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:

Friday, 19 January 2018

NZ Historical Association Mary Boyd Prize 2017

It was a great honour to have been announced as the 2017 winner of the Mary Boyd Prize at the New Zealand Historical Association’s conference in Auckland in December.

Named in memory of the Pacific historian Mary Beatrice Boyd (1921–2010), this award is for the best article on any aspect of New Zealand history published in a refereed journal. The prize covered articles published between April 2015 and April 2017.

My winning article, ‘“Recording the Incident with a Monument”: The Waikato War in Historical Memory’, was published in the open-access Journal of New Zealand Studies in 2015.

The article charts changing perceptions of the Waikato War in national memory and consciousness and formed the basis for a chapter on this topic in my subsequent book The Great War for New Zealand.

Read the wining article here.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

'The Great War for New Zealand' at Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival

Vincent O’Malley is a professional historian and partner in the Wellington research consultancy HistoryWorks. He has published widely on New Zealand history, including the critically-acclaimed The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 (Bridget Williams Books), which was named New Zealand Herald book of the year for 2016.

Saturday 17 Feb, 5:00 pm

Chinoiserie Garden (CG)

$15 General Admission
$13 Concession (Student, 65+)
$14 Early Bird (before 22 Dec)

For more information or to book tickets, visit

FB event page:

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Remembering the Northern War

The battle of Ruapekapeka, fought in January 1846, was the final engagement in the war that Britain lost, as James Belich famously described it. But whether that means Ngāpuhi won the Northern War that had begun nine months earlier is in some ways a moot point.

After 1846 the Crown turned its back on the north, which was left to become a backwater as the rest of the New Zealand economy boomed. Arguably, it has never really recovered.

And so the story of the war is one of neglect, but also of remembering those who died in the conflict and the enormous damage it caused.

It is said that many generations of Ngāti Manu women have been named Te Noota, after HMS North Star, the naval vessel that destroyed their pā at Ōtuihu on 30 April 1845.

The conflict also serves as a reminder of the remarkable leaders from this period and their efforts to protect and defend their rangatiratanga.

And that is relevant today as Ngāpuhi contemplate a path ahead with their Treaty settlement. That’s a reminder of how this history resonates across generations. And the overall casualties – perhaps as many as 200 Ngāpuhi killed and wounded – are still grieved and remembered.

At the heart of the Northern War (and indeed an overarching theme of all of the New Zealand Wars) is this tension between Article 1 of the English translation of the Treaty of Waitangi, under which the Crown assumed full rights of sovereignty over New Zealand, and Article Two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Maori-language document that Ngāpuhi signed and which confirmed ‘te tino rangatiratanga’ over their own affairs.

Sunrise from Waitangi. Photo: Vincent O'Malley

The Waitangi Tribunal concluded in its 2014 He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti: The Declaration and the Treaty report released as part of its Northland inquiry that Ngāpuhi never ceded sovereignty to the Crown.

They expected to continue to exercise full chiefly authority over their own internal affairs and to work in partnership with the Crown on matters affecting both peoples.

Instead, after 1840 the Crown started acting unilaterally on issues of vital concern to Māori, outlawing private land dealings, prohibiting the felling of kauri, imposing customs levies, shifting the capital to Auckland, and taking other actions that were seen as undermining the promises held out in Te Tiriti.

And these concerns were widely shared among Ngāpuhi rangatira, including those who would ultimately – for their own, carefully calibrated, reasons – join forces against kin considered to be ‘rebels’ by the Crown.

Hone Heke decided to fell the flagstaff on Maiki Hill at Kororāreka (Russell) as a bloodless protest against the Crown’s actions, doing so three times between 8 July 1844 and 19 January 1845.

In the early hours of 11 March 1845 Heke and others set out to fell the flagstaff for a fourth time. Although they succeeded, what followed was a disaster for Ngāpuhi.

Memorial at Christ Church, Russell. Photo: Vincent O'Malley

Confronted with the world’s great superpower, those Ngāpuhi who now found themselves pursued by the British imperial forces nevertheless demonstrated remarkable military prowess. For the British, a primary goal was to take advantage of their superior numbers, artillery and technology.

If they could not fight Māori in the open, then siege warfare was thought the likely path to success – surrounding and bombarding the pā before overrunning them when the defences had been breached sufficiently.

What they didn’t count on was the efficiency of the anti-artillery bunkers at Ōhaeawai and Ruapekapeka. Ngāti Hine rangatira Kawiti designed and built both and his military genius was such that some British officers refused to believe that Māori could have constructed these pā without external aid.

At Ōhaeawai on 1 July 1845 British troops were routed when they attempted to storm the pā, convinced that its prior bombardment would ensure minimal resistance.

Despite that humiliation, a similar outcome was only narrowly averted at Ruapekapeka because of the presence of Governor George Grey, who countermanded initial orders to charge the pā.

There’s a rich story here but one that reaches too few people. And that matters. Pākehā who lack awareness of the history of this country also lack the means to fully understand the present.

Contemporary Māori poverty, for example, so evident throughout much of Northland, makes little sense without an understanding of this historical context, leaving some to resort to deficit theories blaming Māori themselves for their predicament. There’s a backstory those people need to hear.
It is vitally important that we remember this history and we acknowledge these darker episodes from our past. That’s not about finger pointing.

It’s the basis for genuine reconciliation and understanding, through dialogue and through an open and honest engagement with our past. Taking ownership of our history and our stories, including those surrounding the wars fought on our own shores, is critical.  

[Originally published by RNZ as part of its NZ Wars: The Stories of Ruapekapeka documentary]