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Antiracism protesters in Brisbane, June 2020. Image: Andrew Mercer, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

I don’t remember the first time I was called a ‘Mozzie’—a common slang term for Māori Australians—as a kid, but I do remember hating the word immediately. Sure, Australians tend to diminutise everything—Aussie, Warnie, barbie—and self-deprecation is a part of Māori humour. But often the dark-side of pet names is that they emerge from an uneven power dynamic—there is the dominant namer and the widdle thing to be named. On top of being forced to move away from my culture with my Pākehā father at age 9, it felt like my entire identity up until then had been erased. ‘Mozzie’ is a classic example of the Australian tendency to disguise casual racism as light-hearted humour. And, like a bad boyfriend, it’s our fault if we can’t take a joke.

When I started a Māori-Australian art collective, I called us Ngāti Kangaru, based on famed Māori author Patricia Grace’s short story collection The Sky People, describing Māori in Australia. Ngāti Kangaru is a humorous Māori utopian tale about Māori reclaiming land their ancestors were tricked into signing over. Māori in Australia get to come back to Aotearoa (yay!) and take ownership of all the beach resorts Pākehā built. It hits home personally for me, because my Koro/grandfather was defrauded out of his land on Tutukaka Bay, where many resort advertisements now describe my ancestral land, its ‘white pristine beach with stunning walks’, like a dodgy real estate agent. Ngāti Kangaru is more Māori than Aussie, indeed avoiding the word ‘Australia’ entirely—sovereignty was never ceded, therefore Australia does not exist.

Since the first recorded Māori arrival in the 19th Century, Te Ao Moemoea, The Land of the Dreaming, has become an exotic fantasy—we dream of a better life here with jobs, beaches and freedom from Pākehā discrimination. But here is what the sunny mirage conceals: although up to 90 per cent of Māori in Australia are employed at any one time, it’s mainly in low paid jobs; dispersed by our search for work, we are disconnected from our culture.

I don’t remember the first time I was called a ‘Mozzie’—a common slang term for Māori Australians—as a kid, but I do remember hating the word immediately.

In 2001, the Howard government introduced a Special Category Visa for New Zealanders that blocked many mutual benefits. Until then, New Zealanders in Australia, Māori and Pākehā alike, had been eligible for the same social security benefits as Australians, and vice versa. At least one in six Māori live in Australia, with one third born here, but more and more, the bilateral relationship has become one-sided. Whether intentional or not, Jacinda Ardern’s reticence to reopen borders to Australia during COVID, despite Australia’s attempts to will it so, feels something like poetic justice.

Despite our longstanding contributions to the Australian economy, those of us without citizenship or permanent residency have restricted or no access to housing assistance, disability support, social welfare and higher education loans. If you arrived after 26 February 2001 on a Special Category Visa for New Zealanders, you may have access to smaller limited benefits such as family tax benefits, a childcare subsidy and a healthcare card. But, unless you have permanent residency or arrived before 2001, you have restricted to no access to welfare that can actually be lived on, such as Jobseeker or Youth Allowance, Austudy, and many other payments. You may receive aged and carer’s pensions thanks to an agreement between the New Zealand and Australian governments (pension agreements are fairly common internationally), but New Zealanders can only get a disability pension if severely disabled.

When I was teaching DJing to youths in a Victorian prison, a Pākehā guard running my induction meeting made the comment that it was ‘basically like Once Were Warriors inside’. Blatant racism of this statement aside, the available evidence does suggest (and anyone who has worked inside will tell you) Māori and Pacific Islanders (MPI) are overrepresented in Australian prisons. Despite making up less than 0.2 per cent of the Victorian population, MPI youth are 16 times more likely to be in custody—an unduly high number given that Victoria also has the lowest youth incarceration rates. A 2006 study investigating the intersection of ethnicity and crime in various Victorian localities discovered that communities with higher numbers of Oceania-born residents had higher rates of crime. In addition, accurate data on the ethnic background of Australian-born people processed through the Australian criminal justice system are scarce, so may underestimate the real percentage of MPI people incarcerated in Australia.

It is difficult to talk about being Māori in Australia. We are an Indigenous people, though not to this land.

New Zealanders, disproportionately Māori and Pasifika, are also the largest group by nationality in Australian immigration detention. Following a 2014 amendment to the Migration Act, hundreds of New Zealanders—many of whom have lived in Australia for most of their lives—have been deported on ‘character grounds’ as soon as they are released from jail; of the 1300 deported up to July 2018, at least 60 per cent were Māori or Pasifika. Should they appeal to stay in the country, once these Māori and Pasifika leave prison they are put into Australian detention for an indefinite period until their case is resolved. Suicide rates among this cohort are alarmingly high. Human rights groups have argued that the Australian Government is illegally jailing New Zealand Māori and Pasifika twice—jailed for having been in jail.

