Monday, May 18, 2009

"That most New Zealand of days ..."

I heard (or read) someone recently say this, referring to Anzac Day. Reading this post from Reading the Maps reminded me of that -- and also, that I agree that the events around the Land Wars here on our own soil should have more significance (and, in my opinion, they do) than those on Gallipoli. But, World Wars are a fascination for children. They're something that happened still within the last century, and during the period of both good photography and the motion picture. The Land Wars are portraits and painted scenes in corners of museums, a piece of scrimshaw, the occasional diorama. It's usually a regional thing. The New Zealand Wars series used some CGI to bring the events to life for new generations, but against the ready-to-consume emotions around the World Wars, it hasn't much hope of competing for a place on the national consciousness.

We should have a "most New Zealand of days" around the Land Wars, the New Zealand Wars. But, I doubt that anything beyond the confusion of Waitangi Day (do we celebrate the Treaty that day or how it was breached?) will happen in my lifetime.

Image from Wiki.


  1. There's never been any "official" recognition of the war against the Aboriginals here in Oz ("just random, unfortunate skirmishes, don't you know?")and it's certainly not something extensively discussed or taught in schools (until now) so Gallipoli has the greater significance here, too.
    Not even the Oz (and Kiwi) presence in the Boer War is mentioned overly much.
    I'm still astounded by the differences in attitude towards the Maoris and Aboriginals, is very disturbing.

  2. Thanks, Jayne. We do have some coverage of the NZ Land Wars in schools here, and the Treaty of Waitangi, as it is enshrined in our statutes, definitely comes up, along with the whys and wherefores as to how it was applied in our history. But apart from Waitangi Day itself (which skirts around the Land Wars), that formative period of our history just isn't in the media spotlight. Reading the Maps is dead right -- we should pay just as much attention, if not more, to what was effectively our own civil wars than we do to a campaign orchestrated by others, fought on the Turkish coastline.

    If we don't, then it may come to be thought that somehow all of what happened in the 19th century doesn't matter as much. Which is balderdash.

    You're right about the Boer War. I'm still looking for a good NZ book on the topic. It's a long, long hunt.

  3. Jayne: I've just been doing some reading on the history of conflict between settlers and Aboriginals in northern Victoria, which is the region where my mother's side of the family hails from. It's pretty bleak stuff, but I notice that the people of the area have recently become the first to achieve a Treaty-like agreement with an Australian government.

    I think the extent of the cultural loss and geographical dislocation which the Aboriginal peoples often suffered makes a parrallel with the Moriori more useful than a parrallel with the Maori. The similarities between the experiences of the Tasmanian Aborigines and those of the Moriori, for instance, are compelling.

    I'm going back to Victoria soon for the first time in many years, and hope to visit a few sites of interest.

    Ian D Clark has done some fine work on clashes between the races in Victoria, and Henry Reynolds' studies of the same subject on a national scale have surely by now attained classic status. I think Reynolds' book Why Weren't We Told?, which explains how as a young historian he virtually single-handedly discovered the written records of the nineteenth century bloodshed, should be compulsory reading. I lent it to my Mum, and she enjoyed it.

    Timespanner: I've been kicking round the idea of starting a sort of committee - hopefully I could lure some of the good and great onto it - to promote the argument that Anzac Day should also commemorate troops who served and died in wars inside New Zealand. I don't think it's an impossibly difficult argument to make, especially given the fact that Anzac history begins in the Waikato. I know that back in the '70s some Nga Tamatoa activists left wreaths for the Maori victims of the nineteenth century wars at Anzac monuments during dawn ceremonies, and got beaten up for their troubles. I don't fancy being that brave - I'd rather write opinion pieces for papers, hold public meetings, and do similarly mild things to raise consciousness. Even if the argument doesn't convince the RSA and the government, it could still resonate quite widely and contribute to awareness of and debate about our past.

    Any thoughts?

  4. I'd certainly support such a committee and their actions, Scott. Mild, I think, is a good strategy. A river starts with a few drops of water.