Kiwi Fascism? The New Zealand Legion, 1933-1935

On the evening of 28 February 1933, a two-seater Gipsy Moth flew into Milson Aerodrome in Palmerston North. As the small biplane rumbled to a halt on the grass runway, a Wellington urologist by the name of Robert Campbell Begg climbed out of the back seat. Tall, lean and well-dressed, there was a certain air of mystery about the man and his secret late night flight.

After a well-deserved night’s rest, Begg met with a small group of prominent farmers and businessmen in the Chamber of Commerce building. His aim, he told them, was simple – to form a new national movement that would unite the country to resolve the crisis of the Great Depression. That movement would become known as the New Zealand Legion.

In total, Begg travelled 5276 miles by rail, car, air and ferry between 17 February and 26 March. He attended 42 meetings and oversaw the formation of seventeen Divisions of the new movement. Within several months, the Legion boasted over twenty thousand members and captured the attention of every major newspaper in the country. By mid-1934, however, the movement was all but defunct.

Despite such a dramatic achievement, the New Zealand Legion has attracted little historical attention. Even trusty Google has heard little about it, apart from a brief and overly simplistic wikipedia entry. One of the great things about my research, however, is that I get to shed light on movements such as these. So, in the spirit of open source, here is my little contribution to the rise and fall of the New Zealand Legion.

Continue reading “Kiwi Fascism? The New Zealand Legion, 1933-1935”

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Australian Fascism? The New Guard Story

Several months ago, I wrote a post on a paramilitary movement in New South Wales during the Great Depression known as the New Guard. This post, as it turns out, has proven rather popular – not only has it received more hits than any other post on my site, it has also attracted the attention of two television producers.

One of those producers was responsible for the most recent incarnation of the ‘Underbelly’ series, Underbelly: Razor. Set in the streets of Sydney during the tumultuous interwar years, it focuses primarily on the feud between rival gang leaders Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. The New Guard appear later in the series, during the height of the Great Depression in 1931-32.

With the increased awareness of the New Guard that this show will bring, I’ve decided to offer a short course on the subject. Dubbed “Australian Fascism? The New Guard Story”, it will run for three weeks in May 2012 at the Victoria University of Wellington Community Continuing Education Centre. In it, you’ll learn not only of Eric Campbell, Francis De Groot, and the famous bridge opening incident, but of the historical context from which they emerged. Why did the New Guard come into being? What did they believe in? And, perhaps most interesting of all, how did they justify some of their more extreme tactics?

To enrol, go to the CCE website and select ‘View course catalogue and enrol’ under Seminars and Workshops. In the resulting pop-up window, select ‘History’ from the menu on the left-hand side, and choose ’12C020A Australian Fascism? The New Guard Story – 08/05/12′. All the details for the course, including the option to enrol, are located there. Numbers are limited, so get in quick!

The circular logic of those who oppose same-sex marriage

The most annoying thing about any ongoing debate is having to counter the same points over and over again. Climate scientists face it every day – just how often do people need to be told that solar variation isn’t to blame for the current warming period? And how many times have New Zealand historians proven that there was no existing society in Aotearoa prior to the arrival of Maori?

Supporters of same-sex marriage deal with the same problem. Just a few days ago, Bob McCroskie regurgitated many of the tired old arguments against same-sex marriage in the Dominion Post. Rather than go to the trouble of responding to Bob’s article, i’ve put together the following generic flowchart demonstrating the circular (il)logic of those who oppose same-sex marriage.*

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VSM, CSM, and the fallacy of ideological consistency

In the first half of 2010, I had the honour to work for the awesomeness that was Salient under Editor Sarah Robson. One of the things that made it awesome was Sarah’s commitment to even-handed journalism – especially regarding the (then and now) contentious issue of Voluntary Student Membership (VSM).*

Thus, when I was asked to write an article on the subject, I eagerly pounced on the opportunity. The resulting article, which I am quite proud of, came with all the information needed to familiarise students with the arguments on both sides of the debate. I uploaded as much additional information as I could, including interviews with key individuals and reports on the effects of voluntary student unionism in Australia. My article was subsequently re-used by Critic and cited in the NZEI’s submission to the Education and Science Select Committee.

At the end of all that work, I felt sufficiently knowledgeable about the issue of student membership to make an informed decision as to where I stood. Thus, I came to what will undoubtedly be a surprising conclusion for many:

I am a supporter of Voluntary Student Membership.

