Utopianism and the Creation of New Zealand National Identity(*).
Descriptions of New Zealand as Utopia
From its founding in the middle of the nineteenth century to the present, New Zealand has been the site of a series of utopian projects designed to create either a national utopia or small-scale utopias, such as intentional communities, within the nation. These projects are reflected in utopian literature, intentional communities or communal experiments (including a government-sponsored program to establish communes), the platforms of political parties, and government policy. New Zealand appears to be unique in the way that utopian projects became part of the normal course of political debate. Thus, it is my contention that utopianism is central to the creation of New Zealand's identity as a nation.(1) But, also throughout New Zealand history, people disagreed fundamentally about the nature of the utopia to be created and whether or not it had been achieved. Frequently, some thought utopia existed and others--often their children--thought that it was dystopia.
A second tension that runs throughout the New Zealand experience with utopianism is that between the individual desire for a better life and the desire to create a better social order. They can coincide or they can be in conflict. While there will never be a single trajectory in any country, in New Zealand they have tended to coincide more than they have diverged.
From shortly after European settlement began, New Zealand has been labeled a utopia. Miles Fairburn used terms like Cockaigne, Arcadia, "the Labourer's Paradise," and "the Middle Class paradise" in his analysis of early New Zealand (16). Others used Eden and "the Just City" to describe the nature and aspirations of New Zealand. Phrases like the "the farthest promised land," the "happy colony," the "land of promise," and "Brighter Britain" have been applied to New Zealand. (These and other labels are discussed in Fairburn 19-73). In 1854 Robert Pemberton (1788-1879) planned to establish a community in New Zealand and called his book The Happy Colony. Dedicated to the Workmen of Great Britain. An 1889 book title is New Zealand An Earthly Paradise; another from 1908 is New Zealand: Islands of the Blest; another in 1924 was Paradise: Its Rugged Mountains and Snow-Clad Peaks. William Pember Reeves (1857-1932) gave a talk in London in 1896 entitled The Fortunate Isles (Picturesque New Zealand). Thomas Bracken (1843-98) wrote "God's Own Country" (1890), the origin of the phrase "Godzone," as a description of New Zealand. The tradition of literally describing New Zealand as a realized utopia was carried on by George Bell (1832-1907) in Mr. Oseba's Last Discovery (1904), in which Mr. Oseba, an inhabitant of the center of the earth, toured the world before discovering utopia in New Zealand. Recent works presenting New Zealand as a utopia include Kenneth Melvin, New Zealand: "The Small Utopia" (1962); and Seymour Kopf, All the Curious Traveler Would Want to Know About the Only Remaining Utopia for the Average Man--New Zealand (1975). Les Cleveland entitled his textbook on New Zealand politics The Politics of Utopia (1979). In 1990 the National Library of New Zealand/Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa published a book called Encounters with Eden: New Zealand 1770-1870, and in 1991 the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt held an exhibition on the Hutt Valley called "The Land of Milk and Honey". Thus, New Zealand has been described constantly in terms straight from the utopian lexicon, and authors from the earliest voyages (such as John Elliott who wrote The Travels of Hildebrand Bowman , the first utopia set in New Zealand after visiting there on one of Cook's voyages) to the present-day have described New Zealand as a current or at least potential eutopia or good place. This attitude was satirized in Austin Mitchell's The Half-Gallon Quarter-Acre Pavlova Paradise (1972).
But this sense that New Zealand is a utopia or a potential utopia hides the fact that people disagree on what constitutes utopia. From time to time there have been images that have dominated, but there have been alternative visions always available and the ones that dominate change. Also, inconsistencies in the images help produce changes in the utopia.
Therefore, it is necessary to look in more detail at what different individuals and groups meant by a utopian New Zealand. The sources I have used to do this are: 1) The plans of various colonization projects; 2) Evidence regarding the perceptions and aspirations of individual settlers; 3) Utopian literature written by New Zealanders about New Zealand (See Sargent 1997b); 4) The plans of intentional communities or communes (See Sargent 1997a); and, to a lesser extent, 5) Various social, economic, and political movements which put forward explicit designs for an improved New Zealand.(2)
The Official Settlement Utopia
Colonization and immigration are almost inevitably two faced. There would be few plans to colonize and even fewer immigrants without the hope that something good will result. And those hopes and desires are often disappointed by the hard reality of the settlement process. So it was in New Zealand.
