Monthly Archives: February 2010

“the next crazy venture.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of travel. Rental cars, hostels, activity bookings, highway routes…the list goes on of everything there is to keep track of, not to mention getting various other ‘life concerns’ taken care of. On the eve of my departure from Wellington, about to spend a month traveling the North Island of New Zealand and then three weeks working on a black pearl farm in Tahiti, any excitement I should be feeling is often tempered by to-do lists and general alarm at the rate at which my savings accounts seem to be hemorrhaging money. So there couldn’t have been a better time for me to rediscover this quote from Kerouac in On the Road:

“Then [Neal] whispered, clutching my sleeve, sweating: ‘Now you just dig them [the other passengers] in front…They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there…and all the time they’ll get there anyway you see.  But they need to worry, their souls really won’t be at peace unless they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it, which is, you see, unhappiness, a false really false expression of concern and even dignity and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that TOO worries them NO End.” 

It made me go, whoa. I don’t want a soul that needs to worry. I don’t want these next couple of months on the road to be defined by an overwhelming concern for logistics; I don’t want them to be remembered by the anxiety or angst I felt at the time. I want, instead, to be a little more like Neal:

“’That’s right, that’s right’ Neal kept saying and all the time he was only concerned with locking the trunk and putting the proper things in the compartment and sweeping the floor and getting all ready for the purity of the road again…the purity of moving and getting somewhere, no matter where, and as fast as possible and with as much excitement and digging of all things as possible.” 

So as I get ready to lock my trunk up tomorrow, I felt I should let you know that you may be seeing a little less of me over the next couple of months. And as much as I would love to keep writing and posting whilst traveling, I’m also ecstatic about the opportunity to just observe, record, and soak up the ensuing environments and experiences. There’s a lot to look forward to – black water rafting, glowworm caves, surfing, hiking volcanoes, hot pools, and who knows what else. Bear with me as I take this time to see my last glimpses of New Zealand, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us in, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” 

Here’s to leaning forward…see you in a few months!


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path to the treaty: a land paved with good intentions.

People have come and gone

But the land remains steadfast

Bindings of people, and the land

Is our history.

*     *     *

the treaty today.

Waitangi Day voucher available in London.

Every year on the Saturday closest to Waitangi Day, thousands of young Kiwi expats flood into London Underground stations and ride the Tube on the infamous Circle Line pub crawl. With the numbers in 2010 nearing 15,000, the event turns into quite the raucous celebration of all things Kiwi, as flag-bedecked girls and sheep-suit-wearing guys crowd into bars along the way to Trafalgar Square, where they await Big Ben to strike four ‘o’clock and perform a mass haka in Parliament Square.

It is quite the contrast to commemorations of the day back home. On the morning of February 6, 2010, a crowd of a different sort gathered on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for a dawn service; a crowd of 500 that included the Prime Minister, Labour party leader Phil Goff, Māori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, and members of the armed forces and diplomatic corps.  It was an event marked more by its solemnity than by youthful antics.

But no matter the difference, no matter the presence of diplomacy or debauchery, it all started because of a piece of paper, a document titled the Treaty of Waitangi. The signing of this document began on the sixth of February, 1840 – the date on which Waitangi Day is now celebrated – but continued for months as Māori chiefs had to be located throughout the North Island. It was not so much the declaration of independence I’m used to honoring as it was an agreement between two parties to form a relationship, a “partnership,” as the terminology is so often emphasized in current debates. In a way, it was a declaration of sovereignty…but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

And so as Waitangi Day approached, I knew I had to understand it the best I could. As fun as the past year has been – the bungy jumping and glacier hiking and roadtrip planning – I knew this is where it gets real. As if I’ve been dating New Zealand, this is where I finally get to know whoever it is I’ve been spending all this time with. This is, in my own understanding, one of the core issues the country is still grappling with.

The original Treaty of Waitangi.

*     *     *

a call for intervention.

Between Captain James Cook’s discovery of New Zealand in 1769 and the initial signing of the treaty in 1840, the path of British involvement took an interesting couple of turns. It was, moreover, entirely opposite of what I expected, in that, Britain seemed at first quite adamant about doing anything in its powers to not take responsibility for the new land. To put it another way, Mother England didn’t want another baby, no matter how beautiful or successful the child promised to be. In three instances of British statutes, the reigning monarch, King William IV – predecessor to Queen Victoria – made it explicitly clear that New Zealand was not a British territory. These statutes are recorded in a letter from a certain James Stephen, Esq., to John Backhouse, Esq. dated the 18th of March, 1840.

The first appears in Act 57 Geo. III. cap. 53, a statute titled “An Act for the more effectual Punishment of Murders and Manslaughters committed in places not within His Majesty’s Dominions”:

“Whereas grievous murders and manslaughters have been committed at the settlement in the Bay of Honduras, in South America, Ac.;” “ and the like offences have also been committed in the South Pacific Ocean, as well on the high seas as on land, in the Islands of New Zealand and Otaheite, and in other islands, countries, and places not within His Majesty’s dominions, by the masters and crews of British ships, and other persons, who have for the most part deserted from or left their ships, and have continued to live and reside amongst the inhabitants of those islands,” &c.; and the Act then provides for the punishment of offences so committed “in the said Islands of New Zealand and Otaheite, or within any other islands, countries, or places not within His Majesty’s dominions, nor subject to any other European State or Power…”

For offences committed in the south Pacific, a second document – Statute 4 Geo. IV. cap. 96, sec. 3 – gives authority to the Supreme Court in the Australian colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s land (now Tasmania) to try offences:

“committed in the islands of New Zealand, Otaheite, or any other island, country, or place, situate in the Indian or Pacific Oceans, and not subject to His Majesty or to any other European State,”  if such offences were committed by British subjects.”

A final decree came in the form of Statute 9 Geo. IV. cap. 83, sec. 4, in which the above statute was repeated, adding only “that the punishment of the offence shall be the same as if the crime had been committed in England.”

Furthermore, as if the refrain of “not within His Majesty’s domains” does not recur enough, the King of England himself – outside the Parliamentary legislation seen above – made no mistake in clarifying New Zealand’s position. In the same letter, Stephen records that King William IV “made the most public, solemn, and authentic declaration which it was possible to make, that New Zealand was a substantive and independent state,” even after thirteen Māori chiefs wrote to the King in 1831 “praying the protection of the British Crown against the neighbouring tribes, and against British subjects residing in the Islands.”

As you can imagine, such statutes did not sit well with the  men who’d founded the New Zealand Company. It should be clear that at its outset, the company was not endorsed by the British government nor in any way associated with the Colonial Office, however, once headway had been made in New Zealand, the company desired official British involvement…but to no avail. This understandably baffled the New Zealand Company. In a letter dated the 7th of November, 1839, from Joseph Somes, the company’s Deputy Governor, to Lord Palmerston, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, frustration and confusion flow from Somes’ pen:

“If your Lordship is not already aware of the fact, it is proper that I should inform you at the outset that the Colonial Office refuses to hold any communication with, or in any way to recognize, the existence of the New Zealand Land Company. We are totally at a loss to conjecture for what reason. The Company has been formed in the usual manner, possesses a paid-up capital exceeding four-fifths of the capital subscribed, and has complied with every other condition of a joint-stock copartnership. Its existence as a Company is not less certain and complete in law, as well as in fact, than that of the Bank of England or any private firm; yet the Colonial Department seems to deny our existence…”

You can’t help but feel for Somes, can yout? It sounds all too similar to a heartbroken woman pleading with her love interest: “But I’m attractive, ambitious, and promise to be faithful…Why don’t you want me?” To Somes, and one supposes, the entire New Zealand Company, the arrangement made perfect sense, especially as the French began to show an increasing interest in the country as well. During the 18th and 19th centuries, New Zealand became quite the hub for the whaling industry, attracting French and American traffic to the point that a U.S. Consul  to New Zealand was appointed in the late 1830s. Among his other arguments, Somes highlights the need for swift British action to prevent any further moves by the French:

“It becomes very important, therefore, if it is of great importance to England to prevent the establishment of a French power in the midst of the English colonies of Australasia, that your Lordship should be made aware of the acts of the British Crown…”

But despite every apparent reason in favor of British colonization of New Zealand – even the threat of the French! Come on, Britain, could you ask for a better reason? – what finally forced the English hand was the presence of a handful of settlers who had found their way to New Zealand. They were in all opinions lawless rogues and were wrecking havoc with the natives. Soon enough, as Lord Normanby explains in a letter from 1839, England was left with no choice but to intervene:

“The necessity for the interposition of Government has, however, become too evident to admit to any further inaction. The reports which have reached this office within the last few months establish the facts that about the commencement of 1838, a body of not less than two thousand British subjects, has become permanent inhabitants of New Zealand, that amongst them were many persons of bad and doubtful character – convicts who had fled from our penal settlements, or seamen who had deserted their ships – and that these people, unrestrained by any law and amenable to no Tribunals, were alternately the authors and victims of every species of crime and outrage. It further appears that extensive cessions of land have been obtained from the natives and that several hundred persons have recently sailed from this country to occupy and cultivate these lands. The spirit of adventure thus been effectually roused it can be no longer doubted that an extensive settlement of British subjects will be rapidly established in New Zealand, and that unless protected and restrained by necessary laws and institutions they will repeat unchecked in that corner of the globe the same process of war and spoliation under which uncivilised tribes have almost invariably disappeared as often as they have been brought into the immediate vicinity of emigrates from the nations of Christendom. To mitigate, and if possible avert these disasters, and to rescue the emigrants themselves from the evils of a lawless state of society, it has been resolved to adopt the most effective measures for establishing amongst them a settled form of civil Government. To accomplish this design is the principal object of your mission.

It almost reads like a movie script, doesn’t it? I defer to primary sources so often only to give evidence to the written communication that went on between parties in England and New Zealand – the pragmatic straightforwardness and the intelligent eloquence of it all amazes me. In a way that counters the British Empire’s usual motto of “what we have, we hold,” England’s initial opinion towards New Zealand thus seems almost to say, “what we don’t have, we don’t want.” In a surprising show of altruistic restraint, official involvement appeared to be a “last resort” for the British colonial office, holding the law and civility as the utmost concerns at hand.

*     *     *

the native struggle.

Māori today present quite the unified front. With an official flag, a common language, and even their own king, one would expect it to have always been such a close-knit community. But the story of the indigenous people of New Zealand starts out a little differently, as is so often the case.

The word ‘Māori’ hasn’t always been used to describe their collective identity as a single race. As Marcia Stenson writes in The Treaty, “Māori meant ‘normal’ or ‘usual.’ The original inhabitants did not call themselves Māori. They were Nga Puhi, Ngati Maniapoto or Tuhoe or any of 40 or more tribes. The idea of a nation or national identity did not exist” (30). Similarly, in The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s Law and Constitution, Matthew Palmer states that “it is misleading to conceive of a single unified Māori context in the early nineteenth century. The term ‘Māori’ itself developed, from its initial meaning as an adjective to something ‘ordinary’, to provide a way of collectively distinguishing indigenous New Zealanders from new arrivals” (33).

Rather than thinking of themselves as part of a national body of individuals, the allegiance of early Māori lay closer to home, generally in iwi or hapū, both of which were based on familial ties to a common ancestor. While both terms are generally defined as “tribe,” it can perhaps be more helpful to think of nineteenth-century Māori interactions between ‘iwi’ and ‘hapū’ as that between tribe and sub-tribe, or as ‘iwi’ being a grouping of several ‘hapū.’ As Angela Ballara describes the early organization of New Zealand, “a society of many independent corporate units had developed.”

Furthermore, Māori leadership resided largely in the local level. Each hapū had a chief, or rangatira, who was responsible for much of the tribe’s decision-making. Each rangatira was given authority, or mana, over the hapū, which as Stenson writes, was “gained by providing for the people, not oneself” (30). Kinship ties were important, as those in a hapū often shared a common ancestor. While several ‘paramount chiefs’ exercised control over a larger collection of hapū, it is important to recognize that no ‘centralized government’ existed as we might envision it today.

