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.

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’, https://www.nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/royal-visit-of-1953-54, updated 6 Jan 2016

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

The ‘full and final’ fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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