Who’s the We? Maori, Pakeha and an anthem's bonds of love

by North & South / 27 April, 2017

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In the bonds of love we meet… Peter Walker on the rules of attraction.

Peter Walker’s essay, Who’s the We?, is part of the D’Arcy Writers Grants being published by North & South. In it, he looks at the relationship between Maori and Pakeha in colonial times – with a focus on the attraction between the two races, not the “clash” and “collision” that dominate most modern histories.


God of nations
at thy feet
in the bonds of
love we meet

In 1856, a number of leading Maori chiefs from different parts of the country met in a house on the shores of Lake Taupo to discuss one burning question. The talks went on late into the night. We know that because at one point of the proceedings candles were lit.

The candles, in a way, are the point of the story.

The question that had brought the chiefs together, according to a missionary named Buddle, who put it in brutally simple terms, was this:

“How do we stop the Pakeha from treating us like dogs?”

“Many proposals were made to adopt extreme measures,” Buddle wrote. “The most violent party advocated a clean sweep of all the Pakeha – Governor, missionaries, Pakeha-Maoris, all… One of the advocates for a general clearing-out was very eloquently pressing his views upon his audience when Tarahawaiki of Ngaruawahia walked quietly round and one after the other put out the lights, till the place was in total darkness, and the speaker in possession of the house was brought to a full stop.

‘Don’t you think you had better light up the candles again?’ he said.

‘Most certainly,’ replied Tarahawaiki. ‘It was very foolish to extinguish them.’

“The meeting at once apprehended the meaning of this symbolic act and the orator sat down amid roars of laughter at his expense.”

There were several things I liked about this story – the wit of Tarahawaiki and the ready apprehension of the audience – but what made it memorable for me was what it implied about race relations. For the past 40 years, it has been the custom to represent New Zealand’s racial history as a dark story of force and fraud – “history as pathology” as the writer Alex Frame puts it – but Tarahawaiki’s little parable of the candles suggests a reality that was always more complex and paradoxical.

Sir William Fox in 1890

There are very good reasons, of course, to look on the dark side. For 100 years or so, our history was carefully bowdlerised and painted in different shades of rose. Then in about 1970, a great revision was undertaken. As a journalist and writer, I joined in the revision myself: the first book I wrote was about a Maori boy kidnapped in the wars, raised by a white politician, William Fox, then swept away in another paroxysm of racial strife. One of the unexpected results of writing a book is that suddenly you are deemed an expert. You’re invited to make speeches, write articles, chair panels and generally have your say on matters only distantly related to your subject. There’s nothing wrong with this: it gets writers out of their lairs and sometimes they are even paid, but after a while I began to notice a pattern to the invitations. The people who wanted me to speak or write or chair something were always interested in the same thing. Racial tension, racial conflict, racial hatred.

This surprised me, because although war always loomed in the background of the story I wrote, there were other strong currents running through it: the Maori boy and his European foster-mother developed a life-long bond; when he ran away as a teenager to join the chief Te Whiti, he learned a doctrine of peace and love between the races; when Te Whiti himself came under attack, many influential colonists rose to his defence. But none of this seemed to matter. Conflict, division – that’s what was wanted on the panel discussions, the clash of cultures – as if clashing was the only thing cultures did or the only thing worth talking about.

Prophet and Taranaki leader Te Whiti.

But it seemed to me cultures didn’t always just clash. They could do other things as well… they might converge, for instance, or signal each other like mirrors, or cross-pollinate, and even merge into one. These possibilities, increasingly, were what interested me again about New Zealand history, although I knew this was against the tide of current thinking. I even found myself making a collection of positively charged encounters between the races, picking them up one by one like a beachcomber and turning them over, with no real idea of what to do with them. Here are a few, for example; some taken from memory, beginning with the moment the races met in Poverty Bay in 1769:

“Their Reine of courage is unparalleled and is greatly to be Admir’d for it has always been remark’d among Savages... that as soon as they see a man or two fall they immediately fall into disorder and give way yet these People was... far from showing any sign of fear...”
(Pickersgill, master’s mate on the Endeavour.)


“As the goblins... did not do any evil... we came back one by one, and gazed at them, and we stroked their garments with our hands, and we were pleased with the whiteness of their skins and the blue of the eyes of some of them.”
(Horeta Te Taniwha recalls seeing the Endeavour as a child.)


“Two men, whom, by their dress and behaviour, I took to be chiefs [came] on board... To the principal of these two men I gave... two boars, two sows, four hens and two cocks; the seeds are such as are most useful, wheat, French and kidney beans, pease, cabbage, turnip, onions, carrots, parsnips and yams &c.
(Cook, on his second voyage October 1772.)


“Through love and intermarriage the two races will be lost, one in the other.”
(Governor George Grey, 1850s.)


“We have been lost to you and you have been lost to us.”
(Te Whiti to a government official in 1869, after the wars.)


“If we choose hatred, we’re all lost.”
(Historian Anne Salmond, at Poho-o-Rawiri marae, Gisborne, 1995.)


“When the Maoris moved away from here, we felt lonely...”
(Settlers at Bethells Beach, circa 1890.)


“When the Maoris left the trenches ... their Pakeha comrades who were remaining behind for a later shipment carried their packs down into the gullies... and many stood clasping hands, their hearts too full of aroha to express themselves in words.”
(Te Rangi Hiroa on the evacuation of Gallipoli, 1916.)

There are hundreds if not thousands of similar examples in the history books. Yet making such a list I felt rather surreptitious, as if it was an illicit or even subversive activity, and, sure enough, if I described these remarks or incidents to radical friends, Maori or Pakeha, there was a kind of disapproving silence, as if I had gone off-script, turned my back on history. And yet all those things had happened, had been said or thought sincerely – they must have once had real meaning. So what did they now mean? Were they just delusions, curiosities of history, pleasing sentiments irrelevant to the real story of force and fraud? Let’s look at Tarahawaiki again, walking round the room, putting out the lights:

“Don’t you think we should have the candles on again?”

“Yes – it was very foolish of me to put them out.”

European civilisation, in other words, was a source of light. That was what Tarahawaiki was saying – and yet within 10 years the Waikato had been invaded by British troops, Tarahawaiki had been taken prisoner, lost his ancestral land, and was living in a kind of exile in the King Country with the Maori King...

