David Bowie's marae visit 'like nothing that he'd ever experienced'

By Jimmy Ellingham

It was a world away from the packed stadiums heaving with screaming fans on David Bowie's tour downunder in 1983.

The British songster was in New Zealand, where he wowed the masses at Athletic Park in Wellington and Western Springs in Auckland.

A day after touching down in November 1983, Bowie found himself in Kiwi - and Ngati Toa - heartland.

Nestled between Porirua Harbour and the hills that separate the northern Wellington city from the sea is the Takapuwahia Marae and it was here that Bowie, resplendent in a suit and 1980s bottle-blond hair, sampled a taste of Maori culture.

This came about at the star's behest - a private pilgrimage for his interest rather than a PR stunt.

David Bowie Concert at Western Springs in 1983. Photo / NZ Herald Staff Photographer
David Bowie Concert at Western Springs in 1983. Photo / NZ Herald Staff Photographer

The tour promoters jacked it up with the marae but loose lips waggled and hundreds of people, maybe more, were lining Ngati Toa St, a typically quiet suburban roadway.

"His organiser said when he was coming to Wellington he wanted to visit a marae," remembered Marge Hammond, who was then the marae's secretary and treasurer.

"He didn't want all the people. He just wanted to be incognito and have a meal - a hangi - all the things we normally do."

Mrs Hammond said the crowd at the marae was kept to a minimum, maybe 100.

When the star arrived with his entourage he was welcomed with a powhiri, a haka, songs and off course, he was fed with kai cooked out the back over an open fire.

Bowie replied to the formal welcome with a song of his own, called Waiata. His performance of this was a one-off.

"We're happy and honoured to be here with you. We thank you for sharing the way that you do," he sang.

The star mingled easily on the marae as the youngsters worked away in the kitchen.

"He was absolutely brilliant," Mrs Hammond said.

"It was an education for him. He thought it was just wonderful. That's what he wanted."

He was determined to see where the food was cooked too, which was out the back in an area you could describe as rustic.

"Even though it was a pretty run-down sort of place, we never ever had food poisoning," Mrs Hammond said.

"By the time he left lots of people were outside the fences. They were just hoping for a glimpse of him. We were surprised when we brought him from the meeting house to the dining room at how many people were outside on boxes."

Missy Te Kahu at Takapuwahia Marae in Porirua where she witnessed the visit by David Bowie in 1983. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Missy Te Kahu at Takapuwahia Marae in Porirua where she witnessed the visit by David Bowie in 1983. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Missy Te Kahu was 19 the day Bowie came to town. She'd just got home from work when, wearing a Duran Duran T-shirt, she saw all the people at the marae and headed down there, wondering what was going on.

"You're late," her uncle told her.

"What's going on?" Ms Te Kahu said.

"David Bowie's coming," she was told.

She worked in the kitchen at the marae, so would normally be there when something big was happening.

"It was David Bowie. I knew a lot of his songs and he had a concert that night and we all knew he was in New Zealand.

"Oh my gosh, for him to be on our marae, it was crazy."

Ms Te Kahu headed to the kitchen. Bowie had arrived and among the welcoming formalities, her brother Maadi performed the wero, or challenge.

She remembered the meal consisting of puha and pork bones, with rice pudding.

At the time John Burke had been mayor of Porirua for a month. He was delighted to be among the guest list for the welcome and fondly remembers Bowie's visit.

"He said it was like nothing that he'd ever experienced in his life previously. He was a true professional and I don't think that he did anything in a half-serious way. He did everything very, very professionally.

"He'd obviously done a lot of research before he came on to the marae," Mr Burke told Newstalk ZB.

Bowie's visit took three or four hours and by the time he left, it was under the cover of the evening's serious moonlight.


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