Okay, Boomer

Si­mon Wil­son on a new his­tory of protest in New Zealand and how pro­gres­sive our coun­try re­ally is

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HART, the Halt All Racist Tours or­gan­i­sa­tion, turned 50 last month. At a sym­po­sium in Welling­ton to mark the an­niver­sary, the talk turned to the el­derly woman who was ba­toned by po­lice on Molesworth St, dur­ing a Spring­bok Tour protest march in 1981. Her name was Rona Bai­ley and she was 66, far older than most of the pro­test­ers that evening.

Many of the peo­ple at the sym­po­sium were on that march and they have now reached that age. Boomers! How time flies.

Bai­ley is fea­tured in the book Protest Tau­to­hetohe, a record of protest in Aotearoa, writ­ten by three se­nior cu­ra­to­rial staff at Te Papa and pub­lished by Te Papa Press.

Bai­ley is not there for her anti-apartheid ac­tivism, though. In 1951 she and her union­ist hus­band Chip had charge of a type­writer used to pro­duce il­le­gal leaflets and bul­letins dur­ing the wa­ter­front lock­out. They hid it in the walls of their house and would have gone to jail if the po­lice found it. Which they never did.

That type­writer is in the book. It’s in Te Papa’s col­lec­tion.

The com­men­ta­tor Mor­gan God­fery was at the HART sym­po­sium. He talked about the miss­ing gen­er­a­tion, be­tween boomers, who protested, and mil­len­ni­als like him who are protest­ing now. There is, he said, “a chasm be­tween youthad­ja­cent peo­ple and young peo­ple”, who were “taken out” by the eco­nomic re­forms of the 1980s and 90s. Gen Xers. “They don’t know how to protest and they don’t un­der­stand it.”

Protest Tau­to­hetohe is a book for those who were there, those who are now and every­one who might want to un­der­stand it. It’s not a straight his­tory, but a record of move­ments and events told through the pre­sen­ta­tion of “ob­jects”: the posters, ban­ners, T-shirts and badges, flags, pho­tos and the other para­pher­na­lia of protest that has some­how ended up in the col­lec­tions of mu­se­ums.

As such it looks and feels like a cat­a­logue for an ex­hi­bi­tion, al­though the book gives no hint that was ever the plan. Still, it does the trick: there is so much to dis­cover and re­dis­cover here.

There are clas­sic posters: “Had this ship been nu­clear pow­ered, thou­sands could have died”, with a photo of the Wahine sink­ing. “If Mul­doon could get preg­nant abor­tion would be le­gal”, with a photo of Prime Min­is­ter of the day,

Robert Mul­doon, his preg­nant belly strain­ing at his jack but­ton.

So many quirky lit­tle things. Painted fins, used to protest shark-finning. Hun­dreds of badges: HART’S Trevor Richards is quoted ob­serv­ing that a “cause [wouldn’t have] made it if there wasn’t a badge to buy”. Flags, pen­nants, quilts, sewn lov­ingly by an army of vol­un­teers.

There are the more pro­fes­sional ef­forts too. The Welling­ton Me­dia Col­lec­tive, a group of pho­tog­ra­phers, screen print­ers, artists and de­sign­ers who tire­lessly pro­duced vis­ual ma­te­ri­als for all man­ner of protests, is well rep­re­sented. So is the Auck­land group Artists Against Apartheid.

The book is im­pres­sively de­signed, with ex­pan­sive dis­plays and gor­geous han­dling of type. Even bet­ter, its ex­pla­na­tions of the is­sues and what hap­pened are lively and con­cise, evoca­tively plac­ing in­di­vid­ual de­tail in its larger his­toric frame. There’s real ex­per­tise at work here.

Best of all, each sec­tion con­tains a book ex­tract. Of­ten haunt­ing, some­times highly en­ter­tain­ing, they add up to a grip­ping col­lec­tion of per­sonal his­to­ries and in­sights.

Ngahuia Te Aweko­tuku writes as the only Maori les­bian in the vil­lage of early Auck­land rad­i­cal fem­i­nism. Ge­off Chap­ple records the vi­o­lence against Spring­bok Tour pro­test­ers on the field in Hamil­ton, where many rugby fans sin­gled out women for the worst beat­ings. There’s Sonja Davies on the women’s sit­down protest on the Nel­son Rail­way Line, in 1955, risk­ing prison, fear­ing be­ing run over by a train, in­cur­ring the wrath of her fa­ther for the shame of it all and “ru­in­ing” her sis­ter’s wed­ding.