What should we think about him then? Was Tarahawaiki a mere fool, a dupe of history? Whatever he was, he was by no means unique or even unusual at the time. Here, for example, is another night-time gathering, not far away, and a year or two earlier. This time, Pakeha and Maori are meeting together, we are in the Seven Stars Inn in New Plymouth, in 1854. It is a grand banquet with 70 or so sitting down to dine. The host is the Superintendent of the Province, Charles Brown, the guests of honour are the Commissioner of Lands, Donald McLean, and the chiefs Rawiri, Hone Ropiha, Te Tahana, Poharama, Iharaira Te Tuki, Raniera Ngaere, Te Waka, Ihaka, Taituha and Tamati Wiremu Te Ngahuru. It is autumn.  Outside – gales of wind and rain. Inside, all is calm and ordered. The candles are shining, the tables are covered with linen cloth. A toast to the Queen is proposed and then speeches begin.

McLean speaks to the whole gathering, then addresses the Maori chiefs directly: “England, my friends, is a small country something like New Zealand. It did not attain its greatness at once – but now it diffuses wealth and prosperity over a vast portion of the world. Formerly we were a limited, poor and wild race until we were conquered by a great nation who introduced with their conquest their religion, their laws and good customs. From this commencement England, small an island as it is, attained the greatest wealth and power of any nation in the world. You are obtaining the same benefits and in this distant island you are enjoying a share of the wealth and blessings that England can bestow. Endeavour then, my friends, to make use of them; let your motives always be activated by feelings of peace and friendship towards the English... so that we may not hereafter appear as different and separate races, but... grow up together as the descendants of one original ancestor.”

The chiefs, one by one, rose to reply.

Te Tahana said: “A few years ago we dwelt in darkness and no light was to be seen. But of late that light has shone, first of the gospel and afterwards of the good laws of the English. They are different from us – of different complexion, habits, language and customs. But the same red blood runs in the veins of each... Did we seek out the Pakeha as our protectors and friends? No. We could not see at that time across the wide ocean to know whence came this nation, neither could we believe or understand their love to us. Therefore we mistrusted them and did not receive them as we ought. But now we are one, worshipping the same God, and bound by allegiance to the same Sovereign, and for this reason we are now sitting together, eating from the same table, protected by the same laws.”

Hone Ropiha said: “I admit the two races are united in brotherly love with another.”

Ihaka said: “Under our old Maori customs we were driven from our homes, many of us were enslaved and others were driven to strange lands. Then came the gospel and the Queen’s laws.”

Iharaira said: “When the English came I thought they were... the destroyers of mankind, but I soon found they were kind and loving friends.”

Poharama said: “I always knew the Pakeha were good. From the first I exerted myself to drag them ashore from the ocean as fast as possible.”

The most eloquent speech that night, as reported by the Taranaki Herald, was made by Te Ngahuru, chief of the Taranaki iwi.

“Te Ngahuru rose and saluted all present... He was but an insignificant person and it would not do to make much of himself but he would at least say this: his heart was good towards the English. It was dark and stormy outside but he was in a comfortable room, with bright lights and plenty of eating and drinking at the table – neither rain nor wind could penetrate us. Even so it was with his heart, his feelings towards the English and his perception of the course his countrymen ought to follow, were as clear as the lights overhead, as pure as the whitewashed walls.”

Finally, Taituha made a long speech: “In former times, I was a fighting man and my greatest pride was to lead my followers to the battlefield and I delighted in all the horrors of war. I thought that by living such a life I should attain a great name and be respected in this life and be remembered after my death. I now see this was wrong. When my relatives consulted with me to protect and assist the English, I was for a long time deaf to their advice. I saw, however, they were gainers by the course they had followed and at length I agreed to do the same. I am now a friend to the English... I look around at all the other settlements in New Zealand and see there have been disturbances everywhere but here. The name of New Plymouth is sacred for blood has never been spilt to desecrate it... It shall be so hereafter – I, old Taituha, say so.”

At this point you want to burst out laughing, or perhaps crying – you almost wish you were there to call out, to warn them, because you know what’s coming: all those people in New Plymouth that night would soon be caught up in a war or series of wars, white vs Maori, Maori vs Maori, resulting in death, despoliation, the miserable policy of confiscation and decades of subsequent bitterness.

Charles Brown, the Superintendent, was a stately presence at the banquet. He made a speech praising McLean, and after dinner departed “apparently well pleased with the evening’s entertainment”. Brown was one of the first – perhaps he was the very first – to suggest confiscating Maori land and using the profits to pay for the war. In other words, Maori would foot the bill for the privilege of being attacked and rendered landless. Anyone who saw Jane Campion’s film Bright Star about the poet Keats and his love affair with Fanny Brawne might remember that Brown, who was Keats’ friend, gets the housemaid pregnant. At one point in the movie, Kerry Fox, who plays Fanny Brawne’s mother, picks up the new baby and whirls him round and round. After all the whirling, this baby grew up, sailed to New Zealand and became Superintendent of Taranaki. It would have been better for everyone, you can’t help thinking, and especially for Maori of Taranaki, the Waikato, the Bay of Plenty and other places, if Mr Brown senior and the maid had never met or had kept their clothes on when they did.

And here lies another reason for modern cynicism about racial harmony. Brown was just one of many politicians who listened and nodded during speeches about brotherhood and justice, and often made them themselves, while all the time planning a very different course of action. It might be said there were two disasters in our racial history – the war, and the deep contamination of the language.  A grisly form of entertainment is still available to anyone who cares to open an old Hansard and read the speeches by various politicians proclaiming their love for the native race. In 1869, for example, one new member of the House, William Rolleston, accused the government of brutal incompetence; confiscation, he said, had been a “fatal blunder” and now some members wished to “sweep the Natives from the face of the earth”.

The House went collectively purple. “Nabob” Cracroft Wilson, who had wanted to hang Te Kooti and Titokowaru, to exile whole tribes to the Chathams and bring the Gurkha regiments to New Zealand, flew into a rage. “There are many Natives of whose conduct I have read with admiration... I dare any man to say that I have not sacrificed money and time and labour for men of the dark races!”

William Fox was equally insulted. “No man in this country has sympathised with the Native race more than I have. I have always been on terms of the most friendly relations with them, entertained the most friendly feelings towards them and taken a deep interest in their welfare.”

Fox was a keen confiscator and in 1869, as premier, he began a sinister and semi-secret policy of “scouring” southern Taranaki so that “no Native fire would be lit there”. Today, this would be called ethnic cleansing and see Sir William marched off to The Hague for crimes against humanity. And yet, at almost exactly the same time, he spoke in the House of his great friendship for Maori. If “friendship” meant licence to rob and to kill in secret, then the word had lost any real meaning. The question is, did anything survive this hollowing-out of the language?

The obvious answer is that it’s too early to tell. We are still trying to fix the mess made by bad 19th-century politicians and that process, mainly through the Waitangi Tribunal, is itself at times a source of further bitterness. Where the lock-step of Maori grievance and white resentment should end is hard to say. But perhaps we can think about the question in a new way.

