Tuesday, October 05, 2010

New Munster redux?

"The South Island is a foreign country", Kendrick Smithyman declared in a 1988 interview. The Kiwi poet had explored the towns and villages and hinterlands of the North Island for decades, finding in them the stuff of literature, but his knowledge of the larger island south of Cook Strait was, he admitted, rudimentary.

Smithyman's case is far from unusual. Many inhabitants of the North Island, and particularly the northern half of the North Island, live long lives and travel widely without ever venturing across the Cook Strait. They know the pubs of London and the cobbles of Pamplona from their OEs, and the beaches of Australia and the malls of America's West Coast from holidays with the kids and in-laws, but the permanently white mountains and grid-like towns of the southern two-thirds of their own country remain foreign to them.

The indifference which the notherner tends to feel towards the South Island has encouraged a strong feeling of difference amongst southerners. Sports teams from Auckland travel to Canterbury or Otago or Southland with trepidation. Even in the less hurly-burly world of the arts, the difference between north and south has often been felt. Smithyman was one of a generation of postwar Auckland and Wellington writers who chafed at the influence of South Islanders over New Zealand literature. In a series of high-profile poems, anthologies and essays, southerners like Allen Curnow and Charles Brasch had tried to define New Zealand literature, arguing that it was the creation of a European people who found themselves suddenly displaced and lonely in a vast and ominous land. 'The empty hills cry for meaning', Brasch wrote in one particularly plangent poem. For Smithyman, who grew up in working class, multi-ethnic communities in Northland and West Auckland, and who saw the remains of ancient pa whenever he looked at hills, the 'cult of the empty land' was nothing more than a 'South Island myth'.

The determined attempt by Brasch and Curnow to create a national literature represents one of the two ways in which southerners have attempted to assert their sense of difference from the north. Brasch did not deny that regions like Smithyman's beloved Northland had their own, peculiar history and sociology, but he felt that the essential situation of New Zealanders was expressed most clearly and insistently in the south. The South Island was, in other words, the real New Zealand.

This sort of claim has been a staple of South Island culture for more than one hundred and fifty years, and it is still being made insistently. The very popular 'Southern Man' advertisements for Speights beer, for instance, contrast the authenticity of tough and laconic South Island farmhands with the decadence of Auckland yuppies and socialites, and suggest that the northerners represent a betrayal of proper Kiwi values. In a more highbrow manner, the poet, biographer, environmentalist and good southern man Brian Turner endlessly contrasts his own existence in a small town in a particularly cold part of central Otago with the soft, out-of-touch lives of Aucklanders. Like Speights, Turner is surprisingly popular in Auckland. The geographical and conceptual remoteness of the southern South Island can make the region seem appealingly exotic to the denizens of the capital of decadence. There is another, less ambitious South Island expression of difference. In a cantankerous interview for the Harry Ricketts-edited volume Talking about Ourselves: Twelve New Zealand Poets in Conversation, Turner made some of his usual criticisms of Auckland, then revealed that he didn't like to visit the city anymore. He had, he said, 'given up' on Auckland. He no longer considered it to be a part of the country he lived in. Throughout Turner's oeuvre, the desire to correct Auckland's deviation from proper Kiwi values alternates with a disgusted desire for complete separation from the city, and all that it (supposedly) represents.

Turner's secessionist impulses have a surprisingly long history. In 1865, representatives from the province of Otago put a motion for the separation of the North and South Islands into separate countries to the New Zealand General Assembly. Auckland, which resented its imminent loss of capital city status to Wellington, supported the motion, which was nevertheless easily defeated.

Over the last decade a series of organisations have sought to reanimate South Island secessionism. Standing in a polling booth in the Central Auckland electorate in 1999, I was intrigued to discover that a candidate for the South Island Party was asking for my vote. I almost gave it to him, before deciding that the Communist League's candidate represented an even more embattled cause, and therefore deserved some small succour. (Exactly why the South Island Independence Party, which fizzled out sometime in the interval between the 1999 and 2002 elections, decided to take its campaign to the very belly of the northern beast escapes me. Would Sinn Fein campaign in Surrey?)

