Sunday, May 17, 2009

From Gallipoli to Drury

Every Anzac Day New Zealand's television networks transmit images of a solemn dawn ceremony at Gallipoli, that miserable scrap of the Turkish coast where thousands of young Antipodeans perished in 1915 to satisfy the ego of an ambitious young politician named Winston Churchill. Gallipoli is almost always described as the birthplace of the Anzacs, and it is increasingly cited as the cradle of the New Zealand nation. The poor Turks must be confused.

If our television networks want to save a bit of dosh next Anzac Day, then they could always send their camera crews and show-pony presenters down the Great South Road to my hometown of Drury, where a modest memorial to the very first Anzacs stands in the yard of St Johns Church. Fifty-two years before the fiasco at Gallipoli, Australian volunteers fought alongside the British army and New Zealand colonial troops in the Waikato War, which ended in the exile of King Tawhiao and the confiscation of vast areas of rich farmland by the settler government in Auckland.

Drury was an important staging post for the armies moving down the Great South Road into the war zone, and the memorial in the churchyard at St Johns remembers seven members of the First Waikato Regiment who never came north again. The men were killed 'fighting against rebel natives' at Mauku, an armed settlement a few kilometres southwest of Drury, on the twenty-third of October 1863. They included Australian volunteers as well as New Zealanders. The ground around St Johns holds some of my own ancestors, who all seem to have died in their beds, rather than on battlefields. I visit the churchyard occasionally, and I've never seen a single wreath on the memorial to the very first Anzacs to die in battle.

In its 1994 Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Tainui, the New Zealand state acknowledged that the invasion of the Waikato and the subsequent land confiscations were gross injustices. No historian of note seems inclined to disagree with that judgement.

The Gallipoli campaign may have been quixotic and bloody, but it can nevertheless be made to appear a noble endeavour, in which Antipodean soldiers fought bravely to ameliorate the blunders of their British commanders, and in doing so formed new national identities. By contrast, the Waikato War saw bellicose and incompetent New Zealand politicians forcing a reluctant British army to participate in a squalid land grab. It is hard to see how the Australian participants in the war were motivated by anything except the desire for slices of the fertile farmland of the Waikato. Yet the Waikato War cannot be reduced to some black and white morality play. The invading army torched and looted Pakeha as well as Maori communities. Most Waikato Maori communities sided with Tawhiao, but a few, like the influential Tuakau-based Ngati Tipa group, worked with the invaders. Both Pakeha and Maori troops executed civilians.

The war of 1863 had far more influence on the shape of New Zealand society than the farce at Gallipoli. By eliminating the Kingdom Tawhiao had established south of the Bombay Hills, the government in Auckland cemented its claim to sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand. The still-widespread Maori belief that the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed them control over their own affairs was brutally dispelled. The conversion of much of the confiscated Waikato land from market gardens to sheep and beef farms changed the economic foundations of New Zealand. Many of the grievances created by the confiscations have still not been resolved.

It is perhaps not surprising that Drury fails to attracts teary-eyed war tourists and TV cameras on Anzac Day. Like all of New Zealand's nineteenth century Land Wars, the conflict in the Waikato resists the sort of sentimental celebration that television presenters and tour operators crave. It is the very importance of the Waikato War which guarantees that the conflict is ignored on Anzac Day. Drury may be only half an hour's drive south of Queen Street, but the backpackers and TV crews would find the journey to the little churchyard at St Johns far more demanding than the jaunt to Turkey, because it is a journey that would require them to think seriously about the real history of their country.

The following poem, which is included in the just-released 37th issue of brief, is part of my own clumsy efforts to think about the meaning of that memorial stone at Drury. I've added the odd hyperlink to earlier posts on this blog. If anyone wants a more detailed picture of Wiremu Tamihana, the great Waikato leader who helped to establish and guide the King movement, then they should consult the biography written by the late and much-lamented Evelyn Stokes.

To Wiremu Tamihana

'As General Cameron's army pushed further south, Tamihana named the Mangatawhiri River as the aukati of the Waikato Kingdom, and warned that if it were crossed then war would begin in earnest'

Friend, it does not matter when
you disappear: what matters is
the fact that
your absence
remains.
Your absence
remains.

I see you standing
beside the water,
tying your note
to a plum stone,
aiming your musket at the smoke
where a forest takes cover,
aiming your words at
a toi toi rocket aimed
out of the haze -
I see you
firing, across the Mangatwhiri,
that border narrow enough
for a geriatric general
to jump,
that river running faster than
a frightened horse.

This is Wiremu Tamihana writing.
Friends, do not cross
the aukati, or there will be fire
in the fern.


I see the wind unfurl
your letter, as it clings
to a toi toi’s hair:
I see Cameron’s sentry squint
at the strange words,
at your handsome
shambling script:
I see him throw your warning
into the fire.

Friend, the fern is already
is fire - to the north
the smoke is persistent
as river fog.
Twelve thousand soldiers
attack the bush -
fern is fire, toi toi
is fire, totara
puriri
tanekaha
are fire:

Kereopa’s wife
Kereopa’s children
will be fire,
at Rangiaowhia, in a few months,
a few fires'
time.

