Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 28, March 2012

    Matriarchs, Moderates and Militants:

    Press Representations of Indigenous Women in Australia and New Zealand

    Karen Fox

  1. Dame Whina Cooper’s national prominence in New Zealand developed through her lifetime of struggle for Māori people, the Indigenous people of New Zealand, and through her visibility as a leader within Māoridom. Born in the far north of New Zealand in 1895, her first act of protest occurred when she was aged eighteen. Mudflats that were important to local Māori had been leased to a white farmer, who had begun to drain the land. While Whina's father looked to the official channels of the courts and Parliament to overturn the lease, she gathered a group of Māori people to follow the workers digging drains and to fill them back in. Though they were charged with trespass, the lease was withdrawn after Māori Members of Parliament became involved in the matter.[1] Whina soon became a leader in the Catholic Church and in her community, and reached national prominence when she was elected the first Dominion President of the Māori Women's Welfare League at its foundation in 1951.
  2. Whina's greatest act of leadership, however, came much later in her life. As her biographer, Michael King, has argued, Whina made an 'imprint…on the national consciousness' when she led a march protesting the loss of Māori land in 1975.[2] She had become the leader of Te Rōpū o te Matakite (Those with Foresight), a group formed to oppose the continuing alienation of land. To draw Māori together and bring the loss of land to the attention of the Pākehā (non-Indigenous) population, the group decided to hold a march.[3] Led by Whina and her grand-daughter, it began from Te Hapua in the far north of New Zealand in September 1975. Almost a month to the day after they had set off, the marchers reached Parliament, in Wellington, on 13 October. Whina presented a memorial of rights and a petition with 60,000 signatures. In 1980, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to the Māori people. Some years later, in 1990, she 'reached her widest audience' yet when she spoke at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Auckland.[4] After her death at the age of ninety-eight in 1994, her tangihanga (funeral) was attended by 'many thousands' as well as being screened live on television.[5]
  3. Dame Whina Cooper was one of a number of Māori and Aboriginal women who became well-known for their leadership and activism in New Zealand and Australia during the second half of the twentieth century. Some of these women worked for change from within the institutions of the state, others sought it from outside them, and still others moved fluidly between these positions. In this paper, I explore some of the print media representations that surrounded these women as they struggled for the welfare and rights of Aboriginal and Māori people in Australia and New Zealand, and the ways in which they and their work have been remembered since.
  4. A large body of literature discussing representations of race in popular culture and the media now exists in Australia and New Zealand, as elsewhere. A number of scholars have provided nuanced critiques of depictions of Māori and Aboriginal people in literature, cinema, art and photography.[6] As well, considerable research has examined issues of representation and racial difference specifically in the print media, including in Australia and New Zealand.[7] Rather than an absence of media coverage of Indigenous people, this research reveals a continual silencing of Indigenous perspectives, a focus on stories placing Indigenous people in a negative light and distorted representations of events and issues.[8] A particular focus of attention has been the inadequacies of reporting about protest actions, which has often cast those involved as dangerous radicals, represented Indigenous voices as a 'minority' and failed to provide adequate information about the historical context of the protests or the issues involved.[9] Ranginui Walker observed, for instance, that media reports of several incidents and issues involving Māori during 1988 were 'sensationalist', failed to place the events in their 'economic and social context' and 'emphasised, even fomented, racial antagonism'.[10] Similarly, in examining media coverage of a so-called 'riot' on Palm Island in 2004, David Hollinsworth noted that reporting in Australia 'occur[red] within institutionalised codes and practices that typically sensationalise[d] Aboriginal issues, emphasising conflict, violence, [and] irrational and pathological behaviours'.[11]
  5. A growing body of literature also considers representations of gender in popular culture and the media. A major preoccupation has been the representation of women in politics or as world leaders.[12] Common threads in such representations have included a focus on physical appearance, a greater attention to the private and domestic aspects of women's lives than in profiles of men holding similar positions, and a tendency to draw upon 'common gendered frames'.[13] Another area of particular interest has been the portrayal of the women's movement in the press from the 1960s.[14] This research has demonstrated that organisations and people involved in the women's movement often struggled to achieve media coverage at all.[15] When they did appear in the media, stories were frequently framed in ways which cast doubt on the legitimacy of the movement's goals. Such representational practices included emphasising problems and divisions within the movement, commenting on the appearance of the women involved, labelling women in the movement in negative ways (for instance, as 'bra burners' or 'libbers'), or focusing on the most controversial issues addressed by the movement (such as the abortion debate).[16]
  6. From the 1990s, scholars began to consider the intersections between racialised and gendered representations in popular culture and the media. One of the first to do so was American feminist theorist bell hooks, who explored representations of African-American women and men in a variety of media, including film, literature, television and popular music.[17] In Australia, a small number of studies have begun to examine race and gender together in print media representations. Cathy Greenfield and Peter Williams explored a number of stereotypes evident in newspaper articles about Aboriginal women during the lead up to the 1988 Australian Bicentenary, Kathie Muir examined representations of Ngarrindjeri women in reporting on the Hindmarsh Island affair, and Jane Wilkinson investigated depictions of 'ethnically and socio-economically diverse women leaders' in two Australian daily newspapers in 2001.[18] Mele-Ane Havea investigated the ways in which Aboriginal women were depicted in the print media through an analysis of several stereotypes evident in the portrayal of the women involved in the Hindmarsh Island affair and in the portrayal of athlete Cathy Freeman. In the title of her article, Havea advocated further 'critical reflection' on the ways in which the media represents Aboriginal women, a challenge I take up in this article.[19]
  7. Analysis in this paper is drawn from close examination of New Zealand and Australian print media depictions of Dame Whina Cooper and other prominent Māori and Aboriginal women leaders in the second half of the twentieth century. Newspaper reports about these women were collected from a range of major metropolitan newspapers in Australia and New Zealand.[20] As the study covered a long time period, a large geographical area and a number of women, news items were located through identifying major events involving those women which were reported in the press, and searching a variety of newspapers for coverage of those events. Drawing on theories of framing, I adopted a discursive approach, viewing 'meaning, representation and culture' as 'constitutive', and emphasising 'the effects and consequences of representation', or 'its "politics"'.[21] An attempt was made to trace differences in representations corresponding to diverging political persuasions and editorial positions in particular newspapers; however, a surprising level of similarity emerged across the papers examined, irrespective of these political and editorial differences. This approach was supported by exploring a range of other popular texts about these prominent women, as well as their own contributions to public debate and to representations of themselves–in the media, interviews and autobiographical writing. In this paper, I discuss several common depictions of Dame Whina and other Indigenous women leaders in Australia and New Zealand. During a period of intense social, political and economic change on both sides of the Tasman, press depictions of these prominent women often fractured along racialised and gendered lines, creating representational framings that continue to have political significance.

