Nations and Nationalism in Australia and New Zealand

Peter Beilharz & Lloyd Cox. The Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. Editor: Gerard Delanty & Krishan Kumar. 2006. Sage Publishing.

Australia and New Zealand present a fascinating case when it comes to nations and nationalism. Both are evidently imperial artifacts, the results of the expansion of the British Empire into the Southland in the eighteenth century. Both are examples of what is best described as settler capitalism, agrarian-based primary commodity export economies with British superstructures imposed from above. Both nations therefore displace indigenous peoples, though these indigenous peoples also differ dramatically in culture and organizations across the Tasman (indigenous peoples make up 14 per cent of New Zealanders and 2 per cent of Australians). Both white cultures look alike, to the outsider, even if New Zealand looks more British. Both share British state institutions, patterns of party organization and union organization. Both share imperial commonwealth culture, from cricket to Fabianism. Yet the two experiences are also dramatically different. Australia is a big country, more accurately a small country or society connected by large distances. Only the southern lands of Australia are temperate. Two-thirds of Australia is arid; its populace hugs the urban edge of the continent. All of New Zealand is green and temperate. Its inhabitants are more widely spread over a much smaller space, though a disproportionate number of them now live around Auckland. Australian history is more clearly artificial, additionally, in the sense that its identity is more often local or regional, at least in terms of everyday life.

The idea of Australia reaches back to Terra Australis Incognita before first settlement in 1788, but its practical identity until Federation in 1901 (and after) is colonial, constituted by the colonial cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart. New Zealand, despite the Dutch associations of the name, was later viewed from its Anglo beginnings as Arcadia. Yet the parallel paths of the two nations are also constitutive of their identities. The older Greek image of the antipodes leads on to the collective identity of Australia and New Zealand as Australasia across the path of the nineteenth century. Australia and New Zealand certainly worked together as part of a larger imperial labour market and labour movement, as well as a shared market for finance and commerce. The earlier arguments for Australian federation, indeed, were arguments for Australasian federation. The Australian Constitution, drafted for 1901, still contains within it a clause leaving open New Zealand as a possible member of the Australian Commonwealth. So these are stories at once both intertwined and distinct.

If these are parallel paths, but not quite parallel histories, then they are also stories of separate nations, perhaps most emphatically after World War II, when nation-building proceeded apace as national developmentalism and Fordism made their mark, even if more evidently in Australia than New Zealand (McMichael 1994; Rolfe 1999). Into the 1990s, in the face of the new globalization both experiences were described anew as historic settlements; what in the critical literature was referred to as settler capitalism in the new world (Denoon 1987) was now reviewed as the ‘Australian Settlement’ by Paul Kelly (Kelly 1992), and with a different emphasis, the ‘Pakeha Settlement’ in New Zealand by James Belich (Belich 1996). In both cases, the image was one of a white man’s new world, protected from the ravages of the world system by institutions like arbitration, and able to deliver prosperity on an agrarian production base. As Zygmunt Bauman likes to remind us, you only notice something when it fails to work. And so, in these historic cases, did the image of settlement become apparent when it was blown away by the new wave of globalization.


The myth of modern Australian history is that Australia’s defining attribute is its nationalism. The nation-state Australia is a twentieth-century phenomenon, and so is nationalism. Certainly the nation-state becomes a powerful reality in Australia, but this is only strikingly so after World War II, in the period when war, followed by nation-building, the post-war boom and decolonization all coincide. What is more evident geographically speaking is that Australia is a land mass or continent, a continent which in the eyes of the federation fathers a century ago was looking for a nation (Ward 1977). Given its lack of a myth of national foundation, in war or revolution, given its accidental and bureaucratic origins as a penal colony, to the afterlife of which its instigators apparently gave little thought, it may actually be more useful to view Australia as an accidental nation. If we begin from the premise that Australia was an accidental nation, then the historiographical and widespread popular sense that Australia is a country of strong nationalism becomes less persuasive. Nationalism in Australia might then be viewed as a more complex phenomenon, politically contingent and periodically enforced upon citizens by their political leaders for electoral reasons or beaten up by the media for sporting events, not least in times of crisis, whether local or global.