The plan outlined by the colonial promoter Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862) and other early visionaries was to produce in New Zealand a Britain without the very rich or the very poor. The pyramid of the class structure was to remain with the top and bottom lopped off. The best known and most thoroughly documented of these settlements is Canterbury. As early as 1839 the New Zealand Company put out an advertisement that said,
The aim of the Directors is not confined to mere emigration, but is directed to colonization in its ancient and systematic form. Their object is to transplant English society with its various gradations in due proportions, carrying out our laws, customs, associations, habits, manners, feelings--everything of England, in short, but the soil. (qtd. in G.B. Parliamentary Papers 18)
And in 1850 the planners said, "We intend to form a settlement, to be composed entirely of members of our own church, accompanied by an adequate supply of clergy ..." (Canterbury Papers 6). And Lord George William Lyttelton (1817-76), a supporter of the Canterbury settlement, wrote, "What we wish is ... to plant ... a community ... to include all that is good in our society at home; to exclude, as far as possible, all that is evil" (Qtd. in Canterbury Settlement 6). Canterbury was to be a Church of England settlement, complete with a Bishop, in which there would be neither extremely rich or extremely poor but which would include a strict hierarchy within those who settled.
What happened is reflected in the words of John Robert Godley (1814-61), the founder of Canterbury,
When I first adopted and made my own, the idea of this colony, it pictured itself to my mind in the colours of a Utopia. Now that I have been a practical colonizer, and have seen how these things are managed in fact, I often smile when I think of the ideal Canterbury of which our imagination dreamed. Yet I see nothing in the dream to regret or be ashamed of, and I am quite sure that without the enthusiasm, the poetry, the unreality (if you will,) with which our scheme was overlaid, it would never have been accomplished. (Qtd. in "Farewell Breakfast to Mr. & Mrs. Godley" 9)
Some people believed that this utopia should be like Britain and wrote of the glories of transplanting England to the Pacific. Anthony Trollope (1815-82) described what he saw as the typical situation, saying:
The New Zealander among John Bulls is the most John-Bullish. He admits the supremacy of England to every place in the world, only he is more English than any Englishman at home. He tells you that he has the same climate,--only somewhat improved; that he grows the same produce,--only with somewhat heavier crops; that he has the same beautiful scenery at his doors,--only somewhat grander in its nature and more diversified in its details; that he follows the same pursuits and after the same fashion,--but with less of misery, less of want, and a more general participation in the gifts which God has given to the country. (2: 457-58)
Or as Charles Hursthouse, an early settler in Canterbury who returned to England, quotes from a letter written back to England from Canterbury,
It is this fact that for me gives the country such a charm, the charm of our home beauties stealing over the wild grandeur of this favoured land, and heightened by a climate, of which the most lovely of English days can scarcely convey an idea. When Christchurch has grown to a pretty town, when the young oak of England stands by the side of the giant trees indigenous to New Zealand, when the avenues to houses are lined by the graceful and beautiful shrubs, when the green grass of England is sprouting in her meadows, fenced by hawthorn hedges, when daisies and butter-cups flower over the land, when the timid hare springs across the field, and the coveys of partridges break from cover, and the sun of heaven shines brightly through the pure atmosphere, tempered by breezes from the Pacific and the Alpine shore, then there will be but one thing wanting to make New Zealand the Eden of the world--the charm of age, the vestiges of the past, the spot endeared by old associations and traditions. (1:99)
Of course, the reality of the introduced plants and animals was often extremely destructive and their effects are still being fought today.
The other major early settlement, Otago, was also established as a potential utopia, but Scotch Presbyterian rather than Anglican. In 1847 the intended settlement was described by the Rev. W. Burns as follows:
1st. That if New Zealand be a country, which, from its extraordinary natural advantages, is sure to be rapidly colonized,--and if, from the position which it occupies, with reference to the great trading marts at the other side of the globe, it is `destined,' in the opinion of leading British merchants and statesmen, `to become the Great Britain of the southern hemisphere,' we are quite certain,--are perfectly warranted in thinking, that we cannot over estimate the importance of instantly occupying, according to our means and admitted character, that portion of the field in which the providence of our God is laid open to us. 2ndly. That in so doing, we shall be enabled, amongst other things, to lay the foundation of a church, in which the pure Gospel may continue to be preached, down, perhaps, to the remotest generations; of a system of schools, according to the most approved method of the Free Church; and of an independent Scottish race in the far south, which shall be equally distinguished with their kinsmen in the far north. (Qtd. in Free Church Colony of Otago 12)
But the reality of Otago was like the reality of most New Zealand settlements, a personal desire for a better life. This attitude was expressed in "There's Nae Place Like Otago Yet" of 1861 by John Barr of Craigielee (1809-89):
There's nae place like Otago yet, There's nae wee beggar weans, Or auld men shivering at our doors, To beg for scraps or banes. We never see puir working folk Wi' bauchles on their feet, Like perfect icicles wi' cauld, Gaun starving through the street. We never hear o' breaking stanes A shilling by the yard; Or poor folk roupit to the door To pay the needfu' laird; Nae purse-proud, upstart, mushroom lord To scowl at honest toil, Or break it that he, the wretch, May feast on roast and boil. (62)
These settlements and the ways they changed have rightly been a dominant theme in New Zealand history, but a few settlements were proposed, and even fewer developed, on a different basis, one which attempted to either create or maintain a specific way of life. Generally, but not always, these were based on the desire to live in a community with a particular religious orientation. The two best known of these settlements, Waipu and Albertland, were religiously based, but there were proposals for secular communities also.