    The mother of the nation? Framing Whina Cooper
  8. When Dame Whina died at the age of ninety-eight in 1994, she was mourned across New Zealand. Around the country newspaper editorials lamented the loss of a significant figure, who had been a symbol of national unity for many Pākehā, as well as a powerful leader for Māori people. An estimated 30,000 people went to her tangihanga.[22] Condolences came from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, and tributes from local politicians and public figures were reported in all the major daily newspapers. The Prime Minister at the time, Jim Bolger, was quoted in the New Zealand Herald describing Dame Whina as having worked 'for the advancement of New Zealand', and as having 'always talked about one people, calling for them to work together'.[23] Newspaper commentary and letters to the editor also tended to subsume Dame Whina's advocacy for Māori people under her vision for the country as a whole. One letter writer lamented that she had 'passed on without seeing her vision become a reality of us all joining together as a united nation', and another referred to her 'dream' that Māori and Pākehā would 'live together as one people', urging readers not to let 'this great woman's dream die with her passing'.[24] In mourning for her, it seemed, Māori and Pākehā could come together as one, just as Dame Whina herself would have desired.
  9. Reading coverage of Dame Whina's death in New Zealand's major daily newspapers, it would be easy to assume that this understanding of her life and her achievements was universally shared. Particularly in editorial material, where opinion predominated over biographical detail, she was placed as an advocate of assimilation, harmony and tolerance. In the political hub of Wellington, readers of the Dominion were assured that although she had 'welcomed' the Māori 'cultural and political renaissance' of the 1970s and 1980s, she had 'never endorsed the rise in biculturalism that grew with it' and that brought 'the concept of one nation, two people'. Under the headline 'a Maori for all races', this editorial asserted that Dame Whina was instead motivated by 'the earlier pursuit of assimilation, the notion of one nation, one people', and that all New Zealand had benefited from her life.[25] Yet while she had often spoken of the need for unity between Māori and Pākehā, Dame Whina was not an advocate of assimilation. In 1982, for instance, the New Zealand Woman's Weekly had quoted her expressly stating that she 'was always against assimilation'.[26] In the south of New Zealand, the Otago Daily Times editorial similarly focused on Dame Whina's desire for Māori and Pākehā to live together in harmony. It mourned the death of one who had 'represent[ed] for many New Zealanders hope for Maori and pakeha unity', and who had 'refused to preach the separatist path'. Thus, it declared, 'despite her role in the land march … and her outspoken views', she had 'earned the respect of many "middle" New Zealanders.'[27]
  10. The reiteration of Dame Whina's belief in living together harmoniously, which was repeated throughout the country (though possibly with greater vehemence in the more conservative south), often trumped her other aspirations when lessons were being drawn from her life. Exhortations to continue her work for Māori welfare or land rights were conspicuously absent from much of the media coverage of her death. In an editorial in Mana magazine—a Māori-controlled publication—Māori media pioneer Derek Fox suggested that the politicians who responded to Dame Whina's death in this manner were 'applauding in public someone whose work they have opposed and whose dreams they are destroying'. While she had 'argued for unity between Maori and Pakeha,' he wrote, she had seen 'the path to that harmony [as] one along which Maori rights were acknowledged and restored.'[28] Framing such a forceful champion of Māori rights in this way—as someone who had advocated above all else the need for harmony and unity—potentially limited the challenge she posed to mainstream social and political formations.
  11. Much was also made of Dame Whina's age, and her status as a matriarch. A number of stories published around the time of her death made reference to her as the 'Mother of the nation', or 'Te Whaea o te Motu', a title the Māori Women's Welfare League had bestowed upon her in another context.[29] The phrase was used to describe her far more after her death than it had been during her life, and it was part of a set of representations that developed around her particularly in the 1990s. During the Waitangi Day celebrations in 1990, New Zealand's sesquicentennial year, Dame Whina had been interviewed by broadcaster Paul Holmes for his Television New Zealand programme, Holmes. He introduced her as 'one of New Zealand's most respected people', and as 'someone who could almost be the mother of us all'. The interview which followed had 'an almost reverential focus on Dame Whina herself'.[30] Likewise, after her death, the Sunday Star-Times described her in a headline as 'the nation's matriarch'.[31] Portrayed as an elderly woman cherished by the whole nation—a loved New Zealander—Dame Whina was not so much depicted as an advocate of Māori rights as she was mobilised as a reassuring symbol that New Zealand race relations could still be the best in the world, as they had been imagined for so long.

