Review: A History of New Zealand Women

Today is the 124th anniversary of the success of the women’s suffrage movement. As I sit outside to take some time to myself to inch closer to finishing the fantastic book by Barbara Brookes ‘A History of New Zealand Women’, I can’t help but think about the tumultuous upheaval of the last one hundred and fifty years and the massive changes our society has grown through.

The book is particularly important because it weaves through the different issues affecting Pākehā and Māori women in Aotearoa. The continuing trauma of colonisation and the ongoing efforts to resist this are so important for young people, including Pākehā women like myself, to understand and respect. These are the politics of our history and they are woven into our lives whether we are aware of it or not.

Barbara’s story telling effortlessly works through a large number of policies, organisations and individuals lives. The stories are poignant and help me to understand my Mother’s life and the world she grew up in. On a day like today when I find myself wringing my hands about the chaos and upset surrounding the impending election I am reminded that change is always happening in some direction and that this is often a painful and difficult process.

I’m also surprisingly shocked (although I shouldn’t be) at how relevant the arguments from the 1960s and 70s still are today. The abortion debate that has risen to the fore this election is one example. With the current Crimes Act dating back to 1961, some of the arguments and debates are very familiar. I also found it useful to understand that the unequal pay gap partly originated from the belief that men had to support a family financially whereas women did not. Obviously, as the author outlines there are numerous facets of social norms and ideology that have kept the gender pay gap in place, but I find it helps to understand the origins of these phenomenon, if only as a retort to the endless barrage of internet trolling that surrounds these issues.

Another important role of history like this is to remind us where we fell over. It is clear from reading these histories that Pākehā women often moved within a mind-set that excluded the injustices of colonisation. I have heard of Kate Shepard numerous times and visited the monument to her on the banks of the Avon Ōtakaro river as a teenager but I hadn’t heard of Iriaka Ratana, the first Māori women MP elected to parliament. Barbara Brookes charts the course of many Māori women involved in politics such as Rehutai Maihi of Ngāpuhi who stood for election in 1935 and Tauiwa (Eva) Rickards who fought for the return of lands confiscated during WW2.

It would be great to see these histories taught as part of a wider decolonising of our education system. The calls for teaching more focussed the Colonial Land Wars are a good place to start and it would be even more fantastic to open up different histories to our young people.

These stories are a window into the different lives that have walked through Aotearoa and they are vitally important.

Research and writing like that in ‘A History of New Zealand Women’ are just the beginning and I can’t wait to learn more about our past and hear more from Māori, Pasifica and Tau Iwi voices in telling these stories.


A History of New Zealand

Barbara Brooks


Christchurch Five Years On…

As we move on from the fifth anniversary of the February 22nd earthquake I’d like to share a piece I wrote for The Conversation to mark the anniversary.


In this article I discuss in broad terms the context of the earthquakes and some of the findings from my research that suggests many residents are feeling increasingly marginalised in the process of disaster recovery.


You can check out the full store here and an interview I did on the subject here.



ReCreating Otautahi Christchurch – A photo essay


Looking towards the significantly damaged Forsyth Barr building in the Central Business District of Christchurch City (Otautahi) in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Christchurch is still experiencing extensive disruption and reconstruction as a result of the devestating Canterbury Earthquake sequence that occurred over 2010 and 2011. The earthquakes resulted in the loss of 185 lives and significant damange to residential and commercial property. Shown here is the demolition of the public library on Hereford St, almost 80% of the CBD was destroyed or damaged to the point requiring demolition.



Several blocks away from the demolished public library lies the transitional project ‘The Commons’. Created by the now well-known transitional architecture organisation ‘Gap Filler’. The Commons provides an innovative use of vacant post-demolition space – providing public space that contains sports activities, meeting spaces, community organisation offices and a food truck outdoor vending space. Transitional projects such as The Commons have become an important part of the citizen led recovery that is re-building the city for it’s residents and their needs.



The Christchurch Cathedral has, for many years, been one of the defining features of the
city. After sustaining significant damage in the earthquakes, the fate of the cathedral rebuild has been highly controversial. In the meantime, public art and greening works have decorated Cathedral Square, including a green Whare (Maori house) structure (to the right of the image) covered in plants. These public installations have provided colour, history and a
site of remembrance to the city while it is in a state of recovery.



Art has played an integral role in shaping the recovering city. Shown here is one of the larger pieces of street art which overlooks the planned arts precinct. In the foreground is the damaged historic rotunda and the Avon Otakaro river. Looking towards the future, the challenge for Christchurch will be to maintain and build the development of public art and space into the reconstructed parts of the city.


The city of Christchurch is experiencing a challenging and prolonged recovery from the earthquakes. However, the citizen led initiatives and community driven recovery projects show hope for the re-creation of a vibrant and participatory city landscape which is more resilient to future disasters, as well as creating stronger community.

