Friday 31 May 2024

The Disease That Didn't Spread.

Not Wanted: What is truly astonishing about Pukekohe is that it was the only place in New Zealand where the vicious racism endemic to the other Anglo-states took hold with sufficient force to construct a permanent system of overt racial oppression and humiliation. At a moment in history when Western racial hierarchies were being endorsed as fact by “racial scientists” the world over, and the “science” of Eugenics was sterilising thousands of “substandard human stock”, it is actually quite remarkable that the Pukekohe disease did not spread.

TELEVISION NEW ZEALAND’s re-screening of the documentaries it commissioned from Kindred Films in 2022 continues. Last night (26/5/24) it was “No Māori Allowed”, the bitter story of the racist South Auckland town of Pukekohe. Co-produced by Megan Jones and Reikura Kahi, and directed by Corinna Hunziker, the documentary was awarded the Best Documentary prize at the 2022 New Zealand Television Awards.

Only the most churlish and, dare I say it, racist, of viewers would refuse to acknowledge “No Māori Allowed” as anything other than a deeply moving documentary. Important, too, not merely for describing the profoundly shameful state of affairs that prevailed in Pukekohe, a town less than an hour’s drive from New Zealand’s largest city, for the best part of a century; but also for making clear the challenges facing those determined to write New Zealand’s history.

As the documentary makes clear, history is not to be found in the official archives alone; nor does it dwell exclusively in newspaper cuttings and old photographs. History also resides in the minds and bodies of human-beings. Bitter memories of awful events, some in the minds of the living, some inherited from the dead, also count as history. They are triggers of pain and suffering from which the men, women and children who experienced them have a right to be protected. Good reason for those with no personal or familial investment in the pain and suffering exposed by their historical researches to tread extremely carefully.

But if the results of historical research can evoke powerful responses from those on the receiving end of past injustices, that is all the more reason to be cautious and respectful in unfolding the historical record. Painting Pukekohe’s racism as a dark and dirty secret, which the rest of New Zealand was only too willing to keep under wraps, is a grossly unfair distortion of the truth which the makers of “No Māori Allowed” should not have encouraged.

The Pukekohe “colour bar” was known right across New Zealand: not only while it was in operation, but also following its demise in the early-1960s. It was the subject of newspaper articles and sermons, most of which were sharply critical of Pukekohe’s Pakeha townsfolk and their market-gardening neighbours. This criticism only became more acute as the civil rights movements in both the southern states of the USA and South Africa began to make headlines around the world in the 1950s and 60s.

The disgust most New Zealanders felt at Pukekohe’s overt racial prejudice was prompted in no small part by the then widely shared belief that New Zealand’s race relations were the best in the world. That Pukekohe’s Pakeha were benighted enough to have borrowed the obnoxious social-engineering of Mississippi and South Africa in a country where inter-racial marriage was commonplace, and expressions of racial solidarity had become the stuff of legend, was regarded as offensively perverse.

Had Pukekohe not heard of the Manners Street Riot of 1943? Did they not know that it was precipitated by American Marines who attempted to ban Māori servicemen from the Wellington Services Club? The response of both the Māori and Pakeha present was to tell the Americans to stick their Jim Crow expectations where the sun don’t shine. When the Marines started taking off their service belts, preparatory to teaching these uppity Kiwis some old-fashioned Southern manners, all hell broke loose. At its peak as many as a thousand soldiers and hundreds of civilians were brawling up and down Manners and surrounding streets. Only with considerable difficulty did the Military Police of both sides bring the bruising conflict under control.

Not that the Pakeha of the first half of the Twentieth Century were “progressives” in the modern sense. Many of them had grown up believing in the essential equality of Māori and Pakeha for the very simple reason that, according to “science”, both peoples belonged to the “Aryan” race.

In a book entitled “The Aryan Māori”, Edward Tregear, a leading civil servant, argued that, far back in the mists of time, the Māori and European peoples shared a common Aryan ancestor. For decades this “noble lie” (as Plato would probably have called it) was taught to New Zealand school-children as anthropological fact. Inter-marriage on a scale that would have scandalised any other settler population in the British Empire was accepted here because Tregear had reassured New Zealanders that Māori and Pakeha were brothers under the skin.

It is almost certainly on account of Tregear’s little book (described by New Zealand historian, Prof. James Belich, as second only to the Treaty of Waitangi when it comes to documents that shaped New Zealand history) that Pukekohe remained so singular. It required a very special combination of historical, economic, and cultural circumstances, to turn what in nearly every other respect was an ordinary Kiwi town into a cesspit of aggressive racial discrimination that endured from shortly after the Land Wars of the mid-1860s to the early-1960s.

