Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Rowan Dean and that Sixty Sixty poster

I was vaguely aware last week that someone in Australia had caused a stir over a poster for the New Zealand band Six60; something to do with the band’s use of the Maori language. I didn’t bother to acquaint myself with the details, concluding that it was just another tedious skirmish in the culture wars. There are so many it can be exhausting trying to keep up with them.

I took a closer interest, however, when I found out a couple of days ago that the ruckus was triggered by Rowan Dean, a man with whom I have had dealings in his capacity as editor of the Spectator Australia, to which I occasionally contribute. 

Dean presents a show on Sky News called The World According to Rowan Dean, and it was on this programme, while talking to Jonathan Ayling of the New Zealand Free Speech Union, that he drew attention to the Six60 poster.

Noting New Zealand’s “push for inclusivity” and promotion of the Maori language, Dean brought the Six60 concert poster up on screen and pointed out that it was entirely in Maori; “not a word in English”. Maori appeared to be supplanting English, Dean said, and he wanted to know how New Zealanders who don’t speak Maori felt about it. 

The subject arose in the context of a rather confused interview in which Dean and Ayling sometimes appeared to be talking at cross-purposes. The recently passed Plain Language Act, the recently revived proposal for hate speech laws and the use of te reo all got tangled up together when they are separate and largely unrelated issues, the only unifying factor being Labour’s hell-bent drive to leave an indelible stamp on New Zealand before it gets jettisoned from office.

The confusion wasn’t helped by hyperbolic and not entirely accurate captions running across the bottom of the screen, such as: “NZ government hiring language officers”, “NZ passes Orwellian plain language bill”, “One step closer to the thought police” and “Concert poster excludes half of New Zealand”.

I felt sorry for any Australian viewer trying to make sense of it – but then, Australians have never been well served by news media purporting to explain what’s going on in New Zealand, which Australian commentators routinely portray as a slightly more remote, quaint and incomprehensible version of Tasmania.

All this happened two weeks ago, but it wasn’t until last week that controversy erupted on this side of the Ditch, and then only because of the Six60 poster which took up a relatively small portion of the interview. Predictably there was fury that a conservative Australian talk-show host was making what appeared to be disparaging remarks about the increasing usage of te reo in New Zealand. Dean’s offence was compounded in the eyes of his hyper-sensitive New Zealand critics by his failure to name the band correctly, as if by dismissively calling them “Sixty Sixty or whatever” he was delivering a further gratuitous slight against the nation.

In fact Dean appeared as much bemused by New Zealand’s adoption of te reo as critical of it. In common with many Australians, he fails to grasp the place of Maori in New Zealand culture.

His incomprehension highlights a crucial distinction between the two countries. In Australia, Aboriginal culture has historically been marginalised, despite belated attempts to give it greater recognition. In New Zealand, by contrast, Maori influence runs wide and deep.  It’s accepted – in fact valued – as an essential element of mainstream society. No one watching the Black Ferns play England last Saturday could have been in any doubt about that.

If I wanted to appear learned and profound, which I’m not, I would speculate that this difference between the two countries arises at least in part from a striking contrast between Maori and Aboriginal cultures and their relationships with the European colonisers. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that whereas the Aboriginal reaction to the arrival of Europeans was to melt into the bush, Maori confronted the colonisers head-on. They weren’t over-awed or intimidated; they demanded to be engaged with on equal terms.

And so it has continued. Pakeha New Zealand has absorbed Maori culture in a way that many Australians just don’t get. Maori are an ineradicable and invaluable part of our national character. They help make New Zealand the unique place that it is.

That was brought home to me last weekend at a friend’s funeral. Neither she nor her late husband were Maori, but they had adopted a Maori daughter and in doing so had become part of her whanau and had gladly embraced tikanga Maori (or perhaps I should say it had embraced them, because it works both ways). The funeral, which our friend had planned down to the last detail, seamlessly fused Maori and European influences – the former represented by a spirited, moving and beautifully sung waiata, the latter by Alison Krauss singing the gospel song I’ll Fly Away. Oh, and a piper as the coffin was carried out. It couldn’t have happened anywhere but New Zealand.

Dean’s difficulty with the use of te reo in New Zealand came as no surprise to me. In 2020 I wrote an article for the Spectator Australia about the relentless promotion of biculturalism in New Zealand, with particular reference to the increased official use of Maori. I also referred to the unlawful roadblocks set up by Maori activists, ostensibly for the purpose of preventing Covid-19 from being spread to remote and vulnerable communities.   

Dean subsequently invited me to take part in another Australian Sky News talk show he’s involved with, called Outsiders. I initially agreed, but on learning more about the likely tone of the show I backed away. Outsiders presents a conservative perspective and the subject was to be Maori influence in New Zealand life and politics. I was concerned that the other participants in the show, who were Australian, would be dissing an aspect of New Zealand society that they didn’t understand, and I didn’t want to be a party to it. 