Waipu was established by the followers of Norman McLeod (1778/79-1866), who had followed him from Scotland to Nova Scotia in 1817, to Australia in the 1850s, and finally to New Zealand. Some dropped off at each stage. Many descendants of these settlers still live in the area.(3) Waipu was never communal, but the people shared their religion and the history of the long trek from Scotland.
Albertland was "... based upon the idea that Christian men, united by common sympathies and aspirations, are calculated to found substantial colonies, and lay therein the foundation of future nations: that they can provide by means of this Association instruction for their children, and see them grow up amid all the influences of a preached gospel and practical religion" (Prospectus 1). While the town still exists, the dream was never achieved (On Albertland, see Borrow, and Brett and Hook).
A secular variant of these independent settlements was a proposal for a settlement not under the authority of the New Zealand government to be called Britannia. It was to include Stewart Island and those parts of the South Island south and west of Otago and Canterbury, and its capital was to be located at Bluff and called Regina. This proposal included detailed provisions for land ownership and laid out a governmental structure. There were to be property qualifications for holding office and for voting for both houses of the legislature. Those qualified to vote for the Lower House were "All men who have attained the age of twenty-one years, who are of sound mind, who are fixed residents in the colony, who have a visible and honest means of livelihood, and who are unconvicted of crime ..." (Gouland 12). In general political power was to be vested in the hands of the property-holding members of the colony. There is no evidence that anything came of the proposal, which appears to have been generated mostly by the failure of the governments of the time to invest in the development of the area.
The Utopia of the Settlers
But most settlers did not come to New Zealand to join a specific settlement. They came because they wanted a better life than they had in Britain, the possibility of upward movement within the class hierarchy, and fewer major differences between the classes. As David Herron put it, "Most immigrants were concerned not to perpetuate the English class structure but to break through it" (324-25). As early as 1853 a pamphlet entitled The Immigrant's Prospects in New Zealand begins with the statement that "New Zealand has justly been called the poor man's paradise. It is a blessed thing to think that the poor working man can find a paradise somewhere--one truly his--for he alone can call forth the wealth giving resources of the country" (1).
And in letters home the laborers seemed to agree--"eight hours is a day's work. That is the best of this country. We go to work at 8 a.m., and leave at 5 p.m. A man is a man, and not a slave" (E. Ticehurst, Port Nicholson, June 28, 1840 in Letters from Emigrants 11).(4) And "A man will have to make himself useful here, and not be particular what he does at first coming out; it does not want so many men calling themselves this foreman and the other. When they get here they will find plenty of work, and they will be well paid for it but they might as well leave the first four letters at home, and come out men instead of foremen. There is scarcely any such thing here, none in the sense you have at home" (John Gower, Wellington, December 20, 1840 in Letters from Emigrants 16). And, perhaps most importantly, "Here, after a few years, you may be your own masters, and live on your own land. Many old settlers who were farm laborers and wagoners now own farms of 150 or 200 acres of land" (Letter from George Hill, 1875, in White and Burton 41).
