Friday, August 16, 2019

Reviving Zealandia


I will be verbally desecrating central Auckland's New Zealand Wars memorial & statue of Zealandia tomorrow, at an Artspace event. The event is perhaps pertinent, because a new white supremacist outfit has chosen Zealandia as a mascot.
Zealandia was conceived by 19th century colonists as the younger sister of Britannia, the female personification of Britain. For decades Zealandia was popular. Statues & stamps honoured her. She was almost forgotten, but now white supremacists want to redeploy her.
Action Zealandia has apparently risen from the ashes of the Dominion Movement, an alt-right outfit that dissolved itself after the terrorist attacks in Christchurch. The new group offers the same old cliches about white power & the evils of multiculturalism & miscegenation.
At Auckland's memorial, a bare-breasted Zealandia lays a wreath in honour of British troops, colonists, & 'friendly Maoris' who supposedly won freedom in the NZ Wars. Last year activists put a tomahawk, feared weapon of Kingite guerrillas during the Waikato War, through her head.
The New Zealand Wars were fought with symbols as well as rifles. In many of the towns of the Waikato, space itself groans under the demands of the past. Conquerors of Ngaruawahia, the Maori king's capital, relaid the town's streets, so that they made the shape of the Union Jack.
I see white supremacists' embrace of Zealandia as a sign of their cultural confusion. On the one hand, they claim to be New Zealand nationalists; on the other hand, they defer to European ancestors, & deny the rights of the indigenous people of these islands.
Zealandia was the creation of Britons, & she is clearly junior to, & subordinate to, Britannia. She makes a poor symbol for nationalists, which is perhaps why she was largely abandoned by the NZ state in the late 20th century.
The name of the Dominion Movement, the predecessor to Action Zealandia, also showed up a cultural confusion. It was supposed to allude to ARD Fairburn's long poem, which criticised & satirised Depression-era NZ.
But Fairburn's 'Dominion' was hardly a clarion call for New Zealand nationalists. Like his friend Allen Curnow, Fairburn mocked colonial New Zealanders as avaricious & ignorant: poor material for a culture.
I suspect that the white nationalists who latched onto Fairburn's poem were keen to find a local intellectual they could identify with. But the sceptical temper that Pakeha intellectuals have tended to adopt towards their country makes such an appropriation difficult. 

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