MAUI POMARE (Continued from page 24)
and Minister in Charge of the Cook Islands.
The 1914–18 War put an end to all plans for the advancement of Maori health for the time being, and, as Chairman of the Maori Regimental Committee, Pomare worked day and night for the war effort.
As a result of his insistence the provisions of the Military Service Act, 1916, were widened to include the Maori race. For him to advocate Maori conscription was to court hostility in a large part of his electorate, but to sponsor the project and then to invoke the penal clauses against recalcitrant tribes was to commit political suicide. He knew the consequences and was prepared to accept them. He ended a speech in the House thus:
‘Sir, I do not care if the introduction of conscription were to mean the end of my political career. I say “Let it end!” What matters as long as the British flag continues to fly over these islands, for then I know my people are safe.’
August, 1918, saw the end of one tragedy and the beginning of another, for the influenza plague which had already ravaged Europe struck in New Zealand, and caused more deaths than four years of war. Dr Pomare devoted himself to fighting the epidemic, and for months the Cabinet room saw little of him—politics were not important when his people were dying in hundreds. Twice he was laid low himself, but as soon as he could stand he continued travelling from kainga to kainga setting up temporary hospitals and organising preventative measures. The worst was over by December, but over a thousand Maoris had perished, and the doctor had undermined his own constitution to such an extent that the foundations were laid for the disease that carried him off at a comparatively early age.
Sir Maui Pomare—he was knighted after the war—was returned with an added majority in the 1919 elections. There followed three years of administrating the Cook Island portfolio and successfully fighting monopoly interests in the fruit trade.
Pomare was made Minister of Health in 1923, and did some of his best work in the field of public health, for both pakeha and Maori.
Mental hospitals were his special care. He was not satisfied with the condition of the buildings, the comfort of the patients, or the system of treatment whereby all types of mental illnesses were housed in the same institution. The staffing, also, was beyond credence — for instance, in the Auckland Mental Hospital he found that two medical officers were expected to care for nearly one thousand patients. The staffing of other like institutions was almost as bad, and he advised Cabinet that nothing less than a complete reorganisation of the Mental Hospital Department would give the unfortunate inmates the care that they were entitled to. Cabinet agreed, and Sir Maui went ahead with reforms in treatment and accommodation until the death of the Prime Minister, Mr Massey, threw the Reform leadership into the melting-pot. He was the sole Ministerial survivor of Massey's first Cabinet, and there was some support for his nomination as Premier. He, however, offered his support to Coates. In the new Cabinet he was Minister in Charge of Cook Islands.
Although no longer Minister of Health, Sir Maui was to complete a project he had been working on ever since he had called attention, over twenty-five years before, to the indifference displayed by the State towards those afflicted by leprosy. Year after year he had referred in his annual Departmental reports to the fact that there was no provision for segregation of lepers, and that they could move at will throughout the country. It was not until his term as Minister of Health that the Government had come to an arrangement with the authorities of Fiji, and Makogai became a haven for lepers from New Zealand, the Cook group, Samoa and Tonga. Sir Maui was insistent that the lepers should be sent to Makogai at the earliest possible moment; after months of delay the Hinemoa was fitted as a temporary leper hospital, and left on April 30, 1926, to collect the unfortunates and transfer them to Makogai. In the course of the round trip the Hinemoa called at Raratonga, Mangaia, Mauke, Atia and Aitutaki, in the Lower Cook group, Palmerston, Penrhyn, Makahanga, Manihiki and Pukapuka, in the northern group; Apia, in Western Samoa; and Suva. Dr Pomare, of course, was in charge, but the expedition could have been a total failure, for there was no authority to remove the patients against their will. The mere thought of removal to a distant part of the Pacific, and separation from friends and relatives, was almost as horrifying as the certainty of death if they stayed at home. But so great was their trust in Pomare, that they willingly left their homes for the far-away island of Makogai. His interest in the lepers did not end when he handed them over to the good Sisters of the Roman Catholic Mission, whose lives were devoted to the care of lepers, for when he went out of office his one and only request was granted. He asked that he retain in his charge the care of the New Zealand lepers at Makogai.
Sir Maui Pomare died on a health trip to America four years later.