Emigrants wrote home about what impressed them. "... we are all fat as pigs, and I wish you were all of you out here, where there is no trouble about living, and no rent nor taxes to pay" (Letter from Joseph Brocklesby, 1875, in White and Burton 47-48). "It is a beautiful country, there are all kinds of fruit grows wild; you can go out and gather as much as you like, and no one to say anything to you. The peaches are as big as a good sized apple, and grown by tons. There are scores of pheasants, and you can go out and shoot one when you think well, and no one to interfere, nor put you in prison as they do in England" (Letter from Thos. Lynn, 1875, in White and Burton, 48-49). Emigrants were pleased to escape from the rigid class and status system of the old country and to be able to earn a decent wage. One early emigrant wrote, "it seems such a pity to stop at home in poverty, when this is such a land of plenty, literally flowing with milk and honey" (Letter from M. and C. Andrews, 1875, in White and Burton 40). And "Every poor man ought to come out here, and be careful, they may soon have a home and land of their own" (Letter from George Hill, 1875, in White and Burton 43). The emphasis on the ready availability of meat to eat is constantly repeated. To cite just one example, "We think nothing of having a roast leg of mutton for our suppers at night: this is the place to live" (Letter from George Brocklesby, 1875, in White and Burton 48).
These letters are all from men. When the letters mention women, single women are encouraged to emigrate because they can easily marry. A man wrote, "There were 31 girls, and they were picked up at once at Napier, and demand enough for them. Some of them were married in a fortnight after they landed" (Letter from A.B., 1871, in White and Burton, 49. On women immigrants, see Charlotte Macdonald and Woodhouse). The only text I have found directed at married women, A Few Words to Emigrants' Wives (c1870), points out that after arriving in the new country most men are happy and most women are miserable and goes on to describe in detail the horrors of housekeeping and cooking in a single room, mud floored cottage:
The house itself, it must be understood in the first instance, will be both smaller and ruder than the residence that would be occupied by persons of the same [artisan] class in England. It will, most likely, have mud floors under foot, and no ceiling at all over head. It will be destitute of closets and cupboards, and the chances are be without even a pantry. The sacred kitchen will be the most wretched-looking and repulsive apartment in the tenement--small, without a single shelf, board, or fitting of any kind; and with a huge cavernous space, raised some yard or so from the ground, to do duty as a fire-place. Here, without range, stove, or oven, and over a wood fire kindled on the bare hearth, all the roasting, boiling, and baking, and all the general business of the culinary department have to be performed. The utmost that must be looked for in the way of convenience, is, the fixing of a couple of iron bars, for the saucepan and kettle to stand upon, above the embers. (Np)
This is certainly not designed to attract women to immigrate, but the perceived attractions may well have outweighed the perceived difficulties. There is an interesting comparison here to the studies made of women joining intentional communities in the United States. Carol Kolmerten argues in her Women in Utopia (1990) that single women found joining a new society liberating while married women found it limiting (See 172-75 on the attitudes of single women). Colonies appear to have also provided greater opportunities for single women whereas married women often did the same things in worse conditions.
There is one famous text by a woman but directed at all potential immigrants that contradicts the glowing words of the immigrants quoted here and goes some way to explain why many immigrants turned around and went back. "Taken In" published under the pseudonym "Hopeful" presents a class analysis of who should and should not emigrate to New Zealand. Clearly the ones quoted above belong to the class that she argues should emigrate, whereas she belonged to the more "refined" class that should not. "Hopeful" quickly returned to England.
Near the end of the century, it became clear that from the point of view of the average settler, something had gone wrong. The land that they depended on to allow them to create their better lives was mostly in the hands of a few wealthy men. As a result, one of the major movements to bring about the utopia of the settlers was land nationalization. "John Ballance [(1839-93). Premier 1891-93] came into office in 1891 on a platform of taxing the unimproved value of land; his avowed aim being to encourage the subdivision of large estates" (Gardner 84). This was the fruit of a major campaign in New Zealand to make land more widely available, a movement that produced a number of utopias. Reflecting the fact that New Zealand was participating in an international movement, central figures in this movement were the Americans Edward Bellamy (1850-98) and Henry George (1839-97). In New Zealand Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) sold out in days and numerous pirated editions were published. George's single tax scheme was behind much land nationalization, even though his specific proposals were not used.
This movement was going on at the same time as campaigns for prohibition, the franchise for women and socialism, among others, all of which produced utopias. While New Zealand remained the focus of utopian aspiration for potential settlers, the country was also experiencing competition among utopian schemes for New Zealand.
