A Citizen in Waitara
by vivian Hutchinson
June 2023 35 min read download PDF for print
For myself, it also started at Waitara.
I was a teenage Pākehā boy, still at High School, and was often dragged into helping out Kuia Matarena, or Aunty Marj, as she prepared the carved meeting house at Waitara for a coming meeting.
If it was a weekend or the school holidays I would not be surprised to get a call. Aunty Marj would have organised someone to drive us out from New Plymouth to Owae Marae, and the car would arrive full of cut flowers, food, and various sewing projects.
Sometimes Aunty Marj would turn up at the marae a full week before the particular event started, and she would be the only one there. I think she liked it that way. She had plenty of conversation for her elders who had long since passed yet still had a role in determining the jobs that needed to be done.
Many of which involved ordering me around. I would find myself carrying mattresses, dusting cobwebs, scrubbing bathrooms, sweeping out and washing floors and porches, and reaching for things on higher shelves that needed to be put to use somewhere else.
I wasn’t really being dragged into this role. I was an odd-enough teenager who enjoyed Aunty Marj’s company, and I easily loved her. Ours was a cross-generational friendship that would go on to last for another four decades.
Aunty Marj - Matarena Marjorie Raumati Rau. Photographed by Bernard Woods Studio (1968)
This was the early 1970s, and Matarena Marjorie Raumati Rau had not long turned sixty. She had always worked hard and, for most of her adult life, she seemed to be continuously helping prepare different marae for visitors. I was simply the latest in a long line of family members and friends, and people she vaguely knew, whom she had intimidated, flattered and cajoled into giving her a hand.
You quickly found out that there was a “right way” to do things, which was also usually Aunty Marj’s own way. It was not arbitrary. There would also be a story attached to each job that kept you lined up with the best way to do it. And once you accepted that this was the process, then there would really be no end of the things that could be achieved.
I first met Aunty Marj at a “Community Unity” public conversation held at the New Plymouth Girl’s High School. She had a connection to my mother’s family dating from the 1930s and 1940s, and she would often remind me that she had looked after my mother, and her twin sister, when they were children. During the War, our families had worked together when the local Scottish cultural groups and Māori cultural groups had joined to do patriotic fundraising for the troops.
One time, in the middle of dragging mattresses around the marae, Aunty Marj seemed delighted to find out that my own birthday, the 27th June, was the same day that her uncle, Māui Pōmare, had died. I was somewhat confused at the significance she saw in this seemingly random connection. I was enlightened later on when I found out that the event that we had been preparing for, Te Rā o Māui Pōmare, was scheduled every year on the Saturday closest to the date of his death.
Māui Pōmare was the first Māori medical doctor, and a politician, who became renowned for his work to improve Māori health and living conditions. His statue dominates the forecourt of Owae Marae.
Māui Pōmare was a half-brother to Aunty Marj’s grandmother, Ngaropi Damon. Ngaropi herself was prominent in the life of Parihaka marae, where she had married Nohomairangi Te Whiti, the son of one of the prophets of Peace.
So Aunty Marj’s family connections spanned the Taranaki coast, and they also gave her responsibilities and plenty of work to do at marae throughout the province.
In the 1970s, Aunty Marj was also leading a major restoration project at Parihaka where the locals were turning an old dining room, Te Niho o te Atiawa, into a new meeting space. I was also regularly going out to the pā – which was then largely a ghost town – to help her out with various projects involved in this restoration, or the hosting of people who were visiting the marae.
The Taranaki Land Wars - Illustration by Cliff Whiting (1978)
My schooling had taught me nothing of the land wars, or the later non-violent resistance campaign led by the Parihaka prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. So being with Aunty Marj at Waitara and at Parihaka was something of an alternative education for me. I was being given an introduction to an entirely different view of what it was to live and belong in Taranaki.
I learned about how war broke out at Waitara in March 1860, and then quickly spread to elsewhere in the province. This was followed by the legislative confiscation of Taranaki land. I heard about the doubletalk of politicians and land speculators, many of whom are still remembered with their names on the street signs of Waitara.
I also heard stories of a surprising resistance. Women pulling up survey pegs. Fencing being erected across disputed roads. Confiscated lands being ploughed as a statement that the true ownership was never going to be forgotten.
And I heard the accounts of State violence and coercive power. Hundreds of ploughmen and fencers were arrested and spent years in prison in South Island jails. The “Village of Peace” at Parihaka grew to become one of the largest Māori settlements of its time. But it was sacked by the settler government in 1881 and endured many years of military occupation while its very name was removed from maps.
