New Zealand's road of refugees
Last March the New Zealand Herald published an article by Rachel Smalley called 'What a Civil War would do to New Zealand'. In an effort to make her readers empathise with the refugees who are fleeing Syria's conflict, Smalley tried to imagine how a similar war and refugee crisis might look in New Zealand. She described a conflict beginning in Wellington and then spreading, in a matter of months, to other cities. After the leafy suburbs of Auckland became a battlefield, middle class refugees began filling the city's parks.
Smalley's article was accompanied by an image that showed shacks clustering beneath the classical facade of Auckland's museum. The parkland around the museum had become a refugee camp. Tiny kids dragged pitchers of tapwater through the mud; a man leaned weakly on the roughly hewn fence around his shack; smoke from a campfire or a missile strike rose in the distance. The unnerving scene had been created by splicing together a photograph of Syrian refugees in some anonymous camp and an image of Auckland's beloved museum.
At the beginning of her article, Rachel Smalley admitted that civil war and a refugee crisis are 'hard to imagine in New Zealand'.
But Aucklanders do not necessarily need to look abroad to consider civil war, and the refugees who inevitably flee from civil war. The Great South Road that connects Auckland with the Waikato has been a route to war, and a highway for refugees. Although the refugees who travelled the Great South Road lack official memorials, and are seldom mentioned in history books, they sometimes gather at the edge of Aucklanders' consciousness, and they haunt the texts of several of the city's greatest writers.
On the 9th and 10th of July, 1863, young men rode from central Auckland to six Maori villages - Ihumatao, Pukaki, Mangere, Patumahoe, Tuakau, Pokeno, and Kirikiri - on the city's southern fringes, and read aloud a proclamation from George Grey, the governor of the colony of New Zealand. Grey's statement denounced the Maori kingdom of the Waikato as a threat to the British Empire, and demanded that all Maori living in Auckland either declare their loyalty to the empire or else leave the district for the Waikato.
Three days after Grey had sent his proclamation out on horseback, a British army crossed the Mangatawhiri, a creek that flows into the Waikato River near Mercer, and that in 1863 marked the northern border of the Waikato Kingdom. The Waikato War had begun.
In his book The Maori King, John Gorst described the delivery of Grey's proclamation to the Maori villages of South Auckland, and the subsequent abandonment of these villages. At Kirikiri, a village in the hills above Papakura, the 'old people showed the most intense grief' at leaving their houses and cultivations. At Pukaki and Mangere, ancient villages beside the Manukau harbour, looters arrived as soon as Maori had gone: 'canoes were broken to pieces and burned, cattle seized, houses ransacked, and horses brought to Auckland' and sold.
Some South Auckland Maori fled their villages by waka, travelling down the Manukau harbour and across an ancient portage to the Waikato River. Many, though, fled south, on the same road that the British had built for their war. Mohi Te Ahiatapu, the chief of Pukaki village, went south with his people on the eleventh of July. On the sixteenth of July the Daily Southern Cross reported that 'one hundred or one hundred and fifty' of the Pukaki Maori had arrived in Papakura.
The refugees had loaded 'fifteen or sixteen' drays with their goods, and were 'driving fifty or sixty horses' before them. After stopping at Kirikiri, Mohi and his people continued south to the temporary safety of the Waikato.
Some of the Maori who remained in Auckland after hearing Grey's proclamation also became refugees. A week check after the reading of the proclamation, four hundred armed men raided the village of Kirikiri, where they arrested the chief Ihaka Takanini and twenty-two of his relations.
Ihaka Takanini had neither declared his loyalty to Queen Victoria nor fled to the rohe of Tawhiao. He had for years gained mana and money by mediating between the colonial government and Auckland Maori, and he may have hoped once again to play peacemaker. But the colonial parliament in Auckland had just passed the Suppression of Rebellion Act, which allowed the indefinite imprisonment without trial of any Maori suspected of disloyalty to the queen. The Takanini family were locked in the Otahuhu military barracks for months, where many of them died of disease, then exiled to Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Ihaka Takanini is buried on the island.
Refugees fled north as well as south during the Waikato War. After the crossing of the Mangatawhiri in July, supporters of King Tawhiao began a guerrilla war in South Auckland. They crossed the Waikato River in small waka, made smokeless camps in the forests on both sides of the Great South Road, and ambushed wagonloads of soldiers and munitions bound for the Waikato frontline.
Tawhiao's irregulars also raided the clearing that Pakeha settlers had burned from the bush. They stole cattle, dismembered farmers with tomahawks, and fired their muskets at the specially reinforced walls of the settlers' churches. Women and children began to flee up the Great South Road to the safety of Auckland; husbands and fathers followed them, leaving their cottages and hayricks to burn.
