Inaugural Conference (2012) Review

NZSN Inaugural Conference: ‘New Zealand’s Cultures: Histories, Sources, Futures’

This lively and well-attended conference was organised around seven panels. Those on the first day addressed the nature and legacies of the European settlement of New Zealand and the implications for the nation today of an emergent multi-cultural society. Stephen Turner’s paper, ‘The Stray Culture of Settlement’, on the competing claims of ‘first’ and ‘second’ settlers provoked a particularly intense discussion that reverberated through the rest of the conference.

Read Andrew Sharp’s opening address to the New Zealand Studies Network inaugural conference, 6-7 July 2012. 

A particular highlight of the first day was a joint presentation by Dean Sully, Rosanna Raymond and Anthony Hoete about the conservation of Hinemihi, a wharenui (meeting house) brought from New Zealand to England at the end of the nineteenth century and now under the care of the National Trust. In demonstrating how she introduces Maori language and culture to children of both Maori and British descent at Hinemihi, Rosanna got everyone off their seats, miming actions representing different parts of the body, and naming these in Maori.

The emphasis on the second day was more literary, with regionalism and class in New Zealand fiction featuring in the morning session, and Katherine Mansfield and Maori writing in the afternoon. The conference was startled and very concerned at Jane Stafford’s account of how the Janet Frame estate has made it impossible to include any of Frame’s work in the forthcoming Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature.

At the end of the first day the conference joined with others in the launch of the addition of a New Zealand section to The Poetry Archive website, the brainchild of former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion who was present and spoke about the archive. Two new books of poetry were also launched on the evening, Kevin Ireland’s Dreamy days and nothing done and Jan Kemp’s Voicetracks. Jan was project manager for the 25 New Zealand poets now in The Poetry Archive. There were readings by Brian Turner, Briar Wood, C.K. Stead (whose poems were read by Gerri Kimber), Kevin Ireland and Jan Kemp.

At the end of the conference there was a compelling performance by Wellington-based Baggage Co-op of Te Haerenga, a journey of identity which serendipitously dramatised some of the themes the conference had been concerned with.

Even though the title of the conference – ‘New Zealand’s Cultures: Histories, Sources, Futures’ – invited contributions from any number of different subjects and approaches, many of the speakers were addressing closely related or overlapping themes and topics. Above all, these were to do with the tensions between, and within, bi-cultural and multi-cultural understandings of New Zealand at this moment of its history. The past remains inescapably present in contemporary New Zealand.

This over-riding preoccupation, however, is now very different from the self-conscious navel-gazing that often characterised such discussions in the past. New Zealand itself has become diasporic. Maori and Pakeha speakers living in both Britain and Europe participated alongside Maori and Pakeha speakers from New Zealand. Furthermore, its literature – once of little interest to readers and critics beyond New Zealand – has become internationalised.

A panel of research students titled ‘Maori Self-Representation and the Post-Colonial’, comprised speakers from Cairo, the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. As the conference demonstrated, the New Zealand Studies Network is indeed truly a network, a confluence of writers, critics, researchers and readers from around the globe.

Rod Edmond


See the Inaugural conference 2012 timetable of events