    Radicals and moderates
  12. Rather than as a voice for tolerance and unity, however, Dame Whina had been portrayed in the media at various times during her life as a forceful figure, and as a fighter. Though not usually termed an 'activist', she had sometimes been referred to in terms that suggested she was radical. A profile published in the Evening Post in 1975, during the land march, ran under the headline 'Long-time fighter for her people'. In the article, she was described as 'a relentless fighter, a woman of no compromise where the rights of the Maoris [sic] [are] concerned'.[32] In an interview broadcast in 1978, she commented upon newspaper descriptions of her as 'fiery, forceful and fearless'. '[Y]ou've got to be fiery', she said, because 'you got to be true in what you're speaking about.'[33] Especially in her old age, however, press depictions increasingly came to contrast her with a new, much more radical, generation of activists who emerged in the 1970s.
  13. In Australia, this representational divide was evident in portrayals of Lowitja O'Donoghue and Pat O'Shane, both forceful advocates for Aboriginal people over many years, and both subjects of press coverage during a period when issues such as Aboriginal land rights and Aboriginal deaths in custody featured regularly in the media. O'Donoghue held positions in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, as the first chair of the National Aboriginal Conference, in the Aboriginal Development Commission, and as the inaugural head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. In the 1970s and 1980s, she was sometimes depicted in the press as being assimilated, and her life as demonstrating the success of official assimilation policies. While stories about her in the 1980s and 1990s sometimes represented her as having fought for Aboriginal rights, or as having fought her way to the top, she was also frequently described in non-threatening terms. In 1988, for instance, the Adelaide Advertiser referred to her as 'a tireless worker for Aborigines'.[34] Such depictions also reinforced gendered ideals, reflecting a (white) conception of femininity that valued selfless work for others, neither seeking publicity nor needing reward. The Australian Women's Weekly commented in 1985 that O'Donoghue had long been 'a fighter for Aboriginal rights, but without publicity', thus implicitly contrasting her with more vocal and visible activists.[35] A similar perception of Dame Whina's activism was evident in New Zealand after her death. She had 'led a turbulent life', pronounced the Dominion editorial, 'but her activism was born of selflessness.'[36]
  14. At least once, Lowitja O'Donoghue was explicitly compared to Pat O'Shane. Although O'Shane was also a prominent Indigenous woman working for Indigenous rights from within the bureaucratic and institutional structures of the state, she was often depicted as a more controversial figure than O'Donoghue. O'Shane had begun her career as a teacher, had studied law and become a barrister, worked within the public service and been appointed as a magistrate in New South Wales in 1986. In 1983, during her time as head of the New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs, she was quoted in the Australian as saying 'I see myself as an activist within bureaucracy.'[37] Media coverage of O'Shane often depicted her as fierce and controversial, despite her positions within the public service and judiciary. She was described in one article in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1993 as 'a champion of the vulnerable and a foe of the establishment'.[38] In the same year, in an extended profile in the Australian Magazine, Kate Legge emphasised O'Shane's fiery nature, referring to her as a 'rabblerouser', 'stirrer', and someone that 'no-one wants to cross'.[39] Legge explicitly compared O'Shane to 'other successful Aboriginal women' like O'Donoghue, whom she described as 'not nearly as smouldering, although she has good reason.' O'Donoghue was instead 'a quiet achiever', and a 'conformist who plays by the rules.'[40] Thus, while both women worked for change from within institutional structures, a divide was drawn between them in terms of their approaches and strategies.
  15. In many of these representations, gender was clearly important. The image of the mother was a recurring one. Echoing portrayals of Dame Whina, O'Donoghue was profiled in the Sunday Age in 1994 under the headline 'Mother of the nation'. Described as the 'elder stateswoman of Aboriginal politics', she was framed as having sacrificed (among other things) the opportunity of having her own children in order to work for Aboriginal people. The article stated that she had gained 'a much wider family in place of the ordinary, a sort of motherhood which embraces her entire people.'[41] Shirley Smith, an important leader of the Redfern Aboriginal community, was better known as Mum Shirl. Occasionally depicted as formidable or as an activist, she was also often portrayed as caring, nurturing or motherly. One such description appeared in the Daily Mirror in 1984, where she was referred to as 'the tireless Aboriginal welfare worker with the big heart.'[42] Descriptions like this held far different connotations than did 'activist'. Even in an article describing her as 'swearing like a bullocky', 'yelling down the phone at bureaucrats' and feeling 'perpetual rage', she was portrayed as a mother in that she was 'fight[ing] for her oppressed "family" of Aborigines'.[43] Such matriarchal rage was perhaps more acceptable than was the rage of the younger activist women who were part of the new wave of visible and vocal protest activity, spanning a range of political and social issues, which developed from the late 1960s.
  16. In New Zealand, older Māori women were often referred to in the press as 'matriarch' or 'kuia' (elderly woman). Dame Whina and fellow Māori leader Dame Mira Szaszy were frequently described in these terms later in their lives. Though carrying greater connotations of authority and leadership than the term 'mother', the image of the matriarch, like that of the mother, appeared generally to be a moderate one. Reference was frequently made to Dame Whina's age during the land march, and in many later articles about her. She was described in the Evening Post in 1975 as a 'rather amazing old Maori woman', and as 'this remarkable woman of 82', both descriptions that suggest she was not perceived as threatening.[44] She was framed as a grandmotherly figure in the New Zealand Woman's Weekly in 1974, after she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). She also appeared in this light in a now-famous photograph, which was published in the New Zealand Herald in 1975, showing her beginning the land march holding her granddaughter's hand.[45] Framing as a mother, grandmother or matriarch often seemed to imply not merely family status, age or authority, but also a moderate approach to seeking change, perhaps relating to an unspoken perception of the elderly as weak. It was the very incongruity of an elderly woman leading a protest march which seemed to fascinate in press reports of the land march.
  17. Women who were part of the new activist groups of the 1970s, on the other hand, were often represented as dangerous radicals. One such woman in New Zealand was Titewhai Harawira. A well-known campaigner for Māori rights, Harawira was persistently described as radical and threatening. In a variety of New Zealand newspapers in 1998 and 1999, for instance, she was termed a 'Maori activist', 'Waitangi activist' or 'notorious activist'.[46] Eva Rickard, who in the late 1970s led a fight to have land at Raglan returned to Māori, and who in the 1990s declared an independent state within New Zealand, was likewise depicted as radical.[47] As previously noted, those seeking change through protest have often been marginalised and made to appear threatening through the use of negative labels, and through media coverage focused upon their protest actions rather than upon their ideas.[48] Raymond Nairn and Timothy McCreanor have suggested that blaming a small number of 'stirrers' for the increase in protest activity in New Zealand in the late 1970s implied that such 'unrest' was 'an unpleasant aberration in an otherwise harmonious history', and thus easily solved if the 'stirrers' would cease their disruptive behaviour. Depicting 'stirrers' as 'a minority…extreme in its views and of questionable mental status' meant 'their actions and arguments [could] be dismissed from serious consideration in any reasonable discussion of social issues', as well as allocating 'blame for the deteriorating state of race relations' and suggesting a solution could be found 'without considering the possibility that many Maori [were] genuinely disadvantaged'.[49] Both Harawira and Rickard commented publicly about these labels. In an interview in 1979, Rickard stated: 'We knew as children who we were and where we belonged'. 'But in the Pakeha world,' she continued, 'it's Eva Rickard militant activist, stirrer, gang-member, trouble-maker and all the other names thrown at me since the battle began.'[50] In the Sunday Star-Times in 1999, Harawira was quoted saying 'I'm not an activist, that's a label.'[51] She stated in another interview, broadcast by Radio New Zealand in the late 1990s, that 'the media has chosen to have and promote its particular image of me.' She recalled that she had once been told by a reporter that her words would not be quoted 'because that's not the media image that we have.'[52] When deployed in media coverage of Rickard's struggle to regain lands wrongfully taken, or of Harawira's actions and opinions, these negative labels could have a potent de-legitimising effect.
  18. A representational divide between so-called 'radicals' and 'moderates' has been a common feature of media treatment of Indigenous peoples around the world, especially as new generations of activists came to adopt more militant tactics in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it has applied to men as much as to women.[53] Yet just as representations of so-called moderate advocates like Dame Whina or O'Donoghue tapped into gender stereotypes—depicting them as motherly, grandmotherly or selfless—media depictions of so-called radicals also sometimes drew on stereotypical images and ideas. Identifying one common media construction of Māori as that of 'radical political activist', Melanie Wall has commented upon the gender implications of the stereotype. Besides working to 'maintain the hegemonic status quo by delegitimising the political aspirations of Maori activists', Wall argued, the stereotype also operates 'to further delimit and constrain Maori identity through masculine signifiers of a violent primitivism'.[54] Thus, while Indigenous men involved in protest activity were also frequently represented in the media as dangerous radicals, there were different implications when such depictions were applied to women.
  19. One such implication was perhaps that women who stepped outside accepted limits of behaviour to protest were more threatening than men who did so. When Deirdre Macken wrote in the Age in 1986 that Pat O'Shane's 'radical politics' had 'finally split her marriage', the image of activist women as unnatural was implicitly underlined.[55] If radical activists were threatening, radical women who also metaphorically transgressed gender boundaries were still more so. Indeed, being seen as not being an activist could draw praise for young women in the 1970s and 1980s. One profile of photographer and filmmaker Tracey Moffatt stated that she was 'a young Aborigine with plenty to say' but 'no flag-waving activist'.[56] On other occasions, being female could lessen the impact of an activist's words. In a profile of Bobbi Sykes in the Adelaide Advertiser in 1974, Alan Trengove quoted her discussing 'sexist' reactions to her that downplayed her ideas. He described her as a 'militant Aborigine', and as 'black, beautiful, angry and articulate'. He was 'taking a lot of notice' of her, he wrote, although 'finding it impossible to overlook her gender.'[57]
  20. Intriguingly, when Eva Rickard died in 1997, having been decried as a radical in life, a number of articles in the press referred to her as a 'matriarch' or 'kuia', as had been the case in media coverage of Dame Whina Cooper's death. One story referred to her as 'one of the country's most respected Maori rights matriarchs'.[58] Another article noted that, as well as provoking Pākehā hostility, Rickard had been 'criticised by radical Maori' for using the 'Pakeha court system' in the struggle to regain land at Raglan.[59] In old age and death, it seemed, her rehabilitation from radical to respected matriarch had begun.

