Toppling the Past?: Statues, Public Memory and the Afterlife of Empire in Contemporary New Zealand

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Tony Ballantyne


This article explores some of the recent debates over statues, memorials and cultures of commemoration in New Zealand. These 'statue wars' are particularly focused on explorers, military men, colonial governors, and even Queen Victoria herself, figures who are seen as being deeply implicated in the production of the persistent inequalities and pain that has resulted from colonialism and empire. My analysis particularly focuses on the city of Tūranga/Gisborne, James Cook's first landing place in New Zealand and a location where there has a sequence of heated debates over Cook's legacies and a series of attacks on statues of the navigator. It explores three ways in which the city's landscape of memory has been reshaped: the removal of a contentious 1969 statue, the creative redevelopment of a long-standing historic reserve, and the erection of a statue to a key Ngāti Oneone tupuna (ancestor). This discussion particularly highlights the work and arguments of the Ngāti Oneone historian and artist, Nick Tupara. The final section of the essay turns to the author's own location - Ōtepoti/Dunedin - and offers a reading of debates over statues in that city, underlining the pivotal importance of indigenous perspectives on history and public space.

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Articles Statue Wars (PEER REVIEWED)