Correspondence

By Brown, Bruce | New Zealand International Review, January-February 2002 | Go to article overview

Correspondence


Brown, Bruce, New Zealand International Review


Sir,

Matthew O'Meagher's review of Malcolm Templeton's book on New Zealand and the Antarctic from 1920 to 1960 in the last issue (vol XVI, no 6) spends more space criticising the book for what it does not attempt to do than recognising what it does and does well.

In fact, as O'Meagher comments, the book is basically a history of the evolution of New Zealand's policy towards the Antarctic -- and those of the other most interested countries -- in my view much the most important aspect in these years. As such, it provides a valuable platform for any further accounts of a wider public dimension. Templeton has set the political and legal stage by his thorough and masterly distillation of material in the government's foreign policy fries, the best primary source for the history of New Zealand foreign policy-making and one often relatively neglected by academic historians and biographers.

There may well be more to be said about New Zealand press and public opinion on Antarctic matters in the period, but I doubt that it is as much as O'Meagher may suppose. In my recollection -- as research officer and speechwriter for Walter Nash from 1952 to 1959 -- political, press or public interest in Antarctica was spasmodic until late in that decade: the US Operation Deep Freeze project set up in Christchurch in 1955, Hillary's dash to the Pole in January 1958, the International Geophysical Year in 1959 and final negotiations for the Antarctic Treaty itself in 1958-59. But there is rarely public interest in scientific activities or diplomatic negotiations, important though they may be.

Certainly, Walter Nash did not give the issue much sustained attention -- after his advocacy of the abandonment of national claims and for UN administration of Antarctica in January 1956 -- until 1958, shortly after he became Prime Minister. (So slight was media interest at that time in Nash's 1956 statement that although officials drafted a press statement in rebuttal the National government did not judge it necessary to issue it.) The government was in a go-slow mode on Antarctic matters in the 1950s and actually resented the pressure Hillary put on it in public, as Templeton recounts. Nor was the nuclear-testing question anywhere near as important in public opinion as it became in later years. There was no groundswell of New Zealand protest about British testing at Marralinga or Christmas Island, despite the efforts of a fledgling CND, nor widespread concern about the Antarctic in this context.

The principal aspect on which Templeton concentrates -- the evolution of policies among the interested governments -- was therefore the most important game in town, despite its confidentiality, much more so than press, public or academic opinion. The only academic I can recollect who took an active interest in the politics of Antarctica in the 1950s was F. …

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