. That remains the situation to this day, although in practice it’s clear that use of ‘Mount Egmont’ has declined dramatically, and it seems likely that few will miss the name Egmont when it finally disappears.

The rapid decline in usage of Egmont in the space of a few decades is all the more remarkable given that in the 1980s many Pākehā seemed to feel that the proposal to restore the name Taranaki posed an existential threat to their very identity. It’s not surprising that Pākehā residents of Taranaki should identify strongly with the mountain — anyone who’s been to Taranaki knows how dominant the mountain is in the landscape (at least, on the days when it’s not covered in clouds). Pākehā identification, not simply with the mountain but with the name Egmont had also been reinforced by the extensive use of the mountain’s image and its English name in commercial and organisational branding. As Ian Wedde writes, this was:

a culture for which ‘Mount Egmont’ would soon become an ideal, a symbol of individuality, even of nationhood, appearing on the wrappers of butter, cheese, knitwear, and other products of the region, as well as in a great deal of art.

At the time of writing, this iconography is being explored by the artist Fiona Clark in an exhibition at Wellington’s Adam Art Gallery entitled ‘Egmontiana’ (images are currently available on the Gallery’s website, though presumably only for the duration of the show).

The willingness of Pākehā to use the mountain’s name and image in a commercial context shows how different Pākehā identification with the mountain was from the spiritual connection of Māori. Nonetheless, the meaning of the mountain and its name to Pākehā is worth further exploration. For some time I’ve been struggling with an article I’ve been trying to write about the Taranaki/Egmont name debate of the 1980s. What I’ve written so far is too long and too unfocused, but I’m starting to think that Pākehā identity and identification with place could provide a useful focus for the article.

But what, you may ask, of the Earls of Egmont, whose name the mountain currently still bears? In 1985, when the naming debate was raging, a couple of newspapers sought comment from the eleventh earl, who turned out to be a 71-year-old called Frederick Perceval living on a ranch in Alberta, Canada. The Earl was too deaf to speak on the phone, but his wife told reporters that she and her husband objected strongly to the proposal to replace the name Egmont: ‘You don’t go changing generations of tradition’. The Earl had never visited New Zealand, she said, but people from around the world had sent him postcards of the mountain. ‘Asked if the earl had an ambition to see Mt Egmont, she said he had always wanted to go to Africa.’

The earldom became extinct in 2011, on the death of the twelfth earl, who left no successors.


Auckland Star, 9 December 1938, p. 4.

Sunday News, 11 August 1985.

Taranaki Herald, 14 August 1985.

Ian Wedde, ‘Translation and Representation: A History of Ferries’, in Ian Wedde and Gregory Burke (eds), Now See Hear! Art, Language and Translation, Wellington, Victoria University Press for the Wellington City Art Gallery, 1990, pp. 95-102.



I’m dreaming of a Pākehā Christmas

Pakeha butter sign, formerly displayed on a grocery shop wall in Feilding, now in the collection of the Feilding Coach House Museum

I spent a very pleasant Christmas day with my in-laws. In the evening, with stomachs groaning from the Christmas feast, we looked through some of my mother-in-law’s cookbooks from different eras, and I was particularly struck by this advertisement for ‘Pakeha, the cream of butters’ from the Feilding Plunket Society Recipe Book of 1930.

Today, some people insist on believing that the use of the word ‘Pākehā’ to describe New Zealanders of European descent is derogatory or demeaning. This view isn’t entirely new. In 1946, for example, Mr Algie, the National MP for Remuera, declared in Parliament that he had ‘a rooted objection to the word “pakeha”‘, which had ‘a meaning that was far from complimentary’.

I won’t go into the different interpretations of the word here, except to say that it has no clearly established derivation. What’s particularly interesting, however, is that the use of ‘Pākehā’ by many white New Zealanders, both today and in the past, is a rare example of settlers and their descendants adopting an indigenous term to describe themselves.

Still, it’s hard to know what lay behind the choice of the word as a brand name for butter. Was it a reference to the butter’s pale colour? Or to an association of racial whiteness with wholesomeness? Was it a sign of nascent nationalism, of the search for an indigenous identity for white New Zealanders? Or was it the exoticism of the word to British ears that appealed, bearing in mind that this butter was intended primarily for export to Britain?

Unfortunately, the report in the Feilding Star of the first meeting in September 1893 of shareholders of the Cheltenham Co-operative Dairy Company Limited is no help, as the decision to use the word ‘Pakeha’ as the company’s brand was announced with no explanation. You can read more about the history of the company, and its use of the Pakeha brand in association with a fern logo, on the Feilding Coach House Museum blog, which conveniently posted about Pakeha butter just a few days ago.