I want to look now a thousand miles south, at a figure riding into town one fine day in 1874, a few years after the wars.

He is approaching the outskirts of Dunedin from the west. It may be late in the afternoon, in which case he is in silhouette and hard to see against the dazzle. He is on horseback, and leading two other horses by their bridles. He is a tall athletic man, with a pleasing air about him. He seems to be rather drunk. The saddlebags of the horses are bulging with gold nuggets.

 Most deliveries from the goldfields came by coach, surrounded by armed mounted police, and here was a man not only loaded with gold and on his own and “in drink”, as they say, but scores of people must have known about his journey. And yet the rider was completely safe. He was the poet and journalist, Thomas Bracken. He had gone up to the goldfields to canvas support for a weekly paper the Catholic bishop of Dunedin wanted to start. Decades later, a writer on the Tablet described Bracken’s fund-raising trip to the goldfields:

“Tuapeka, the Dunstan, Cromwell, Queenstown, the Cardrona – every tent in the valley – in all those there was a welcome, every company of sluicers was glad to see him.

“Business? And he the genial poet! But no one laughed because he had the ‘way wid him’.

‘Bishop Moran wants to bring out a paper.’

‘Of course!’ – it would have been the same if His Lordship had wanted the moon and all the stars and a comet or two thrown in for luck.”

Bracken is remembered now because he wrote the national anthem, although he did more than that as a journalist and politician. He supplied us with the appellation “God’s Own Country” and gave its provenance: two New Zealanders meet in Collins St, Melbourne in the early 1870s.

“How do you like it here?”

“Oh, it’s wonderful place and I am doing very well here but I would much sooner live on a far smaller salary in ‘God’s own country’.”

Poet, journalist and politician Thomas Bracken

Bracken then wrote a poem justifying the phrase on the grounds of scenery alone, starting with the Bay of Islands and ending up at Mitre Peak. It sounds pretty obvious now but no one had done it before, as far as I know, in exactly that sequence, which still stands. He published several books of verse, he gave the nation the useful phrase “by hokey!” and he founded an extremely successful weekly paper. He was later sent to Parliament by the voters of Dunedin; he was a friend of the good and the great from the governor down, but all the same he ended up penniless. He was hopeless with money. A late glimpse sees him ill and alone, walking the roads of the Wairarapa. Perhaps like Tolstoy he was desperate not to die indoors. But it is the national anthem which brings him into this story. Bracken’s anthem verses never interested me much. I remember reading a discussion between two of the great moai of New Zealand literature – I think it was A.R.D. Fairburn and Charles Brasch, but I may be making that up – in which they dismissed Bracken’s lines, one of them saying something like, “I suppose national anthems are always going to be doggerel.”

I was 18 or 19 when I read that and keen to have strong opinions of my own, although without much basis to form them, and so for the next couple of decades that was one of mine: “God Defend New Zealand” was doggerel. Only years later, when it had become the fashionable view, I started to question it. There was this remark by Wellington journalist, Frank Haden, for instance: “I’m no fan of the national anthem. I think it stinks, both tune and words, and should be abolished.”

My reaction to that was simple: if Frank Haden hated the anthem, it must have something going for it. I knew Haden only from a distance, a vertical distance that is, from far below. He was deputy editor of The Dominion; I was a lowly employee on the same paper, as lowly as you could get while actually having a desk in the building. I was not even a proofreader but a copy-holder, whose job it was to sit there and listen as the proofreader recited what the printers had set in type. I doubt Haden ever knew of my existence, which is the prerogative of those on the heights. But I knew of his and watched him and judged him harshly, which is the prerogative of those at the bottom. I thought he was a fairly ridiculous person. He arrived at work gunning his motorbike in the loading-bay and striding into the office in leathers. He played the role of the bold outsider, the dragon-slayer, a speaker of truth to power. Secretly, he courted popularity. He gave the game away when he wrote: “I am paid to do just one thing – know what the public wants to read.”

That was not, in my view, the one thing a journalist is paid to do, and perhaps not even the most important thing. In any case, it seemed to me that Frank Haden didn’t know what the public wanted to read. He revealed this one year when the editor went on holiday and he took over the reins, or perhaps it was when he became editor of the Sunday paper. The exact details are now hazy, but Haden’s first act in power I remember clearly. He announced it in roughly the following terms: “Our readers are not interested in foreign news. They’d rather know about the new supermarket in Wainuiomata than what’s going on in Rhodesia.”

And with that, he removed the foreign section of the paper, the “cable pages” as they were called, and replaced them with a single column with a sketch of the globe at the top. To add insult to injury, the drawing of the globe was, as far as I recall, comic. It showed the world as a bubble or a ball, perhaps it even had a grin on its face. All the events that had touched the human race around the planet in the previous 24 hours were reduced to a few “briefs” – single paragraphs separated by asterisks.

In short, the newspaper looked idiotic. And in any case, why was the matter binary? Why shouldn’t readers be interested in both the Wainuiomata supermarket and events in southern Africa, or east Asia, or Washington DC? There and then, in my opinionated 20s, I decided that everything Haden thought was probably wrong. This prejudice lasted. Years later when I heard his view of the national anthem – “it stinks” – I knew what I thought: Frank hates it? Okay – I’m prepared to like it.

 I read his opinion in Max Cryer’s book, Hear Our Voices, We Entreat, where Cryer gave a sample of the objections to the anthem by various pundits. Canon Bob Lowe, for example, said the words were “an embarrassment... especially in the sporting arena where the words ‘in the bonds of love we meet’ are followed by the bloodthirsty haka”. Again, I was struck by the false binary. The haka has evolved into a ritual challenge, and in that sense is no more bloodthirsty than a 21-gun salute. But I did agree there was a problem with the words:

God of nations
at thy feet
in the bonds of
love we meet.

A mild incomprehension seemed to stray over the faces of rugby players when they sang this, a slight glazing-over of eye. God of Nations – who’s he? Bonzer love – what’s that? I didn’t know the answers myself, and I began to wonder what Bracken really had in mind. Who were in the “bonds of love”? Was he expressing a general piety? Did he mean everyone in town, everyone in the land? Or did he, by any chance, mean two specific parties, Maori and Pakeha?

Who, in other words, is the “we”?

