Ghosts In The Map

7 min readMar 25, 2023
Photo by Pat Ho on Unsplash

It is a shame Kelly-Jane Keen-Minshull will never see Pōneke, its striking bay with the city centre nestled in between the dense forests of the rising hillsides and Matairangi. It is a beautiful, fine city that shares very specific qualities with Mrs. Keen-Minshull herself, although she probably wouldn’t have realised it as she was shuttled from hotel to rally to police station to airport.

It’s long rumoured that the Pōneke street plans were approved by London, by people who’d never seen the place. How else can you explain roads which turn into steps halfway up a hillside, before resuming as a road at the top? Why is everything like this? Nobody who’d actually seen these places would have possibly thought this was a good street plan!

It was surveyed though, by William Mein Smith. He saw the hillsides, the maunga, the dense forest and the shimmering waters of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. And he drew a grid, of parallel and intersecting parallel lines on top of this rugged geography. Each road neatly intersects with another over the landscape, with each rectangle filled with another neat arrangement of rectangles.

The Smith Plan

That was for the people back in London. Pōneke was founded and later named Wellington by the New Zealand Company, granted a Royal Charter in 1841 as part of the British empire’s colonial projects in Aotearoa. It was the plan of noted criminal child kidnapper and likely paedophile Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who described Aotearoa as “the fittest country in the world for colonisation” in 1836, to sell one town acre and one hundred “country acres” — totalling 1,100 plots of land for sale. That the land which would become Wellington was occupied by Māori on the colonists' arrival was resolved by a transaction that could best be described as robbing the local iwi blind.

That’s your city grid plan. You see it across Aotearoa, and across the Tasman Sea in Australia. It wasn’t for good urban living. It was to be able to sell the land that they had acquired, by fair means but usually foul, to colonising settlers. It didn’t matter that there were beautiful hillsides or marshlands. The native species and the beautiful choir of birds meant absolutely nothing to them. All they saw was another opportunity for “a well-regulated system of colonisation”.

They didn’t care about Aotearoa, or the people that lived there. They didn’t care about the environment, the culture, or tikanga. They had been planning the colonisation since before Te Tiriti O Waitangi was signed, with their first expedition to find a location in 1825, so they didn’t care about Te Tiriti or anything approaching biculturality. They merely saw Aotearoa as a blank canvas for them to imprint their ideas about British supremacy, and with that, white supremacy. And they imposed it, and that imposition makes up the bones of so many of our cities today.

Photo by Gabriel Santos on Unsplash

If that reminds you of someone, it should do. Because watching Kelly-Jane Keen Minshull head East in the last few weeks has been like a seeing stock truck coming down the highway towards you. It’s noisy and unavoidable, brings with it a brief portrait of miserable lives, and leaves behind it the stink of shit and desperation.

Let me explain. We are a very long time from noted Hawaiian soup ingredient James Cook “discovering” both countries, and we’re only going to get further away from the companies whose designs upon the land they bought cheap or stole outright. And that matters a lot when you consider Mrs Minshull.

Australia and Aotearoa are in constant and difficult dialogue with the consequences of these events, the impact upon the Aboriginal and Māori people, the promises made and not kept, the crimes committed and the justice denied. That’s not necessarily to resolve those issues, but sometimes just to get them recognised as things which happened, as things which continue to happen. Many people work their whole lives in this struggle, it has gone on since before the S.S. Tory anchored in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and will go on as long as there are still knots in the fabric of this nation to untie.

Kelly-Jane Keen-Minshull didn’t know about any of this. British people, on the whole, are completely ignorant of all of it. Part of the British Empire’s attempt to wrestle with its rapid decline was to ignore anything that happened once the colonial umbilical was severed but to establish a nice easy comforting fantasy to tell itself. Australia is like Hot Britain, but more racist (debatable these days). New Zealand is like Nice Britain. They’ve got to be like that because the people there are mostly white and speak English and they drive on the proper side of the road. This is, at heart, the thought of the coloniser, and those who assume the inheritance of the coloniser.