One such rangatira was a chief named Te Rauparaha, whose iwi Ngāti Toa stretched from the Wellington area of the North Island across Cook Strait into Nelson and Wairau. Despite his stature of a mere five feet, he was a fierce warrior known for his leadership and strategy and his notoriety today marks him as the “Māori Napoleon” or the “Napoleon of the South.” Even his haka is that which the All Blacks perform before every international match. He would later play a significant role in several historic arenas, from the Musket Wars to the selling of land to early European settlers to the Wairau Incident of 1843.

Te Rauparaha.

Intensifying this lack of centralization among the Māori was their tendency to tribal warfare. Boundaries between land and allegiance were constantly shifting as hapū engaged in conflicts across the country. In a book review of Andrew Vayda’s Warfare of the Māori, E.G. Schwimmer writes, “Wars were a constant feature of Maori life; conflicts over land and insults of every description were causes of war. The defeated party in any way was under an obligation, if it wished to restore its mana, to avenge its humiliation, so war was never finished with.”

Just as intertribal fighting often occurred over land, so did the aforementioned importance of the hapū and rangatira in Māori culture also coincide with their perspective on land ownership. It was a two-part perspective, focusing on collective ownership and their connection with the land itself.  The concept of individual land rights was foreign to them; emphasis instead rested on the collective. As a Māori saying goes, “Ehara taku toa I te toa takitahi
engari he toa takitini,” or “My strength is not in my individualism but in my family.” This applied to the land, as well, as it was to be used by the group, not owned or sold on an individual basis.

Stenson also contrasts the Māori tradition of use rights with that of European land values: “In European tradition, ownership is established by a written deed of sale, rather than by use. Owning the title deeds is more important than being a long-standing occupier. The value of the land has little to do with spiritual or cultural values and everything to do with market potential” (33). In European eyes, property rights were nothing more than a piece of paper, surely not something to be found in intimacy with the land, having a deep familiarity with every bush, rock and stream, or going as far to hold a ceremony before something as ordinary as felling a tree. In a “doomed-from-the-start” sort of way, these inherent differences in Maori and European conceptions of land ownership practically guaranteed future misunderstandings.

But at the same time, Māori were growing more and more in contact with international influences. From the early 1800s on, interaction with the ‘outside world’ was taking place with the influx of traders and whalers as well as missionary activities. In the same way that ‘Māori’ came to refer to the natives themselves, these outside figures became known by the term ‘Pākehā,’ a Māori word that literally means ‘foreign’ or ‘foreigner’, and applies mainly to white persons of European descent. This outside contact was not without its consequences, both positive and negative. As Palmer writes, “Internationalization had an increasingly important impact on Māori social, economic, political and cultural life” (35). With a deep interest in European products and technology, Māori began to trade with visitors, and as Stenson describes, “Traders were amazed at how Māori used and adapted technology” (40).

Perhaps even more remarkably, New Zealand historian James Belich estimates that “possibly a thousand Māori had traveled overseas before 1840” (40), one such traveler being Hongi Hika, rangatira of the Ngapuhi iwi, who brought back 300 muskets with him from England. When he wasn’t assisting various professors with the first Māori-English dictionary, Hongi was busy socializing with such characters as King George IV, who even gave the Māori chief a suit of armor. One can imagine the scene being something of a sequel to Pocahontas. Thus the Māori weren’t nearly as caught off guard as perhaps could have been the case by the arrival of additional Pākehā settlers and the New Zealand Company. The horizons of their world had been expanding long before 1840, and changes were taking place that would set the stage for later political decisions.

James Barry, 1820. Chiefs Waikato and Hongi Hika with missionary Thomas Kendall in England.


However, the new international influences brought with them a development that promised to dangerously converge with the Māori tradition of tribal warfare: the musket. The introduction of this weapon dramatically altered the means and methods of violence between Māori tribes. As NZ History describes, “Muskets (ngutu parera) changed the face of intertribal warfare, decimating the population of some tribes and drastically shifting the boundaries of areas that others controlled.” They ultimately lent their name to a time of intense fighting and destruction: the Musket Wars. The wars took place between the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s and resulted in the deaths of nearly 20,000 Māori, a staggering twenty percent of the estimated native population at the time.

It was in the aftermath of the Musket Wars that interaction with British colonial officers began to increase in a pointed way. In 1833 a man named James Busby was sent to New Zealand to represent England as the British Resident. Despite the political nature of his new role, it seems Busby’s greatest passion in life was viticulture. Whilst working for various government departments in New South Wales in the 1820s, his plans were developing to begin wine making in the new Australian colony. In 1829, however, he returned to England after his posts ended in order to present himself at Whitehall for another position. For Busby, it was much the case of being in the right place at the right time. As it turned out, he had written on New Zealand. The English government, on the other hand, was seeking to send a British representative there in order to maintain some sense of order among its residents. While not the natural choice, Lord Goderich, secretary of state at the time, eventually chose Busby who soon after began his voyage to New Zealand, but not before gathering new vine cuttings from France and Spain.

James Busby.

What awaited Busby, in the words of someone I spoke with not long ago about New Zealand pre-Treaty of Waitangi, was “a mess.” It was a lawless land in every sense of the phrase, a land in which a few hundred Europeans had settled and many of whom, quite frankly, were up to no good. The Ministry of Justice reports [in an executive summary of a review of the New Zealand sex industry, no less] that “New Zealand has had a sex industry since the early days of European colonisation, when whalers and traders traded muskets and other goods for access to Māori women.” Much of the trouble originated from towns such as Kororareka, now known as Russell, which were major whaling ports. Such were the vices of its residents that one observer went so far as to call the town ‘the hell-hole of the Pacific.” It was, as NZ History puts it, a “frontier of chaos.” Or as James Stephen describes it in a letter to John Backhouse, New Zealand had “furnished an asylum to fugitive convicts, who, associated with men left in these Islands at different times by the whalers and other vessels, have formed a society much requiring the check of some competent authority.” For these reasons, a missionary by the name of William Yate assisted thirteen Māori chiefs in the composition of a letter to King William of England. The letter, dated the 16th of November, 1831, reads:

To King William, the Gracious Chief of England, Address of Chiefs to His Majesty the King.

King William,—

We, the chiefs of New Zealand assembled at this place, called the Kerikeri, write to thee, for we hear that thou art the great chief of the other side the water, since the many ships which come to our land are from thee.

We are a people without possessions. We have nothing but timber, flax; pork, and potatoes; We sell these things, however, to your people, and then we see the property of Europeans. It is only the land which is liberal towards us. From thee also come the missionaries who teach us to believe in Jehovah God, and in Jesus Christ His Son.

We have heard that the tribe of Mariau is at hand coming to take away our land; therefore we pray thee to become our friend and the guardian of these islands, lest the teasing of other tribes should come near to us and lest strangers should come and take away our land.

And if any of thy people should be troublesome or vicious towards us (for some persons are living here who have run away from ships), we pray thee to be angry with them that they may be obedient, lest the anger of the people of this land fall upon them.

This letter is from us, from the chiefs of the Natives of New Zealand.

1. Warerahi, Chief of Paroa.

2. Rewa, Chief of Waimate.

3. Patoune, Two brothers, Chiefs of Hokianga.

4. Nene, Two brothers, Chiefs of Hokianga.

5. Kekeao, Chief of the Abuahu.

6. Titore, Chief of Kororareka.

7. Tamoranga, Chief of Taiamai.

8. Ripe, Chief of Mapere.

9. Hara, Chief of Ohaiawai.

10. Atuabaere, Chief of Kaikohi.

11. Moetara, Chief of Pakauai.

12. Matangi, Chief of Waima.

13. Taunui, Chief of Hutakura.

The foregoing is a literal translation of the accompanying document.

William Yate,

Secretary to the Church Missionary Society, New Zealand.

In addition to the lack of laws regarding the behavior of new Pākehā settlers, there was also increasing confusion over the Māori sale of land to the settlers. Although Māori had begun to sell their land, often in exchange for muskets, the exact consequences of such a purchase were unclear. As mentioned earlier, many Māori felt the land wasn’t theirs to sell, yet they did transact with settlers in a way that allowed them to use their land. This, of course, differed only slightly from what the settlers thought they were getting for their muskets. The website of the Waitangi Tribunal aptly describes the situation:

“The idea of buying land was something new to Māori. The British settlers thought that they owned the land after they bought it from Māori. Some Māori thought that they were letting the settlers live on and use the land but thought it would always be Māori land. Hapu and iwi believe that a person can never be permanently separated from the land they were born on. Other people may use it, but other people would never be tangata whenua. The different ideas held by British and Māori about owning land were the cause of many problems.”

One of these problems had to do with the fact that many Māori chiefs had begun to sell the same parcel of land multiple times. As one website devoted to the Treaty of Waitangi records, “There is evidence that land sold by the Maoris to European settlers in the early days was sold more than once,” including Taranaki, which supposedly was purchased five times before 1860. Whether or not this was done intentionally has been left unsaid, but rumor has it that the more conniving of the chiefs, Te Ruaparaha included, might’ve one-up’ed settlers.

And so, like any proper British civil servant sent to a colonial outpost at the bottom of the known world, Busby got straight to work. Despite a fairly rough start in 1833 – a lack of respect from Māori and Pākehā alike, various attacks on the residency and his store ransacked, and any true financial (not to mention, moral) support from the British government missing – Busby was not a man easily discouraged. By 1834, he had Māori chiefs on the North Island deciding on a flag…if only to prevent ships originating from New Zealand  from being seized at foreign ports. NZ History gives the story of the “Hokianga-built trading ship Sir George Murray [which] was seized in Sydney by Customs officials for sailing without a flag or register. Australia, New Zealand’s major trading market, was subject to British navigation laws which ruled that every ship must carry an official certificate detailing construction, ownership and nationality of the ship.” Bit of a tricky situation, really, requiring a ship to declare a nationality that didn’t exactly exist in the eyes of the world. But Busby solved the issue while at the same time introducing the idea of mutual cooperation and collective government within the Māori. Bravo, Busby.

Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand.

At the same time, a man by the name of Baron Charles Philip Hippolytus de Thierry (we’ll call him the Baron for short) had an idea of his own. Although born to French parents, Baron de Thierry was raised in London and had the opportunity to meet Hongi Hika while studying at Cambridge. The 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand records that his acquaintance with the Māori chief “rekindled de Thierry’s boyhood passion to visit the scenes of Cook’s discoveries in the South Seas,” and he wasted no time no in securing himself a parcel of land in New Zealand. The path of his journeys over the next few years was filled with twists, turns, and tales of woe and bankruptcy, but by the late 1820s Baron de Thierry had taken to calling himself the “Sovereign Chief of New Zealand” and had every intention of arriving in the country to stake his claim.

Busby was not to be outdone. Word of the Baron’s intentions lit quite the fire under Busby’s pants and supposedly within thirty-six hours of hearing the news, he rallied a meeting of over thirty Māori chiefs at Waitangi on the 28th of October, 1835. It does seem an impossible feat in an age without cell phones or email, let alone fax machines or even a telegraph, but no matter his methods, Busby himself was soon responsible for drafting the first Māori Declaration of Independence, initially receiving thirty-four signatures from the newly-formed United Tribes of New Zealand.

The four points of the Declaration were concerned primarily with the recognition of Māori authority, but, much to Busby’s discredit, nothing much was to come of it. Not even his plans for a new Government House were constructed, let alone any meeting of Māori chiefs taking place as they had agreed to do each year. In many ways, Busby does seem like quite the utter failure, the doomed protagonist of a Shakespearean tragicomedy, and the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand only confirms this:

“British intervention in New Zealand at this stage was of the most cautious, frugal sort, involving no assertion of sovereignty and no cost to the Treasury, for the expenses were charged on New South Wales. Lord Goderich had contemplated supporting Busby with a small body of troops, stationing a warship at New Zealand, and giving him magisterial powers, but none of these things was ever done. He was expected to exercise a moral influence over captains and crews, runaway convicts, beachcombers, settlers, traders, and cannibal Maoris, solely by virtue of his powers of personal persuasion and the dignity of his Vice-Consul’s uniform. At Sydney, the new Governor, Sir Richard Bourke, had no faith in his mission; his Council made parsimony its watchword. Busby was supplied with a prefabricated small two-roomed cottage, but he had to pay the freight to New Zealand out of his own pocket and buy the covering and lining timber as well as the land on which to build it.”