The production of Pakeha butter was a significant source of local pride and employment for Feilding, as this advertisement in the Manawatu Standard indicates:

Pakeha butter ad
Manawatu Standard, 15 December 1937, p. 27

The historian Bill Oliver grew up in Feilding on Makino Road, the same road to which the dairy factory had been relocated in 1920 to take advantage of proximity to the rail line. In his autobiography, Oliver recalled the way in which the dairy factory linked Feilding to the wider world:

In the dairy factory we saw great 56 lb blocks of butter packed into white pine boxes with the fernleaf trademark and the brand name ‘Pakeha’ impressed with a roller on the butter before sealing and nailing. It was going elsewhere — by rail to Wellington and by ship to Great Britain, a distant place but not a strange one, for week by week letters, newspapers and parcels arrived from aunts and cousins who lived there. In our own tiny domestic economy, the cardboard boxes of Angora wool went to England; the wages my father earned (for a time) at the freezing works were for processing animal products for export… . The little scatter of houses along Makino Road, the dairy factory and the railway siding were a focal point in a world of linkages and flows.

The factory building is still on Makino Road today, though butter is no longer made there.

20191227_152058What, I wonder, did the tangata whenua of the Feilding district make of the name ‘Pakeha’ on the dairy factory wall? I don’t know whether any Māori worked in, or supplied milk to, the dairy factory. They did, however, work in the local freezing works. Another of Feilding’s famous sons, the former Chair of the Waitangi Tribunal Edward Taihakurei (Eddie) Durie, remembers a world that overlapped with, but was also quite distinct from, that experienced by Bill Oliver.

[W]hat really struck me, was that some of our most senior elders in Ngāti Kauwhata — people who held real status on the marae — were nothing in the freezing works. They were just workers on the chain. And while the industry was pretty good in the way it employed Māori, and made pork bones available for tangi, I could see that people who we admired and respected enormously as children, were not recognised outside of our marae.

The other side of that was that few Pākehā leaders had ever set foot on a marae. One memory that stands out is that, in about 1950, the Mayor of Feilding came on to our marae, because he knew the person who’d died. Everyone was impressed by that. But the mayor was in a hurry, and he walked straight on to the marae. Not waiting for the call. Not waiting at the gate. It wasn’t his fault. No one had told him. He didn’t know what the procedure was.

…[T]hat was how things were back then, when officials who had a significant say over the lives of our people hadn’t even been on to the marae.

While Pakeha butter was also marketed to New Zealanders, it was above all a product for the British market. In 1897, only four years after the dairy company was established, The Cyclopedia of New Zealand was already reporting that the company ‘has a large contract in the Old Country, which absorbs the greater part of the butter produced’. Butter was an important export product for New Zealand, its success made possible by refrigeration. Government regulation of dairying began in the 1890s and farmer-owned dairy cooperatives began to flourish. Butter grew from 2% of New Zealand export earnings in 1895 to almost 19% in 1925 and 30% by 1935. The Cheltenham Dairy Company illustrated this growth, expanding production from 34 tons in the 1893-94 season to 2861 tons in 1935-36. Little wonder that the company boasted of its contribution to ‘Feilding Progress’ during New Zealand’s centennial year, 1940.

CH - Cheltenham Co-op Dairy Company - NZ Centenary float - 1940 (1)
Cheltenham Co-operative Dairy Company, Limited, NZ Centenary float, 1940, NZI-CH-9.11, Massey University Library

New Zealanders themselves were great butter-eaters, and butter was essential to their great love of cakes and biscuits. But New Zealand butter was also very important in Britain. Historian Lizzie Collingham argues that New Zealand butter, cheese and meat, along with imported products from other parts of the Empire, played a significant role in improving the diet of working-class Britons. The downside for New Zealand was a strong reliance on the British market to purchase a narrow range of agricultural products. By 1970, Britain was purchasing 90% of New Zealand’s butter exports, and this presented significant challenges for New Zealand when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

Another recipe that caught my eye while looking through the old cookbooks was this one for Empire Christmas pudding.

20191226_123113(Unfortunately the cover of this book was missing, so I’m unable to identify the book or the publication date.)

As with Pakeha butter, the Empire Christmas pudding shows how New Zealand was connected by both economics and sentiment to the wider British world. The celebration of Christmas itself linked New Zealand to Britain and Ireland, where most New Zealand Christmas traditions originated. As Alison Clarke writes in her history of holiday seasons in nineteenth-century New Zealand, the Christmas plum pudding ‘assumed iconic significance for English colonists, featuring as the most recurrent image of Christmas in diaries, letters, reminiscences, newspaper reports, poems and stories.’ But the 1920s saw a more conscious use of the Christmas pudding to promote ties, and particularly trade connections, between Britain and its Empire.

Concerned about competition from American and other ‘non-British’ producers, the British Women’s Patriotic League and other organisations began promoting recipes for Christmas puddings using ingredients from throughout the Empire. In 1926, this idea was taken up by the Earl of Meath, the creator of Empire Day and a prominent booster of imperial sentiment. He organised an event at the headquarters of the Overseas League in London, at which a pudding made of ingredients from a number of British colonies and dominions was mixed with due ceremony. Once cooked, it was to be presented to the King and Queen for their Christmas meal, as (in the words of Lord Meath) ‘a symbol of Imperial unity and an epitome of inter-Empire trade’.