    Feminism, gender and indigenous activism
  21. While Indigenous men involved in protest activity were often depicted in similar ways to those outlined above, there were clearly also ways in which representations of Indigenous women who were known for their activism were shaped by ideas about (white) femininity, as I have shown. As well, while many women appeared to consider that issues of Indigenous rights had primacy over issues of gender, they were also aware of the social and political positions of women, and of the issues women faced. Much of Dame Whina Cooper's most significant work before 1975 was done through a women's organisation, the Māori Women's Welfare League, and her position as a former president of the organisation was often referenced in articles about her in the press later in her life. In its early years, as later president Dame Mira Szaszy once said, the centre of the league's attention was 'the home—the children and mothers'.[60] However, Dame Whina's efforts were never restricted to the concerns of women and children. Because there was 'no other national organisation' to advocate for Māori, the League 'took up all issues to do with the Maori world' and thus 'went far beyond the original intention of the organisation.'[61] In a profile of Dame Whina published in 1955, she was described as having 'dominated many positions where one would expect to find a man at the helm'.[62] The Evening Post in 1975 noted that she had, before her move to Auckland, 'never hesitated to trespass into recreations and sports normally preserved for males,' citing as an example her presidency of a rugby union branch and her development of 'tactical plans' for matches.[63] Dame Whina herself reportedly once said that her father 'wanted me to be a boy so in a sense I became one; strong, a warrior, a soldier for God and for my people, our people.'[64] In this way, she appeared to represent herself in masculine terms, as being outside her gender. Representations of her as mother and matriarch, then, appeared alongside representations of her as taking the place of a man, leading from the front with forcefulness and determination.
  22. In itself, Dame Whina's position of leadership had important gendered dimensions. As the Dominion put it after her death, perhaps recasting her as a champion of women's rights: 'on the marae [meeting place] she did not hesitate to break with tradition in speaking and taking the leadership role in tribal and racial affairs'.[65] Similarly, the Evening Post observed that through 'sheer force of personality' she had risen 'above the customary limitations faced by Maori women seeking to assert themselves on the marae.'[66] Indeed, during her lifetime Dame Whina sometimes attracted criticism for being 'a woman taking what many Maoris [sic] regarded as a man's role, by standing up and speaking in public, and by taking the initiative on matters of Maori protocol.'[67] Her response to these criticisms, quoted by Michael King in his biography of her, was that:

      I knew some people were wild at me. They said things like, "Oh that woman. She's taking the part of a man". I thought to myself, I suppose they're partly right. But I've never stopped the men doing anything. I've been waiting for years for men to put the world to rights, and they hadn't. Well—God gave me eyes to see, a head to think, a tongue to talk. Why not use them, why not share what I know?[68]