In August 1863 the Otago Daily Times published a letter that lamented the way that 'the tomahawk' had 'obliged...harmless unsuspecting families' to 'flee their homesteads in South Auckland'. The letter urged South Islanders to come north and help to defend the Great South Road. By the end of 1863, though, the guerrilla war in South Auckland had petered out, and settlers were returning to the area.
In 1864 the British army won a series of battles, the Great South Road was extended deep into the Waikato, and thousands of Tawhiao's followers fled south across the Puniu River, into the region of bush and hills that has become known as the King Country. Until the middle of the 1880s, when Tawhiao made peace with the colonial government, the Puniu would be, like the Mangatawhiri before it, a frontier between Maori and Pakeha law.
Te Mahuki, who preached that resistance to the white man was commanded by Jehovah, retreated from colonial soldiers and police to the King Country. Scores of Te Kooti's followers from the eastern parts of Te Ika a Maui established a village at Otewa, near Otorohanga, a few miles south of the Puniu River.
In 1876 a young man named Taurangaka Winiata escaped from Auckland down the Great South Road to Tawhiao's realm. After being suspected of killing Edwin Packer, a Pakeha who had been working alongside him on a farm in Epsom, Winiata had fled to a cave in Kohimarama, where he hid for several days, then began a furtive journey south. At Mercer he crossed the Mangatawhiri, which was now spanned by a bridge; at Rangiriri he drank in the hotel that had risen beside the great pa General Cameron's army stormed in 1863. Dozens of police and pro-government Maori volunteers pursued Winiata; once a couple of policemen almost caught him, but he was able to hide in roadside scrub.
After Winiata crossed the Puniu River and was given sanctuary by King Tawhiao, the colonial government offered a reward of five hundred pounds for the capture of the refugee. Winiata's heavy, neatly bearded jaw and small dark eyes appeared on WANTED posters that were posted in pubs as far south as the Wairarapa.
In the winter of 1882 a half-caste Maori named Robert Barlow walked his horse through the Puniu River, rode to Otorohanga, where Winiata was living, and stayed up all night drinking rum with the fugitive. The next morning Barlow arrived at Kihikihi, a fortified village just north of the Puniu, with a hungover Winiata tied to the back of his horse.
Taurangaka Winiata was put on public display in Hamilton, before making a journey back up the Great South Road to Mount Eden prison. One rainy morning at the beginning of August the former refugee slowly asphyxiated in the prison yard, as a damp rope refused to snap his spine.
bounty hunt was celebrated by Auckland's newspapers. In a portrait published by admirers at the Observer, Barlow stares calmly, even sleepily, at his sketcher; his shoulders are wide and his huge chest threatens to break the top button of his jacket. Only a few days after Winiata's death, Barlow visited Alexandra, another fortified village on the frontier of the King Country. Inside the Alexandra Hotel he encountered some Kingites who had crossed the Puniu to drink; one of them raised a glass, and toasted the 'kahuru (traitor) Barlow'. When Barlow went to the hotel's stable to retrieve his horse someone fired two bullets at him; the first missed, and the second ripped his waistcoat. A squad of police escorted Barlow up the Great South Road to the safety of Auckland. The bounty hunter bought a farm at Mangere with the reward he earned for snaring Winiata, but he soon died from a mysterious illness that many Maori blamed on makutu.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, an Auckland pensioner named Valerie Sherwood became obsessed with Taurangaka Winiata. She prised police records and court transcripts from chaotic colonial archives, collated newspaper articles, consulted and contested oral traditions, and eventually argued, in the thesis that earned her a Masters Degree from the University of Auckland, that Winiata had never murdered Edwin Packer. Packer and Winiata had been friends; police had never questioned a Pakeha who was observed running from the Epsom farm shortly after Packer's murder. Winiata's flight down the Great South Road to Tawhiao's relict kingdom was proof enough, for Auckland's papers and jurors, of his guilt.
By the 1930s the wars between Pakeha and Maori were more than half a century in the past. The colonial state had extended its authority through New Zealand, and the Puniu and Mangatawhiri were obscure creeks rather than international frontiers. In the first years of the '30s, though, refugees once again began fleeing from New Zealand's largest city. Some walked down the Great South Road into the Waikato; others lingered in shabby camps close to the old frontier of Pakeha settlement.
Some unemployed men were able to do 'relief work' in the towns and cities, but others were made to fence farms or clear bush or lay country roads, and had to relocate to speedily and shoddily constructed 'relief camps'.
