Communicating national narratives in early 20th Century New Zealand

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In 1905, New Zealand was granted dominion status by her ‘mother’ country Great Britain.
Almost immediately, the government instituted a national project to persuade the former
colony’s citizens that they were no longer just British, or even ‘Tasmanians’ but the proud
owners of a new national identity – the New Zealander. As such, they were now ‘one people.’
For the first half of the 20th century, this project spanned a wide range of creative
communications including:
• school texts books written to explain to children what their new nationality meant,
and what was expected of them in return
• public relations activities to mediate for the newly independent government, including
the early establishment of a press gallery
• sponsored journalism and magazine articles in nationally funded publications, such as
the New Zealand Railways Magazine
• war correspondence to explain the developing conflict in Europe to a remote public
• advertising directed not only at an external tourism market, but at an internal identity
• mass observation and film projects, such as Glover’s The Coaster, emulating
Grierson’s Empire Marketing Board Film Unit
• state arts sponsorship of a national literature project, including funding for the PEN
festival, development funding for young writers and stipends and pensions for retiring
This paper overviews the constituent parts of this project and examines the key figures,
analysing their activities using a range of post colonial theories to demonstrate how their
work did not constitute a new identity for New Zealand, but the continuation of old colonial
one, based on tropes such as:
• alienation of the ‘native’
• exploitation and land acquisition
• marginalisation of women as an inferior partner in the new ‘settler contract.’
By focusing on the motif of the ‘man alone,’ created by what the paper terms ‘warrior
writers,’ such as John Mulgan and Denis Glover, while refusing similar support to Maori
artists or women such as Robyn Hyde, the project ultimately floundered and contributed to
both social unrest and the re-visioning of New Zealand in bi-cultural terms in the latter part
of the 20th century.
Building on the interdisciplinary work of academics such as Belich and Hilliard, the paper
concludes that the project has implications for adaptive international communications in the
21st century and that in all such future projects, one people must mean all people.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventInternational History of Public Relations Conference 2014 - Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Jul 20143 Jul 2014


ConferenceInternational History of Public Relations Conference 2014
Abbreviated titleIHPRC 2014
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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