One group that came to reflect both sides of this situation was the Clarionites. A new group of emigrants, brought by William Ranstead (1859-1944) and collectively known as the Clarionites because they were recruited through Robert Blatchford's (1851-1943) British paper, The Clarion arrived. They came with the explicit intention of establishing an intentional community, but the community was never established because the New Zealand government refused to grant land to a group as opposed to individual settlers. Most of the Clarionites stayed in New Zealand and became involved in economic and political movements on the left, thereby becoming involved in the emergence of new utopias for New Zealand (Roth 51-52).(5)
Some Clarionites spent time as members of a commune called "The Federative Home" or "Wainoni," established by Alexander Bickerton (1842-1929) near Christchurch. Bickerton was the first Professor at Canterbury College and the first academic fired by a New Zealand university. Bickerton was an extremely popular lecturer and gave innumerable public addresses in the sciences and in politics and religion. In doing so he made himself very unpopular with certain members of the Board of Governors, and it is clear that Wainoni and its approval and, possibly, practice of "free love" played a significant role in his firing. (On Wainoni, see Bickerton. On Bickerton, see Burdon). A colleague of Bickerton's at Canterbury University, John Macmillan Brown (1846-1935), began, at about the same time, to write three utopias (the third and shortest was never published) that stressed the denial of the body and the desirability of superseding it altogether by becoming entirely spiritual.
The Emergence of a Debate over the Nature of the New Zealand Utopia
Although Beeville, the first commune in a continuous tradition, was founded sometime between 1927 and 1933 and lasted into the early 1970s, and there were a number of relatively minor utopias published, the depressions brings something of a lull or loss of direction in New Zealand utopianism.
For example, in his novel Plumb (1978), Maurice Gee (1931-) has one of the characters say, "Joy. In those years it was in short supply. The dream of a Utopia in the southern seas, of God's Own Country, had never been more than that: a dream. Holes had been shot in it before the depression. But in the depression it rusted like an old tin can, it fell to pieces. All we had left was human kindness. Without it we would have become a nation of beasts" (231). And, in Where Did She Come From?, a study of early women novelists in New Zealand, Heather Roberts says, "People felt betrayed because the depression destroyed the common expectation that this was a brave new world where everyone would have a better deal than they would have had in the place that they left" (61). Lawrence Jones wrote that writers of the period, "saw the Pakeha New Zealander, not as one who was working on the road towards the Pastoral Paradise and the Just City, but rather as one who might delude himself with such dreams but who was actually living in a society that had betrayed them. To them, the typical Pakeha was a racist, conformist, provincial, secularist puritan, sleeping complacently, if a bit fretfully in his self-made prison" (196). And these writers came to believe "that the dream of the Pastoral Paradise was simplistic to begin with, the arrogant imposition of a European dream on a South Pacific landscape, and that its realisation had led to the destruction of the land and the alienation of the settler from it" (196).
There are two possible explanations: the energy of the earlier period had disappeared or it had been directed elsewhere. These two hypotheses represent the clash that is developing and comes to full fruition after the war. On the one side is the clear utopianism, perhaps even no longer a dream but achieved. In The Oxford History of New Zealand, Graham Dunstall writes about the post-war period, saying they "were the years in which the dream of a material utopia was refurbished: New Zealand was to become, without class war, a `country where the plenty of the machine age shall assure to all the rich life in goods and leisure that the genius and natural resources of our country makes possible'" (452. He is quoting the Labour Party Manifesto of 1935, which Labour won).
John Mulgan (1911-45) wrote,
If the old world ends now with this war, as it well may, I have had visions and dreamed of another New Zealand that might grow into the future on the foundations of the old. This country would have more people to share it. They would be hard-working peasants from Europe that know good land, craftsmen that love making things with their own hands, and all men who want the freedom that comes from an ordered, just community. There would be more children in the sands and sunshine, more small farms, gardens and cottages. Girls would wear bright dresses, men would talk quietly together. Few would be rich, none would be poor. They would fill the land and make a nation. (Report on Experience 15)
Mulgan's dream would appear to be the quintessential New Zealand utopia of the war years, although its images of peace and simplicity may equally represent the utopia of any front line soldier. The tension between the dream and the reality of war may be reflected in Mulgan's suicide shortly after he finished this manuscript and posted it to his wife back in New Zealand.
Mulgan's was not the only utopian image available in New Zealand at the time. There are three positions taken. First, Laurence Jones describes New Zealand in this period as having "... a new sense of cultural identity as a people who have succeeded in a commercial version of the Pastoral Dream, have built on its foundations a capitalist, welfare-state version of the Just City, and who are in the process of putting on a Decramastic roof [A replacement for iron roofs that came to symbolize upward mobility] and building a two-car garage to convert it into the Affluent suburb" (203).
