In a Mangere backyard lies the forlorn home of a Maori king, awaiting rescue and restoration, writes Rebecca Blithe

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Moana Waa picks her way through long grass, avoiding rusting tools, crushed cans, a shopping trolley and an old bottle of coolant among other junk strewn around a ramshackle building.

This is the first time she has stood before the home of her ancestor, King Tawhiao, and as far as first impressions go, the sight does not sit well with Moana.

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"This is really sad," she says quietly, staring up at the cracked, heaving weatherboards, smashed windows and rusted spouting that hangs from the eaves. "It's obvious people don't understand what it is and what it means," she says, peering into one of the rooms to find a rotting couch, a toilet and rolls of carpet.

Built by the second Maori king, Tawhiao, who bought the Mangere property in 1890, it was used by him and other members of the royal family when they visited Auckland.

When Tawhiao died in 1894, the property was left to his children and was occupied by Maori families up until 1947. Since then, the historically significant building has continued to decay, hidden from view.

"I think if they let it sit there any longer it will just ..." she looks down, shaking her head. "It needs to be given what it really deserves. In terms of historical significance and importance, it means a lot," says Miss Waa, who is the coordinator at Mangere Mountain Education Centre where it is planned the cottage will be moved and conserved.

Archaeologist, heritage consultant and trustee of Mangere Education Centre, Ian Lawlor, says the site chosen for the cottage is on land that originally belonged to Tawhiao's family. The land and house will become a living museum for tangata whenua, or the people of this land.

"There are the familial links with Kingitanga (see box) but, from a purely archaeological perspective, there is the potential to recover information about one of the first communities in Mangere," he says of the cottage's ties with an early period of Maori settlement in New Zealand.

Miss Waa is looking forward to the cottage and the history it holds becoming part of the centre's repertoire of educational resources.

"I'm a descendant of the tribe that lived on the mountain. I'm privileged to be sharing my history. I'm trying to keep my history and culture alive.

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"Mangere has a lot of historical significance, with Puketutu Island, the stonefields and the cottage. I think the idea is for education. That's my plan," says Miss Waa, who studied Maori land law while completing a law degree.

She says the new location of the historical cottage will help change the perception of the area.

"In South Auckland, there are a lot of negative ideologies associated with this place. I think it'll help change the attitudes. They'll start appreciating and respecting the area a lot more."

Julie Wade, of the Tawhiao Cottage Working Party, says the group is waiting on resource consent from Auckland Council, which is buying the cottage.

The cost of relocating it was estimated at $213,000 by the former Manukau City Council.

Maori monarchy

The Kingitanga, or Maori king movement, was established in the 1850s. A king was

appointed to unite tribes, protect land from further sales and create laws for Maori to

follow. The current leader is Tuheitia Paki, who was elected in 2006.