Empire Christmas pudding
‘THE KING’S CHRISTMAS PUDDING OF EMPIRE INGREDIENTS. After the ceremony of mixing the pudding at Vernon House, London. The Earl of Meath leading the toasting of the King’s health.’ New Zealand Herald, 2 February 1927, p. 15

However, New Zealand was one of a number of parts of the Empire that complained that it had been overlooked in the 1926 recipe. This oversight was corrected the following year, when the newly-established Empire Marketing Board took over the Christmas pudding project. The Board  saw an opportunity to use Christmas pudding and royal patronage to achieve its objective of promoting trade within the Empire. It obtained a  Christmas pudding recipe from the royal chef, André Cédard, and set about matching ingredients to products from the British colonies and dominions. New Zealand was represented, somewhat uninspiringly, by 5 lb of beef suet.

The recipe was then publicised widely, including in New Zealand newspapers, and appears to have been a great success for the Empire Marketing Board. In 1931, a ten-ton Empire Christmas pudding was made in London, with New Zealand providing two tons of beef suet. The High Commissioner of New Zealand, Sir Thomas Wilford, spoke at the pudding mixing ceremony, held at the Christmas fair of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. New Zealand, he said, ‘loves to be associated with any movement which spells Empire. … The slogan of New Zealand in regard to Empire is: “Keep the money in the family.”‘ New Zealand was also represented at the fair by a stall featuring New Zealand butter, cheese and honey, displayed under the slogan: ‘You get your money back if you buy New Zealand produce. New Zealanders spend it in British manufactures.’

Poster, ‘From Christmas to Christmas May Empire Trade Increase’, 1927, United Kingdom, by Austin Cooper, Waterlow & Sons Ltd, H.M. Stationery Office, Empire Marketing Board. Found in collection, 2012. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (GH021696)

For New Zealand, this history of being so tightly enmeshed in the imperial trading system has a number of legacies. Pakeha butter was part of a dairy industry built on land that Pākehā had often obtained from Māori through questionable purchases or, in the case of regions such as Waikato and Taranaki, confiscated from Māori following the New Zealand Wars. Though Māori did play a part in the agricultural economy as producers and workers, the great bulk of the profits went to Pākehā. And New Zealand’s continued economic dependence on dairying and other forms of primary production surely results, in part, from the extended period when it was known as ‘Britain’s farm’. This dependence has had significantly detrimental environmental effects, while also leaving New Zealand economically vulnerable. Perhaps Pākehā should have listened to the ‘well-known Auckland Maori’ who, in 1927, contrasted the Māori preference for growing a range of crops with the Pākehā who ‘risked all and everything on dairying, depending solely on butter.’ His comments were reported in the Auckland Star under the heading ‘Hint for the Pakeha: Too Much Butter’.

For Britain, the legacy of being at the centre of imperial trade networks has been one of delusions of former grandeur, a legacy which is playing out now in the Brexit debacle. When I was living in Britain in 2016-17, a number of people spoke to me in apologetic tones about Britain’s decision to join the European Economic Community, and its economic effects on New Zealand. I’m pretty sure butter was specifically mentioned. The assumption seemed to be that New Zealanders might still hold a grudge about this history, but in fact New Zealand has moved on.

The only people still agonizing about the UK’s membership of the European Union are the British (more particularly, the English) themselves. They have been fed on a steady diet of myths about the EU, a surprising number of which concerned food. As the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole observes:

Part of the genius of the anti-European narrative that fed Brexit is that it took all the large anxieties … and concentrated them on objects of consumption. It used food and drink to make these anxieties not tangible but edible and potable.

Perhaps inevitably, one of these fabricated food myths concerned Christmas pudding: it was reported in 1992 that new EU hygiene regulations would put an end to a British naval tradition of stirring the Christmas pudding recipe with wooden oars. But dreams that Britain can again achieve a trading supremacy once possible within the closed system of empire are surely as illusory as tales of dastardly Eurocrats meddling with the great British Christmas pudding.


Ashburton Guardian, 19 July 1946, p. 2.

Feilding Star, 19 September 1893, p. 2.

New Zealand Herald, 24 December 1931, p. 6, 28 December 1931, p. 4.

Auckland Star, 2 December 1927, p. 3.

Francis Steel, ‘New Zealand is Butterland: Interpreting the Historical Significance of a Daily Spread’, New Zealand Journal of History, vol. 39, no. 2, 2005, pp. 179-194.

Kaori O’Connor, ‘The King’s Christmas Pudding: Globalization, Recipes, and the Commodities of Empire’, Journal of Global History, vol. 4, no. 1, 2009, pp. 127-155.

Cheltenham Co-operative Dairy Company Limited, Golden Jubilee booklet, 1943,

W.H. Oliver, Looking for the Phoenix: A Memoir, Wellington, Bridget Williams Books, 2002.