In my opinion, though – however humble – the biggest achievement of Busby and his Declaration was the introduction of several key terms that were to surface again a mere five years later in the [slightly more influential] Treaty of Waitangi.

The first such term is ‘Tino Rangatiratanga,’ which appeared in the first point of the Māori Declaration in that “the chiefs declare the ‘Rangatiratanga o to matou wenua,’ and ‘Independence of their country.’” This phrase lies at the heart of treaty debates, because of both the particularly difficult task of translating it into English and the controversy that often results from this lack of agreement on its definition. In its Guide for Consulation with Māori, the Ministry of Justice defines it as “‘full authority, status and prestige’ with regard to the possessions, interests and customs of the Māori people.” A glossary on the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand website reads “sovereignty” and “the right for self-determination,” and in The Treaty, Stenson gives ‘chieftanship’ as the best way of understanding it.

Equally contentious was the use of the term ‘Kawanatanga.’ It featured in the second point of the Declaration, as the chiefs were believed to “declare they will not permit any separate ‘legislative authority’ or ‘wakarite ture’ to exist or any ‘function of government’ or ‘kawanatanga’ to be exercised within their land except under the authority of laws made by them…” Similarly, the Ministry of Justice defines it as a translation of the English word for ‘government,’ or in a slightly varied form, the Waitangi Tribunal lists it as a “transliteration of the word ‘governance.’” It is perhaps particularly interesting to note that many Māori were already familiar with the idea of kawanatanga from copies of the New Testament missionaries had translated for them. The term was often used to describe such leaders as Pontius Pilate or others with an equal amount of authority.

Thus with such controversial words in circulation, Busby laid the groundwork for the Treaty, even if it was muddled and not nearly according to the standard of that which the British government had expected. Most importantly, Māori were not only open to interaction with the British government, they desired it. The forthcoming Treaty of Waitangi was far from an agreement forced upon the indigenous people of New Zealand; in a way, it was solicited, if not the misunderstandings which resulted from issues of translation.

*     *     *

a different story across the tasman.

While the history of Australian colonization is quite easily another story for another day, I find it enlightening to momentarily compare it to that of New Zealand, to briefly note the vast difference in English behavior, if not opinions, in just a short fifty years.

Somewhere along my journey through US history textbooks, I’d picked up that the colonial existence of the state of Georgia – founded by British general James Ogelthrope and named after the ruling monarch of the time, King George II – was chiefly a “penal colony” of sorts, a repository for British prisoners, largely debtors. The English practice of shipping out its prisoners to new colonial soil was made possible by the Transportation Act of 1718, through which the government sought to alleviate its overcrowded prisons, or “gaols,” by sentencing convicts to seven years’ “transportation” to America. Although exact numbers don’t exist, it is estimated that during this time over 50,o00 British prisoners were sent to colonies such as Georgia.

However a little event called the Revolutionary War introduced a few, shall we say, complications into this ingenious British scheme. By 1776, with the colonies of America colonies no more, Britain was forced to turn elsewhere for what would be essentially another dumping ground for its human refuse. Enter Australia.

Captain Cook had already claimed the “Great Southern Continent” for Britain on the 22nd of August, 1770, after charting its coast and pausing on the aptly-named Possession Island to formally mark the occasion:

“Notwithstand[ing] I had in the Name of His Majesty taken possession of several places upon this coast, I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern Coast . . . by the name New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours Rivers and Islands situate upon the said coast, after which we fired three Volleys of small Arms which were Answered by the like number from the Ship.”

What is most important to note on Cook’s claim of Australia for Britain is the means by which his claim took place. A term that played a key role in the affair was the Latin expression terra nullius, translated roughly as ‘empty land’ or ‘no man’s land,’ that grew in frequency of application in eighteenth-century international law. The concept of claiming land as terra nullius found its initial support in the likes of philosophers such as John Locke. In White Politics and Black Australians, Scott Bennett describes Locke’s views:

“Locke maintained that man finds himself first of all in a state of nature (that is, an ‘uncivilised’ state), which he moves beyond only when he has begun to occupy land which he ‘tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of.’ Such labour gives him the right to claim the land as his own property, ‘which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him’” (15).

If no sign of such interaction with the land could be found by explorers, then in Locke’s opinion, the land was theirs for the taking, no matter the number of indigenous people. And so it seems that Cook himself:

soon established that an aboriginal people lived in the Great South Land, but careful observation appeared to show no towns, no cultivation, no religion, in short, no ‘civilisation’: the country was therefore, apparently ‘in the pure state of Nature, the Industry of Man, [having] had nothing to do with any part of it’” (15).

The indigenous population thus relegated to the status of null and void, Australia was in British hands, for better or worse.

But it wasn’t until 1779 that a light bulb appeared over the minds of the British, specifically a botanist named Joseph Banks who’d sailed with Cook, and an idea formed, selecting Australia as an alternative destination for their penal transportation scheme. Imagine the posters in tourism offices now: Australia, the New Penal Colony. A winning slogan if you ask me. If American soil was no longer an option, the convicts would now be sent Down Under, on a voyage not quite so simple as crossing a single ocean. The enterprise would be under the command and direction of Captain Arthur Phillip, an admiral in the Royal Navy, who was designated  Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales.  Phillip was to lead the settling of Britain’s first Australian colony (coincidentally on the site of what is now Sydney) and he left English harbors armed with a set of official instructions, dated the 25th of April, 1787, concerning the colonization process and the proper methods of dealing with the some 600 male and 180 female convicts in his control.

John Allcot (1888-1973), The First Fleet in Sydney Cove, January 27, 1788.

The tone of the document is again practical and straightforward, reading more like a set of instructions for a Saturday morning Do-It-Yourself project than of the founding of a colony. Between concerns for a sufficient stock of wine, “such further Quantities of Seed Grain as You may think requisite for the Tillage of the Land,” and the exercise of caution before slaughtering animals intended for breeding purposes, there was no room for philosophy or reflection or even perhaps – controversially – morality. Indeed, the original set of instructions unable to be located, an Australian website titled Documenting a Democracy posts a transcript of the document that was a manuscript draft. Penned five days before the official instructions, the draft contains several enlightening amendments, shown by a strikethrough in the text:

“And whereas it is Our Royal Intention that Measures should be taken in addition to those which are specified in the Article of these Our Instructions, for obtaining Supplies of Live Stock, and having in consequence of such Intention, caused a Quantity of Arms and other Articles of Merchandise to be provided, and sent out in the Ships under your Convoy, in order to barter with the Natives either on the Territory of New South Wales, or the Islands adjacent in those Seas, who found their ignorance of the value of………for such Articles.”

And again:

You are to endeavour by every possible means to open an Intercourse with the Savages Natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them. And if any of Our Subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary Interruption in the exercise of their several occupations. It is our Will and Pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the Offence [sic].

In this case, a single strikethrough can speak volumes. It’s as if each line were a crack in the façade; that having appeared, the colonial officers can be seen for who they really were and the motive of their actions exposed. Whilst the final document might have had civility at its core, their throwing around of words such as “savages” and “ignorance” is entirely telling. The website provides the following analysis of Captain Phillip’s guiding instructions:

“[They] advised Phillip about managing the convicts, granting and cultivating the land, and exploring the country. The Aborigines’ lives and livelihoods were to be protected and friendly relations with them encouraged, but the Instructions make no mention of protecting or even recognising their lands. It was assumed that Australia was terra nullius, that is, land belonging to no one…”

It is for the above reasons that I find it important to highlight the distinct differences between the British approach to settling Australia and that to New Zealand. In the case of Australia, land was a non-issue. In New Zealand, however, it couldn’t have played a more central role in the drama that unfolded. It’s almost impossible to know whether or not the British colonial officers regretted their actions in Australia a mere fifty years after the fact, but it is encouraging to see not every distant land was automatically assumed to be terra nullius.

*     *     *

all the best intentions.

There’s nothing like word of a war to get people moving. As mentioned before, sending a small body of troops to New Zealand in Busby’s aid had passed through the minds of men like Lord Goderich, though such military support had yet to come to fruition. It wasn’t until 1836 when Busby wrote to the governor of New South Whales, a man named Sir Richard Bourke, and informed him that warfare between two Maori tribes in the Bay of Islands was beginning to put European settlers in danger. At the same time, a certain captain in the Royal Navy, William Hobson, had just been stationed to serve under Bourke. Hobson, who had spent time patrolling the waters of North America, the Mediterranean, and the West and East Indies, perhaps had no idea how this particular assignment would shape the remaining course of his life.

William Hobson.

From the rank of volunteer, second class, to midshipman and master’s mate, Hobson had essentially spent his naval career thus far climbing the “corporate ladder” and had hopes of one day commandeering his own flagship in the Royal Navy. By the time of his promotion to acting lieutenant in April of 1812, he had been at sea for thirteen years without leave. He was once even described by a Commander Sir E. Owen as “an officer who to the most persevering zeal unites discretion and sound judgment.” And so it was that Bourke, receiving word of Māori threats from Busby, sent the newly-stationed Hobson to New Zealand to first and foremost ensure the protection of British settlers, but to also use the opportunity to observe and comment on Māori-Pakeha relations on the whole. Upon his return to New South Wales, Hobson submitted his findings and Bourke got to work.

On the 9th of September, 1837, Bourke wrote to Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in a despatch titled On British Settlement in New Zealand:

“While awaiting the measure which your Lordship has recently announced an intention of resuming for the parliamentary regulation of the intercourse between British subjects and New Zealand, it may be proper to lay before His Majesty’s Government whatever information I am able to procure upon this difficult question

“…I proposed to [Hobson] to make known to me on his return the opinions which his observation whilst there might lead him to form upon the present state of New Zealand, and the means of securing, with the least possible overt interference, the common interests of the Natives and of the British settled amongst them

“…The details of the proposed measure may be varied to suit whatever circumstances may arise; and this without giving any reasonable cause for jealousy on the part of the other States, or exciting alarm in the breasts of those philanthropists who so creditably and powerfully advocate the rights of the aborigines all over the world. It is neither possible nor desirable to put a stop to the growing intercourse between the English colonies in those seas and New Zealand.”

From the tone of his letter, it looks as if Bourke felt the British government had finally reached the point of no return in its involvement with New Zealand. Although those in charge were initially opposed to the idea, just enough citizens had settled in New Zealand and just enough of Britain’s interests were connected to the country’s trading routes that as Bourke writes, to not get involved would now be detrimental. But as can be read, it is amazing to note their reluctance, to note the language of deliberation of this “difficult question.” Like a bulky, misshapen piece of clay or stone in the hand’s of an aging sculptor, just what was one to do with the unwieldy topic of New Zealand? The “growing intercourse,” however undesired, was now unavoidable.

As an addendum for Glenelg, Bourke also enclosed Hobson’s letter presenting the captain’s findings. He begins:

“It affords me great satisfaction to assure your Excellency that the European settlers at the Bay of Islands repose the most entire confidence in the friendly disposition of the Natives, notwithstanding the existence of war between the two tribes settled in their immediate neighbourhood. I am aware that the British Resident [Busby] is not free from apprehension; but from the intercourse I maintained with the Missionaries, and all other classes of British subjects, I am free to assert that he stands alone in the opinion he has formed.

Part of my heart went out to Busby, who was not even able to escape the censure of Hobson. I find it one thing to fail to receive understanding from lofty cabinet officials 12,000 miles away, out of touch with reality, but one would hope for a bit more camaraderie from someone who has seen the conditions of the country with his own eyes. He meant so well, but poor Busby never got a break.

