Memory Waka

Memory Connection Journal

Current Journal

Previous Journals


Whiteout: An Examination of the Material Culture of Remembrance and Identity Generated Between New Zealand and Antarctica

Peter Wood


This article examines the cultural artefacts of memory that have been produced as a result of New Zealand’s ongoing participation in the exploration of Antarctica. In this research I define two classes of Antarctic memory-making. The first is composed of geographically located artefacts directly associated with New Zealand’s physical participation in South Pole exploration. The second class posits representational interpretations of Antarctica as sites of cultural “meaningfulness” to New Zealand’s identity. Both categories are defined chronologically by the Antarctic Treaty (1959), which sought to protect objects of “historical interest” from damage or destruction while prohibiting the addition of other permanent artefacts. I suggest that one unforeseen outcome of the Antarctic Treaty was the creation of two states of memory: one of authentic history dating from before 1959, and another of documentary history (requiring representational interpretation), which has occurred since that time. The best examples of the former are the rudimentary huts which remain from the so-called “heroic period” of Antarctic exploration. An excellent example of the latter is found in the Artists to Antarctica programme in which selected New Zealand artists—writers, visual artists and musicians—have the opportunity to visit and record their views of the region’s unique qualities. In two parts I give some critical consideration to each memory state using specific examples, and discuss the implications they present. Finally, the article introduces what I consider an “illegitimate” monumentality in the example of Air New Zealand Flight TE-901 (which tragically collided with Mount Erebus in 1979), and which lies uneasily between historical and documentary classifications of memory.