The Importance of Resources and Responsibility for Community Led Disaster Recovery

Over the past few years the media has been inundated with examples of large scale disasters across the world. As Dale Dominey-Howes discusses in his article, disasters are becoming more frequent and are effecting disproportionately those who are disadvantaged.

With the rise of disaster resilience as a framework for responding and recovering from disasters we are seeing an increasing emphasis being placed on the role of individuals and communities in responding to these extreme events. But questions need to be asked regarding how this is done effectively and fairly, in a way that does not exacerbate existing inequalities.

As we have seen with the recent earthquakes in Nepal, millions of dollars flows into regions affected by disasters. This occurs not only in developing countries such as Nepal through aid agencies, but also in countries like Australia and New Zealand through agencies such as the Red Cross and government assistance funds.

While these funds are undoubtedly incredibly important, particularly for providing immediate needs of shelter, food and water, it is the long process of recovery that follows response which can be particularly tough. In order to better prepare for inevitably long recoveries from disasters, both social and financial resourcing can be put in place to support communities.

Four years on from the earthquakes that hit Christchurch in 2010 and 2011, many communities are facing the long haul that is disaster recovery. However some of these communities are better placed to cope than others, both during immediate response and long term recovery. The use of disaster resilience has encouraged the responsibility for disaster preparedness and response to be placed increasingly in the hands of individuals, communities and organisations.

For example, the community organisation ‘Project Lyttelton’ which operated out of the suburb of Lyttelton in Christchurch following the February 22nd earthquake was able operate alongside traditional disaster agencies such as the Navy and Civil Defence. Through this relationship, Project Lyttelton was able to use their local networks, particularly their time-bank (an alternative community currency that operates on trading time for services) to co-ordinate a citizen led response that was able to check on all the elderly residents in the town, provide food and childcare to those in need as well as social support. These forms of community led disaster response are increasingly seen to be the ideal way for disaster resilience to be developed.

how time bank works pagosa time bank dot com

The basic principles of a timebank

Disaster resilience itself, is a murky and often contested framework, which depending on your perspective emphasizes a community’s ability to either bounce back, or transform and adapt to new circumstances. The difference in these two perspectives is at the heart of the challenge of engaging resilience in a community disaster response context.

While bounce back disaster resilience originates from an engineering perspective in which the ability to maintain an equilibrium is an important aspect, the socio-ecological frame of resilience encourages transformation and adaptation. The difference here is important in the context of disaster, a bounce back approach would emphasize a quick return to ‘normality’, while transformative resilience would encourage changes to be made to reduce the risk from future disaster events.

When shifting, at least in part, the responsibility for disaster resilience to communities and individuals, the emphasis is often put on encouraging a bounce back return to normal approach. It can be argued that this increases the vulnerability of certain groups as it does not involve adapting for future events or learning from the lessons of past disasters.

It is also worth noting that while the Lyttelton community was able to competently and successfully co-ordinate and lead their response, the organisation has been operating for many years and has funding to employ several part time staff members. Their other projects have supported community spirit, social support and participation in the town and include a highly successful Farmers Market, local seasonal festivals, a community garden and food co-operative.


A community space on an empty lot in Lyttelton post earthquake

These events and others that exist as part of Project Lyttelton and other Lyttelton organisations such as the Lyttelton Community House, provided a backbone that supported the community through the disaster. However, it would be wrong to assume that all communities already have the same levels of support and resourcing.

It would also be wrong to assume that the disaster response and recovery in Lyttelton did not, and does not continue to need, ongoing support and resources. However the danger with the current approach of ‘shared responsibility’ for disaster resilience is that inequalities that exist between different areas, suburbs and community, in both material and social forms may be ignored.

Lorenzo Chelleri

Image Credit: Lorenzo Chelleri

In order to encourage adaptive resilience that allows us to build communities that can respond beyond bouncing back we need to ensure that we are actually empowering and resourcing individuals to support their communities and build strong organisations. Paid positions are an important part of maintain the momentum of community groups and projects, as well as funding for specific community building events and programmes.

Without this support, disaster resilience is running the risk of becoming a hollow concept, which when engaged in this context, could ultimately be used to reduce social spending by governments and local authorities. The danger with this is that it places the responsibility for disaster preparedness, response and recovery on communities without the resources or power which they need, and deserve in order to do so.

Re-post from Transition Network

Mapping Transition in Aotearoa New Zealand

Original Post:

Following the expansion of the Transition movement globally in the late 2000s, community groups and activists in Aotearoa New Zealand began establishing Transition Town groups following a similar model as the original Transition groups in the U.K. In the past two years, I was involved in a team of researchers (Drs Sophie Bond and Amanda Thomas) who were based at Victoria University in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The team worked with two Transition groups to better understand how Transition came to our country and how the movement is maintaining momentum.