Alison Clarke, Holiday Seasons: Christmas, New Year and Easter in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2007.

Lizzie Collingham, The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World, London, Bodley Head, 2017.

Fintan O’Toole, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, London, Head of Zeus, 2018.



20190626_114227.jpgNgā mihi o Matariki, arā o te tau hou Māori, ki a koutou!

The appearance in the sky of the star cluster Matariki (the Pleiades) is widely considered to mark the start of the Māori new year (although, as discussed further below, there are differing beliefs around the country). In 2019, Matariki is said to have appeared on 25 June, and at the time of posting Matariki celebrations are nearing an end for this year.

I’m not qualified to write about traditional celebration of Matariki, or about how Matariki fits into Māori astronomical lore. What I want to discuss instead is the relatively recent revival of Matariki as a modern festival.

The celebration of Matariki is a precolonial Māori tradition that continued into the early twentieth century before dwindling away. In a 1967 article in the magazine Te Ao Hou, the Māori writer Harry Dansey commented that widespread lack of awareness of Matariki’s importance in the Māori calendar was proof ‘that when old customs die, they die indeed.’ Yet, while the meaning and context of Matariki celebrations may have changed significantly, they have experienced a remarkable rebirth.

Possibly the first modern celebration of Matariki was reported in Wellington’s Evening Post newspaper in June 1995. Based around Wellington’s Pipitea marae, activities included kite-flying, demonstrations of Māori arts and talks on Māori issues. Whetū Tirikātene-Sullivan, MP was patron of the festival, which was organised by artist Diane Prince and others. A revival of Matariki in Hawke’s Bay seems to have occurred in parallel with that in Wellington, with a public Matariki event being held for the first time in Hastings in 2000.

It was in the early 2000s that the public celebration of Matariki really started to take off. A key factor was the championing of Matariki by Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission), which saw Matariki as an opportunity to promote the Māori language, and by Te Papa Tongarewa (the national museum), which started celebrating Matariki as part of its commitment to biculturalism. While Te Papa staff had been marking Matariki privately since the 1990s, Te Papa’s first public Matariki celebrations took place in 2001. The publication of Libby Hakaraia’s book Matariki: The Māori New Year in 2004 was also influential.

Over the past two decades, celebration of Matariki has become increasingly widespread and has grown in popularity. It has been taken up by local authorities around the country as a significant winter festival, and is observed in many schools.

There have also been calls for Matariki to become a public holiday. In 2009, Māori Party MP Rāhui Kātene’s private Member’s Bill, Te Rā o Matariki/Matariki Day Bill, had a first reading in Parliament. The Bill provided for Matariki to become a public holiday to celebrate the Māori new year, with the date of the observance to be notified by the Minister of Māori Affairs, based on expert advice. Although the Bill did not make it through to the select committee stage, the idea of a new holiday remains very much alive (see here, for example). Just today, the New Zealand Republic organisation launched a new petition asking Parliament to make Matariki a public holiday.

Even without a public holiday, Matariki seems to be evolving into a national festival, albeit with distinct local flavours. In 2016, Te Papa declared its aspiration to make Matariki ‘an indigenous event of national identity’, although there is clearly still some way to go to achieve this aim. Research conducted for Te Papa in 2017 found that 69 per cent of people were aware of Matariki but that most people (even most Māori) felt they had a low understanding of what Matariki was about.

Two main arguments are commonly put forward for Matariki to be embraced as a national festival. First, it’s argued that Matariki is indigenous to Aotearoa and is based on the seasons of this land. Celebrating Matariki is a way of recognising and respecting Māori culture, as Rāhui Kātene argued when she introduced her Bill: ‘Matariki is a festival in which we can truly commemorate the indigenous origins of Aotearoa by giving respect to the unique customs and culture of tangata whenua.’ As Kātene went on to note, it’s also a festival that connects Aotearoa to other Pacific countries with similar new year traditions. Indeed, other Polynesian peoples have also revived new year festivals based on the appearance of the Pleiades, such as Makahiki in Hawai’i and Matari’i in Tahiti.

The second key reason given for reviving Matariki in contemporary Aotearoa is that it can unite New Zealanders, bringing them together in a uniquely local celebration. In this respect, it’s often contrasted with the perceived contentiousness of Waitangi Day, and with British-derived celebrations (particularly the Queen’s Birthday, Guy Fawkes Day and New Year’s Eve) seen as having little relevance in New Zealand today. For example, Marilyn Head wrote in the Listener in 2003 that Matariki was ‘a potential alternative to the over-politicised Waitangi Day. Instead of tension and aggression, the spirit of Matariki is gentle, reflective and absolving.’ In the debate on Te Rā o Matariki Bill, Māori Party MP Hone Harawira said the Bill’s purpose was ‘Hei whakakotahi i ngā iwi o te motu i runga anō i ngā tikanga taketake o tēnei whenua’ (translated as ‘to unite the people of this nation on the basis of shared indigenous values’).

