Buddy Mikaere possesses a big heart, and a way with words. You only need to read about this historian and consultant, to learn that he is someone special.

Buddy Mikaere is waiting when I arrive and offers a hand that is still warm from the red mug of coffee he's been holding at his cafe table.

He beams a toothy grin, which curls the moustache he's had since his 30s.

Historians like Mikaere are usually the ones asking the questions. It's not so easy to answer about one's own life, but he pulls on his past like he was living it yesterday.

With his trademark freckles and cheerful chuckle, he has a romantic way of storytelling, where detail is everything.

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Sometimes he talks slowly and softly, and other times, he bangs the table for effect.

How far back in time should he go to pick out a pivotal moment of his life?

He chooses 1964 when he was a young boy attending the 100th commemorations of the 1864 Battle of Gate Pā.

The formal speeches are a blur, but the bravery and injustice lit a fire in his inquisitive heart and mind.

The fight itself was a Māori victory, but settler greed and colonial politics saw confiscation of lands as punishment.

Mikaere is a historian, national resource consent consultant, and former director of the Waitangi Tribunal. Photo /John Borren
Mikaere is a historian, national resource consent consultant, and former director of the Waitangi Tribunal. Photo /John Borren

Those most affected were Mikaere's own Ngāi Tamarāwaho hapū, from Judea.

Protests of the unfairness of the situation began almost immediately, and in one form or another, continue today.

In 2018, Mikaere is a historian, national resource consent consultant, and former director of the Waitangi Tribunal.

He has written five books and delved extensively into the Battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) in Tauranga.

At the time of the land confiscations, many hapū families were forced to become squatters, and the hardship propelled them into generational poverty.

Mikaere's story begins with his grandfather, Ratoru Mate Mikaere, an entrepreneur who hawked vegetables, seafood and fruit throughout the Bay of Plenty.

His name was another reflection of the poverty he was born into. It means ''death on the third day'', which was the fate of his mother, Ngawhetu, who died three days after he was born.

"He grew up to be tough bastard and brooked no weakness in his kids, who he would get out of bed on bright moonlit nights to work in the gardens so that he could make market in the morning," Mikaere, 67, says.

A scene from the 150th commemorations of the 1864 Battle of Gate Pa. Mikaere's latest book, Victory at Gate Pa?, co-written with Dr Cliff Simons, will be released in late-October. Photo / John Borren
A scene from the 150th commemorations of the 1864 Battle of Gate Pa. Mikaere's latest book, Victory at Gate Pa?, co-written with Dr Cliff Simons, will be released in late-October. Photo / John Borren

One of those children was Mikaere's father, Kingi, who left school at age 12 and likewise became trapped in a "deprived cage".

"I remember as a small boy [in the 1950s] wondering why, when my father spoke to Pākehā people outside his work or neighbourhood circle, he was so deferential … I realised later that he was stuck in a mode of life where society told him that was he inferior. He accepted without question, the casual racism we encountered."

"I realised later that (Dad) was stuck in a mode of life where society told him that was he inferior. He accepted without question, the casual racism we encountered."

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He recalls a time his mother insisted that they eat in a restaurant in Hamilton, and his father's shocked reaction when a Pākehā waitress brought their meals to the table, allowing them to dine at lunchtime off a white tablecloth.

Mikaere says he grinds his teeth to also remember his dad being addressed as ''Hori'' by snickering young garage attendants.

"[They] were supposed to help with servicing the car, but of course, wouldn't help a Māori man and his piccaninnies.

"[Dad] was a kind and generous man who would give, and did, the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He did not deserve to be treated so, and my heart weeps for him when I think of it," he says.

Of the Battle of Gate Pa, Mikaere says:
Of the Battle of Gate Pa, Mikaere says: "It has taken our whanau until now, to believe we can escape that legacy." Photo / John Borren

The journey of his father typifies the "arrested social and economic development" of many Tauranga Māori and is the "true legacy" of not just Pukehinahina Gate Pā, but all the wars of the 1860s.

"It has taken our whānau until now, to believe we can escape that legacy. For most Māori, their past is always in front of them, and they see the present through the lens of yesterday."