To begin to think about the nation in Australia is difficult. To begin to think about Australia is difficult, in terms of the standard liberal or Marxist sensibilities. First, from penal settlement in 1788, the state precedes capital. Second, in a particular cultural sense, labour precedes capital, as bond labour becomes free with the end of transportation, and as capital remains in London, whereas labour, as always, is geographically fixed (though it is also mobile across the Tasman). The kind of nationalism which is then identified as central by historians into the twentieth century is labour nationalism. After its Whig phase, Australian history-writing becomes labour history, history from below as befits the image of the land and its popular inflection as ‘down-under.’

The most powerful images of labour nationalism in the 1890s are imperial and racially exclusive (McQueen 1970). The image of White Australia finds its enthusiasts across liberal and labour ranks, and this is telling, for the identity of Australia and of Australian nationalism here is in its original form racially defined. Everyday life and loyalty are colonial, defined by the reach of concerns in regional shearing sheds or in the suburbs of Brisbane or the slums of Melbourne, but national identity, when it is presenced, is primarily racial. Indeed, the first legislative act of the new Federal Parliament was to introduce the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901. Australian identity here, is white, Anglo, European, not of Asia, neither yellow nor black. The aura of Australia, in this period, was that of A New Britannia in the Southern Seas. New Zealand, more racially pure in its settler population, less tropical in its geographical extremities, still later identified its dream as that of a Better Britain.

This is not to say that labour nationalism ruled, or that its content was absolutely shared by Australia’s political elite. For one thing, labour nationalism would also happily dispense at least in principle with the aristocratic fops of the political elite. Its socialist dream was often of capitalism without capitalists, as elsewhere in Europe and the New World; and its racism was often moderated by the internationalism of labour and the idea of universal brotherhood. But its mainstream, the labourism that was to dominate both the Left and popular culture, was racially exclusivist.

Did the advocates of white Australia then see themselves as Australians? Yes, in this particular register, facing outwards, towards the wider world and not only inwards, or on to the next day and its bread. Yet the presence of imperial consciousness and the images of the New Britannia were such as to qualify this sense irredeemably. In the context of a New Britannia, the citizen (male) would be an Independent Australian Briton. This was confirmed by federation in 1901, the ordinary impact of which is still subject to dispute. There were nation-builders leading up to this event, though their identities were also colonial, for before federation there was no national capital, and Canberra, an artificial invention built in the shadow of Washington, DC and garden city planning, was a city that was never a colony. The city of Canberra thus became identified with the twentieth-century project of nation-building in a way that made the two mutually constitutive, at the same time confirming their distance from the everyday life of most citizens in the older and commercial colonial cities. The next significant phase was marked by World War I. In the absence of a foundational revolution, the imperial event at Gallipoli became symbolic of Australian nationalism in the context of the imperial heritage. Here the figure of the bronzed, laconic Aussie was born, or constructed. The figure of the ANZAC is expressive of the moment: imperial, Britain in the European theatre of world war; Australian, marked by the pragmatism and comradeship of the wide brown land; and bonded together with the Kiwis, the NZ part of ANZAC.

