Friday, 9 November 2018

Defining Conflicts? The New Zealand Wars

In this Friends of the Turnbull Library event, Dr Vincent O’Malley, author of The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000, will present an overview of the New Zealand Wars – a series of conflicts that profoundly shaped the course and direction of our nation’s history. He looks at the origins, causes and consequences of these conflicts and discusses how the wars have been remembered historically.

Vincent has recently received a Friends of the Turnbull Library research grant to help him research his latest book project, a history of the New Zealand Wars aimed at the secondary school market.

5.30 pm, Thursday 22 November

Ground Floor, National Library of New Zealand
Corner of Aitken and Molesworth streets
Thorndon, Wellington

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The Waikato War and Auckland

Last month I spoke at the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park seminar, held at Auckland Museum, on how the Waikato War helped transform Auckland and the wider Hauraki Gulf. Auckland, I suggested, is a city built on immense Māori contributions, even if this history is not widely known or understood today.

Watch the video of my talk here.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Teaching New Zealand Wars History

Efforts to ensure more young New Zealanders learn the history of the New Zealand Wars at school stepped up recently, with Stuff launching a campaign to support this kaupapa. As an editorial announcing the campaign noted:

"Kiwi school kids can leave the education system knowing more about Tudor England than the New Zealand Wars.  This is a ridiculous situation and a sad indictment on our commitment to partnership under the Treaty."

The series of stories included some inspirational examples of schools which had taken up the challenge, including one Hamilton primary school. The New Zealand Wars, I explained in one interview for the series, could best be understood as a clash between two competing visions of what the Treaty of Waitangi represented.

I also spoke about this issue on TVNZ's Breakfast show. Over the past month or so I have been giving a series of talks in schools around the country on New Zealand Wars history, with more to come. I spoke about how young people have been engaging with this history with Dale Husband the other day. Students, I noted, really get why this history matters for them and their communities.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Learning the Trick of Standing Upright Here

Stuff recently ran a great series of stories as part of a special project called NZ Made/Nā Nīu Tīreni that included information about every modern Treaty of Waitangi settlement, maps of Māori land loss and explanations about how had this occurred. As

"New Zealand has not done well at grappling with its past. The unsettling truth about how this country was made is still not well understood. It has not been adequately taught in our schools. Our popular culture hasn't reflected it well enough. And our media has failed to tell it loudly and clearly.
The Treaty of Waitangi, and its subsequent betrayals, is the heart of how New Zealand was made. We need to reckon with what happened in order to understand the Treaty settlements process that continues today."

Tūrangawaewae – a place to stand. For me Allen Curnow's immortal lines 'Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year/Will learn the trick of standing upright here' are the starting point. Has that child been born yet? I hope so. I think so. Perhaps they come from Ōtorohanga, where a school trip back in 2014 led to a petition, and big things grew from there.

And what is that trick? Well, I would suggest a big part of it is reconciling ourselves with the history of this country. Not the imagined history of a plucky wee nation at the bottom of the globe, punching above its weight, egalitarian and forward looking. I'm talking about the messy, complicated history of how Pākehā colonised this land. Then-Prime Minister John Key's 2014 insistence that New Zealand was settled peacefully was widely ridiculed at the time. But the sentiments that underlay that statement retain an enduring appeal for some. Those people haven't learnt the trick.

A mature nation takes ownership of its history, not just cherry-picking the good bits out to remember but also acknowledging the bad stuff as well. Moving confidently into the future requires a robust understanding of where we have come from and been.

Auckland Museum Hall of Memories New Zealand Wars Alcove

Reconciling ourselves to the history of this land – finding a place to stand – is not just about supporting the settlement of historical Treaty of Waitangi claims. That's part of the story but not the whole solution. It's about ordinary New Zealanders taking the time to acknowledge and even own this history. Learn about it, respect it, pass it on, make sure your children and their children learn these stories too. Not so they can feel guilty or ashamed about the actions of their ancestors. But so they can be big enough, and confident enough, to say, 'yes, this is part of our history too' (alongside the things we feel good about today, like all those people who stood up against injustices in the past when they saw them).