Second, on the other side, C.K. Stead (1932-) said, "And as the Auden generation turned a cold eye on ... romanticizing, describing power-houses and gas-works and urban squalor, so [Allen] Curnow [1911-] and his contemporaries deflated the myth of a South Seas paradise and depicted New Zealand as a country of mean cities and mortgaged farms, `a land of settlers/ With never a soul at home'" (71). And in 1951 the poet James K. Baxter (1926-72) wrote, "I believe that our island is in fact an unjust, unhappy one, where human activity is becoming progressively more meaningless. The mere statement of this observation has a salutary effect. The pioneering dream was of a Just City. If we suppose that this dream has been realized we condemn ourselves to the ultimate nonentity of false prophets. If we state the truth (that we now live in an Unjust City) we thus purge ourselves of a lie commonly held to be truth and begin to speak meaningfully" (16).
Third, in the most complex statement, one that reflects both the loss and the re-direction of the utopian dream, Bill Pearson (1922-) wrote,
Somewhere at the back of the outlook of the New Zealander is a dream, a dream of security in equality. Everybody acts the same, receives the same amount of the world's goods, everybody moves in the same direction. Everyone has simple tastes, explainable desires which can be satisfied with proportionately simple effort. No one has any grievance and accidents don't happen. It is a version of a human dream, which I believe one half of the world is on the right road to bringing off as nearly as can be under the conditions of existence. The special quality of the New Zealander's version is that the evil is to disagree or be different. The chaos of existence is to be legislated into shape; the varieties of human quality and personality are to be levelled into conformity with the legislation. (218)(6)
Pearson makes clear that the costs of this dream are high. Conformity is required, and those who did not fit in were made to pay.
Wednesday Gilfillan, the main character of Wednesday's Children (1937. See Yates) and its author Robin Hyde [Iris Guiver Wilkinson (1906-39)] paid the price for not fitting in. Hyde was a journalist, novelist, and political activist who managed to find the freedom and space to write her novels by checking herself into a mental hospital where she did not have to earn a living. She had a child when not married and clearly experienced the opprobrium identified by Pearson.
Wednesday was the unloved, unwanted sister living in a wealthy family, and when the opportunity arose to escape she does. One aspect of Wednesday's escape is the creation of a eutopia. Wednesday's eutopia consists of her and her five children by four lovers (the most recent children being twins) and a Maori woman to help care for the children. They all live an idyllic existence in a beautiful house on an island in Auckland harbour. Unfortunately, as we learn after Wednesday's suicide (a choice also made by her creator), only the island exists. Her lovers, children, house, and Maori assistant exist only in nowhere. But until she is forced to choose between her children and marriage, Wednesday lives in her eutopia, and she choose death to giving it up for marriage. Hyde and Wednesday both experienced the dystopia created for many by the insistence in that the New Zealand eutopia required conformity.
Another example of the problem of not fitting in is the Riverside Community, which was founded in 1941 as a haven for conscientious objectors. New Zealand treated its conscientious objectors horrendously during both World Wars I and II, by far the worst among the allies (See Grant). Riverside still exists and is now one of the oldest communes in the world. As early as the 1940s some people felt that they had to drop out of New Zealand society to lead a fulfilling life at the same time that many were finding utopia in New Zealand.(7)
The division between the proponents and opponents of New Zealand as an existing utopia takes an interesting turn. Those who believe New Zealand is or is close to being a utopia use this imagery to maintain the system, while the opponents of this vision become explicitly utopian (Baxter is obviously the classic case). This is one of the few cases I am aware of in which Karl Mannheim's (1893-1947) division between ideology (system maintenance) and utopia (system transformation) actually appears to work.
The Dialectic of Eutopia and Dystopia after World War II
After the war a tradition of New Zealand dystopianism developed. This new tradition centered on an authoritarian government, big business and the resultant development of a class structure in egalitarian New Zealand, and environmental degradation. The great exceptions to this dystopian tradition have been, as in other countries, feminist and green utopias.
But there was a period of enthusiasm in the late 60s and 70s in which anything seemed possible, even government sponsored hippie communes. Prime Minister Norman Kirk (1923-74) proposed these communes. They came to be called ohu. While a few were established, those parts of the government given the responsibility for overseeing them made sure that they failed (The only study of this movement is Sargent, 1999). Other communes--religious and secular, rural and urban--were established throughout New Zealand, a substantial number of which still exist. But most had to constantly struggle to survive in the face of innumerable conflicts with local councils, who generally disapproved and found them difficult to fit under their rules, even when they clearly did fit. Thus, the experience of intentional communities in New Zealand gives a mixed picture. On the one hand, many people dreamed of a form of internal migration in which they created a better life for themselves and their families within New Zealand. But this required them to withdraw from what they saw as the dystopia of contemporary New Zealand.
