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A re-balancing act: Cultural pioneering in New Zealand, 1905 to 1969

Kinnear, Susan 2019. A re-balancing act: Cultural pioneering in New Zealand, 1905 to 1969. Presented at: Postcolonial Studies Association Convention 2019, Manchester, UK, 11-13 September 2019.

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Reeling in the aftermath of the world’s first live-streamed mass murder of Muslims in Christchurch this March, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave utterance to the grief stricken shock of New Zealanders globally with the unifying mantra ‘We Are One.’ Ironically, the phrase echoes the speech given in 1840 by British Imperial Navy Officer and New Zealand’s first Governor, William Hobson, who announced to the assembled Maori chiefs ‘He Iwi tahi tatou’ as they signed the infamous Treaty of Waitangi. From thenceforth, ‘we are one people.’ But how do you build a just society based on the confiscation of land and the marginalisation and murder of indigenous Maori? If, as in New Zealand, you create a ‘social contract’ based on equality where some are more equal than others, then what are the long-term consequences? Modern New Zealand prides itself on its justice and inclusivity, and yet as my paper will explore, the process of nation building, sponsored throughout the 20th century by the New Zealand state, has privileged the narrative of the white Pakeha male, the war hero, the valiant farmer, the ‘tough’ rugby player, over every other narrative. The central motif of the white ‘man alone’ has become the cornerstone of New Zealand self-imagining, excluding the stories of women, Maori and Asian New Zealanders. My research uses the work of James Belich, Raymond Williams and Michel Foucault’s to develop a cultural materialist and postcolonial framework with which to examine the development of New Zealand culture during this period of nation building, arguing that the country’s trajectory of cultural development and identity fell into three distinct phases of crew, core and counterdiscourse interlocking cultures. I argue that the marginalisation of Maori, Asian and female New Zealanders was due to a government-funded narrative lauding 20th century masculine endeavour as New Zealand struggled into existence as a self-governing, independent nation. Despite attempts by feminists and the Maori to rebalance conceptions of New Zealand identity, the impact of this nation-building project has had far-reaching consequences. As recent events show, the ‘social contract’ of peace, equality and prosperity in New Zealand has failed. The country has struggled to become bi-cultural, and as the complaints of generations of Maori are now echoed again in the anguished appeals of New Zealand Muslims, it’s clear the country is struggling to become multi-cultural too. The state sponsored white male narrative of crew culture has created an unjust society where not even young men can live up to the myth of the ‘man alone.’ New Zealand now has one of the highest young male suicide rates in the developed world and, as tragically evidenced in Christchurch, disaffected young, white males are able to harbour and espouse racism and the doctrine of white supremacy unchallenged. Back in 1840, Maori Chief Hone Heke challenged William Hobson. At the Waitangi signing ceremony he corrected the Governor, telling him ‘He Iwi Kotahi tatou,’ meaning all of us, including Hobson as the white, male representative of imperial power, are one, are equal. Nearly 180 years later, as the Christchurch massacres demonstrate, Hone Heke’s vision of a just society in New Zealand is still unrealized.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
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Last Modified: 27 Sep 2019 11:02

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