The Far North's newest museum was inspired by a speech delivered at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds 80 years ago almost to the day.

Speaking to troops of the Māori Battalion on Waitangi Day, 1940, Sir Apirana Ngata said fighting on faraway battlefields was the price Māori had to pay to be accepted as citizens of New Zealand.

"The price of citizenship," and the sacrifice made by Māori in times of war, is the central theme running through Te Rau Aroha, the museum that opened at Waitangi last week, tracing all conflicts Māori fought in from 1840 to date, but with particular focus on the 28th Māori Battalion and A Company, whose men were drawn mostly from Northland.

The mauri stones were laid on February 5, 2019, with the entire project completed exactly one year later.


Those who attended the opening ceremony included Willie Apiata VC and Robert (Bom) Gillies, of Rotorua, one of only two Māori Battalion veterans still alive, who was awarded the Italian Order of Merit late last year in recognition of his World War II service. (The other is Epineha Ratapu, from East Cape, who has just turned 99).

Items lent to the museum include war diaries and photos taken by Walter Woodle, of Whangārei, never before seen in public, and memorabilia collected by Captain Harding Leaf, from Whirinaki, who was 50 when he volunteered for World War II, and who died in Crete.

The middle gallery explores the soldiers' ongoing brotherhood after the war and the battalion's continuing legacy. The first two sections are dark and information-dense, while the third is sparse and light, designed as a memorial and an area for quiet contemplation.

The walls are inscribed with about 7000 names of those who served in the Pioneer and Māori battalions, along with photos of most members of A Company.