Of the Māori themselves Hobson is perhaps more forgiving:

In reporting to your Excellency my views and observations on the social, condition of the New Zealanders, I cannot repress a feeling of deep regret that so fine and intelligent a race of human beings should, in the present state of general civilization, be found in barbarism; for there is not on earth a people more susceptible of high intellectual attainments, or more capable of becoming a useful and industrious race under a wise Government. At present, notwithstanding their formal declaration of independence, they have not, in fact, any government whatsoever nor could a meeting of the chiefs who profess to be the heads of the United Tribes take place at any time without danger of bloodshed. How, then can it be expected that laws will be framed for the dispensation of justice or the preservation of peace and good order, even if Native judgment were sufficiently matured to enact such laws or to carry them into execution?

I was thoroughly impressed by Hobson’s opinions of the Māori, endeared even, at the motivational tone to it. Like a coach in the locker room during half-time, Hobson seems to say, “You have so much potential, now buck up and show me what you’ve got!”

One can imagine that by late 1837, as Hobson finished his tour of Australasia and was sent home to England, he most likely relegated this time in New Zealand as just another episode in his lengthy naval career. Yet a year later, in December of 1838, the British government finally decided to position an officer in New Zealand who was “invested with the character and powers of British Consul.” When it came time to select such an officer, they hadn’t forgot about Hobson, neither his extensive naval record nor his prior experience in New Zealand. In the eyes of the British and in light of Busby’s lackluster performance, he indeed had what it would take.

Hobson’s appointment to the position of British Consul to New Zealand was formally sanctioned by Constantine Henry Phipps, who is perhaps better known as Lord Normanby or the Marquis of Normanby. In his role as British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Normanby also “approved the annexation of New Zealand to Britain,” as NZ History reports. On the 14th of August, 1839, he sent a letter of instructions to Hobson which are now famously referred to as Lord Normanby’s Brief. The brief begins:

“We have not been insensible to the importance of New Zealand to the interests of Great Britain in Australia, nor unaware of the great natural resources by which that country is distinguished, or that its geographical position must, in seasons, either of peace or war, enable it in the hands of civilised men to exercise a paramount influence in that quarter of the globe. There is probably no part of the Earth in which colonisation could be effected with greater or surer prospect of national advantage.

“On the other hand the Ministers of the Crown have been restricted by still higher motives, from engaging in such an enterprise. They have deferred to the advice of the Committee of the House of Commons in the year 1836 to enquire into the state of the aborigines residing in the vicinity of our colonial settlements, and have concurred with that Committee, in thinking that the increase in national wealth and power, promised by the acquisition of New Zealand, would be most inadequate compensation for the injury which must be inflicted on this kingdom itself by embarking on a measure essentially unjust, and but too certainly fraught with calamity to a numerous and inoffensive people whose title to the soil and to the sovereignty to New Zealand is indisputable and has been solemnly recognised by the British Government.”

Furthermore, the brief continues:

“The Queen, in common with Her Majesty’s predecessor, disclaims for herself and Her subjects every pretension to seize on the Islands of New Zealand, or to govern them as a part of the Dominions of Great Britain unless the free intelligent consent of the natives, expressed according to their established usages, shall first be obtained.”

Lord Normanby.

At some points, I find myself almost wanting to shout at the British, “Enough already!” This continued emphasis on obtaining the proper consent from the natives seems almost a broken record, but it does give proof to the fact that British officials seem intent on making sure they do things the “right way” this time around.

Bear in mind, though, that Hobson was back in England as he received Normanby’s brief and was thus able to send a reply the very same day asking for Normanby to elucidate several points. I find it easy to get caught up in the language of these primary sources, to focus on the what’s and when’s and why’s and neglect the who. For indeed, it’s quite a moving picture to think of Hobson, at the age of 44, having just returned home with his wife, son and four daughters, a family perhaps just beginning to regain some sense of normalcy and Hobson still cherishing dreams of his own flagship, when word arrives that he has been selected for a task none other than the founding of a new country. I find it poignant to imagine the moment when the letter arrives at 34 Great George Street – does Hobson take a seat by the fire? Does Eliza bring him a cup of tea? Does Little Johnny ask to read over his father’s shoulder? A fitting modern description of such a notice could very well be that a “bombshell” was dropped on the family that unsuspecting summer day. They had no sooner returned from their far-flung Pacific post than to find out they’d be heading back again. Hobson would never return to England.

What emotions passed through Hobson as he read of his new mission? Was there any sense of pride at being selected for such an assignment, or merely frustration? The 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand records that he was “not anxious to commit himself,” but one wonders how he expressed this reluctance to his superiors. In what state of mind did he bear his resignation to the task at hand? In his reply to Normanby on August 14th, Hobson writes that, “To facilitate a reference to this document, I have numbered the paragraphs in pencil from 1 to 20, commencing at the close of the preamble.” Did worry lines form on his forehead as he held his pencil and marked the document that prescribed the final course of his life? The Hobson family set sail from England on the 25th of August, 1839, and didn’t arrive in New South Wales until January the 10th, 1840. What conversations took place in those long five months? What hopes and fears found their voice on the decks of the HMS Druid? Perhaps this is just the closet novelist in me talking, but I find the circumstances surrounding Hobson’s selection all too inviting of this kind of speculation.

All we do know is that Hobson arrived in New Zealand on the 29th of January and within eight days had written the Treaty (with the help of missionaries and our dear Busby, I am pleased to report) and begun the process of obtaining Māori signatures. However, a month later, on the 1st of March, Hobson suffered a paralytic stroke and despite a temporary improvement of health, died two years later, to be survived by his wife by 34 years. It’s the makings of a movie, I’m telling you.

In light of the treaty, however – which, Hollywood aside, is the more pressing of issues – Hobson himself describes how his first days went as Lieutenant-Governor in a letter to the latest Governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps. Dated the 5th of February, the letter is titled Narrative of Proceedings on Arrival in New Zealand and writes of Hobson’s first meeting with the natives:

“[A] vast number of chiefs, with a multitude of followers, crowded in from every quarter, and at 12 this day they assembled under spacious tents, decorated with flags, which had been previously erected at Waitangi by the direction of Captain Nias, of this ship…[I] took my seat on a raised platform, surrounded by the gentlemen in the same order as they had accompanied me. In the centre of the area within the tents, the chiefs seated themselves upon the ground, leaving a space round them for the Europeans. The whole spectacle produced a most imposing effect.”

Like the pencil marks on Normanby’s brief, I find Hobson’s attention to detail, to mention such facts as that the Māori were seated, rather than standing, and that flags were waving, to be wholly evocative of the scene. He continues into the reading and discussing of the Treaty and into the range of reactions from the chiefs, a varied mix of support and opposition – as can be expected from any political arena, to be sure. And again, however difficult it is to ascertain whether the dialogue recorded were verbatim or not, I found the words of a rangatira named Nene particularly moving:

“[Nene] first addressed himself to his own countrymen, desiring them to reflect on their own condition—to recollect how much the character of New Zealanders had been exalted by their intercourse with Europeans, and how impossible it was for them to govern themselves without frequent wars and bloodshed; and he concluded his harangue by strenuously advising them to receive us, and to place confidence in our promises. He then turned to me and said, ‘You must be our father. You must not allow us to become slaves; you must preserve our customs, and never permit our lands to be wrested from us.’”

Although Hobson adjourned the meeting until the 7th, he awoke the next day to find the chiefs impatient – ready to get the show on the road, if you will. And so it was that two versions of the Treaty were written, one in English and the other in Māori, and were subsequently signed. The English text reads:

“HER MAJESTY VICTORIA Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland regarding with Her Royal Favour the Native Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and anxious to protect their just Rights and Property and to secure to them the enjoyment of Peace and Good Order has deemed it necessary in consequence of the great number of Her Majesty’s Subjects who have already settled in New Zealand and the rapid extension of Emigration both from Europe and Australia which is still in progress to constitute and appoint a functionary properly authorised to treat with the Aborigines of New Zealand for the recognition of Her Majesty’s Sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those islands – Her Majesty therefore being desirous to establish a settled form of Civil Government with a view to avert the evil consequences which must result from the absence of the necessary Laws and Institutions alike to the native population and to Her subjects has been graciously pleased to empower and to authorise me William Hobson a Captain in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy Consul and Lieutenant-Governor of such parts of New Zealand as may be or hereafter shall be ceded to her Majesty to invite the confederated and independent Chiefs of New Zealand to concur in the following Articles and Conditions.”

Article the First:

“The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.”

Article the Second:

“Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.”

Article the Third:

In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

(signed) William Hobson, Lieutenant-Governor.

Now therefore We the Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand being assembled in Congress at Victoria in Waitangi and We the Separate and Independent Chiefs of New Zealand claiming authority over the Tribes and Territories which are specified after our respective names, having been made fully to understand the Provisions of the foregoing Treaty, accept and enter into the same in the full spirit and meaning thereof in witness of which we have attached our signatures or marks at the places and the dates respectively specified. Done at Waitangi this Sixth day of February in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty.”

The English text of the Treaty, in Busby's handwriting.

Second page of the English text.

Or, as the chiefs might’ve read it:

KO WIKITORIA te Kuini o Ingarani i tana mahara atawai ki nga Rangatira me nga Hapu o Nu Tirani i tana hiahia hoki kia tohungia ki a ratou o ratou rangatiratanga me to ratou wenua, a kia mau tonu hoki te Rongo ki a ratou me te Atanoho hoki kua wakaaro ia he mea tika kia tukua mai tetahi Rangatira – hei kai wakarite ki nga Tangata maori o Nu Tirani – kia wakaaetia e nga Rangatira Maori te Kawanatanga o te Kuini ki nga wahikatoa o te wenua nei me nga motu – na te mea hoki he tokomaha ke nga tangata o tona Iwi Kua noho ki tenei wenua, a e haere mai nei.

Na ko te Kuini e hiahia ana kia wakaritea te Kawanatanga kia kaua ai nga kino e puta mai ki te tangata Maori ki te Pakeha e noho ture kore ana.

Na kua pai te Kuini kia tukua a hau a Wiremu Hopihona he Kapitana i te Roiara Nawi hei Kawana mo nga wahi katoa o Nu Tirani e tukua aianei amua atu ki te Kuini, e mea atu ana ia ki nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga o nga hapu o Nu Tirani me era Rangatira atu enei ture ka korerotia nei.

Ko te tuatahi:

Ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa hoki ki hai i uru ki taua wakaminenga ka tuku rawa atu ki te Kuini o Ingarani ake tonu atu – te Kawanatanga katoa o o ratou wenua.

Ko te tuarua:

Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga Rangitira ki nga hapu – ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa. Otiia ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa atu ka tuku ki te Kuini te hokonga o era wahi wenua e pai ai te tangata nona te Wenua – ki te ritenga o te utu e wakaritea ai e ratou ko te kai hoko e meatia nei e te Kuini hei kai hoko mona.

Ko te tuatoru:

Hei wakaritenga mai hoki tenei mo te wakaaetanga ki te Kawanatanga o te Kuini – Ka tiakina e te Kuini o Ingarani nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani ka tukua ki a ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani.

(signed) William Hobson, Consul and Lieutenant-Governor.

Na ko matou ko nga Rangatira o te Wakaminenga o nga hapu o Nu Tirani ka huihui nei ki Waitangi ko matou hoki ko nga Rangatira o Nu Tirani ka kite nei i te ritenga o enei kupu, ka tangohia ka wakaaetia katoatia e matou, koia ka tohungia ai o matou ingoa o matou tohu.

Ka meatia tenei ki Waitangi i te ono o nga ra o Pepueri i te tau kotahi mano, e waru rau e wa te kau o to tatou Ariki.

It was the copy of the above text that the Māori rangatira signed, a total number of chiefs reaching an estimated 240. Signatures were obtained all over New Zealand in the presence of a variety of witnesses on about eight different dates, spanning from February until August of 1840, and years of typical British restraint and reluctance to intervene finally came to a close.

Bay of Islands, 1840.

Treaty signed or not, however, two things remain to be clarified. The first is that the Treaty of Waitangi pertained solely to the North Island of New Zealand. This was an issue very much made clear in the correspondence between Normanby and Hobson in August of 1839. Hobson wrote to Normanby saying, “The declaration of the independence of New Zealand was signed by the united chiefs of the Northern Island only (in fact, only of the northern part of that Island), and it was to them alone that his late Majesty’s letter was addressed on the presentation of their flag; and neither of these instruments had any application whatsoever to the Southern Islands,” to which the Secretary of State replied, “The remarks which I have made respecting the independence of the people of New Zealand relate, as you correctly suppose, to the tribes inhabiting the Northern Island only.” The consequence of such a difference led to the need to distinguish between how the British might claim each island.

