Battle of Gate Pa inspires hope for future

By James Fuller

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Remembering a fiercely fought conflict 150 years ago could aid ongoing reconciliation and bolster tourism.

As an event programme commemorating the 1864 Battle of Gate Pa is launched, Pukehinahina Trust project director Buddy Mikaere said past differences should now be forgotten.

"It's time to shake hands and get on with it," he said.

Next year's 150th anniversary will recall events surrounding a battle in which Maori warriors inflicted a stunning defeat on much larger colonial British forces.

"We want to make sure it's a reconciliation-type event. There's a residual goodwill when you talk about Gate Pa and we want to tap into that," said Mr Mikaere.

As well as the fighting, where the Maori were outnumbered almost 10 to one, the battle is known for the Potiriwhi Code of Conduct. The code included provisions for respecting enemy wounded and the sparing of women and children.

"People talk of the Maori codes of conduct for warfare and how the wounded were given water by their enemies. It's those stories which are told and which need to be re-told."

Mr Mikaere said the fact many iwi had either settled, or were close to settling, Treaty grievances meant it was a good time to reconcile.

An official launch of 2014's proposed programme of events was held at Tauranga's Trinity Wharf, Dive Crescent, last night.

The two biggest commemoration projects were enhancement works at both the Gate Pa Reserve and the Te Ranga battle site. The latter was considered a medium to long-term project, taking several years.

Other items included school poetry and essay competitions, contemporary dance performances, historic photograph and drawing exhibitions, a Gate Pa model display at Tauranga Airport, public lectures and monologues, a string quartet performance and memorial brass plaques installed at key sites.

Celebrations on the day itself would include a dawn ceremony blessing of pou at Gate Pa and a commemoration march. Members of the armed forces would march, with 42 drummers, from Tauranga Girls' College to Gate Pa. There they would be met by iwi, a number of which would be armed with ceremonial tupura (double-barrelled muskets). "It will be quite a dramatic sight," said Mr Mikaere.

Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae was likely to attend, as were regimental descendants of the British forces which fought at Gate Pa.

Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Rhys Arrowsmith said the anniversary was significant.

"This is an important time to evolve the region and it's an opportunity for the region to take pride in its history.

"It's about understanding the soul of the region. It identifies us. When we understand where we've been, we can understand better where we're going. It's important that the people of Tauranga identify with it, because they are the ambassadors."

Mr Arrowsmith said there would be tourism opportunities, not least with regard to the thousands of cruise ship passengers who now visit Tauranga annually.

A heritage trail of historic sites relating to the conflict was being created in conjunction with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and The Elms Trust. The handout maps and brochures could include QR codes for each site. These would link straight to the Bay of Plenty Tourism website, offering further information on the location's importance.

Mike Dottridge, who is the great-great-grandson of Colonel Henry Greer, who fought at Gate Pa, said anniversaries could be used to rectify mistakes of the past. "They [anniversaries] certainly have an important role to play in allowing us to revisit the past and to correct the historical stories passed on to new generations," said Mr Dottridge.

"In the specific context of Tauranga, I think the anniversaries are also an opportunity to reclaim some of the artifacts and archive materials that disappeared off to Wellington or Auckland, or to the UK."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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