Tommy Wilson: Confessions of a night porter

By Tommy Wilson

9 comments
The Chateau Tongariro was a popular watering hole back in the '80s.
The Chateau Tongariro was a popular watering hole back in the '80s.

Hotel night porters get all the good goss first, long before many of the mainstream media hacks, especially if that hotel is the watering hole for the government of the time, as was the Chateau Tongariro when I was a night porter there in the early '80s.

The Chateau, as it was affectionately known, was where I did my training in the hospitality trade before heading offshore to look after the rich and famous for a decade.

It was at the Chateau where I first heard about the Treaty of Waitangi while serving snifters of Courvoisier cognac.

The conversation around the beautiful full-sized snooker table in the elegantly furnished Tongariro Room was all about Maori and the Treaty, and it went something like this.

"If I had a contract as tight as the Treaty of Waitangi, I could bankrupt this country."

The good news 30 years on down the Treaty track is that our country has not been bankrupted by Treaty claims.

Perhaps it is time to unpack the translation of the Treaty document to put its context into an understanding we can all wrap our heads around.

Ngapuhi, the largest iwi/tribe in Aotearoa New Zealand, has not settled for any amount - yet.

As to billions being spent on Treaty settlements, thus far just on $1 billion has been repaid for confiscated lands.

The successes of Tainui and Ngai Tahu are stellar stories we can all celebrate - both Maori and non-Maori - and are a direct result of prudent investments from their Treaty settlements.

Many other iwi are following the example set by these two major players who could both sit in on any rich-lister korero at the Chateau today.

If we were to look at the second clause of the Treaty document - accepted by the Crown, and written by Hobson under the guidance of the fluent Maori-speaking Reverend Henry Williams CMS - you will see the words:

"Me o ratau toanga katoa

Ka ora te whenua,

Ka ora te moana

Ka ora te tangata."

(The resources of the land, the rivers and harbours belong to our people to share.)

So as far as contracts go, the Treaty of Waitangi seems to be a water-tight document that in fact includes water as well as land and all of the other resources (toanga) that Maori had taken from them in the form of raupatu (confiscation).

There is no question we are the lucky country compared with the other injustices committed on indigenous peoples across the planet, none more so than the Aboriginals of Australia across the Ditch.

We have started this long walk to freedom for what Janice Joplin described in her classic song Bobby McGee - "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose" - and if we look honestly back to the dark days of the Land Wars, Maori had lost the lot, with little else but a piece of paper called the Treaty of Waitangi to stand in their corner with them. When it comes time to teach my daughter about the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand, I will start with what I heard in the Tongariro Room of the finest, flash-as hotel in New Zealand, where I worked and worked out just what it was Maori lost and what it is they have since had returned to them in the form of raupatu settlements.

I will keep the letters and comments that will surely come from this column to show her children just how far we have come as a country willing to reconcile past injustices by honouring our Treaty.

Honouring a Treaty for other countries to follow, who have not faced up to the freedom lost by their own indigenous peoples.

- broblack@xtra.co.nz

- Tommy Wilson is a best-selling author and local writer.

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