A Window into Race Relations c. 1956: Using Cartoons as a Historical Source

Paul Diamond [1]

In the 1950s there was a popular belief that New Zealand had the best race relations in the world. However, as the Human Rights Commission has noted, while routinely expressed, this was based more on good faith than on deep analysis. [2] Contemporary accounts are largely silent, but analysis and insight can be found in two very different editorial cartoons produced in response to a rugby game between the Springboks and a New Zealand Māori side on 25 August 1956. The 1956 South African rugby tour is a turning point, marking the moment when playing rugby with South Africa became recognised as a political concern and the game itself began to lose its hold over the country. [3] Before 1956 race had been an issue in rugby contests between New Zealand and South Africa but it was rarely acknowledged, in part due to the overwhelming belief in the positive race relations in New Zealand, seen as a process of two races rapidly becoming one harmonious people. The two cartoons highlighted in this essay challenge this narrative.

Cartoon titled: You sell te family ticket, eh?

‘You sell te family ticket, eh?’, published in the Auckland Star on 28 July 1956. Reproduced with the permission of Chris Lonsdale. Cartoonist: Neil Lonsdale (ATL ref. A-316-4-004)

The first of these, by Neil Lonsdale, appeared in the Auckland Star a month before the game – an indication of the keen anticipation surrounding what was to be the first New Zealand Māori–Springbok clash in 35 years. It shows a Māori man at a ticket counter for the game, surrounded by 23 family members of different ages. Gesturing to his assembled whānau, the man asks the ticket seller, ‘You sell te family ticket, eh?’

In some cartoons Māori identity is indicated by traditional clothing (for example, korowai, piupiu, tīpare) and weaponry. In Lonsdale’s portrayal, the Māori figures wear European clothing; it is their dark skin that denotes difference, making them distinct from the man in the ticket booth. Two men lean on carved tokotoko (walking sticks); two older women are seated on the footpath, one smoking a pipe and the other wearing a blanket over her shoulders with an infant wrapped inside – visual references to earlier popular stereotypical representations of Māori by Gottfried Lindauer, Frances Hodgkins and other artists.

The second cartoon appeared the Monday after the New Zealand Māori–Springbok game, in the Taranaki Daily News, one of the few provincial papers with a tradition of editorial cartoons. [4] It was drawn by the paper’s resident cartoonist, Harry Dansey – one of the few Māori to have worked as an editorial cartoonist. He depicts two Māori men leaving the game following the 37–0 loss by the NZ Māori side, with one of them commenting, ‘I think I’ll take my name off the Maori roll!’ The other departing spectators are stern-faced, with heads bowed and chins set as they leave the stadium. A smaller figure in the lower corner, weeping and holding a handkerchief to his face, is dressed as a Māori warrior in piupiu and tipare, and with a kete. This is Tom Tiki, Dansey’s ‘Māori leprechaun’, who recurred frequently in his editorial cartoons and starred in a comic strip in the paper. While the strip was purely humorous, Tom Tiki’s presence in the editorial cartoons would often reinforce their main themes.[5]

Cartoon titled: I think I’ll take my name off the Maori roll!

‘I think I’ll take my name off the Maori roll!’, published in the Taranaki Daily News on 27 August 1956. Reproduced with the permission of the Dansey family. Cartoonist: Harry Dansey (ATL ref. J-065-068)

Like other cartoons from the period, Māori in these two cartoons are caricatured, [6] but Dansey’s figures bear closer resemblance to real-life Māori than the grotesque characters drawn by Lonsdale. Gentler, more benign depictions such as these are a hallmark of Dansey’s cartoons, irrespective of the subject. According to journalist Noel Holmes, Dansey ‘could draw elegantly’, but was not a great cartoonist since ‘he lacked the cruel sense necessary’.[7]

Thomas Kemnitz divides cartoons into two categories: joke cartoons and cartoons of opinion. [8] Lonsdale and Dansey’s cartoons have elements of each category: both use humour to make serious points about New Zealand race relations.

