Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Representing the Waikato: Photography and Colonisation

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Representing the Waikato: Photography and Colonisation

Article excerpt

Historian Judith Bassett has observed that soldier settlers who took up allotments of confiscated land around Hamilton in the mid- 186Os were treated by the government with 'cheese-paring meanness.'2 She added that '[i]n return for the inestimable boon of 'free' land, soldiers were invited to endure years of toil and hardship' and that 'the soldiers and their families who founded Hamilton were acutely uncomfortable.'3 One of the images chosen to illustrate the conditions and circumstances of this early European settlement in the Waikato was this William Temple photograph (Figure 1), which was captioned: 'William Temple photographed these soldier settlers in their bush camp in the Waikato in the 186Os',4 and it takes little imagination to see in this image the kinds of pioneering hardships described by Basse«. However, the people in this photograph were almost certainly not soldier settlers, and the location was almost certainly not within what we now consider to be the Waikato. In other words, although this photograph might resemble the kind of situation described in the caption, its use as a visual aid to understanding might, in fact, be misleading.

In this article I argue that photographic representation was influential in the colonisation of the Waikato during the latter half of the nineteenth century. During this period, the Waikato was transformed as the region's cultural and physical landscapes and its tangata whenua were subjugated using a variety of strategies, including violent force as well as more subtle forms of coercion. The Waikato was a discursive as well as militar}' battleground and photography was implicated in both of these linked campaigns, as Europeans attempted to claim and justify control over actual and symbolic spaces. Furthermore, I contend that nineteenth-century photographic representations continue to play an important role in our contemporary understanding of the history of the Waikato in this period. Moreover, the repetition of certain images in a number of published general histories of New Zealand has led to a distorted view of Waikato history. In this article, I will focus on William Temple's photograph 'Scene in the bush showing a thatched hut, three people, and a washing line', in the contexts of its creation and in terms of its subsequent utilisation in order to address the question: to what extent did (and does) this image represent the Waikato? The term 'represent' here has two relevant shades of meaning. The first refers to the idea that photographs can act as symbolic embodiments of their subjects and are therefore seen as 'representations'. The other concerns the question of whether such an image merits its frequent selection as a 'representative' of the Waikato's colonial past Therefore, in order to analyse the image 'Scene in the bush' and to evaluate its value in representing the Waikato, I will first outline some of the possibilities and pitfalls of mining such photographs for historical evidence, and I will examine the location(s) and nature(s) of the Waikato depicted in the image.

Historians have sometimes had an ambivalent relationship with visual sources. Traditionally there has been little faith shown in the validity of images as repositories of historical evidence. Pictures have often been used as adjuncts to historical analysis, placeholders to add visual appeal and to break up the text in order to make it easier to read. They have been presented uncritically, a practice James Ryan has called 'historical myopia in using visual sources,'5 with captions merely pointing out certain features which are deemed important or educative. They have been seldom analysed in terms of their discursive power to shape perception as well as to legitimate and reinforce particular constructions and representations of knowledge. They have often been used, as Peter Burke argues, 'as mere illustrations' or 'to illustrate conclusions the author has already reached by other means'.6 But, as Jennifer Tucker points out, 'photographs are neither more nor less transparent than other documentary sources. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.