Makeshift marae rules not ka pai

Central Leader - - OPINION -

It seems strange that at so many for­mal oc­ca­sions now it’s men’s bare thighs and ta­iaha on dis­play while distin­guished women are in back row seats ‘‘for their pro­tec­tion’’.

Lat­est breach of gen­er­ally ac­cepted com­mu­nity good man­ners was Maori ban­ning se­nior nonMaori women MPs from their ac­cepted front-row par­lia­men­tary benches for a Maori oc­ca­sion in Par­lia­ment.

Why? Be­cause

‘‘that was cus­tom in Welling­ton’s Maori marae’’ which the par­lia­men­tary cham­ber was not.

Once, when my Northland Health Board’s meet­ing room was made ‘‘a marae’’ for our inau­gu­ral meet­ing, mem­bers waited out­side un­til we were sum­moned.

I stood back to al­low the then chair­man, Win­ston Peter’s sis­ter, to lead us in.

She backed away and sternly waved me in with ‘‘in our cul­ture, men go first’’.

I still stood back with ‘‘in my cul­ture, women go first’’.

As an im­passe threat­ened, we walked in side by side.

When Auck­land’s first term not-so-su­per-city was born, the town hall was mys­te­ri­ously re­de­fined as a marae, thus rel­e­gat­ing deputy mayor Penny Hulse to a se­cond-row seat.

In an ear­lier clas­sic oc­ca­sion, north­ern Maori si­lenced un­usu­ally tear­ful He­len Clark be­cause lo­cal women have no marae speak­ing rights.

When the then ATI univer­sity wel­comed its first batch of com­mu­ni­ca­tion stu­dents, its North Shore hall also some­how be­came a marae. Out­comes: ‘‘Com­mu­ni­ca­tion’’ stu­dents sat through 40 min­utes of un­trans­lated te reo un­til the oc­ca­sion came to an abrupt halt.

Then, in a se­cond, the makeshift marae re­verted to be­ing a hall and the deputy di­rec­tor of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion depart­ment, silent un­til then as a woman, was al­lowed to greet the new class – in English.

At the next board of stud­ies meet­ing I sought to have fu­ture wel­comes trans­lated as they went.

The min­utes later re­ported – un­til I had them changed – ‘‘Mr Booth ob­jected to the use of Maori’’.

Not so. It sim­ply seemed weird to me that the stu­dents I would teach com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills to spent the first part of their three year course with no knowl­edge of what was be­ing ‘‘com­mu­ni­cated’’ to them.

Who said lo­cal bod­ies are dull? Ex­clud­ing re­cent not-so-su­per facts from Auck­land, of course.

Michael Bas­sett, his­to­rian, one­time Auck­land city coun­cil­lor and lo­cal govern­ment min­is­ter, dis­proves that dull be­lief with his newly pub­lished 400-plus page Auck­land City Coun­cil his­tory, 1989-2010.

A fine re­search project with a flash-back cover high­light­ing that ideal ‘‘City of Sails’’ la­bel the last lot scrapped.

Typ­i­cal Bas­sett re­search turned up new or for­got­ten in­for­ma­tion, put past events and peo­ple into per­spec­tive.

Like when, among a raft of his­toric amal­ga­ma­tions, an old coun­cil was ab­sorbed without trace into Auck­land:

Bas­sett: ‘‘Of im­me­di­ate in­ter­est to those en­trusted with the new coun­cil’s fi­nances were the ac­tions of ... the mayor, coun­cil­lors and se­nior staff (who) ap­peared in­tent on treat­ing the bor­ough’s re­sources as theirs to dis­pose of. Coun­cilowned flats sold at low prices, the pro­ceeds di­rected to the project clos­est to coun­cil­lors’ hearts – im­prove­ment of a park. ‘Ap­pre­ci­a­tion bonuses’ were paid to coun­cil staff. The town clerk re­ceived a ‘size­able’ re­dun­dancy and was able to buy his near-new car at a favourable price.

‘‘He also bought a coun­cil prop­erty for $30,000, be­lieved worth as much as $700,000. The town clerk was able to bor­row from the ex­pir­ing coun­cil con­ces­sional rate.

‘‘Four ad­ja­cent coun­cil prop­er­ties were sold on the day be­fore the coun­cil went out of ex­is­tence, at less than half their value.

‘‘Pur­chasers were the mayor’s chil­dren, a son of one of the coun­cil­lors, and one of his friends.’’

PS: I won­der how any fu­ture his­to­rian will han­dle re­cent af­fairs?

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Michael Bas­sett: The for­mer MP and po­lit­i­cal his­to­rian is the au­thor of a new book re­vis­it­ing Auck­land’s lo­cal body his­tory.

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