Māui Pōmare himself had a very personal connection to the invasion of Parihaka. He had been one of the children who greeted the soldiers as they marched onto the marae. The story is that he had lost a toe when he had got caught up under the cavalry horses.
Every Māori family in Taranaki has had some connection to these acts of resistance that stretched over many decades. The history of these acts are memorialised in the titles of meeting houses, and in the names given to grandchildren.
But by the 1970s, the average Pākehā family in Taranaki was oblivious to this history, and to their own role as perpetrators or beneficiaries of this dispossession. It just wasn’t talked about.
For myself, an interesting thing happened when I started to share some of what I had been learning with my mates at school at the New Plymouth Boys High. I was surprised that quite a few of them just refused to believe me. Some of them told me that I was just getting too carried away with the Parihaka stuff and that “Mrs Rau” was filling my head with some very far-fetched stories.
I remember one response from a school friend who was from a prominent Taranaki farming family and therefore a direct inheritor of the benefits of the land wars and the confiscations that I was talking about. He said to me: “It can’t have happened, or else we would have been told about it already.”
Which, I suppose, had its own circular logic.
In many ways it is a privilege of Pākehā people not to know our own histories, or even our own family participation in events that have led to historical trauma.
Forget-and-move-on is a deep part of European culture. It can both be a strategy for survivors, and a smokescreen for victors and perpetrators. The vagueness becomes another way of hiding from the consequences.
Taranaki Kuia at Owae Marae, Waitara (1985) (left to right) Ina Okeroa, Mary Matewehi Turner, Ivy Werenia Papakura, Mimosa Jury, Sally Mana Te Noki Karena, Neta Wharehoka, and (front) Matarena Raumati Rau Kupa (Aunty Marj) - photo by Philip Simpson
I should point out that I was as woven into this forgetting as anyone else. My family had told me no stories of the early years of their migration and settlement into New Zealand, even though my father’s family had arrived with the British Army in the 1860s.
The forgetting in my family had reached back before their migration. In the 1850s, my mother’s family had been forcibly cleared from their homes on the Western Isles of Scotland. But we had inherited no stories about this either.
I have come to think that amnesia may well be one of the main organising principles of colonisation. A selective forgetting is an important part of how power maintains its privileges.
And, over time, our collective amnesia means that the blood and dishonor and injustice in our history just becomes part of the structural architecture of the next normal.
I started to understand this better when I was invited to go for a walk one day in the grounds of St Mary’s Anglican Church in central New Plymouth. The woman who wanted to talk to me was one of the elder parishioners — I had known her for years, and I was friends with her children.
She wanted to tell me that the Parihaka stories that I had been talking about were things that should be left in the past. Actually she looked me straight in the eye and told me that these things were Māori affairs, and not something that I as a Pākehā should be getting involved with.
So I learned something there. The amnesia is not a mistake. It is not a by-product of something else. It is a living thing and it is a defended space.
And awakening to our history means interrupting the current stories that you might be telling yourself, and interrupting the privileges that come on the back of those stories.
The awakening can also disrupt your current sense of identity – because you are being invited to take ownership of the things that many people in your community have been determined not to remember.
In 1981, the Parihaka community was preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the soldiers marching on the “Village of Peace”.
I decided to seize the opportunity to try and address the forgetting, and ensure that a much wider group of people would be told about these important aspects of Taranaki history. I worked with Aunty Marj, and also Ron Lambert and others from the Taranaki Museum, to put together what amounted to be the first audio-visual presentation of the history of Parihaka.
It is important to recognise that this was a community initiative, and it was not commissioned by any academic or civic authority. We didn’t have access to video resources at a community level, so it was a slide show of historical photographs and drawings with a half-hour commentary recorded by Aunty Marj and myself. Our narrative had been based on the oral history of Parihaka that Aunty Marj had been presenting in Te Niho o Te Atiawa, as well as the documentary research of historians such as Dick Scott and Michael King.
The slide-show documentary had its unveiling at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery on 29th October 1981 as part of the “Parihaka Centennial Exhibition and Art Auction”. The curators seized upon this new resource as a way to quickly explain to people what their exhibition was all about.
Parihaka Centennial Exhibition and Art Auction (1981)
The presentation was successful and, as an instrument of our remembering, it has held its value. It has since been digitised and you can still see it today at Puke Ariki as part of the ongoing Ko Taku Poi Te Manu exhibition on the first floor of the museum. You can also look at it on YouTube.