Read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti

Some time ago I was interviewed for the He Tohu exhibition that is located at the National Library of New Zealand.

He Tohu is a permanent exhibition of three iconic constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa/New Zealand. The documents are:
  • 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni — Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand
  • 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi
  • 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition – Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine.

The full version of my interview (around 16 minutes long) has recently been released online. It traverses He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti, but also the wider context of Māori and Pākehā relationships from the eighteenth century through to today.

Many more videos with a wide range of experts and commentators can be viewed on the He Tohu website

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Learning (and not learning) about the New Zealand Wars

By now many people know something of the story of the small-town petition from which big things grew. In December 2015 students from Otorohanga College and their supporters presented a petition signed by over 12,000 people to Parliament.

Some eight months later the government announced that a national day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars would be established. Rā Maumahara was born.

Less well-known is that the Otorohanga College students had a second objective. They wanted the history of these conflicts to be taught in all schools. We are still waiting on that one.

The Ministry of Education strongly opposed this aspect of the petition in a 2016 submission to the Māori Affairs Committee, while admitting it had no idea how many students studied the New Zealand Wars.

Anecdotally, many people have told me they learned nothing of these wars. But I was curious to know more. So I took to social media. Last week I put up a Twitter poll with a simple question: Did you learn about the New Zealand Wars at school?

The response was phenomenal. 1484 people of all ages responded in the three days the poll was running, many leaving comments about their experiences of learning (or not learning) about the New Zealand Wars at school. They were thoughtful, frank, sometimes heart-warming and at others outright depressing.

Read more at The Spinoff

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Auckland's 'Founding Father'

I was asked recently, during the course of an interview with the New Zealand Herald on the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Bastion Point/Takaparawhā occupation, about who Auckland’s ‘founding father’ was.

My first response was that I don’t like the term ‘founding father’ as for one thing ‘it’s very patriarchal’. (Where are the ‘founding mothers’?).

But if we had to name one, I added, then the Ngāti Whātua rangatira Āpihai Te Kawau had stronger claims than John Logan Campbell, who is usually described as the founding father of Auckland. 

Āpihai Te Kawau (source:

It was Āpihai Te Kawau who invited Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson to found a new settlement on the shores of Waitematā Harbour in 1840.

Ngāti Whātua subsequently gifted the Crown over 100,000 acres in the area. They did so, I suggested, in the expectation of an ongoing reciprocal relationship of mutual benefit to both Māori and Pākehā.

Instead, as the Waitangi Tribunal described at length in its 1987 Orakei Report, Ngāti Whātua were stripped of their last remaining lands, becoming landless and destitute while a prosperous new settlement grew around them.

It was this troubled history that led ultimately to the 506-day occupation of Bastion Point, beginning on 5 January 1977. The scenes of police and the army dragging the occupiers from their makeshift camp on 25 May 1978 came as a shock to many Pākehā brought up to believe that they lived in a country with the greatest ‘race relations’ in the world.

In response to my comments, the Herald published an editorial suggesting that there was room for two ‘founding fathers’, Āpihai Te Kawau and John Logan Campbell. I don’t have a problem with that. 

John Logan Campbell (source:
After all, the concept is one that in my view is problematic to begin with. But at the same time, I would suggest that Ngāti Whātua’s contribution to Auckland has been infinitely greater in historical terms than the gift of a few hundred acres for a public park, generous though that might have seemed at the time.

As I have explored elsewhere, Auckland is a city that owes much to Māori, even if this fact is often overlooked today.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Grey Street Must Fall: The Waikato Garrison Towns in History and Memory

In December 2017 I had the pleasure of addressing the two-day 'Garrison Towns in the Nineteenth Century Empire' symposium hosted at Victoria University of Wellington as part of the Marsden Fund project Soldiers of Empire.

