Monday, 22 November 2021

Laugh, cry and wince

From time to time of late I have been dipping into Archives New Zealand's stash of old films. The footage - particularly that of the New Zealand Film Unit - makes me laugh, cry, and wince with shame in turns. 

I was recently watching some post-war footage from 1946 (Archives New Zealand, 2012), created after World War Two by the New Zealand Film Unit details some of the return to civilian life as Kiwi troops return home, and room is made in our lives for a return to 'normality'... but also a shift in values and post-war living (Archives New Zealand, 2012):

This clip contained four items. Firstly, the residents of Naenae had built co-operative stores to house a range of retail stores to service the new Hutt Valley suburbs. While patronising, the community spirit and involvement was uplifting. Building and setting up new businesses to sell meat, grocery items, dairy, and cobbler services was not about making money: it was about finding employment for returned service staff, and to meet the needs of the people who lived in the area. 

The community spirit and hope were lovely to see. Working to redevelop that now would be so worthwhile, and would feed our spirits for another eighty years.

The second item was about the return of the cruiser Achilles to Britain. The third about the then-Minister of Finance, Sir Walter Nash, saying "it was a great privilege to go home to represent the Prime Minister at the conference of Prime Ministers" (Archives New Zealand, 2012, 03:13). Ouch. Now back in Aotearoa, which is obviously not 'home' for Mr Nash, this illustrates why New Zealand got to be known as 'Little Britain'. We were the littlest brother of the commonwealth: that annoying one who leapt up and down and trying so hard to be noticed, and having the 'right' answer.

However, it was the fourth item in this clip which really got to me. This was patriarchal, colonialist and Pākehā-centric. About the district nurse who looked after the remote east coast settlements north of Gisborne, this was a look down the long colonial oppressors nose of "showing Māori how to look after their children properly" (Archives New Zealand, 2012, 3:39). The great white district nurse rides in and, alongside the Pākehā school Principal, shows local wahine how it should be done. Despite the whakamā it provokes, it is worth watching. It shows how insidious colonial oppression is, how embedded racism can be, and what we must guard against. 

It is a good reminder to be a "guide on the side", not a "sage on the stage" (King, 1993, p. 30). 



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