The growing recognition of Matariki as a national festival is not without challenges, however. For a start, the ‘nationalisation’ of Matariki could lead to the marginalisation or erasure of regional differences in beliefs about Matariki and the Māori new year. An example of this is the tradition among some iwi (particularly those in the west of the country, where Matariki is less visible) that the new year is heralded by the rising of Puanga (Rigel), rather than Matariki.

There could also be a risk of Matariki becoming an anodyne, depoliticised festival that moves away from its cultural origins. For the most part, it seems that the celebration of Matariki (or Puanga) is a tradition that Māori are happy to share with other New Zealanders. However, Matariki’s modern revival began as part of the project of Māori cultural revitalisation that gathered pace from the 1970s onwards. It involves a conscious celebration of mātauranga Māori (Māori indigenous knowledge) and an attempt to counter the effects of what Radio New Zealand’s Shannon Haunui-Thompson, in a recent discussion of Matariki, called ‘the C-word that we shouldn’t be using on radio – colonisation’. (It’s worth noting that Diane Prince, one of those responsible for Matariki’s modern revival, is an overtly political artist who, in the same year as the first Pipitea Matariki celebration, created a controversial installation at Auckland Art Gallery which invited visitors to tread on the New Zealand flag.)

As Matariki becomes more widely observed, therefore, a tension could develop between Matariki’s origins as a Māori-centred and Māori-controlled celebration and its increasing adoption as a broader community festival.

I don’t share the certainty of one commentator who is so sure Matariki will become a public holiday that he set up an automatic tweet inviting readers to mock him if his prediction does not come true within five years. So I won’t attempt to predict Matariki’s future, but I am confident it will grow and evolve further in the coming years. Its continued evolution will be fascinating to watch.

Further reading

Ann Hardy, ‘Re-designing the National Imaginary: The Development of Matariki as a Contemporary Festival’, Australian Journal of Communication, vol. 39, no. 1, 2012, pp. 101-117.

Takao Miyazato, ‘A Cultural Anthropological Study of the Matariki Tradition and the Maori New Year’, Bulletin of the Graduate School of International Cultural Studies, Aichi Prefectural University, vol. 8, 2007, pp. 193-211.

Guillaume Alévêque, ‘The Rise of the Pleiades: The Quest for Identity and the Politics of Tradition in French Polynesia’, in Edvard Hviding and Knut M. Rio (eds), Made in Oceania: Social Movements, Cultural Heritage and the State in the Pacific (Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing, 2011), pp. 161-178.

Libby Hakaraia, Matariki: The Māori New Year (Auckland: Reed Publishing, 2004).

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, Matariki: Aotearoa Pacific New Year (Wellington, 2005).

John King, ‘Kites Mark Maori New Year’, Evening Post (Wellington), 26 June 1995, p. 2.

Marilyn Head, ‘Little Eyes’, Listener, 7 June 2003, pp. 30-31.

Te Rangi Huata, ‘Bay Skies Ablaze for Matariki’, Hawkes Bay Today, 17 June 2013, p. 11.

Of poppies, pacifists … and pirates (continued)

3. Old pirates, yes they rob I

Once you start digging into the stories behind street names, you may be surprised by what you discover. Recently, there have been suggestions in Hamilton, Tauranga and Wellington that streets or buildings named after controversial historical figures should be renamed. There have been similar debates in other countries too, including Australia and Britain.

Having borrowed Alison Carey’s book on Lower Hutt place names to check the reasons for the naming of Te Whiti Grove, I decided to learn more about other street names in the area. On the side of Waiwhetu Road closest to the hills, names relating to First and Second World War history predominate. Between Waiwhetu Road and the railway line, however, most of the street names come from British naval history. A few of these names also relate to the First World War (and are duly marked with poppies), but most are connected with events that took place well before the British colonisation of New Zealand.

Around the Waterloo shops, there are a number of street names relating to the Napoleonic Wars and the British naval hero Lord Nelson. Waterloo School has even picked up on this theme – in 2015, students decorated a covered gate at the school with pictures of Nelson and other figures from the Napoleonic Wars, together with (somewhat incongruously) the Parihaka prophets Te Whiti and Tohu and, for good measure, Queen Elizabeth II and the school’s then principal.

20190505_12144620190505_12140720190505_121418Nelson’s own record has recently come under question for his connection with slave-owning interests in the West Indies and his personal opposition to the movement to abolish slavery. However, I want to focus here on three streets named for historical figures who, in contemporary New Zealand, are somewhat more obscure.

Hawkins, Grenville and Rodney Streets run roughly parallel to each other, and commemorate Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595), Sir Richard Grenville (1542-1591) and Sir George Brydges Rodney (1718-1792). These men were seen as representing two key chapters in British naval history, as Arthur Temple explained in The Making of the Empire: The Story of Our Colonies (1897):

[I]t is to those two periods [the Elizabethan age and the late eighteenth century] that we chiefly owe our colonies and various possessions, and the supremacy of the seas. What Hawkins, Drake, and Howard began with their tiny ships, Rodney, Nelson, and Jervis completed.