At first sight, it seems unlikely the words had racial connotations. When Bracken lived in Dunedin, it was an almost entirely white city. There was a good deal of anxiety about Chinese immigration, but most of Otago’s 5000 “Celestials”, as they were called, were away in the goldfields. The South Island Maori population, meanwhile, was tiny, and in any case the Ngai Tahu of Otago lived in some isolation at Waikouaiti or at the “kaik” out at the Heads. Hardly a Maori could be seen in the splendid, calamitously muddy streets of gold-rush Dunedin, and I assumed that Bracken, who threw himself into the boisterous life of what was then the country’s biggest city with its theatres, hotels and raucous public meetings, would not have had the Maori people much in mind.

But closer inspection tells a different story. Far from the North Island problems, Dunedin in fact had an intense and curious interest in the indigenous people of the land. When 74 Maori prisoners were sent to Dunedin prison in the aftermath of Titokowaru’s war, there was a sensation. The biggest crowds in the town’s history rushed down to the wharves on foot, on horse and by coach to see them disembark. At the sight of the prisoners, a general groan was heard. This, it turned out, was directed not at the Maori but at the police guarding them. The crowd then would not disperse.

“Five thousand people accompanied them up to the gaol,” Premier Fox wrote to a colleague, “crit[icis]ing the Government for being so hard on them and saying if they had been white men they would have been far better treated.”

The prisoners were soon put to work around the town – “slave labour” the historian James Belich calls it – making roads and causeways, digging out streams, laying out public gardens and so on. Even then, the crowds did not go away. “Persons are in the habit of standing and watching the prisoners work,” one paper reported, “and even making signs to them... contrary to the regulations.” Who were these people? What did they want? They were evidently friendly, to judge from the court reports. March 7: Thomas Stewart charged with throwing tobacco to the Maori prisoners working at the High School on Saturday morning last. Fined 20 shillings. March 14: Thomas Aitken charged with throwing tobacco to the Maori prisoners at 11.30am the day before. Defendant said he was drunk at the time and knew nothing about the matter. Fined £5. June 4: James Wilkins charged with delivering tobacco to the prisoners working at the Botanical Gardens. A note was found with the tobacco: “Dear Frien thers ar the bees I cold get and let me now if they will Do.”

Wilkins was sentenced to three months of hard labour.

The exile of the Maori prisoners to Dunedin was stupid and cruel, although it was not as bad as depicted in modern myth. The majority of prisoners did not die, as is claimed, nor did they die shackled to the floor of sea caves. A close study of coroners’ reports and hospital records is beyond the scope of this article, but it would probably show that of the 27 who died, most were suffering from tuberculosis when they arrived, and that certainly some of them died in hospital with relatives and chiefs (fellow prisoners) at their side. There were also what Primo Levi, writing about Auschwitz 80 years later, called moments of reprieve.

The friendly rain of tobacco was not, in fact, needed. Tobacco had been banned as a luxury in New Zealand prisons but the ban was suspended for the Maori prisoners. They were also issued with heavy woollen socks “and drawers” on the grounds they felt the cold more keenly than common Pakeha criminals. And always in the background, there was the chorus of urban well-wishers. James Belich calls the arrival of the prisoners in Dunedin a “nine-day wonder” but it was not that. They were there for three years and it was a three-year wonder. There are constant references in the press to them, anxiety about their welfare and health, their excellence as workers was praised, their good humour, productivity.

When they left, the city seemed to lament their departure: “Dunedin had yesterday quite a ‘North Island look’,” wrote the Otago Daily Times on March 1872, “every street corner being able to boast a Maori ex-prisoner or two. They paraded the streets in new felt hats, brand new moleskin inexpressibles [trousers], and coats a la mode. Here and there an exquisite might be seen, twirling about, after the most approved manner, a smart little walking cane, while every one of them, young and old, were puffing away most vigorously on the darling ‘dudeen’ (clay pipe). In the evening they marched two deep though Princes St, surrounded by an admiring crowd of Pakehas with whom they appeared to be on the friendliest terms possible.”

The Evening Star, which had campaigned for the Maori, as political prisoners, to be paid for their labour, took up the story: “The ex-prisoners took much pleasure in visiting the Water of Leith, Anderson’s Bay Rd, the Hospital and other places where they have been at work. The Gardens seem to be the chief attraction as they justly look on them as the result of their almost unaided labour. The authorities should recognise the great advantage their presence amongst us has been to the city.”

Then came the farewell: “The prisoners bade goodbye to Dunedin yesterday afternoon. In the morning, great anxiety was manifested in the neighbourhood of the Rattray St, where the Luna was moored, the natives making a great fuss about the stowing away of their personal effects...  About one o’clock Mr McLean and his companions from the north and some Dunedin gentlemen proceeded on board. Steam was then got up and the Luna departed amidst the cheers of the numerous spectators, the Maoris also indulging in three cheers before they left the wharf...”

On the way down the harbour to Port Chalmers, the Superintendent of Otago made a speech, saying he was sorry the Maori had not sent for their wives and children and remained in the province. “We have here plenty of gold, plenty of land and plenty of hard work, all of which, I am sure, we should be willing to share with our Maori fellow-subjects.”

Meanwhile, a very different message was emanating from the north.

The Wanganui Herald had this to say: “The Dunedin prisoners, the Pakakohe hapu, are to be restored, a telegram the other day announced. We advise the settlers to stand fast by their rifles, and the first cannibal that returns, to force him back or lay him low...”

The Herald was owned and edited by the sinister figure of John Ballance, and one assumes or at least hopes that this article, openly calling for vigilante murder, was not known to the mayor of Wanganui in 2009 when $64,000 was spent on the bronze statue of Ballance that now lends an unpleasant glister to the centre of the town. The Herald article caused outrage in Otago in the 1870s. The Evening Star called the piece a gross and shameful abuse of the liberty of the press. “We could not have believed, had we not seen this, that it was possible for any journal in New Zealand to so utterly cast aside the rules of conduct which those who understand the responsibility of the press are accustomed to observe.”

This perhaps indicates something of the mood in Dunedin regarding race relations when Bracken rides into view, saddlebags laden with gold nuggets.

He undertook the fundraising trip for the Tablet in the hope of being appointed editor. He had already had some experience in journalism in Bendigo and on the Otago Guardian. (He may also have briefly had close contact with the Ngati Ruanui and Pakakohe prisoners: his biographers suggest that he worked for a while as a warder in the Dunedin jail just after he reached the province, which was roughly the same time as the Maori prisoners, but so far there is no verification of this story.)