Sadly, none of this background information forms any part of Professor Jenny Bol Jun Lee Morgan’s historical contribution to “No Māori Allowed”. Indeed, she is at pains to paint the New Zealand of 1863-1963 as a place in which the state consistently legislated against the cultural independence of Māori. She even repeats the myth that the Tohunga Suppression Act was a Pakeha attack upon Māori tikanga, ignoring the historical fact that the legislation was the initiative of Māori Members of Parliament determined to improve the health of their people.

What is truly astonishing about Pukekohe is that it was the only place in New Zealand where the vicious racism endemic to the other Anglo-states took hold with sufficient force to construct a permanent system of overt racial oppression and humiliation. At a moment in history when Western racial hierarchies were being endorsed as fact by “racial scientists” the world over, and the “science” of Eugenics was sterilising thousands of “substandard human stock”, it is actually quite remarkable that the Pukekohe disease did not spread.

Yes, the arrival of D. W. Griffith’s 1916 movie, “Birth of a Nation”, a feature-length hymn to White Supremacy, did inspire a flurry of Kiwi Ku Klux Klan wannabes in the early-1920s (involving upwards of a thousand at its peak) and there were at least two societies devoted to ensuring New Zealand remained “a white man’s paradise” – one of them, predictably, headquartered in Pukekohe – but the inescapable truth remains that, in spite of the fact that White Supremacy was the default setting of Europeans from Ballarat to Bloemfontein, Boston to Berlin, Pakeha New Zealanders, with the exception of those living in Pukekohe, escaped the worst of the racist viruses then sweeping the world.

“No Māori Allowed” deserves all the acclaim it has received for revealing just how malignant systematically applied racial prejudice can be. How it lingers in the bodies of its victims like a radiological shadow across the heart. Defying the passage of the years.

The equally important message to take away from the documentary, however, is that the virulent racist cancer did not spread. Working together, Māori and Pakeha relegated Pukekohe’s colour bar to the dustbin of history – where it must remain.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project substack page on Monday, 27 May 2024.


The Barron said...

I will try a more substantive reply later, for now I think it is important to respond to two points.

"What is truly astonishing about Pukekohe is that it was the only place in New Zealand where the vicious racism endemic ..."

That is simply false. The Franklin area had its own history and developed racial exclusion. It was not an isolated case of 'viscous racism'. Many decades ago some Maori cousins of mine pointed out the historically 'whites only' pubs down the Strand in Tauranga. Similar stories can be found throughout provincial North Island, with Taranaki another hot bed within living memory. Tales of wage and exploitation, and exclusion from goods, services and spatial arrangements are not limited to Franklin.

The second point I wish to touch on now is the view that this ended in the early '60s. It has a long tail that has not fully dispersed today. After the first screening of the documentary I was talking to a Pasifika women who told me of queuing at a store for service and an older Pakeha woman pushed in front with a sense of entitlement to be served ahead of someone of colour.

While the Waitangi tribunal may act as a truth and reconciliation body at an economic and political level, it has deliberately limited the personal and community interaction in which societal histories maybe rectified. The type of narrative medication that may do this on a local level should be developed as we unify as a national that has come at ease with consigning uncomfortable aspects of history to mutual understanding and growth.

The Barron said...

Just another quick point. I spent sometime a few decades back while living in London with a group of people from Pukekohe. There were Māori, Indian, Pasifika and Pakeha. No racism was ever evident. Indeed, one of the most integrated group of socializers I been with. Further, I have previously had recent contact with Pukekohe and other areas in Franklin. I always found the people I met and the institutions supportive of all.

While I believe there is still a tail in some quarters of the explicit racism of the past, the people I have met from the region gives me confidence that historical and contemporary issues can be redressed and redeemed at a local level by narrative mediation processes.

pat said...

Yes it should remain in the dustbin...sadly those now promoting such separatism are a group of self appointed Maori 'elite'...and the motivation is painfully obvious.

The Barron said...

The problem with relativism as an historian's tool, it is dependent on whose perspective it is written from. When it is, as history often is, written by the side that was empowered by conflict - it can be seen as a self congratulant justification after the fact. To ennoble the disempowered side is to enrich the victory as the opposition was worthy, but the victory showed that while holding dignity the defeated now know their place, and it is less than the superiority of the victor. In this, historical relativism can be a racist evaluation, as it is not for the lamination of disempowered group, but to claim the empowered group is more enlightened than their peers.

Belich has previously written about the settler hegemony which dichotomized the colonization of NZ into better British (c.f. those criminal Australians) and better natives. At the time, Maori was seen to be dying out, the pillow to be smoothed. To distinguish ourselves from other colonizers, appropriation of Maori abounded. Children were called Ngaire and other derived names. Maori motifs became common. Farms given Maori names by the settlers that had claimed the land. None of this was to empower Maori, but to give
credence to the disempowerment.