"It has taken our whānau until now, to believe we can escape that legacy. For most Māori, their past is always in front of them and they see the present through the lens of yesterday."

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Educating and informing more people about the Battle of Gate Pā is the ongoing mission of Mikaere who was at the helm of the 150th commemorations in 2014.

From that event, The Pukehinahina Trust was formed.

A scene from the 150th anniversary in 2014. At the time of the land confiscations, many hapu families in Tauranga were forced to become squatters. The hardship propelled them into generational poverty. Photo / John Borren
A scene from the 150th anniversary in 2014. At the time of the land confiscations, many hapu families in Tauranga were forced to become squatters. The hardship propelled them into generational poverty. Photo / John Borren

Some of his musings above are shared in his latest book, Victory at Gate Pā?, co-written with Dr Cliff Simons, who is the New Zealand Army's Maori Wars historian. The book will be released in late-October.

I tell him it's a sad story, to which he smiles and says: "Oh yeah, it is sad, but it's got a positive ending. Here I am, having a nice coffee."

The racism his father endured is hard to hear, to which he responds: "Yeah, when I was delivering [extracts of the book] at church, it made me cry too. I had an old school teacher who said to me about writing: 'Make them cry'."

The push for the book about The Battle of Gate Pā has been coming from the younger generation.

"Since we organised the 2014 commemorations, there's been a huge surge of interest, and all the schools are saying: 'We need a textbook'. I've just been pushing that barrow for so many years; it's finally good to see it get some oxygen."

"Since we organised the 2014 commemorations there's been a huge surge of interest, and all the schools are saying: 'We need a textbook'. I've just been pushing that barrow for so many years; it's finally good to see it get some oxygen."

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In life, Mikaere is a giver.

He has a group of regular sponsors, including children, who give him 50c a time, to climb Mauao. He's currently on his third cycle of climbing the mountain 38 times and donates the money to Tauranga Women's Refuge.

As a side note, he's previously been on the board of Diabetes New Zealand and WWF New Zealand, as well as being a fundraiser organiser for the Life Education Trust, St John, The Salvation Army, the Auckland City Mission and the Fred Hollows Foundation.

He wants to organise a commemorative memorial next year for British backpacker, Monica Cantwell, 24, who was murdered on Mauao in 1989.

He has asked police if they will help him to locate her family in England to seek permission.

He has a big heart.

He's currently wearing a hot pink Kids Hospital Appeal fundraising bracelet, which is just visible under the sleeve of his leather jacket.

Mikaere has a big heart and gives his time generously. Photo / John Borren
Mikaere has a big heart and gives his time generously. Photo / John Borren

Born in Coromandel as Piritihana Britson (everyone calls him Buddy), his parents and two siblings moved to Tauranga from Coromandel when he was nine.

Today, he lives between Tauranga and Coromandel, where his mother, Ada, 88, has just moved into a rest home: "I'm the one who won the raffle to keep an eye on our mum."

His father, who inspired him to become a historian by encouraging him to ask questions, was a sawmill worker in the Waikato, before coming to Tauranga in 1960, where he got a job on the wharf.

Mikaere went to Mount Maunganui College and at age 17 was accepted for the British Fleet Air Arm.

However, his dad refused to sign the papers, and Mikaere left home in a "sulk", and moved to Wellington.

He trained as a radio operator who would answer SOS calls at sea.

Part of the deal was that he had to spend six months on the Chatham Islands.

He took his surfboard and enjoyed it so much he returned for a 12-month stint.

Back in Wellington, he worked in an international telegraph office developing wire pictures for television, using morse code to communicate with Scott Base and the Pacific Islands.

At this stage in his life, he had a mortgage and a young family.

He had a second job at the National Bank in the early days of foreign exchange trading, and also worked for the Press Association, typing out reporters' stories in the House where 15-hour work days were the norm.

Soon after, he left communications and switched to human resources, and then industrial relations.

