An unwelcome history — Otago Daily Times features Invisible


It is difficult to believe that this was, that this is, New Zealand.

In December, 1925, the White New Zealand League held its first meeting in the South Auckland market gardening town of Pukekohe.

Within a couple of years, the league, whose stated aim was to "Keep New Zealand White", had spread to Auckland and Wellington and had support in other centres, including Christchurch.

"We cannot have them [as] members of our social institutions, nor can they have a place in our homes as friends or guests," the league told the government when lobbying for Asian immigration to be curtailed and for Asians living in New Zealand to be prevented from buying land and shops.

In 1921, the population of the country was 1.2 million, of which 671 were Indian. In Pukekohe, in 1926, out of a population of 13,093, there were 17 Indians, 30 Chinese and 767 Maori.

But that same year, the town’s newspaper The Franklin Times, fearing the league’s warnings of an "Asiatic invasion", claimed "the serious danger with which civilisation is threatened ... is from those dark-skinned races which have long ago put on a thin veneer of semi-civilisation but ... are really constitutionally incapable of rising any higher. No better example of this class of people can be found than the Hindus".

"The only workable remedy," the newspaper shockingly opined, was to authorise each local government area to "fix a quota of Asiatics that might be permitted to reside within its boundaries".

"There can be no possible excuse for permitting these people to ruin some of the most attractive neighbourhoods we have, and it is a villainous injustice to the residents that they should be allowed to invade the vicinity of their homes."

The league, its supporters and their attitudes are documented in historian Jacqueline Leckie’s new book, Invisible: New Zealand’s history of excluding Kiwi-Indians, which uncovers the often unhappy story of Indians in Aotearoa. Their experience is also a lens providing a disturbing revelation of racist sentiment in New Zealand, past and present.

Read the full article in the Otago Daily Times here.