Jump the aukati, friend,
and you will see -
every frond of fern burns
purposefully, like a page
from a heretic’s book.
Cameron’s army lays
the Great South Road
with ash, with mud,
with fistfuls of
shingle. Bishop Selwyn walks
behind, blessing
the wounded, disposing
of the dead with prayer,
Christianising the ashes
with oak saplings, lime seeds.

Friend, it does not matter when
this bank of fern, that stand
of totara
disappear,
as long as the fact
of their absence
remains.
Set fire
to the fern, defend
the aukati, withdraw
through the smoke,
stand at Rangiriri,
fight to the last plum stone
at Orakau, watch
the British burn that church down
at Rangiaowhia:
the fact of your defeat
will remain,
a stubborn triumph.

Do not worry, friend,
about the future,
the years that last
too long.
Even when a dam is laid
like a trap
between two hills,
so that this river dwindles
to a creek,
even when the creek’s tributaries are misled
into fields of potatoes
and maize,
even when cattle are driven
to the creek to drink,
so that these banks crumble
like the terraces at Orakau,
even when an orchardist’s pipe lies
like a fat black eel
on the bed of the creek,
draining its water as efficiently as lime,
until the creek is only a
meandering ditch,
even when the creek is dug out
and rerouted
so that it runs straight
beside a new fenceline,
even when the ditch is filled with garbage
and tarred over,
so that the Mangatawhiri flows
motionlessly,
through a new suburb’s blueprint -

your border, our aukati
will remain:
the fact of
its absence
will
remain.

Note: the refrain in this poem is borrowed from Gunnar Ekelof’s poem-cycle Emgion.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yr poem looks like an expression of mystical

nihilism/quietism

not an engaged political piece.

I spose all that reading of Ted Jenner/Heidegger is showing?

Fact: 90% of Maori are workers.

Where is the peasantry this poem mourns?

Sickly white sentimentalism. As such, counter to the interests of Maori today. And to be condemned.

10:40 pm  
Blogger Te Puhi Whakahoro said...

I'd like to know where ther is more evidence about Ngati Tipa joining the renegades and killing civilians as well as Maori?

Do you have references for this?

7:28 am  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Te Puhi,

one source for the allegiances of Ngati Tipa is James Cowan's The Maori Wars. I know this work was first published in the '20s, but it is still regarded as a reliable guide to the facts of the conflicts, even if the interpretations it advances are somewhat dated (in his new book Wars Without End, Maori historian uses Cowan extensively, and pays tribute to his research).

In chapter 26 of his book Cowan writes that 'Most of the Ngati Tipa favoured the government'
(http://nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-Cow01NewZ-c26.html).

I don't agree with the description of Maori who sided with the government in Auckland as 'renegades', because it seems somewhat derogatory.

My understanding is that Ngati Tipa's location close to the mouth of the Waikato and the early mission station at Port Waikato meant that they had a long history of contact with Pakeha authorities. They may have felt closer to the government in Auckland than to the government in Ngaruawahia, and they may have felt that they would benefit from the opening up of the lower Waikato to Pakeha shipping.

(There might be a parrallel here with the peoples of the lower Whanganui, who benefited somewhat from trade, and took a very much more positive attitude to Pakeha authority than their relations upriver.)

I think that the way iwi whose ancestors fought with Pakeha are able to remember and even celebrate their history without distorting it (Ngati Porou might be a good example here) could actually be a model for Pakeha.

I didn't suggest Ngati Tipa executed civilians - I was referring to some actions by Tawhiao's troops, like the killing of non-combatants in the guerrilla fighting around paces like Mauku and Drury. I think if we remember Pakeha war crimes like the massacre at Rangiaowhia then we also have to remember that Tawhiao's troops could be ruthless.

9:35 am  
Blogger maps said...

Sorry, that should have been 'Maori historian Danny Keenan'...

9:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Timespanner blog has responded to this post =

http://timespanner.blogspot.com/2009/05/that-most-new-zealand-of-days.html

9:41 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THIS DOESN'T EVEN RHYME!

YOU SILLY BASTARD!

7:15 pm  
Anonymous Keri h said...

Love the poem Maps - part incantation, part quiet inditement, history on the half-shell, and part-meditation.

Will go back & reread several times. Thanks

12:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good one Maps!
Ka rongona e matou
te mamae o ngaa tau o tera pakanga
tae mai ki enei ra

lachrimae rerum

te riri o te maumahara
kua riro te whenua
ka ora tonu te wairua
ka whawhai tonu nga iwi
ki roto i te uaua o nga wa

Na
Airihi

12:15 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Maps -

This is another good post -

and your poem is great - relevant and strong.

My feelings also about ANZAC celebrations which for me have always been so much pathetic bilge - hypocrisy and nosensical sentiment - warmongering in effect.

yes - our history began here - Aotearoa - not in the absurd wars overseas.

Richard

9:31 pm  
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3:38 am  
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2:04 am  
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