Brian Turner, Colourblind State, Ranginui Walker

Who loves New Zealand more: poet Brian Turner or Prof. Ranginui Walker?

I met Brian Turner about the time he wrote this.

We were both appearing at a poetry festival called Poems on the Vine (which we called Poets on the Wine) at Gladstone Vineyard in the Wairarapa.

At the time, Brian was Te Mata Poet Laureate. New Zealand’s poet of poets.

(I was tacked on to the programme to provide some light relief for the less cerebral punters.)

Brother of sportsmen Glenn and Greg, Brian struck me as a most thoughtful, passionate, and down-to-earth New Zealander. A Southern Man with brains.

Here’s what he thought of (Constitutional Advisory Panel member) Ranginui Walker’s claim that Maori love his country more than he does.

(Subheadings mine.)

Mine or ours?

by Brian Turner

NZ Listener, November 29, 2003

A response to the recent open letter from Ranginui Walker.

Ranginui Walker, communist,
Treatygater, and now on the Panel charged
with Maorifying the Constitution by stealth

No one would doubt or challenge Ranginui Walker when he asserts that his sense of attachment and belonging to the place where he was born and brought up runs deep.

But when he says, “I have been here a thousand years. You arrived only yesterday”, he very clearly denies a similar depth of feeling to almost everyone else.

Are Maori feelings
more authentic?

Walker’s empathy with his surroundings, he implies, is more authentic and valuable than that of, say, farming families of the Maniototo, or the people of the Waitaki Valley, or the townsfolk of Dunedin or Timaru.

In New Zealand today, there is a relentless presumptuousness about the way in which non-Maori feelings for land and water are dismissed as less heartfelt, less sensitive, less spiritual.

In this regard, Walker, and those like him, leads the way.

I am indigenous

Living here, one often hears tiresome, incessant talk from Maori, and non-Maori urban-liberals especially, saying that if you are of European extraction, you can’t possibly truly belong here, in the way that those with even the most attenuated Maori ancestry do.

I vehemently disagree.

Try telling that to the people I live among, and others, who go back generations here.

I am indigenous.

Stop the bigotry

I say, stop the bigotry whereby one culture or another claims greater moral virtue and/or spiritual sensitivity.

Recognise the worth and strength – and the reality – of hybridisation.

Isn’t this what just about all of us are, hybrids?

This will continue to the point whereby, in less than 50 years’ time, it’s likely that more than half of the population will be able to claim some Maori connection.

Then what?

Who is a minority?

Who is a “minority”?

Recently, a friend drew my attention to a marvellous address by Susan Sontag, when she received the Friedenspreis (Peace Prize) from the German Book Trade Association.

At one point, she said:

“A good deal of my life has been spent trying to demystify ways of thinking that polarise or oppose.

Translated into politics, this means supporting whatever is pluralistic and secular.”

I hope that Ranginui Walker and anyone like him might reflect on that, in this country where a sanctimonious culture of reprimand is rife.

To disagree with Maori
is to be racist?

I have found that, for many years now, to disagree or take issue with almost anything that Maori assert guarantees that you will be attacked and deemed anti-Maori, Eurocentric and racist, among other pejoratives.

Some of those attackers, oddly, include a number of strange birds, predominantly of European ancestry, who insist that, in order to live here, we have to atone for the sins of some of our fathers and be prepared to keep on atoning until Maori say “enough”.

All nations, all societies, all families, all individuals know and accept that their pasts are murky, that, at one time or another, they have transgressed, often badly.

So, contrary to the remorseless line that we are fed by various, mainly government agencies, it is not ignorance of the past that makes most people unwilling to forever make amends, it is a belief that little of benefit is to be gained from it.

Shouldn’t assistance
be based on need, not race?

We all know that many people here live in, by New Zealand standards, impoverished circumstances.

Would it not be best to provide assistance on the basis of need, and remove the racial component?

For years now, I have heard people express resentment that goes something like this:

If Maori are down and out, the cry is, “It’s Pakehas’ fault.”

If non-Maori are in strife, “It’s their fault.”

It might be better if, instead of alleging that New Zealand’s social problems are racially based, we accepted that they are, principally and more accurately, related to ideology and the changes wrought as a consequence since the early 1980s.

All races can be racist

I hasten to add, before the ranting begins, that I am not saying there isn’t racism in New Zealand.

Human beings are often racist, and to varying degrees, wherever one goes.

In this country, there are racist Maori and racist non-Maori.

There is also a high degree of preciousness and a scary, sometimes farcical eagerness to take umbrage.

With respect to the issue as to who owns the foreshores and seabed around New Zealand, Walker in effect says that although he and his tribesfolk are happy, in the main, to share the seas and beaches with other recreational users, he reserves the right to exercise control.

He expects the rest of us to defer, which is patronising and unacceptable.

Tribal arrogance

He often seems to advocate a kind of latter-day tribalism, a society based upon a wish to replicate conditions and a world that no longer exists.

And what Walker is really saying is:

“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too.”

It’s cake-and-eat-it country.

He reminds me, again, of how proselytisers, when referring to rights conferred by article three of the Treaty, seldom acknowledge their corresponding responsibilities.

Maori signed up to be British

Whether anyone likes it or not, they signed up 163 years ago to being British (read New Zealand) citizens.

As such, that means a responsibility to work to improve and safeguard this society for the social, cultural and economic benefit of all.

I can’t see any point in us reverting to a system that boils down to pitting tribe against tribe.

To me, the seas and rivers and coastlines and lakes are part of our common heritage.