Bracken’s hopes regarding the Tablet were dashed. Fierce Bishop Moran suspected his orthodoxy and examined him himself. The result was shocking. The man was an out-and-out heretic! There was, it was said, a tremendous row and Bracken, born a Catholic, marched out and joined the Masons. Soon afterwards, he became editor of a new paper, the Saturday Advertiser, Time-Table and New Zealand Literary Miscellany. The masthead of the Advertiser gives a preview of what was within. Mastheads today are minimalist, they give very little away about the content or the political slant of what is below, but mid-Victorian newspapers conveyed a rich store of data through the symbols stashed around their titles. The masthead of the first editions of the Advertiser, for instance, shows Captain Cook in the centre, with a Union Jack and a bearded settler on one side of him, and on the other a chiefly Maori figure with plumes in his hair and an extraordinary flag flying above – a long tapering banner emblazoned with two crosses and a heart, reminiscent of the flags of the Maori king or even of Te Kooti, though not identical with either.

Maori sovereignty and Maori rights were evidently on the minds of the publisher and editor of the Saturday Advertiser.

 A weekly paper, selling for threepence and sent out to all the little towns and lonely farms of a new province, had to perform many roles, including entertainment, and the Advertiser undertook these with spirit. It was mostly written by the editor himself, under a variety of pseudonyms: Bracken was certainly the “Paddy Murphy” who wrote incredibly popular (and to modern taste heavy-going) verse in Irish brogue; he was almost certainly “Frank Fudge” and “Gregory Grumble”, and probably “The Stranger”. Later, when he was a member of Parliament, he was “The Watchman”, reporting from Wellington. I like to think he was “Fanny Fairplay”, the theatre critic (Dunedin had a vibrant theatre scene) and of course he was also the genial poet Thomas Bracken, who published his own verse from time to time, including, in June 1876, what he called a “national hymn”: “God Defend New Zealand”. The fate of the “hymn” is well known. Max Cryer tells the story with clarity. The verses were immediately popular. Bracken then organised a public competition for accompanying music. All the entries were sent to Melbourne where three German-born judges, Herr Zelman, Herr Zeplin and Herr Seide, unanimously chose the tune that we hear and sing today. But as to the words... what did Bracken really have in mind?

There may be something to be learned from another columnist on the Advertiser, a certain “Zim-Nou”, a Taoist priest or bonze purportedly touring New Zealand and writing letters to a friend back home in Japan. Zim-Nou was almost certainly Bracken as well, and a brilliant device by which he could get a lot off his chest. (Bracken is, in any case, teasing his readership by giving perceptive authority to a member of an Asiatic race, generally despised in Otago.)

Here Zim-Nou describes the colonists he has encountered:

“The English think dark skin a shame and look down on those who wear it, plume themselves that they are white, and thank their God they are not like others. I wonder if He hears them! And what He thinks of their pride and folly! And yet one of the tenets of their religion is that God hath made of one flesh and blood all nations to dwell on the earth... Funny, is it not?”

A good deal is going on here: Bracken, addressing a mostly Scots and Irish readership, puts all the blame on the English settlers. This was clever of him and unfair: Scots and Irish settlers played some ugly roles in the inter-racial drama of Victorian New Zealand. Leaving that aside, however, we learn exactly who the “God of Nations” is: a central figure in Bracken’s own free-thinker’s exegesis, who made all mankind “one flesh and blood”. With this in mind, Zim-Nou lets rip:

“In this colony the invaders have not killed the owners of the soil as they have done in America and Australia and so many other places. The bulk of the people,  however, think this a great mistake and a just cause for grief, and wail openly or in secret that they have not killed them or improved them off the face of the earth.”

For Zim-Nou– as for many Victorians – it is a question of religion. You are defined by what you worship. Christianity gets some marks – “it has caused the strange belief of these people I told you of, and also the salvage of the native people from their doom” – but other objects of worship come under attack:

“Wellington is ill-built, has timber houses and seems waiting for a fire. I wonder what things there are fire will not cleanse. Traders are held in honour here. Those who are not traders wish to be. We think of traders as unclean, and who shall say we do not think well? They produce nothing, they impose on the weak and foolish... I do not see what the outcome will be of the mad race after money and land. They are the only things the people worship... The Government does nothing but help the trader. The traders make laws to suit their own purpose – that of the rich... growing richer.”

Short of coming back in the flesh, Zim-Nou could hardly provide a more accurate picture of New Zealand in the John Key years, and suddenly the writer sounds prophetic. He continues his attack on the cult of the free market. This “trading mania”, he says, “is the strangest thing... to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market… making a man’s interest the same thing as his duty.”

That, of course, was also the driving principle of colonisation – get the land cheap (or better still free) and sell it at high prices. Zim-Nou now returns to the racial question:

“The native race in physique and some mental and moral gifts are a better people, I think, than the invaders. They are only 45,000. They got irate when the invaders stole their lands but most other people would do the same under the sense of being wronged... How they stole the land I will tell you in another letter... They [the colonists] think it wrong to steal from one another but that it does not matter to steal from a man of coloured skin. The Maori is thought fair game because he does not know as much rascality as the whites.”

The next letter, “How they stole the land”, was never published, as far as I can tell. Perhaps Bracken felt he had gone too far – as he sometimes did:

The Maories... had hearts and souls

Far nobler than some milk-faced races who

... lie grovelling in the nation’s rear

Or perhaps the job of describing “how the land was stolen” turned out to be just too difficult; the process was so confusing that generations later we, or at least the Tribunal, are still working out what happened where. In any case, Zim-Nou falls silent and vanishes back where he came from, into Bracken’s imagination or possibly back to Japan. Pseudonyms make it hard to know who existed and who didn’t. But the three Zim-Nou letters which did appear give a good indication of Bracken’s views in 1877.  In a way, they are not so much descriptive as prescriptive, lessons in justice made palatable by implying to the readers that they at least are not as bad as certain other (i.e., wicked English) colonists. And it is clear that if, when Bracken wrote “in the bonds of love we meet”, he meant Maori and Pakeha, that was not descriptive either, but a hope, a prescription – something Bracken thought we should be doing, rather than what he or Zim-Nou saw around him.

And if there is still any doubt that race was one of Bracken’s preoccupations, listen to his maiden speech when he comes to Parliament five years later as member for Dunedin Central.

“I hold we should treat the Natives with the same consideration as, or even more consideration than they treated our race in times gone by... There was a time when the Maoris, if they had chosen, could with one swoop have swept the European race from this island. This was the time of the Treaty of Waitangi. What did they do then? You call them savages, barbarians, but they treated us in a way which makes me blush and which should bring a blush to the cheeks of the men who are bent on perpetuating a wrong done to a conquered race...”

It is an extraordinary moment – Dunedin Central in 1882 had many things on its mind other than the racial problems in the North Island. But a maiden speech has its own conventions and new members are allowed to unburden themselves, which is what Bracken did. “I feel very strongly on this matter,” he cried, “and I appeal to the sense of justice of the honourable gentlemen... not to allow the finger of scorn to point for all time at this honourable House in this adopted country of our race.”