Lonsdale and Dansey’s cartoons focus on the spectators rather than the players (or rugby administrators and politicians, who would later dominate cartoons concerning Māori rugby and South Africa). This focus is consistent with accounts in, for example, Jock Phillips’s memoir of the third test [9] and Warwick Roger’s Old Heroes,[10] which point out that although players and games were significant, also prominent in the historical record is the overwhelming and unprecedented impact of the tour on the country. More than a third of the population (then just over two million) attended the games; the NZ Māori–Springbok game at Eden Park attracted a record crowd of 59,800.

Its popularity is one reason why the 1956 tour achieved mythic status in rugby folklore. [11] The tour was also New Zealand’s first ever test series victory over South Africa, at a time when the traditional rivals were the world’s most rugby-obsessed nations. The visiting Springbok team was the first South African side in 60 years to lose a test series. Following a crushing New Zealand defeat in the 1949 All Blacks’ tour to South Africa, revenge was on the minds of New Zealanders. One writer described the atmosphere of the 1956 tour as near hysterical.[12] The 23 matches and events associated with the bitterly fought tour were minutely examined in the extensive publicity and many accounts, some appearing more than 30 years later. Less evident in published material was the preceding period of tension and bitter conflict surrounding the role of Māori in rugby contact with South Africa.

In 1921 the first South African team to tour New Zealand played a Māori side, narrowly defeating them. The team turned their backs on a group of poi dancers before kick-off and refused to shake the hands of their opponents. [13] There was controversy the next day, when a Post Office worker leaked a telegram sent to South Africa by a journalist accompanying the team:

Bad enough having play team officially designated New Zealand Natives. Spectacle thousands Europeans frantically cheering on band of colored men to defeat members of own race was too much for Springboks, who frankly disgusted. [14]

In 1928 the All Blacks made their first tour to South Africa. The organisers acquiesced to South African demands and excluded Māori from the team, including outstanding players such as George Nepia and Jimmy Mill. This triggered protest among Māori and Pākehā. Nepia wrote that ‘the whole of New Zealand is indignant’. [15]

On their next tour of New Zealand, in 1937, the South Africans refused to play a Māori side, but Māori were in the All Blacks team. Tai Mitchell, Chair of Te Arawa Trust Board and member of the Māori Advisory Board to the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU), led a call for Māori to boycott the tour. [16]

In 1948 the NZRFU accepted an invitation from the South African rugby union to tour in 1949, again with an all-white team. This time, protests were stronger and more widespread. RSA President and war hero Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger’s comments against the tour gained Māori support. The MP for Southern Māori, Eruera Tirikatene, suggested that the team should be known as a New Zealand European team rather than as All Blacks. [17] Yet there is no doubt that the team was seen as representing New Zealand. At the state farewell at Parliament Buildings, the Acting Leader of the Opposition, Keith Holyoake, described the team as ‘ambassadors and emissaries of New Zealand. The honour and prestige of the whole of New Zealand are in the team’s hands’.[18]

The political controversy preceding the South African team’s 1956 tour of New Zealand wasn’t publicly acknowledged. Opposition was minimal – the Māori Women’s Welfare League was the only group to speak out. Even the New Zealand Communist Party supported the tour. [19] In contrast to the silence at home, criticism of the game was reflected in the South African press. Warwick Roger has noted Dana Niehaus’s comments in Die Transvaaler: ‘The match should not have been arranged … In most circles the inclusion of such a match was treated with a little bit of suspicion, especially since the coloured section of New Zealand was playing against the representatives of a land where the dividing line is very sharp and definite.’ Although the Springboks wouldn’t look for trouble, said Niehaus, ‘if their ire is roused, then the fur will fly’.[20]

