Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New Zealand's road of refugees

[Paul Janman, Ian Powell and I enjoyed visiting Otahuhu last Monday night to talk with locals about the film and book we're making, with the help of Len Brown, about the Great South Road. Here's an adapted excerpt from the book.]

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.

A year and a half before he had written his proclamation, Grey had begun building the Great South Road to connect Auckland, which was the headquarters of his administration as well as the seat of the colonial Pakeha government, with the northern edge of the Waikato Kingdom. The road had been laid by British soldiers, and in July 1863 those soldiers waited in a redoubt in Pokeno, a few miles from the Mangatawhiri Stream.
In 1863 most of the Maori inhabitants of South Auckland had complex genealogical and economic relationships with the Waikato peoples and their king Tawhiao. To swear loyalty to the British queen, when the queen's army was preparing to invade the Waikato Kingdom, would mean betraying kin.

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.
After crossing the Mangatawhiri and advancing a short distance in the second half of July, the British army did not resume its push into the Waikato Kingdom until the end of October. In a letter to the British War Office, General Duncan Cameron, the commander of the invasion force, blamed the pause in his campaign partly on the exodus of Maori from Auckland to the Waikato. So many refugees had taken to the Great South Road that the wagoners who supplied Cameron's troops moved at an embarrassingly slow rate. John Gorst talks about the road becoming 'thronged', as 'armed men of every description, from the veteran British soldier to the raw colonial shop boy, shouldering his musket for the first time' had to share the route with 'refugees from Pukaki, Mangere and other places'.
Gorst reports that, as they travelled down the Great South Road, Maori refugees 'became alarmed' by the 'martial array' moving in the same direction. The refugees had, he notes, 'good reason' to feel alarmed. Many of them would cross the Mangatawhiri safely, only to be overtaken by the Pakeha army, as it pushed south into the Waikato at the end of 1863. Their drays and herds would be plundered by the advancing soldiers, as their houses had earlier been plundered by the settlers of Auckland.

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.
The King Country quickly became a refuge for Maori at odds with the British Empire. The rebel prophets Te Kooti and 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.
Robert Barlow's 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.
The new refugees were almost all Pakeha males, and they had been driven south by unemployment and hunger, rather than war. In the three years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 New Zealand's economy shrank by a quarter. In a country of one and a half million, one hundred thousand men were soon jobless. The conservative government of George Forbes and Gordon Coates offered some of the unemployed an income - in 1931 Pakeha men got seven shillings a week, while Maori men got three shillings and nine sixpence a week - but demanded that they work for it.

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.
By the time Forbes and Coates were defeated by Michael Joseph Savage's Labour Party in November 1935 thousands of men were labouring in camps far from their homes, and thousands of others were wandering from town to town, begging for work and for meals from farmers and hoteliers. John A Lee remembered that in the early 1930s New Zealand's 'country roads were thronged with young men' who had been 'starved out of town' by Coates and Forbes.

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.
Smith eventually outwits his captors, and escapes from Auckland a second time, walking down the Great South Road to freedom, and meeting cows 'with beautiful pre-Raphaelite eyes' and a lascivious cowgirl on the way. He becomes a reluctant member of the armed resistance to the dictatorship, and makes a return journey up the Great South Road in a horizontal position after being ambushed and gunned down by dictator's secret police. In 1977 Roger Donaldson turned Smith's story into Sleeping Dogs, the first local feature film to make it to the movie screens of the northern hemisphere.

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]


Blogger Unknown said...

A thrilling story.

Re CK Stead in 1981 - he records somewhere that while he was being held in the cells at Auckland Central following a Springbok Tour protest, he wrote on the wall 'CK Stead, author of "Smith's Dream", was here." So it wasn't only other people who drew the comparisons between that book and Muldoon's NZ.

10:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:50 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Great post. The refugees up and down the Great South Road, and then they are looted. Terrible. The journalist meant well, but they always assume that 'nothing awful has happened in NZ' but they need to learn.

On a smaller scale but considering our population then and now, not so small.

Cameron eventually resigned, he 'had words' with Grey when asked to further prosecute the war in South Taranaki. Matthews says he was the only British General ever to resign while in active combat or action.

My father was in a work camp during the depression. He knew Fairburn and Mason as later he went to the WEA where Mason taught and Sutch also.

Stead's book and 'Man Alone' are good indeed. Man Alone starts rather slowly and lumbers a bit, but then it becomes fascinating. From memory though I thought that Mulgan said he was initially on the right of that but then he changed his views, and joined the unemployed.

Vincent O'Sullivan's 'Let the River Stand' which has a similar starkness and almost Faulknerian power, seems influenced by Mulgan's book. The protagonist somewhow gets to the Civil War in Spain.

I was battened in the 1981 protests although I wasn't at Hamilton. I recall seeing that on TV. The bloke next door called his son in to watch the rugby, so I went in, and turned on the TV, expecting rugby and crowds etc as usual, but there were only all these people standing together in the middle of a field! This was really exhilerating to reallise, as at the first protest, it was a fizzle, and I recall saying to some Australian journos, that, well, NZ is a small country so I suppose there wont be the same sort of intensity as in Australia. But it escalated, and it felt that NZ was in a state of civil war.

Ironically it cost Muldoon politically, and in fact we were all mislead by that to vote Labour and they ripped the shit out of NZ and it hasn't recovered since, so Muldoon wasn't as bad as we all thought. He was grumpy but it was a different age: the Labour Party leaders were far worse than he was.

1:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Wanoa's latest idiocy:

9:37 am  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Thanks for your kind words guys. I'm not sure whether Stead would accept that Taurangaka Winiata and the other Maori outlaws of the nineteenth century were prototypes for Johnson and Smith, but I do think he would have had a good knowledge of the nineteenth century wars, because he was a friend and colleague of people who knew so much about the subject, like Keith Sinclair and Kendrick Smithyman. Stead's outspoken criticism of the Treaty since the '90s has probably obscured his earlier support for the research of Sinclair and co.

In any case, I think that the influence, like all profound influences, was mostly subconscious.

Vincent O'Malley's 2013 essay about the buildup to the invasion of the Waikato is now available for free online: Interesting to note the similarities between the war fever in Auckland in 1863 and the war fever in Washington one hundred and forty years later!

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Blogger Unknown said...

Good read.

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