In November 1931 Michael Joseph Savage stood up in parliament and read extracts from a letter he had received about conditions at a relief camp in Ramarama, on the southern edge of Auckland. The twenty-six inmates of the Ramarama relief camp had been told to reroute the nearby Great South Road, so that it went around rather than over a low hill, and had been issued with a few handheld scoops and wheelbarrows to help them accomplish this task. The Ramarama men were expected to wash in cold water drawn from a local stream and to sleep in tents, on bunks made from sack stretchers and straw. After Savage's intervention several journalists and an archbishop visited the Ramarama workers, and heard their pathetic demands: wooden floors for their tents, books to read in the evenings, a ration of tobacco.
In April 1932 members of the Unemployed Workers Movement rallied on Auckland's main street to denounce their pay and conditions. Jimmy Edwards, the leader of the Unemployed Workers Movement, stood on a bench outside the Town Hall and started to address the crowd; a police approached him from behind and batoned the back of his head. While Edwards lay in hospital unemployed men fought and disarmed the police, then smashed most of the windows on Queen Street.
After unemployed men had rioted in a series of New Zealand towns and cities, the Forbes-Coates government passed the Public Safety Conservation Act, and announced that jobless urbanites unwilling to resettle in rural relief camps would lose their benefits. In his history of the Great Depression in New Zealand, Tony Simpson argues that the government decided to isolate troublesome unemployed men in remote parts of the countryside, where they could be collectively punished.
In the 'Dominion', the long and angry poem that he wrote in the winter of 1935, ARD Fairburn made the relief workers into symbols:
Backblock camps for the outcasts, the superfluous,
reading back-date magazines, rolling cheap cigarettes, not mated;
witness to the constriction of life essential
to the maintenance of the rate of profit
The hero of John Mulgan's novel Man Alone wanders hungrily across New Zealand, then asks for an unemployment benefit and finds himself in a relief camp on the edge of Auckland, laying a road through mud. Mulgan's protagonist joins the demonstration in Queen Street, smashes a few windows, is chased by the police, and escapes from Auckland by stowing away on a train bound, significantly, for the King Country.
CK Stead grew up obsessed with Man Alone, and in 1971 published his own version of Mulgan's classic. The hero of Smith's Dream is an Aucklander who becomes disillusioned with civilisation after his marriage fails. Smith abandons Auckland and secludes himself on an island off the Coromandel, where he grows vegetables and a beard and listens to classical music on his transistor radio. But the right-wing dictatorship that has taken over New Zealand decides that Smith is a communist guerrilla-in-training, rather than a melancholy hermit, and brings him back to Auckland for torture and interrogation.
Travelling in a secret policeman's car up the Great South Road and southern motorway, Smith studies billboards covered in the curiously mystical slogans - AFFIRM! and CREATIVE RESPONSE! - of the dictatorship, as well as a sign with the legend WELCOME TO THE CAPITAL. Auckland is now the seat of government, just as it was in 1863.
In the 1970s and '80s, many Kiwis saw Smith's Dream and Sleeping Dogs as almost contemporary stories, rather than visions of any far-fetched or far-distant future. As he battled with trade unions, Maori nationalists, and anti-apartheid protesters, National Party strongman Rob Muldoon was sometimes compared to the dictator in Stead's book. In 1981 Stead himself was arrested by the police, in the famous protest against apartheid and Muldoon that took over Hamilton's Rugby Park.
Muldoon did not become a dictator, and New Zealand did not become a venue for guerrilla war in the last decades of the twentieth century. Smith's Dream has remained a vision of a possible future, rather than a prophecy fulfilled. But like John Mulgan's Man Alone, Stead's novel is unnerving partly because of the way it reprises, perhaps half-consciously, some of the characters and dramas of the nineteenth century. With their flights south from Auckland to freedom, Johnson and Smith are latter-day Winiatas; with its liberated zone south of Auckland and its guerrilla raids through the bush, the resistance that Smith joins recalls Tawhiao's movement.
Although the wars between Pakeha and Maori have received some official acknowledgement and public attention in recent years, the refugee crises that accompanied them remain obscure. We remember warriors like Von Tempsky and Rewi Maniapoto, but we have neglected men like Mohi Te Ahiatapu and Ihaka Takanini, who had to lead their peoples into exile, rather than battle. We raise monuments over old battlefields like Rangiriri and Orakau, but not over the remains of evacuated villages like Kirikiri. The refugees from British law who sought the King Country in the 1870s and the economic refugees who took to the Great South Road and other routes in the 1930s go uncommemorated. It is not surprising that, when she set out to write about a refugee crisis in New Zealand, Rachel Smalley turned to alternative history, rather than to real events.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]