  23. Age may have assisted Dame Whina in taking a leadership role. Dame Mira Szaszy once observed that 'only when Maori women reached old age and were seen as no longer a threat to male domination, were they generally free from discrimination within Maori society, at least outside the marae forum,' and that 'their age allows them to say things that really are listened to, even if they are not accepted.'[69] Ironically, age also played a part in those representations in the Pākehā-dominated press that framed Dame Whina as a non-threatening figure who did not speak in challenging ways.
  24. For some well-known women, struggling for social justice for Māori or Aboriginal people sat easily alongside supporting feminist concerns. Dame Mira Szaszy, in an interview given in the 1980s, recalled having become aware of the oppression of women as well as of Māori when working in a government department, where she had observed 'job discrimination'.[70] Similarly, Pat O'Shane once commented that she 'could never accept the secondary status of women' and that her parents 'used to tell me that I was just as capable of achieving as the boys.'[71] A strong supporter of both Aboriginal rights and women's rights, O'Shane remarked that 'amongst Aboriginal women I do my best to raise their consciousness both as women and as Aboriginals.'[72] She stated that within the Aboriginal movement she had experienced issues similar to those that white women experienced: 'It was the same old line, "You can make the coffee but we'll make the decisions and speak to the media".'[73] O'Shane received much publicity in 1993 for her judgement in what became known as the Berlei case. Five women were charged with having defaced an advertising billboard they considered sexist. O'Shane found the charges proved, but did not record convictions against the women. After giving the verdict, she made a statement about violence against women in society, which was obiter dictum (that is, it did not form part of the ratio decidendi, or reason for deciding the case). Many commentators missed this critical point, and she was severely criticised by some observers. The Director of Public Prosecutions in New South Wales, it was reported, wanted the decision overturned.[74] Though she had not overstepped her legal powers in making the decision, an article in the Daily Telegraph Mirror at the time referred to her as a 'crusading magistrate' who 'looks beyond the law', implying that she had done so in this instance.[75] O'Shane was thus represented as a radical and controversial figure in terms of feminist issues as well as in terms of Aboriginal issues.
  25. Some prominent Indigenous women also spoke against sexism among Indigenous men or within cultural practices, although this was often a problematic issue given that Indigenous cultures were historically criticised by European observers as oppressive of women. Dame Mira, as mentioned above a strong advocate of Māori women's concerns, on occasion spoke publicly against the practice followed by some iwi (tribes) of not allowing women to speak upon the marae ātea (the courtyard in front of the wharenui, or meeting house, on the marae, on which visitors are welcomed and issues debated). The marae, she thought, had become 'a symbol of the oppression of Maori women, because they are not allowed to speak on it'. She remembered having 'experienced that I was not equal to men' there, though her ability to speak the Māori language was 'as good as if not better than that of the men I listened to.'[76] Aware of the possible impact of making such concerns public, she had not spoken about these matters, for the most part, for twenty years. Given the revival of Māori culture and traditions that she had seen occurring, she wished 'to give the culture a chance of survival without undermining it'.[77] When she eventually did speak on the position of Māori women, at the Māori Women's Welfare League conference in 1982, her speech did not receive much support.[78]
  26. In Dame Mira's case, press depictions of her as a determined fighter often seemed to occur in relation to this advocacy of Māori women's rights, particularly speaking rights on the marae. After her death in 2001, a Sunday Star-Times obituary was headlined 'Champion for rights of Maori women'. The author, Tony Potter, wrote that Dame Mira had had an 'often feisty career', and gave as an example that she was 'regularly outspoken…about the practice of not allowing women to speak on the marae.'[79] Her struggle for Māori women's rights, however, could be considered non-threatening to Pākehā and their institutions because it was a struggle against Māori men, rather than against Pākehā men or Pākehā institutions. Thus, while her campaign for speaking rights for Māori women on the marae was in some ways a radical one, it was not usually portrayed as such in the mainstream media. Instead, there was a tendency to treat Māori society as backward in this respect, and Dame Mira's views as simply common sense.
  27. While some women were equally concerned with the concerns of the feminist movement and those of Indigenous rights movements, however, others prioritised the latter. Disillusionment often set in as Indigenous women observed that the feminist movement was centred on issues that were predominantly the concern of white, middle-class women. Failing to understand that Indigenous women often experienced racism as a greater form of oppression than they did sexism, and that many Indigenous women saw a need to stand with Indigenous men in fighting racism, non-Indigenous feminists generally viewed Indigenous and migrant women as simply suffering additional 'degrees of oppression'.[80] Māori and Aboriginal women in the 1970s and 1980s often felt that their energy must first go to the struggles of their people. Ngahuia Te Awekotuku once suggested that 'so few Maori women join[ed] women's liberation in its earliest days' due to there being 'so many other consuming struggles' to face, such as retaining land, language and culture, and 'the overwhelming need to deal with what is coming at you from outside the whanau [extended family].'[81] Similarly, Dame Mira reflected that the women's liberation movement 'seemed somewhat alien to most Maori women.'[82] Donna Awatere-Huata, a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives for some years, felt that 'the Treaty [of Waitangi] was and still is the number one issue.' For her, the right of women to speak on marae was not an issue she 'felt strongly about' because it was 'one of our rituals', and she felt 'sentimental' about these, since they had been 'shovelled about enough'.[83] Depictions of Indigenous women involved in protest activity that focused upon their so-called radicalism could thus elide the ways in which they supported the upholding of traditional practices.

  28. Representations of Māori and Aboriginal activists in the press in the second half of the twentieth century often split between those constructed as moderate and those constructed as radical, and as I have demonstrated in this paper, although such a representational divide was not limited to portrayals of women, gendered depictions were deeply implicated in the particular forms which it took. Whether the creation of a representational divide between radical and moderate was the result of an unconscious or 'commonsense' framing by news organisations, or more sinisterly, a deliberate strategy of containment, the political consequences were significant. Creating such a divide allowed the appearance of liberalism in supporting the grievances of the moderates, while denigrating the radicals as extreme. A focus on protest actions, personalities and divisions within the movement obscured the ideas of protesters and masked the wide agreement which existed among many Māori and Aboriginal people on issues and goals. If there was no myth of superior race relations to uphold in Australia as there was in New Zealand, there was nevertheless the important myth that all could have a 'fair go'. Protest was an uncomfortable reminder that a fair go had not always been available to some among the population. This representational divide—including its gendered elements—has left a political legacy for us today, but more than that, it is arguably with us still.