The dystopia has been the dominant form of the utopia in the twentieth century, but in New Zealand it took hold quite late, just as the utopia was reviving in the rest of the world. Overwhelmingly New Zealand dystopias are set in New Zealand and depict New Zealand with an authoritarian government determined to ignore environmental concerns in the name of profit for large corporations. Many dystopias extrapolate directly from events in New Zealand, reading the policies of the government then in power into a very near future authoritarianism that is either related to the support of corporate power or is simply self-serving, based on the belief that the government knows better than the people. The government is always willing to impose its beliefs on the people, by force if necessary, but most often through fraud and trickery.
Utopian literature becomes more complex, less certain, and more self-critical. The 1960s and '70s saw a dramatic resurgence in the number of utopias published and from 1970 on there has been a series of exceptional works, including Janet Frame's Intensive Care (1970), C.K. Stead's Smith's Dream (1971, rev. 1973), Sandi Hall's The Godmothers (1982), James McNeish's Joy (1982), Vernon Wilkinson's After the Bomb (1984), Lora Mountjoy's Deep Breathing (1984), Rachel McAlpine's The Limits of Green (1985) and Running Away from Home (1987), Mike Johnson's Lear (1986), Ian Wedde's Symme's Hole (1986), John Cranna's Arena (1992), Fiona Farrell's The Skinny Louie Book (1992), Rosie Scott's Feral City (1992), and Chris Baker's Kokopu Dreams (2000).
Intensive Care by Janet Frame (1924-) is both the earliest and best known modern New Zealand dystopia. It begins with a fairly straightforward family history but shifts gears dramatically to a society which, after a future war, is trying to cleanse itself of its "inferior" members. In cooperation with other countries, the Human Delineation Act is passed in New Zealand as a means of improving conditions by eliminating all the unfit. On Classification Day all people will be classified as Human or Animal, and most Animals will be disposed of. This was to be an "objective" process based on parameters programmed into computers. As the Prime Minister said "For how many years have we tried to mend, to recover and care for broken bits of humanity without realizing that disposal, with other waste, is the solution" (250). The plan backfires, and, although many are killed, the unfit become the new elite.
Also set after a future war, Vernon Wilkinson's (1916-) After the Bomb (1984) has a similar scheme in which New Zealand is part of an evolving world wide utopian society. Here the isolation of the unfit is part of an attempt to eliminate aggression as an essential basis of creating the better future world. But the experience of doing so has begun to dehumanize the citizens of the future world. At the end of the novel the protagonists from our world suggest that this is an area in which the utopia is flawed and can be improved.
Today, there are three main streams of utopian writing--communalism, feminism, and environmentalism--and they reflect similar concerns. The fictional representation of a future communalism, such as Gordon Kerins's No Lasting City (1981) and Barry Rosenberg's "Sweetwaters 1984: The Final Refuge" (Pathfinder 1983) suggests that there is a sense of lost community among contemporary New Zealanders. The other primary utopian themes of environmentalism and feminism are shared with many other countries. In all three foci, the government and big business are represented as in league with each other to deliberately destroy the New Zealand utopia in the name of personal gain.
There is a tension between the "Man Alone" tradition in New Zealand literature,(8) perhaps best represented in recent utopias by Bob Jone's (1939-) The Permit (1984) and the community basis of most utopian literature. In New Zealand the community is particularly strong in feminist utopian literature, such as Lora Mountjoy's (1942-) Deep Breathing (1984) and Sandi Hall's (1942-) Wingwomen of Hera (1987), and in the communalism stemming from a respect for traditional Maori culture. In some recent utopias, most notably Rachel McAlpine's (1940-) The Limits of Green (1985) and Running Away from Home (1987) and Chris Baker's Kokopu Dreams (2000), the natural world is presented as joining those who are revolting against environmental degradation and reclaiming the land from governmental and corporate greed. These are all complex works that weave together eutopian and dystopian elements.
In 1964 W.H. Oliver wrote, "The label Utopia is one I am content to apply to New Zealand, not because I think New Zealand to be a perfect society but rather because I think that the experiment has been essentially successful. Here in New Zealand all may stay alive, all may aspire to the good life, and some will achieve it. That is about enough for any human society" (1). In a tradition that continues, it is difficult to draw conclusions, but: throughout the history of New Zealand, there has been a strong belief that it was possible to create the good life here for most or even all of the people.
The only other country where utopian aspirations appear to have played a comparable role is the United States. While all the other countries I have studied so far--Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, and the United Kingdom (England and Scotland)--have national utopian traditions that are important and help us understand their national cultures, only in New Zealand and the US are these aspirations absolutely central to the national experience. While it is possible that further research will change this perception, at present these two countries stand out for the importance of utopianism in their histories.