It is time for us to confirm that recreational activities involving access to those parts of the outdoors are the customary right of all.

That is what the overwhelming majority of people who appreciate them want, and expect their democratically elected government to protect.

Not only Maori
have customary rights

A great many people would be happy to define a customary right as a practice that citizens who live here are accustomed to engaging in.

Walker insists on ownership, but it would be good to reconsider what it is that we have a right to own.

Our own property and personal possessions, but little else, in my view.

Ownership of things we have created or, possibly, had a hand in making: but who among us made birds, fish, native forests, land and water?

Give permits to use, in some cases, but more than that, no.

The vision to say “our”

And when it comes to recreational use, make the same regulations apply to all.

The date of arrival of one’s ancestors (or, often, a selected few of them) should be no excuse for the awarding of preferential rights.

Walker writes repeatedly “my coastline”, “my shores”.

This country will remain divided until he, and others like him, acquires the vision to say “our”, until he will say that not only “some … Pakeha intermarried” with him, but “some Maori intermarried” with Pakeha.


Thanks to Trina for alerting me to Brian’s article.

I’ll now contact him down there in his remote piece of Otago paradise and see if he wants to be part of our campaign.

12 thoughts on “Who loves New Zealand more: poet Brian Turner or Prof. Ranginui Walker?

  1. I’ve heard Rangi Walker on TV before. Some part Maori are very “born again”, then you run into one like John Tamihere with a completely different attitude.

    Let me just say before I write, I have four children and twelve grandchildren of Maori descent, and six of Pasifika as well.

    I have my own opinions: I have a lot of respect for Maori culture, but also for my own Scandinavian/Celtic culture as well. A lot of old Maori would have taken off into the bush if they saw an old Viking in full flight – I would!!

    As far as Maori are concerned, they are not indigenous, and may well not have been first to NZ either. My research has told me they are East Polynesian and came from Rarotonga / Society Islands area about 1280AD. That explains some of the physical differences amongst Maori. Their language was basically very similar. Much like today.

    They were brilliant seamen, tough warlike and aggressive. Tough like those in the Maori Battalian in ww2.

    We can dwell on what they had, and what they claim they lost since the British took over NZ. But there is absolutely no doubt they have been on the backfoot ever sense. But what they still forget is, they are a minority in this country. But you wouldn’t always think it, would you. They have much to offer in a non-economic way. Their attitude towards the environment suggests they should be in a leadership role in protecting our waterways.

    But the differences between Maori and Pakeha is green and gold!


    Peter Petterson

  2. Didnt King Alex of Scotland send the Urekehu to ‘ the Far Off Land in the 1400s?’ there is so much more to this puzzle than one can shake a stick at, Dog wagging the tail too much perhaps?

    1. Alexander the 1st of Scotland sent Tane Ruairidh Mhor (Maorified to Moriori) to the Farland (old name for NZ) in 1122 and they witnessed Zheng He (Chinese pirate trader) abandon slaves in Farland during 1422. As the slaves didn’t know where they came from they were named Populi de Mare (Latin for people from the sea) which was later shortened to Mare and Maorified to Maori.

      It is said Maoris navigated by the stars but this can only be done with a “sextant” and the all important “time piece’. Where are they?

      1. The maori did not navigate to NZ, they ended up here as a result of wind and current and luck. With no concept of angles, numbers, time, compass, latitude, longitude, charts, distance, speed, the shape of the earth, or the suns apparent declination due to the earths tilt, it was purely accidental.
        I wrote a letter to the paper last year when the maori claimed to be navigating to Easter Island using ‘traditional’ navigation methods. I went on their web site and asked them to explain their “traditional methods” but noticed all the talk was using the above mentioned concepts ( luckily they had a “traditional” GPS !). I am a master mariner on large commercial ocean going ships, and know about navigation. To navigate to Easter Island requires accuracy, as a degree out either way, you would sail past and not see it over the horizon. All the BS about navigating by the stars etc they mentioned sounded great to the uninformed, but to people in the know it was rubbish. Just another romantic lie that we are expected to swallow, along with all the other BS like how maori named NZ “aotearoa” when they got here etc etc etc. The list of lies that have come from them is almost neverending, but to question these fantasies labels one a racist.
        Now, they claim the maori in 1840 did not give up sovereignty when they signed the treaty. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, it is their lies that the gullible uninquisitive media will report.

  3. Maori like to be referred to as indigenous, yet the flora and fauna (kumara, pig, dog, rat) which they brought with them, is always referred to as ‘introduced’.

  4. Dr Ranginui Walker’s comment in the “1986 New Zealand Book of Events”, Page 18: “The traditions are quite clear, wherever crews disembarked there were already tangata whenua (prior inhabitants). The canoe people of the 14th century merged with these tangata whenua tribes. From this time on, the traditions abound with accounts of tribal wars over land and its resources”.

  5. Seems Ranginui has changed his stance since he wrote the following in the 1986 New Zealand Book of Events, “The traditions are quite clear on one point, whenever crew disembarked there were already tangata whenua (prior inhabitants). The canoe ancestors of the 14-century merged with these tangata whenua tribes. From this time on the traditions abound with accounts of tribal wars over land and its resources. Warfare was the means by which tribal boundaries were defined and political relations between tribes established. Out of this period emerged 42 tribal groups whose territories became fixed after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the establishment of Pax Britannica”. Ngapuhi Chief David Rankin also endorsed Dr Walker’s statement when he stated, “Maori are not indigenous to Aotearoa/New Zealand”, in the March 2013 Elocal Magazine. (Pax
    Britannica – British peace)

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