Most of the separatist organisations set up in the south seem to repeat criticisms made by Brian Turner in his grumpier moments. They complain, often justifiably, about the indifference of northerners to the south, about the north's use of massive amounts of power generated in the south, and about the threats to the south's environment from development bankrolled by northerners and foreigners.

One recently-founded organisation, though, appears to be taking the tradition of southern separatism in a novel and unpleasant direction. The name of the New Munster Party harks back to the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1846, which divided Britain's new colony - most of which was still, of course, actually controlled by Maori, rather than Pakeha - into New Ulster province, which comprised the North Island, and New Munster province, which consisted of the South Island and Stewart Island. New Munster was soon abolished, and replaced with the more modestly-sized provinces of Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago, but the party that has appropriated its name apparently considers this an irrelevance. The New Munster Party appears to see South Islanders, and in particular white South Islanders, as an oppressed minority, under threat from alien immigrants as well as from the government in Wellington. The party's policy on immigration is unambiguous:

We are committed to a policy of cultural and ethnic nationalism, whereby our society comprises of people who share a common cultural heritage, a similar set of values and where new immigrants are assimilated into the greater community.

The New Munster Party seems to me to be a manifestation of the 'white identity' politics popularised overseas in recent years by groups like the British National Party. Fifty years ago, the racist far right tended to use imperialist language, and to exalt whites as the 'master race' predestined by biology to rule the world. Today, after the breakup of the old white colonial empires, the discrediting of biological racism, and the strengthening of non-white minorities in most Western countries, groups like the BNP are attempting a bizarre emulation of their old anti-racist opponents, by presenting whites as an 'oppressed people' who need state assistance to hold onto their culture and their land.

Several videos posted on the website of the New Munster Party link the party's cause to that of far right groups overseas. A video produced by the BNP, for instance, purports to show how Muslims are 'taking over Europe', and making white Christians into an embattled minority. A similar fate, it seems, awaits the south, if it does not unshackle itself from the multicultural north. In a message left under a news report on National's 2008 election victory, New Munster Party activist Kym Parsons complained that:

The sight of gay, immigrants dancing around and celebrating John Key and Nationals win in Auckland last night was a joke. Where has the real NZ gone? And you wonder why we in the South want our political independence from the North.

Elsewhere on the internet Parsons and his colleagues talk of organising a South Island boycott of the 2011 elections and establishing a 'New Munster Liberation Army'. In the hands of the New Munster Party, the proud sense of difference and robust critique of urban civilisation familiar in South Island writers like Brian Turner have been perverted into xenophobia and hatred.

In New Zealand, the far right has for some time attempted, without much success, to follow the lead of their European brethren, and portray themselves as an oppressed majority. The chaotic but violent New Zealand National Front used the pseudo-archaeology of Martin Doutre and Kerry Bolton as an excuse to declare whites the 'true tangata whenua' of this country, and its most high-profile leader, the would-be mountain man Kyle Chapman, talked about founding a white homeland in north Canterbury, as a place of refuge from the 'Maori radicalism' and 'multiculturalism' which have supposedly brought twenty-first century New Zealand to the brink of collapse. Last year Aidan Work, a fanatical monarchist with an unhealthy liking for Ulster loyalist paramilitaries, called, in apparent seriousness, for the secession of his native Whanganui from New Zealand and its reabsorption by the British Empire. The 'Pakeha separatism' of Work and of old National Front leaders is more laughable than sinister, because it has no basis in history or sociology. There is no appetite for neo-imperialism in Whanganui, a city with a large Maori minority, and there is no history of North Canterbury nationalism. Her Majesty's Colony of Wanganui and the White Ethno-State of North Canterbury are internet fantasies.

