Waitangi Week

The Stories Behind New Zealand Places You Probably Never Learned in History Class

The Māori chief who inspired Gandhi, and what life was really like when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

by Liam Ratana
05 February 2017, 10:48pm

New Zealand's oldest bar, the Duke of Marlborough Tavern in Russell. Image via Flickr user Les Williams

Rum, prostitution and murder

Kororareka is it's original name, but Russell was once described as being "the hell hole of the Pacific." It's strange to imagine this pocket-sized town in the beautiful Bay of Islands as being such a lawless place, but that's what it was like in the mid-19th century. By the 1830s, Russell was famous for its whalers, rum, and prostitution.

The lawlessness is often viewed as being the original reason the Treaty of Waitangi was drafted and signed. Some say that Maori were fed up with the unruly visitors and their bad habits. They wanted the British ruler to control her subjects. It wasn't just the British who were visiting. Whaling ships from around the globe would stop off for a bit of much needed fun.

Some women were reportedly "married" for up to three weeks in which time they were subjected to all types of treatment, all for a few muskets or other provisions in return. Five years after the treaty was signed, Hone Heke led a group of sixty men into Russell for an assault on the Pākeha defenders. The fighting finally finished after two days with no clear winner. This attack was the beginning of what would become known as the Northern War.

Today, Russell still pulls in the visitors. People come to grab a drink at New Zealand's first-ever licensed bar, The Duke of Marlborough Tavern, and visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Parihaka in the 1880s. Image via Flickr user Archives New Zealand.

The birthplace of peaceful resistance

Rape, theft, and mass murder. These are not often the first words that come to mind when thinking about the small seaside settlement of Parihaka, Taranaki. But on the 5 November, 1881 more than 1600 colonial soldiers forever scarred these lands by committing such heinous acts.

It all began because the local Maori would not forfeit their land. Instead of fighting, they were instructed by their rangatira Te Whiti o Rongomai to "Place your trust in forbearance and peace ... let the booted feet come when they like, the land shall remain firm forever." Children blocked the main entrance to the Pa, approximately 200 of them. By the time the soldiers had made their way through the blockade, roughly 2500 Maori greeted them. They greeted the very people who had come to kill them with food and song. Some Maori were killed on the spot, others made slaves on the very land they once owned.

Te Whiti o Rongomai and comrade Tohu were arrested without reason or a trial and exiled. By the time Te Whiti returned to Parihaka, it was nothing but a bare patch of land completely ruined by the invading forces. However, his efforts in leading the peaceful resistance did not go unnoticed. It is rumoured that two Irishmen who had visited Aotearoa eventually ended up in India, talking to none other than Mahatma Gandhi about what Te Whiti had done on that fateful day. Today, Te Whiti's actions are likened to those of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. 

Commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gate Pā. Image via Flickr courtesy of Bob Tulloch.

Gate Pa
"Blow the Pah to the devil"

Weeks of planning, hundreds of men, hours of torrential bombings, more guns than there were men, and the British still suffered heavy casualties. Pukehinahina, or Gate Pa is situated in the sunny city of Tauranga. However, the battle that took place on the 21 April 1864 was a day in the history of the British military.

The aim of the British was to stem the flow of arms and other resources going from Ngai Te Rangi to the Kingitanga movement in Waikato. And although the naval crew recorded they had enough firepower to "blow the Pah to the devil", once the fighting began, the British never gained any advantage. It began with them bombarding the Pa, albeit inaccurately. It was apparently safer to be where the Maori were than where the British soldiers at the rear of the pa were waiting. Next, they sent in the reserves too early and in "clumsy formation". The soldiers were bottlenecked and slaughtered by the much more prepared Maori.

Some reports had casualties at 35, with 75 soldiers wounded. Whatever the number, it was roughly double the loss the Maori endured that day.  Some branded the soldiers as "cowards", other reports stated they "ran away howling". 

Supporters of the Bastion Point protest movement. Photo courtesy of Nambassa Trust and Peter Terry, via Wikimedia Commons.

Bastion Point
A pivotal moment in the Māori Renaissance 

Bastion Point sits above Tamaki Drive in Central Auckland. You drive past it every time you take the beautiful waterfront road to Mission Bay. The land was originally taken as part of the army's plan to keep potential Russian invaders away in the late 19th century. Evidently, the Russians never came. However the land was not returned to the local iwi, Ngāti Whātua. In the 1970s Robert Muldoon's government proposed to redevelop the land into housing for the rich.

Over 200 people, led by Joe Hawke, occupied Bastion Point to protest what they saw as a grave injustice. The occupation began in January of 1977. They stayed put for 506 days. People came from around the country and around the world to show their support. A makeshift community was built on the site, complete with a meeting house.

The government applied pressure to the protestors, waving pieces of paper in front of their faces and citing laws they could not have cared about any less. That didn't work, so they resorted to force. On 25 May 1978, the army was sent in. Over 600 police and army personnel were tasked with removing any person, young or old, who was "illegally" occupying the land. Old ladies were dragged away. Homes destroyed in seconds by bulldozers. The people sang and sang until their time was up.

Joe Hawke was not allowed back on the land to say goodbye to his niece Joannee, who died in a tragic fire that took place during the protest and was buried on the land. Her passing helped to bring the group closer together and provided even more reason for them to fight for the land.

Bastion Point was finally returned to its rightful owners in the 1980s as part of Ngāti Whātua's treaty claim. It was a pivotal moment that helped to empower the Maori renaissance. It solidified Ngāti Whātua as mana whenua in Auckland. Bastion Point has become a reminder of the struggles that not only Ngāti Whātua, but the whole Māori race face.

Polynesian settlers adapted to New Zealand's colder climate by using stones in the fields to warm and shelter their crops. Image via.

The longest continually used papakainga (village) in Auckland

It's difficult to date exactly when people first arrived from the Pacific to make New Zealand their home. But we do know that when they did, some settled on the edge of the Manakau Harbour and have been there ever since. For an estimated 1,000 years, the people of Ihumatao have been the kaitiaki of the land and environment. They see it as their duty to ensure the land stays as it is.

Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, the lava caves used to bury their ancestors, Oruarangi Creek, the Manukau Harbour and the wider Ihumatao area are all sites of great significance to the local people. Today, Fletchers Residential Limited are trying to turn Mangere's last patch of rural land into 480 homes. Developers will have a hard time surveying the land as locals have established a patrol group to monitor any signs of work. As soon as developers attempt to start construction, it's highly likely the locals will occupy. Like a modern-day Bastion Point, Ihumatao has the potential to be New Zealand's version of Standing Rock.

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Treaty of Waitangi
Waitangi Day
Bastion Point