By Whose Authority

— some thoughts for the Citizenship Conversation

by vivian Hutchinson

October 2019 30 min read download as PDF

This paper is based on vivian Hutchinson’s keynote speech given at the first of a series of open Community Conversations based on the themes of the Taranaki Masterclass for Active Citizenship — Tū Tangata Whenua, held at Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki, New Plymouth, on 10th October 2019.

I WOULD BEGIN with a prayer or a karakia ... but you need to know that it would not be an appeal to the Gods – largely because I am an atheist.

IMG_4423.jpgI am not anti-religion, and I do pray in my own way. But my prayers these days are full of the appeals we need to be making to the best in each other.

I’m not a very good atheist. That’s because every now and then some spirit jumps up out of nowhere and grabs me by the throat. But it took a lot of curiosity for me to finally end up with realising that I had become an atheist. 

It wasn’t always this way. For nearly thirty years I was an organiser and a steward and trustee of a conference centre in Taupo that had a policy of welcoming and hosting all varieties of religions and spiritual practices. I think the original founders had hoped that if they got all these different religions together they might end up realizing that they are all talking about the same thing.

So, during that time I got to meet the entire diversity of the human spiritual quest. We hosted Anglicans, local Tuwharetoa tribal groups, Bahais, Sufis, Tibetan Buddhists, every Indian guru you can imagine, yoga groups, natural healers, circle dancers, New Age visionaries, and New Age hucksters ... and we also had gatherings of witches and of people investigating UFOs.

I loved it. But that’s my nature. I enjoy the company of odd people. And while I was regularly visiting Taupo I was never at a loss for something to be curious about.

But the end result of all of this is that I was entirely convinced by Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins that this planet is astonishing enough without us having to invent invisible friends, or father-figures on clouds, or to be anything other than entertained by the magic tricks and supernatural explanations for the things we don’t yet fully understand.

In my early teens, I did join the congregation of Holy Trinity – a modest colonial-era church tucked away in a side-street in Fitzroy. I went right through to confirmation as an Anglican.

I’m sure that a big part of the attraction for me was the music and the dress-ups. I joined the church choir and sang songs in Latin. And I learned that Jesus and the Queen were the two pillars of my culture.

But then I turned 16, and I discovered sex, drugs and rock and roll ... and that was the end of it.

✽ ✽ ✽

I WAS STILL at High School in my later teenage years, and I was spending a lot of time out at Parihaka marae with Aunty Marj (kuia Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa). I was giving her a hand on the final stages of her restoration of the old dining room called Te Niho o Te Atiawa which was being transformed into a new meeting house and, as far as she was determined, a new mission.

Aunty Marj had been a friend of my mother’s family during the 1930s and the 1940s. She told me that she had baby-sitted my mother and her identical twin sister when they were children.

Later on during the War our families had worked together when the local Scottish cultural groups and Māori cultural groups had joined together to do patriotic fundraising for the troops.

When I met Marj she was in her early 60s and she was just starting to be called Aunty Marj as she was taking her place as an elder and a leader within Māori culture. But she was also a committed Anglican and a Royalist.

When I was out at Parihaka I noticed something that got me thinking. Almost every male Māori speaker that I was listening to started their speech with the karakia

He kororia ki te atua i runga rawa

He maungarongo ki runga i te whenua

He whakaaro pai ki nga tangata katoa

which is interpreted as ...

Glory to God on High

Peace on Earth

and Goodwill to all Mankind

Aunty Marj would point out that this karakia is the Christmas message. It was sung by angels at the birth of Christ. It was also written there, in the heart of Parihaka, on the tombstone of Te Whiti o Rongomai who was one of the two Parihaka prophets of peace. And this message of peace and goodwill is the meaning behind the white feathers, Te Raukura, worn on the head of Taranaki Māori.

As I came to learn more about the history of Parihaka and the history of war and land confiscations in our province I came to appreciate that Te Raukura was not a sentimental message.

But first I needed to really understand the almost incredible transformation of a people under the leadership of the Parihaka prophets. In just 20 years, they had transformed from being the same warriors of the battles at Te Kohia, and up the Waitara valley ... to becoming complete innovators in the art of non-violence and passive resistance.

That was no small miracle of leadership and guidance, and I’m full of admiration for it.

Let’s face it: the people of Parihaka paid dearly for their stand. The miracle was that there was no massacre in Coastal Taranaki as had happened to the Lakota at Wounded Knee at around the same time. But all of Taranaki was confiscated. The wealth generated by the dairy farms and lifestyle blocks around our mountain over the next few generations was based on that theft.

The families and children of Parihaka have continued to pay dearly for the commitment and struggle and the generosity they have kept on extending so that there could be peace in Taranaki.

And that commitment is not a matter of history. This meeting today stands on the shoulders of that generosity.

I am now at the age that Aunty Marj was when I first met her. More recently I have been asking myself, How does an atheist in his 60s interpret the Christmas message? How would I personally interpret it so that it has meaning for me at this moment? And I realised I was already carrying that prayer:

Let there be peace in Taranaki.

Let this peace be based on the goodwill between us.

Let us remember there are things that matter that are beyond ourselves.


✽ ✽ ✽

WHEN I BECAME an adult, it was nature and music that became my religion.

My priests were the Beatles and Bowie and Elton John, and my avatars were Bob Dylan and Van Morrison and Nina Simone. There was also Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks and Aretha Franklin.

Here in New Zealand we have had lots of great musicians all working their trade in the big booze barns of their day. And not the least of these have been the Finn brothers.

All these artists sang about falling in and out of love, and they told the stories of what it was like to be an everyday human being who is trying to make ends meet.

But these musicians also sang of the things that matter that are beyond ourselves.

They reminded me that when it comes to getting over ourselves, even atheists have soul work to do.



I was watching Bruce Springsteen on Netflix the other day, where they had made a movie of his long-running and very successful one-man stage show on Broadway.

Springsteen is probably better known as someone who fills huge stadiums playing with the E-Street Band. But this remarkable Broadway show is something else. It is much more than a one-man show. He’s not just doing covers of his back-catalogue. The show is part confessional, part whaikorero, part dissent and part preach.

He doesn’t step back from the fact that these are dark and challenging days to be a public American. He is calling us not to become the ghosts of a difficult present, but the ancestors of a time to come.

He's taken his stadium anthems and stripped them back to the personal and the connected. He also strips them back to what he describes as his own "magic trick". Because this is what he understands to be his real job-description: to provide 

“... proof-of-life ... to that ever-elusive, never completely believable: Us.”

If you go elsewhere on Netflix you may well come across another of the great musical performances of our time. I’m talking here about the modern diva Beyoncé, and her live performance at the 2018 Coachella music festival.



She’s on a special pyramid-shaped stage with more than 200 performers, many of them drawn from High School bands. It’s loud and it’s all over the show, and it’s not like anything that most of us have ever seen before. It’s just brilliant.

And Beyoncé not only wrote and performed and pulled the whole thing together ... she also produced the movie of what was only ever going to be two live shows.

In that movie she pays homage to her forebears. You get to hear Nina Simone talking about her own job description:


“ What I really want to do is be a representative of my race ... of the human race. I have a chance to show how kind we can be, how intelligent and generous we can be. I have a chance to teach, and to love and to laugh...”

Beyoncé also quotes the American writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde, from a speech that she gave forty years ago where she said that:


“ Without community, there is no liberation.” 

Beyoncé is already a wise woman. I do hope she gets to grow old in just such a community, with a great many grand-children of her own.

Meanwhile, many of the musicians from my own generation are already grand-parents, many in their 70s – and they are still touring. They are much like the itinerant priests or the labour organisers of another era who travelled from town to town to deliver their popular sermons.

These great musicians are taking their turn at the Spark Arena in Auckland or here at the Bowl of Brooklands, performing as their own tribute band. Some of them are still quite good.

The best of them remember that it takes a real artist to reach beyond the envelope of your own cliché and sing your sermon into the moment.

✽ ✽ ✽

LAST MONTH I was at the Spark Arena in Auckland to see the latest version of Fleetwood Mac. I was there with my brother and sister-in-law, and it was a packed arena with many of the people seated up the walls.

Actually, when they are performing in New Zealand, I think we should call the group Fleetwood Finn, because Neil Finn has now joined them and is doing a stellar turn at paying tribute to their enormous back-catalogue. (I didn’t know that they wrote Black Magic Woman!)

I was one of the people seated halfway up a side wall and had a great view. I looked around and just saw a sea of different people of different ages and cultures.

Many of them had already had too much to drink. Some of them were having real trouble as they tried to negotiate their way up to their precarious seats.

