Andrew Clark-Howard is a Carey Baptist College student on placement with Urban Neighbours of Hope in Randwick Park, a subdivision in the Auckland suburb of Manurewa. Following a walk around the Manurewa township, he reflected on how Auckland—and maybe other New Zealand cities and towns too—selectively tells its history.
Recently I had a lecture on ethics in the Gospel of Luke. Instead of meeting in our regular classroom to talk about these ethics, Dr Sarah Harris sent us to meet in the streets of Auckland city and of our own neighbourhoods, to read and engage in Luke’s heart for the poor and the economic reordering found within the Kingdom of God. Thank you, Sarah!
As I walked and watched around Manurewa, past the many pawn shops, money lenders, $2 stores, and overflowing WINZ building, something struck me. Amongst both the obvious and more subtle signs of poverty, economic disparity, and need—all things Luke would have a lot to say about—there was also a clear civic story being told, not just by these things but by the physical landscape and its images too.
Whose history is being told?
Along the way on my walk I saw murals, signs, plaques—I’m a huge plaque fan, just ask my girlfriend—and, in particular, an exhibition of historical photos erected in Southmall, Manurewa’s central shopping precinct.
These were all telling a story about who we were and who we will become. Yet what struck me was that it was a story conspicuously estranged and seemingly entirely disconnected from the people who seemed to be walking those streets and from the poverty I saw around me.
Through the paintings and photographs emerged the history of a quaint community once on the rural outskirts of the Auckland metropolis. Church buildings, beauty pageants, post offices and World War memorials all highlighted the key events the community was to remember and celebrate.
There were quite a few photos of different fashion shows and beauty pageants. The rather homogeneous demographic of these groups of women quite literally represented a ‘beauty’ ideal. The photos included one of ‘Mrs Southmall’, the winner of the pageant in the ‘60s. She was, as you might’ve guessed, white. What does this tell us about what we value as a people? What does this say to the many Māori, Pasifika and other ethnic groups that make up both Auckland city and all of Aotearoa?
Yet, and I do not want to exaggerate this, the faces I saw as I walked down this same stretch of mall, the woman I talked to on a bench facing this photo, the many kids and teenagers I see every day hanging at the local skate park five minutes down the road, all had one unmistakable thing that set them apart from these stories: they were not white or European. Among the hundreds of people I walked by and observed at the train station, in the mall, lying on the grass, and going about their day at 10am on a Monday, I counted three Pākehā, not including me.
The good life?
It doesn’t take long living in South Auckland to realise that this is not a very white part of the country. I saw Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Māori and Pasifika, yet they were not at all represented in the names, pictures and ideals that littered the billboards and highlights of the town. Where was their story being told? What were the subconscious assumptions of success, the ‘good life’, and standards of beauty and normalcy?
One of my favourite photos was of a ‘patriotic fundraiser’ event in Papatoetoe, another South Auckland suburb, from the time of the First World War. The tableau was centred on the Union Jack, a pretend Queen of England, and all her royal subjects. I’m sure this one really inspired the mana whenua to support the war effort!
The history and story being told here seemed almost laughably disconnected from people who are clearly living there now. But beyond this, the story being told was even more starkly selective and in contrast with the actual history and story of the place.
Southmall is located on Great South Road. An expansive and well-known road to all Aucklanders, it stretches from Epsom to Bombay, historically reaching right down into the Waikato.
