It was what is known in our trade as the "silly season," straight after Christmas 1976, when news is scarce, and I was on the phone to Ngati Whatua firebrand Joe Hawke hoping for a story. He didn't disappoint. Joe was promising to begin the new year with a tent city occupation of Bastion Point.

The 507-day occupation that followed, coming after the 1975 land march from Te Hapua to Wellington the year before - Joe Hawke leading it across the harbour bridge into Auckland - awakened Pakeha Aucklanders like myself to the deep hurt nursed by local Maori.

Yesterday in Parliament, the long struggle for justice, reignited by Joe Hawke and his fellow squatters in the 1970s, finally came to an end with an apology from the Crown, and ritual compensation by way of cash and land. I've quibbled over the choice of land being used in the compensation package - for example the 3.2ha block of Fort Takapuna "reserve" that had been promised to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. But no one reading the history could deny that Ngati Whatua were royally shafted by the servants of Queen Victoria sent out to protect their interests.

The Ngati Whatua "had gained rights," according to the circumspect language of the "agreed historical account", in what is now the Super City boundaries by 1740, by right of conquest and occupation.


Inter-tribal conflicts in the 1820s made them "temporarily relocate" to Waitakere and then Waikato, but from 1835 they'd started to reoccupy the Tamaki isthmus.

They had very limited contact with Europeans before Captain Hobson's arrival in 1840 but they signed the Treaty of Waitangi and sent a delegation of chiefs north offering land in return for the governor settling what is now Auckland.

The document said "this delegation represented a bid for power and mutual benefit from the establishment of a European settlement and desire for peace across the isthmus following a period of inter-tribal conflict".

Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire. To protect themselves from Ngapuhi muskets, Ngati Whatua exchanged the 1214ha triangle of today's central Auckland, stretching along the coast from Cox's Bay to Hobson Bay and south to Mt Eden - all of present day Herne Bay, Ponsonby, Newmarket, Parnell and the city centre - for 50, 20 pairs of trousers, 20 shirts, 10 waistcoats, 10 caps, four casks of tobacco, one box of pipes, 91m of gown pieces, 10 iron pots, one bag of sugar, one bag of flour and 20 hatchets.

By 1855, Ngati Whatua's land was almost all gone, apart from 283ha at Orakei.

They asked for this remnant to "be reserved for our own use for ever", but by 1976, they were on the verge of being separated from the last 24.3ha. The local MP, Prime Minister Rob Muldoon wanted to sell it to the highest bidder, to be used for high-income housing.

In 1886, the Crown seized the Bastion Point land under the Public Works Act for defence purposes, the pittance of compensation awarded by the courts in 1886 all gobbled up in Pakeha legal fees.

Then in 1941 when the Crown decided it no longer needed it for defence, it gave the land to Auckland City for a reserve.

Thanks to the tent city protests Bastion Point was finally returned, plus compensation, under the Orakei Act 1991.

It alway amazes me that Maori negotiators over the years have hung on to the hope that appealing to the monarch in London might help.

It was the servants of the Crown who proved to be the worst diddlers of all, locking Maori into derisory sale prices, supposedly to protect the simple natives from the speculators, then selling the land at vast profits to the Crown.

In Ngati Whatua's case, the Crown was supposed to set aside land for Maori in perpetuity and use the land sales profits to build schools and hospitals for the locals. Little or none of this happened.

Between 1912 and 1950, the Government bought or seized the dwindling remnants of Maori-owned Orakei land.

In 1952, the remaining village and marae were burned to the ground after the residents were evicted and rehoused in rental state houses so that their old waterfront village could become a public park.

Yesterday's agreement doesn't erase old wrongs, or fully compensate for them. But it does acknowledge them, which is more than I thought possible in the silly season of 1976.