The work included an online survey of Transition groups across the country so we could get an idea of how Transition was being carried out nationally. In addition, I undertook a study of the grassroots resilience capacities of a community group styled on the Transition group movement, called Project Lyttelton, who participated in local recovery following the Christchurch 2010/11 earthquakes.

The Transition movement in New Zealand was in part, inspired by a talk given in the mid-2000s by Richard Heinberg, the permaculture expert. Following the talk, many groups were established and membership expanded further with the global financial crisis and a spike in oil prices. The image below displays the number of groups listed on the NZ Transition website, which spans involvement of both rural and urban communities across the country. Despite this strong start, we found through the online survey that many of these groups have ceased to function, although a dedicated contingent remained.

For the research looking into Transition, we worked specifically with the Brooklyn Food Group (formerly the Brooklyn Transition Town) and Transition Town Lower Hutt. While neither of the groups were following the Transition ethos of establishing an energy descent plan, both were engaged in activities that were having tangible benefits to their local communities.

This pattern of activity was similar to what we found through the online survey, many groups were not spending a lot of time on energy descent plans, instead working on building community gardens, alternative currencies and education campaigns.

Many of the people we talked to believed that the energy descent plan, while a valuable tool and idea, was not as well suited to the New Zealand urban environment where there is little ability for citizens to be as involved in local government as the original Totnes model showed.

However this did not mean the NZ Transition groups were not creating change! Both groups we worked with had carried out extensive activities in the community. For example the Lower Hutt Transition Town carried out an educational lecture series that consisted of a lecture every week for four months. The same group also set up a Koha Café. In the Māori language, Koha refers to a concept of reciprocity and giving. The café operated once a week as an environment where people could come and participate in discussion about Transition issues, a meal of organic food donated from local stores was also served in exchange for koha – a gift or donation.

The people we talked to said this provided a great way for get together and provide support to each other, especially those at home with young children or those looking for work that are often socially isolated. The Koha Café was eventually dis-established, but members were positive about this as the energy that went into the Koha Café was redirected into a timebank alternative currency project that emerged directly out of conversations at the café. At the time of the research, the timebank had secured substantial funding and was preparing to launch.

The Brooklyn Food Group community garden in Winter 2012. Image Credit: Amanda Thomas

The Brooklyn Food Group community garden in Winter 2012. Image Credit: Amanda ThomasThe Brooklyn Food Group provided a different example of a thriving Transition group. The food group was previously part of a wider Transition group that dis-established after struggling to gain ground on local energy projects. However, the food group still operates as a dedicated project that involves a community garden, a community orchard on local government land and a share garden system where people without gardens take care of gardens with owners who cannot manage them anymore. So even with the original group no longer operating, positive effects continue to be felt in the community.

In fact, many of the members we talked to were incredibly enthusiastic and positive about the food group. They believed that the small actions they were taking in their community were contributing to a wider shift in culture and values that support people to be involved in their community and learn to grow their own food.

As part of another research project I have been involved in, I have also explored the positive effects of Transition groups after a disaster. Following the deadly earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010/11, I worked with Project Lyttelton, a group that employs a ‘transition’ like philosophy of re-localisation and local action. Through this work it became apparent that the social networks that are established through Transition groups are invaluable for supporting post disaster response and recovery. The existence of an already formed group of individuals who knew each other informally through their neighbourhood and formally through the organisation provided a solid foundation for community involvement in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Crafted hearts adorn a fence outside a damaged building in Lyttelton, 2012. Image Credit: Zack Dorner

Crafted hearts adorn a fence outside a damaged building in Lyttelton, 2012. Image Credit: Zack DornerFor example the timebank became an integrated part of the response teams alongside the Navy, Army, Civil Defence and Fire Brigade. This created a citizen contingent in addition to the formal response where local people the elderly with meals and other needs, cared for each other’s children and carried out minor repairs through the timebank. Having an established system meant that Project Lyttelton could be integrated into the emergency response officially as well as resulting in the operation being carried out smoothly.

However, what emerged from the interviews was that one of the most meaningful aspects of the group was the social support that people get from being involved in a local group such as Project Lyttelton or Transition Towns more generally.  One of the more iconic projects involved a group of crafters who created fabric flowers to attach to fences around rubble and to hand out to search and rescue teams. These groups provided priceless support and comfort to the community. Their existence was in part due to the already organised and connected community that existed because of Project Lyttelton. The circumstances in Christchurch following the earthquake were an extraordinary occurrence; however the social support gained from groups such as Transition Towns is a resource that can be drawn on to support individuals and communities in times of hardship and celebration.

While the history of Transition in NZ is a bit rocky, from this research in the last few years we have found a contingent of Transition groups making a concerted effort in their community towards achieving real and practical outcomes towards climate change and peak oil adaptation.

By Raven Cretney with Dr Sophie Bond and Dr Amanda Thomas