At this point readers of this blog might wonder whether I’m going all woke here and indulging in a bout of virtue-signalling. Not a bit. It’s possible to value and take pride in the enormous Maori contribution to our national character while simultaneously being deeply concerned about the promotion of divisive, race-based policies that threaten to drive a wedge between Maori and Pakeha. In fact I’d like to think that in this regard, I’m not far out of line with mainstream thinking.

In any case, I’m allowed to criticise New Zealand because it’s my country. But I become defensive when it’s attacked by Australians (or Poms, for that matter).

Anyway, back to The World According to Rowan Dean. I thought Six60 reacted to Dean’s remarks exactly as they should have, with characteristic New Zealand good humour. Resisting any temptation to ramp up an already overheated war over wokery, they offered Dean free tickets to one of their shows and issued a new promotional T-shirt bearing the slogan “Sixty60 or whatever”. Perfect.

For his part, Ayling quietly pointed out to Dean that te reo is officially a New Zealand language and people should be free to use it. That’s a free speech issue. Use of te reo becomes problematical only when people feel compelled to use it or discriminated against for not doing so. That’s a free speech issue too.



Ricardo said...

Karl, your mention of illegal roadblocks by Maori activists during Covid is a splendid example of truth being based on where you stand.

For the classic liberal, law abiding, pakeha viewer the roadblocks were an illegal affront to the rule of law. Force and compulsion can only be applied to New Zealand's citizenry by lawfully appointed state agents applying laws passed properly by a democratically elected parliament.

For Northland iwi however, used to over 100 years of state neglect and specifically medical neglect going back to 1918/19 and before, the issue was one of survival and protecting the unprotected. I would note there was much local support for the actions.

Where one stands on either issue demands a response to the other in my humble opinion.

Gordon Brown said...

What Karl refers to is past. It's a nice, sweet, past where Maori culture was a natural and welcome weave to NZ, not a bludgeon on 85% of the country. Day in, day out, we are subject to an coercive onslaught of racial division, abstract nonsense critical race theories, and compulsive Te Reo.

I've thought long and hard and I now see it as revanchism, also known as the politics of ethno-nationalist revenge. Its not some ridiculous Great Replacement conspiracy. Its open and honest: you coerced us, now we will coerce you. How else could you justify forcing "Aotearoa" on a majority who don't want it whilst simultaneously claiming "New Zealand" was terrible because it was a forced imposition?

So I'm sorry, but anyone can criticise New Zealand. Karl's parochial reflex is rubbish. And its often those overseas who can see things in greater context and objectivity.

Maori may be an official language, as much as French is an official language in Canada, but you wouldn't expect a French-only poster for a concert in an Albertan oil town with only 3% French speakers because it is nonsense communication and would smack of linguistic arrogance. It smacks of Mandarin lessons in Hong Kong - language imposition usually closely follows ideological imposition.

I regret we are unable now to non-politically appreciate the beauty of Maori culture without full hegemonic virtue signalling as its accompaniment, but Karl needs to wake up and smell the roses - that lofty past of appreciating the natural weave of Maori culture in NZ was destroyed; and not by Conservative media in Australia, but a homegrown cultural revolution courtesy of the institutional and media elite, of which Six60 are paying their ideological fealty to. They now play the Trumpian politics of: I win when I "trigger" those I disagree with.

Karl du Fresne said...

Gordon Brown,
I didn't express myself very well. Of course people are free to criticise New Zealand. But I do tend reflexively to defend my country, especially where I detect bigotry or condescension from outsiders. This occasionally gets me into trouble with Australian friends.

EP said...

Something of an aside but speaking of free speech Karl. I have been aware of your writing for the Spectator Australia as I have been borrowing a copy regularly from the Hutt Library for years now. No longer. Within the last month Hutt Library, without notice, has discontinued purchase of Spectator Australia - unlike its companion libraries on the Kapiti Coast.
I am aware there may be cost factors in this as there are not many subscribers, but I'm betting it's the uncomplimentary articles on the Prime Minister, given that Campbell Barry, the Mayor, is supported by the Labour Government. Free Speech reigns in Lower Hutt - I wonder about Wellington.
Oh well I'll just have to stop being a cheapskate and subscribe to the Spectator on-line, but the really sad thing is that it gives me an angry contemptuous feeling for the library, which has been my second home.

Russell Parkinson said...

I had a brief discussion with an acquittance the other day who happens to be a retired teacher and a proudly maori woman. She said that when she went back to her lands and marae she spoke maori and fully embraced the culture but when she was back in the city she spoke only English and embraced western culture. She made the point that its a western (ie European) world we live in and to get ahead you needed to speak good english and understand and embrace western culture.
It was refreshing to hear but I fear that even discussing that view these days would see you vilified. Its a similar view to people like Apirana Ngata but that holds no light these days.

Brendan McNeill said...

Speaking of Libraries EP, while there are many wonderful and helpful librarians, they have become a victim of the culture wars and are now completely Woke. Refusing to accomodate groups that don't align with the Transgender narrative, fully embracing Pride Week/Month/Year, and proselytising children with story books promoting the LGBT narrative.

