Calder At Large

Peter Calder on life in New Zealand

Peter Calder: Tangata whenua walk different path

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Hotu takes visitors on a tour of Auckland City past & present as seen through the eyes of tangata whenua, Ngati Whatua o Orakei, and has just added a walk across Bastion Point. Photo / Natalie Slade
Hotu takes visitors on a tour of Auckland City past & present as seen through the eyes of tangata whenua, Ngati Whatua o Orakei, and has just added a walk across Bastion Point. Photo / Natalie Slade

At high noon on a blistering summer day, the view from Bastion Point is the essence of Auckland. The harbour shimmers in the heat-haze and the water is improbably, almost tropically blue.

At this height, a cooling breeze quietens the fierceness of the sun and visitors - picnic groups or solitary readers - find comfortable vantage points in the shade of the cliff-edge pohutukawa.

At the Savage Memorial, a wedding party - women in shiny apricot satins, men in blue suits - submits amid much hilarity to the tedious process of arrangement and rearrangement for the camera.

Tom Hotu smiles as he admires the impressive mausoleum of concrete, Oamaru stone and quartz. He wasn't around for the official opening in 1943 as the resting place of the man who was surely our most-loved politician, though he grew up on this land and was taught to regard the memorial as waahi tapu (sacred ground).

And he adds, flashing a grin and nodding at the long reflecting pool that leads the eye towards the obelisk, "we always thought they'd built a swimming pool just for us".

The image he conjures of carefree childhood springs to life as his mokopuna run up, one bearing a 2ltr milk bottle half-full of a lurid red drink. It's too much of a burden for the adventures the boys have in mind, so it's handed to him for safekeeping before they hare off.

"Sometimes I feel really sorry for my grandchildren," he says. "They miss out on so much of what we had when we were kids."

Hotu is the advance guard of a tourism venture with a difference. Under the rubric Tamaki Hikoi, it offers visitors a chance to see the city through the eyes of the tangata whenua, Ngati Whatua o Orakei. A few months ago, I'd followed him on a walk across the flanks of Maungawhau, the volcanic cone that Pakeha called Mt Eden, and I was keen to catch up with him again when I heard they had started this walk, the Whenua Rangatira (Land of the Chiefs).

Bastion Point, which the Maori called Takaparawhau, is a resonant name for many Aucklanders: it was the site of the raid in May 1978 in which 800 police, reinforced by the army, destroyed the encampment of a peaceful occupation that had lasted for 507 days. More than 200 people, protesting Government plans to sell the land for flash housing developments, were arrested.

The event was a watershed moment in the modern history of Maori land protest, but for the iwi, it was a deja vu that amounted to a double insult: the land they were being evicted from was the same land they had been exiled to in 1951, when the National Government of Sid Holland had ordered the destruction of their settlement down on the flat at Okahu Bay, torching shacks that had been derided as eyesores.

Worse, they were now tenants. Their new home was land taken under the Public Works Act in the 1880s and would not be returned until the Fourth Labour Government formally apologised and returned it.

Yet anyone expecting Hotu's hikoi to be a long catalogue of rage and resentment is in for a surprise. When I ask him how real the pain of '78 was for him - he was 26 then, he's 60 now - he replies slowly: "The great thing about getting older is that you get to see how things work."

It's an interesting choice of words, one that might be interpreted as either cynical or resigned. But the way he talks, it sounds like a man who has lost the uncompromising hot-bloodedness of youth. He talks of the protest leader "Uncle Joe" Hawke, and the Oxbridge-educated paramount chief of Ngati Whatua, the late Sir Hugh Kawharu - firebrand and moderate - who "walked on opposite sides of the path and ended up walking together".

As we walk across the headland, Hotu speaks softly of past and present, taking me through gardens and tree nurseries and past the meeting house, Tumutumuwhenua with its ornate black sea eagle on the front. When he finishes with a karakia and a farewell, the place looks different somehow, as though his words have changed it before my eyes.

- NZ Herald

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