Sir Paul Reeves on the Waitara Lands

Sir Paul Reeves (1932-2011) speaking to the New Plymouth District Council on 12th August 2003. 

With all my heart I hope the land will return to the tangata whenua. That would be a decision for the benefit of everyone in Taranaki. It would serve the common good. 

My roots lie with the Puketapu hapu of Bell Block. Even though I was born in Wellington my family and tribal links mean that I belong in Taranaki.

In the 1960's the Bishop asked me to be the Vicar of Okato. He sent me from the middle of London to a settlement of 450 people. It was then that I met all my Maori relatives. In those days Taranaki had the Shield and I well remember players like Neil Wolfe and Dave Matheson. Des Corbett could get us out of the Park and back on to the Oxford Road in 20 minutes and still milk his cows.


My wife's name is Beverley and before we were married she was Beverley Watkins, the same family as Ivan and Dan Watkins. Her great great grandfather was Robert Parris the Government land agent in the 1860's. We contain a lot of history in our linkages and there is plenty for us to talk about. I am as proud of her heritage as she is of mine.

When I was the Anglican Bishop of Auckland and also the Archbishop I was involved with the transfer of land from Church trusts to local Maori trusts. These included the site of the former mission station at Port Waikato heads and the Te Ngae farm near the Rotorua airport. Both were sizeable and valuable tracts of land but it was clear that they had to go back.

So I have been in your position of having to decide whether land should be returned to Maori. I can report that in each instance we deliberated very carefully, we said yes and we gained much more than we could ever have lost. Above all we developed good working relationships that continue to this day.

Basically Maori are conservative people who want to be good citizens and offer their insights and gifts to the wider community. What holds them and everyone back are events that happened in our shared past. Today you face that history and by your decision you could take the weight off all our shoulders. Can wrongs be put right? Can we redeem the past? Yes we can.

Throughout the land the Maori economy is growing and contributing to the national economy. Maori are responding to the challenges of health, education and employment. A decision by you to return the Waitara Endowment Land including the Pekapeka block will strengthen the initiatives I already observe among Maori.

I am a director of a Wellington−based Maori trust where we have two significant joint venture partnerships and the possibility of more. One is with Massey University and their Wellington campus on the site of the former Dominion Museum, the other is with Hurst holdings of Oamaru and the construction of a retirement village on what I will always call Athletic Park. There is a record of sound business practice and a clear understanding of existing contractual obligations. The Trust's lawyers and accountants render impeccable service. Tenants have nothing to fear if Maori are their landlords.

I am a priest and a bishop and the search for unity is at the heart of what I have always done. As the Governor General I asked myself what were the things that could divide us as a nation. I came up with a list: young and old, rich and poor, town and country, men and women, Maori and Pakeha, North Island and South Island. My 5 years in office was my attempt to straddle apparent fault lines in our society and encourage people to move towards each other.

There is a common good that we can all share. It is the realisation that we are responsible for each other. But you cannot take the common good for granted nor does it happen automatically. We must work hard and decide wisely to make it a reality.

You have my support in your deliberations. The opportunity to consider an issue such as this does not come along very often. With all my heart I hope the land will return to the tangata whenua. That would be a decision for the benefit of everyone in Taranaki. It would serve the common good.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Sir Paul Reeves was the former Governor-General of New Zealand (1985-90), and former Anglican Archbishop and Primate of New Zealand (1980-85).

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