The finger of scorn for all time... The genial poet was suddenly a prophet again, for that is exactly what has happened. The bill under debate was called the Peace Preservation Act, possibly the worst legislation ever passed by a New Zealand parliament, although it might be said there was plenty more where that came from. The act was designed to deal with the problem of two Maori leaders, Te Whiti and Tohu, of Taranaki. The year before, in 1881, as most people know, the government sent an army to arrest the two chiefs and 2000 of their followers, and to smash up the town of Parihaka. This feat of arms accomplished, at bayonet point, a problem then arose: what exactly to do with them all. The followers were sent packing to their own tribal areas. But the two chiefs could not possibly be sent to trial, since no judge could be trusted to find them guilty of anything.

The Peace Preservation Bill was therefore rushed through. It went like this: “WHEREAS two aboriginal natives of New Zealand, namely Te Whiti and Tohu, are now confined in Her Majesty’s gaol at Addington, awaiting trial in the Supreme Court for sedition... BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED: The said Te Whiti and Tohu shall not be tried for the offence for which they are now charged. It shall be lawful to keep the said Te Whiti and Tohu in custody as the Governor thinks fit, or to release the said Te Whiti and Tohu unconditionally, or subject to such conditions as the Governor thinks fit, and, after any such release, to again arrest them and keep them in custody as aforesaid.”

The attack on Parihaka had been led in person by the Native Affairs Minister, John Bryce. Bryce was now the author of the Peace Preservation Bill, and an additional bill giving him and the army he led to Parihaka full indemnity for any crimes.

Native Affairs and Defence Minister John Bryce.

In other words, Te Whiti and Tohu, who had committed no crime, were to be stripped of the fundamental protection of the law, while Bryce and his men, who committed many, were given a free pass by the New Zealand Parliament. This was enough to drive someone like Bracken mad. He became mesmerised by Bryce. He couldn’t stop staring at him. Three days after his maiden speech, he wrote a pen-portrait of the man for the Advertiser: “No one possessed of the slightest penetration, who has gazed at that big head, with its broad high forehead towering above a pair of thick shaggy eyebrows, can doubt that a large quantity of brain power is stored within. That head and face of his serves to redeem the otherwise uncouth exterior of John Bryce. I should imagine that Mr Bryce has travelled along life’s road a considerable distance over the meridian usually allotted to man. And yet he may not be so old as he looks. For he belongs to the thoughtful stamp of beings who grow aged before their time through brooding on certain facts which seem to them of considerable importance. The Maori Question has been Mr Bryce’s idiosyncrasy for years. Te Whiti himself with all his mystic visions is not more assured of his supernatural powers than is the Native Minister impressed with the idea that he was sent specially into the world to deal with the Maori difficulty.”

The methods Bryce had chosen to deal with “the difficulty” horrified Bracken. Months before the Parihaka assault, the “Paddy Murphy” poems lost their comical tone:


Mr Bryce sings: Me soul is up in arms,

An’ I scorn all alarms

Me breast in fury warms – Bloody wars!

Bracken in Parliament was more restrained than Paddy Murphy in print, though not by much.

“We have it on record that Rome was once saved by geese and I see no reason why that interesting rodent, the rat, should not be held in like estimation in this colony. I do not look on the Native Minister as a goose or a rat. I see him as a plucky, conscientious and autocratic man. But many men in the world look on democratic institutions with aversion. There are men who would trample on the liberties of the people underfoot and still consider they were doing their duty. There are men who think that autocracy is the proper form of government. The honourable gentleman is one of that class, and therefore unfit to be a member of a Ministry of a country governed by constitutional law.”

Bracken was not the first to be obsessed by John Bryce and certainly not the last. Bryce and Te Whiti! It is one of those duels which occur occasionally in history and which are so simple and clear that they give us a sense not just of a duel but of duality itself – dark and light, brute force and high principle, official cruelty and the dignity of man. Reading his hostile references to Bryce, I began to wonder what Bracken thought, in turn, of Te Whiti, and I even wondered whether the lines of his “national hymn” might not have been inspired by Te Whiti’s repeated injunctions that the two races should live together “with love”.

 At first there seemed to be a problem with timing. Te Whiti became a national figure only in the late 1870s, and “God Defend New Zealand” was already written and published by 1876. Would Thomas Bracken, down in Dunedin in 1876, have even known of the existence of Te Whiti O Rongomai, far away in the coastal forests of Taranaki? But Bracken was a journalist, and most journalists keep a keen eye on the horizon. One of the stated aims of the Advertiser, in fact, was to bring more national news to the southern readership. Even before that, when he was working in other Dunedin newsrooms, Bracken probably saw newspapers come into the office from far away. The first regular reports of the strange figure of the Taranaki “prophet” were in the North Island press by 1872. If Bracken did spy these, he may well have felt a natural sympathy for a man described by the Taranaki Herald as “amiable” and “singular” although with a regrettable “absence of all desire for money which means it is difficult to obtain his aid in helping colonisation”.  

Almost certainly he would have seen this as well, which appeared in Dunedin’s Evening Star in 1874: “Above medium height, ascetic in appearance with clear-cut almost European features, Te Whiti presented a remarkable spectacle of self-possession and conscious power. His sonorous voice could be heard all through the village, now thrilling with passion, anon replete with scorn, and then plaintive in its winning entreaty. Bareheaded, his right arm free for gesticulation, his mat falling round him like a toga, he seemed like an orator of old...

“For copiousness of language and imagery, for gracefulness of action and modulation of voice, for self-possession and command over his audience, Te Whiti ranks high as an orator. He revels in mysticism and obscure imagery. To the natural obscurity of Maori idiomatic imagery, he has added all that can be gleaned from Scripture. He can speak plainly when it pleases him... All the sensationalism written of him in the newspapers, as to him calling himself God... is pure imagination; the man is as shrewd as though born north of the Tweed...”

It is hard to imagine that Bracken the poet would not respond to this picture. Meanwhile, from 1875 on there came a growing stream of press reports about Te Whiti and his speeches which, despite translation by hostile journalists, conveyed the startling power of the language at Te Whiti’s command. Here he is on race relations: “Leave the glory of the flower of the pumpkin to bloom in the noonday sun, and never heed the caterpillar, which is eating away at its vitality, destroying a fruit which would be of service to both races.”

What would Bracken make of that? No image in his own poetry strikes us with such burning simplicity. What it actually meant, of course, is not very clear, or rather it’s not as simple as it looks. Here is the context:

“Loud are the boasts of the Pakeha, of their greatness; they say nothing of their littleness. We are an ignorant people, but great is the knowledge of the Pakeha. The movements of the earth, the motions of the stars, all in connection the sun and the moon, are known to the Pakeha. I speak in contempt of ourselves – of the Maori. Leave the glory of the flower of the pumpkin to bloom in the noonday sun....”