The Australian state, and the colonial traditions which proceeded it, have long been connected with the idea of colonial socialism, or state socialism (Reeves 1902; Eggleston 1932). Australia and New Zealand together, and perhaps especially New Zealand, were viewed from the north as the social laboratory of the New World. The institution of arbitration was constructed in traffic across the Tasman; then in 1938 the Savage Labour government pioneered global developments in welfare provision in New Zealand ‘from the cradle to the grave.’ Both the statist tradition and, in a different sense, the practical socialism of the antipodes was confirmed, momentarily, in the period of reconstruction after World War II. The significance of the war for the project of nation-building in Australia cannot be underestimated. For it saw, for example, the first moment at which taxation became a federal prerogative, presuming now that it was the nation rather than the colonies (or then states) which was both the appropriate organizational unit of the state and the desirable carrier of collective identity. If federation was the first serious political attempt to make a nation-state, then post-war reconstruction was its practical sequel and extension in a world where nation-building and rebuilding was now the shared global imperative. The national-development phase of global capitalist development in Australia shared its impulses. Import substitution was consolidated on a grand scale with the development of local Fordism and the shift from car assembly to local car production (Davison 2004). The idea of a National Health Service was mooted in Australia and defeated. The 1944 Federal Labor government referendum on the widespread extension of state powers was defeated by the electorate. The Australian National University was established in 1949, together with a Research School of Social Sciences to guide it and Canberra. National demography became an academic priority and a developmental object, via programmes of Southern European migration to build industry and its suburbs, and to push programmes of national development like the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme in New South Wales, a national development programme that could be compared to the Hoover Dam in the United States.

The result of the post-war boom and programme of national development was the emergence in the period of the so-called ‘Lucky Country’ in the 1960s (Horne 1964). Here the image was of the Australian nation as a consumptive more than productive culture, where primary export commodity markets could maintain a strong and well-fed largely Anglo population and facilitate its historic shift from the hope of a civic nation into the fun palace of a leisure nation. This was a lazy nationalism, the product of widespread abundance; it remained racially exclusive, though now increasingly European rather than strictly British. One result was that during the 1960s the idea or at least the slogan of the White Australia Policy was abandoned, both by the Labor party and by the state, though assimilation clearly ruled.

Into the 1970s both nation and nationalism took a social democratic turn, marked at government level by the reformist Whitlam moment, 1972-75. This represented a new period of cultural nationalism, perhaps reminiscent of Trudeau in Canada, together with a cosmopolitan inflexion. The Whitlam government encouraged the development of a national literary canon, not least in the form of film and television, as well as the valorization of cultural diversity. Against a backdrop of accelerated globalization, shifts in diplomatic priorities from Europe and North America to Asia, and immigration trends that diluted the demographic weight of ‘white’ Australia, the new doctrine and practice of ‘multiculturalism’ progressively displaced pre-existing unicultural narratives of nationhood in most official discourse. While certainly more tolerant of cultural diversity within the nation than its ethnocentric predecessor, this new exercise in civic nationalism was not without its detractors. Many critics of multiculturalism have argued that it conceals the continuation of a hard Anglo ethnic core, dominated by a white Anglo-Celtic elite that defines itself, and is defined by others, as non-ethnic (Hage 2000; Jakubowicz et al. 1984). Elizabeth Povinelli (2002) has similarly argued that multiculturalism called upon Aboriginal Australians to identify with an impossible ideal of ‘traditional’ cultural authenticity, the logic of which is both conformist and non-conflictual. However, although seeking to domesticate the mobilizing power of ethnic identification and grievance within safe cultural parameters, multiculturalism also opened up new spaces for political assertiveness. Indigenous peoples used the new sense of the expanding political sphere or civil society to organize public presence, not least in the form of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a self-fabricated space located in the grounds in front of Parliament House in Canberra. The image of the black nation could no longer be avoided by the white mainstream.

By the 1980s, the Labor government returned to office, restyled now as the party of state, no longer as the party of the labour movement. The long Labor Decade, 1983-96, saw Australia Labor in tandem with New Zealand Labour anticipate Blair’s subsequent New Labour in Britain (Beilharz 1994). This represented the closure of the moment of the project of national development, and the reformation of the nation-state in terms of the globalizing project. The return to power of the conservatives, or Liberals under Howard since 1996, has seen the maintenance and acceleration of the processes of economic globalization together with a formal return to the politics of monoculturalism. In this way, the political achievement of Howard has been to connect back to the populist core of the image of labour nationalism, to refigure this as a middle-class ‘battler’ ethic and to connect this to the political economy of deregulation.