The history of all three men is closely connected with Britain’s imperial expansion and with its rivalry with other imperial powers (Spain, France and Holland), especially in the Caribbean.

Rodney, though viewed as a great naval commander in his time, was also considered vain and self-interested. He was ordered to capture the Dutch-controlled island of St Eustatius, to prevent it from providing supplies to the United States during the American Revolution. Heavily indebted, Rodney took the opportunity to plunder the island for his own personal gain. He was called back to England to defend himself, and while he was there the French attacked Britain’s Caribbean possessions, with the ultimate aim of taking Jamaica. Rodney returned to the Caribbean, and arrived in time to defeat the French at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782. As Carrie Gibson writes in her history of the Caribbean:

Rodney left England a scoundrel, and returned a hero. There were celebrations of the victory, and he was given a peerage.

There is a statue of him in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and Captain Cook named Cape Rodney, north of Auckland, in his honour.

Grenville and Hawkins belonged to an earlier phase of British empire-building. Notoriously hot-headed and impetuous, Grenville was involved in the colonisation of Ireland and in the establishment of the English settlement at Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. He also had an unrealised plan to sail around South America to the Pacific Ocean (an ambition achieved instead by Sir Francis Drake).

Both Grenville and Hawkins were involved in Britain’s great rivalry with Spain during the Elizabethan period. This included the successful defence against the invading Spanish Armada in 1588, but also offensive action — which is where the piracy comes in. Both men engaged in privateering, attacking Spanish ships returning from South America laden with treasure (itself plundered from indigenous peoples). Privateering is essentially piracy that has been licensed by a state as an act of war. English privateers would carry a commission from the monarch authorising them to attack Spanish vessels and retain a portion of the booty for themselves, with the rest to be returned to the Crown.

4. Do you remember the days of slavery?

In the case of Hawkins, however, there is an additional reason for his notoriety: he is generally considered to be the first English trader in African slaves. In the 1560s, he made three voyages to the west coast of Africa to buy slaves, who were to be sold in the Spanish territories around the Caribbean. The second of these voyages had direct support from Queen Elizabeth I, who provided Hawkins with a ship, the Jesus. On his third voyage, his ships were attacked by the Spanish while sheltering in a Mexican harbour, sparking a new phase of conflict between England and Spain.

Hawkins’s role as the first English slave-trader has made him something of an iconic villain to black nationalist movements in the Caribbean and North America. The Jamaican-American political leader Marcus Garvey wrote in a 1913 essay that Hawkins, ‘of infamous memory’, was one of many ‘piratical or buccaneering heroes or rogues, whichever you wish to call them’, who were figures of terror in the West Indies. Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam (an African-American religious movement unrelated to orthodox Islam), included Hawkins in the Nation’s elaborate origin story, claiming Hawkins brought Africans to North America. Within Jamaica’s Rastafari movement, too, Hawkins is often referred to as one of the ‘four great pirates’ (together with the likes of Cecil Rhodes). Peter Tosh, the reggae singer and former bandmate of Bob Marley in the Wailers, mentions Hawkins in his song ‘You Can’t Blame the Youth’:

You teach the youth about the Pirate Hawkins

And you said he was a very great man…

But all these great men were doing

Robbin’, rapin’, kidnappin’ and a-killin’.

Tosh was singing about Jamaica, but it’s certainly true that young people in New Zealand were once taught that Hawkins and others like him were great men. Here, for example, is a page from a 1920 article on ‘England’s Struggle for Empire’ from a 1920 edition of the New Zealand School Journal, in which Hawkins and Grenville appear among a pantheon of heroes of England’s rivalry with Spain.


Our Race and Empire, a New Zealand secondary school text from around 1925, also features Hawkins.


Although the book mentions in passing Hawkins’s involvement in slave-trading, the overall message is one of pride:

In Elizabeth’s reign, then, we find the seed of Empire beginning to germinate. English sailors became splendid seamen and bold fighters; English merchants sent ships to the far East Indies; and men of the stamp of Drake, Hawkins and Grenville broke the sea-power of Spain.

Little wonder, then, that such men were seen as deserving of commemoration in the street names of Waterloo, where residential development began after the railway reached the area in 1927.

This imperial view of history may live on in street names, but what does it mean for us today? It certainly remains influential in Brexit-obsessed Britain. In his recent book Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole is suitably scathing about the historical fantasies perpetuated by the Brexiteers, from harking back to the Hundred Years War (the only episode in British history ‘more thoroughly unhinged than Brexit’, according to O’Toole) to imagined scenarios in which Britain actually lost the Second World War.