    [1] Michael King, 'Cooper, Whina 1895–1994,' in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 7 April 2006, online:, site accessed 7 May 2007.

    [2] King, 'Cooper, Whina 1895–1994.'

    [3] Michael King, Whina: A Biography of Whina Cooper, Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983, p. 207.

    [4] King, 'Cooper, Whina 1895–1994.'

    [5] King, 'Cooper, Whina 1895–1994.'

    [6] Among these are: Jacqui Sutton Beets, 'Images of Maori women in New Zealand postcards after 1900,' in Bitter Sweet: Indigenous Women in the Pacific, ed. Alison Jones, Phyllis Herda, and Tamasailau M. Suaalii, Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2000, pp. 17–32; Leonard Bell, 'The representation of the Maori by European artists in New Zealand, ca. 1890–1914,' in Art Journal, vol. 49, no. 2 (1990): 142–149; Martin Blythe, Naming the Other: Images of the Maori in New Zealand Film and Television, Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1994; Terry Goldie, Fear and Temptation: The Image of the Indigene in Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Literatures, Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989; Marcia Langton, "Well, I Heard it on the Radio and I Saw it on the Television": An Essay for the Australian Film Commission on the Politics and Aesthetics of Filmmaking By and About Aboriginal People and Things, North Sydney: Australian Film Commission, 1993; Jane Lydon, Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians, Durham: Duke University Press, 2005; Catriona Moore and Stephen Muecke, 'Racism and the representation of Aborigines in film,' in Australian Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 2, no. 1 (1984):36–53; Frances Peters-Little, '"Nobles and savages" on the television,' in Aboriginal History , vol. 27 (2003): 16–38.

    [7] For instance, Christopher P. Campbell, Race, Myth and the News, Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1995; Teun A. van Dijk, Racism and the Press, London: Routledge, 1991. Relating to Australia and New Zealand, see especially: Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee and Goldie Osuri, 'Silences of the media: whiting out Aboriginality in making news and making history,' Media, Culture and Society, vol. 22, no. 3 (2000): 263–84; Kim Bullimore, 'Media dreaming: representation of Aboriginality in modern Australian media,' in Asia Pacific Media Educator, no. 6 (1999): 72–80; Judy Cochrane, 'Media treatment of Maori issues,' in Sites, no. 21 (1990): 5–29; Derek Fox, 'The Maori perspective of the news,' in Whose News? ed. Margie Comrie and Judy McGregor, Palmerston North: Dunmore, 1992, pp. 170–80; John Hartley and Alan McKee, The Indigenous Public Sphere: The Reporting and Reception of Aboriginal Issues in the Australian Media, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000; Judy McGregor and Joanne TeAwa, 'Racism and the news media,' in Nga Patai: Racism and Ethnic Relations in Aotearoa/New Zealand, ed. Paul Spoonley, David Pearson and Cluny Macpherson, Palmerston North: Dunmore, 1996, 235–46; Michael Meadows, Voices in the Wilderness: Images of Aboriginal People in the Australian Media, Westport: Greenwood, 2001; Steve Mickler, The Myth of Privilege: Aboriginal Status, Media Visions, Public Ideas, South Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1998; Paul Spoonley and Walter Hirsh (eds), Between the Lines: Racism and the New Zealand Media, Auckland: Heinemann Reed, 1990; Melanie Wall, 'Stereotypical constructions of the Maori "race" in the media,' in New Zealand Geographer, vol. 53, no. 2 (1997): 40–45.

    [8] Banerjee and Osuri, 'Silences of the media,' pp. 270–71; Bullimore, 'Media Dreaming,' p. 75; Michael Meadows, 'A 10-point plan and a Treaty: images of indigenous people in the press in Australia and Canada,' in Queensland Review , vol. 6, no. 1 (1999): 56–58.

    [9] See for instance: Kelly Barclay and James H. Liu, 'Who gets voice? (re)presentation of bicultural relations in New Zealand print media,' in New Zealand Journal of Psychology, vol. 32, no. 1 (2003): 3–12; p. 10; John Saunders, 'Skin deep: the news media's failure to cover Maori politics,' in Dangerous Democracy? News Media Politics in New Zealand, ed. Judy McGregor, Palmerston North: Dunmore, 1996, pp. 166–80, p. 167; Ian Stuart, 'Tauiwi and Maori media: the indigenous view,' in Pacific Journalism Review, vol. 3, no. 2 (1996), online:, accessed 25 February 2009.

    [10] Ranginui Walker, 'The role of the press in defining Pakeha perceptions of the Maori,' in Between the Lines: Racism and the New Zealand Media, ed. Paul Spoonley and Walter Hirsh, Auckland: Heinemann Reed, 1990, 33–46, p. 45.

    [11] David Hollinsworth, '"My island home": riot and resistance in media representations of Aboriginality,' in Social Alternatives, vol. 24, no. 1 (2005): 16–20, p. 16.

    [12] See for instance, Julia Baird, Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians, Carlton North: Scribe, 2004; Maria Braden, Women Politicians and the Media, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996; Cathy Jenkins, 'The more things change: women, politics and the press in Australia,' in Ejournalist, vol. 2, no. 1 (2002), online:, accessed 27 February 2009; Judy Motion, 'Women politicians: media objects or political subjects?' in Media International Australia, no. 80 (1996): 110–17; Pippa Norris, 'Women leaders worldwide: a splash of color in the photo op,' in Women, Media, and Politics, ed. Pippa Norris, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 149–65; Katie Pickles, 'Exceptions to the rule: explaining the world's first women presidents and prime ministers,' in History Now, vol. 7, no. 2 (2001): 13–18.

    [13] Jenkins, 'The more things change'; Norris, 'Women leaders worldwide,' p. 164.

