FROM TE HAPUA TO INVERCARGILL
The Southland Centennial torch relay from Waitangi to Invercargill last month gave the Maori people an opportunity to prove themselves as runners. Athletics was well developed in the days of tribal warfare, when success in battle depended largely on the ability of fleet-footed messengers and young men were eager to prove their physical fitness by engaging in marathons which tested the staying power of the potential warriors. As a competitive sport, however, running is comparatively new in the Maori world.
Although they received no official encouragement to take part, the Nga Puhi contingent from the Far North showed their enthusiasm by organising a preliminary relay from Te Hapua to Waitangi. They completed the course in four hours under the estimated time.
Veterans who took part paid a tribute to the younger athletes—including several women—some of whom ran bare-footed over stony ground through the night. There were more volunteers to join in the event than the organisers could accommodate. Among those who were chosen was 10-year-old Ian Gregory of the Aupouri tribe at Te Kao. He ran a four-mile lap as well as two shorter laps and his times would have done credit to a seasoned runner.
The first leg of the journey from Te Hapua to Te Kao was completed by eleven Maoris whose time of one hour 25 minutes was favourably commented on by the athletic officials. The entire course was run in the time equivalent to a six-minute mile.
A Maori, Peta Paraone, of Opua, a pupil at Northland College, was singled out for the honour of carrying the torch from the base of the historic flagstaff at Waitangi to a point two miles along the road to Kawakawa. From there the torch was borne alternately by European and Maori runners, symbolising the unity of the two peoples.
After completing his task, Peta was handed a certificate indicating his part in the relay. Immediately after receiving it he obtained a lift to Whangarei, where he was working on a farm during the holidays. He capped an eventful day by helping his employer to milk eighty cows.
Greetings from the sporting fraternity of Northland to the New Zealand and Southland athletic officials present were expressed by Mr S. W.
Maioha. He presented a greenstone ear pendant which belonged to his grandfather Haoni Te Maioha, to Mr J. Matheson, president of the Southland Amateur Athletic Association, with a wish that the heirloom should return to its birthplace, Te Waipounamu.
Mr Riri Maihi Kawiti, O.B.E., J.P., paramount Nga Puhi chief, reached those heights of oratory for which he is noted in the message which he delivered on behalf of his people to the residents of Southland.
“The close of Southland's first century,” he said, “has now been reached. Metaphorically you stand on the lofty peak of Aorangi (Mount Cook). As you turn your backs to the past you look forward into the dark valleys and plains of the future—a future bristling with uncertainties. However, the accomplishments of yourselves and those early settlers will inspire those generations yet unborn to carry on where you leave off. As the old century dies, the new century will take over, reminding me of my people's ancient proverb, ‘The old net is cast aside and the new net goes fishing.’
The Southland athletic and centennial officials praised the enthusiasm and co-operation shown by the Maori people in helping to make the relay a great and truly national event.