For all those strengths, the fo­cus on ob­jects dis­torts the his­tory. If it wasn’t col­lected, it’s not here, say the au­thors. Their ex­am­ple is Chi­nese protests against the poll tax in the 19th cen­tury — and it’s an un­for­tu­nate one. But there are oth­ers, per­haps more sur­pris­ing. Bas­tion Point is given its due in the texts but al­most no ob­jects or images are shown.

Donna Awa­tere’s enor­mously in­flu­en­tial book, Maori Sovereignt­y, writ­ten in the wake of the 1981 Spring­bok Tour and pub­lished the next year, is men­tioned in the pref­ace and in­cluded in a list of im­por­tant books but doesn’t make it to the body of this work.

That list, on page 17, will be in­valu­able for any­one look­ing for the great books of pro­gres­sive ac­tivism in Aotearoa. Elsie Locke, Tama Poata, Archibald Baxter, Marie Lead­bet­ter, Tim Shad­bolt, Dick Scott, Rang­inui Walker ... books by and about he­roes, with ev­ery ma­jor strug­gle in­clud­ing the land marches and dawn raids.

You can’t ex­pect to find ev­ery­thing you want, I know — but was there re­ally no room for any of De­bra Bustin’s colour­fully ag­gres­sive an­ti­nu­clear pup­pets and posters? San­dra Coney might also feel a lit­tle ag­grieved not to have war­ranted a men­tion and a whole lot ag­grieved that Broad­sheet didn’t either. In any lineup of the foun­da­tional “ob­jects” of protest in New Zealand, shouldn’t that mag­a­zine come near the top of the list?

Es­pe­cially as the au­thors have de­voted eight whole pages to the Welling­ton ver­sion of the Women’s March on Washington in 2017. Plenty of clever peo­ple gave their plac­ards and pen­nants to Te Papa that day.

Other foun­da­tional ob­jects have not been over­looked. Auck­land Mu­seum’s piece of wood that may be part of a flagstaff cut down by Hone Heke is there, along with Arthur David Mccormick’s paint­ing of him do­ing it, axe held up, frozen, look­ing for all the world like he’s pos­ing for a cam­era.

Kate Shep­pard’s 32,000 strong pe­ti­tion, on rolls of pa­per, is also there. In Par­lia­ment, “they un­rolled and they un­rolled and they un­rolled un­til the great rib­bon of pa­per lay stretched, like a lit­tle path­way of white and black veined mar­ble, from the Speaker’s chair right to the door at the end of the aisle. Then the mes­sen­gers had to stop for they could go no fur­ther but the roll showed no signs of diminu­tion.”

Talk about a dra­matic ges­ture. Those were the days.

Protest Tau­to­hetohe, as the work of mu­seum and gallery cu­ra­tors, is pushed in some un­usual di­rec­tions by the in­clu­sion of a lot of art. Some of it is overtly po­lit­i­cal: Ralph Hotere on Aramoana, Robyn Kahukiwa and Emily Karaka on Maori rights and par­tic­u­larly the causes of Maori women, Barry Lett’s work dur­ing the Spring­bok Tour.

Some of it is more ephemeral. One of the most ar­rest­ing images is Rita An­gus’ The Ap­ple Pick­ers, a part-fin­ished work show­ing 12 men and women of dif­fer­ent races tak­ing their lunch

break in an or­chard. The paint­ing was done in 1944, when An­gus had spent time at the paci­fist River­side Farm.

It’s a state­ment about the beauty of hu­mans en­gaged in hon­est labour, a coun­ter­point to vi­o­lence and hor­ror. Protest is also af­fir­ma­tion.

Be­cause protest is protest, the other side has also snuck in. A dress suit worn by Brian Ta­maki; up­right ci­ti­zens marching against abor­tion. A cou­ple of jokers wear­ing FART T-shirts, which might seem un­be­liev­able now but it’s true: they were For All Racist Tours.

The au­thors ex­plain there aren’t many protest “ob­jects” from the right, but they’ve done their best. Fair enough, they’re the na­tional mu­seum.

De­spite those oc­ca­sional in­ter­ludes, though, the book presents pro­gres­sive protest as a well­spring of the na­tion. We are who we are be­cause of it, even when it’s awk­ward.