My contribution considered the garrison towns of the Waikato district along what became the boundary between the area conquered and seized by invading British and colonial troops after April 1864 and the Kīngitanga territory to the south of this, beyond the Puniu River. A particular focus was the town of Kihikihi, which continues to have a disproportionately large Māori population today in comparison with other settlements in the region.   
Corner of Whitaker and Grey Streets, Kihikihi. Named after Frederick Whitaker and Sir George Grey respectively
Today, the street signs pay silent homage to the Pākehā politicians and soldiers responsible for its conquest and later confiscation in the Waikato War of 1863-64. Grey, Cameron, Carey, Whitaker and other streets in the small Waikato town of Kihikihi taunt its many (34%) Māori residents with daily reminders of the devastating effects and consequences of that conflict felt over many generations. The settlement that prior to 1863 was principally known for being the home to Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Paretekawa rangatira Rewi Maniapoto became one of many military settlements along the new frontier that separated the Kīngitanga and Crown in its aftermath. Beyond lay the Puniu River and the unsubdued area henceforth known as the King Country. 

This paper considers the changing social and political dynamics of these Waikato garrison towns in the mid-nineteenth century – from their surprisingly important role in the development of the New Zealand (and Māori) economy prior to the war, through to the quite contrasting experiences of the military settlers in its wake. It asks, beyond street signs, what other remnants of this history remain and how else is the painful legacy of local (and brutal) conflict at nearby Ōrākau and elsewhere marked and recorded?


As I concluded in my address, the legacy of the Waikato War is everywhere, not just in the names of Kihikihi’s streets but also arguably in the socio-economic status of many of the region’s Māori residents. And as we enter a post-settlement phase in our history and we contemplate how best to remember and commemorate this history, it’s worth pondering what this might mean for former garrison towns like Kihikihi. That requires more than a change of street signs. It needs a wholesale shift in the way that Pākehā New Zealand engages with the history of the wars fought on our own shores.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Questioning the Canon: Colonial History, Counter-Memory and Youth Activism

'Questioning the Canon: Colonial History, Counter-Memory and Youth Activism', co-authored with Dr Joanna Kidman from Victoria University of Wellington, was recently published in its online version in the journal Memory Studies.


Social memory is inscribed by power relations that both produce and contain canonical state narratives. In settler nations, where indigenous and state relationships remain unresolved, tribal memories of violent colonial histories that are passed on to successive generations expose ‘official’ silences in foundational stories about a nation’s origins.

In this article, we examine a public debate that occurred when a group of secondary school students took a petition to the New Zealand Parliament calling for formal recognition of the difficult history of the New Zealand Wars – a series of nineteenth-century clashes between British imperial troops and their colonial allies against indigenous Māori.

Drawing on Hirsch’s concept of postmemory, we show how the young activists’ public acknowledgement of difficult histories exposed simmering tensions between competing historical narratives throwing light on how political struggles over representations of the colonial past are shaped in many settler nations.


Dr Kidman also spoke about the Otorohanga College petition that is discussed in the paper at the Te Putake o Te Riri symposium held at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi in October 2017. A recording of her talk recently played on RNZ's Te Ahi Kaa programme. Listen here. The symposium was also livestreamed and the video recording can be viewed in full here.

Friday, 9 February 2018

'The Great War for New Zealand' at the New Zealand Festival

The Great War for New Zealand to feature at the New Zealand Festival Writers and Readers weekend:

This country’s most significant and traumatic conflict, crucial in shaping the nation, was the 1863–64 war between Māori and British troops in the Waikato.

In his ground-breaking, monumental work The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000, historian Vincent O’Malley explores Māori and Pākehā relationships from first contact to settlement and government apology.

He discusses his research with “artivist” Moana Maniapoto, musician and writer for e-Tangata.

Where: New Zealand Festival Club, 17 Cable Street, Wellington 6011

When: 4.15-5.15pm, Saturday, 10 March 2018

Ticketing and more information: