Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington
Gate 3, Kelburn Parade
Wellington 6140
New Zealand

"Dare to Struggle, Dare to Sing": Protesting Poverty through Song

Stout Research Centre seminar series

4.10pm 15 May 2024

In collaboration with the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies this talk is part of the seminar series Re-Reading Works on Poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand which takes a fresh look at some major Aotearoa cultural works on poverty. Across six weeks historians, curators, researchers, writers, and performers ‘re-read’ books, plays, novels, songs, and academic analyses from across the 20th century shedding light on the historic trajectories of poverty in our country. In looking back this series invites an evaluation of our contemporary situation, providing context for current issues such as inequality, our low wage economy, beneficiary shaming, gendered poverty and the long-lasting effects of colonisation.

This talk by Cybèle Locke, senior lecturer in History at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington explores the historical contexts for three songs: People of Aotearoa; Just like Yesterday; and the Social Responsibility Song. They were created by people involved in unemployed and beneficiary-led organisations who campaigned to end poverty in 1980s and 1990s Aotearoa New Zealand. Huhana Oneroa, from Te Whare Awhina in Mangamuka, brought Māori cultural ways of working into the national unemployed and beneficiaries’ movement, Te Roopu Rawakore o Aotearoa, as it formed In 1985. Gifting the waiata People of Aotearoa to the movement was an important part of this process. Te Roopu Rawakore did not survive the 1991 benefit cuts, but the Auckland Unemployed Workers’ Rights Centre (AUWRC) did. From that base Sue Bradford and Chris Skinner wrote ‘Just Like Yesterday’ in 1994, which historicised people’s experiences of poverty.

‘From the soup kitchens of the thirties

To the food banks of today

It’s sixty years of history

But it’s just like yesterday.’

The AUWRC Street Theatre Group created the Social Responsibility Song in 1998, as a campaigning tool to challenge proposed National government policies that would worsen poverty. The chorus goes:

‘Let the world know our truth

The rich grow richer

The poor grow poorer

In the city of gales

The ship of justice is sinking.’

Cybèle Locke is a senior lecturer in the History Programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Twentieth-century working-class narratives are central in Locke’s research work. Her first book, Workers in the Margins: Union Radicals in Post-war New Zealand, explores the roles women, Māori, Pasifika and unemployed workers played in working-class organisations and protest. Locke’s research methodology forefronts the way oral history enables the recovery of people's experiences who have been marginal to the historical record.


This event will also be a live streamed webinar

Te Roopu Rawakore O Aotearoa Unemployed & Beneficiaries Hui Mangataipa 1985 Poster, published in Dole-drums, no.28 Jan/Feb 1985, NZ Aotearoa. Image courtesy Cybèle Locke