There are evidently lessons here about power, and vanity, not unlike the teachings of Zim-Nou, and it would be pleasant to report that Bracken, himself a striking presence in the land (“a high favourite wherever he went”, someone remembered in the 1920s, “with his tall, athletic figure, handsome face and soft brogue”) might have recognised in Te Whiti a kindred spirit. But it wasn’t so simple. For every admiring press report of Te Whiti, there were half a dozen abusive ones. The man was dangerous, insane, he thought he was divine, he promised to raise the dead, he would soon have rows of Pakeha heads stuck on poles just like the Hauhaus. These opinions were faithfully relayed by the Otago Daily Times and the Otago Witness, and Bracken couldn’t seem to make up his own mind.

“Te Whiti is a very remarkable man,” the Advertiser tells us in early 1881, “a man of stainless character.” But – there was always a but – “it is a matter of regret that such a leader should waste his energies in obstructing the settlement of the country and the progress of civilisation.”

A few months later, things took a turn for the worse. The papers reported a wild speech in which Te Whiti seemed to declare war:  

“Every man must drop his pen and pick up the sword... The Pakeha had cast a stone, now the Maori must throw stones... The evil of the world was on the loose and there is no way to stop it but to fight... I, Te Whiti, am vexed with mere talking... The time has come to pakanga – to strike. Strike, strike, strike!”

Bracken was outraged. The Advertiser swung around violently and headed in a different direction. An editorial abused the “philo-Maori governor”, the “wily Maori race”, and Te Whiti himself, that “gentlemanly old savage”. John Bryce was suddenly acceptable: “If Bryce had had his way, there would be no talk of pakanga.”

The trouble was, Te Whiti had made no such speech. The government agent and interpreter, Charles Hursthouse, was one of a group of prominent Taranaki settlers always to the fore when strife broke out. Hursthouse was on the scene when the first shots were fired in the war in 1861, and he seemed intent on starting another one in 1881. “The struggle (pakanga) is upon us. The Pakeha will use his weapons and we will use ours.” That was the Hursthouse version of the speech. “Te Whiti Threatens War – The Pakehas Are to Perish!” shrieked the headlines.

In fact, what Te Whiti meant was that bayonet and cannon would be met by his own weapons, peaceful resistance and brotherly love. It was easy for Hursthouse to pervert the meaning. Bracken must have quickly realised what had happened; in the next edition of the Advertiser, he ran a piece by Lyttelton Times reporters who had heard the pakanga speech and explained that Te Whiti would never dream of lifting a firearm, and still only wanted peace. “Te Whiti was astounded that whites did not see that he was [resisting] for the benefit of both races.”

Bracken was evidently rather ashamed of himself, but on the other hand he could not bring himself wholeheartedly to support Te Whiti, and in the following edition he was once again “the fanatic”. The Advertiser, in other words, was confused, which can happen to newspapers. There were various reasons in this case. Te Whiti was half-hidden in a haze of mistranslation; the difficult brilliance of his imagery only added to the confusion, like a light source in a fog.

As well as that – he changed his mind. This is unsettling from someone who claims a mandate from heaven. In 1869, for instance, he said: “Let the differences between us be settled by kings, governors, prophets and chiefs.” By 1873, this had changed to: “I think I am the man in whose hands it rests to make peace.” By 1879 there was no more doubt: “The jurisdiction of the two nations has been given to me... The wars of the past shall not be renewed... I will build and complete the house, in my lifetime.”

Claims of this kind infuriated the settlers. Perhaps they were calculated to do so. Reading the Te Whiti story, you sense that at times he deliberately rebuffed genuine offers of help. The governor, Arthur Gordon, for example, was openly sympathetic to Te Whiti, but his private envoy was sent away from Parihaka empty-handed. Perhaps Te Whiti believed the story must not be allowed to end too easily. The language of peace and friendship was still in use, but it had been so debased by hypocrisy that to save it, to make it mean anything again, it must be put to a real test. The principles of Te Whiti must go through the fire. In short, it seems that Te Whiti wanted Bryce to march on Parihaka. The two men must come face to face – Te Whiti with his 2000 followers and Bryce with his 2000 armed men. History required it. Only then could Te Whiti prove who was the master spirit.

If this was his strategy, it was extremely dangerous. Bryce meant business. His nickname among Maori was Kohuru: simply that, “Murder”. He acquired this in 1869 and 1870, when he led a local militia against Maori forces west of Whanganui. Marching on Parihaka 10 years later, he had murder on his mind again: he said so openly at a banquet afterwards, again in Whanganui, where he informed an adoring crowd (150 gentlemen at table, ladies in the dress circle) that “if one shot had been fired, though by accident... I would have forgotten such a word as ‘forbearance’ existed in the English language” (as reported in the West Coast Times).

What would be the result? “It would have been the knell of doom to the Maoris.”

And if Bryce himself had been shot at? “It would have meant the death of the whole of the natives assembled there.”

Bryce then “resumed his seat amidst deafening applause” (Auckland Star).

That was the west coast of the North Island in 1881, and that was the fire in which Te Whiti held his principles to be tested. It was only after the attack on Parihaka that Bracken finally got the point: “Te Whiti’s control over the warriors was faithfully observed... He [had] used the cry ‘pakanga’ in the figurative sense. According to Mr Bryce, his death would have been avenged by wholesale slaughter of hundreds of passive men, women and children... It is abundantly clear Mr Bryce has placed an exaggerated estimate upon the value of his noble self.”

Te Whiti’s ideals did survive Bryce’s visitation, but it was a terrifying test. We can see that more clearly in the negative: if the peace had not held, if one shot had been fired that dangerous morning, perhaps 2000 men, women and children would have died in a hail of bullets, and it is doubtful that the country, or at least our race relations, would have ever recovered.

However, as we know, the soldiers were met by singing children and offered loaves of bread. Te Whiti was arrested, and went away smiling. It is often forgotten how long the actual physical encounter between Bryce and his men and Te Whiti and his followers lasted. For two hours, in total silence, 4000 human beings, armed and unarmed, remained almost motionless under the sun. Bryce oversaw this strange dumb-show from a position he had taken up in the graveyard. The soldiers amused themselves by silently taking aim at the crowd.

The provocation, and the chance of disaster, were immense. But Te Whiti won. There were many extraordinary scenes in 19th-century New Zealand, of courage and colour and pathos, but this was sublime. 

Even when Te Whiti had been led away and Parihaka was demolished, not a fist was raised in anger by the Maori.