New Zealand

Nationalism in New Zealand presents a series of striking contrasts and parallels with its Australian counterpart. The contrasts are perhaps less obvious, especially to the outside observer, but are critical to understanding the specific form, content and historical trajectory of New Zealand nationalism and nationality. Their genesis can be traced to the decades following the 1860s land wars between the Maori and the colonial government, which generated mutually determining pan-Maori and pakeha (white) New Zealand identities. These were the bases for, and manifestations of, two opposing nationalist imaginaries that continue to shape contemporary New Zealand politics. In the late nineteenth century, they both represented proto-nationalisms in search of nations.

In 1854, Canterbury pioneer Thomas Cholmondeley wrote about American precedents for the New Zealand nation, while Governor George Grey told Maori chiefs that one day ‘a great nation will occupy these lands’ (cited in Sinclair 1986: 1). It was not until the final decades of that century that the idea took on a more coherent collective expression. If ‘nations’ are formed not so much by any identifiable empirical property as by nationalist claims themselves, as Craig Calhoun (1997) has argued, then it is clear that Maori and pakeha nations became gradually sharpening frames of reference during this period. What we might usefully call ‘Maorination’ came first. The most obvious manifestations were the Kingitanga (King Movement) and Kotahitanga (Maori Parliament) (Denoon and Mein-Smith 2000: 184-95). Born in the shadows of and as responses to colonial dominance, both sought to encompass particularist tribal claims and identities within a more inclusive ‘Maori’ framework. Both sought to marry cultural autonomy with political objectives, not least of which was the securing of Maori interests, leadership and sovereignty (tino rangatira tanga) in the face of colonial rule, irrespective of tribal affiliation. It is this coupling of culture and politics that marks them out as proto-nationalist. Their ultimate collapse as viable institutions should not blind us to their proto-nationalist character, nor to their enduring legacy for the Maori cultural and political renaissance of the 1970s. They also made a crucial contribution to the formation of a white settler nationalism and identity, against which the Maori were increasingly defined and, at least partially, marginalized.

Settler nationalism, and its twentieth-century progeny, has always been unclear about the status of the Maori within its self-proclaimed nation. On the one hand, an assimilationist strain sought to incorporate the Maori within narratives of national becoming. In this view, the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi was a unique experiment in cooperation between an indigenous population and European settlers, rather than the imperial fraud that radicals often present it as being. It expresses a compact between, and a founding document of, two peoples who would go on to form one nation. The early vote for the Maori (1876 for male Maori with individual property title), and their physical survival and relative prosperity as compared to indigenous peoples elsewhere, are presented as proof of the enlightened attitude of New Zealand’s colonial administration and its desire to incorporate Maori citizens within the new nation. Indeed, one of the arguments put forward against joining the federation with the six other Australasian colonies was that the latter could not be entrusted to uphold the rights of ‘our natives’ given the savage treatment of their own. On the other hand, white settler nationalism evinced a more straightforward exclusionary vision. This vision was premised on a racialized view of the world, which condescendingly viewed the Maori like aborigines, as a window into Europe’s anthropological past—an unassimilable ‘race’ on a lower rung of the evolutionary ladder. The new nation would be a nation of and for the white race, as made clear by New Zealand’s Immigration Restriction Act of 1899. This excluded those who were not of British or Irish parentage and who could not pass an English language test; this was a ‘white New Zealand’ policy two years prior to the implementation of its more infamous Australian counterpart. As Denoon and Mein-Smith note, by the end of the nineteenth century in New Zealand, ‘the shared idea of “the people” had coalesced and permeated public consciousness so that all who were non-white, non-Christian and non-European in culture were labelled “unassimilable”’ (2000: 211).

