Rotorua Daily Post - - Our People -

When I started work at the New Zealand Her­ald in 1986, one of the sube­d­i­tors asked me what my name was be­fore Ma¯ ori be­came “fash­ion­able”.

That was when the Ma¯ ori re­nais­sance was gath­er­ing mo­men­tum, when we were stand­ing up for our­selves, not pick­ing a Pakeha name be­cause it was eas­ier for the ma­jor­ity of New Zealan­ders to pro­nounce, us­ing our tupuna names or ones like mine which had spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance. Chil­dren were of­ten given names de­pict­ing a sig­nif­i­cant event in wha¯nau or hapu¯ life.

But pa¯ Maori have never been fash­ion­able; tol­er­ated be­cause we had our uses, es­pe­cially us from Whaka. My mother came from a long line of singers and haka ex­po­nents; they were clever, ar­tic­u­late and learned to speak English so they could guide tourists around the Pink and White Ter­races at Tarawera in the 19th cen­tury. Af­ter Tarawera erupted in 1886, our fam­ily moved to Whakare­warewa where the tra­di­tion of guid­ing con­tin­ued.

They used their tal­ents to ben­e­fit their com­mu­nity, too.

Since the early 20th cen­tury, our fam­ily — from my great-grand­fa­ther Ware­tini Te Mu­tukuri, our mother and her brother Un­cle Sonny, my­self and now my sis­ter Watu — have held of­fice on tribal com­mit­tees at Whakare­warewa.

My par­ents met at Whakare­warewa, where my fa­ther, bet­ter known as Ted or Tete, joined two of his seven sis­ters who were liv­ing there with their chil­dren. Their par­ents had also moved there to com­fort their daugh­ters af­ter the men of Tuhourangi they had mar­ried were killed in the war. Our mother lived just down the hill.

My dad didn’t go to the war, as his sight wasn’t too flash, but he was sent to work in the Pa­cific Is­lands, help­ing to build in­fra­struc­ture.

Post-war, there was a frenzy of house build­ing by the Gov­ern­ment, that pro­vided work for re­turn­ing ser­vice­men and served as a train­ing ground for ap­pren­tices. Our koro and kuia got a house in Froude St, our par­ents moved there when I was lit­tle, and my sis­ters live there to­day.

When our par­ents started their fam­ily they were older than was the norm in the 1950s; Dad in his mid-40s and Mum 13 years younger. Dad had al­ready raised his first wife’s chil­dren in Tokaanu be­fore he met Mum. Com­plex and non-tra­di­tional fam­ily ties are not un­usual to us pa¯ kids. In­deed, we lived whanaun­gatanga (kin­ship) and our home in Froude St was like Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion, hous­ing nu­mer­ous fam­ily (I have more than 70 first cousins on my Dad’s side although just four on Mum’s), friends and kids who needed a safe place. Wha¯ nau and whanaun­gatanga have been key dur­ing my life.


My mother and fa­ther never fin­ished pri­mary school, but both were de­ter­mined their chil­dren would have every op­por­tu­nity at ed­u­ca­tion.

Mum worked four or five jobs to pro­vide that. She also did much com­mu­nity work. Known as “Bub­bles” most of her life, in 1985 she was made an MBE and in 2002 a Dis­tin­guished Com­pan­ion of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit for her ser­vices to Ma¯ ori. The hon­our was con­ferred at our marae, Te Pakira, by the Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral at the time, Dame Sil­via Cartwright. Mum once dined with the Queen on the Royal Yacht Bri­tan­nia.

I was re­lated in some way to just about every kid at Whaka School and it was a huge shock when I went to Ro­torua In­ter­me­di­ate. I had never seen so many white peo­ple be­fore.

We were streamed and those of us from the pa¯ who were in the A stream were treated by Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment psy­chol­o­gists as alien be­ings. Years later, an ex-teacher let slip they were sur­prised we were so clever, be­cause we came from a pa¯ and had no his­tory of aca­demic achieve­ment in our fam­i­lies.

I then at­tended Ro­torua Girls’ High School, where most stu­dents were the daugh­ters of pro­fes­sion­als. I was in the A stream again, and had passed the en­trance exam in the top five. But I didn’t want to be dif­fer­ent. My sub­jects in­cluded Latin, French and English and, in the 6th form Ger­man, as well. Ma¯ ori was not an op­tion at a school where more than half the roll was Ma¯ ori. We had to study by cor­re­spon­dence.

When I was ac­cred­ited Uni­ver­sity En­trance, the big ques­tion was: Where to now?

Apart from know­ing I didn’t want to be a teacher or a nurse, which was where “clever” Ma¯ ori girls were di­rected, I had no idea.

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