James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Bid to get more children into historic grounds

National Trust upset only 3,000 school students visit Waitangi each year

Of the 100,000 people who visit the Treaty grounds in a year, only half are Kiwis. Photo / Natalie Slade
Of the 100,000 people who visit the Treaty grounds in a year, only half are Kiwis. Photo / Natalie Slade

It's among the most significant places in New Zealand, attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year, but the historic treaty grounds at Waitangi are struggling to get schoolchildren through the gates.

Figures from the Waitangi National Trust show that of the 100,000 people who visit the Treaty grounds each year nearly half (45,000) are tourists, and nearly half of the 55,000 domestic visitors are from Auckland.

But only 3,000 schoolchildren - or just over 2.5 per cent of New Zealand's 762,400 primary and secondary school students - make the trek north each year to the historic grounds.

A new three-year initiative from the Waitangi National Trust and Westpac, called Our Nation's Children, aims to promote the location, and the 175th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2015.

The initiative - launched yesterday by Governor-General, Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae in Auckland - is aimed at having more children visit Waitangi annually on subsidised and assisted visits.

One of its first projects is a school movie competition aimed at intermediate-age students to be held in the first term of next year.

The competition is worth $10,000 each for the three winning schools and will be judged by Shrek director Andrew Adamson.

The Waitangi National Trust's chief executive, Greg McManus, said the project was about inspiring and educating the next generation of New Zealanders to know and understand the history of the birthplace of the nation, and to encourage more people to visit.

"For a lot of New Zealanders all they know about Waitangi is what they see on the news on Waitangi Day, and it doesn't represent what happens the rest of the day or the rest of the year here," he said.

"We are quite concerned about that, and we want New Zealanders to feel it is relevant to them, Maori, Pakeha and new New Zealanders as well, that this is where the nation of New Zealand began."

Principals Federation president Phil Harding said the goal was ambitious and noble but the cost of getting children there could be crippling.

"Look at the cost of a child in Gore catching a flight to Kerikeri; it was $800 for a return flight on Air New Zealand, it's an awful lot of money."

"That doesn't allow for food and accommodation ... how sustainable is that over time ?"

Mr Harding said Waitangi could be promoted as a place all New Zealanders should visit before they go overseas.

Mr McManus said the importance of the Treaty Grounds and the Treaty itself were "somewhat lost" on several generations of New Zealanders.

"I think I can speak for my generation, people who went to school in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when I say the Treaty was not a particular focus of our attention.

"Those who studied history and social studies at school learned more about Elizabethan England and the Second World War than we ever did about New Zealand history, let alone the Treaty of Waitangi."

Lord and Lady Bledisloe gave the Waitangi estate to the nation in 1932 and envisaged New Zealanders and visitors would learn about the nation's origins and the unique partnership between Maori and the Crown formalised by the first signing of the Treaty at Waitangi in 1840.

In Lord Bledisloe's letter to Prime Minister George Forbes offering the gift, he described Waitangi as "New Zealand's most historic spot" and was convinced all New Zealanders should appreciate its importance.

Street view: Kids in Auckland struggle to explain significance of Waitangi Day

Tane Pomare, 10: "I know about Waitangi. We've been there before, when we were up North. I don't know much about the paper stuff though. I remember learning a little bit about it, but I can't remember."

Mum Michelle Polido said: "They should really be doing more in primary school, I think. We've been to Paihia because we used to live there so we know about it and my husband grew up around it. But we would stay away from the place on Waitangi Day, because it was so crazy. I think it's great that they're looking to refresh things up there. It's a part of us and it's important."

Teana Pomare, 10: "Yes, I know a bit about Waitangi. We studied it at school and it's a part of our history. I know where Waitangi is - it's in Paihia. We went there. There's a big house."

Maximus Abrahamse, 6: "I don't know anything about it."

Mum Karyn Jones said: "I don't think they teach a lot about it in primary school. I think it would be a good idea for kids to really be taught more about what happened because it's a part of our history. We've been past [Waitangi], but I think we might take a trip up there someday because it's important our children understand what happened between the Maori and Europeans. It's absolutely still relevant in our society.

Leshay Teleiai Samuel, 6, and Larmon Teleiai Samuel, 5: Both shook their heads when asked whether they had ever been to Waitangi or knew anything about Waitangi Day. Larmon said: "It's a holiday."

Paige Fairless, 10: "I don't know anything about it."

Mum Helsa Fairless said: "We haven't been up there before ... it's a bit too far for us. But I would like my daughter to know more about it because it's our founding document. I don't think a refreshment project would attract us to go up there though."

- NZ Herald

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