Photo by Nikolas Gannon on Unsplash

There have been many jokes about Australia and Aotearoa never being more united than when they have The English as an enemy. Except it’s not a joke. Both countries deal with the legacy of the English-led British empire, while the old colonial whip itself deliberately ignores and denies what it did — while also insisting it regrets nothing. The antipathy towards the whinging poms is deep-rooted and well-founded and, frankly, electric, and in Mrs Keen-Minshull that electricity found a lightning rod.

She assumed that the practically free ride that she gets from the institutionally transphobic British media, or the generous funding she receives from CPAC in the United States and Australia, would continue as she embarked Down Under on her tour. In Australia, a nation which was driven through a toxic referendum on legalising gay marriage, she did not find the warm embrace of colonial cousins. Instead, the media asked her about her links to the far-right, her views on restricting abortion and contraception, her public statements about armed men in womens toilets, or sterilising transgender men.

Then the neo-nazis turned up. The police looked at their sign “Destroy Paedo Freaks” and, correctly, assumed they were ideologically aligned with Mrs. Minshull. They set their police line, to prevent the LGBQTI+ community and allies from causing public disorder. Some of Mrs. Minshull’s protesters mingled with the fascists, they marched around chucking up the Nazi salute. From then on the media focused on the similar ideologies, the politicians did too. The cover story that the rallies were about Women’s Rights were blown away in a sudden sieg hail, and suddenly the description was “anti-transgender campaigner”. This wouldn’t have happened in Hot Britain, but it absolutely happened in Australia.

Photo by Kishan Modi on Unsplash

In Aotearoa, we went through a similarly toxic debate over self-id and banning conversion therapy, but succeeded in getting both laws passed. More recently said we farewelled the world’s first transgender MP, Georgina Beyer. The nation mourned the loss of a leader, a trailblazer, someone who did something that even now seems vaguely impossible — and did it with mana and immense courage. The same week we remembered the fifty-one worshippers murdered by a white supremacist terrorist in Christchurch just four years ago. Looking across the Tasman a week later to see anti-transgender protesters alongside neo-nazis whose leader had tried to recruit the Christchurch terrorist? In the local parlance: yeah, nah bro.

A more ruthless repeat of the Australian media-round, attempts by the rainbow community to legally prevent her entering the country. Fifteen minutes on a sunny Saturday surrounded by thousands of people who just wanted her gone and thirty people including some local fascists, who’d come to see her. Tomato juice in her bleached hair. Ten minutes in a police car. A seventeen hour flight home. It was the fuck around of times, it was the finding out of times.

The park she chose lay at the heart of the city of Tāmaki-makau-rau, a city built along similar grid lines as Põneke, as Ōtepoti, as Ōtautahi. Grid lines laid down by colonial surveyors and chartered companies as they transformed Aotearoa into New Zealand, Pōneke into Wellington,Ōtepoti into Dunedin, Ōtautahi into Christchurch and Tāmaki-makau-rau into Auckland. The streets that surround it are named for Kitchener and Wellesely, totems of the British Empire. But those streets named after dead mean who never knew Aotearoa’s land, were filled with the people of Aotearoa today. This country is not the place the British intended, nor will it ever be.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Hot Britain is an English fantasy, Nice Britain a dream of miserable people in the declining heart of a former empire. We may share a past, but we do not share a future. Part of why she failed so completely is because neither Australia nor Aotearoa is the neat arrangement of lines and rectangles envisioned by Smith, or the well-regulated system of colonisation that Wakefield desired.

Yet Mrs. Minshull has echoed Smith and Wakefield, and she doesn’t even realise it. She attempted to lay a series of straight lines, well recieved in Britain, over a cultural and societal landscape that far exceeds her ability to comprehend or account for. We have made our own maps, looked to those who were here before to name them, and grown and developed apart from the rainy island sullenly squatting off the coast of Europe.

So it is a pity she did not get to walk the grid line streets of Pōneke, enjoy the familiar names of the nineteenth century of her homeland and unwittingly summon the ghosts of a past that she, but Aotearoa, has not forgotten.




It’s longer stuff from PostingDad, the dad who posts.