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Tiny Statements: A Social History of Aotearoa New Zealand in Badges

The striking image on the front cover of a shiny red button emblazoned with just two words: TINY STATEMENTS, drew me in to read this engaging social history of Aotearoa in badges by Stephanie Gibson and Claire Regnault.

Over 200 badges spanning over a century are featured, most from the badge collection of our National Museum Te Papa. Badges might be tiny objects, but they tell us a lot about ourselves.

These badges invite us to think about how we New Zealanders have chosen to spend our time, now and in the past – our passions and interests, the clubs we join, our pride in belonging, the causes we fight for and how local, national and global movements and events have influenced us.

The badges are organised thematically: Youth, Work, Animalia, Social and cultural activities, Mana Motuhake and Tino rangatiratanga, Living culture, Human rights, Rainbow communities, Women and Activism, Military, Anti-war, Remembrance, Souvenirs, Sport, and recreation.

For the accompanying stories, the authors researched online and delved into archival sources, especially the Alexander Turnbull Library. They also went back to members of many clubs and organisations, which provided fresh and personal insights into why these badges were created and who wore them.

What a badge stands for is usually crystal clear, but over time, some acronyms become unfamiliar, and symbols obscure and are no longer so easily deciphered.

Who would have guessed that the guinea pig, which takes centre stage on one badge, surrounded by the words ‘Wallaceville Laboratory IBC’, was the badge for the indoor bowling club at the Wallaceville Laboratory in Upper Hutt, formed in 1953? This laboratory carried out research into animals such as rats, mice, rabbits, and guinea pigs.

Collecting badges can be an absorbing hobby, as a photograph of the magical scarf which belonged to beloved children’s author Margaret Mahy shows. She adorned it with dozens of badges she picked up on her travels. And wore it when she gave readings in schools and libraries. Many proclaim the joy of reading.

From the sixties on, the wearing of badges mushroomed, and they were frequently worn by both protestors and followers of music bands.

At the back of a drawer, I rediscovered badges I had once worn from that era: HART (Halt All Racist Tours), Nuclear Free and Greenpeace badges, as well as a Beatles

Badge. These tiny objects set me off on a walk down memory lane.

My partner remembers being awarded some badges at Cubs, including one for making beds, a challenge he divulges he only achieved the second time around when he had mastered the art of folding corners properly.

I recommend this little book as a great conversation starter. It may surprise you, as it has us, to discover what kind of badges your friends and relations once wore, what they fought for, achieved, or belonged to.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Te Papa Press


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