White settler nationalism was also ambivalent about New Zealand’s relationship to Britain. As a British colony peopled largely by English and Scottish settlers and their descendants, notwithstanding the large Maori minority, ‘New Zealandness’ elicited divided loyalties and contending identities, often within the head and heart of the same settler. Britain remained the mother country amongst early generations of white settlers, including those born in New Zealand. For them, New Zealand promised a Britain of the South Seas, an improved arcadian model to be sure, but one that was still organically tied to, loyal towards and dependent upon the home country. For a time, New Zealand even sought to fashion itself in the imperial image of its British parent, claiming an empire writ small in the South Pacific. Its direct colonial administration of the Cook Islands, Samoa (after World War I) and other small Pacific Islands, and its continued economic and political dominance of them to this day, represent important episodes in the formation of white New Zealand nationalism. Needless to say, the history of New Zealand’s involvement in the South Pacific Islands was also crucial to the emergence of nationalism in the latter, though that story is beyond the scope of this chapter.

Even when the demographic balance shifted in favour of a ‘native born’ white New Zealand populace in the 1880s, the image of the imperial centre as home continued for many pakehas. New Zealanders generally viewed themselves as ‘better Britons,’ but Britons nonetheless, and this would continue until at least World War I. But alongside, or perhaps more accurately within, this ‘better Britonism,’ was growing a more explicitly separate New Zealand identity. This was reflected in the emergence of a more politically assertive nationalist journalism, the formation of ‘New Zealand natives associations’ in the 1890s, and the establishment of numerous national organizations. The New Zealand Farmers’ Union, the New Zealand Rugby Union, the National Council of Women, the first national political parties and trade unions, and many other national organizations date from this period (Sinclair 1986: 3). They expressed a growing sense of separateness from both Britain and, equally important, the other Australasian colonies.

From the standpoint of the present, it might seem inevitable and natural that New Zealand and Australia should form two separate national states and identities. The 1,200 miles separating Sydney from Auckland have themselves been identified as 1,200 good reasons for national separateness, a distance which is magnified by the various cultural, geographic and historical differences that national-centred historiography commonly emphasizes. But this is to read history backwards. It involves a kind of retrospective nationalism which, through a sleight of hand, transforms what was a historically contingent, could-have-been-otherwise process of national-state formation into a historical necessity, a national destiny, or both. What existed prior to the twentieth century was not Australia’ and ‘New Zealand,’ but seven British colonies that bore a pattern of family resemblance and, relative to the rest of the world, a high degree of economic, political and cultural traffic between one another, which helped constitute a ‘Tasman’ or Australasian World.’ This could just as well have been the basis for the emergence of one rather than two national states and identities.

New Zealand’s reasons for not joining the Australian Commonwealth in 1901 have been the subject of extended historical debate (see Fairburn 1970; Sinclair 1987; Belich 2001).

It has been suggested by some that the main reasons are economic. The economic crises of the 1890s affected the other Australasian colonies far worse than they did New Zealand, whose relative economic dynamism was said to be an incentive to remain apart. Some commentators have concluded that New Zealand’s intensified export trade to Britain since the advent of refrigerated shipping in the 1880s had diminished the importance of access to Australian markets, and thus diminished the economic incentives to federate. Finally, some nascent New Zealand industries, along with the trade unions, which overwhelmingly opposed federation, were seen to be fearful of competition within the new unitary market that would be formed by the Australian Commonwealth. While such explanations offer important insights into why some constituencies were against federation, they have difficulty in accounting for why these interests prevailed over others that would have clearly benefited from federating, including the powerful farming lobby. A more rounded explanation must take into account New Zealand settler nationalism itself, which impeded and then was consolidated by federation. Apart from the emergence of a pan-Maori identity, what were the other developments that moulded New Zealand’s settler nationalism?

