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Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Were the Urban Legends True?

It was 1989, despite the howling winds, sleet and freeze all around us I felt secure and warm in the sleeping bag my parents had bought me. Our tent was pitched on the slopes of Mt Rupaehu white out conditions had ensued and a blustering wind raged outside. I was one of several teenage boys holed up in the tent as part of a weekend exercise for the boarding school I was attending.

It was the first mountain craft weekend at Tihoi. Tihoi was a six month "venture school" modelled on outward bound to which St Paul's sent all it's fourth formers. I found the students at this school weird. I was an urban middle class boy, (though my grandparents were working class). I had attended state schools my whole life and since intermediate it was common to have several Maori and pacific Islanders in my class. I had even been friends with some. The kids at Tihoi were different. Most of them came from rural farming backgrounds; they had been in elite boarding schools since age seven. There was only one Maori at our school, though we only spoke a couple of times, I admired him immensely; he was one of the most motivated people I had ever met. Inga’s father was a minister and clearly was committed to his son’s development. Inga voluntarily did twice as many cross country runs a week as was required and did it in hiking boots to ensure he was being physically challenged. This while others slacked of and tried to get away with not doing any and the rest of us did the bare minimum to avoid getting in trouble. Inga topped the school in academic achievement as well he came first in science ( at St Pauls we ranked each other and the rankings were known to all). He was different to the Maori had experienced in previous schools, who were almost always low achievers academically, often obese, and frequently flirting with criminal activity. Prior to that point, I had developed some unfair sterotypes of Moari people. Inga for ever shattered these. I felt the need to repent before God for holding these views.

But something else happened at Tihoi, and I remember vividly the conversation on that mountain. As we lay awake at night talking one of the students informed me passionately how his father was part of an anti Maori group, how NZ would be served better if all the “niggers” as he called them, were made to live in the south Island and Pakehas lived in the north Island. He was adamant that this is what Maori deserved and they had asked for it. I was somewhat appalled by this, yet few of the other boys in the tent seemed fussed at all. Another student expressed disdain that Inga “that nigger” was even at the school. When Inga was not in ear shot they referred to him as “coon” I was horrified, this was New Zealand after all, not South Africa.

Inga never returned to St Paul’s after Tihoi. He received a package in the mail full of letters telling him he was an unwanted nigger and expressing general racist vitriol he was so upset by this that he walked out of the school and disappeared for a day or two to get over it. I felt absolutely sickened. I remember seeing him win the school tug of war competition when his father passionately cheered him on, I also remember one of the other kids remarking that their parents wished that “coon” would shut up and only politeness prevented them saying this out loud. After Tihoi was over Inga never returned. I did not blame him at all. Who would want to return? But I felt St Pauls was the worse for this, they had lost one of their best students and best athletes who had more drive and commitment than any other student I encountered in my time at high school. I never knew what happened to Inga. But I was saddened by the fact that he had felt he had to do leave. I was also disgusted by the glee others showed when he did.

But one thing I also remember from that time was the rumour that I was to hear over and over again in my time at high school even after I left St Paul’s six months latter. (I left because I did not wish to associate with the kids who attended this school any more) This was that Maori groups were secretly training with weapons, waiting for an opportunity to strike. This was often said in muted tones, as though lots of people knew about it and yet no one dared do anything about it. This urban legend came up over and over in the debates I had with other students over race relations. While I tried to get them to understand that previous governments had stolen Maori land, had violated a treaty they had signed with Maori and that hence there were some legitimate grievances. This was always brushed aside; they were out to get us. They were being trained in military tactics getting ready to strike. It was hard to convince people who held fears like this. I remember a work colleague once telling me that she knew people in the military, that the army was dominated by Maori and it was only a matter of time before they began assisting the activists. I always took these urban legends with a grain of salt. The sources were hardly reliable people and it was always hear say and to be honest I had little respect for these peoples opinions anyway.

In light of recent events it’s saddening to see that these rumours may now be substantiated in the eyes of many New Zealanders. The revelations that the police have raided several places up and down the country, that they allege that various far left activists were compiling weapons and training and planning potential strikes against the “colonial oppressor” is not what New Zealand needs. Of course the evidence is not all in and caution is needed until all is revealed. But I find myself in a state of disbelief. That at least on one issue, my interlocutors were, inadvertently onto something. I would hate to see the kind of people that drove Inga from our school reinforced in their prejudice and I would hate to see other Inga’s; other promising Maori students denied opportunities and subjected to appalling harassment and abuse because some people believe their ignorant rantings have been confirmed.



  1. I don't know if an anecdote regarding the venal narrowness of upper-class white adolescents at a private school can be extrapolated to all New Zealand.
    Still, that doesn't discount the existence of racism in NZ.
    However, this is more than racism. These are anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, communist activists. In other words these people are eventually against you as a Christian.

    On the other hand, I think the golly-gosh response of the media to the idea of alleged domestic terrorists shows that we lack a strong national identity.
    That is to say people with a strong identity when confronted with plotters would be outraged and would point to the multiple benfits of their society.
    We are unclear about our benefits and instead suggest the police must be 'over-reacting' and snicker at the idea of 'communists'.

    In addition, the golly-gosh approach shows that ardent people such as Tame Iti are condescended by many 'cultural sensitives' as harmless throwbacks that keep an exotic indigenous spirit alive.

    That Iti's and other's true feelings may run contrary to the latte sipping lifestyle of TV reporters and his posh art benefactors is unimagniable.
    In that way, many in the media and society are comparable to communist apologists such as Duranty and Shaw who romantised and underplayed the destructiveness of certain ideologies.

  2. Greg

    I agree entirely with what you say. I am surprised my the immediate ,its an over reaction, response especially when the evidence has yet to be shown. The default assumption seems to be what you say that nothing like this could ever really happen here.

    I also agree with you about the dangers of the far left. I have witnessed these groups first hand at Uni when I was a student rep. I have always found it odd that far left activists are portrayed as benign and conservatives as dangerous nutters who are a threat to freedom. This seems to lack any understanding of the ideologies involved. Imagine if this had been a group accused of plotting to blow up an abortion clinic, and we had the same paucity of facts how would the media react then?

    Finally you are of course correct that my anecdotes about racism can’t be extroplated from. I was not suggesting they could be. What struck me about the incident was it was the first time I saw what I would call real racism first hand. In most other cases people were pissed off about crime or violence and noted a disproportionate amount came from Maori. They actually would have had no problem with someone like the boy Inga I mentioned. What shocked me about St Paul’s was that the issue there was simply that he was Maori and not any other social or political issue associated with Maori Dom. I could also give anecdotes of over the top Maori activists, like the ones I encountered at Waikato who sincerely suggested that violence amongst Maori occurred because they were copying the methods of the colonists through some form of social osmosis. As though prior to Europeans coming here, Maori lived in a non-violent pacifist paradise.

  3. Wow, you guys write real long comments! I'm not used to that but anyway... You guys have got a cool site - I'll be adding it to my links to, and be back to check what you're up to. Good to bump into you at the forum. Will you guys be keen to help out with gathering signatures for the CIR? If you head along to, you can find out more info about helping out the team.

    Thanks for your comments too, and the compliment. Hmmm, yes my sibblings and I find home-education to be most profitable.


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