Accordingly, the second thing to note is how the means by which Britain gained possession of each island differed. As Hobson noted, there is “a distinction…between the Northern and Southern Islands of New Zealand…[in that] their relations with this country, and their respective advancement towards civilization, are essentially different.” Little contact had been made with the few chiefs that did reside on the South Island, and Hobson himself refers to them as “the wild savages in the Southern Islands,” instead encouraging Normanby that Britain might instead be entitled to “the rights that are usually assumed by first discoverers.” So while the North Island was claimed by treaty, the South was actually claimed by right of discovery, although several of its chiefs did eventually sign the Treaty of Waitangi.

In the end, neither island was claimed by right of conquest or by a concept as controversial as terra nullius. Instead, what should be remarked upon is the very determination of British officials to obtain the proper consent before embarking on any kind of partnership or agreement with the Māori. In this way, the British government certainly differed from the New Zealand Company in their approach to settlement and it is clear that both parties were operating under entirely different ideologies. In a letter referenced earlier from Joseph Somes to Lord Palmerston in 1839, Somes writes:

“In the year 1769, Captain Cook, acting under a commission from the Crown of England, took possession of the Islands of New Zealand in the name of His Majesty George the Third. This act was performed in the most formal manner, and was published to the world. We are not aware that it was ever questioned by any foreign Power. It constituted sovereignty by possession. The law of nations, we believe, recognizes no other mode of assuming dominion in a country of which the inhabitants are so barbarous as to be ignorant of the meaning of the word sovereignty, and therefore incapable of ceding sovereign rights. This was the case with the New Zealanders, from whom it would have been impossible for Captain Cook to have obtained, except in mockery of the truth, a British sovereignty by cession. Sovereignty by possession is that which the British Crown maintains in a large portion of its foreign dependencies.”

I find Somes’ language unexpectedly jarring in that it is such a noticeable departure from the typically good-natured and, shall I say, politically correct jargon of official British correspondence. Words such as “barbarous,” “ignorant” and “mockery” would hardly seem out of place in documents relating to the settling of Australia, but after letter after letter and dispatch after dispatch calling for the natives’ complete understanding and even reference to the Māori as “New Zealanders,” Somes seems to have missed the mark. While members of the New Zealand Company felt the country had already been claimed by right of conquest years earlier, it is clear the British government felt differently. Although Normanby wrote to Hobson, “I agree with you that the ceremonial of making such engagements with [South Island chiefs] would be a mere illusion and pretence which ought to be avoided,” this sentiment was not applied to the North Island. In the northern half of the country, Māori sovereignty was wholly respected and the natives themselves were deemed intelligent enough to enter into negotiations with.

*     *     *

land of (missed) opportunity.

And so it was that after the signing of the treaty, more settlers began to arrive and the official work of a new colony began. Accordingly, as Palmer writes, the humanitarian efforts of the 1840s gave way to the colonization efforts of the 1850s. This, as I say, is where it gets messy. The British were perhaps right to be so wary about entering into New Zealand affairs in an official capacity, for as soon as they were passed the ball, they swiftly dropped it.

The purpose of Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi was to establish the Crown’s right to preemption. Defined as “the right of purchasing before others,” preemption basically gave the new British colonial government in New Zealand the sole right to buying land off the Māori. On one hand, this was a needed step in order to bring an end to shady and ill-defined transactions between the Māori and settlers, however it also resulted in land being sold cheaply, often at a price below market value.

At the time of New Zealand’s colonization, the British Empire was undercapitalized, with little funds to send its way. Thus strapped for cash, colonial officers began the process of purchasing Māori land and then selling it for several times the price to settlers. The profit that resulted from such transactions was used to fund the settlement process, whether bringing over new settlers or helping to fund the new colony. A precariously precocious concept, if you ask me, as it meant the Māori were soon left with little but their grievances. As the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand writes, “Using this method the government acquired virtually the whole South Island and substantial areas in the North Island, especially close to Auckland and Wellington. The land was then transferred to the various provincial governments, for sale and grant to private settlers.”

In 1840, Māori held the title to 66,400,000 acres of land. To put it another way, the total amount of land mass making up the country of New Zealand. But as the colonial administration got rolling and began to purchase land, by 1852 that amount had been halved and by 1860 it was 21,400,000. The number wouldn’t be growing anytime soon.

The passing of the Native Lands Act in 1865 effectively ended the Crown’s right of pre-emption and established the Native Land Court as a means of clarifying land ownership. However, by this time, the New Zealand colonial government had done enough wrong to ensure the future would bring a need for accountability, a call for reparations and a making of amends with the Māori. Land was too important to them for their rights to go unclaimed. The future would be a time to correct the negative outcome of the situation…no matter how good the intentions might’ve been at the beginning.

*     *     *

Whatu ngarongaro te tangata 

Toitu te whenua

People perish but the land is permanent.

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“sevens heaven:” when the city comes out to play.

“With over 140,000 players, in men’s and women’s rugby throughout the country, rugby is New Zealand’s leading spectator sport and ranks as one of our leading participant sports. Each year, more written words are generated on the subject of rugby than on any other single sport. It is probably the most generally discussed subject in the country and the number one media sports topic. Provincial and national representative teams are the subjects of intense public interest and support. Leading players are popular heroes. Rugby even has its own national museum, where its artifacts and historical archives are preserved and displayed. Rugby enjoys huge status in the national psyche.” – Alan Turley, Rugby: The Pioneer Years

Photo courtesy of Liz Proctor, reporter for NewsWire.

In all its harborside glory, Wellington can often come across as a calm, undisturbed sort of place, the country’s center of politics and culture, to be sure, but without the usual accouterments of a big city – no seedy, steaming underground, no crowds to battle on litter-lined sidewalks, and no major thoroughfares across which to walk by foot would be to place one’s life in danger. It is, shall we say, tame. Visitors from such bustling metropolitan centers as Auckland often remark, “Is it always this quiet? Where are the crowds?”

That was the case, however, until the weekend of the Rugby International Sevens tournament. As if an ancient oracle had been decreed, as if a town crier had raised his fluted trumpet to the skies, the citizens of Wellington heard his cry and answered. Over 100,000 were reputed to be descending upon the city over the course of the weekend, with Westpac Stadium alone holding some 34,500 souls. Like winning the lottery or reeling in your line on a deep-sea fishing trip, I knew it would be big. The only question that remained was how big.

As I walked through town Thursday afternoon, I was surprised to find Willis Street in such a hubbub of commotion. Both sides of the street were packed and trucks plastered with sponsors’ logos pulled trailers down the center of the road. It took me two seconds of seeing a white sign on a truck that read Papau New Guinea and a truckbed-full of stocky men with large shoulders to realize I’d made it just in time for the Sevens parade. I suddenly remembered reading about it on the tournament website, yet lamenting at the time that I’d be stuck at work in the restaurant. And now here I was, under the blessed sunshine, joining the crowds to cheer on the teams. How cool is life sometimes? My only regret was leaving my camera at home…but how was I to know?

The parade was all smiles, and mine rivaled the size of the Fijians shouting “Bula!” tossing lollies to the crowds. I watched as Samoa, Scotland, and South Africa passed by. Samoa, dancing under the sun to what I feared was stereotypical tropical music but light-hearted nonetheless. Scotland, the truck preceded by kilt-wearing bag pipe players, and the players standing much more reserved than their Pacific predecessors. South Africa, several men with hand drums and colorful shirts and conga beats. (The South Africans were, incidentally, the most attractive men I had ever laid eyes on and were wearing rugby shirts to boot.)

And as those three teams paraded alphabetically before me, I thought again, how cool is the world we live in? In all the talk of globalization and multiculturalism and border-crossing, I find comfort in every so often thinking of countries as specific entities again, of the fact that no matter how similar some may be to each other, there are over 200 countries with their own cultures, languages, and ways of doing life. And even if bagpipes and bongos are countrified clichés, don’t they say all stereotypes come from somewhere? Of course, I was informed later that half of Samoa’s team members are from New Zealand, which sort of cancels out my nationalistic nostalgia, but perhaps it’s still worth a thought.

While a faint feeling of patriotism rose in me at the sight of the US flag, the team waved nondescriptly from their truckbed, wearing tacky blue and white Hawaiian shirts. Oh, America. New Zealand’s team was last and I found myself cheering just as loudly as the Kiwis next to me, motioning to one of the members to throw me a string of beads he wore around his neck. It’s just that home team appeal, I suppose. I also wasn’t exactly trusting of the American team. What were they up to, anyway? We’d stopped using pigskin for rugby balls and turned to gridiron football a hundred years ago, yet here they were ready to take on the best the rugbeian world had to offer. I was critical, but pleased anyways when they won the Shield final two days later.

The referees were also represented in the parade. They rode in golf carts and sported polos of the colors of the tournament, navy blue and orange, and a man with a microphone yelled out the countries from which the refs had come. There was also a float for “Fans,” featuring a bloated paper-mâché Air New Zealand airplane with stewardesses walking the street who looked like they were straight from the Sixties.

In all, there were sixteen countries represented in Wellington that weekend. The British contingent consisted of England, Wales and Scotland. Canada and the US stood strong for North America, while France stood alone for Europe and Argentina somehow found its way from South America to the Pacific. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa represented what I myself refer to the Big Three in international rugby and the rest of the tournament was filled in by an impressive turnout from the Pacific Islands: Samoa, Fiji, Nuie, Samoa, Papau New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.

*     *     *

I woke up Friday morning of the tournament with one thought on my mind: let the games begin. It’s one thing when you spend weeks mulling over a decision and ultimately choose to forego work or financial security for a certain opportunity. It’s another thing when said opportunity presents itself and you step out the front door with both excitement and a little nervous curiosity – will, or will it not, be worth it?

And I indeed had my doubts that morning as I checked in at Westpac Stadium. I gave the woman my name, she flipped through sheets and sheets of temps, and finally grunted, “Corporate boxes…spare.” I found myself saying desperately, “I think there must be some mistake,” as if I’d been handed an exam with failing marks or told to try again next year. Once inside the stadium, sporting the ever-attractive uniform of button-down shirt and apron we temps are often delegated to, I approached Vinny, a man I was told was the manager. “Listen, Vinny, I quit another job for this role. I will be working today.” I actually felt a little manipulative, a little vindictive, but also extremely helpless as I looked around the room filled with scores of temps. Finally, two representatives from my temp agency walked in the door and I sighed with relief like you might when your lawyers arrive on the scene of a police station interrogation.

In the end, there was no need to stress. “No dramas,” as the Aussies might say. I was sent upstairs to Box 24 to wait with the rest of the corporate box temps until we were briefed for the day. A woman named Victoria, the stadium’s hospitality manager, eventually emerged from the room and within five seconds, I could tell she meant business. “This is our biggest event of the year and I won’t have you screwing it up,” was essentially what she said. “It’s a long, exhausting day and if your feet hurt, I don’t want to hear about it. Everyone’s feet hurt. You get one half hour break and that starts the second you leave your box’s door. If you take any longer, it will be deducted from your pay.” Right.

She then began the process of checking us in for the 23rd time of the day. First it was security, then it was our uniforms and bags, finally we were getting our assignments for the day. When it came to me, I was told to take a seat and wait… a response I always love to hear. A man named James whom I later learned was Victoria’s sidekick leaned over and said, “Don’t worry, you’ve got the best job.” Which, as grateful as I was for the reassurance, is a statement you never can fully trust – what if they’re just saying that to make you feel better? “Don’t worry, Johnny, the kids will be jealous of your new haircut…”

After the last temp had been checked in and sent off to their appropriate assignment, only a few others and myself remained. I was then told I’d be a “floater,” and was placed with a certain supervisor, Doug, in boxes 1-10. When I at last tracked Doug down, a middle-aged man in a tie who turned out to be Victoria’s father, he was talking to another girl in Box 8. He stared hard at my nametag and said tentatively, “Candy…?” I placed two fingers on the tag in attempt to emphasize the name it read. “Candace,” I said firmly. He and the other temp, Melissa, had been discussing how to deal with the patrons of this particular box and who should cover for her on her break. Apparently – as one could easily tell from the Jagermeister dispensing machine that sat on the counter – this group tended to get a little out of control. “We need someone who can hold their own,” Melissa said, looking at Doug as if I wasn’t in the room. But I had come to understand that my chief role as floater was to do just that – fill in for other hosts on their breaks – and thus offered to do so. “Have you done this before?” she asked, her tone a little too accusatory for my taste. I told her no, and she said she wouldn’t bother with a break. So be it.

