February 12, 2014

White-washing History with Monuments

This land war monument stands on Symonds St, Auckland, in a triangle of grass and trees at the top of Wakefield Street. As I recall, the lady used to be holding up a laurel wreath, which must have fallen victim to protest or student humor.

ss monument 3

symond street monument

When I first encountered it I should think I must have been five years old. I was excited to be in a city where even the buildings had writing on them! I was into reading in a big way, and my patient mother was no doubt glad of a few minutes to pause in front of a whole page of challenge.

This was 1948 and we were new immigrants fresh from post-war London.  I remember clearly after we had puzzled out the words and had explanations of the meaning of several of them, my mother’s response.

SS monument 2

”Hmm”, she said, “the friendly Maoris (sic). They must have sided with the English against the rest of the Maoris (sic). They don’t sound very loyal to me.”

Looking back, I can see that her picture was simply of two sides, all settlers versus all Māori people.

Not too bad a start for a five year old, knowing what I know now about divide and conquer, and patterns of colonisation. I was lucky to begin alongside an adult who unconsciously questioned the standard story.

Monuments, memorials and plaques are good places to find colonial mindsets and standard stories.

Mitzi Nairn


Further background to the monument can be read at http://timespanner.blogspot.co.nz/2009/07/land-wars-memorial-symonds-street.html

Photographs in this post by Dr Raymond Nairn

 

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