At that time, back in 1981, I got some funding which enabled me to take the slideshow around all high schools in Taranaki. In some ways I was addressing the myself of 1971, the same boy who had sat in his Boys High history class wondering why we were not being told about these local historical events which had occurred only half an hour from our classroom.
What was interesting for me was the continuing moments of denial of this history that I experienced while doing these presentations. I even heard from couple of the teachers the same circular logic that had been given to me from my school-friend a decade earlier. They told me that if my presentation was actually true, they would already know about it.
In 1975 I had left school and moved to Auckland to study journalism and take a job in a small inner-city newspaper. It was through this work that I got to meet Whina Cooper.
Meeting Whina was like encountering a force of nature. She was already nearly 80 years of age at this stage, and had been a catalyst for social change over several generations. I was young and very naïve and completely in awe of her. So it was a surprise and honour to be asked to help out with what would become her most famous act of public protest – the 1975 Māori Land March on Parliament.
Whina explained to me that this was not a project that was going to focus on historical grievances, however unresolved they might be. Her new group would be protesting about the ongoing alienation of Māori land that was still taking place in the 1970s – through the many reinventions of land-grab legislation like the Rating Act, and the Public Works Act, and the Town and Country Planning Act. Her purpose would be summarised in the cry of “Not One More Acre!”
It turned out that I was the only Pākehā on her organising group, which she had called Te Roopu o te Matakite, a title which can be interpreted as, “The people who can see ahead”.
The Māori Land March has since come to be regarded as a pivotal moment in modern New Zealand history. But it is important to point out that the march itself wasn’t just an idea or an event. It was a strategy.
It was a strategy to address the forgetting. And it was a strategy for awakening. The important thing wasn’t the marching in itself, but what the marching hoped to produce in the minds of all New Zealanders. By walking through the rohe and lands of so many hapu and iwi, and by stopping each night at different marae, it was a strategy that said: Wake Up! We need to work together and address these issues.
And by having a sustained walk that took it beyond a one or two-day media event, it was also a strategy to awaken the Pākehā mind. By the time the march got to Wellington 30 days later, all eyes would be on the largely forgotten issue of Māori land. Pākehā would be awakened from our organised and defended amnesia.
We would be awakened from all those fairy tales that told us we had the best race relations in the world, and that all the land rights issues were dead and buried in the past.
For the six months before the Matakite March started, I threw myself into the campaign to garner support for the idea, and to attract other organisers and participants. This meant every weekend campaigning with Whina Cooper and a bus-load of family and supporters while we visited different marae and meeting venues.
One of Whina’s first decisions was to take the Matakite organisers to Waitara to hear about the Taranaki history of land grievances and their persistent struggle for justice. Whina had whakapapa links to Taranaki through her mother, and she had also been mentored by Te Rangi Hīroa (Sir Peter Buck) who was a close friend of her father. She was well aware of the Te Atiawa struggle to have their confiscated lands returned.
She also knew that Waitara had a special place in the history of our nation, as it was the place where the first shots were fired in the Taranaki Land Wars which then spread to many other areas of the country. Even though the Land March itself was not planning to walk through Taranaki lands, Whina saw her modern campaign as being definitely connected to the passive resistance stand taken by Taranaki Maori in the 1870s and 1880s.
Dame Whina Cooper (1895—1994) speaking at Owae Marae, Waitara on Māui Pōmare Day, 27 June 1975, beginning her campaign to gain support for the Maori Land March - photo by John Miller
The photo by John Miller (above) captures Whina in full flight speaking from the porch of Owae Marae during the 1975 Māui Pōmare celebrations. The following day, we all traveled out the coast to Parihaka, where we were hosted by Aunty Marj and other Taranaki elders, before the Matakite visitors traveled back to Auckland.
There were only about 40 marchers there at Te Hapua near Cape Reinga on that first Spring morning of the March. Despite traveling around the North Island and campaigning for the six months before the march started, it was almost impossible to gauge the level of real support beforehand. Those 40 marchers leaving the Te Hapua marae seemed a very modest contribution to a national debate.
But there was a photo of Whina and her grand-daughter taken on the first day which became our most significant instrument of awakening. The now-iconic picture had been taken by Michael Tubberty of the New Zealand Herald. When it was published, it had an immediate impact on the public awareness of our protest.
Whina Cooper and her grand-daughter Irene Cooper leaving Te Hapua, near Cape Reinga, at the start of the Māori Land March 14 September 1975 - photo by Michael Tubberty / The New Zealand Herald
In effect, Whina was telling everyone who looked at that image: We haven’t gone away. I’m still here. There’s still work to do. And while I am at it, I am passing on this kaupapa, this mission, to a new generation.