There was no trouble, however, perhaps because of contested events that saw the match later dubbed the ‘game of shame’. [21] Richard Thompson has argued that some officials in New Zealand were afraid of racial conflict: ‘the Māori players were warned so severely in advance that they took the field so cowed that they were thoroughly defeated’.[22] This remarkable allegation apparently lay hidden until 2010. In a media interview, former Māori fullback Muru Walters (now Bishop Muru Walters) said that the Minister of Māori Affairs, Ernest Corbett, had visited the team and told them if they won, the All Blacks would never be invited back to South Africa. Walters’ account was contested: Tiny Hill denied that Corbett visited; Heitia Hiha couldn’t remember the visit but did recall the team ‘being told to “tone it down” by the NZRU’.[23] While these allegations remain disputed, it is clear that race was an issue in 1956, even if this was not acknowledged in accounts at the time. Historian Michael Pearson has reflected on this ‘curious silence,’ given the prominence of the later protests and the subsequent acknowledgement of the links between politics and sport. Why, he asks, were the Springboks greeted in 1956 in a purely sporting, apolitical, way?[24] Among the reasons, he suggests, is the central role of rugby in New Zealand society and national identity, together with the latent racism in this country at the time. The cartoons by Lonsdale and Dansey coincide with this argument, and challenge the official line on race relations in the 1950s.

That line was expressed by the government in its 1956 publication, The Maori of Today. Writing in the introduction, Minister of Māori Affairs Ernest Corbett claimed: ‘Two ways of life are becoming one’. [25] The booklet went on to argue that:

Maoris and Europeans today are a homogeneous people united in the common purpose of individual welfare and national stability. This unity has its roots in the respect and admiration each has for the other; it is fostered by the friendships formed at school, at work, and on the playing fields against a background of social and economic equality. [26]

Critiques of this would later become common, [27] but one made closer to the time created huge controversy.

David Ausubel was an American sociologist who spent a year in New Zealand on a Fulbright scholarship over 1957/8. His book, The Fern and the Tiki appeared in 1960 and has been described by Jock Phillips as ‘a wholehearted attack on the New Zealand character and social values’. [28] Ausubel was particularly critical of New Zealand’s race relations and the refusal of New Zealanders to accept there was a problem. As long as this national self-delusion remained, he argued, ‘the only realistic prospect for the future is the emergence of a brown proletariat segregated in the urban slums and living in a state of chronic tension with their white neighbours’.[29]

Lonsdale and Dansey’s cartoons are rare examples of contemporaneous sources supporting Ausubel’s argument. Despite the presence of books about the history of cartoons and cartooning, with rare exceptions cartoons tend to be used as illustrations in published histories, rather than as historical sources. [30] If, as Kemnitz maintains, the value of cartoons to historians ‘lies in what they reveal about the societies that produced and circulated them’,[31] what do these cartoons tell us about the New Zealand of 1956?

Lonsdale’s cartoon tells us about Pākehā attitudes to Māori. A key point he makes is that Māori are clannish in a different manner to Pākehā, maintaining obligations across a wide family network. Underlying Lonsdale’s humour is a note of disapproval of the difference between Māori and Pākehā families. There’s an echo, too, of the criticism by the first Minister of Native Affairs, Christopher William Richmond, of the ‘beastly’ Communism of the natives. [32] Lonsdale is also expressing the ‘resentful envy’ Ausubel identified among his Pākehā informants, who objected to Māori apparently getting something for nothing.[33]

The Māori in Lonsdale’s cartoon are drawn as brutal, crude caricatures, and the accentuation of their dark skin gives them a sinister, menacing presence. Māori in other Lonsdale cartoons around this period are drawn more sympathetically: two show Māori in traditional dress, perhaps delineating them as harmless and benign; another depicts Eruera Tirikatene who, unlike Walter Nash in this picture, is named, indicating the unfamiliarity of Māori public figures. [34] Why did Lonsdale draw the Māori figures so differently in the Springbok tour cartoon? In the build-up to the NZ Māori game, media reports focused on the large numbers of Māori from around the country expected to converge on Eden Park, including haka teams 3,000 strong. The official programme included the ‘words of the “Kamate” haka and of various favourite native songs’,[35] but a haka failed to eventuate; the crowd, like the players, were unexpectedly subdued.[36] Several weeks out from the game Lonsdale seems to be expressing the mood of anticipation and using it as a springboard to make a point about racial difference.