New Zealand’s transport and communications infrastructure had been transformed from the 1870s, under the stewardship of Julius Vogel. From then on, the rapid growth of a national railway system, the multiplication and improvement of roads, and the proliferation of telegraph lines and postal services, compressed time and space and linked distant localities within and between New Zealand’s two main islands. This not only accelerated provincial interdependencies and extended the reach of the colonial state, it gave material and institutional substance to the imagined space of an emerging nation—developments which Livingston (1996) has perceptively described as ‘technological nationalism.’ Intensified economic and social interconnectedness was coupled with accelerated political centralization. Up to the period of the land wars, political power and administration had been dispersed across the main provincial centres. The debts incurred and demanded by extended military campaigns undermined the autonomy of the provinces, concentrating power in the hands of an expanding central state apparatus. This apparatus, in conjunction with its imperial overseers, set about forging and perfecting legal and administrative uniformity on every square inch of ‘its’ territory—a stimulant to and index of institutional nationalization. From the 1870s, the colonial state also imposed mandatory primary school education for all children, a key instrument of national cultural homogenization in New Zealand as elsewhere. While Gellner’s (1983) claim that nationalism demands and begets the coincidence of cultural and political boundaries is over-generalized, he was surely correct that relative cultural uniformity improves the prospects of initial state formation and consolidation, and that education is one of the key means by which this is accomplished. This was certainly the case in New Zealand, with generations of school children learning a national catechism and mythology within the classroom, thereby helping to form identities that they would carry with them for life.

The other two factors that were constitutive in the emergence of a white New Zealand nationalism during this period, even though shared with Australia, were institutionalized class compromise in the form of compulsory industrial arbitration, and New Zealand’s involvement in war. The 1894 Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act (IC&A) represented the key achievement in a line of progressive legislation implemented by the Liberal government, which gave New Zealand the seeds of a social security system and an international reputation as a social laboratory. The IC&A Act provided a foundation for New Zealand’s lengthy twentieth-century attachment to economic nationalism, while also giving workers as citizens more of a stake in the new state. The IC&A Act and other progressive legislation obscured cleavages of class beneath a unifying veneer of community, providing apparent resolution to social antagonisms that remained unresolved. The myth of egalitarianism and a classless society became incorporated into and central features of the very fabric of New Zealand’s dominant pakeha nationalism. As in Australia, this myth was enhanced by New Zealand’s involvement in war.

Jock Phillips (1996) has identified at least two ANZAC myths. The first is premised on an imperial vision, and commemorates the sacrifices that New Zealanders (and Australians) as ‘better Britons’ made in defence of and as part of the British Empire. The second is less overtly militaristic, more introspective and focused on the private horrors of individual soldiers whose sacrifices were made on behalf of what was ultimately a foreign power. What both narratives share is a sense of national becoming: in the first vision, New Zealand plays its part as a new nation on the global stage, punching above its weight; in the second, New Zealand loses its pre-national innocence, the blood its soldiers spilled a sacrificial rite of national passage. In the immediate aftermath of the war it was the first vision that was dominant, as reflected in the iconography of the shrines and monuments that mushroomed in New Zealand’s towns, cities and rural districts between 1918 and 1922. The ANZAC myth has subsequently been remade and its meaning transformed for new generations, and these same monuments are now interpreted in line with the second vision. They now provide tangible points of reference linking New Zealand’s past, present and future, thereby establishing the continuity necessary for the imagining of a national subject.

New Zealand’s post-war, nation-building project begins in the 1930s with the election of the first Labour government, and more precisely with its enactment of the 1938 Social Security Act. The Act contained a raft of progressive policies centred on state subsidization of health, housing and education, which laid the main pillars of a recognizably modern welfare state. During and beyond Labour’s reign, which ended in 1949, these policies were extended and institutionalized. They developed alongside and as an integral part of a programme of economic nationalism and import substitution, which sought to relieve New Zealand of its heavy reliance on primary production and the importation of manufactured products. Figures like the public servant and economic historian W. B. Sutch (1966, 1972) provided a powerful intellectual rationale for the post-war welfare consensus and its further extension, arguing that economic diversification and the avoidance of foreign control could only be accomplished through tariffs and state intervention into the economy. High consumer prices and heavy state regulation were the prices to be paid to ensure national independence and a more equitable distribution of national income. For a time, New Zealand’s welfare state became a source of national pride and identity. Any child from the 1950s or 1960s could recite the frequently trumpeted fact that New Zealand enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world. But this fact, and the complacent assumptions of the dominant nationalist orthodoxy on which it rested, were beginning to be undermined by internal and external challenges; a resurgent Maori nationalism on the one hand, and the corrosive effects of intensified globalization on the other.