The colonists were at first truculent and triumphant – “Mr B. tramped out treason with a firm foot!” (Manawatu Times) – but there was uneasiness in the air, and a certain shame mixed with mockery began to appear. The next spring, Bryce was burnt in effigy by the goldminers in Thames. Two thousand people hooted and jeered on the street corners as a straw-and-rags Bryce nodded past on a “milk-white steed a la Parihaka” and later more than 1000 people gathered to watch in the moonlight when he went up in flames on a patch of wasteland outside the town. A dispute over pay for the Thames Volunteers was the reason for the lynching, but Bryce was mocked as “the hero of the bloodless field”. “When next the Native Affairs Minister gets up a scare... he may find himself left almost alone on his white charger in making his raid upon unresisting natives.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, similar conclusions were being reached. A meeting of the Royal Colonial Institute was held in London the same year to discuss Te Whiti. The Duke of Manchester was in the chair. The Bishop of Nelson vehemently defended Te Whiti and derided the invasion. “When our troops entered, they were greeted by girls with skipping ropes and offered bread and cheese. These are the people of whom we hear ‘rebellion and punishment’ and the like... I think public opinion is so strong and open that they [the New Zealand Government] dare not do anything that would injure the natives.”

The noble chairman agreed: “I can bear testimony to the fact there is no Englishman in New Zealand but would extremely regret the extinction of that race, which they all value highly... and wish well.”

Thirty years later, the same sentiments, rose-tinted and yet not insincere, were current. John Gorst, a Tory grandee who had once been a magistrate in pre-war Waikato, came back to New Zealand in 1908 and wrote this: “The public opinion of the country regard the Maoris as entitled to equal rights and equal justice... and is not a little proud of their success in assimilating into their civilisation this ancient and picturesque race.”

None of these assertions would have been possible if Bryce had started his war of extermination at Parihaka. Nor, strangely enough, were they likely if the invasion of Parihaka had never taken place. Neo-Darwinian racism was so strong in the early 1880s that a state assault on Maori might have taken place elsewhere, and without Te Whiti present to arrange the outcome, the results could have been deadly. But once Parihaka had happened, it was almost impossible for it to happen again. “Though the lion rage, I am for peace... The future is mine, and little children, asked hereafter as to the source of this peace, shall say Te Whiti and I shall bless them.”

It was a lordly claim, and it infuriated the settlers and helped drive them to attack him, but he was right. He did decide the future of the two races. In a real sense, he made the language of the nation’s founding covenant come back to life again. The words of brotherhood and love were not dead, after all. They had been abused and made ridiculous, but in the end they proved stronger than Bryce’s army. In that sense they defined the future, or as Te Whiti put it, with typical magnificence: “Should the sun wish to leave its course and shine on a day which is past, its wishes would be in vain... Its glory is spared for the days to come.”

In another sense, however, his prophecy has failed. He is not acknowledged as author of the peace. India has Gandhi, even the Americans are generous enough to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, but Te Whiti is still officially ignored or deprecated in New Zealand. Not long ago, in a lamentable incident, all the district councillors of New Plymouth refused to join the mayor and walk to Parihaka in a gesture of reconciliation. And among Maori radicals and young activists, it is my impression, at least, that Te Whiti’s stock is low compared, say, to the guerrilla captains Titokowaru and Te Kooti. (There is some comedy in this: exactly the same opinion was held by the worst of the colonist press. The Taranaki Herald, for instance, said in 1875 that it much preferred Titokowaru “who bravely fought us” to the “crafty pseudo-prophet of Parihaka”. Subtle and high ideals were as little in favour then as now.)

This may change one day. And there is also a possibility that Te Whiti has, in fact, been acknowledged all along – that he has been in front of us, right under our noses so to speak, for a century or so, and we have been quoting him every time we sing the national anthem. Bracken’s verses were published, as we saw, in mid-1876. In March that same year, Te Whiti’s actual programme was reported with clarity for the first time in the colonist press: “Te Whiti is said to issue strong injunctions against war under any pretext whatever. He wants this to be a country where Pakehas and Maoris may live in amity.”

Live in amity...

In the bonds of love we meet...

Could it be that Te Whiti’s words, translated and printed by the Taranaki Herald and then read in a Dunedin newsroom, inspired Bracken at some moment in the next few months? It is impossible to be sure. The formation of a lyric can take place in the snap of a synapse, in “one throb of an artery” as Yeats said – all in all, it is a mysterious event. But it would be a cosmic joke of a high order if for a century or more everyone in the country, including even the doughty councillors of New Plymouth, have been singing words that come directly from the despised “prophet”, who said that it had been given to him alone to decide the future of the two races.

 About the D'Arcy Writers Grants

Peter Walker’s essay, Who’s the We?, is the second from the D’Arcy Writers Grants to be published in North & South. The grants, sponsored by New York-based Kiwis Mark and Deborah D’Arcy, are designed to encourage the writing of essays of 10,000 to 12,000 words on New Zealand life and culture.

Walker is an author and journalist who started out on The Dominion in 1976 before leaving New Zealand, first for Australia and then the UK, where he rose to foreign editor on the Independent on Sunday. His first book, The Fox Boy (2001), was about a Maori child kidnapped during the Land Wars and brought up by the premier, Sir William Fox. The book is now in development for a film by Cliff Curtis. Walker’s 2010 novel, The Courier’s Tale, followed the life of one of Henry VIII’s cousins (“estranged, naturally”) who nearly became pope. A second novel, Some Here Among Us (2014), was set in New Zealand, Washington and the Middle East; he’s working on a sequel, and also on a book about the mighty New Zealand Haast’s eagle. London-based Walker is returning to New Zealand to live, in Northland, later this year.

In his D’Arcy essay, Walker circles back to the relationship between Maori and Pakeha in colonial times – with a focus on the attraction between the two races, not the “clash” and “collision” that dominate most modern histories and accounts. While researching The Fox Boy and, earlier, a piece on contemporary race relations for Granta magazine, Walker says he was struck by “the evidence of mutual admiration... which was clear from the very first contact… I began making a list of these positively charged incidents and found them everywhere, at every phase of our national history; before colonisation and settlement, after the Treaty, in the depths of war, even in the darkest moments such as the sacking of Parihaka.”

The D’Arcy Writers Grants are administered by the following committee: writer Gordon McLauchlan (chairman); Jackie Dennis, chief executive of New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN Inc); Virginia Larson, editor of North & South; and writers Hamish Keith and Bruce Ansley. For information on the grants, contact Gordon McLauchlan at journo@clear.net.nz.




This is published in the May 2017 issue of North & South.

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