South Island exceptionalism, though, does have a long history, and a certain sociological basis. The South Island is geographically and conceptually isolated from the power-centres of the north, both its Maori and Pakeha populations have long histories and, in the case of the Pakeha, a sense of separateness from the rest of the country, and the south's contribution to the national economy is not matched in state funding and economic opportunities. Dunedin and Christchurch are two of the poorest cities in the country, despite their grand old houses and storied histories, and in remote rural areas like inland Buller and western Southland whole villages have been allowed to slide into picturesque decay.

It is not obvious to me that the people running the New Munster Party have the political skills to exploit South Island grievances against the north. The list of policies on the party's website suggests a certain amount of ideological confusion. There is a call, for instance, for a flat tax rate to encourage foreign investment to the south, but also an apparent rejection of land sales to foreigners. With its nordic cross, the 'national flag' the party has designed for the south shows profound geographical confusion. Even if the New Munster Party is the work of a bunch of amateurs, though, it represents an unfortunate precedent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a bunch of wackos. And they say they want the Chathams and the subantarctic islands and Scott Base too! White South Islanders are so stuck in the past.

4:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These people also claim to be affiliated to the political wing of the Real IRA. Is that legal?

4:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See also Kym Parsons' paean to Jorg Haider in the comments under this Press article:

6:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not just wackos but historically illiterate: the province of New Munster (1848-1853) comprised not just the South Island but the North Island as far up as a line drawn east from Patea. That could make for a messy border dispute in Taranaki and southern Hawke's Bay should the 'south' rise again (or rise at all). Worse still, the administrative centre back then was Wellington, so reviving New Munster will mean more of the same from the capital. Besides which, who wants to be known as 'the Munsters'?

3:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can keep the North Island territories of New Munster as compensation for losing all the South Island's electricity, tourist income, coal, oil, foresty, gold, aluminium, dairying, skifields, Speight's, All Blacks, and the Richard Pearse museum.

We'll stay down here and be white and right-wing ans successful and everything else you hate, and you can decay into a third-world banana republic riddled with brown rot.

4:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'you can decay into a third-world banana republic riddled with brown rot'

the victory of the left in Auckland is going to prompt more of this sort of comment. But ironically the left has been stronger historically in 'New Munster'. National has historically struggled to get a single MP elected in Dunedin. So will the New Munster Party expell all the lefties from Chch and Dunedin?

11:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you'll find it's the brown rot itself that prompts that sort of comment. You know, brown whining, brown entitle-itis, brown moaning about the past, brown welfarism, brown laziness, brown crime, brown bitter and twisted ness, brown lack of educational achievement, dumb brown rap music, brown bad diet, brown child beating and molesting, and a sucky-up dumb white liberal press who constantly tell brown people that all these things are cool and OK, as well as brown people breeding faster and all the whites moving to Aus or the SI.

CH and dunedin have always been glorious hard-working Labour working class white people towns, long may they reign.

1:52 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I feel sorry for you, anon: with your attitude you'll never know the delights of hangi feasts, of Indian weddings, with their pageantry and colour, of Pacific Island hospitality, of the paintings of Shane Cotton, and of the numerous other experiences which a multi rather than monoethnic society can offer. I'm not averse to a plate of bangers and mash and a pint of speights, but variety is the spice of life. You're missing out.

As for the working classes of Christchurch and Dunedin being white: what about the Maori communities in North Dunedin and Aronui, which have traditionally been heavily represented in the union movement, and what about the Chinese community in Dunedin and other parts of the deep south, which has been there one hundred and fifty years? Are you going to turf those brownies and Asians out, or do they get to be honourary whites?

And if the white working class of the south is as racist as you claim, why did Christchurch stage some of the biggest protests against sporting contact with apartheid back in the '70s and early '80s? And why was there a mass rally, involving any trade unionists, against National Front racism a few years back in Cathedral Square?

I think that your notion of a Republic of New Munster is out of tune with the thinking of a large part of the population you idealise.

3:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever noticed how North Islanders always attempt to discredit any form of South Island separatism by accusing them of being racist. From what I have seen of the New Munster Party website they are opposed to immigration which is a hell of alot different from being racist. Perhaps the editor(s) of this blog should convey that truth rather than pushing their own narrow minded agenda.

6:22 pm  
Blogger maps said...

When your party leader scatters praise for Jorg Haider, an open admirer of Hitler, across the net, and your party website features a video by the British National Party, an organisation whose leading members have been repeatedly convicted of inciting racial hatred, then I'd say you leave yourself wide open to accusations of racism, anon. Just to clarify, though: does the New Munster Party favour discriminating against potential immigrants based on their race, or would you have a 'colourblind' policy?

6:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I am not a member of the New Munster Party and am unable answer your last question.

However, regardless of Mr Parsons comments on other websites I don't believe that South Islanders are about to endorse the formation of a new Reich. Misguided as some of his comments may be, his ability to connect South Island separatism with the Province of New Munster certainly gives the pro-indendence movement some historical substance.

Would your blog be so critical if this story was solely based upon a discussion about separatism?

7:09 pm  
Blogger maps said...

'his ability to connect South Island separatism with the Province of New Munster certainly gives the pro-indendence movement some historical substance'

Well, not really, because there doesn't seem to be much awareness amongst South Islanders that New Munster ever existed, let alone a desire on their part to revive the entity. New Munster wasn't something which was fought for and won, or something which endured for decades and became a part of popular consciousness. It was a short-lived bureaucratic category.

The real basis for South Island separatism, if there is one, will be popular sentiment rooted in some sort of perception of separateness from, and neglect by, the north. As I say in my post, there is some potential for such perceptions, given the South's relative isolation - conceptual, as well as geographical - from the north, and the economic difficulties of some regions and some sections of the big cities. That's probably why Parsons is trying to dress his bigotry up in South Island nationalism.

But I don't see much evidence of a widespread desire for regional autonomy, let alone independence, from South Islanders, given the derisory election results and short life-span of the South Island Party and the tiny size of low profile of other separatist groups. There's no comparison to Maori, who have created their own party and numerous other mass institutions because of a sense of separateness rooted in historical experience.

8:34 pm  
Blogger maps said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a hangi once, it tasted of steam and dirt and pig fat. Personally I prefer BBQs. Pacific Island hospitality? This would be the drunken rapists who spray graffiti on walls and wear their hats on backwards and their trackies round their ankles and think they’re American gangstas and really they’re just poor sad dumb losers?
No-one is going to get thrown out and the rag-heads and the chinks are honorary whites anyway and the only thing we are getting rid of is decisions made in Wellington.

11:48 am  
Blogger maps said...

'the rag-heads and the chinks are honorary whites anyway'

and your respect for them is evident. What an unpleasant chap and what a good advertisement against racism you are.

11:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do you presume that I'm a male?

Sexist pig.

5:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon = kyle chapman

not a racist, mind you, I just reckon them chinks and ragheads need to etc etc...

5:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The New Munster revolution has begun....


6:20 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I noticed that! A long way from the 'no more chinks or darkies' stuff from (apparent) NMP supporters on this thread, though. And I'm struck by the fact that two of Dunedin's mayors in recent times, one of whom was a (centre)lefty, were folks with distinctly non-white skin...

6:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You leave Pete and Sukhi alone. They're good Dunedinites, honourable honourary whities both of them.

There are lots of Anons here. I'm not Kyle Chapman. In fact I'll call my self Anonymous Bob, and I hope and trust none of the other Anons will do the same. Maybe everyone can adopt a label, like Anonymous Dave, Anonymous John, Anonymous Tariana, Anonymous Bill, Anonymous Winston, etc.

And don't lump the darkies in with the chinks and the snake charmers. Darkies, PIs in particular, can go away. Chinks and the red spot forehead people are alright, they know how to work and they don't commit crime apart from P, but we know who they are and we're going to string them up for it.

