Flags, fire and solemnity marked the dawn ceremony to commemorate the end of the Bastion Point/Takaparawhau occupation 40 years ago today.

About 100 people gathered in cold, blustery and showery weather at the site of the 1977-78 Bastion Point occupation for the start of a day of remembrance events there and at the nearby Ōrākei Marae.

The Ngāti Whātua Orākei occupiers and their supporters, who were protesting against a Government plan for high-cost housing at Bastion Point, stayed for 506 days, until they were removed by police. The protest was a turning point in Māori land rights and race relations.

Karakia were said beside a photograph of Joannee Cooper-Hawke Memorial and the memorial to her at Takaparawhau/Bastion Point. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Karakia were said beside a photograph of Joannee Cooper-Hawke Memorial and the memorial to her at Takaparawhau/Bastion Point. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Ngāti Whātua Orākei , which had become virtually landless, in later years regained land and recognition, through Treaty of Waitangi settlements with the Government.

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Today, a fire was lit on the muddy ground, songs were sung, then karakia were said beside the memorial garden for Joannee Cooper-Hawke, who died aged 5 in an accidental fire in a tent during the occupation in September 1977.

As the coming sun began to brighten Rangitoto Island and the Hauraki Gulf, six identical flags were raised and a conch horn was blown.

Among those in the flags ceremony was Hone Harawira, who took part in the occupation and later became an MP.

The flags raised during the dawn ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the Takaparawhau/Bastion Point occupation were designed by the protest's leader Joe Hawke. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The flags raised during the dawn ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the Takaparawhau/Bastion Point occupation were designed by the protest's leader Joe Hawke. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sharon Hawke, a Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei leader and daughter of Joe Hawke, who led the 1977/78 occupation, said the flag-raising was to recognise Te Arohanui, the meeting house erected during the protest.

The flag was designed by her father and flown during the occupation. Describing its symbolism, Sharon Hawke said white represented the tenacity of the hammerhead shark, red, "the blood we shed", and black, "our people".

Joe Hawke, aged 78 and frail, was assisted to walk by various people including some of the several police officers present - and he shared warm greetings with others of them.

This seemed to exemplify the reconciliation that is one of the day's themes. It was a stark contrast to the angry scenes of police - 500 or more of them - who on May 25, 1978 implemented the Government's demand that the occupiers leave Bastion Point, forcibly dragging off or carrying many who passively resisted.

The dawn ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the occupation at Takaparawhau/Bastion Point began with the lighting of a fire. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The dawn ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the occupation at Takaparawhau/Bastion Point began with the lighting of a fire. Photo / Brett Phibbs

One of the police officers at the dawn ceremony, Inspector Peter Gibson, told the Herald he was not involved in the 1978 Operation Bastion, although he was in the police response to a later protest at the site.

He is involved in an advisory board with Ngāti Whātua Orākei, which helps the police with strategic issues in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland.

"We work very collaboratively with them."

Logan Petley said he was 9 at the time of the occupation and did not take part, but now plants trees in the area with people from Orākei Marae.

Of his attendance at the dawn ceremony, he told the Herald: "For me it's important to engage with the mana whenua of the land you stand on."

He considers May 25 and the Bastion Point occupation as "pretty seminal in New Zealand history, a real change point when Māori were beginning to be respected for who they are and their relationship with the whenua [land]."


Events
• 6am today - Dawn ceremony at Joannee Cooper-Hawke Memorial, Takaparawhau/Bastion Point

• 10am - Commemoration event at Ōrākei Marae

• 6pm - 40th anniversary concert - Tuning Fork, Spark Arena

Not one more acre! Photographic exhibition of Takaparawhau's protesters - Auckland War Memorial Museum

• Films about the protest - Auckland Central Library