By David Hoggard
On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write short stories on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The theme for the 22th contest was the Dark Continent.
The White Contingent By Algy Fishwright
Article appearing in Imperial Geographic, May 1978
Once home to the hoots of enormous birds such as Hutton’s Eagle and the New Zealand Ostrich, these dense forests are now home to substantially different noises: the rattle of an idling Jeep engine, the scritch-scratch of the journalist’s pencil, and the steamy hiss of Captain von Tempsky as he relieves himself behind a tree of immense circumference, which I am informed is a standard example of the kauri. Although not as impressive as the sequoia, it would certainly dominate any environment less untouched and virginal as the ‘bush’ of the Tuhoe tribe.
Presently, Captain von Tempsky returns and continues to describe the talents and purposes of his crack squad of counter-insurgents, the Forest Rangers. These men, hated among the North London trendies and feared in these remote parts, use their knowledge of the terrain - and their iron will to defend their minority-rule state – to fight the dissident Rua Kenana Brigade at their own game, striking against their hidden outposts deep in the Urewera Mountains.
He is accused of harsh tactics and reviled as a mercenary, and I am loath to press the Captain too hard – after all, if we don’t get along, it’s a long way to walk back to the Britomart Barracks. Nevertheless, I ask von Tempsky about his story: how did he end up here in New Zealand?
“Well, I grew up in British Honduras, and that’s a classic case of the problems which come when the black majority gain power. It’s a principled thing. And of course, as the local press never fails to point out, the colonial mind is very different to that of the metropolitan elites back in Britain. My ancestor Gustavus von Tempsky went to South America in the 19th century because he thrived on adventure and considered it the solemn duty of the white man to civilise the world. I follow his example; you at Home follow that of your own ancestors. It’s to do with genetics, I think.”
Von Tempsky isn’t the only foreigner to have ended up in the Forest Rangers. In the Jeep behind us, there is a Thompson gunner who hails from Norway – and therefore presumably does not have a particularly colonial brain.
Reluctant to express a scientific view on the genetic differences between Briton and Kiwi, I make small talk about the uncomfortable bush track up which we are bouncing. The roads, apparently, are largely unmade (or non-existent) outside of the six provincial centres (most of which are little more than townships) and trade is largely carried out by boat. In the interior of the North Island, with its minimal white population, there is little demand for road or rail connections. The blacks are left to their own devices – until such a time, of course, as they start to assault the bold ‘settlers’ who persist in such lonely environs, as the terrorist cadres in the mountains have been doing for the past few years.
“I’m glad you’ve got such tough vehicles, anyway,” I comment after a particularly spine-shattering knock.
“Oh, yes,” replies the Captain from the front passenger seat, “we’ve got the Americans to thank for that. We used to use repurposed agricultural cars from Britain, bought from runholders in the South Island – Lamb Drovers, I think they were called – but Independence meant we couldn’t get the parts, so we had to go cap in hand to the Yanks. They’re good lads, you know, they’ve been very generous.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“Oh, because the terrorists are spreading Communism from the rough country down to the sea, and the Americans – quite reasonably – have an interest in seeing it contained. They’ve seen what happened to Cuba. Anyway, sorry for this, folks, but I’m going to have to call another halt. This drive always pounds my bladder into submission. Far better to be creeping through the bush on foot.”
As we stop for yet another toilet break, and my Ranger escort sets about cleaning their guns, I start to become fearful of the guerrillas of the North Island, who might – legend has it – descend upon us with no auditory forewarning.
“If you go to a Red Zone, pal, I’m telling you the Government can’t be responsible for your safety.” Major Ross Meurant is a bluff Northlander who resigned his commission in the Armed Constabulary to step in as Minister for Internal Affairs after the assassination of the previous occupant of the role. He takes no nonsense, but is said to lack imagination. His policies would shock a liberal-minded Englishman, but are seen as absolutely necessary by the majority of the people of Auckland – the capital of New Zealand, with a population of 60,000 and an all-consuming fear of being invaded by the hostile or untrustworthy ‘iwi’, or tribes, to the north and south of their narrow, vulnerable isthmus.
Ross ‘Breaker’ Meurant was my first port of call upon landing at the new airport northwest of Auckland (a site to the south was rejected as being too close to the Tainui powerbase), and, although mystified as to why I wanted to venture away from the white-majority areas, he granted me the necessary permits and arranged for the Rangers to take me into the foothills of the Orange Zone. He also generously accompanied me to the Maori settlement at Orakei, just to the east of central Auckland.
“We have to have them here because they refused to sell up, and in any case they’re useful workers. These are people who have rejected the tribal ways of their elders and come to Auckland to find honest work and join in the endeavour of civilisation,” he says as we cross the checkpoint into what is fragrantly termed a ‘suburb’. It is in fact a mass of tenements and slums, into which blacks are shunted as soon as they arrive. The buildings cover the Maori-owned land, which is mostly swampy or steep, and in any case is ruined by the squalid huts and shacks which house the Maori, and which are separated by winding alleys formed of mud and waste.
“Surely,” I ask the Minister, “they would be better able to join in the endeavour if they were allowed out of this suburb to find work?”
“Oh, but they are! They only have to apply for a permit, the granting of which is dependent upon a background check to make sure that they don’t pose a risk to the security of the city!”
“But I’ve heard that it takes upwards of six months for the check to be completed – and it’s a brave employer who will take on a worker who has a six-month gap on his CV when the white population is at full employment.”
“And employers are perfectly entitled to make those decisions: it’s the free market at work! In any case, these aren’t the days of Garfield Todd and those crooks in the Centre Party, when we could pretend that the blacks didn’t want us dead. They’ve abused the trust we gave them, and it seems perfectly obvious to me that we shouldn’t extend that trust them again until their cousins have stopped shooting settler families with Soviet weaponry.” It is interesting that he describes the Todd Government in such terms, as they were the ministry which came under fire for gerrymandering the electoral map which Meurant directly benefits from. He is the MP for Pensioner Settlements, which covers all the retirement villages in the country and returns him by a healthy margin.