Another fantasy popular with Brexiteers of a libertarian persuasion is that Britain was once a successful, free-wheeling, buccaneering trading nation, and can become so again once free of the shackles of Brussels. Not only does this view of history whitewash the impact on colonised peoples of the ways in which Britain obtained its wealth, it also fails to point to a practical way forward for a post-Brexit Britain by ignoring the extent to which Britain’s former trading prowess was underpinned by military, and particularly naval, power. It’s interesting to read in Arthur Temple’s Making of the Empire this quote from the historian J.A. Froude:

take away her merchant fleets; take away the navy that guards them; her Empire will come to an end; her colonies will drop off like leaves from a withered tree; and Britain will become once more an insignificant island in the North Sea, for the future students in Australian and New Zealand universities to discuss the fate of in their debating societies.

Some 125 years later, Froude’s vision has come to pass, and New Zealand’s former place in the British Empire is a fading memory. Still, we should not be too quick to assume we have moved past all that ‘Empire stuff’. There has been much discussion recently about the history of racism and white supremacy in New Zealand. Much of it, quite rightly, has focused on New Zealand’s own history of colonisation of Māori land, immigration policies that discriminated against non-British or non-white peoples, and imperialism in the Pacific. But it’s important to remember also that New Zealand was an integral part of a wider empire built on white domination and the extraction of profit from the lands and labour of people of other ‘races’. It was an article of faith for most Pākehā New Zealanders, reinforced by everything from school text books to popular novels, that this state of affairs was both natural and desirable. After being entrenched for so long, it would be surprising if this way of thinking had been entirely shaken off, even in 2019.

So, what to do about the street names? On the whole, I prefer to understand, contextualise and diversify the stories that make up our symbolic landscapes, rather than eliminate existing historical markers. Hawkins Street is a short and (with no disrespect to its residents) fairly undistinguished street, light industrial on one side and residential on the other. I doubt that many people pay much attention either to the street itself or to its name. Is it worth the effort of changing it, when hardly anyone in New Zealand has heard these days of the man whom it commemorates?

But if there were to be a desire for change, perhaps instead of renaming we could repurpose the existing names. There must be other people called Hawkins, Grenville and Rodney more worthy of commemoration. For example, Rodney Street could be rededicated to Walter Rodney, the Guyanese political activist and historian, who was assassinated almost 40 years ago. There would be a delicious irony in the author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) taking a place of honour from the pirates.

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.

nlnzimage (2)
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

nlnzimage (1)
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, (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.

Aotearoa and New Zealand: history, politics and place names

From the title page of James Cowan, New Zealand, or Ao-teä-roa (the Long Bright World): Its Wealth and Resources, Scenery, Travel-Routes, Spas, and Sport (Wellington: Government Printer, 1907)

A petition calling for a referendum on whether the official name of New Zealand should include the Māori name Aotearoa is currently seeking signatures and has been receiving some publicity lately. It joins another petition on the same topic, which has already been presented to Parliament. I don’t like the chances of either petition succeeding, given that a select committee report in 2010 on the last petition to seek recognition of the name Aotearoa made no recommendations. However, the current petitions have revived an interesting and useful debate about what this country should be called.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, people often turn to history to support their arguments in debates about place names. (Unfortunately, the article in History Australia is subscription only, but a limited number of copies can be accessed by non-subscribers here.)  However, while history can certainly inform debates about place names, it can’t tell us what the name of a place should be. Decisions about place names are ultimately a question of politics and power, not history.

Aotearoa is commonly described by its supporters as the original Māori name for New Zealand. In response, those who oppose official recognition of the name Aotearoa (often the same people who complain about increasing recognition of Māori language, culture and Treaty of Waitangi rights) point to a discussion of the name in Michael King’s Penguin History of New Zealand (2003). ‘Look!’, they say gleefully. ‘Even Michael King [subtext: a respected historian generally considered sympathetic to Māori] says the name Aotearoa for New Zealand is a nineteenth century invention. The Dutch named the country New Zealand in the seventeenth century, so that name is actually older!’

Michael King set out how a particular version of the story of the discovery of New Zealand by the navigator Kupe was compiled by the Pākehā amateur ethnologist S. Percy Smith and popularised through texts like the School Journal. In this story, Kupe’s wife was the first to see signs of land ahead as their waka (canoe) neared the North Island, calling out ‘He ao! He ao!’ (‘A cloud! A cloud!’) A romanticised version of this incident is portrayed in William Trethewey’s 1940 sculpture, now on the Wellington waterfront.

16.01.11 025From that event, the story goes, came the name Aotearoa, commonly translated as ‘long white cloud’.

King argues that, while Aotearoa was one traditional name for the North Island, it was not used to describe the whole New Zealand archipelago – it didn’t acquire this wider meaning until the late nineteenth century. Early written documents, including the 1835 Declaration of Independence and the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, refer to New Zealand using transliterations such as ‘Nu Tireni’. It was also common to refer to New Zealand’s two main islands as ‘Aotearoa me Te Waipounamu’ (Te Waipounamu being a name for the South Island). Over time, however, Aotearoa came to be used as a Māori name for New Zealand as a whole.

