Touring with the N.Z. Maori Rugby Team
If a visitor to New Zealand were to ask where he could find the biggest gathering of Maoris there would be an inclination to say that the days of the big huis and tangihangas are past. When a study is made to find what is the biggest attraction to bring Maoris from the far corners of New Zealand together, however, it will be seen that the modern counterpart of the hui of other days is the sports gathering, especially when a New Zealand Maori Rugby team takes the field.
July 26, 1952, will always rank as a unique event in the history of New Zealand, when a Rugby football match between New Zealand Maori team and a New Zealand team was staged as a tribute to His Excellency the Governor-General, Lord Freyberg, V.C., and Lady Freyberg.
The cream of Maori and Pakeha players was on parade, and a sparkling display of Rugby football was seen by the 30,000 people —hundreds of whom were Maoris–who assembled at Athletic Park, Wellington, that day.
A vast assembly of buses conveyed Maoris from Taranaki, Wanganui, Maniapoto, Manawatu, Hawke's Bay, and from as far afield as Whakatane and Ruatoria. All were intent on seeing the best of the selected Maoris in a game which has been such a great attraction to our Maori people.
It was at a meeting of the Council of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union that a match, as a farewell tribute to the Governor-General, was suggested, and as there had been no game between a Maori team and a New Zealand team since 1927, it was suggested that this match be played.
Arising from further discussion, it was suggested that a short tour of the Golden Bay, West Coast, Buller and Marlborough districts be undertaken by the Maori players in order to acquire combination and polish. On July 9 the Maori players boarded the s.s. Tamahine at the Queen's Wharf, and left Wellington at 8 p.m., en route to Nelson.
Motueka: Apples, Tobacco and a Victory
The boys very soon became friendly, and despite being told that they were better in bed as a Tonga (Southerly) had not yet blown itself out, they continued in their songs and merry-making until they left the shelter of Whanganui a Tara (Wellington Harbour) and breasted Te Moananui a Kiwa.
It was here that Tangaroa, the God of the Sea, made his presence felt, and within a few minutes not a player was seen on deck. Indeed not a player was seen until next morning, when the ship berthed at Nelson in fine sunny weather. Motueka greeted the players with brilliant sunshine, as well as with a welcome
Apart from training, members of the team derived great interest and pleasure from a visit to the apple dehydration plant, a factory which processes the dried apples which we see in shops throughout New Zealand.
After a talk by the manager of the plant, the team was invited to inspect the interior, and the first sight that greeted us when we entered was the long machines, whose metal fingers were forever stretched out to be fed with apples. The apples were peeled and cored by this machine, and rolled along a chute, where girls inspected them for any further flaws, before they went through the drying process and were finally packed for distribution, overseas as well as in New Zealand.
Among the 40 girls who operated the machines for coring and peeling were many Maoris, and it was but a matter of a few minutes before the Maori boys were sitting down feeding apples to the machine and to themselves, and talking to the girls.
This was a most enjoyable visit.
The next visit at Motueka was to a tobacco grower's farm, where tobacco leaf was being graded. Here again a number of Maori workers were met, and of course relations were soon sorted out. The boys were shown the method
The New Zealand Maori Rugby Team which played the New Zealand Team at the match held in Wellington on July 26 in honour of the departing Governor General, Lord Freyberg. Back Row: P. Hapi (Hawkes Bay), T. Katene (King Country), R. T. Gardiner (Bay of Plenty), A. H. Wright (W.R.F.U.), R. S. Clarke (Northland), T. D. Kipa (Wanganui), G. Parahi (Hawkes Bay). Second Row: N. P. Cherrington (Northland), A. Pryor (Bay of Plenty), B. W. Beazley (Northland), S. K. McLaughlin (Bay of Plenty), E. Murray (Bay of Plenty), B. K. Jones (Wanganui), T. J. French (Auckland), W. Tangira (East Coast). Sitting: S. T. Reid, Selector (M.A.B., Hawkes Bay), T. A. French, Selector (M.A.B., Auckland), A. W. Blake, Vice-captain (Wairarapa), H. T. Reedy, Co-manager (M.A.B., East Coast), J. B. Smith, Captain (Northland), R. M. Love, Co-manager (Wellington), L. W. Hohaia (Taranaki), E. Edwards, Selector (M.A.B., Taranaki), R. Tapa (M.A.B.). In Front: P. N. Jones (Wanganui), A. J. Douglas (Bay of Plenty), K. Davis (Auckland), P. Erceg (Auckland).