What a tourism campaign: Come to Australia! Work the shitty jobs we don’t want, receive no benefits, risk becoming disabled without support, risk jail (possibly twice)! Plus: Let your children be born Australian, alienated from their culture and ripe to repeat this poverty cycle. But wait, there’s more: the same white people who forced you to leave your land in search of a ‘better life’ are also the ones oppressing you here. So where the bloody hell are ya?!


Of course, it’s not a sad story for every Māori in Australia. Take me for instance: with a university degree, a fairly good DJ career, playing overseas, reconnecting with culture, dabbling in the art world, writing this. I am one of the lucky ones. But exceptions are not rules, and for every Māori who escaped the karmic cycle, we know at least one family member/whanau who was less fortunate. For me, it’s my mother. She came to Australia in 1996 with nothing, always worked full time, suffered domestic abuse, mixed with inherited manic depression, self-medicated with alcohol, and, overworked in the mines in Western Australia, was forced into electroshock treatment that almost certainly contributed to her memory loss and later Parkinson’s diagnosis. Māori are 21 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, which my mother also developed last year. Only once she was granted citizenship in Australia did things get slightly better for her, but though her social, physical and mental health outcomes are more comparable to those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, she remains locked out of certain care and disability benefits.

When we fly under the radar without acknowledging the realities of our group disadvantage, we fail to unite as a whole and help each other.

Both New Zealand Māori and Indigenous Australians are more likely than non-Indigenous folk to have an unhealthily low birth weight, less likely to receive a good education, more likely to suffer mental illness, more likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes (twice as prevalent for Māori than non-Māori with diabetes complications 5 times as high, and three times more likely to be developed for Indigenous Australians), higher risk for youth suicide (twice as high for NZ Māori between 16 and 24 compared to Pākehā, and 5 times higher for 15-19 year old Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous populations), all of which adds up to overall lower life expectancies (approximately seven-year gap for NZ Māori and a ten-year gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to non-Indigenous Australians).

It’s even a bit rich to suggest the ‘lucky ones’ are truly fortunate, because, contrary to outward appearances, I and others like me still deal with inherited trauma and survivor’s guilt experienced by many colonised peoples. When Māori know about other Māori suffering, whether related or not, whether successful in a capitalist-colonial framework or not, it hurts us. It hurts us because, as a proud people who navigated Te-Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of years before Europeans, with a shared sense of humour and way of looking at the world, we feel connected to all Māori.

Yet, with post-colonial migrations tailed by intergenerational hardship, beyond the sporadic Guardian, Conversation or New York Times article, the struggles of Māori Australians continue to be ignored by governments. We lack targeted support and unification; talks in 2007 for a seat in the New Zealand Parliament representing Māori in Australia didn’t go beyond the suggestion stage. But it is difficult to talk about being Māori in Australia. We are an Indigenous people, though not to this land. In the first half of the 20th century, despite our brownness, as British subjects the Australian Government reluctantly allowed us to bypass the White Australia Policy. Ever since, notwithstanding everyday racism, under the Australian Government, Māori have been categorised like any other working class New Zealander. But we are not the same as any other worker, or indeed most other immigrant groups: We are displaced peoples colonised by the British, and this fact has led to a history of political and activist solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Centering Māori rights over Aboriginal land is out of step with our historical Indigenous solidarity.

The National Archives of Australia and ASIO have files on radical Māori activists in Australia, from the soft activism of the Māori Women’s Welfare League travelling to Australia to work in Aboriginal communities, to the more politicised stance of Minister of Māori Affairs Matiu Rata supporting striking Aboriginal stockmen in 1966, to Māori activists spending time in the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra in the 70s. Similarly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people protested when Maori were banned from the 1959 All Blacks tour of apartheid-era South Africa, and prominent Aboriginal activists Gary Foley and Gary Williams came to the Maori Land March in New Zealand. This solidarity continues today, with Māori protesting the closure of remote communities in Western Australia, and denouncing the destruction of Djab Wurrung birthing trees in Victoria.

There is a common misperception that Māori in Australia are ‘privileged Indigenous people’. We exist in an ambiguous space of Indigenous but not Indigenous enough; lower class but not totally impoverished. We also know from experience that First Nations people cop it the worst in their own backyard, and the racism that pushed us from our homeland is the same racism that Aboriginal Australians face here. We do not feel entitled to speak up, I think, due to a complex combination of factors. Firstly, we feel guilt/awkwardness/whakamā due to the aforementioned ways early Māori in Australia benefited from white supremacy and have slightly better outcomes in New Zealand than Indigenous Australians. Secondly, we still have low status as First Nations peoples and are less likely to successfully assert our rights. Third, we believe tangata whenua should come first, and that the needs of Indigenous Australians rightly take priority. Taken together this means we Māori are often the least likely to stick up for ourselves in Australia. But, when we fly under the radar without acknowledging the realities of our group disadvantage, we fail to unite as a whole and help each other.