During the land wars, no soldier or settler posed the question as to the perceived Aryan or Semitic origin of Maori, the land was the economic driver, and Maori were in the way. This played itself out throughout British imperial conquests. Whether through the barrel of the gun, or scorched earth Maori were shot, starved and left without means. That perhaps more Australian or Canadian first nation peoples were undergoing the same, the perspective of injustice belongs solely to Maori on their terms in NZ. That other colonial powers were as bad or worse that the British has no bearing on the Maori experience.

Pukekohe in the 1950s and 1960s were part of a continuum. Neither beginning or end, but a lived experience that encapsulates, and maybe amplified, what had been happening in time and space in NZ. As was the Manners Street Riot and other experiences, including the ideology of this current coalition. History should not be self-congratulant or eternally condemning, but a guideline to where we are today, and whether there were wrongs that have continued to disadvantage and disempower people today. That is one of the purposes of the tribunal, to act as a truth and reconciliation body, it is also why local narrative mediation can help move forward.

Chris, you see this in labour history. We would not accept all history from an employer point of view, with relativism as to other jurisdictions. Waihi is not justified or minimalized because Matewan was a greater scale. We can only be in control of the healing and reconciliation in our part of the world, and should look at what changes are needed for redress and to prevent on-going harm.

John Hurley said...

“No Māori Allowed” deserves all the acclaim it has received for revealing just how malignant systematically applied racial prejudice can be. How it lingers in the bodies of its victims like a radiological shadow across the heart. Defying the passage of the years.
As I tried to tell Sean Plunket the Maori lady's story was where the investigation begins: name the store and see if there is corroborating evidence as to the person's character; what was the law for assault back then; was everyone hard hearted.

The woman's testimony is no different from that in the Indian Residential Schools mass graves fiasco

turns out to be BS

David George said...

Shame the “racial scientist's” toxic ideas live on in the Maori party with their claims of genetic superiority.

"far back in the mists of time, the Māori and European peoples shared a common Aryan ancestor"

If you go back far enough that is likely correct, though whether that ancestor could be called Aryan is debatable. The East Polynesian genome was later infused with Melanesian and, as has recently been discovered, native American but is primarily Asian but not Mongoloid. Perhaps the proto-Polynesians were pushed to the Eastern edges of Asia (Taiwan etc.) by Mongol invasion. It's a fascinating subject but that's really all it is, and that's how it should be regarded.

David George said...

BTW: Maoris are not regarded as genetically distinct from East Polynesians. Their twenty generation isolation in New Zealand far too short for an identifiable genetic variation to evolve.

David George said...

Dominic Frisby sings 'We're all Far Right Now', :

Larry Mitchell said...

And the dustbin is where this solely Puke perversity should have stayed.

A sensational stirring of this pot motivated by televisions sensationalistic stock in trade ... and profit no doubt, was literally "not called for".

This program stands out in a context where Pukeohes shame had made no headlines ... even any media attention... for years.

Students of history might usfully access the artifact for their purposes, for us Kiwis it is just a gratuitous insult that will encourage the bigots and malcontents. "We" did not need it to be sensatioalused and exploited in the popular press thank you.

Anonymous said...

Frank Furedi on Identity Politics

The Barron said...

David, hopefully I can help fill some gaps.

My understanding of the latest consensus on Polynesian migration is that one stain came down from Taiwan (originally from Southern China). I personally think the Taiwan connection is overstated compared with the northern Philippines where another strain had developed and mixed with the Taiwanese cultural strain. Meanwhile, another group had come down the Malay peninsular and through the Malay archipelago (Indonesia, New Guinea and the Philippines). There was some mixing with the people that were already there and the Austronesian language group developed.

Somewhere around the Bismarck Sea it is likely this group and those that had been in the northern Philippines met and developed a culture that mastered voyaging. This group spread from near Oceania (where you can sail in sight of the island you have left), to far Oceania (where you have to navigate). These people have become known as the Lapita people. This is defined by the pottery patterns and distinct skeletal markers.

The Lapita people spread throughout far Oceania and finally arrived in central Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga and Fiji), where a distinctive Polynesian culture and language developed. It is theorized that Samoa was the first of these settlements (Tonga means south, and is south of Samoa). This is between 2,900 and 3,500 years ago.

