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Bastion Pt in 1976 was a quiet place, a sward of open grassland between the Savage memorial on the headland and the marae of Ngati Whatua o Orakei.
Ngati Whatua had once had all the land in sight, and more. They had given the area that was now downtown Auckland to Governor Hobson's officials in 1840. They had relinquished most of the western isthmus the following year when they were overwhelmed by the arrival of 3000 more settlers in the new capital.
They had given Remuera to the Tainui chief Kati Te Wherowhero in return for Tainui protection in earlier years, and now it too had gone.
They had intended always to keep the 700 acres of Orakei recognised as theirs by the Maori Land Court in 1896 and declared inalienable by the Crown in 1873 but most of it had gone.
Orakei had become valuable real estate after the new Tamaki Drive crossed Hobson Bay in 1929. The City Council planned an Orakei "garden suburb" on the west side of Okahu Bay rising to Paratai Drive.
Ngati Whatua lived on the lowland behind the beach, the last 3 acres of their "papakainga". In 1944, European residents petitioned the council to get rid of the insanitary shacks that many of the tribe, with the backing of Princess Te Puea, had been negotiating with the Government to upgrade.
The council's health committee ruled the hovels unsuitable for habitation and asked the Government to take action.
It took the land under the Public Works Act, moving the residents up the hill to state houses in Kitemoana St on the eastern side of the bay. Only a tiny cemetery was left of the land Ngati Whatua called their own.
When all the residents had been moved the village was to be burned, urgently. The the royal tour of 1952-53 was about to begin and the Queen would pass along Tamaki Drive. The night the village was burned an Aucklander, John Broadbent, was repairing his yacht in Okahu Bay. Many years later he gave the Waitangi Tribunal a graphic account:
"I remember the smoke drifting across Tamaki Drive. The smoke was billowing and swirling and illuminated from all sides by the flames of collapsing buildings. The burning, smouldering whares and the embers, glowed through the night. I would say the embers smoulder still.
"Reports of an old man being dragged from the fire are wrong. he actually cast himself into the holocaust of his home. I remember vividly the wailing of the wahine and the confused shouts of the young. It could clearly be heard on the harbour..."
The young that night in 1952 were in their 20s and 30s in 1976 when the Government's commissioner of crown lands in Auckland produced a plan for 60 acres of vacant land behind Bastion Pt.
The plan looked innocuous at first. It would extend Orakei's existing residential streets, bringing them round to link up. That would produce 29 acres for private housing. A further 22.5 acres would be added to the Bastion Pt reserve and seven acres set aside for Maori use, housing or reserves.
But for young Ngati Whatua of Orakei such as Joe Hawke it was the final straw. It was time to take a stand.
On January 5 an action group under Hawke and Jack Rameka set up an occupation of the site that was to last for 506 days. Dame Whina Cooper, who had led the Maori land march to Parliament two years before, was one of the first to visit the camp.
From tents and caravans the camp grew to include a meeting house and service building, a gateway and watchtower. Gardens were put down.
The 150 initial occupants were joined by several hundred, many from other tribes.
But Ngati Whatua were not united behind the occupation. Elders accepted the legality of the land sales and limited their claim to the headland taken from then under the Public Works Act for defence purposes in 1885.
It was acquired for a gun battery (hence "Bastion Pt") but was not returned to them when it was no longer needed. The 13 acres was instead vested in the City Council in 1941 as a reserve.
The radical action group argued the issue was wider than the battery reserve, and wider than Ngati Whatua. The elders opened negotiations with the Government that produced, late in 1977, a revised subdivision plan that provided just 5 acres of private housing and 29 acres to be sold to the Ngati Whatua Trust Board, as well as the 22 acres of reserve.
After the settlement, the Crown set about removing the occupation. On May 25, 1978, 600 police assisted by soldiers in army vehicles brought buses and bulldozers to Bastion Pt. The camp was surrounded and with a police helicopter overhead and media present in force, 222 people (108 Maori, 104 European and 10 Polynesian) were arrested put in vans and buses and taken away.
"It may have seemed to the casual observer a confused end to a confused situation," the Waitangi Tribunal concluded 10 years later, "but for Ngati Whatua O Orakei, for whom things could not have been worse, the period marked a new beginning on a pathway to a better future."
Reference: Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on The Orakei Claim, November 1987.By John Roughan