Golf is a constant search for the perfect shot.

In Rotorua last week trying to find the quickest way around the golf course was New Year's honour recipient Professor James Wharehuia Milroy, competing in the 75th annual Maori Golf Tournament, held at Lake View and Arikikapakapa golf courses.

The Daily Post caught up with Professor Milroy who was recently made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the Maori Language. For the former Waikato University academic this has been his life work - to improve Maori education and ensure te reo survives and flourishes.

Professor Milroy said there were many people who played important roles in this drive. Through his childhood growing up in Ruatoki, near Whakatane, his mother and grandfather Takarua Tamarau - a notable Tuhoe leader - were hugely influential.


He went to Rotorua High School (now Rotorua Boys' High School) and has maintained a strong connection to Rotorua and Te Arawa, especially through his wife the late Marion Rongomaianiwaniwa Fabling (Niwa) who was of Ngati Whakaue and Ngati Kahungunu descent.

"My role models in terms of Te Arawa were people like Dr Peter Tapsell and the Bennett family. At the time they were very prominent in education and influential in the advancement of the Maori people."

Professor Milroy said he drew particular inspiration from the late John Rangihau (Tuhoe), one of the most influential Maori social development leaders of the mid 20th Century.

"He took me under his wing and I gained a whole range of experiences being at his side - cultural, social and political experiences.

"Aside from John, the person who allowed me to do all those things was my wife Niwa. She was my rock and she allowed me to be with the people."

His wife passed away just over a year ago.

Professor Milroy said she took care of the family and was very successful. The couple have eight children and they include a judge, a lawyer, a doctor and a broadcaster.

At 75 the professor is showing no signs of slowing down. He's still working and has found he is now more in demand.


Professor Milroy was also honoured in 2003 and made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for public services. He has held numerous positions including trustee on Te Kohanga Reo National Trust and was a member of the Waitangi Tribunal. He sat on a number of treaty claims including the Ngati Whatua and the Wairarapa claims.

"When you gather a range of experiences and knowledge you will find people will call upon you a lot more. I find it difficult to turn some of them down," he said.

He has competed in the annual Maori tournament for the last 20 years. A competitive streak remained among a group of friends playing what they call the Mataatua challenge. It's a good natured game between rival tribes from Mataatua in the Bay of Plenty and Nga Puhi from Te Taitokerau (North Auckland).

"It is about the camaraderie, the chance to get together with friends from around the country," he said.