Interview with Jock Phillips

Jock Phillips is a free-lance professional historian. Until 2014 he was the General Editor of Te Ara, the Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand in the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. He was previously New Zealand’s Chief Historian following 16 years teaching American and New Zealand History at Victoria University of Wellington.  He was also the founding Director of the Stout Research Centre for the study of New Zealand society, history and culture; and was the Conceptual Leader for the History exhibitions at Te Papa, Museum of New Zealand. He has published fifteen books on New Zealand history, of which the best known is A Man’s Country: The image of the Pakeha male – a history. His latest book, To The Memory, is a comprehensive illustrated history of New Zealand war memorials. Read his article on the Maori and royal tours in the Royal Studies Journal Volume 5.

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Memorial for the soldiers of the Arawa tribe who died in World War I. Photo by Jock Phillips.

 

RSJ Blog: Hello, Jock! Thanks for participating. We often see think-pieces about the “cult of celebrity” or “celebrity worship.” Does our modern interest in celebrity provide rivals to royalty or do they benefit from our fascination? Both?

Jock: At least since the coming of mass media with newspapers, there have always been celebrities who have been rivals in popular interest for royalty. In New Zealand’s case significant indications of this have been ‘tours’ by people other than royalty; and it is revealing to list some of the tours by non-Royals which made a powerful impression.  In the 19th century tours by authors such as Mark Twain, Anthony Trollope and (a bit later) Rudyard Kipling were big news; in the early 20th century there were major tours by heroes of the British Empire such as Robert Falcon Scott and Baden Powell.  In the mid 20th century sporting heroes were much feted – there were huge crowds in Wellington to welcome the MCC ‘bodyline’ cricket team in 1933, not to mention tours by local heroes such as the 1925 Invincible All Black rugby team and the runner Jack Lovelock.  In the 1960s there were huge crowds in the streets to welcome The Beatles and The Rolling Stones; and a bit later the numbers were repeated (along with a few protestors) for the American President LBJ.  Some may argue that the plethora of mass media now – television, film and the internet besides the printed page – have increased the number of non-royal competitors for celebrity; but they have long been there.

 RSJ Blog: Why might indigenous people see the monarch as their benefactor (or “benefactress” as they termed Queen Victoria)?

 Jock: I can only really talk with any authority about the case of Maori.  For Maori the Queen was seen in positive terms because she was the other signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi; and subsequently Maori saw her as providing a protection against local white governments whom they felt had disregarded the terms of the treaty.

RSJ Blog: A number of the articles talk about “race patriotism” or “British race patriotism.” How has the British monarchy both supported and challenged these ideas?

 Jock: Most members of the British Empire regarded the monarch as the symbolic head of the Empire and therefore the purest expression of the values of the British race.  Interestingly even some Maori accepted this because it was argued that Maori were ‘honorary whites’, an Aryan people, who shared the racial characteristics of the Anglo-Saxons. But of course this was purely symbolic, because all the evidence is that some members of the royal family, most notably Edward, the Prince of Wales, during his 1920 tour, were appallingly racist towards indigenous people, especially Maori.

RSJ Blog: It seems that the monarch and the white colonizers of New Zealand saw the Maori in a more positive light than the monarch and the white colonizers of Australia saw the Indigenous Australians. Is this an accurate impression? If so, why might that be? Is it due to the Treaty of Waitangi (1840)?

 Jock: I think the main reason that white colonial powers in New Zealand including the British monarch, regarded Maori more positively and treated them with more respect than the treatment of indigenous Australians is that Maori had been very effective militarily.  From about 1500 when there was a growing Maori population and a competition for resources, a strong tradition of military achievement developed in Aotearoa.  Iwi or tribes developed who built thousands of fortified pa around the country and a cult of military prowess emerged. In the early 19th century Maori very quickly gained access to guns and through fights between iwi developed a remarkable skill in the new warfare – indeed some have argued that Maori were the first to really develop trench warfare as a response to guns. When white people arrived they quickly found that Maori were no push-over militarily, and indeed in both the 1840s and 1860s wars Maori very nearly defeated the colonizers who had to call for professional assistance from the Imperial army.  In this context the only way white people could establish a foothold in the country was to negotiate – hence they were forced into negotiating the Treaty of Waitangi.  So in my view respect for Maori came out of the barrel of a gun. The Treaty was a consequence of this respect, not the cause of it. In Australia we now know that there was more armed resistance than once believed, but it was never on the scale of Maori resistance.

RSJ Blog: How similar and different is the relationship of the British monarchs with the indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand?

Jock: I think the existence of a treaty in which the monarch was the other signatory did make a big difference.  Maori put enormous energy in the 19th and early 20th centuries into appealing to the British monarch – through elaborate welcomes when royalty toured and through numerous attempts to travel to England in order to petition the monarch. It was also true that because of their military strength Maori had to be given a place in the local political scene (Maori could vote on the same terms as Europeans from the beginning and from 1867 there were Maori seats in parliament).  This allowed them access to the local political authorities who were controlling royal tours and relations with the monarch, which indigenous Australians did not have.

RSJ Blog: Since monarchs are now generally supposed to be above politics, how can the royal family help indigenous people in their pursuit of justice?

Jock: To be honest in 2018 I do not see the royal family having much impact on the politics of member states of the Commonwealth.  However if members of the royal family respect indigenous culture and give it appropriate time and recognition, this may have some impact on local perceptions.

RSJ Blog: What is the new nationalism in late-twentieth century Australia? Was there a new nationalism in New Zealand around this time as well?

Jock: As both Australia and New Zealand emerged out of the British Empire from the 1960s, a similar new nationalism emerged.  In New Zealand’s case the old nationalism saw New Zealand as a ‘better Britain’, a country which had all the values of the British race but none of the social problems.  New Zealanders thought of themselves as the ‘most loyal’ dominion of all.  From the 1960s this view came under attack, and a new nationalism emerged which positioned New Zealand as an independent South Pacific country.  Maori and Pacific culture became more important to the identity; and in place of a role as a loyal territorial of the Anglo-American Empire, the country pushed values of international peace and regarded its anti-nuclear position as central to identity.

 RSJ Blog: Thank you for your time! How are things progressing with your work on war memorials?

Jock:  I have worked for over 30 years on studying the history of war memorials and my book on the subject, To the Memory, was finished last year; but I continue to follow up side-issues and give talks on this subject especially with the centenary of the armistice upon us.  I have now just completed a memoir about my life as a historian, Living History, which I expect to be published next year.

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