New Zealand Day or, Happy Waitangi Day

Happy New Zealand Day!

The Haast’s Eagle, the largest bird of prey (until extinction) attacking a flightless moa (also extinct)

The islands that make up what today is known as New Zealand were, for centuries, uninhabited by people. Due to isolation, the islands hosted many distinct creatures and were dominated by large birds. There were no land mammals, only bats and the marine variety on the coast.


a Maori warrior (left) and a group of Moriori (right)

Austronesians came from Polynesia sometime between 800 and 1300 A.D, making New Zealand one of the last major land masses to be settled by people. These people organized into groups called hapu. Over time, they came to refer to themselves collectively as Māori. They called theNorth Island Te Ika a Māui (the fish of Māui) and the South Island Te Wai Pounamu (the waters of jade) or Te Waka a Māui (the canoe of Māui). Around 1500, a group split off and migrated toRekohu and developed a culture known as Moriori. These people embraced Pacifism which served them poorly when they were massacred and cannibalized by the Maori in the 1830s. The remaining Moriori, who’d adapted to the harsh climate of Rekohu, died out completely in the early 20th century.

  Abel Tasman                                                               James Cook

In 1642, Abel Tasman encountered the Maori, who killed some of his men. He erroneously assumed the land was attached to a continent off the coast of Argentina and called the country Staten Landt.

About 30 years later, the next European showed up, British explorer James Cook in 1769. After discovering the islands were in fact islands, cartographers had labeled them Nova Zeelandia, Latinfor “New Zeeland,” after a province in the Netherlands. Sealers, whalers, traders and escaped convicts from Australia began to colonize the islands. The traders traded metal tools, guns and potatoes in exchange for timber and sex. By the 1830s, these Pakehas numbered in the thousands. Many Maori adopted European manners and many Europeans adopted Maori ways, having been said to have “gone native” or become Pakeha Maori.


Predictably, the introduction and influx of guns brought on inter-tribal wars — known in this case as the Musket Wars. Coupled with disease, 10 to 50 percent of the Maori died in the first part of the 19th century. Due to the perceived severity of the situation, Queen Victoria sent William Hobson, who negotiated the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori on February 6th, 1840 which established New Zealand as a nation with guarantees of rights for Maori although the Maori and English texts are said to say different things and were boycotted by some Maori.

In the decades following, the so-called New Zealand Land Wars provided cover for a British land grab of 95% of remaining Maori lands. Many predicted extinction for the indigenous people, who instead fought for rights and began to recover. In the early 20th century, some people started calling New Zealand Aotearoa (usually translated as “Land of the Long, White Cloud”) to reflect its pre-European identity.

New Zealander Film

The first screening of a movie in New Zealand took place in 1896 as part of a show presented by Charles Godfrey’s Vaudeville Company. The first homegrown filmmaker was Alfred Whitehouse, who made ten films between 1898 and 1900. The first feature film was Hinemoa which premiered in Auckland in 1914.

Before the 1970s, the few films New Zealand produced were mostly documentaries. Notable directors included Rudall Hayward and Roger Mirams. Sleeping Dogs from 1977, starring Sam Neill and directed by Roger Donaldson, was the first New Zealand film to play in the USA. 1981’sGoodbye Pork Pie, Pictures and Smash Palace, whilst not terribly popular internationally, signalled the beginning of a locally commercially successful industry. Utu and The Quiet Earth followed.


In the 1990s, Lee Tamahori‘s powerful Once Were Warriors set a new record at the box office andPeter Jackson and Jane Campion began to create a buzz internationally among critics and cult-film lovers. Jackson remains one of the few New Zealanders who still makes his films at home, most other talent having defected to Hollywood only to make less interesting fair. Lee Tamahori made Die Another Day and XXX: State of the Union. Two years ago he was arrested whilst dressed as a woman when he offered a BJ to an undercover LAPD officer.

          Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, Lee Tamahori, and Roger Donaldson

Music of New Zealand

In the 1970s New Zealander Richard O’Brien wrote the musical Rocky Horror Picture Showwhich opened in London in 1973. Back in New Zealand, hard rock flourished from the likes of Alastair Riddell/Space WaltzHuman Instinct, Bill T.K., Space Farm, Living Force, Dragon and Hello Sailor, Th’Dudes, but the most famous band was the sort-of quirky Split Enz. Punk bands included The Scavengers, the Suburban Reptiles, Proud Scum and Nocturnal Projections and the Chris Knox-fronted The Enemy.

In the 1980s, Tim Finn from Split Enz formed Crowded House, who was huge for a song or two. The weirder-than-she’s-given-credit-for-being Shona Laing, The Exponents, and Dave Dobbyn were also popular. Local Hip Hop (rapped in Maori and English) started with Upper Hutt Posse. But, most celebrated by critics was New Zealand’s alternative music, which is often distinguishable by an admirable disinterest in musical technicality coupled with a strong sense of melody roughly comparable to their contemporaries in Scotland.




The aforementioned The Enemy were formed in Dunedin, a southern university town which spawned what is known as the “Dunedin Sound.” Pioneers in that scene included Toy Love (also with Chris Knox) and The Same (later The Chills). Flying Nun Records was founded in Christchurch in 1981 and championed the lo-fi bands that followed. “Tally Ho” by The Cleanunexpectedly reached the top 20. An amazing number of talented bands (considering how small the population is) followed including The Tall Dwarfs, Straitjacket Fits, The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, Headless Chickens, Bailter Space, The Verlaines, Able Tasmans, The Sneaky Feelings, The Bats, The Bilders, the 3Ds, The Gordons, The Terminals, Bird Nest Roys, The Dead C, Loves Ugly Children, Look Blue Go Purple, The DoubleHappys and Alastair Gailbraith. In 1999 Matthew Bannister of The Sneaky Feelings wrote Positively George Street: A Personal History of the Sneaky Feelings and the Dunedin Sound about the New Zealand music industry of the 1980s, including, of course, Flying Nun.

In the 1990s, the Maori group, Otara Millionaires Club or OMC gave us “How Bizarre,” which is still New Zealand’s highest selling single. Flying Nun remained significant with new signings including the Mint Chicks, The D4, HDU, Garageland, Gerling, PanAm, Betchadupa, Ghost Club, The Subliminals and Adam Brand. A 41 track DVD called Very Short Films includes 41 different videos from Flying Nun’s roster that is essential for people who like what has been described as “high-end pop with a twist.”
In the 2000s, the British press pumped up The Datsuns with typical hype. In New Zealand, a local style known as Urban Pasifika grew out of local hip-hop and incorporated a sweet, chart-friendly sound.

Anyway, Happy New Zealand Day!


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Click here to offer financial support and thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s