And so it wasn’t the best start to the day. With my supervisor apparently doubting my abilities, giving me nicknames I hate, and dobbing off useless tasks to me, I felt helpless, yet again. One of the things that’s perhaps most frustrating about a temp job is not knowing your place. There’s something about walking into a job you’ve been at for months and knowing right where you set your bag, right where to get a cup of coffee, right where to get your day started. There’s something about expectations. With temp work, though, it’s all up in the air. I was told by Doug to “just follow me around,” and as the distance between our section of boxes was quite a ways from the kitchen, I was sent on little missions to retrieve such crucial items as, say, a missing carving knife for Box 2 or three extra dinner plates for Box 7. Very Important Matters, of course.

But when I wasn’t sprinting down the hall – apparently the entire ring around the stadium measures some 1.2 kilometers, so please don’t think I’m exaggerating here – I was doing just as Doug requested, staying a foot behind him like a little puppy dog desperate for his master’s approval. It wasn’t like I did anything, of course, as I had no idea what anyone was talking about, but I reached back into my months as a personal assistant in London and did what I often did best then – I listened. My memory is a freak of nature and the details I can keep track of scare me sometimes. So as Doug learned of mini-crisis after mini-crisis, I kept track of which boxes were having lunch service, which ones were having ham carveries, which ones needed the fridge cleaned. Then – and this is how I earned his respect – I was his memory. He’d go to do something, obviously having forgotten what it was he needed to do, and I’d step in – “Carving station in Box 4.” “Oh, right,” he’d say and keep walking.

I did this several times within our first hour together until at one moment, he finally stopped in his tracks, turned around and stared me in the eye: “Are you a student?” “No.” His gaze intensified. “Then what do you do?” I laughed to myself and said, “Oh, anything and everything, really.” What I should’ve said was part-time CIA agent, part-time investigative journalist, of course, but there was no need to scare the guy, now was there? But at that point, I was Candy no more. I was Candace, his trusted second-at-command, his go-to girl, his right-hand (wo)man. I even – and this is where it gets good – got to hold his clipboard. “You love that thing, don’t you?” he asked. You have no idea, I wanted to say.

Doug and I turned out to be quite the team. He liked having an attentive young woman at his side, often bragging about me to the boxes – “Alright, gentlemen, who would rather have in here while Stacey goes on her break…me or her? [Pause] Ha, ha, yeah, that’s what I thought” – and I liked feeling one step higher on the delegation ladder. He’d send me on Very Important Missions – “Now I need you to go to every box and make sure they all have the correct number of plates” – and I’d wag off and complete them. He even let everyone go that night and kept me on two hours longer to help him restock all the fridges. When I checked back in Saturday morning, I was told to wait again, as Victoria thought she might need to use me elsewhere. In the end, though, she sent me back to Doug and when I walked into the room where he was briefing the hosts for the day, he looked up and said, “What are you doing here?” “I’m with you!” I said in that breathless sort of way every man wants to hear. “Boy am I glad you’re here,” he told me once the meeting was over. And so we were back in action.

So James was right at all. I did have the better job. While the box hosts were stressing over drink stocktakes and meal arrangements and keeping their corporate members at an acceptable level of intoxication, I was free to float as I pleased. Doug told me if I knew anyone in other boxes, I was welcome to wander off and say hi to them. Rather than make me out to be the loser that I am and say, “Oh, I don’t think there’ll be any chance of that,” I thanked him for the freedom and said I would. What I was more interested in, however, was the scene below the corporate boxes – the stands.

For while the boxes hosted the country’s “elite,” the real fun of the stadium was four floors down on the general concourse where the other 30,000 lesser privileged were flooding in, in full-attire. I’ve yet to mention it at this point, but the rugby is only half of the allure of the Sevens. The other half is, well, to party. To dress up, booze up, and generally have a fantastic time with your friends. But by dress up, I don’t mean donning suits and ties and pearls, I mean fancy dress…Halloween-style.

As I followed the crowd, watching from either above or on the TVs in the boxes, I kept track of the crazy costumes and wacky wigs. There was, of course, your usual gamut of disguises – cowboys and Indians,  policemen, construction workers, and anything jungle-themed involving animal prints. There were the mullets so familiar from university, pirates, maids, and very manly Marilyn Monroe’s. Others weren’t quite so overdone – Yoda, Alice in Wonderland, Wonder Woman, and the Mario Brothers, fake black mustaches and all, to name a few. But beyond the Borats and the ballerinas, what I appreciated was the creativity that went into some of the costumes, the width and breadth of the imagination at work here. There was a man wearing a banana suit who came with his friends, a corn cob and a pea pod, and there were M&Ms, Chupa Chupa lollipops and a whole slew of Oompa Loompas, complete with orange skin and neon green hair.

But what I most loved about the carnivalesque atmosphere of the Sevens was the fact that you didn’t go alone. You went with friends and it was very important that your costume was part of an overall coordinated group effort. It seemed almost a capital offense to wear something that didn’t tie in with that worn by at least five other people. This went one of two ways. The first was complete uniformity – there is nothing funnier than seeing eight Buzz Lightyears or Captain Planets walk by or a whole group of Crayola Crayons with pointed colored hats on and their dresses printed like the label on a crayon. Nothing will catch your eye more than nine Sonic the Hedgehogs or twelve Thomas the Tank Engines. But the group dynamic of the tournament also meant that you could take creativity to the next level and design some pretty brilliant themes.

There was the Tetris theme, in which each member wore a different colored cardboard creation in the shape of different Tetris blocks. Another group kept with the arcade theme and went as the four ghosts of Pac-Man – Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. Pac-Man himself was nowhere to be seen, I was disappointed to find. Perhaps the most original was a group who had managed to find the costumes to go as a sandwich – they wore massive plastic creations that had a hole for their head and I imagine were quite bulky to wear. Two were slices of bread, others were a tomato, lettuce, bacon and egg. The most clever, however, were undoubtedly two men in one of the boxes in my section. While everyone else in their box wore leis and shirts printed with tropical flowers, they had on khaki jump suits to which the Japanese flag had been pinned and they wore white bands tied around their head, with Japanese characters written on either side of a red sun. “Kamikaze pilots?” I asked. “Yeah, the theme’s Hawaii.” Touché, touché. I didn’t tell them I was American, but I tipped my hat to them nonetheless.

Photo courtesy of Liz Proctor, reporter for NewsWire.

One group wore black-and-neon checkered shirts that read “Kings of Neon,” with big crowns that had been made from orange balloons. Six Dorothy’s, stuck in Oz, no doubt, each carried a basket with a different breed of a stuffed animal dog in it. Palestinians wore headscarves and long white robes, not the best choice for the heat, I imagined, but at least they were authentic. There were brides and burglars, NASA astronauts and Buzzy Bees. There were women wearing aprons that read “The Home Wreckers,” carrying tools in their apron pockets. There were nuns and priests, who wore necklaces from which hung large gold crosses. There was even an air of nationalist pride, with many of the groups representing the Pacific Islands foregoing more innovative designs for simply wrapping their national flag around their shoulders. Or, like a group of Scots, had their faces painted blue with a white cross like the Scottish flag.

The only issue in this lesson on group Halloween was not being able to take the party-goers seriously. I’ve mentioned the reputation of drinking associated with this event, and as I moved throughout the day in my employment-enforced sobriety, I couldn’t help but laugh at the situations everyone else got themselves into. As American frat parties often give evidence to, dressing up and debauchery don’t always mix well. As I walked home Friday night, I looked through the windows of the train station and saw two girls wearing firemen hats and cardboard boxes that’d been decorated to resemble fire engines. They were sitting on a platform, looking rather dejected and lost, and the boxes-turned-engines looked like an insanely comical accessory, the straps that held them on having slipped off their shoulders. All I could do was laugh out loud, as I imagined the seven or eight other boxy firewomen they belonged with. “I want to feel sorry for you,” I thought, “But I simply can’t. You’re wearing a box that’s decorated like a fire truck.”

And so from the lofty heights of the corporate box, I took in the buzz that was the Wellington Sevens. I took in the crowds, a sea of sombreros and fluorescents and oddly-shaped outfits. There’s nothing quite like a roaring crowd, and I remembered walking to football games in university and how, if I was running late, the sound of the stadium erupting would hasten my steps. Something had happened, and I had missed it. Hence my immense satisfaction of not missing this, of not being stuck inside the four walls of a restaurant all weekend. I was here, if not quite in the thick of it, at least inside the stadium. A friend once told me, “The Sevens are a party, and when you’re bored you watch the rugby.” After the weekend was over, I passed shops selling t-shirts that read, “Wellington Sevens: There was rugby?” And it’s true, how easy it was to be distracted by the fancy dress and forget the game that brought everyone together in the first place.

Photo courtesy of Liz Proctor, reporter for NewsWire.

The longer I live abroad, the harder it is to separate what I’ve learned since traveling from the perceptions I held before. It’s something I think about often in regards to New Zealand, and the same goes for rugby. I’m sure I would’ve had to be aware of the sport, if only because a clothing store I worked for in high school sold striped “rugby” polo shirts, but I honestly can’t remember knowing any other details. I saw my first official rugby game in London, but it wasn’t until moving to New Zealand that I became aware of rugby culture as a whole. The All-Blacks, the country’s national rugby team, are somewhat of a national icon and the country follows them with the fervor of a religious fanatic. Again, with the Sevens tournament, my grasping the true importance of it was something that took time.

Thus I turned to history, as I so often do, in looking for understanding. In Rugby: The Pioneer Years, Alan Turley explains that seven-a-side rugby was first played in Scotland in 1883, invented by a butcher named Ned Haig as a fundraiser for the local rugby team. New Zealand was next, most likely picking up on the game from Scottish settlers who came to Dunedin. Wikipedia explains the game like this:

“Sevens is a stripped-down version of rugby union with seven players each side on a normal-sized field, rather than the normal fifteen. Games are much shorter, lasting only seven or ten minutes each half, and tend to be very fast-paced, open, affairs. Sevens is traditionally played in a two-day tournament format, with the Hong Kong Sevens (an anomaly as a three-day event) being the most famous. The game is quicker and higher-scoring than 15-a-side rugby and the rules are far simpler, which explains part of its appeal. It also gives players the space for superb feats of individual skill.”

This last fact was something even I picked up on, following the game as I could from my post in the corporate boxes. I watched with amazement at players breaking away, covering long distances across the field and rolling past the goal line to score a try (the equivalent to a North American touchdown). I was equally amazed by the crowds, at the thousands upon thousands of people who had done Lord-knows-what to secure their ticket. It was hard to believe the tournaments had come so far in only ten years, the first organized series of world sevens tournaments not taking place until the 1999-2000 season. As Wikipedia reports again, “The series was first formed to develop an elite-level competition series between rugby nations and develop the Sevens game into a viable commercial product for the [International Rugby Board].”

It had developed, all right. In Rugby: A Way of Life, an Illustrated History of Rugby, Nigel Starmer-Smith writes of the Hong Kong leg of the series:

This Seven-a-Side international tournament is without a doubt the most spectacular, exotic, best organized Rugby competition of its kind in the world, and it has consistently produced the highest standard of Sevens Rugby seen anywhere…The week of the Hong Kong tournament allows 24 Rugby-playing nations to intermingle for several days, and the huge cross-fertilisation of ideas can only be beneficial in the long term for the emerging nations. After the first day of the play when the top eight seeded teams meet the smaller fish in a pool system, the second day is divided into three different competitions… The strength of this great tournament is that on the opening day the most famous players in the world share a pitch with unknown opponents from countries where Rugby is a minority sport… While tournaments like the Hong Kong Sevens continue to be played, Rugby administrators can be confident that the game will continue to thrive in over 100 countries worldwide.