Of course, Michael King’s view is not the definitive word on the traditional meaning of ‘Aotearoa’. But his central point is undoubtedly correct: Māori in pre-colonial times could not have used Aotearoa to mean the arbitrary collection of islands we now call New Zealand, because the boundaries of New Zealand were a colonial creation. While Pākehā who are grumpy about New Zealand being called Aotearoa like to cite Michael King’s conclusion that ‘New Zealand was certainly not known to Maori as Aotearoa in the pre-European times’, however, they ignore the sentence that follows: ‘Just as certainly, it is called that now by most Maori of the modern era.’ And that, to me, is the point.

Rather than a sterile debate about which name came first, I suggest we should be asking: what is the name that best represents the kind of country we want this to be? For me, that question leads to another: which name recognises the indigenous language and culture of this country, and our geographic location in the Pacific? What Aotearoa meant before the arrival of Pākehā is of limited relevance, in my view: what is important is that it is the most commonly-used name for New Zealand in modern Māori. Māori is a living, evolving language, in which the meaning of names and words can change, but it is still identifiably the language of the original inhabitants of most of what we now call New Zealand. Referring to New Zealand as Aotearoa recognises and respects the status of Māori as a language unique to this land.

From socialist and republican perspective, the blogger Scott Hamilton has expressed some qualms about official recognition of the name Aotearoa New Zealand, even though he sympathises with the spirit of the proposal. Hamilton notes that Queen Elizabeth is Queen of New Zealand and suggests that under the change proposed in the petition she would become Queen of Aotearoa New Zealand. Is this appropriate, he asks, given the use of Aotearoa by anti-imperialists like the second Māori King, Tāwhiao? Moreover, there is also a Realm of New Zealand that includes Tokelau, Niue, the Cook Islands and part of Antarctica. Would this Realm be any more represenative of its Pacific inhabitants if it became the Realm of Aotearoa New Zealand? Better, he suggests, to change the name after constitutional reform that abolishes the monarchy and establishes a new relationship with Pacific Island countries.

There are a few points to make in response to the questions raised by Hamilton. For a start, the name Aotearoa hasn’t only been used by anti-imperialists. Here it is, for example, on a Christmas greeting card for New Zealand soldiers in the First World War to send home from Europe.

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William Frederick Bell, Aotearoa greeting card, 1917. Eph-A-CARDS-Christmas-WWI-1917-01, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

Likewise, the New Zealand writer and politician William Pember Reeves called his 1898 popular history of New Zealand The Long White Cloud – Ao Tea Roa. Reeves was a social reformer and Fabian socialist, but also an imperialist. As Beryl Woolford Roa discussesThe Long White Cloud was imbued with the dominant racial ideology of Reeves’s time and ignored the role of the Native Land Court in the loss of Māori land.

It’s also not clear that giving official status to the name Aotearoa New Zealand would necessarily have the consequences Hamilton is concerned about. The New Zealand Geographic Board’s jurisdiction does not allow it to ‘assign a name to, or alter the name of, New Zealand’, and there is no other established process for changing the name of the country. Specific legislation would be needed, so the scope of the name change would depend on the provisions of the legislation.  It doesn’t automatically follow that a change to Aotearoa New Zealand would mean a change the royal title or the name of the Realm, which would require amendments to the Royal Titles Act 1974 and the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General. It’s worth noting, too, that the Interpretation Act 1999 provides that ‘New Zealand’, when used as a territorial description in legislation, does not include the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau or the Ross Dependency. In short, it seems possible to me that Aotearoa New Zealand might be used only for what we could call the ‘core’ State of New Zealand, without affecting the royal title or the wider Realm.

Such technicalities aside, there is a more significant reason why I don’t share Hamilton’s concerns even though I do share his interest in seeing more far-reaching change than simply a new name for the country. There is a fairly widespread view in left and liberal circles that changes to symbols should happen after fundamental change to political structures: they are the icing on the cake of reform or revolution. This view was commonly articulated during the flag debate a few years ago, and I think it underlies Hamilton’s concerns about a new name for an unreconstructed state. I suggest, however, that symbolic changes – and perhaps even more importantly, debate about proposed symbolic changes – can prepare the ground for political and social change, and give expression to social change that is already under way. We can only imagine a collectivity as large as a nation through its symbols, so changing the nation’s symbols can help us to reimagine the nation itself (ideally in a more progressive way). Of course, a change to symbols is not enough on its own, but neither should we wait until we get everything else right before thinking about symbols. (For a view that a change to Aotearoa New Zealand would be worthwhile but should be accompanied by better constitutional provision for Treaty partnership, see Carwyn Jones here.)

I do, however, have one reservation about recognising the name Aotearoa at this point in our journey towards giving appropriate status to Māori language and culture. With many people still struggling to pronounce Māori words, there would inevitably be quite a lot of mispronunciation of the newly-recognised name as ‘Ay-oh-tay-ah-roe-ah’ (à la Split Enz in ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’) or something similar. Perhaps te reo Māori should become compulsory in schools first…

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