What fewer Aucklanders know is that Governor Grey and 12,000 members of the British Army constructed Great South Road to improve supply lines to British troops in the New Zealand Wars. The New Zealand Wars resulted in the confiscation of 16,000km2 of Māori land.1 (Learn about that in school? I didn’t.) The road I walked on was built as part of a war effort to crush Māorisovereignty and protest against unfair land sale and confiscation. It claimed over 2,000 Māori lives and 800 European.2
Southmall was one of the first shopping malls to open in New Zealand. Meanwhile, down the road in Papakura just seven years prior, Māori psychiatrist Rongomanu Bennett was thrown out of the local tavern due to it being a well-known white only zone. The event made international headlines. The New York Times compared Papakura to Arkansas facing issues of segregation in the Southern USA.3
Further south still, in Pukekohe, another story occurred. Michael Botur writes, “You had to sit in a different part of the picture theatre. Some barbers wouldn’t cut your hair. The local pub wouldn’t serve you a drink at the main bar. This wasn’t 1960s Cape Town: it was 1960s Pukekohe.”4
It’s a story that’s always plagued the civic language and attitude of our past. Take this excerpt from the Auckland Star in 1944, labeled ‘A Pukekohe Complaint’: “The town is upside down because of the waywardness of some of the Māori women and girls…The Māori girls claim that they are just as entitled to associate with the servicemen as the white girls, and they get very cheeky, when spoken to about the matter.”5
These are the forgotten (or rather, the suppressed) stories and histories which litter Auckland’s past. I must confess that I never even knew some of these stories until this year. It took both moving south and, tragically, the horrific events of Christchurch for me to learn about these local stories. It would be an incredible act of naivety to, as many Pākehā are prone, imagine that these stories do not impact us today.
Yet these stories are not the ones I observed on my walk. The dress of locals in historical murals, the celebration of white ideals, the quaint photos of a Manurewa gone by—they continue to not only keep these racist stories of our past hidden but upkeep the systemic myth of Māori inferiority and white supremacy. These narratives are told in explicit and implicit ways in the actual landscape and artwork which makes up our neighbourhoods. Malls and murals, plaques and notices tell a story. Whose story is really being told?
Questions I want to ask myself:
- Where do I, usually unintentionally, continue to value white/Western examples as the ideal in beauty, ways of being and success?
- How do I, usually unintentionally, give voice only to people who look and think like me?
- What are the positions of power I hold as a white Pākehā, and how can I share those so that other voices are heard and represented?
Maybe you feel as though I am being over the top. Maybe you are tired of hearing people go on and on about privilege or systemic racism as if racism is this thing always hiding around every corner (if so, I’d love to have a friendly chat/coffee!).
These questions are not about circulating white guilt. These conversations are not about being so picky that you feel like there is no option for dialogue, but rather trying to engage with the difficult and uncomfortable realities about our past and present.
If you’re someone like me, that can mean having to change the lens on the way you see things to try position yourself from the perspective of minorities and tangata whenua. Maybe it means visiting a local marae. I am sure they would love to have you.
Maybe it means reading a little closer and behind the initial innocent sheen of the images and depictions in our neighbourhoods and beginning to retell the story of this country: a place where we reconcile the injustices and terrible stories of white supremacy in both our past and present; a place where there is genuinely equal opportunity to survive and thrive; a place where minorities and those on the margins are not only included but belong; a place where the reordering and right way-up Kingdom of God occurs in Aotearoa as in heaven.
Story: Andrew Clark-Howard
Andrew hearkens from Auckland’s North Shore and grew up under the island mountain of Rangitoto and by the waters of Mairangi Bay. He is currently studying applied theology at Carey Baptist College and is living in Randwick Park, Manurewa, with Urban Neighbours of Hope. His interests include the ways in which the church is to embody the gospel afresh in this post-faith world, seeking the risen Christ at work in Aotearoa New Zealand.
This article is based on a post entitled “Murals and Malls: How We Tell Our History” on Andrew’s blog www.andrewclarkhoward.com and is used with permission.
- “New Zealand Wars,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_Wars.
- “Historian’s new book backs Taika Waititi’s claims New Zealand is ‘racist as f**k’,” Newshub, newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/05/historian-s-new-book-backs-taika-waititi-s-claims-new-zealand-is-racist-as-f-k.html.
- “South Auckland Segregation – a story of Auckland apartheid – published in this month’s Mana magazine,” New Zealand Writer Michael Botur, https://botur.tumblr.com/post/63629513262/south-auckland-segregation-a-story-of-auckland#notes
- “A Pukekohe Complaint”, Auckland Star, Volume LXXV, Issue 21 (26 January 1944).