Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Secret stuff


In this era of self-promotion & obsession with fame, has the creation of a secret language, an unbreakable code, become a radical, even subversive gesture? Over at the online art journal EyeContact I've written about the uncracked codes created by Velvet Underground founder Angus MacLise, New Zealand painter Allen Maddox, & the indigenous people of Rapa Nui, whose elegant carved rongorongo tablets have been driving would-be decoders mad for more than a century.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Burning


It's 1921. Britain has lost the war in Ireland; the army that defeated Germany a few short years ago has been humiliated by a volunteer force of potato farmers, members of the despised Celtic race. In Canada, infuriated imperialists burn down a series of Catholic churches.

In New Zealand, the Protestant Political Association is holding rallies in cities and towns, to warn Kiwis that the Catholic church is an agent of both Satanism and the Soviet Union. In 1923 the PPA's leader, Howard Elliott, will tell a Dunedin meeting that his organisation has a 'platform closely resembling that of the Ku Klux Klan'.

On the 19th of March anti-Catholics rally in Grey Lynn. Late on the night of the 20th of March, the suburb's convent begins to burn. A man is seen hurrying off down the street, just as the flames begin to rise. Kids scream and flee; an elderly nun shimmies down a veranda post to save her life. Bishop Cleary gathers the Catholic community in the ashes of the convent. Cleary has no doubt: his flock has suffered a terrorist attack. The attack on St Joseph's Convent has been largely left out of accounts of New Zealand's past. I'll be discussing it in my forthcoming book on white supremacism.

Monday, December 30, 2019

A visitor


I met the Buddha in an alcove at Auckland museum. He had been carved in Gandhara, an Indian kingdom conquered by Alexander the Great, a zone where Eastern & European cultures melded, mutated, where Zeus & Shiva & Siddharta could be part of the same pantheon. Perhaps he was hiding his handsome hybrid face, with its Greek nose & Indian eyes, from the visitors who filled the museum's halls and large rooms; perhaps he despises our era of xenophobia & walls & puerile racial rhetoric. Who could blame him for missing Gandhara?

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Holiday work

Here at Whangarei Heads I feel like a spy. Walking the beach with my kids in my island shirt, wielding a melting ice block, I resemble another flabby middle-aged Aucklander taking an Xmas break. But I'm not here for sun, or sand, or mini golf. I'm on the trail of long-dead slavers.
The names on the map of the Heads seem innocent, & sometimes picturesque. But if they are assembled in the right order, they tell a forgotten story, the story of the Scottish migrants who built ships in these bays & sailed them north to Melanesia, in search of slaves.
Urquhart Bay remembers the captain of the Flirt, a schooner whose crew incinerated several villages in the Solomons in 1880. Alex Urquhart was taking revenge after another ship built by Scottish migrants to the Heads, the Borealis, was stormed by Malaitans tired of slave raids.
McDonald Bank is a mudflat named after the family of a young man who was shot off Erromango Island in 1869. John McDonald was working for Donald MacLeod, whose gun & slave dealing & plantations had made him the richest white in the New Hebrides. Both men hailed from the Heads.
Smugglers Bay is the most popular picnic spot on the Heads. After they'd delivered slaves to plantations of Fiji, Samoa, Qld, & New Caledonia, the mariners of the Heads would often celebrate by buying whiskey from French colonists on New Caledonia. They would bring the liquor home, sneaking it past customs ships, burying it in the sand.
I walk down the beaches & the bush trails here, smiling at passers by, patting the kids on their heads, hearing the screams of Malaitans mingle with the soft surf, the chiming of tui. My brain is like a radio tuned to a secret station.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Historic bogs