Mikaere, pictured here at an art exhibition opening in 2014, has had a packed and colourful career. Photo / George Novak
Mikaere, pictured here at an art exhibition opening in 2014, has had a packed and colourful career. Photo / George Novak

He went to Christchurch and worked for the Post Office, simultaneously beginning part-time studies towards a BA (first class honours) from Canterbury University, in Māori and New Zealand history, which he eventually completed in 1996, picking up a diploma in industrial psychology from Victoria University along the way.

He had a series of jobs working in senior management for international companies, including Firestone, before going to Associated British Cables.

In 1990, he became director of the Waitangi Tribunal: "It was awesome," he says of the job.

He then moved to Auckland and worked for his lawyer cousin, who is now Justice Joe Williams.

From here, he worked for a North Shore resource consent consultancy, before going out on his own.

Mikaere being interviewed for television in 2014. He says he owes much of his love of New Zealand history to his two mentors, Dr Lyndsay Head of Canterbury University, and his
Mikaere being interviewed for television in 2014. He says he owes much of his love of New Zealand history to his two mentors, Dr Lyndsay Head of Canterbury University, and his "good mate" the late Dr Michael King. Photo / George Novak

When you Google Mikaere's name, his anthologies and books (one was a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards) pop up, including on Trade Me.

"Yeah, good price?" he quizzes. He owes much of his love of New Zealand history to his two mentors, Dr Lyndsay Head, of Canterbury University, and his "good mate" the late Dr Michael King. He has two other manuscripts in production and frets about not being able to get to them.

Outside work, he plays chess and hosts a family tournament with 20 players every year, of which he is reigning champion. He gives me a fist pump for emphasis: "We'll get a trophy soon."

He has registered an interest to do his PhD but is not sure when, or if, he'll ever find the time.

To relax, he likes a pinot noir or cab sav. He is a good self-taught cook.

"I specialise in Italian and fusion … and I make a mean tiramisu - it's my signature impress-the-s**t-out-of-people dish. Ha ha."

He reads - he's a fan of Lynda La Plante.

He likes watching rugby and cricket. But he can't relax too much: "I feel like I should be doing something else."

Mikaere, pictured here in 2013, isn't a man who does things by halves. He says he can't relax too much:
Mikaere, pictured here in 2013, isn't a man who does things by halves. He says he can't relax too much: "I feel like I should be doing something else." Photo / John Borren

He will take breaks at his computer though, where his bearded dragon, Pan, likes to sit on his shoulder or nestled in the hood of his hoodie.

"[Pan] likes music videos," Mikaere says, adding Led Zeppelin is a favourite.

Pan is taking away the heartbreak of Mikaere losing his other beloved pet, Jack Russell, Tama Ma ("little white boy") who recently died of cancer at age 16.

He and partner, Helen, also have a dog, Mitzy.

Together for 10 years, Helen and Mikaere have seven children between them.

He spends a lot of time at his family's Coromandel property, gardening, and tending to his lime orchard and soon-to-be avocado orchard.

He isn't a man who does things by halves.

As we finish our interview at his "office" The Dry Dock Cafe in Wharf Street, Mikaere takes the last swig of his second cup of soy spicy chai latte: 'Oh, that's good," he breathes.

He announces he now has to drive to Coromandel.

"I can hear a lawnmower calling out".

Time waits for no one, even a historian.

Mikaere's many roles:
# In 2011, he helped establish the Tauranga Māori Business Association, having previously set up the Māori Business network in Auckland.
# He's run for The Opportunities Party and Tauranga City Council.
# Spokesperson for his hapū, Ngāi Tamarāwaho and Ngāi Te Hapū o Motiti Island in regards to the 2011 Rena oil spill; the Rena case is still before the courts.
# Director of the Pukehinahina Charitable Trust.
# Trustee of the Mauao Trust.
# Runs the environmental units for Ngāti Pūkenga, and Ngāi Tamarāwaho.
# On Tauranga City Council's transformation committee.
# Chairs the Smart Growth Tangata Whenua Forum.
# On the council's Tangata Whenua Collective, which is a voice for all iwi and hapū in Tauranga, and fills a similar position on the Western Bay of Plenty District Council.
He believes that once all treaty claims are settled, iwi in Tauranga Moana will become a powerful economic force, just as Tainui and Ngāi Tahu have become.