Fragments from a Contested Past: Remembrance, Denial and New Zealand History

 What a nation or society chooses to remember and forget speaks to its contemporary priorities and sense of identity. Understanding how that process works enables us to better imagine a future with a different, or wider, set of priorities.’

Which histories does a nation prioritise – and which are left quietly aside? These are questions hotly debated in the international press. And in Aotearoa New Zealand, they are brought sharply into focus by the new history curriculum, arriving in schools in 2023. 

Fragments from a Contested Past, published this week, reflects on these questions of memory, loss and ‘difficult histories’.  The team of writers (Joanna Kidman, Vincent O'Malley, Liana MacDonald, Tom Roa and Keziah Wallis) several from iwi invaded or attacked during the New Zealand Wars, have come together to ‘enable us to better imagine a future with a different, or wider, set of priorities’. 


Combining first-hand fieldnotes from their journeys to sites of conflict and contestation with innovative archival and oral research exploring the gaps and silences in the ways we engage with the past, this group investigates how these events are remembered – or not – and how this has shaped the modern New Zealand nation. The authors draw on some central narratives in our history – including:Tuia 250, the nationwide commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival in New Zealand;

  • Boulcott’s Farm and Battle Hill, the locations of two of the main clashes of the 1846 Wellington Wars;
  • the Great South Road, following in the footsteps of the British invasion from Auckland to Waikato;
  • Ōrākau and the stillness and memory of Rangiaowhia; and
  • the backlash to the Ōtorohanga College Petition calling for a statutory day of recognition for ‘The New Zealand Land Wars’, among others.

This BWB Text comes from the Marsden Fund-supported research project, ‘He Taonga te Wareware?: Remembering and Forgetting Difficult Histories in Aotearoa New Zealand’, led by Professor Joanna Kidman and Dr Vincent O’Malley.



  1. I have just finished reading Fragments from a Contested Past. Such an extremely powerful account of how public memory has been made and the unveiling of what really happened in our nations history and herstory. Tears came as I read and despite all the Te Tiriti workshops and awakening I have had these past 29 years as a pakeha male born in the 1950s a new awareness came upon me. This is due to the generous sharing of accounts from the tangata whenua whose tupuna were dispossessed and killed and the experiences and accounts of the researcher's. I am going to be sharing this book with my work colleagues and whanau. Nga mihi nui.


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