Later Melanesia influx supplanted Lapita / Polynesia as the dominant people in much of the southwest Pacific, including Fiji. Possibly as early as 100AD, voyagers left Samoa and settled Eastern Polynesia (Marquesas Islands, Tahitian Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Cook Islands, then to Hawaii, Rapanui and eventually New Zealand). Those in Rapanui have shown some DNA from the Ecuador region, which along with kumara in Polynesia and Polynesian chickens in South America indicate Polynesians had voyaged to the Americas. Evidence is for limited, not extensive contact.

as above, NZ was settled by East Polynesians. Te reo Maori is generally a Tahitic language, showing settlement from the Tahitian, Cook and Tuamotu Islands. Interestingly, the original South Island language of the Waitaha seems to be Northern Marquesan (NB: Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu were later Tahitic speaking groups that arrived from the North Island). Maori is an Eastern Polynesian culture, and at the time of European contact all Polynesian peoples had remarkably similar culture and language. That said, Maori culture developed in NZ and each Iwi and hapu expressed their own developed culture.

John Hurley said...

I see Paul Spoonley shining a light into a dark space, (The Platform) and being lapped up by perennial politician (and former NZF MP) Michael Laws: "why are people leaving NZ" and "are we replacing them with people who are equally qualified .. to maintain productivity". He quoted someone who said "the NZ project has failed?"; should that be: "the immigration project has failed; the diversity project has failed".
As Ranginui Walker pointed out:

Controversial views

Reporting Ranginui Walker's death, TVNZ chose to highlight his critique of New Zealand's immigration policy,* showing a clip of Walker saying "Close the immigration door completely... I object to people from all those countries coming here... If that trend continues, we will ruin New Zealand. We will make it just like any other part of the world" - see: Ranginui Walker hits out at the volume of immigrants coming into NZ.

*tch tch tch (they shouldn't have aired the bad truths - should they Bryce?)

Spoonley says that immigration is all we have to counter an ageing population. Make that: Spoonley is so desperate he has to repeat the myth that adding fresh young fruit leads to a whole lot less old fruit.

Laws was apoplectic when an academic opposed a new airport at Tarras: "the Chinese buses [and drivers] who are a staple of [the good old boys of] Queenstown". He is unaware that the pie has been getting bigger but portions smaller; rents getting higher and shade increaseth (across the motu).

Terry Coggan said...

I think the Barron is correct: discrimination against Māori in twentieth century New Zealand was not limited to the Pukekohe district. I once had a workmate who told me that when he was in the army as a young man around 1960 based at the Papakura Camp, he went into the town to get a haircut, to be told by the barber that he didn’t cut Māoris’ hair. If on a Sunday morning you visited the local Anglican or Presbyterian church in many North Island towns you would not see a sign outside saying “No Māoris allowed”, but the congregation would be almost exclusively white. That’s why the Mormon Church did so well among Māori: it sought out Māori members (putting aside the fable about lost tribes of Israel, which parallels Tregear’s “Aryan Māori” myth.)

It might be true that New Zealand had “the best race relations in the world”, but the statement is extremely relative. You could argue that of all the European Axis governments in the World War Two period ( Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Croatia), Italy had the least severe anti-Jewish laws. But did that make Mussolini’s Italy a good place to be a Jew? Hardly.

New view said...

I have no doubt what happened in Pukekohe was a true account of what happened but it seems suspiciously timely that a docudrama has just popped up. What was the point of the re screening. Is it to remind us never to forget how badly Maori have been treated in the past. We don’t need reminding just at the moment because Maori are reminding us on a daily basis. We have failed ( in their eyes) to give them equal opportunity and the radical among them want self determination. Apart from supporting their plight in some way I can’t see why TV NZ would potentially add to the division that already exists between Maori and Pakeha. Especially with Treaty issues, three waters and self governance being debated. Or am I just cynical.

Shane McDowall said...

The colour bar was universal in post-war New Zealand. Pukekohe was simply the worst of a bad lot.

As for interracial marriage, it was common in the 19th century for white men to "shack up" with Maori women. Relationships between white women and Maori men were rare to the point of vanishing.

Once large numbers of white female immigrants were available, interracial marriages became extremely uncommon - just like all the other white settler colonies.

It was only well after WW2 that interracial marriages became common.

New Zealand has a hidden history of blatant racism - well within living memory - that most New Zealanders are either unaware of, or refuse to admit.

John Hurley said...

Do you remember the brains advertisement Chris Trotter? Saatchi and Saatchi (Corporate NZ) joined cultural socialism to deconstruct the NZ identity and give us this modern mess.
Note how Maori are used to destabilise the racist state (NZ).

The Barron said...

There is a much overlooked book -
White Women in Fiji 1835 - 1930, Claudia Knapman (1986)
This backs up what you are saying regarding intermarriage in British colonial Pacific.