Resident and property owner Dixie Tamati wasn't pulling her punches when she and about 50 others met Far North District Council representatives at the point at Kaimaumau on Friday morning to address the ongoing issue of public access to East Beach.
"This s..t" has to stop," she said. And she was not alone in believing that the impasse between the council and those who believed that the road was on Māori land was "a racial thing."
"It's another slap in the face for Māori," someone commented from the rear of the gathering.
The council's lawyer, George Swanepoel, and chief executive Shaun Clarke insisted that exhaustive checks had established beyond all legal doubt that the road was council-owned, but that didn't placate anyone. The bottom line for the land owners was that whatever legal documents might say, the road, from the point where the seal ends to Rangaunu Harbour, was on land that had been been stolen.
They had never been consulted, and the issue had never gone to the Māori Land Court. In effect the land had been confiscated.
The council heard that the road had originally been a track, built by a local family, until "you just went in and took it" in 1962.
Another resident claimed that then Mangonui County County chairman Millie Srhoj had asked her family if the council could use the track to give public access to the beach. That was granted, on condition that the council accepted that it was on Māori land.
"The council would grade and metal it from time to time, but nothing was said about the council owning the road," she added.
Tracey Heka said her late father had fought the council over the road since 1991, and she had maps that would prove it was not owned by the council.
"I don't care what your papers say. I've got the originals," she said.
Clarke made it clear that he understood the depths of the anger he was hearing, and the damage that the issue could do the community.
"The fabric of a small town with a rip in it is no good for anyone," he said.
"This is not good, and I apologise for the part we're playing in mucking you up. I am sorry, We need to get a grip."
There was no foundation to the perception in some quarters that the council gave priority to other communities, such as Kerikeri, Russell and perhaps Kawakawa, however.
"We care about every part of this district, but we only have the money to do a quarter of what needs to be done," he said.
He also accepted, however, that Māori had been "treated like crap" for 175 years.
"It's official. Anyone who doubts that needs to read more," he said.
He was aware of the "most heinous" thefts of Māori land; as a former RNZAF pilot he had looked down upon roads that ran straight through Māori land, then veered to go around Pākehā properties.
"I'm very keen to take away all the information you can give me about this land," Clarke added, "but I don't want to sugar coat it. I am 100 per cent sure that this is a council-owned road, but we will check it again. We will look at every part of the road to make sure it is not on your land, and we will do the right thing. If that means taking it to the Māori Land Court, that is what we will do.
Several speakers, on both sides of the argument, also expressed regret that the current dispute had deteriorated to the extent that it had.
"It needn't have come to this," Tamati said.
"We just want the road maintained, but the legal road stops at the point."
Cr Mate Radich was also saddened that the dispute had escalated.
"We have to sort out the legality of the road, for the sake of the community. Otherwise it could blow up," he said.
"Why can't you accept that whānau own the road?" someone asked.
"It would not have come to this if you had given something back to the whānau, but you never did," Tamati added.