• Terry Dunleavy, MBE, JP, is a writer from Auckland

Why would a Pakeha of Irish ancestry be passionate about the Treaty of Waitangi?

Two main reasons:

First, it was the Treaty that allowed my Limerick-born maternal great-great-great-grandfather to settle here in 1849 and become a New Zealander. Admittedly, as an honourably discharged colour sergeant of the Irish Regiment he had been recruited as a Fencible and brought here to defend Auckland's southern flanks from any threats of attack by disaffected Maori, but thankfully was never required to bear arms against tangata whenua. My Irish ancestor became a proud Kiwi, settled in Onehunga, and later his children and their descendants in Thames and Coromandel. So Tapu, where my mother was born, is my personal turangawaewae.


The Treaty is not solely a Maori event; it is of equal significance to non-Maori, because it is the document by which all of us became New Zealanders. When Governor William Hobson uttered at Waitangi his famous words, "He iwi tahi tatou", most people think he was directing it at Maori. In English documents of those times, Maori were referred to as "New Zealanders", so it is just as likely that he was directing the words at non-Maori, implying that they had become "Maori".

Second, the signatory to the Treaty on behalf of Queen Victoria was an Irishman, Captain William Hobson, born in Waterford in 1792. For all the ceremonial and posturing at Waitangi each year, how sad that so little attention is paid to the Pakeha side of the exercise, and to the British naval officer who was the Queen's signatory. But Hobson's origins are not forgotten by those of us of Irish descent.

So it's fitting that Bill English begins his observation of his first Waitangi Day as Prime Minister at the Orakei Marae of Ngati Whatua, from where in 1840 its then paramount chief, Apihai Te Kawau, issued to Governor Hobson an invitation to make Auckland the new nation's capital.

Hobson accepted later that same year. He was to die in 1842, and is buried in the Symonds St cemetery at Grafton.

Thus, for the first quarter-century of New Zealand as a British colony, Auckland was its capital, until it shifted to Wellington in 1865. The first Government House was a prefabricated structure manufactured by Mannings of London, brought out by Hobson in 1841 and erected in Waterloo Quadrant. It burned down in 1848 during George Grey's first period as Governor. The current Old Government House was completed in 1856, and after 1865 became the Auckland residence of Governors-General until it was given to University of Auckland in 1969 following the gift to the Government of the former home of Sir Frank Mappin in Mountain Rd, the current Auckland Government House.

Is it because of our lamentable disregard for the reality of our history that we Aucklanders fail each year to commemorate those two giants of our history, Governor Hobson and Chief Te Kawau? Especially now that problems like land alienation that culminated in the Bastion Pt stand-off in the 1970s are well behind us, and Ngati Whatua have regained their mana as a key contributor to the advancement of Auckland.

The super city that Auckland has become, a powerhouse economically and politically, now wonderfully cosmopolitan in our multi-culturalism, as well as our recognition as being the premier city of Polynesia, surely demands that on February 6 each year we pay tribute to the memories of Hobson and Te Kawau who began it all, as well as to giants like Sir John Logan Campbell, Sir John Allum and Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson who built on the foundation.

Let others squabble and posture at Waitangi, let the rest of Aotearoa jibe at our "Jafa-ism" (just another fantastic Aucklander), but let us as proud Aucklanders celebrate our own history in our own way.

I'd love to be invited to join the Prime Minister at breakfast at Orakei Marae, but I need no invitation to be where I will be about 8am on February 6 - at the Grafton graveside of William Hobson, with a prayer of thanksgiving for what I see as the greatest blessing on this Earth: to be born in New Zealand of Irish descent, and having had the privilege of participating in tikanga Maori and Fa'asamoa.