11:55 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

What an utter tosser. Nobody does stupid like a racist...

Fun fact: Africans are the only pure humans. The rest of us have about 4% Neanderthal DNA.

12:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no nobody does stupid like a nigger loving commie

9:18 am  
Anonymous Sean Miller said...

New Munster Party and Kym Parsons are opposed to immigration, which despite your attempts to discredit them, is not a crime.

Your persistance in accusing them of being racists has resulted in you attracting a collection of real right-wing Nazi's.

Fortunately, the elected representatives of the South Island have put in motion a series of events which will eventually result in our seperation from the nation once known as New Zealand.

Pro Patria

8:06 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Are any of the South Island mayors getting together to discuss funding from Wellington aware that they are pawns in the long game of the New Munster Party? Has any of them even heard of New Munster? I think there's a bit of wishful thinking going on here.

If I wanted to show my anti-racism and distinguish myself from neo-Nazis, I'd wouldn't put a video by the British National Party, an organisation founded by a neo-Nazi and run by a man with convictions for inciting racial hatred, in a prominent position on my website.

Nor would I publically pay tribute to Jorg Haider, a man who is perhaps most famous for praising the forced labour policies of Adolf Hitler's regime.

If the information on the NMP site is accurate, the party is opposed to immigration from certain races or cultures, not immigration full stop. That, I would suspect, qualifies as racism.

8:34 pm  
Anonymous Sean Miller said...

You stupid JAFAs have been so busy discrediting us as racist rednecks that you haven't seen what was coming... New Munster can survive without Auckland but the "Super City" will be fucked without us !

8:44 pm  
Blogger maps said...

The old fantasy of Kiwi autarky was always absurd, but it is especially impractical in the world of the twenty-first century.
No part of New Zealand can achieve anything like economic independence.

The notion of Auckland as an undifferentiated sprawl of high-end restaurants and yuppie condominiums is equally silly. Auckland is itself a set of regions, some of which are just as neglected by central government and New Zealand's economic elite as Reefton or Tuatapere.

A bus driver from Otahuhu has far more in common with a forestry worker from Tuatapere than he has with a company director from Remuera. And both North and South Island workers have more in common with their counterparts in exotic countries like Aussie or America or Chile than they do with the wealthy of either Auckland or Christchurch. Key issues are the same everywhere: jobs, wages, housing, quality of life, the environment...

I'm all for recognising and celebrating regional differences, but attempts to sow hostility within and between countries don't appeal to me. They seem especially quixotic when they're done in the name of a 'country' which doesn't seem to have any firm grounding in the consciousness of its supposed citizens.

9:38 pm  
Blogger LJ Holden said...

Kym Parson owns a company called Southlink Refrigerated Transport. It's registered office? 202 Ponsonby Road, Auckland...

6:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:01 am  
Anonymous Sam Hannagan said...

Specific Policies aside, there is an inherent need for South Island succession, A hell of a lot greater Self Determination at the very lest. A South Island republic would none the less be a democracy, so with out the vote, the New Munster Party or any other so called racist party could not do as they needed. Ironically one of the biggest racist party in New Zealand we seem far to content to accept... that being the Maori party.

I personally have no problem with ones race, but if they have nothing to contribute, European, Asian, African, Pacific Islander, then why should we be force to take them in.

But the contempt that the North shows to the South, and the comments here display that contempt vividly, why should the South Island remain part of nation, which takes with both hands, and gives nothing back.

12:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man this one goes way back. Necroing a six year old post, why not?

'whites as an 'oppressed people' who need state assistance to hold onto their culture and their land.'

I really don't think that's it at all. It's not that these groups want state assistance, if anything they'd rather that the state simply stop taking the active steps it is taking to relegate predominantly white, and predominantly male, citizens into un-people. Scum, racists, misogynists, transphobe, islamophobe... throw enough isms and phobias at a group and watch the chilling effect. As of 2016 this is becoming increasingly clear.

9:42 pm  

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