A Maori nationalist revival was initiated in the late 1960s and intensified over the following two decades. It would, eventually, be realized in the ideology and political practice of ‘bi-culturalism,’ which was in many ways to New Zealand what ‘multiculturalism’ was to Australia.

In the wake of the Second World War large numbers of Maori had moved from rural to urban areas, and were concentrated in areas of high poverty and relative deprivation. These would in time become a focus for Maori grievances, and sites of cultural re-affirmation. In this context, Donna Awatere’s Maori Sovereignty (1984) provided both an articulate challenge to the white nationalist orthodoxy, and a militant alternative vision framed by Maori self-determination. The large land rights march in 1975, which spanned the length of the North Island in order to publicize Maori grievances, confirmed the depth of Maori nationalist sentiment. It was followed by a major confrontation at Auckland’s Bastion Point in 1978, where hundreds of Maori who had occupied some of the city’s most exclusive real estate were physically evicted by a huge police mobilization. The South African rugby tour of 1981, and the violence that ensued in its wake, further radicalized Maori youth and sharpened feelings of national marginalization. Taken together, these events contributed to the reinvigoration of a moribund Waitangi Tribunal that had earlier been set up to address Maori land claims. The co-opting of prominent Maori activists into its bureaucratic machine was simultaneously symptom and cause of the differentiation of Maori nationalism between radical and reformist strains, itself a reflection of increased socio-economic differentiation within the Maori population. This process accelerated after the fourth Labour government came to power in 1984 and immediately set about transforming New Zealand’s political economy, allegedly in response to globalization.

The deregulation of the New Zealand economy, the corporatization and privatization of state-owned industries, and the hollowing out of welfare provision and entitlement, have had their corollary in a shifting national idiom and sensibility. The cult of individualism and the destructive social logic of unfettered free markets have placed greater strains on the pretensions of nationalism to be a unifying, levelling force. New Zealand’s dominant nationalism in the 1980s and 1990s took on all of the trappings of a cynical marketing exercise, packaged and repackaged in Americas Cup extravaganzas and the commercialization of sport more generally. It also had the odious effect of reanimating a far-right nationalist populism—in the form of Winston Peters’s anti-Asian, anti-immigrant New Zealand First party—which appeals directly to the fears and prejudices of a constituency marginalized by globalization and neoliberal restructuring. In this it mirrors the development of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party in Australia, though as in Australia the larger dynamics indicate striking social division rather than severe political polarization.


The emergence, maturation and transformation of New Zealand and Australian identity and nationalism over the long century discussed in this chapter draw out one key fact: the essentially contested nature of the ways that the categories New Zealand and Australia are imagined. This struggle for control over imagination about community in its antipodean context is likely to intensify over the coming years as the communities that they encompass diversify in response to the rapidly changing rhythms of an increasingly globalized world. In both countries, this struggle will also likely continue lock-step, given the respective strength and tradition of the parties to struggle. In New Zealand, the contest will remain more clearly bicultural; in Australia, it will likely be rather between images of an ‘old’ and a ‘new’ Australia (Beilharz 2004).

Looking back at these stories of the rise and renegotiation of antipodean nation-building, the conceptual clarity of the idea of the nation-state and of nationalism blurs. These were accidental, or incidental nations imposed, differently, both on indigenous peoples and on convict and settler subjects, who were at best Britons with local accents and markings. The traffic across the Tasman has meant that only more recently has the question of citizenship become more decisive, and yet more indifferent, as more and more antipodeans travel out. As Bauman indicates, you only notice what you have when it’s gone. The Australasian experiment was state-dependent, and only latterly more clearly nationalistic. Now it is deregulated, and its nationalisms are less well-rehearsed, even if they are increasingly hostile towards one another. For those who remain, the vicissitudes of settlement continue.