    [14] Elizabeth van Acker, 'The portrayal of feminist issues in the print media,' in Australian Studies in Journalism, no. 4 (1995): 174–99; Laura Ashley and Beth Olson, 'Constructing reality: print media's framing of the women's movement, 1966 to 1986,' in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, vol. 75, no. 2 (1998): 263–77; Maryann Barakso and Brian F. Schaffner, 'Winning coverage: news media portrayals of the women's movement, 1969–2004,' in Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, vol. 11 (2006): 22–44; Deborah L. Rhode, 'Media images, feminist issues,' in Signs, vol. 20, no. 3 (1995): 685–710; Susan Sheridan, Susan Magarey and Sandra Lilburn, 'Feminism in the news,' in Feminism in Popular Culture, ed. Joanne Hollows and Rachel Moseley, Oxford and New York: Berg, 2006, pp. 25–40; Nayda Terkildsen and Frauke Schnell, 'How media frames move public opinion: an analysis of the women's movement,' in Political Research Quarterly, vol. 50, no. 4 (1997): 879–900.

    [15] Ashley and Olson, 'Constructing reality,' pp. 266–267.

    [16] Ashley and Olson, 'Constructing reality,' pp. 268–273; Barakso and Schaffner, 'Winning coverage,' pp. 32, 40–41; Rhode, 'Media images,' p. 693.

    [17] b. hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation, Boston: South End, 1992.

    [18] Cathy Greenfield and Peter Williams, 'Bicentennial preliminaries: Aboriginal women, newspapers and the politics of culture,' in Hecate, vol. 13, no. 2 (1987–1988): 76–106; Kathie Muir, 'Media representations of Ngarrindjeri women,' in Journal of Australian Studies, no. 48 (1996): 73–82; Jane Wilkinson, 'Do white girls rule? exploring broadsheet representations of Australian women leaders,' in Redress, vol. 15, no. 1 (2006): 16–21. The Hindmarsh Island affair was a controversy over plans to build a bridge from the mainland to the island. A group of Ngarrindjeri women raised objections because of secret women's business relating to the island, and the federal government acted to stop construction. After another group of Aboriginal women claimed the women's business was a hoax, a Royal Commission was called in 1995. It decided that the claims were fabricated.

    [19] Mele-Ane Havea, 'The need for critical reflection on media representations of Aboriginal women,' in Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, vol. 5, no. 1 (2002): 11–22.

    [20] In New Zealand, these included particularly the Auckland Star, the Dominion, the Evening Post, the New Zealand Herald, the Press and the Otago Daily Times, and in Australia, the Advertiser, the Age, the Australian, the Courier-Mail, and the Sydney Morning Herald.

    [21] Stuart Hall, 'Introduction,' in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall, London: Sage, 1997, pp. 1–12, p. 6, emphasis removed. For a discussion of framing, see Terkildsen and Schnell, 'How media frames move public opinion,' pp. 881–83.

    [22] Heather Ayrton and Maramena Roderick, 'Farewell gift of food and lotto ticket,' in New Zealand Herald, 2 April 1994, section 1, p. 22.

    [23] Heather Ayrton, 'Thousands journey to mourn matriarch,' in New Zealand Herald, 28 March 1994, section 1, p. 1.

    [24] Bob Appleby, letter to the editor, in the New Zealand Herald, 5 April 1994, section 1, p. 8; A.A. Brooks, letter to the editor, New Zealand Herald, 5 April 1994, section 1, p. 8.

    [25] 'A Maori for all races,' in the Dominion, 29 March 1994, p. 6.

    [26] Jenny Wheeler, 'Dame Whina will fight to the last breath,' in New Zealand Woman's Weekly, 12 July 1982, p. 5.

    [27] 'A matriarch's passing,' in Otago Daily Times, 29 March 1994, p. 8.

    [28] Derek Tini Fox, editorial, in Mana, no. 6 (July–September 1994), p. 1.

    [29] Isolde Byron, Nga Perehitini: The Presidents of the Māori Women's Welfare League, 1951–2001, Auckland: Māori Women's Development, 2002, p. 20. The title had been given for her 'outstanding efforts' with the Māori Women's Welfare League, rather than for her role as a national figure of reconciliation between Māori and Pākehā. Byron, Nga Perehitini, p. 20.

    [30] Sue Abel, Shaping the News: Waitangi Day on Television, Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1997, pp. 123–24.

    [31] Toni McRae, 'Dame Whina – the nation's matriarch,' in Sunday Star-Times, 27 March 1994, p. A9.

    [32] Gabriel David, 'Leader of Maori march is long-time fighter for her people,' in Evening Post, 4 October 1975, p. 16.

    [33] Whina Cooper, interview with Alwyn Owen, 'Herea te Tangata ki te Whenua (Bind the People to the Land),' in Speaking For Ourselves: Echoes From New Zealand's Past From the Award-Winning "Spectrum" Radio Series, ed. Alwyn Owen and Jack Perkins, Auckland: Penguin, 1986, pp. 58–60.

    [34] 'Lois … a tiny city lane which means a lot,' in the Advertiser, 24 May 1988, p. 2.

    [35] Gwen Lyle, 'A distinguished Australian speaks out: "We have to solve our differences and live together",' in Australian Women's Weekly, April 1985, p. 27.

    [36] 'A Maori for all races,' in Dominion, 29 March 1994, p. 6.

    [37] Tom Krause, 'Tough lady who can't sit pat,' in the Australian, 6 June 1983, p. 8, biographical cutting files, National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    [38] Adrian McGregor, 'Sweet justice,' in the Sydney Morning Herald, 20 March 1993, p. 39.

    [39] Kate Legge, 'In the case of Pat O'Shane,' in the Australian Magazine, 31 July 1993, pp. 9, 11.

    [40] Legge, 'In the case of Pat O'Shane,' p. 12.

    [41] Deborah Stone, 'Mother of the nation,' in the Sunday Age, 15 May 1994, Agenda section, p. 5.

    [42] 'Mum Shirl refuses to hang up her apron!,' in the Daily Mirror, 11 April 1984, p. 7, biographical cuttings, National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    [43] Elizabeth Brenchley, 'Black saint,' in People, 27 April 1978, p. 14.

    [44] Gabriel David, 'Leader of Maori march,' p. 16; Gabriel David, 'Maori march might arrive too soon: a brake to keep to schedule,' in the Evening Post, 1 October 1975, p. 7.

