Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tom Johnson: All Blacks model a united NZ

Iconic All Black captain Sir Wilson Whineray wrote of our top rugby team that “No other institution has done so much to cross social, religious, racial, cultural and economic boundaries so comprehensively and with so little pretence…where else do Pākehā and Polynesian find such natural affinity…what has the game meant to the pride of Maori people whose people have always played the game so magnificently.”(1) It is amazing how a cultural artifact like rugby can achieve racial tolerance and goodwill that the stupidity of successive governments and the greed and hegemonic aspirations of elite groups tear asunder in their blind obsession for power and privilege.

Race relations have descended to an all time low in New Zealand. If the hatred and vitriol spewed forth by many Maori radicals and academics in their push for Maori sovereignty and control of resources is any indication, then New Zealand’s future will be one of the continuous turmoil and the conflict that afflicts many countries. Canadian political philosopher Will Kymlicka observed “since the end of the Cold war, ethno-cultural conflicts have become the most common source of political violence in the world and show no sign of abating.” (2)

Several years ago in an article I wrote for HB Today I expressed my pride in my colonial heritage (an anathema to left-wing liberals) as a fourth generation indigenous New Zealander because it had given me a sense of national pride, and, through my recollections of the deprivations and hardships of World War 2, a work ethic which instilled in me the fact there was no such thing as a “free lunch”.

It had embedded many other values like respect for other people. I also expressed the fact that five generations of my family had been born and lived in Napier since the late 1850s. They had bought their own properties, had never used or lived on confiscated Maori land, nor had they ever treated Maori with disrespect. These were not patronizing remarks, but statements of fact.

Karl du Fresne has written about the “black armband” phenomenon where journalists and historians distort reality by focusing on the conflict and grievances that occurred to suit their own political ideologies rather than express the truth. He also pointed out in New Zealand most people got on pretty well together.

Tragically for 40 years New Zealanders have been fed a distorted revisionist version of history that focuses on grievance and guilt. Even worse this distorted and erroneous propaganda has become part of a politicized education curricula that further entrenches the propaganda as fact which it invariably is not, as if, as the saying goes, “it is always winter but never Christmas”.

Rugby may not be the microcosm of New Zealand society that some claim, but it has a large following and because of its national importance provides some useful analogies.

For example I regard having played rugby with and against Maori players like Waka Nathan, Albie Pryor, Hepa Paewai and many others as an enjoyable highlight of my life. They were players who were respected not just for their playing ability but also because they were such good blokes. I once heard Family Court Judge Mick Brown at Albie Pryor’s funeral in his eulogy say, “The ultimate accolade you can earn in New Zealand is not to be venerated as a Knight of the Realm, be recognized as a successful businessman or a skilful surgeon – but to be known as a good bloke".

The egalitarian nature of New Zealand’s early history was encapsulated in rugby and this was maintained for many years.

Last year’s Rugby World Cup final was further evidence that pride in national identity and achievement transcends the ethnic makeup and diversity of New Zealand. It was graphically illustrated to me at that final when the full-time whistle blew and in the euphoria of the moment a group of Northland Maori men I had never seen before in my life, leapt in the air and embraced us all.

Interest in rugby may gloss over the social and economic inequities in New Zealand society but it proves there can be a commonality of pride, purpose and respect. That pride in one’s individual ethnic identity and in New Zealand was mirrored in the support given by Polynesian New Zealanders to their countries of origin as well as the All Blacks and the support of Asian New Zealanders conspicuous in their All Black paraphernalia at the match venues, particularly in Auckland.

The articles of David Round, Elizabeth Rata, Martin Devlin and Karl du Fresne and Mike Butler published at, have pertinently illustrated the pitfalls in the policies of successive governments and the shortcomings of the biculturalists. The Treaty of Waitangi has been deliberately misrepresented and manipulated through the policies of biculturalism and spurious claims of “partnership”.

The untruths and deceit of deliberate historical revisionism that sanitizes the reality of Maori history, the distortion of Maori land rights; the growth of anachronistic tribalism for the advantage of tribal executives are just some of the weapons used in their deliberate use of the bludgeon of racism against ordinary New Zealanders. Based on past performance those same New Zealanders have every reason to fear that the gutless appeasement politics of the current government and its opposition parties will continue into the future and democracy will be subverted yet again.

Former All Black and race relations conciliator Chris Laidlaw, commenting on the impact of professionalism on rugby, said:
The romance, the legends, the folklore of great matches and great players are not a Pakeha monopoly… they belong to all… happily, that spirit of inclusiveness has survived the onset of professionalism… The game has reached a stage where it provides a working example of comfortable multiculturalism…in an odd way professionalism removes class or race barriers by superimposing another culture – that of the team – over every other difference…professional rugby has unquestionably served to strengthen the imagery of three cultures working in visible harmony…the All Blacks set an example that has no parallel in this respect.(4)

The current constitutional review and the potential inclusion of the Treaty of Waitangi in all legislation must be resisted in the interests of most New Zealanders. If a game can establish worthwhile race relations, is it too much to expect a similar approach from our politicians and other power brokers? If they cannot see the folly of race-based privilege New Zealand is truly in danger of becoming “The land of the long brown shroud”.


1. Sir Wilson Whineray, Men in Black, Chester & McMillan, 1978, p16
2. Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights, Clarendon Press, Oxford/New York, 1995, p.1.
3. Chris Laidlaw, Somebody Stole My Game Hachette New Zealand, 2010, p. 54

Tom Johnson played representative rugby for Hawke’s Bay, was at one time CEO of Lion Breweries Central Region, completed a PhD in October 2012, and speaks on the pitfalls of the current review of the constitution.


Anonymous said...

If Rugby is the great leveler as you say then why do we have to have the Maori all blacks. Maori versus non maori, Maori versus polynesian and other racially biased team games here. This is in itself very diversionary and i feel adds to the racial disharmony that is so appearant in New Zealand at this time.

Barry said...

The All Blacks are horribly ugly.

In a thousand million years "maoris" would never have invented rugby!