Emotional opening for Ohakea base marae

By John Maslin

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Air Force personnel performed a stirring haka at the opening of Ohakea's marae. Photo/Brad Hanson.
Air Force personnel performed a stirring haka at the opening of Ohakea's marae. Photo/Brad Hanson.

Years of hard work culminated in an emotional opening of the first ever Royal New Zealand Air Force marae at Ohakea on Saturday.

Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies said the opening of the turangawaewae or cultural "standing place" at the base was an emotionally-charged event.

Air Vice-Marshal Davies said it taken years to reach this point which started with a powhiri and cultural entertainment and an evening function.

"It was goose bump material all day," he said.

"Opening the turangawaewae was done with a sense of pride and a sense of fulfilment that it has come to fruition. You had to be there to experience it."

Creating the marae had taken almost a decade. It was done on a very low budget using old defence force buildings and getting help from other service personnel to transform them.

"To finally reach this point is very, very special," Air Vice-Marshal Davies told the Chronicle.

The NZ Army and Navy already have their marae and he said the Ohakea opening completed the triangle.

Sergeant Wai Taenga is an aviation refueller at Ohakea and she said the idea of a turangawaewae at the base had been a dream of many people for a long time.

"I've been in the air force for 27 years and in that time a bicultural policy has been introduced but this weekend's celebration is an acknowledgement of the Maori culture within the Air Force," Sergeant Taenga said.

"Just as importantly it's a place for all air force personnel and anyone else coming to the base to go and stand," she said.

It was a special journey to Ohakea for Joe Gordon who lives in Tauranga. He had served in the Air Force for 30 years, starting as a engineer and retiring in 1991 with the rank of Wing Commander.

Mr Gordon said he was "stoked" with what had happened at the base.

"This ends a personal journey for me because it signals that the air force hierarchy embrace the concept of a turangawaewae," he said.

He said when he joined the air force in 1962 he became part of a wider defence force "family" and felt comfortable because everyone was equal.

"This was at a time when our society treated Maori as second-class citizens. The defence force was one area where that didn't happen.

"This weekend marks a very special milestone because it not only recognises Maori culture in the Air Force but every other culture as well."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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