But to me this was also a thing that seemed weirdly appropriate. The members of Fleetwood Mac who have survived into their 70s have been a very public cautionary tale of what happens to a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

So why do these elder artists keep on touring and turning up? Well ... there was joy on that stage. And consequently, there was Joy in that arena.

Stevie Nicks knew her job description. Neil Finn has always known it. They weren’t just there to sing the old songs that everyone knew by heart. They were also there to provide “proof-of-life ... to that ever-elusive, never completely believable: Us."



OF COURSE Neil Finn was doing Fleetwood Mac a favour. And it was a favour of friendship. Neil Finn is a wonderful example of a kiwi family man who has genuine friendships around the world and he turns up for them. They do the same for him.

But we know he’s ours. He may not yet be knighted by the Queen, but he is our champion. How many weddings and funerals have you been to where his songs have accompanied those significant moments of “We”. 

He doesn’t just write the tunes. Sometimes it’s his lyrics that grab you by the throat.

I sang a piece from one of his songs at our first session in this room, seven years ago when Tū Tama Wahine and Community Taranaki first started to work together to deliver our version of the Masterclass.

In time you’ll see that some things

Travel faster than light

In time you’ll recognise

that Love is larger than Life

And praise will come to those whose kindness

leaves you without debt

and bends the shape of things

that haven’t happened yet.


✽ ✽ ✽

NONE OF THIS is originally what I planned to come here to say today. But then I sat down with my notebook on Sunday morning and realised that something else entirely was waiting to be said.

I was originally going to speak to the two papers I had written for this morning. You will find them on the Key Card we gave you as you came in the door.

Those papers are my songs. One day I might have enough for an album. They are best read while sitting in your favourite chair, with a cup of tea, and time to think.

Anyway, I realised on Sunday morning that over half of you had been to a Masterclass before and you’ve already heard me prattle on. I know you are here for the conversation, not the performance.



FOR THOSE OF YOU who have not been to a Masterclass before, I will give a very quick summary of the two papers.

The first is about the consequences of us just carrying on with business-as-usual.

This isn’t in the paper, but I am mindful of the Extinction Rebellion protests in Wellington earlier this week, and there were several active citizens from previous Masterclasses there on the streets.

I was pleased that they were protesting outside MBIE ... the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, the same people who are still awarding new oil drilling permits in Taranaki while our planet is in a state of climate emergency.

The message of the protesters is that you can’t just carry on with business-as-usual. 

And while we are at it, we have to address the colonisation by business thinking that has taken over all our public institutions.

I say this because the public sphere in the Western world has changed more in the last 20 years than it has changed in the last 200 years. And it is still happening in 1001 different ways that too many of us seem to be refusing to notice. 

You probably don’t need to be told all the details of what’s happening in this country with the gap between rich and poor, or the state of our children, or what’s happening to young people and jobs, or the future of our welfare state — but I do my best to lay it out in this first paper anyway.

My argument is that there are things that matter that are fundamentally broken. And one of the things that is most broken is the “We”.

And this broken-ness has also brought too many of us – drunk and disorderly – to the Edge of the Roof  (... which is what the article is called).



The second paper is about how communities awaken. This happens when you awaken yourself as a citizen. So this is a paper that is about citizen-based community development, and it is called The Feathers We Need to Fly. It is about the need to grow the skills we require in order to create, or change or take care of the communities we want to live in.

Along the way, I do a bit of a rave about the Mulgan family – who have brought both gifts and their own cautionary tales to our nation. 

And I talk about the importance of real peace and reconciliation with Māori, and what this means to the communities we are living in together.

It’s a paper about how we step up to our citizenship. Doing this is the work of our lives. It is what our elders should have been preparing us for.

Every generation thinks they are a unique generation. But perhaps in these days of the climate emergency and species collapse this is a notion that is finally becoming true. Climate and biodiversity are the issues that will be changing everything. And the decisions we make and the actions we take in this generation will be determining the quality of life and well-being for many generations to come.

And the same culture that taught us about Jesus and the Queen has not prepared us for these important decisions and actions.

We still need to find the ways in which we can prepare each another.

The point of the Masterclass and these Community Conversations is that we are re-building an infrastructure of public intelligence so that we can get on with the work of creating, changing or taking care of the things that matter.

Our conversations on gifts, commitment, dissent, ownership, possibilities and invitation ... these are all about stepping into a shared language of how to make things happen. We have to learn this language. Every generation has always had to learn this language.

We can’t just turn up as citizens and expect it is all going to be OK now because we have finally decided to turn up!