For some people, historic architecture means castles, churches, marae. Right now, though, the old buildings that fascinate me are the toilet blocks of small town NZ. I became immoderately excited by this photo, which shows the opening of Kaitaia's segregated rest rooms.
Kaitaia's rest rooms were opened, along with a new library, in 1940. Maori & Pakeha had separate conveniences. By that date a series of North Island towns, including Hamilton, Tauranga, & Te Aroha, had barred Maori from using the same toilets as whites.
The exclusion of Maori from rest rooms typically followed complaints about their alleged lack of hygiene and alleged use of the facilities to socialise. In some towns, Maori were first excluded from rest rooms, then told they'd have to pay for their own, segregated facility.
Women's rest rooms were sites of particular anxiety for mid-century Pakeha in country towns. Often women's rest rooms included showers, changing rooms, & kitchens; they made it possible for females from farms to spend a day in town, shopping & socialising.
During the wars of the 1860s many Pakeha obsessed about wives & daughters being ravished by Maori enemies; by the '30s & '40s this anxiety had modulated into a fear that 'their' women would suffer racial contamination, in liminal public spaces like rest rooms.
In some towns grotesque compromises between integration & outright segregation were achieved. In Cambridge, for example, Maori 'congestion' prompted the creation of a separate entrance to the rest rooms for natives.
I've been looking for photographs of the segregated rest rooms to include in the short illustrated history of white supremacism in NZ that I'm putting together this summer. Unlike the US & South Africa, though, NZ seems to have little visual record of its segregated toilets.
The photograph from Kaitaia is the only image I've found, so far, of rest rooms that were segregated, & the segregated nature of the facility is not obvious in the photo. If anyone has access to more images of our segregated rest rooms, then I'd love to see them.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Bromhead's folly


As if Garrick Tremain's joke about Samoa were not bad enough, Peter Bromhead has today published a cartoon in the New Zealand Herald that compares Maori trying to regenerate the forest on the Auckland maunga of Owairaka to Nazis.

As odd as it sounds, Bromhead is not the first Pakeha to allege a spurious connection between Maori culture & European fascism.

When New Zealand went to war against Germany in 1914 & '39, media & politicians quickly began to attack the Kaiser & Hitler's regimes as 'barbarous' & 'savage'. Germans were called 'the red Indians of Europe', & 'Mongolianised Europeans'. The language used against the Germans drew on a colonial fear & loathing of indigenous peoples.

Maori prophet Te Kooti's violent resistance to Pakeha rule in the 19th century made him a sort of precursor to fascism, in Pakeha consciousness. In 1943 the Auckland Star explained to its readers that the stiff-armed salute of Europe's fascists had been pioneered by Te Kooti, who had named his religious movement Ringatu, or the upraised hand, after a gesture members used in worship. During World War One Te Kooti's successor, the anti-colonial prophet Rua Kenana, was accused of being a German agent by journalists & politicians.

In 1916 a Pakeha army attacked Kenana's utopian village in the Ureweras. Papers presented the expedition to Maungapohatu as a blow against the Kaiser. Tonga's government, which delayed cutting its valuable commercial ties with the Kaiser, was likewise condemned as a tool of the Hun, & subjected to a visit from New Zealand troops.

During World War Two Princess Te Puea was accused so often of Nazi sympathies that she eventually persuaded Peter Fraser's Labour government to make a statement condemning such rumours. Te Puea's Pai Marire religion & Maori nationalism were linked, in many Pakeha minds, to Hitlerism.

In the 1970s & '80s activist groups like Nga Tamatoa & gangs like the Stormtroopers & the Mongrel Mob were compared to Nazis by conservative Pakehas like cop & National MP Ross Meurant. In 1979 Maori activists beat up Auckland engineering students who were preparing to perform their annual drunken parody of the haka. The 'haka party riot' prompted accusations of brown fascism from Auckland's newspapers.

As the Maori Renaissance & the Treaty settlements process quickened in the late '80s & '90s, the comparisons between Maori culture & fascism continued, but took on a different tenor. The conspiracy theories of one-time National and Act ad man John Ansell reflect the change. Earlier racists had connected what they saw as the volatility, irrationality & violence of 'savage' Polynesians with the behaviour of the Nazis. But as he railed against a supposed conspiracy by Maori to take over New Zealand, Ansell focused on a different aspect of Nazism.

During a lecture tour of New Zealand, Ansell displayed a huge portrait of Hitler, & talked of the Nazis' manipulation of minds. Ansell claimed a parallel between the Nazis' bureaucratic might & NZ's supposed 'Treaty industry'. Both were vast, calculating, cynical. With his bathetic cartoon for today's New Zealand Herald, which compares iwi employees to the functionaries of the bureaucratic & evil Nazi state, Bromhead is channeling John Ansell. It is disappointing stuff, coming from a cartoonist who once lampooned political absurdity.

Monday, November 25, 2019

How to be a republican





New Zealanders are currently greeting Charles & Camilla obseqiously, but back in '83 the young prince was treated to a whakapohane, or twin cheek salute, from anti-imperialist Dun Mihaka. 

At a subsequent trial police produced a map that plotted Mihaka's protest precisely. The map featured a dotted line, indicating the 'Route taken by [the] Maori gentleman' as he approached the prince. A cross marked the spot where Mihaka exposed his buttocks.