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. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Going nuclear

We drive up South Kaipara Peninsula, towards the nuclear power station the Holyoake government planned in '66. I look over mud and mangroves, looking for three concrete chimneys t rise from the harbour, like the necks of taniwha or the rotten fangs of anglers' landings.
Cerian tells me, again, that the plants was never built. But I sense another iteration of reality, where protesters never raised placards, where the Maui gas field sat undiscovered, where the mangroves were pulled up like toheroa, where theodolites rooted themselves in vacant mud.
We reach the lagoon, which is greay and heavy, like Chernobyl's concrete sarcophagus. Cracks spread across its surface. I roll down the window, feel the ions prick my cheek, taste metal on my tongue. In an hour the sun will set, an A bomb in reverse.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


Modern consciousness is medieval. Reports in our newspapers repeat narratives told by campfirelight centuries ago. Recently police went searching through a Northland wood; they found a meth lab, guarded by huge sodden ferns, and a missing man.

The man's family had declared him missing; they had no idea he had a secret lab, a secret life, in the bush. Out there, away from the panoptic gaze of townsfolk, the man turned from an ordinary citizen into a drug-making monster. The transformation is ancient.

For centuries Europe's witch hunters were tormented and titillated by stories of Satanic sabbaths, of men and women sidling away from their villages, and gathering, in moonlit forest clearings, to win occult powers with orgies and other offerings. Witches were ordinary people transformed by trees, night, secrecy.

The obsession with witches' sabbaths found its way into early European accounts of Pacific religions. In his book The Savage South Seas, E Way Elkington gives a gothic account of ni-Vanuatu men meeting in the jungle to drum and dance through the night.

The New Zealand Herald's report on the missing man and his meth lab is structured like an inquisitor's report on a witches' sabbath. The man entered the forest, shed his social identity, was possessed by evil, and used occult technology to produce a poison he planned to bring back to civilisation. He was, is, a witch; he will be tried, condemned.

Friday, June 28, 2019


I've done a piece for The Spinoff and Newshub about the anti-Indian hysteria that convulsed New Zealand in 1920, a year that saw a military expedition to Fiji, ethnic cleansing in North Island towns, and the formation of a Kiwi KKK.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Whitening New Zealand

Chris Trotter doesn't think that New Zealand has ever been a white supremacist nation; on twitter I've been disagreeing with him, and posting a few old newspaper articles. Pete George has made our conversation into a blog post.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Notes from Drury

No one loved the troughs, not even the cows, who would slurp the stagnant water then gape ardently at the clear flowing surface of the fenced-off creek. But after the farm was sold and subdivided the troughs lost their function. They became artefacts, as uselessly beautiful as the wells of a vanished medieval abbey.
Time is a river that flows everywhere, said Marcus Aurelius. But my father's room, at the back of the farmhouse, is a dark rock that water hurries around. A Tripe and Onion Club tie, a paint-splattered, pearl-shaped AM radio, a ripped Golden Kiwi ticket: the objects the room stores are long dead, immortal.
We hadn't visited the farmhouse since that unnaturally warm autumn. The yard's crocuses still opened, like yawning mouths, as doomed bees carried their burdens of tribute. Now it was winter. Silver bees fell from a cloud, clung to the bedroom's glass as though it were the side of a hive.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Three photos from an old file

I step into the photo, which is labelled Pioneers Bar, East Tamaki, 1980. I can smell the cigarette butts that have fallen like petals into the potted plant by the bar. I can smell the piss and flat beer in the carpet. I close my eyes. I inhale my childhood.
Clifton Firth may have photographed my paternal grandparents, though I am still to find the image. He was a Marxist modernist famous, and well rewarded for his shots of Auckland's industrial architecture and its bourgeoisie. If you wanted your freezing works or your Remuera debutante daughter photographed, then Clifton was your man. About 1967 Clifton's daughter Ann commandeered his camera, and shot her siblings playing about a half-built Paremoremo prison.
In 1960 these technicians posed at Otahuhu's telephone exchange. There is an ease, a confidence about them. They can read the wires of the vast machine; they are, were, masters of modernity. Now their machine is lost, their skills old folklore. Today's cyber gurus have inherited the technicians' smiles.