Yes, we do have to turn up ... but we also have to grow up. And that’s not a conversation that we have been used to having.



MY MAIN CONTRIBUTION to the citizenship conversation is to be a person who keeps pointing out why this conversation matters.

Citizenship is that part of ourselves that we step into when we choose to serve the things that are beyond ourselves.  And our citizenship is all the authority we need to get on with this job.

Fifteen years ago, I was honoured by the Queen for my contributions to New Zealand as a social entrepreneur. I was awarded a Queens Service Medal in recognition of my work in race relations, in social justice, and job creation.

One of the many projects I had started was called the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs. At the time I was working with my friend Garry Moore who was the Mayor of Christchurch. In 1999, he had asked me to come to Christchurch to a a meeting of district councils and local authorities on governance issues. At this meeting I asked the Mayors to come together and form a Taskforce for Jobs. I was proposing that our country set itself a national goal: that all young people in our communities will have the opportunity of paid work, or to be in training or education.

To everyone’s surprise, seven Mayors immediately stood up and said: “Yes, we are going to do it!” Several months later, the first meeting of this Taskforce attracted over half the Mayors in New Zealand and, before long, over 95% of the Mayors in our country were participating members.

Nothing like this had ever happened before in the history of our local government where so many Mayors had come together on a social and economic issue.

And I think it is significant that the call to form the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs did not come from existing policy advisers, or from the local government organisations or institutions.

It came from someone who didn’t want to live in a country that has no use for such a large number of its young people.

Five years after this, I was helping to organise the annual general meeting of the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs, which is held at the same time as the Local Government conference.

I found myself standing in the foyer of the Aotea Centre in Auckland during one of the coffee breaks of the conference, and there was a man walking around who was a senior partner at a prominent legal firm which had one of the city councils as a client. The law firm was sponsoring the coffee break.

This leading lawyer was talking with a group of Mayors ... and he stood engrossed as they told him stories about starting up cadetships and apprenticeship schemes in their councils to employ young people, creating schemes to track young people once they leave school, holding graduation ceremonies for apprentices in order to boost the profile of the trades at a time of skill shortages ... and also meeting with government departments and government ministers in order to create plans that would ensure that every young person in New Zealand is either in work or education.

And then these Mayors pointed over in my direction. The lawyer made a bee-line for me and he asked: “How did you get the Mayors to do this? and, By whose authority do you do this work?”

I replied: “My citizenship.”



THE CITIZENSHIP CONVERSATION is the work of all generations, and every generation needs to find a way of making it their own.

If we look at our communities and the world at the moment, we can see that there’s a lot of work to do. It can all get a little overwhelming.

But if we are indeed going to become worthy ancestors, then we better start facing the challenges in front of us right now.

We start by turning up ... even if we’ve still got a lot of growing up to do.

Turn up. That’s the simplest job description we have for an active citizen. It is also the best way to describe a friend.

Turn up. That’s how we are given the chance “... to bend the shape of things that haven’t happened yet.”


vivian Hutchinson
October 2019


Notes and Links

This paper is based on vivian Hutchinson’s keynote speech given at the first of a series of open Community Conversations based on the themes of the Taranaki Masterclass for Active Citizenship — Tū Tangata Whenua, held at Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki, New Plymouth, on 10th October 2019

First published online in December 2023 at

vivian Hutchinson QSM is a community activist and social entrepreneur who has worked mainly on issues of race relations, social justice, job creation and philanthropy. He is a co-founder of Community Taranaki, and author of How Communities Heal — stories of social innovation and social change (2012) and How Communities Awaken — some conversations for active citizens (2021). He is also one of the creators of Tū Tangata Whenua - a Masterclass for Active Citizenship which is run in partnership with Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki For more, visit

More information on the series of essays by vivian Hutchinson called How Communities Awaken, see

Ngaropi Cameron video series of 'stretch' sessions called Te Kai o Te Rangatira, see

Tū Tama Wahine o Taranaki and Community Taranaki were awarded the ACE (Adult and Community Education Aotearoa) 2020 Award for Community Programme of the Year for the Masterclass for Active Citizenship. See

Conversations on gifts, commitment, dissent, ownership, possibilities and invitation ... the topics of these six conversations were first suggested by US author Peter Block in his ground-breaking 2008 book Community: The Structure of Belonging

Bruce Springsteen at Broadway. For trailer see

Beyonce at Coachella. For trailer see

This paper is licensed for distribution under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License