As I read Starmer-Smith’s words, I was pleased to hear the same streams of thought that passed through my mind while watching the parade days earlier. This was what the Sevens is all about, isn’t it? That “cross-fertilization” which breeds open minds, that intertwining of talent and varying levels of recognition which places everyone on a level playing field (pun fully intended, I assure you). I looked on Friday night as the Parade of Nations across the field took on an Olympic air, of sorts, a celebration of what makes us different and yet, what brings us together.

The tournaments now number eight a year, taking place in such locations as Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand, the US, Australia, Hong Kong, London and Edinburgh, Scotland. In fact, on October 9, 2009, at the 121st International Olympic Committee Session in Copenhagen, the IOC voted to recognize rugby sevens as an Olympic sport, a sport which will accordingly appear for the first time in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It was quite a moment for sevens fans across the world.

*     *     *

When the tournament ended Saturday night, the crowds didn’t disperse. They simply changed venues, going forth from the stadium into the streets, packing out bars that are normally dead by eleven. It dawned on me that perhaps hospitality managers in Wellington cling to the Sevens weekend as retailers in the States do to the day after Thanksgiving – after the lull of January, the weekend gives restaurants and bars a chance to get back on level financial ground and earn some serious cash. I passed bar after bar on the waterfront that were quite literally overflowing, ropes unable to hold back the masses. The city had come alive.

And as I walked along the water, I came across a Cookie Monster making out with a girl wearing a giant chocolate chip cookie suit. I laughed at first, of course, but seeing this perfect union of Cookie Monster and cookie, I thought of how well Wellington and the Sevens tournament took to each other. Like a hand in a glove or wind in the sail of a yacht, they just go together. There’s talk of moving the tournament to a different host city in the country, Auckland being the most obvious other choice, no doubt, but for now, I couldn’t imagine it anywhere else.

Even if I had been stuck in a corporate box all weekend, I for one was just glad to be a fly on the wall. All I needed were some wings.

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where trust takes over.

In the early days of the new year, the sixth of February loomed like a golden opportunity I didn’t quite know what to do with. It is, above all, Waitangi Day – as New Zealand’s quasi-equivalent of Fourth of July, it more or less celebrates the signing of a treaty which made the country official in British terms. It’s not exactly another Independence Day, yet it’s important all the same and my first instinct was to head up north to the actual Waitangi Treaty Grounds to be where it all began so many years ago. Yet when I looked into flights and rental cars and all that jazz, I decided it wouldn’t be entirely financially feasible – rather, the two or three days I’d actually have to spend there wouldn’t be worth the expense.

There was another option. As if the holiday isn’t enough, the International Rugby Sevens are coming to New Zealand on the 5th and 6th of February. As I’ve said before, tickets for the rugby tournament sold out in record time this year, eliminating my chances of going and being a part of the crowd. But just when I was having to resign myself to yet another normal day at the restaurant – all the while wishing I was at the Treaty Grounds or Westpac Stadium – I got a text from a temp agent asking if I wanted to work in a corporate box for the Sevens tournament. My first thought was no, but when I mentioned it to my friend Aimee from work, she said her flatmate said it’s a job temps often line up to fight for. Seriously? I asked. It didn’t take me five minutes to get my phone out and tell the agent I’d changed my mind.

And like I’ve also written, I initially got the okay from my boss at the restaurant, meaning I could essentially have my cake and eat it, too – keep my job, yet have the two days off to witness something incredible. But I knew things were too good to be true – a week later, Marcello came back to me saying that he hadn’t realized what day it was, he needed me at the restaurant, etc. The next few days were filled with deliberations and decisions – talking to my temp agency about whether or not they thought I could get enough work from them in February, trying my best to negotiate with Marcello, sorting through my savings to see if I could very well make it if I left the restaurant yet didn’t get enough temp work.

In the end, I knew what I had to do. In the same spirit in which I left Christchurch for Queenstown, in which I left Queenstown for Wellington, in which I’ve constantly had to evaluate my moves in New Zealand, I knew I had to do it for the experience. I couldn’t see myself going home having turned down the opportunity to not only go to the Sevens, but get paid for it. What was the alternative? An extra five weeks or so at an Italian restaurant? Some story there, Candace.

But when I took the train on my overnight trip to Auckland last week, I thought I had another two weeks of work at the restaurant left. I thought that if I lined up my exit from Vercelli’s to the day before the Sevens, I’d actually only have about three weeks after the rugby gig in which I would need to rely on temp work. So therein lay the source of feeling so gutted after that fateful phone call telling me not to bother coming back. Words like panic, stress, and what-am-I-gonna-do filled my head on the plane back to Wellington on Sunday morning. As I sat in my flat when I should’ve been at work, I scoured TradeMe, the main classifieds website in New Zealand, and my hope grew a little at finding a couple of ads for “fast and furious typers” and temporary data entry positions. One was even for a four-week, Monday-to-Friday assignment in the city – perfect, right?

I sent off my CV on Sunday and had nothing left to do but wait. Monday was a public holiday in Wellington, so I knew I couldn’t expect to hear from anyone until at least Tuesday. And sure enough, Tuesday morning, at 10.34am, an email from a woman informed me that they had chosen someone with a “more qualified” background, with more “specific” work experience. Of course, all I could think was, it’s typing. Just how much experience and qualifications do you seriously need? But that was that, and I kept my chin up, grinning and bearing it…this was, after all, a choice I’d made, even if I had been let go earlier than I expected.

Three hours had barely passed, though, and I was at the library when the temp agency called, asking if I’d be interested in starting work…immediately. “How fast can you be here?” a woman asked. “How does two minutes sound?” I packed up my laptop and sped to the agency and then to a clothing store to pick up the appropriate clothing I’d need for my temp assignments. It was haphazard and a little bit manic, but one bus ride and an hour and a half later, I was at work again, this time at the Wellington airport.

For three days, I’d be helping out at the domestic Kiwi Club, a high-class lounge designed by New Zealand’s national airline, its members mostly businessmen and women who fly throughout the country on a regular basis. With ceiling-to-floor windows that stretch around the entire lounge and overlook the runway, the lounge provides a place for travelers to escape the typical turmoil of airport terminals and work and relax in style before boarding their flight. There’s a special check-in desk, free wireless internet, free copying services, televisions and telephones, newspapers and magazines, and – what I’d be most stoked about – an unlimited buffet of food and drinks, including soft drinks, tea and coffee, beer, wine and spirits – so worth every cent. And it’s posh enough that the Prime Minister himself is often a guest – would I get my chance to bask in the glory of a political-celebrity?

The lounge itself is expansive, with a large number and variety of seating options. It felt almost like a big house in which you could find the spot you felt most comfortable in, circling around the lounge like a dog before settling in just right –  there were couches, booths, rows and rows of wicker chairs with cushions and side tables, armchairs, a big wooden dining table, several café tables with silver bartstools, and long sleek tables with built-in power outlets. If I was a club member there’s no telling how early I’d arrive for a flight. Men would walk around with a beer in their hand and ask a colleague, “Was that our flight that was just delayed?” not sounding the least bit annoyed, and why would they be? It was all business suits and Blackberries and briefcases and reminded me of Vercelli’s in that respect, the corporate crowd milling about with that buzz of officialdom.

But I found it slightly weird going to an airport without a ticket in my hand or someone to meet – just going there…to work. There wasn’t that excitement of a far-off destination or long-awaited reunion about it, but nonetheless, I loved the job. The entire extent of my duties included walking around the lounge with a wet cloth in my hand, wiping tables, clearing away empty glasses and plates onto a trolley, rearranging cushions (to be set on a diagonal angle against the left armrest, like so) and collecting scattered newspapers and magazines to be returned to their appropriate racks. It was an utter dream for anyone with a shred of OCD in them – I got paid for doing what my sister always yells at me for, “Why are you straightening up again?”

And of course, being a hospo diva-extraordinaire and trained server, my instinct was to go the extra mile. All I wanted to do was ask the members if I could get them another coffee or refill their wine glass or if they enjoyed their cheese and crackers – but I didn’t have to. Sometimes I couldn’t help it – I’d ask them a question just to have some human interaction throughout the day. “Have a nice flight,” I’d say, or “Where’re you off to today?” But in reality, I was to be nameless and faceless, so it made me laugh when, as I cleared their plate or picked up a glass, a man would say, “Thank you so much, that’s great service,” or a woman would thank me “for the hospitality.” Service? Really? And to think of how hard I worked at Vercelli’s… and here I was simply puttering about at a leisurely pace.

I’d see other workers carrying stacks of five or six plates to the trolley and I wanted to tell them to slow down, mate! We’re here all day! Might as well spread out our work load, if you know what I’m saying. Because, trust me, there was no possible way that job could ever be stressful (knock on wood, I know). But I cracked up every time another worker would remark “Gonna be busy tonight,” and all I wanted to say was, “So?” We pick up plates, trust me, this isn’t stress. When I finally had a chance to catch up with Aimee at the end of the week, she had tears in her eyes from laughing about my new post. “If I could be a fly on the wall of that lounge…and to think of all your talents going to waste!”

When I first arrived, I was shown around by a short and stocky Maori guy named JT who seemed to function as a manager of sorts for the lounge’s catering company. Judging from his build and demeanor, I wasn’t surprised to hear he spent the last three years in Ireland playing rugby – “It’s weird being back home, nothing’s changed, I don’t like it.” I told him I understood – you’ve been away and when you return, you expect home to have changed like you have.

I then met Calvin, a young, smiling Maori dishboy who’s worked in the kitchen for five months. As I sat reading on one of my breaks, he popped his head in the staff room and said, “Should be a quiet night.” “You think?” I asked. “Oh, what do I know? I just do whatever comes my way.” Don’t we all, Cal, don’t we all. Then there was Bourey, a Cambodian man who couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. But he walked with determination, like a man twice his size, in shiny black leather shoes with a pointed end and silver buckles. “How long have you been here, Bourey?” I asked but he misinterprets, saying, “Since this morning. I’m working ‘til nine tonight.” When I clarify my question, he then informs he’s worked there four – and I repeat, four – years. No wonder he always seemed to find the empty plates before me, like the lucky kid that makes out in the Easter egg hunt every year.

There was a girl my age named Bess who told me she is dating a member of the airport fire department. I asked if they met at the airport, expecting that that would surely not be the case, just a coincidence in occupation after they started dating. “Yeah,” she answered, much to my surprise, “We have an emergency fire exit here in the lounge and the firemen come and check it.” Romantic, eh? Of course I didn’t press for details, but I did try to imagine how it might’ve unfolded. One minute you’re showing where the emergency ladders are, the next minute you’re asking about dinner plans and swapping phone numbers. Everyone who worked there, Bess especially, talked of quitting and getting a new job with better pay. I wasn’t fussed, through, and more than enjoyed my little stint.

My absolute favorite person I met there, though, was an older woman named Catherine. Catherine worked at the exclusive club check-in desk, welcoming customers into the lounge and helping them arrange early flights home, if such was possible. Again, I asked her how long she’d been there. “Forty years,” she answers, with that pride you hear in the voice of a new grandmother or homeowner. “This weekend they’re flying me to Singapore to receive an award.” “I should think they would,” I said, thoroughly impressed – I can’t physically fathom being anywhere that long. “I take it you like your job, then?” “I love it. Best party in town. We’re the best airline in the world.” I asked her if she got to know many of the regulars and she responded – a little too emphatically for my taste – “Oh yes, you get to know all about them.”

My second day on the job, I asked Catherine if she’d had a good day. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Every day’s a great day when you work for Air New Zealand,” in that unnerving, put-on-the-spot way as if I was the teacher and she the student, reciting the memorized answer to an important question. I couldn’t help but laugh as I walked away, thinking, “Man, you just can’t make this stuff up.”

