AEN Journal Vol.1, Iss.2 | Index for this issue | Open as PDF...
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My New Zealand Identity

Nigel Murphy

This poem sums up the author’s thoughts to date on being a sixth generation Pākehā New Zealander. The process of thinking about identity and ones place in the great scheme of history, of course, is never ending. As they say, identity is a verb not a noun.

Why do some new migrants to New Zealand feel more connected to New Zealand than me?

Why do they have such love
for this land?

For me
I have no particular feeling for New Zealand
except for tiredness.

It is, for me, my identity

Like being part of a family one does not particularly get on with
or like.
One is part of that family whether one likes it or not.

I think I can take or leave being a New Zealander.

The Māori-Pākehā thing is almost tedious

‘what’s done cannot be undone’
said Lady Macbeth.

My heritage is central to the imperial and colonial project
of fucking over Māori and creating
New Zealand.

Just as we had to destroy the native forest to create the farmland of modern New Zealand, so we had to destroy and dispossess the Māori who were here before us.

No hard feelings, it’s just business . . .

New Zealand

I have no love for New Zealand.
It is my mother and my country and I’m stuck with it.
I have no choice in the matter.
As Frank McCourt said
‘I have no choice in being Irish,
everything else I have a choice about.’

Or words to that effect . . .

Reconciliation with Māori is a duty not a desire
more accurately
it’s a political necessity.

We do it because we have to.

Do we do it out of love or respect?
No, we do it just because we have to.

‘is this a dagger I see before me?
Said Lady Macbeth

The land

For me I feel no connection with the land that so many white people go on about.
When I see the New Zealand landscape I see violence and bloodshed and robbery.
I see infamy and disgrace in every fold and crease.
When I see the land I feel

Who did we kill here?
Who did we dispossess there?

My heritage

My heritage is not connectedness but rupture and dislocation.
The longer our family is here
the less connected we become.

not more.

For me Māori is foreign, are foreign.
And remain so
and will remain so
and are so

I am too aware of my Anglo-Irish and Irish heritage
—being in a country but not of a country
We Anglo-Irish:
What difference is there between us here and us in Ireland?—

to know that sixth generation New Zealander

means nothing

‘Being born in a stable does not make you a horse’
Said the Duke of Wellington
A good Anglo-Irishman, God bless him.

Our joyful heritage

I look at the land and feel,
The weight of history
The weight of smug

‘A fair go for all?’
yeah, right

whatever . . .

I feel the grinding oppression of racism and conformity.

All nations are created
by the spilling of blood.
White New Zealand takes this moment
on April 25

It should be 1863
when Cameron crossed the Waikato.

Or September 25
when Lionel Terry murdered Joe Kum Yung
for not being English.

New Zealand identity is founded on lies and foul deeds
covered by more lies.

‘and all the perfumes of Araby will not sweeten this little hand’

Lies that we tell ourselves
as well as others

The lie that we are not racists
The lie that we have the best race relations in the world
The lie that we are all equal
The lie that we are multicultural

Our culture is based on emotionless Englishness
and dour Scottishness.
Where things and systems are more important
than human values and emotions
Māori culture is foreign
to me.
But so is Pākehā culture

When I think of New Zealand
I feel nothing
but tiredness and resignation

A feeling of claustrophobia

Trapped by history and identity

‘out out damned spot!’

‘Where is home for Cromwell’s men?’
my cousin wrote
and yes:
where is home
for Cameron’s men?

This land sucks the life
from me.
Rather than
gives me life.

So therefore let me praise my glorious ancestors
and yours.
Who gave us all
this legacy

and enjoy it.


we cannot escape.

We are New Zealanders.

Nigel Murphy is a sixth generation New Zealander of Irish-German-English descent. He was born in Rotorua in 1958. He spent the years 1963 to 1971 in rural Queensland and New South Wales , including three years at Young, site of one of the largest Chinese gold fields in Australian history. It is from there that his interest in Chinese Australian and New Zealand history stems. He has studied Chinese New Zealand history for over 20 years and has been involved in the Chinese New Zealand community for nearly as long, being secretary of the Wellington Chinese Association and chair of the Wellington Chinese Language School He has published and lectured widely on the history of the Chinese in New Zealand and on racism and White New Zealand, his most recent publication 'Aliens at My Table: Asians as New Zealander see them' was co-authored with Manying Ip and published in 2005. In 2002 he was seconded to the Office of Ethnic Affairs as a researcher and historian to support the Chinese poll tax apology reconciliation process. One outcome of the process was the National Library exhibition 'A Barbarous Measure: the Poll Tax and Chinese New Zealanders' which he curated. The exhibition was held at the National Library in Wellington in 2003 and toured New Zealand between 2004 and 2005. He has recently completed a Masters of New Zealand Studies, his thesis being 'Racism and Empire: Discourses of Race and Empire in the Formation of New Zealand's National Identity 1890-1907'. This was an attempt to examine the origin and nature of New Zealand's racism against Chinese and others, a question that has increasingly obsessed him. He has also spent the last six years studying his own family history in New Zealand, Ireland and Germany, discovering in the process how intimately connected his family has been in the imperial adventure in such diverse places as Ireland, India, South America and of course New Zealand.

AEN Journal Vol.1, Iss.2 | Index for this issue | Open as PDF...