And by the time the marchers reached Auckland City, there were thousands of us walking over the Auckland Harbour Bridge. And, a month later when it arrived on Parliament Grounds in Wellington, you could sense a definite shift in the New Zealand mind – for Māori and Pākehā.
For Māori, many of the key lands rights activists met each other or deepened their existing friendships in what was essentially a month-long wānanga of awakening.
And, for us as Pākehā, we now had to definitely rewrite the stories we had been telling ourselves about our past, about race relations, and about the ongoing theft of Māori land.
After the Land March, the Waitangi Tribunal was soon established, and the political will to address land issues gradually grew stronger. Over the succeeding decades, we have seen definite progress in terms of formal apologies to iwi, financial settlements, the return of some assets, and co-governance arrangements between Maori and the Crown and local authorities.
For myself, I went on to further contribute to the land rights campaigns at Raglan/Whāingaroa and at Bastion Point/Takaparawhā. And then I returned home to Taranaki to explore other aspects of my active citizenship.
Māori Land March near Te Hapua on 14 September 1975 with vivian Hutchinson, Cyril Chapman (carrying the pou whenua), and Moka Puru - photo The Auckland Star
It was forty years later that I found myself as one of the organisers of another march. This was the Parihaka Peace Walk – a three-day hikoi to Parihaka Marae to support the New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd in his campaign to get better Maori representation on council decision-making.
Andrew Judd had received a major backlash on his council’s decision to establish a Maori Ward for voting in local body elections – with a citizen’s petition forcing a referendum on the issue.
The vote for a Maori Ward was lost by a landslide, and the controversy exposed a nasty underbelly of continuing racism and white supremacy in the Taranaki community, with Andrew Judd becoming a particular target in media debates and in the streets. (He was the subject of derision by TV commentators, removed as the patron of a New Plymouth club, abused while walking down the main street in the Santa Parade, and spat at in front of his family while shopping at a local supermarket).
Andrew Judd’s response was to describe himself as a “recovering racist”, and he embarked on the three-day walk to Parihaka in order to highlight the state of race relations in Taranaki, and to be a demonstration of a shared commitment to peace and reconciliation. This initiative also attracted hundreds of people from throughout New Zealand who wanted to join in on the journey to Parihaka and affirm the New Plymouth Mayor in his stand.
The Peace Walk started on 15th June 2016, which was paradoxically also the same day that public hearings had been scheduled over a new Waitara Lands Bill being sponsored by the New Plymouth District Council. This Bill was designed to sell the NPDC leasehold lands in Waitara which were still an unresolved issue dating from the confiscation of these lands in the 1860s.
Judd’s own council was essentially carrying on with business-as-usual, while he was off on what some of his critics described as “virtue signaling” about racism.
Taranaki Peace Walkers arriving at Parihaka Pa, 17 June 2016 - photo by Robin Martin/RNZ
When I first read about the Waitara Lands Bill, I was astounded by the Council’s resolve to sell this land in the face of an almost universal acknowledgement that this was stolen property. I wondered how it could be, after forty years of real progress with apologies and settlements and reparations following the Maori Land March, that the Taranaki councils and our government were still planning to sell the very lands over which the wars of the 1860s were fought over ... and were doing so in the face of continuing protests from the original owners?
But I was not dis-illusioned. I already knew that they were relying on a widespread amnesia in which to seal the deal.
During the Peace Walk to Parihaka, at the end of each day’s journey, the participants gathered at a local hall in order to have wider community conversations about the issues that we were walking about.
In my own conversations, I thought that this would be a good chance to ask people about what they knew about the Waitara Lands Bill. It was no real surprise perhaps, but most of the people I spoke to knew very little about the history of the Waitara confiscations, nor did they understand what the latest Waitara Lands Bill was trying to achieve.
I realised then that any struggle over these confiscated lands was still going to be an ongoing fight against the forgetting ... especially in the face of the power and privileges that still flow from this historic amnesia.
So after the Peace Walk, I came back home to New Plymouth and wrote up my first paper about the Waitara Lands Bill. I also talked with my fellow trustees of Community Taranaki to see how we could use our organisation to help educate other Pakeha about the issues, and to actively collaborate with the local Waitara hapu, the Taranaki Māori Women’s Network, and what would later be known as the Peace for Pekapeka initiative.
