Feeling Kiwi: A brief history of the development of the NZ identity

December 4, 2017

John Mccrone takes us through the mini history:

What does it mean to be a Kiwi? The Pākehā settler story seems foundational. But the evolution of our national identity has a more complex history, as JOHN McCRONE recounts.

If New Zealand were a person, would that someone be aged about 23? Finally getting going on life as an adult, developing an authentic sense of self and cultural identity?

We sort of know what defines a Kiwi. That familiar roll-call of values. Ingenious, fair, modest, earthy, informal.

Surely we are still all of those? Yet our recent history feels a bit more confused.

We thought we knew who we were becoming a few years back – the 1980’s identity of anti-nuclear, anti-apartheid, pro anything green and socially progressive. However that time of strident idealism blurred just as fast into the next few decades of economic going-for-it. Trade treaties, deregulation, a general neo-liberal clearing of the decks for action.

Having started out as a last gasp of empire, a tiny scrap of nationhood barely clinging on to the world map, now we were supposed to be the clever little country poised on the edge of future.

And if a fully grown-up national identity was forming, that seemed scuppered by last year’s abortive flag referendum. It should have been a defining moment. Yet we couldn’t quite let go an umbilical connection to the Union Jack, or even the shared Anzac Southern Cross.

However New Zealand has been going a few generations now. It has lived through a number of big changes. Something ought to be emerging as its mature, bicultural and post-colonial, sense of self.

So let’s take the historical route – consider how each period of our short history has left some indelible stamp on our collective character – and see if a sharper picture emerges.


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