Edward Rooney

Edward Rooney is the Regional News Editor at NZME. News Service.

Memory of land occupation endures

The Maunganui Bluff dispute was a sad episode in the lives of the people caught up in it. Photo / NZ Herald
The Maunganui Bluff dispute was a sad episode in the lives of the people caught up in it. Photo / NZ Herald

In the midst of turmoil over Maori land in 1987, it was still possible to enjoy an idyllic childhood as a tomboy, beachcombing the shorelines of Omarere Beach and Kai Iwi lakes.

Janaya Rehu remembers less about being with her nan and her great-aunt at the occupation of a Maunganui Bluff - farmland owned by Allan Titford and his family - than happily skipping along sand dunes.

Now 34, Rehu says she didn't understand the complexities around the property dispute at the time. "I was probably too young to absorb what was going on but I do remember it was a really traumatic time. The farmer was causing this uproar and a Maori carving was cut down.

"We lived further down at Omarere but my nan and Aunt Kitty had ties to the land and there we were. There were a lot of land claims going on at the time."

Still, the tense days of occupation aren't the enduring memories for Rehu, now a mother-of-three living in Wellington.

"When I think back about those times, I remember more than anything standing on the sand dunes. I was such a tomboy, just out there scratching around the beaches.

"I don't remember the photograph being taken or being in the newspaper."

But she knows the picture well. A large print of it held pride of place on her nan's lounge wall and it was passed to her when her nan died.

"We tried to get it restored but the restorers refused because of the copyright stamp on the back of it."

The dispute over the land lasted nearly a decade. Titford bought the 570ha near Waipoua Forest in 1986 and it wasn't until 1995 that he was persuaded to accept $3.25 million in compensation for his farm, which was bought from him and handed back to Maori. The Titfords moved to Australia.

Rehu was adopted by her grandparents under the customary whangai practice after her mother was struck by a car and disabled. After her grandparents died, she took over her mother's care. This week, she started a new job as a personal assistant.

She says she's still saddened by reports of land disputes in the north.

"I moved to Wellington when I was 13, but I still get upset when I hear about it still going on. I do believe it's just about money for some of them and that's why it's still going on.

"It's really sad that so much energy and time, which could be spent living, is wasted on this."

Allan Titford said this week he is still bitter about the conflict over his farm. He received only $850,000 of the compensation, he says. "I was never treated fairly and that's why I am not a farmer today."

- Herald on Sunday

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