—Crown Studio, Wellington, Photo.
The process factory operated by W. D. and H. O. Wills was next on the list.
The Huimai Maori Club entertained the team at a very enjoyable dance, a highlight being Percy Erceg, the All Black, on the microphone entertaining the hundreds present.
The first match to be played on the tour was against Motueka-Golden Bay; the Maori team won, 37–3.
Two Maoris played in the Golden Bay-Motueka team—W. Taylor, who went with the Maori team to Australia in 1949, and G. Rangi. Lance Hohaia, Taranaki, captained the Maori team, with Percy Erceg, of Auckland, vice-captain.
Hospitality on the West Coast
On July 13 the team left Motueka for Greymouth by bus, with a stop at Hampden Hotel, Murchison, the scene of the great earthquake in 1929. The journey along the gorges was interesting, and mention was made of the fact that our ancestors must have traversed this route in going to the Pounamu streams on the West Coast.
At Greymouth the team was received by the Mayor and the President and other members of the West Coast Rugby Union.
A very full programme of entertainment and visits had been arranged at Greymouth, the most thrilling being a visit to the Wallsend coalmine, where the players were each given a miner's lamp and then, by lift, dropped straight down 650 feet to the lower levels of the mine. They then walked three-quarters of a mile under the Buller River to the coal-face, where the miners were working.
Visits were made by the team to the convent and High School at Greymouth, to the convent at Hokitika, and to the Kaniere gold dredge.
A Mayoral welcome was also given at Hokitika, and a formal afternoon tea was given to the team by the Hokitika Sub-Union.
Ihaia Weepu, on behalf of the Ngaitahu people of the West Coast, presented each member with a piece of greenstone.
After the match, which the Maori team won by 30–23, a ball held at Gladstone, in the team's honour, by the West Coast Basketball Association, was greatly enjoyed by all.
The journey from Greymouth to Westport along the coastal road with a call to visit the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, was very interesting. The arrival at Westport was an event, as the Mayor and the local Rugby Union had put the Albion Hotel completely at the disposal of the Maori team.
Pictures, dances, and an after-midnight house-party at the home of Mr and Mrs W. Craddock, were greatly enjoyed by all. A visit to the open-cast mine, situated high in the hills above Westport, was made even more interesting by the fact that the overseer in charge was the ex-Maori All Black, Alec Swainson.
Up to this stage the weather had been perfect, but rain fell that night, and continued until just before the match next day, affecting the brightness of the game and the attendance.
It was in this match the Maoris could have been beaten, but the great leadership of Lance Hohaia in the forwards enabled the game to be won by 21 points to 17.
Another Sunday journey from Westport, through the Buller Gorge over Tophouse to Blenheim, saw the team nearing its culminating game, and wisely the managers decided to have only light training. The entertainment provided in Marlborough was dear to the boys' hearts. First, there was a visit to the whaling station at Tory Channel, where a whale was towed ashore, and examined by members of the team. As most of the workers at the works were Maoris, a whole boat-load of kinas had been provided, and the boys enjoyed them.
After a close game at Blenheim against the Marlborough representatives, which the Maori team won, 14 to 13, a most enjoyable hakari was provided by the Ngatirarua Rangitane and Ngatikoutu tribes at Wairau.
The team flew back from Blenheim on Thursday, July 24, in perfect weather. The pilot took the team for a flight over Wellington City before landing at Paraparaumu.
The match at Athletic Park on Saturday, July 26, was a climax for a most enjoyable and interesting tour of New Zealand by a Maori team.
Wellington's Evening Post, reporting this great event, very fittingly called it a ‘Gala Day for N.Z. Rugby’. A fiction writer, said the Post, could not have devised a more dramatic and exhilarating farewell gesture than this match. The Maori team lost the game by 28–22, but, as the Evening Post pointed out:
‘Nobody cared very much about the 6-point margin, or whichever side it favoured….’