On my dinner break, I was sitting out back with Calvin and Bess and we were discussing the new SkyCouch the airline had just revealed. The SkyCouch takes up the space of three regular economy seats and has been aimed at attracting couples. All I knew of it was from a clip I’d seen on the news showing a couple spooning on it mid-flight. “They’ve come out with all sorts of new things ever since they won that award,” Bess said. When I asked which award, she tells me, “Best airline in the world.” “Oh,” I said, “Is that why Catherine says it all the time?” “Oh God,” Calvin and Bess exhale simultaneously, rolling their eyes. “Every time a new customer walks through the door, she tells them about her trip to Singapore.” But, I told them, as full of you-know-what she may seem, you’d have to believe it to stick around with a company for forty years. That kind of loyalty can’t come from nothing, after all.

At the end of my last night, things had finally quieted down after the last rush. I was doing exactly what you do when there’s nothing else to do – pretending to wipe down tables that had already been cleaned, when JT walks over and says, “See those security guards over there?” I look towards the door and see a few wearing suits. “What are they up to?” “Well, behind that column is the Prime Minister.” He was so incredibly laidback about it – which, I guess, is a very Kiwi way to be in the presence of the Big Kahuna. Key himself was criticized for being too laid-back while entertaining Prince William at a barbecue, swigging his beer from the bottle itself…gasp!

Yet I, in all my American-ness, more than made up for it. I quickly found another “dirty” spot on a table much closer to the PM and moved in for a good look, a gawking smile on my face and all. He wasn’t there for long so I was only close enough to hear him wish Catherine at the front a good night. But what will remain with me is watching him walk out the exit, only to stop in his tracks and reach for a handful of mints we keep in a glass bowl. It was that small moment of humanness that I will remember. Hey, prime ministers are people, too.

And when I wasn’t watching my first episode of the Ellen Show since leaving the States, or reading the news headlines so many times I had them memorized – “US President Barack Obama took surprising measures today, curbing bank bonuses” – or watching Andy Roddick lose to Marin Cilic in the Australian Open, I was watching the planes. There’s nothing better than seeing them take off; from little four-seater prop plans to mammoth grey Air Force ones, I watched them queue on the runway, one after another and noted the distance they need to take off is relative to the size of the plane. I loved watching the infamous Wellington fog roll in, how fast it could take over the airport and erase all sign of sky and sea. It was a job blessedly free of all Vercelli’s-related stress I’d been so used to. No more walking on emotional eggshells or tip-toeing around bosses. It was a job – I showed up, did it, and went home.

It turned out to be the same on Friday, as well, when I was placed at the Wellington office of Delta, a large international accounting firm, for their monthly after-work staff drinks. I arrived to meet two of the other temps, a German girl named Izzy and another American guy named Kevin. I found out later that Izzy and Kevin have been together for two years, having met at Oktoberfest in Munich. What a story. They now travel the world together, and will be heading back to the States in a few months to try and find work there.

The other temp, Sophie, was an English girl from a small town halfway between London and Cambridge. She had a small, thin frame and wiry ginger hair she wore in a small pile on top of her head. She told me it was her first placement with the temp agency and seemed incredibly nervous. When she met Izzy, Sophie alternated between crossing her arms and wringing her hands, unable to decide on the most comfortable position, and when I told her Kevin was from Las Vegas, she asked, “People actually live there?” She told me she studied fine arts – “Not that I can really do anything with that in the real world,” she said with a laugh that seemed again more apprehensive than reassuring.

Sophie had only moved to New Zealand a few weeks ago and was still living in a hostel in Wellington. When I asked her how that was going, she answered, “It’s nice, like a house, but with strangers. You make friends, then they leave, you make friends, then they leave…Have you had much luck finding work?” There was a change in tone in this last question, a sort of urgency about it that I didn’t quite know how to respond to. Do you answer “Yes” in hopes of coming across as encouraging yet potentially mistaken as bragging? Or lie with a “Not really” in hopes of coming across as sympathetic yet not entirely truthful? Either way, I just wanted to reach out and give her a hug – the phase she’s in is my least favorite, that “unsettled” period with no flat, no steady work, no steady money, and the world looks permanently dark, as if it will never open up to you. “I was actually quite intimidated when I showed up,” Sophie said, “I assumed everyone knew each other. It appears I was very mistaken.” I told her I was nearly in the same position as she and not to worry.

The job itself was rather anticlimactic. I’d been perhaps more excited than I should’ve about my return to bartending – for it wasn’t that. It was popping open bottles of beer, pouring glasses of wine, and clearing glasses. I soon discovered the success of a bartending gig depends very much on the bar which you are actually tending. There was no atmosphere and certainly no buzz. There was a spectacular view, to be sure, which a window-lined room on the 16th floor of a building should guarantee – a remarkable 270o view of the Wellington Harbor, Somes Island, and Oriental Bay where the manmade beach teemed with ant-sized people and poetic-looking yachts sailed through the water. But in a situation like that, you were not a bartender – you were a means to an end, another nameless face to get you the next drink. There were no lights, no music, no scene.

The closest I got to feeling like I was back at Wattie’s was bantering with an old man over promising to cut him off after three glasses of wine. Each time he came back he’d ask, “How’m I doing? Not yet, eh?” And I’d play along, laughing, “Oh, no, one more left.” And with the personality of the place and people lacking, I found the job just as boring as a supermarket checkout shift, popping bottle tops just as repetitive as wiping tables. Izzy informed me, having worked at Delta before, that they were all snobs, that the women all compete to see who has the best clothes and that the men all look the same in striped button-downs and dress pants. “The women wear sneakers to work, then change into heels when they get here. It’s how they do it here. But if you’re gonna wear them, wear them all day, you know?” At least I got to take half a bottle of pinot gris home with me – every job has its benefits, right?

But a couple of hours at an accounting firm was nothing compared to the wedding I worked at on Saturday. Being told I was booked in from two in the afternoon to one that morning, it was only a little intimidating showing up for work. What I’d wondered was, how does a wedding go on for so long? I arrived on by far the most beautiful day Wellington has yet to see this summer. With temperatures in at least the eighties and not a hint of wind, it was near torture having to go into work, but thankfully the reception site for the wedding was in a venue called the Boatshed right on the Wellington harbor. We propped all the doors open and tried our best to catch the breeze as we rolled out seventeen round tables, flung table clothes across them, and set out 140 table settings for the guests that would arrive a little after five that evening.

I was technically working for a catering company, co-owned by a man named Nick and his wife Suzie, and what I found perhaps most amazing about the job was getting to watch the definition of efficiency at work. One of the girls who works for the company permanently told me several chefs had recently left. “We’re looking for new ones, but thankfully we have a good system in place and when you have a system, it all works okay.” And system indeed. After the chaos that mass crowds could engender at Vercelli’s, I marveled at the way Nick orchestrated the staff. Each of the servers was assigned two or three of the tables, which meant we were responsible for keeping full bottles of water and wine on the table and for taking their mains order. Once we had ticked off whether they wanted beef or fish on a separate little order form for each table, we then tallied the orders up and handed each form back to Nick.

When it came time to run the mains, we lined up like you might in kindergarten to get your napkin-full of animal crackers or juice, except here we were handed steaming dishes – “Fish-beef-fish” or “Beef-beef-fish,” Nick would call, dictating the exact order in which to set them down. We were standing on one side of a window, and on the other, the kitchen staff prepped each dish. There was one team for the beef dish, another for the fish, and it was like watching the wedding of poetry and the assembly line. Culinary creativity meets efficient mass-production. It was a seamless affair, with a dish in front of every guest in less than ten minutes.

And when the mains were cleared, that’s when the real fun began. We’d hardly set down the last of the dishes in the kitchen when Nick said, “Alright girls, grab yourself a plate and eat up.” In a back room they laid out everything that hadn’t been eaten by the guests – a whole try of hoki, several beef filets, mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, stewed tomatoes, crispy twisted breadsticks, and red peppers stuffed with wild rice. At the end of the night, there was even a whole tray of baked alaska’s leftover from dessert, which Nick promptly popped in the oven for us to eat ‘til our hearts were content. And as if I hadn’t already been transported to another level of bliss by the plate in front of me, we were able to sneak out back and sit on the deck – escaping the heat of the venue for the cool evening air, savoring the meal and the sunset. Nick had told us we’d only have about twenty minutes until it was time to run dessert out, yet twenty minutes came and went…as did forty…and fifty…

It turns out it’s quite a thing at Kiwi weddings for multiple people to give speeches during the reception. I’d been accustomed to the best man and maid of honor doing so – and occasionally one or both of the fathers – yet in New Zealand, they add to that list, with parents and other bridal party members and even the bride and groom getting behind the microphone. Apparently, though, the particular couple whose wedding we were working for, erred on the side of having too many say something. What should’ve taken about fifteen minutes stretched into an hour break between the main and dessert. Not that I cared, of course, as breaks were covered by the catering company and I was more than happy to continue soaking up my sunset reverie, but what was hilarious was how not happy the guests were about it. A couple of men walked out of the building and I overheard one say, “If I hear one more sh**ty speech, I’m gonna kill myself.” A mother and her small children passed by and when she spotted us, she said, “Trust me, you’re having the better party out here.” Another woman whispered, “Shh, we’re escapees.” Is it really that bad? I wanted to ask. Finally, though, the speeches came to an end and we were back on our feet, running, clearing, wiping, and packing up ‘til the job was done.

Walking home that night, I thought of how just as I showed up at the airport every day simply to work – not to fly anywhere nor to meet anyone – so did I go to work at the wedding, without a connection to anyone actually involved in the nuptials. So often with weddings, you arrive at the reception with everything in place, tending not to realize all the varying factors that go into making it happen – the caterers, the florist, the venue staff. As I folded my 128th napkin in preparation for the big event, I watched the florist bring in the centerpieces for each table, making last-minute adjustments, and I looked up as a long-haired guy walked into the room and introduced himself to Nick. “We’re the band,” and just as I was beginning to imagine him and his two friends as sort of serial-cover artists, relying on a bank of cheesy sing-alongs to get them free booze and easy women, he was asked if they’d had a busy wedding season. “Nah, this is our first. We’re actually an original band, but the couple wanted something different.” And like that, he had my respect back. But just as the airport assignment had let me into a lounge I would never frequent as a traveler myself, so did the accounting and wedding shifts make me privy to worlds I wouldn’t see on my own. I decided that therein lies the “fun” of temp work, the secret thrill of being given access to places previously inaccessible, bearing witness to events or locations usually out of the public eye.

But as grateful as I am for the temp assignments, for the new stories and new characters, it’s hard waking up each day not knowing if I’ll have work, if I’ll get a call. It’s hard going through each day as if on pins and needles, wondering if today will be the day. But then again, I think of how my situation isn’t quite so unique. I think of a good friend in Christchurch, going through a similar period of learning to trust, who, after living in the same house for twenty-three years, her parents have finally sold it, leaving her to find her own flat for the first time, at the exact time she’d chosen to go part-time at her job to free up her schedule for other new opportunities to serve in the community.

It’s that same situation of scary-but-good, of less-security-more-opportunity, of having to bid farewell to everything-you’ve-ever-known. Maybe it’s a mother faced with an empty house after twenty-odd years of raising children, maybe it’s a business faltering and new directions having to be considered in light of a worst-case scenario. It’s that situation of feeling like the rug’s been swept out from under your feet, like a flood’s come in the house, lifted the furniture off the ground, and now you wait to see how it’s all going to settle, where the pieces are going to fall.

On my way home from the airport one night, I happened to see a chainlink fence through which pieces of paper had been tucked, spelling out, “It will all be ok.” I’d seen something similar done before, only with plastic cups stuck through each hole in the fence. But I thought, what a message for times like these, what a reminder – it will all be ok. And so here I sit, last week’s work finished, now two days into a new week and no call yet. My phone doesn’t leave my side, plans lay unmade, all in the hope that work will come. I’ve got the Sevens job to count on, thankfully, but the rest of the month is vague and open-ended…not exactly the way I like my source of funds to be, but I suppose this is where my self-professed mission of living a life sans cubicles, corporate suits, and steady paychecks gets challenged and put to the test.

This is where trust takes over.


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