The central character in Lonsdale’s cartoon speaks in pidgin Māori, like some of the characters drawn much earlier by cartoonist Trevor Lloyd. The representations of Māori are also reminiscent of Lloyd’s figures, described by Peter Shaw in 1983 as grinning Māori savages, epitomising a ‘Hey boy’ humour regarded by later generations as racially insulting. [37] Matthew Basso argues that Lloyd revealed ‘the complex racial ideology of Europeans in the first decades of the twentieth century’.[38] Lonsdale’s cartoon suggests that the racism identified by Ian Grant in cartoons up to the 1930s may have had a longer presence.[39]

Collectively, the different aspects employed by Lonsdale reflect the ‘deep-seated belief in the inherent inferiority’ of Māori that Ausubel and others argued underlay patronising attitudes towards Māori in the 1950s. In contrast, Dansey’s cartoon illustrates how Māori saw themselves. His two central figures, while recognisably Māori, are 1950s Kiwi Everymen. One has the regulation short-back-and-sides haircut, while the other sports the standard-issue hat worn by many men in the 1950s. Unlike Lonsdale’s figures, Dansey’s men blend into the rest of the crowd, who appear to be a mix of Māori and Pākehā. And Dansey’s men speak New Zealand English, not the pidgin slang of Lonsdale’s man. Unlike Lonsdale, Dansey does not see Māori as a people apart.

The comment made by Dansey’s character – ‘I think I’ll take my name off the Maori roll!’ – alludes to the sorrow and shame felt by Māori when the NZ Māori team lost by such a large margin to the Springboks. By referring to the Māori roll, Dansey also draws attention to the lot of people with mixed Māori and Pākehā ancestry (like himself), who were then known as ‘half-castes’. To understand this, it is necessary to know how the Māori electoral system worked, and how in 1956 it was racially segregated.

The separate Māori electoral system had been established in 1867, creating four seats for which Māori (including half-castes, but initially only men over 21) could vote. Originally this was a temporary measure to circumvent the requirement that voters own property (then uncommon among Māori), but it ended up becoming a separate system of representation.

For many years the Māori electoral system was neglected and did not share the key elements of the main electoral system. For example, an electoral roll for Māori seats was not created until 1948, and it became compulsory only in 1956 for eligible Māori voters to enrol (compared with 1924 for the European roll). In 1956 only voters who were half-castes (like Dansey) could switch between the Māori and European rolls. From 1893 until 1975, people of more than half Māori descent could not vote in a European electorate, and people who were less than half Māori descent weren’t eligible to vote in a Māori electorate and had to vote in a European electorate. This meant that between 1893 and 1975 only those who were exactly half Māori could choose whether to vote in a Māori or European electorate. The difficulty of establishing exact blood quantum suggests that in practice the right to switch rolls would have been determined by the common definition of half-caste (having one Māori and one Pākehā parent).

The separate Māori electoral system highlights the very different way that race and ethnicity were conceptualised at the time Dansey was making cartoons. The same definition of ethnicity also applied to the New Zealand Māori rugby team. Prior to 1956, some Māori were excluded from the team because they weren’t Māori enough. [40]

Dansey is remembered for having pride in his dual heritage. He wrote about the issues facing people with mixed ancestry, which he saw as a continuum. Regardless of the quantum of Māori heritage, he believed all Māori faced a common dilemma: ‘Maoris, be they of full blood or part, are a minority people who must accept the fact that they live with the spotlight of public opinion blazing down on them’. Being ‘the heirs of both races’ meant that ‘by our very birth we have inherited that which is both heavy burden and inestimable privilege’. [41]

Dansey went on to become New Zealand’s second Race Relations Conciliator (1975–79), with a goal ‘to affirm and promote racial harmony and equality in New Zealand’. [42] His ideal for racial harmony was summarised in the last part of his 1970 poem, ‘The Divided Heart’:

We would not choose to tell apart
The things we love by race or clime
For they are one within the heart;
And equal joy in them we take
That in this place by chance are set
Tall kauri of Waitākere
Or oak and elm of Somerset.

By drawing attention to mixed-race individuals such as himself, Dansey anticipates, in his cartoon, views on race relations that he would continue to be linked with publicly. Although recognising Māori had a separate status in the electoral system (and in other areas of life such as rugby), Dansey also makes a case for the inevitable acknowledgement of intermarriage and its consequences.

