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Launching Aftermaths: Colonialism, Violence and Memory in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific

Friday 28 April 2023 9:10am

On Wednesday 26 April, we launched Aftermaths: Colonialism, Violence and Memory in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific in Dunedin at the University Book Shop. It was fantastic to bring together many of the book’s New Zealand-based contributors and co-editor Angela Wanhalla. Thank you to everyone who came along to UBS Otago for hosting us!

The book was launched for us by Annabel Cooper. Here's her speech from the night:

'Kia ora koutou kātoa

There has been no shortage of talk about history over recent years, what really happened and what it means for all of us here now, but I may not be the only one to notice that disturbingly often, the talk betrays a minimal engagement with historical debates and the careful evaluation of available evidence. It's clear, as those who have argued for the new history curriculum in schools recognised, that we need a better knowledge base, we need to get more skilled in our remembering, better at sorting out what sources we can find and rely on, and what tools we need for evaluating them. Aftermaths, a collection that has scholarly heft but is also highly readable, is here to help. Congratulations to its exemplary editors, who have marshalled 24 contributors and brought a very broad array of essays into a very satisfying whole. Also to the Press and a very fine production. And - everyone who buys it gets a John Pule so it's a book you can stand up on the shelf and admire, as well as read!

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, most of us have put the 'best race relations in the world' idea behind us, but we're still re-examining the period when my ancestors arrived and got comfortable about belonging here, and when tangata whenua at various times welcomed, resisted, or engaged in difficult negotiations over the terms of their changed world. These processes frequently involved violence, whether overt or covert, as they did in other societies of the Pacific and the Pacific Rim. Aftermaths examines the ways in which such violence is not over and done with in the moment, and how its diverse effects can haunt generations for many decades. Earlier today I was listening to Miranda Johnson's eloquent criticism of the trite notion that we should be 'moving beyond our colonial heritage' - this book spells out in detail exactly why that idea is so utterly implausible.

It's true that at times the aftermath could be benign, as in Angela Wanhalla's extraordinary ordinary story of Margaret and Nathaniel Flowers. Working back from a photograph taken by that remarkable Whanganui photographer William Harding, Angela traces the story of a marriage founded in a global network linking the flows of colonial military around the world with the Atlantic slave trade routes.

Anaru Eketone's is a chapter I was really delighted to read because years ago I heard about this story from Anaru, and it's great to see it in print now. It involves a marriage too - Anaru's parents' marriage. It's a story about how the history that gets written can clash with whanau memory, and how even those versions passed down can vary within whanau and hapū. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but there is a great shift of perspective here - you could call it a 'they are us' moment - which is a pertinent lesson in how the shifts in the ways we look at the past can help us reimagine who we are.

Tony Ballantyne also looks at how descendants can reshape memory, in his account of Nick Tūpara's work to reframe memory of Cook's landing in Tūranganui-a-kiwa, providing a view from the shore. Through Nick Tūpara's sculpture, his ancestor Te Maro is now remembered as a leader, a gardener and a kaitiaki, rather than simply as 'first man shot'.

The book includes many sadder histories. It shows us that aftermaths can take many forms - memories handed down through families or the accounts of survivors, official records, images that shape narratives and understandings of the past that perist for generations, or the histories of the land. Long-term effects may lie hidden until they are uncovered again, such as in Erica Newman's fascinating chapter on the erosion of Fijian-Indian family and culture through the practices of a Fijian orphanage. Church and state argued over the orphanage's policies. The church wanted control over children until they were good and ready to give them back to their indentured parents, while government argued that parents should be able to reclaim them as soon as they were able. The church had its way. As Erica points out, this story can only, as yet, be reconstructed through the tensions between institutions; we do not have the voices of the children.

In another study of institutional abuses Stephanie Gilbert, who herself did time as a child in Aboriginal girls' homes, gives us a compelling example of the uneven burdens of memory. Abuses come to light after decades of silence, through the voices of survivors, or the reports of officials, some complicit and others willing to take a stand against what they witness. Yes, she tells us, it is important to bring to light what happened in these homes, but she questions processes of redress that require victims to tell and retell and retell, while those same processes are not pursuing perpetrators. Why, she asks, are these abuses not treated as crimes? 'What use is testifying and witnessing time and again if it never leads to justice?'

Jane Lydon's chapter is another case where contestations between colonial groups constitute the only available sources, but they too tell quite a story. The records left by a government-appointed investigator and a missionary, on the one hand, and by pastoral interests on the other, reveal the persistence of slavery on the north-western frontier of Western Australia well after supposed abolition.

Lyndall Ryan examines Margaret Young's account of the killing of her Aborignal employee and friend Mamie, and many of the Youngs' other Aboriginal workers on the NSW frontier in 1848. The Youngs and their surviving workers knew who the killers were, and Lyndall's research reveals that the police magistrate worked hard to try and convict them. So what prevented justice in this case, and in every other case like it at the time? Lyndall takes apart the prevailing code of silence in a compelling analysis.

Grace Moore investigates violence against environment in a study of the writer and painter Louisa Atkinson, who criticised colonial farmers' destruction of vast swathes of the Australian bush. No surprise to us now that there are aftermaths. Writing of 'the slow violence of environmental damage', Atkinson recognised the danger in the forest-fellers' view of future problems as 'a misfortune in the distance'. Well, here we are, in the distance.

Aftermaths includes chapters from scholars who have worked in this area for many years, like Angela and Lyndall, and from newer scholars, and from experienced researchers who are venturing into new areas. It makes for a rich mix and it was hard to pick which to talk about tonight . The last chapter I'll mention is Lachy Paterson's. Lachy draws on a career-long engagement with nineteenth century te reo Māori, and with the Māori-language newspapers, or niupepa. I loved this chapter and it has some particularly wonderful moments in which Lachy's familiarity with these texts takes us into the feel and texture and imagination of another time - this is history doing its job. Lachy writes about how the Kingitanga niupepa Te Hokioi was instrumental in resisting the imminent threat of invasion of the Waikato in 1863. One way it did so was to draw on the Haitian Revolution as a useable past. Lachy explains the language usage of the time in which the word Māori could apply to dark skinned people anywhere, leading to this wonderful quotation - translated - from Te Hokioi:
'Then God's anger turned on the French, and God allowed their half-caste children and the Māori to fight the French'. In 1863, the memory of what happened in Haiti in 1804 is summoned to support resistance to what was about to happen in the Waikato. Lachy's research summons that time and place to us now, in a reminder of the remarkable inventiveness of that resistance.

Aftermaths is a superb collection. It leaves us in no doubt of the continuities between colonial pasts and the present we now occupy, and much enriched in knowledge about the particular ways our pasts still shape us. Thank you to its hard-working editors and its wonderful contributors.

Ngā mihi nunui.'

Annabel Cooper 26 April 2023