The Maori who live in Orakei are lice-ridden and filthy; clad in rags and matted hair. They occupy a haven of mud which was – it is said – bad enough even before the construction of the sewage pipes out to sea at Brown’s Island, which failed to take account of prevailing currents and resulted in the refuse of the city eddying back on the waves into the Waitemata Harbour and landing on the coast at Orakei. “Should the Government, in any case, not do something for the inhuman poverty that we are seeing around us?” I ask.
“Certainly, and that’s why we allow the residents here to compete on the urban job market. Their failure to compete is their own affair, and it breaks my heart – after all we’ve done for them – to see young hooligans like that fellow who was all over the Herald the other day – Tuku Morgan, I think his name was – stealing underpants from respectable shops on Coburg Quadrant. Now, of course, in those circumstances we had no choice but to call out the Fencibles and deport his associates back down to the Waikato. There’s only so much rope you can give these people before they have enough to hang you.”
As I and my Forest Ranger escort climb onwards and upwards into the Ureweras, my fear of being hanged by Maori bandits subsides. The white contingent are professional but relaxed. Relaxed enough, indeed, for their Captain to make a game of watering not only a kauri but also a rimu, a totara, a kahikatea and, with some scorn, a mostly dead wheki which could probably have used the nourishment.
We are, after all, only in an Orange Zone, part of the classification introduced by the current Prime Minister, Mr Volkner, to ensure the safety of the minority population and any peace-loving Maoris. Or, as his opponents put it, to excuse the state of any responsibility for horrors. He was in an Orange Zone, after all, what was he doing up there without a gun to defend himself from the RKB? Silly prat.
“The bush road stops a couple of miles up ahead,” says Captain von Tempsky, extricating himself from the tree fern, “it’s mostly used to get us up to the business end. Beyond that is the Red Zone, which Breaker said we weren’t to bother with on this trek. But it would be a shame to come all the way up here and not do any Ranging, I say – if you’re keen, we can take you a bit further on foot and see what we can see. But you’d be responsible for your own safety.”
I eagerly nod my assent with the plan, and am given a small pistol by the Norwegian with the Thompson gun. I joke that I’d quite like to swap with him, but he doesn’t seem amused. I'm told that from now on, it is forbidden to talk, and that even treading on dry twigs could imperil the whole squad. I gulp – silently.
Von Tempsky leads the way away from the road, down a native track which I wouldn’t have noticed in a month of Sundays. From now on, all communication iss done by complicated hand signals, to whose meaning I am not privy. I am, however, glad not to hear the grumblings of the people behind me who are held up by my attempts to negotiate the undergrowth without making a sound.
Is there any way that the situation in New Zealand could have turned out to the mutual advantage of whites and blacks? Back home in Croydon, I’d been told that the simple acknowledgement that the indigenous people of New Zealand were not ‘black’ but Polynesian would solve the problems at a stroke, but my own opinion is that race science doesn’t become less fallacious just by using more refined definitions. No, the fundamental difficulty is that a minority wishes to exercise power over a majority population.
Perhaps the relatively liberal regime of Garfield Todd might – if it had been given a fair crack of the whip – have prevented the decline into a state of war. The positive steps lately taken in South Africa point in this direction. But it remains to be seen whether the whites will ultimately accept total equality, and whether they will have the strength to resist if they do not.
Perhaps, indeed, we need to go back to the earliest years of the colony of New Zealand: when an Anglo-Maori agreement, the Treaty of Waitangi, seemed to provide a fair basis for settlement; when the Wakefield family were pressing for heavy colonisation with the New Zealand Company, until the Company went under after the Wairau War and ended the prospect of whites becoming the majority in New Zealand, as they are in Australia. It is comforting to imagine that if only the Maori hadn’t descended on Nelson and the British were now a majority, everything would be fine and dandy – but of course, the prospect of a majority ruling a minority is only slightly less brutal than that of a minority ruling a majority.
Just as I couldn’t find my way out of the endless bush of the North Island in a hundred years, I could never hope find my way out of this tangle of noxious weeds, of which consists the definitional racial crisis of New Zealand.
After a while, we stop in a clearing, trying to open our ration tins without making a sound. This is largely successful, but unfortunately it means that we hear every drop splashing against an unfortunate tawa.
Until, that is, we hear a thwock and a scream, and a gush of a liquid which sounds very different to that which flowed before.
I cannot describe the events of the next few moments – partly because the adrenaline prevented me from registering anything in my memory, and partly because those images which I do remember are too painful to relate. Suffice to say, the white incontinent, Captain von Tempsky, was dead, and several more of the detachment met the same fate.
I discovered later that my pistol had several fewer bullets in it than it had when we left the Jeeps. I hope to God I didn’t hit anything.
The Thompson gunner, unlike me, didn't lose his head. He took command very quickly and the squad executed a fighting retreat back up the path, with myself being pushed forward at the head of the column. I was very happy to be in this position, but terribly unhappy about the events that were currently transpiring. After an age, we reached the Jeeps and scarpered back down the track much more quickly and much less conversationally than the manner in which we had ascended.
It is possible – indeed, almost necessary from a rational and a moral point of view – to pour opprobrium onto Captain von Tempsky and the people with whom he aligned himself. But as I write this in my Auckland hotel, every time I blink I can see his face, gazing vacantly at his blood as it floods out of his body, darkening the soil of an unhappy continent.
David Hoggard is the co-author, with Bob Mumby, of Many a Hero Untold, published by SLP