And for most of its history New Zealand has not had a significant antiutopian current, a current that has co-existed with the utopian as it did in the US from the very beginning. Thus, New Zealand appears to have developed a stronger utopian tradition than any other country, one much closer to the center of its national experience. Perhaps this is due to a significant difference in the histories of the two countries. In New Zealand much of the utopian tradition has been based on the desire to improve on Britain, whereas the US utopian tradition developed on the basis of breaking from and rejecting Britain.(9)
For most of its history that good life has been solidly middle-class with a stress on security and no insurmountable differences from one's neighbors. There has always been dissent from that image. Some rejected the implied equality and some found the utopia created a repressive society. The loss of the rough consensus over the content of the New Zealand utopia does not mean that New Zealanders no longer believe in the possibility of a New Zealand utopia, but they do disagree deeply over its content. Thus, utopianism is deeply ingrained in the national character of New Zealand, and disagreements over the nature of the utopia reflect divisions normal in any society. While these divisions are particularly acute at present, they have been equally acute at times in the past and have successfully healed.
There is undoubtedly a tension between individual aspirations for a better life for themselves and their families and the desire to create a better social order for all. In New Zealand, historically the two have seemed to coincide; today, it is the explicit contention of many that they are of necessity at odds with each other. I suggest at least as an hypothesis that significant social change is most possible when they coincide. It is clear today in New Zealand that such change is possible. Whether or not it will happen is impossible to judge; we will only know that in the future.
Human beings are never satisfied, at least for long, so there will never be a utopian New Zealand because there will always be some of its citizens who say that their New Zealand is not good enough; as good as it is, it can be better yet.
(*) It is, of course, impossible for the editor of the journal to be anonymously refereed. Therefore this essay was sent to the entire Editorial Board, some of whom responded at length and in great detail. Their comments were extremely helpful and have greatly improved the essay. In addition Raffaella Baccolini commented in detail on the revised version of the essay. I thank them for their help and ask their indulgence in those instances where I did not take it.
(1.) On the general subject, see Sinclair. For the relationship to utopianism, see Sargent 2000.
(2.) The material I use raises some problems because I mix together that long associated with utopianism, such as utopian literature and intentional communities, with documents from and about immigration and travel narratives. There is no question in my mind that the aspirations and expectations of immigrants have utopian dimensions. I have also concluded that material designed to recruit such immigrants has often been couched in utopian terms. In fact, some could plausibly be designated fictions. Travel narratives, where they are not being used as recruiting devices, I have used only where explicitly utopian language is used.
(3.) See the novel on Waipu by Kidman. Studies of and sources regarding Waipu and its history include Harvey; Idyll of the Shipbuilders; Gordon Macdonald; McKenzie, McPherson; and Robinson 1952 and 1997.
(4.) I am primarily using letters from emigrants that were published at the time, but I am suspicious that they may have been written by the colonization companies rather than by actual settlers. I would like to use letters we can know are from actual settlers, immigrant songs, and the like. Rollo Arnold argues, illustrating his argument with letters of immigrants, that New Zealand immigrants came largely from areas most effected by the Revolt of the Fields, the farm workers strike (18-39).
(5.) There is material on the Clarionites in the Ranstead Papers at the Alexander Turnbull Library, and they are mentioned in Eric Beardsley's novel Blackball 08 (1984).
(6.) For a consideration of Pearson's analysis and its relationship to utopianism, see Shuker. Clark argues that Pearson's view is too negative and compares it to Chapman, who, she argues, makes a more balanced argument.
(7.) So far the only studies of Riverside are an in house history and a short history of one phase of its development. See Rain and Parr. The papers of the community are held by the Alexander Turnbull Library. There are many popular
commentaries on the community.
(8.) The phrase is taken from John Mulgan's 1939 novel Man Alone and refers to the topos of solitariness. As the unattached male hero pioneer acting out society's values this is a standard theme in colonial societies. In New Zealand, after 1930 it became the solitary rebel or victim or both together and then later it tended to become the solitary agent, no longer a victim.
(9.) I wish to thank Kenneth M. Roemer for this insight.
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Lyman Tower Sargent is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri--St. Louis and Editor of this journal. He recently edited The Utopia Reader with Gregory Claeys (New York UP, 1999) and is currently working on various aspects of utopianism in New Zealand.
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|Author:||SARGENT, LYMAN TOWER|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
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