I went with my daughter earlier this year to visit their local library. She has four young girls, and between them they would read more than 300 books a year. You could call it their second home. The children's section, replete with Pride bunting and LGBT advocacy is not a welcoming place for those who hold a traditional view of marriage and the family.

Not to mention 'drag queen story hour'

Why would anyone be surprised at the pushback against this depraved outreach to children?

Karl du Fresne said...

To Rivonia Boy, whose comment didn't make it past moderation:
Don't be so gutless. Give me your name and I might publish your comment. Otherwise bugger off.

Odysseus said...

I grew up alongside Maori children along the banks of the Waikato River during the dam-building days when many Maori were employed in their construction. I had Maori teachers and Maori rugby coaches. I was taught to swim by Maori. Half my father's pall-bearers were from among his Maori friends, and their wives helped with the catering at the funeral. I recognize and respect Maori culture but it isn't mine and I don't try to fake it with random Maori greetings or whatever. My own culture goes back many thousands of years to Europe and the Near East. It is largely Judaeo-Christian with a powerful leavening of Greek brilliance. Not to forget the Romans who proved on an unprecedented scale that good plumbing is a necessary condition for civilization to flourish (although avoid lead pipes if you can). All our core beliefs about the fundamental role in society of the individual and the sanctity of their conscience, the rule of law and the equality of all before it, and the unalienable right to life, liberty, and perhaps even to the pursuit of happiness, derive from those ancient wellsprings.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Odysseus I will keep your comment in my page of good things. It is just right.
I grew up in Otago, all my ancestors from Scotland - although culturally harking back to yours.
Maori were historic - we knew the meaning of kaitangata -but were pretty thin on the ground. People spoke respectfully of so-and-so who were 'of Maori descent' but didn't seem any different from the rest of us. My great-grandfather had surveyed much of the countryside around in the 19th century and many of the landmarks had Maori names - I remember wondering how he knew as there didn't seem to be anyone around to ask. I thought we were one people -
I so wish we might come to be one people again.

JohnC said...

If the poster's purpose was to promote concerts in Australia, it was mighty odd to make it entirely in Maori in a country where fewer than 1% of the population would be familiar with this language. Even if it was to promote concerts in NZ, it was still an odd choice. Either way, it's fairly clear it was a publicity stunt. Rowan Dean took the bait and hey presto Six Sixty got way more publicity for their cause than a poster in English would give them. Once can surmise it's a stunt that will only work once.

Eamon Sloan said...

Karl, I feel you may be having a slightly emotional reaction to language issues and to Rowan Dean. I mentioned in an earlier comment that I am a semi-regular viewer of Sky News Australia. I have seen a few of Dean’s programmes (Outsiders). Outsiders is as a matter of course into a mixture of serious journalism, satire and ridicule. It is easy enough to separate satire from serious. Many of the other Sky programmes generally play things with a straight bat.

If you have followed any of the other Sky news presenters you will find they are quoting New Zealand examples, only occasionally - saying to Australian viewers that imitating New Zealand’s current “experiment” with language, race and co-governance is not the way to proceed. A New Zealand style thought police experiment doomed to failure in my view. That may have been why they were wanting you to articulate a New Zealand viewpoint. You have missed an opportunity to access a wider audience.

If anyone is interested they could try Peta Credlin’s documentary on the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews. As all documentaries should this deals with facts only. Sky has put this on their website as a free to view item. Question: would NZ want to have a Daniel Andrews type running NZ?


Barry said...

This whole subject has a much wider reach. Someone above spoke of a time when the hydro dams were being built along the Waikato.
Its very worthy of note that in the 1950 and even into the 60s Maori unemployment was LOWER than Pakeha unemployment.
But from the mid 1960s welfare became a notable influence in society and from the 1970s the Maori cultural revival started.

Its no coincidence that Maori socio economic status dropped as welfare increased along with globalisation and the endless wailing from Maori 'leaders' and other politicians that Maori status is due to racism (of all types) and more recently colonisation etc.
The promotion of the Maori language is all about trying to reverse the socio-economic situation. Unfortunately it will do exactly what happened to the Welsh language when a similar approach was taken over there - ie: by compulsion. It didnt change until the approach was changed to teaching those who wanted to learn it.
The compulsion method fails due to there being no real support behind the programme.

In the mean time we seem to be stuck with a pidgin language and everyone will be a looser. English learners are faced with maori words being used as every day replacement words in english and meanwhile the maori apostles and disciples try to out pronounce each other by coming up with even more ridiculous pronunciations.
And people like the two Maori party MPs continue to tell maori that their social difficulties are all someone elses fault.

Simon Arnold said...

Barry, FWIW my recollection is that was significant urban migration in 50s, particularly to service the primary processing that grew through that period. Societies find that hard. The exports slowed first from the end of the Korean war, and then UK entering the ECC, but we tried to lock things down with import licensing etc.

Many welfare developments occurred, particularly with the Royal Commission in the late 60s, but I think it was poor management of the impacts of global changes that did damage to those groups who were exposed economically and socially at that time.