During the campaign that followed, I was interviewed by a reporter on Radio New Zealand about the nature of collective amnesia and how our selective forgetting has consequences for modern-day settlements and negotiations, such as what we were trying to see happen in Waitara.
My belief is that we would have a completely different outcome in the Waitara case if there were more Pākehā people who knew and cared about this history and the responsibilities that they still had in the context of that history. In other words, if there were enough Pākehā who gave a damn.
Actually, it has been my experience that Pākehā are very good at giving a damn — once they have woken up to the facts of what had taken place, and could see how it might be connected to choices being made in the current day.
Pākehā culture is steeped in the notion of a fair go. It is a characteristic that is deeply woven into our national culture. This is one of the reasons a great many of our ancestors came right across the world to live in New Zealand ... because they weren’t getting a fair go in Cornwall, or Devon, or in Scotland or Ireland or wherever else they were emigrating from.
I have found that whenever I have been able to explain to my relations the history and circumstances of a particular issue, they usually end up on the side of trying to give people a fair go. Or at least they become much more determined to treat someone else as they themselves would like to be treated.
But I also found it that, during this particular Waitara Lands campaign, it was almost impossible to try and get someone in the mainstream media to print my own articles on the issue. Almost every submission to the local newspaper, the Taranaki Daily News, was refused ... except for a letter which they ended up publishing on the day the Waitara Lands legislation was passed.
The Peace for Pekapeka Hīkoi marching through the streets of Waitara, 21st September 2016 - photo by Jane Dove Juneau
By the end of 2018, it was clear that we were not going to achieve the goal of the New Plymouth District Council giving back this land to the Waitara hapu of Manukorihi and Otaraua.
Yes, the final Waitara Lands deal ended up being much better than when this legislation started. It certainly needed to be. The dial on the negotiations had shifted a little way, but not to the extent of real justice being delivered to the people who most deserved it.
The Waitara Lands Bill was signed into law on 12th December 2018, and it remains a missed opportunity that needed much more political courage than it got.
The NPDC officers would often say that it was the best deal that they could offer, because their hands were tied by financial and legal obligations. But every child of Taranaki will eventually come to understand that the ideas of fiduciary responsibility and perpetual leases are the legal constructions of coercive power and privilege that should not apply at all to stolen property.
That the complete return of these historic lands was never seriously on the negotiating table will be the ongoing shame of this transaction – and the reason why the Council and the Crown are still left with an unresolved grievance for yet another generation.
So this is a story that is not over. As I edit this introduction, it is June 2023 and the Taranaki Daily News has just published a front-page feature on the Waitara Lands.
Without irony, it proclaims that “Not everyone a winner”, as though that in itself is news. While the article doesn't shy away from describing the land as stolen property, it basically goes on to detail what a continuing land grab in the 21st century looks like in practice.
According to the paper, a significant number of Waitara citizens are feeling hurt and “locked out from ever owning the land they live on”. And to compound the situation, all residents are now facing “astronomical” jumps in land valuations, amidst the worst housing crisis in several generations.
Meanwhile, the NPDC has confirmed that five years after the passage of the Waitara Lands Bill, nearly 60% of the leasehold properties have been converted to freehold. Nearly a quarter of these new freeholds have gone on to have a change of ownership. And amidst all this, there's still a tangle of differing agreements on how the final pots of money generated by the land sales should be spent.
So not over at all.
Nevertheless, I do suggest that we would be making a mistake to think that this is a justice issue only about land and who-owns-what. The longer story here is that this controversy is as much about the decency of our relationships with one another, and the communities we want to create and bring our children into. And this is a much wider story that asks us to have a very different conversation.
What started at Waitara — all those years ago — has always been a constant invitation for us to raise our gaze beyond the deals and dodgy transactions, and pay attention to the things that will continue to matter for generations to come.
It will be people like Kuia Matarena, or Aunty Marj, who will have the last word.
Today, she is buried in the Tautara Tuhi Urupa at Urenui Marae and, not unexpectedly, her gravestone includes an inscription about the jobs yet to be done:
Kua oma ahau i te omanga roa.
E te Iwi, e te whanau, e ngaa mokopuna
Kia kaha, kia manawanui, kia uu, kia maia, kia matara!
Kahore ano i mutu te omanga;
Ko koutou ngaa urupa waihotanga o matou.
This has been interpreted as:
I have run the long race. To all my tribal groups, families, grandchildren and those yet to come:
Be strong, be big hearted, be brave, hold fast, do not give in, be alert and wake up!
The race is not over! It is for you, the living graveyards of those who have gone before you, to complete.
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