Lo­cal Hero, War Hero, Na­tional Hero: Joseph Gor­don Coates

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To com­mem­o­rate the Cen­te­nary of WW1 in 2014, the Kauri Mu­seum will open an ex­hi­bi­tion ded­i­cated to Matakohe’s most fa­mous soldier, Joseph Gor­don Coates. The ex­hi­bi­tion en­ti­tled “The Man from Matakohe” re-tells Coates’s amaz­ing story for a new gen­er­a­tion of New Zealan­ders so they can un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cant and im­por­tant

part he played in lo­cal, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional events of his day.

His­to­ri­ans of­ten lament that “knowl­edge of the past is key to un­der­stand­ing the present”. Many of Coates’s decisions, hid­den be­tween the pages of our his­tory books, re­main rel­e­vant and con­tinue to im­pact on our way of life, seventy years af­ter his death.

Lo­cal Hero:

A res­i­dent of greater Matakohe, Coun­cil­lor and Chair­man of Ota­matea County Coun­cil and then Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for the Kaipara elec­torate, Joseph Gor­don Coates was known and rec­og­nized wher­ever he went.

Born at the Coates Fam­ily home Ru­atuna in 1878, Gor­don (as he be­came known) was ed­u­cated at Matakohe School and by pri­vate tu­tor. Gor­don showed lead­er­ship qual­i­ties at an early age with fam­ily sto­ries of him mas­ter­mind­ing child­hood es­capades. The Coates sib­lings re­mained close, with Gor­don and his brother Rod­ney form­ing a farm­ing part­ner­ship which en­dured for the re­main­der of their lives.

Gor­don Coates won the par­lia­men­tary seat of Kaipara on the 14 De­cem­ber 1911, a po­si­tion he held un­til his un­timely death in 1943.

War Hero:

Coates had learned pa­tri­o­tism at his fa­ther’s knee and was al­ways in­ter­ested in mil­i­tary and de­fense is­sues. He reg­is­tered for ser­vice at the end of 1914 but was still needed for po­lit­i­cal du­ties. It was Novem­ber 1916 be­fore he was fi­nally re­leased from Par­lia­ment. Coates em­barked with the 19th Re­in­force­ments on 15th Novem­ber, tak­ing with him a Colt-45 Pis­tol, a farewell gift from lo­cals.

Gor­don was posted to the Auck­land In­fantry Bat­tal­ion with the rank of Cap­tain, and served on the Western Front in France and Bel­gium. He was awarded the Mil­i­tary Cross twice for con­spic­u­ous brav­ery and ar­rived back in New Zealand in May 1919 with the rank of Ma­jor.

An elec­tion was held the year the war hero re­turned and Ma­jor Coates was ap­pointed to sev­eral cab­i­net posts; Min­is­ter of Jus­tice, Post­mas­ter Gen­eral and Min­is­ter in charge of the Pub­lic Trust.

Na­tional Hero:

Whether revered and idol­ized or hated and re­viled, Gor­don Coates was al­ways re­spected for his courage, com­pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion to putting his coun­try first. He was re­spon­si­ble for many in­no­va­tive achieve­ments that we now take for granted: Hy­dro­elec­tric­ity and the na­tional grid, com­ple­tion of the main trunk rail and road sys­tems, the es­tab­lish­ment of the first Maori Trust Boards and the in­tro­duc­tion of the Re­serve Bank and mon­e­tary pol­icy.

Al­though now largely for­got­ten, Gor­don Coates was at the fore­front of New Zealand pol­i­tics dur­ing the for­ma­tive years of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. He has been rec­og­nized in a list of “Mak­ers of New Zealand”.

This is a unique story of a lo­cal farm boy and a con­firmed pa­triot, who served in World War One and went on to be­come the Prime Min­is­ter of New Zealand. Whilst called “The “Man from Matakohe” by par­lia­men­tary col­leagues he was also re­ferred to as “the Man who gets things done” by the vot­ing pub­lic.

The “Man from Matakohe” ex­hi­bi­tion opens at The Kauri Mu­seum on Fri­day 17th Oc­to­ber 2014. The ex­hi­bi­tion will be show­cas­ing mem­o­ra­bilia from The Kauri Mu­seum’s own col­lec­tion, as well as arte­facts on loan from the Ru­atuna Col­lec­tion, prop­erty of Her­itage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

1925 as Prime Min­is­ter of New Zealand seated at his desk in par­lia­ment

Photo taken 1938, sign of the times with cig­a­rette in hand

1928, Auck­land Rail­way Sta­tion

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