Sarah Murray has argued that historical investigation of cartoons represents an original method of exploring the preoccupations of a particular era. [43] She has used cartoons to gain insights into the experiences of New Zealanders during the Great War, and to achieve a greater understanding of common attitudes at the time. This essay draws on just two cartoons from the collection of more than 60,000 in the New Zealand Cartoon Archive at the Alexander Turnbull Library, as part of research for a forthcoming monograph. The two cartoons examined here are not held up as representative of a whole era, but they are windows into race relations, yielding insights into how Māori were seen by Pākehā and how they saw themselves. These are contemporary statements about race relations and add critical commentary to histories and accounts from the period. They also illustrate two responses to questions that continue to challenge New Zealanders: what does it mean to be Māori, and what is the place of Māori in New Zealand society?

[1] I gratefully acknowledge the comments made by Malcolm Mulholland, Massey University; Fiona Oliver, Alexander Turnbull Library; and an anonymous peer reviewer, on drafts of this article.

[2] Human Rights Commission, ‘Race Relations Law Marks 40th Anniversary’, http://www.hrc.co.nz/2012/race-relations-law-marks-40th-anniversary. Accessed 12 November 2012.

[3] For example, see F. Macdonald, The Game of Our Lives (Auckland: Viking, 1996), pp. 71–74; 82–87.

[4] Ian F. Grant, The Unauthorized Version (Auckland: David Bateman/Fraser, 1987), p. 134.

[5] Recurring figures feature in other editorial cartoons. They include the small Māori man (‘Little Maori Mandate’) drawn by G. Minhinnick (see ATL refs H-705-008 and B-056-105). For a discussion, see G. G. Vince MacDonald’s unpublished Master’s thesis, The Evolution of Social-Political Cartoon Satire in the New Zealand Press During the 19th and Early 20th Centuries, online at http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/6838. See also Tom Brooking, The History of New Zealand (Westport, Conn.; Oxford: Harcourt Education, 2004), p. 134. For a more recent example see the figure featured in Malcolm Evans’s cartoons (e.g. ATL refs DCDL-0020144 and DCDL-0020174). Unlike Tom Tiki and the Little Maori Mandate, Evans’s figure is not mute.

[6] See, for example, cartoons by Neville Colvin (ATL ref. C-132-868 and B-184-026); Nevile Lodge in Lodge Laughs at the Springbok Tour (Wellington, A. H. & A. W. Reed, 1956); Francis Edmond Choate (ATL ref. J-065-059) and G. Minhinnick (ATL ref. H-705-008).

[7] H. R. Dansey and Te Rina Dawn Dansey, ‘Dansey, Harry Delamere Barter’ in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Accessed 12 November 2012.

[8] Thomas M. Kemnitz, ‘The Cartoon as a Historical Source’. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4, no. 1 (1973): 81–93.

[9] Jock Phillips, A Man’s Country? (Auckland: Penguin, 1987), pp. 82–85.

[10] Warwick Roger, Old Heroes: The 1956 Springbok Tour & the Lives Beyond (Auckland: Hodder Moa, 2006).

[11] See, for example, K. Quin & J. Romanos, Outrageous Rugby Moments: Stories of Controversy, Humour, Scandal and Disgrace (Auckland, Hodder Moa Beckett, 2001), p. 60.

[12] A. C. Parker, Now is the Hour: The 1965 ’Boks in Australia and New Zealand (Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch, 1965).

[13] Herald on Sunday, 18 April 2010, p. 81.

[14] NZ Truth, 17 September 1921, p. 6. See article at http://www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

[15] Cited in T. Richards, Dancing on Our Bones (Wellington, Bridget Williams, 1999), pp. 12; 153.

[16] M. Mulholland, Beneath the Māori Moon: An Illustrated History of Māori Rugby, (Wellington, Huia, 2009), pp. 81–82; Greg Ryan, ‘Anthropological Football: Maori and the 1937 Springbok Rugby Tour of New Zealand’, New Zealand Journal of History 34, 1 (2000): 60–79.

[17] R. Thompson, Retreat From Apartheid, p. 16.

[18] R. Thompson, Retreat From Apartheid, p. 18.

[19] T. Richards, Dancing on Our Bones, p. 19.