Yes, that’s right – I, a History postgraduate of a socially-left, economically-moderate persuasion, am a supporter of VSM. Phew! Why do I feel like i’ve just admitted my alcoholism in front of an A.A. meeting?

However, being a historian, I must by necessity deconstruct what that decision means. Are there any underlying themes that can be exposed and more broadly contextualised? Read on, as I discuss the nature of something I have termed ‘ideological consistency’ – and why, as a concept, it is fundamentally flawed.

Continue reading “VSM, CSM, and the fallacy of ideological consistency”

Home!

Hello, world!

In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I am home from my 3 1/2 month research trip to Australia! All up, I visited nine different cities – Armidale, Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth. Brisbane wins the award for most surprisingly beautiful city; Melbourne, the city I most wish i’d had more time to explore; Adelaide, the city most visually similar to Wellington; and Canberra, the city that would be best improved by a meteor strike (no offence to my lovely friends in Canberra – I just dislike your city!). But, I have to say, I enjoyed Sydney the most.

However, as much as I enjoyed the research, it is so indescribably wonderful to be home. Being away from Helen was like losing a part of myself – no amount of skyping or emailing can take the place of a warm hug. I missed my cat, Sooty; I missed my house, and all my things; I missed my office at Victoria University of Wellington; in short, I missed home, and all its connotations.

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The Life and Death of Armon Attomar – take two

A few months ago I posted the first in a series of short stories set in the fictional Republic of Corindar. Since that time, i’ve been busily researching my way around Australia, which has left precious little time for fiction writing. Nevertheless, I’ve somehow scrounged up the time not only to write the second chapter, but also to give the whole series a thorough pimping.

Continue reading “The Life and Death of Armon Attomar – take two”

The Song of the New Guard

A couple of months ago, I wrote briefly about the New Guard, a right-wing paramilitary movement that sprung into being in Australia during the Great Depression.

Since that time, I have been in Australia conducting research for my PhD. And since the New Guard features in my work, i’ve spent a good deal of time looking at the material left behind by its leaders and members. At this point, i’m sure many of you are stifling a yawn, and wondering “what’s so exciting about dusty old papers and pamphlets?” Well, lots, if you’re a history geek like me… but history ‘aint all paperwork, you know.

Continue reading “The Song of the New Guard”

“Believe, Obey, Fight”: Fascism’s Rise and Fall

This post is all about shameless self-promotion!

Have you ever wanted to know more about the history of fascism – its origins, how it evolved, the forms it took between the World Wars, its ultimate demise, and even its fellow ideological travellers in Australia and New Zealand?

Well, look no further! I am running a short, six-week course in October on this very subject at the Victoria University of Wellington Lifelong Learning Centre! In ‘”Believe, Obey, Fight”: Fascism’s Rise and Fall’, you will learn all these things and more. The course is comprised of six hour-long lectures and six hour-long tutorial sessions. The former will give you a solid theoretical knowledge of fascism, whilst the latter will expose you to various primary and secondary sources and allow you to play historical detective.

Seats are limited, so hurry up and enrol here! Select ‘View course catalogue and enrol’ under Seminars and Workshops. In the resulting pop-up window, select ‘History’ from the menu on the left-hand side, and choose ’11C030A ‘Believe, obey, fight’: Fascism’s Rise and Fall 06/10/11′. All the details for the course, including the option to enrol, are located there.

What are you waiting for?!

An afternoon with Grandma

On the afternoon of the 21st May, 2011, I had a good old chinwag with a truly remarkable woman – Eileen Cunningham, my grandmother.

Grandma Cunningham has seen a hell of a lot in her ninety years – wars, depressions, love and loss. She danced at Prescott’s Hall and went hiking with her girlfriends when it was considered un-ladylike to do so. She’s gone from a childhood where blocks of ice were delivered from door to door by horse and cart, to an era of refrigerators and microwaves, digital television and the internet.

I’ve been privileged to hear these stories and more throughout my lifetime. And now that I’m an aspiring historian, I thought it about time I made the effort to record them for posterity. So, on the afternoon of the 21st May, I sat with my Grandma for several hours as we discussed her life. What emerged was a very personal story – her story, one which she alone could tell.                              

I’m now in the process of transforming Grandma’s story into a book – however, I don’t think she’d mind if I shared a few of her tales with the world! In that vein, here are just a few of the many tales which form a part of her story.

Continue reading “An afternoon with Grandma”

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