Rugby: Fine tribute for Arataki legend

By Ben Guild

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One long, two short.

That tune, emanating from the horn of a Holden Commodore ute bearing the body of Arataki president Mike Rawiri, proved a popular refrain at Arataki Park on Saturday afternoon.

Every time Arataki ran in a try - and there were many - there it was. One long, two short - meaning hello and goodbye.

The 54-year-old died on Wednesday night in Mount Maunganui.

Details are still to be clarified but it is believed a fall - rather than the minor heart attack he sustained before it - was what killed him.

"Being a big man, he probably hit his head that hard and they just couldn't bring him back.

"They tried everything," said daughter Trish Heather.

The ditty dates back to the early days of telephone communication in the Rawiri household, on the corner of Links Ave and Ascot Rd - a section of which was officially closed to traffic late last week as people came from all around to pay their respects to a man known simply as "Big Mike".

"They closed it officially because our children were everywhere," said daughter Minnie Sluys.

"He was a big man, with a big heart to go with it. This is a huge loss for us."

Heather spoke warmly of her father.

"He was very well known. So many people loved him. Not one person had something bad to say about my Dad. He always gave, he was a giving man and it's all coming back now."

That goodwill came back in the form of hundreds of people - many wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with Rawiri's smiling face made by the netball team - coming together for a festival of food and footy in memory of a true giant of the Arataki community.

The large crowd swirled around the piles of steak, mussels, cakes, pasta, eel and fish heads that had been donated and were freely available to all those in attendance.

"You know, we haven't actually had to spend a cent," said Trish.

"He had six kids but he had about one hundred sons and daughters. We had to share our Dad."

Rawiri had been a part of the club since its formation in 1971, was its longest serving president and a life member. More than that, he was a cornerstone of a community brought together by family and sports.

"We were born in this club as part of the community," said Heather.

The family planned to take Rawiri home after the match for a traditional couple of beers, before taking him to Maungatapu marae yesterday.

The farewell, followed by cremation, was to follow today.

Rawiri's influence is sure to carry on through initiatives such as whanau touch, which will enter its third year next season looking to build on the 18 teams involved in year two.

Rawiri's son "Pooch" was in fine form for Arataki.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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