Eden Park hosted the Nel­son Man­dela ex­hi­bi­tion this year: the Rugby Union did not take the op­por­tu­nity to apol­o­gise for any­thing, but the park ad­min­is­tra­tors, with per­fectly straight faces, had no trou­ble as­so­ci­at­ing them­selves with New Zealand’s role in the an­ti­a­partheid strug­gle.

Is that okay? The peo­ple of South Africa who were treated so ter­ri­bly by apartheid may not need an apol­ogy from New Zealand but this

[Cli­mate change is] the is­sue at the heart of ev­ery­thing it means to call your­self a pro­gres­sive New Zealan­der. Which, it turns out, is not al­ways as easy as per­haps it once seemed.

book makes it very clear things were ugly here, too. There is still scope for an apol­ogy to the peo­ple of New Zealand, from the NZ Rugby Union and Gov­ern­ment, for the ap­palling vi­o­lence and so­cial di­vi­sion they wil­fully un­leashed.

Pro­test­ers R Us. Green­peace di­rec­tor Rus­sel Nor­man spelled it out in his Bruce Jes­son Memo­rial Lec­ture at the Univer­sity of Auck­land a month ago. “Ev­ery­thing good in so­ci­ety comes from peo­ple like us,” he said. “It comes from mass move­ments.”

Kate Shep­pard knew that. Pa­nia New­ton in the protest vil­lage at Ihu­matao knows it now. That cause is in the book too.

Dots are joined. Mul­doon was never slow to call on “Rob’s Mob” but, with­out irony, he liked to sneer at “Rent-a-mob” pro­test­ers. It was al­ways puz­zling. If you un­der­stood why it was wrong for New Zealand to go to war in Viet­nam, why wouldn’t you also see the evil in apartheid and want to stop nu­clear test­ing?

Why wouldn’t you also re­alise that all protests are about power, which no one ever gives up will­ingly. Protest is about forc­ing that to hap­pen.

HART vet­eran John Minto, at the sym­po­sium in Welling­ton, has al­ways joined the dots. We have a new big is­sue now, he de­clared: “It’s cap­i­tal­ism or the en­vi­ron­ment, in a fight to the death.” Is that true?

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ism is well rep­re­sented in the book, from the great cam­paign against the drown­ing of Lake Manapouri in 1970 to the Stu­dent Strikes and Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion to­day. “There is no Planet B,” pro­claims a plac­ard in Bal­clutha, 2014. It’s not just a city thing.

The cli­mate change cause goes to the heart of one of the great themes of protest: land use. How to build a mod­ern city. How to re­store in­dige­nous land rights. What to do about water­ways, how to do bet­ter with agri­cul­ture and forestry.

It di­vides us deeply and it’s the is­sue at the heart of ev­ery­thing it means to call your­self a pro­gres­sive New Zealan­der. Which, it turns out, is not al­ways as easy as per­haps it once seemed.

Anti-apartheid ac­tivist Graeme Easte is in this book, be­ing beaten up in Mata­mata in 1985 for bravely protest­ing the plan to send the All Blacks to South Africa that year. On the very next page there’s a “Don’t Go” T-shirt from the same cam­paign, made by artist Stan­ley Palmer.

Easte and Palmer, once com­rades in arms, now staunchly op­pose each other over the fu­ture of the Cham­ber­lain Park golf course in Mt Al­bert. How did that hap­pen?

Theirs is a land-use bat­tle, al­though it’s also a sideshow. The big event is hap­pen­ing on dairy farms, in forestry blocks, in cities clogged with cars and suburbs fac­ing in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion and, most of all, down the road at Ihu­matao.

God­fery has called Ihu­matao a model for mod­ern ac­tivism: us­ing Face­book, not as a chatty end in it­self but to help mo­bilise mass sup­port, keep­ing the fo­cus on ba­sic is­sues, rais­ing up the cul­ture in the process of rais­ing up the protest. Te Papa should be col­lect­ing, now.

Protest Tau­to­hetohe by Stephanie Gib­son, Matariki Wil­liams and Puawai Cairns

(Te Papa Press, $70), is on sale now.

Why wouldn’t you also re­alise that all protests are about power, which no one ever gives up will­ingly. Protest is about forc­ing that to hap­pen.


Me­mora­bilia fea­tured in Protest Tau­to­hetohe.


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