[20] W. Roger, Old Heroes, pp. 117–18. Note that the threat of violence was mentioned in accounts of the game published at the time in New Zealand. For example, T. P. McLean, The Battle for the Rugby Crown (Wellington: Reed, 1956), p. 215; M. Price, Springboks at Bay (London: Longmans Green, 1956), p. 170.

[21] NZ Herald, 17 April 2010.

[22] R. Thompson, Retreat From Apartheid, p. 18.

[23] NZ Herald, 17 April 2010.

[24] Michael Pearson, ‘Heads in the Sand: The 1956 Springbok Tour to New Zealand in Perspective’, in Sport in History, pp. 272–92, ed. by R. Cashman and M. McKernan (Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1979), p. 277.

[25] The Maori Today (Wellington: Dept. of Maori Affairs, 1956), p. 1.

[26] The Maori Today, p. 4.

[27] For example, Michael L. Drake, Māori Culture in a Christian Worldview (Auckland: Wycliffe Christian Schools, 2005), pp. 9–10.

[28] Jock Phillips, ‘Visitors’ Opinions about New Zealand – 20th- and 21st-century travellers’, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Accessed 12 November 2012.

[29] D. Ausubel, The Fern and the Tiki: An American View of New Zealand (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1960), p. 215.

[30] For a listing of examples of the ways in which New Zealand historians have employed cartoons as illustrations rather than historical sources, see Note 4 in the Introduction to Sarah Murray, A Cartoon War: The Cartoons of the New Zealand Freelance and New Zealand Observer as Historical Sources, August 1914–November 1918 (Wellington, New Zealand Cartoon Archive, 2012).

[31] Thomas M. Kemnitz, ‘The Cartoon as a Historical Source’: 82.

[32] http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/turanga-i-te-hapori-status-in-maori-society/1

[33] D. Ausubel, The Fern and the Tiki, p. 164.

[34] See image of Eruera Tirikatene (ATL ref A-316-4-006); Māori couple welcoming American tourists (ATL ref E-549-q-10-041); and cartoon of Māori man in traditional dress with a weapon behind his back and a Springbok, published in The Auckland Star, 23 August 1956.

[35] T. P. McLean, The Battle for the Rugby Crown, p. 211.

[36] As McLean notes, ‘there were no hakas, no poi dances, no songs, no cavortings’. The Battle for the Rugby Crown, p. 212.

[37] Peter Shaw, ‘Trevor Lloyd, Warts and All’. Metro (29 Nov 1983): 164–65.

[38] Matthew Basso, ‘Trevor Lloyd, Native Land, and the Contest over the European Racial Imagination in Aotearoa New Zealand’. Turnbull Library Record 37 (2004 ): 70.

[39] See Ian F. Grant, The Unauthorized Version, p. 4.

[40] For example, Vince Bevan was not eligible for the Māori team that toured Fiji in 1954 because he had too little Māori blood (Richards, p. 17; Quinn, p. 122). For commentary about separate Māori teams for rugby and other sports, see ‘Playing for the Same Team?’. North & South (August 2003): 39; ‘Matching Mana with Mana’. Planet 13 (Winter 1994): 34. Note that following the end of apartheid in South Africa, New Zealand faced criticism for having a racially selected team whose eligibility to play in post-Apartheid South Africa was questioned (for example, ‘Boot’s on the Other Foot’, Dominion Post 23 February 2009, p. B4).

[41] Te Ao Hou 28 (September 1959), http://teaohou.natlib.govt.nz/journals/teaohou/image/Mao28TeA/Mao28TeA006.html. Accessed 12 November 2012.

[42] H. R. Dansey and Te Rina Dawn Dansey, ‘Dansey, Harry Delamere Barter – Biography’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

[43] Sarah Murray, A Cartoon War, p. 99.

The Author: Paul Diamond was appointed Curator, Maori, at the Alexander Turnbull Library in 2011. He is the author two books – A Fire in Your Belly (Huia, 2003) and Makereti: Taking Maori to the World (Random House, 2007) – and has worked as an oral historian and broadcaster. From 2007-09 he managed the Vietnam War Oral History Project for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. In 2010 he was appointed to the Board of the New Zealand Book Council.