    [45] 'The long road ahead,' in the New Zealand Herald, 20 September 1975, section 1, p. 16; 'The educator who "came from nothing",' in the New Zealand Woman's Weekly, 11 November 1974, p. 7.

    [46] See for instance Ruth Berry, 'Waitangi activist at PM's side,' in the Sunday Star-Times, 17 January 1999, p. A6; Michele Hewitson, 'Cultural crusader,' in the New Zealand Herald, 14 February 1998, p. G3; Ruth Laugesen, 'Matriarch games,' in the Sunday Star-Times, 24 January 1999, p. C3; Christine Robertson, 'Minder for PM at Waitangi,' in the Evening Post, 18 January 1999, p. 1.

    [47] For example: Christine Robertson, 'Plan to crown Maori king angers Rickard,' in the Evening Post, 24 October 1997, p. 3; 'Maori to blame for their own problems, says veteran activist,' in the Waikato Times, 8 October 1997, p. 2.

    [48] See Ian Stuart, 'Tauiwi and Maori media: the indigenous view,' in Pacific Journalism Review, vol. 3, no. 2 (1996), online:, site accessed 25 February 2009.

    [49] Raymond G. Nairn and Timothy N. McCreanor, 'Race Talk and common sense: patterns in Pakeha discourse on Maori/Pakeha relations in New Zealand,' in Journal of Language and Social Psychology, vol. 10, no. 4 (1991): 245–62, p. 254.

    [50] Eva Rickard, 'Te Karanga a Tainui Awhiro,' in Te Kaea, December 1979, p. 17.

    [51] Berry, 'Waitangi activist at PM's side,' p. A6.

    [52] Titewhai Harawira, interview with Brian Edwards, Radio New Zealand, item C1337, Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero, online:, site accessed 21 October 2008.

    [53] See for example Sue Abel, '"Wild Māori" and "tame Māori" in television news,' in New Zealand Journal of Media Studies, vol. 3, no. 2 (1996): 33–38.

    [54] Melanie Wall, 'Stereotypical constructions of the Maori "race" in the media,' in New Zealand Geographer, vol. 53, no. 2 (1997): 40–45, p. 43.

    [55] Deirdre Macken, 'For Pat O'Shane, SM, justice is more than a simple matter of black and white,' in the Age, 16 August 1986, p. 2.

    [56] Peter Hackett, 'Tracey wants to picture blacks in right light,' in the Advertiser, 22 March 1988, p. 16.

    [57] Alan Trengove, 'Black, beautiful and angry', in the Advertiser, 19 August 1974, p. 4.

    [58] Richard Knight and Sue McCabe, 'Maoridom weeps for Eva Rickard, matriarch,' in the New Zealand Herald, 8 December 1997, p. A1.

    [59] Camille Guy, 'A Maori icon: how Eva won mana as a battler,' in the New Zealand Herald, 8 December 1997, p. A16.

    [60] Sharon Hawke, 'Mira Szaszy,' in Broadsheet, no. 114 (1983): 12–17, p. 12.

    [61] Hawke, 'Mira Szaszy,' p. 12.

    [62] Melvin Taylor, 'Whina Cooper,' in Te Ao Hou: The New World, no. 12 (1955): 17–19, p. 17.

    [63] David, 'Leader of Maori march,' p. 16.

    [64] McRae, 'Dame Whina,' p. A9.

    [65] '"Mother of nation" a battler from the very beginning,' in the Dominion, 28 March 1994, p. 7.

    [66] 'Dame Whina: a mighty tree fallen,' in the Evening Post, 28 March 1994, p. 8.

    [67] King, Whina, p. 180.

    [68] King, Whina, p. 180.

    [69] Mira Szaszy, 'Opening my mouth,' in Heading Nowhere in a Navy Blue Suit and Other Tales From the Feminist Revolution, ed. Sue Kedgley and Mary Varnham, Wellington: Daphne Brasell, 1993, pp. 75–84, p. 83.

    [70] Virginia Myers, Head and Shoulders, Auckland: Penguin, 1986, pp. 238, 243.

    [71] Susan Mitchell, Tall Poppies: Nine Successful Australian Women Talk to Susan Mitchell, Ringwood: Penguin, 1984, p. 149.

    [72] Mitchell, Tall Poppies, p. 153.

    [73] Mitchell, Tall Poppies, p. 154.

    [74] For instance Sue Williams, 'Pat fights for justice,' in the Daily Telegraph Mirror, 17 February 1993, p. 11.

    [75] Williams, 'Pat fights for justice,' p. 11. For further discussion of the media reaction to O'Shane's decision in this case, see: Sandra Lilburn, 'Representations of feminism in the Australian print media: the case of Pat O'Shane,' in Demetrius: The Institutional Repository of the ANU, issued 19 May 2004, online:, pp. 5–6, site accessed 18 June 2008.

    [76] Myers, Head and Shoulders, p. 242.

    [77] Myers, Head and Shoulders, p. 243.

    [78] Myers, Head and Shoulders, p. 243.

    [79] Tony Potter, 'Champion for rights of Maori women,' in the Sunday Star-Times, 23 December 2001, p. C5.

    [80] On this issue in Australia, see Heather Goodall and Jackie Huggins, 'Aboriginal women are everywhere: contemporary struggles,' in Gender Relations in Australia: Domination and Negotiation, ed. Kay Saunders and Raymond Evans, Marrickville: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992, pp. 398–424, pp. 401–02; Marilyn Lake, Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1999, pp. 249–50.

    [81] Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Mana Wahine Maori: Selected Writings on Maori Women's Art, Culture and Politics, Auckland: New Women's Press, 1991, pp. 10–11.

    [82] Szaszy, 'Opening my mouth,' p. 80.

    [83] Donna Awatere Huata, 'Walking on eggs,' in Heading Nowhere in a Navy Blue Suit and Other Tales From the Feminist Revolution, ed. Sue Kedgley and Mary Varnham, Wellington: Daphne Brasell, 1993, pp. 120–31, p. 123.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
© Copyright
Page constructed by Carolyn Brewer.
Last modified: 22 September 2011 1030