Māori society is organised around geography, with our pepeha (hierarchical self descriptor) defining ourselves from ancestral awa (river) and maunga (mountain) down to the very marae (meeting house), followed by our name. Our wairua (spiritual identity) and sense of self is interminably linked to the whenua (land). Recognition of this is why land rights cases such as the recent Ihumatao protests are so important, and able to succeed in an Aotearoa context. Māori born and living on Aboriginal land in Australia do not have this same ancestral connection, but this also limits our ability to organise and form community in the way we would around a marae. Some attempts to do so have been well-intentioned but clumsy and embarrassing: In 2019 a Maori group, Ngāti Rangihou Kangaru, claimed that Aboriginal elders had entrusted them with 112 acres of land 200 years ago, and attempted to bring the case to court against the City of Parramatta. The Dharug people, who are the traditional custodians, were not consulted, and first heard of the case on the news.

It is highly unlikely that our first contact with Aboriginal Australians was postcolonial. I like to think we came here and left the place alone after we realised others were already here.

Many prominent Māori politicians and academics have expressed grave misgivings and shame at Ngāti Rangihou Kangaru’s actions, condemning any behaviour that fails to respect the absolute right of the people of the land, and reprehensibly seeks permission from the Crown to usurp land from its rightful owners. This sad clusterfuck of settler-but-Indigenous-but-not-to-here confusion instigated by a small group desperate to connect to land threatens to set back Māori and Indigenous mob relations by decades and in no way represents the view of most Māori in Australia or Aotearoa. Centering Māori rights over Aboriginal land is out of step with our historical Indigenous solidarity, the contemporary discourse of First Nations First, and contradictory to the principle and rallying cry that this Always Was, Always Will Be Aboriginal Land. As master voyagers capable of crossing vast oceans, it is highly unlikely that our first contact with Aboriginal Australians was postcolonial. I like to think we came here and left the place alone after we realised others were already here.

Confusions over Māori status in Australia must be addressed in the open to be clarified rather than swept under the rug. They’re an incitement to do better, for ourselves and for our relationship with Indigenous Australians, Ngā Iwi Moemoeā, the Dreaming People. I think that’s what we want, at the end of the day. To me, there are several key challenges for Māori as we move forward in Australia. Firstly, and most importantly, for Māori to show respect for and solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; for Māori Indigeneity to be recognised by the Australian Government, as subjects of British colonisation, displacement, and resultant disadvantage; that Māori are entitled to equitable treatment, respect for basic rights and liberties from the Australian Government, and that we are entitled to support from the New Zealand government where the Australian Government fails to do so. Finally, we need an official Māori in Australia Group to advocate for Māori rights in Australia, taking into account all of the above.

Confusions over Māori status in Australia must be addressed in the open to be clarified rather than swept under the rug.

While this approach may be somewhat utopian, it is important to be clear about our values and aim for the best outcome for all Māori. At the moment, our shared experience is most palpably manifested as lack, through a vague sense of spiritual weakness at pivotal events, which is anathema to our character. This strange frustration must morph into a raised consciousness of our cultural identity as Māori in Australia. After the Christchurch attack, there was a noticeable dearth of Māori voices at Australian protests and vigils beyond a last minute haka. At Indigenous All Star football matches, many Māori commented on social media about the lack of wairua in the crowd, something which my friends and I also noted. These instances are not isolated, but rather, are endemic to Māori in Australia, indicating a wider cultural problem. Māori deserve better. We need and want unification within Australia in a way that respects the First Peoples of this land first and foremost. Just as we established the role of Māori King in New Zealand to create a level playing field with the British Crown, we ought to establish an organisation to represent the interests of Māori in Australia. This structure could have a representative branch, speaking for Māori at different events; a legal branch, to work between Australian and New Zealand governments, or on the ground helping everyday Māori struggling in Australia; and a cultural branch, to promote Māori identity and create new protocols for interaction and solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have some glimmers of hope, in the form of kapa haka groups and Māori-led art/mental health community groups scattered in suburbs of capital cities and mining areas of Australia. These small but staunch groups celebrate and protect so much of our culture for Māori diaspora, and continue to put First Nations Australians first, creating opportunities for Indigenous exchange and respect. Perhaps these hardworking Māori could combine together into an overarching society for all Māori in Australia. I vote we call it ‘Ngāti Kangaru’, because we are not Mozzies.

Māori in Australia move forward with the knowledge that our tūpuna have been sailing the Pacific Ocean, Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, for millennia, and this is another step on our journey.