IN THE SHADOW OF RUAPEHU
In the remote parts of New Zealand there are many Maori organisations nobody ever hears very much about. The work they do is not spectacular. There may only be two or three hundred Maoris in the area, money may be short and the land they own may not yet be all developed. Life is uneventful and all that can be achieved by an organisation or a committee is to make living just a little more interesting and worthwhile, to give the community something to aim at. To the outsider it may not look impressive, but in terms of human happiness it may mean a good deal.
Such is the achievement of the tribal committees in the Raetihi Ohakune area visited by Te Ao Hou some months ago. Photographs of our visit appear on these pages.
Thirty to forty years ago the whole of this area was in bush. A few Europeans started sheep farming. In the twenties, the Chinese market gardeners who had exhausted all the virgin land around Wanganui, discovered the rich flats of volcanic loam and began to grow vegetables on a big scale. Taking land on three year leases they stumped the soil after burning, grew their crops and put down grass without charge to the owners. In this way Maori farming in the area began. Maoris from all over the North Island found jobs on the market gardens of Raetihi and Ohakune. For those local people who did not have farms, such jobs became the main livelihood.
After the Maori Housing Act was passed in 1935, government officials began to visit the place to talk about the housing conditions. For many families these had remained primitive. However, nothing substantially changed until after the war.
When Raetihi formed its tribal committee—this was very shortly after the war—housing was its first worry. Mr Sam Arahanga who is now the warden at Raetihi told Te Ao Hou how he, with some others, put to the government a proposal to build a group of fifty houses in Raetihi. But before the scheme could get properly started the personnel of the committee changed. The new committee, although also very interested in housing, developed the idea of building a proper hall for the marae. Tonihi Te Iwimate started a youth club and the usual money raising functions began.
At Karioi, a committee under the chairmanship of Mr Rangi Wilson planned a complete marae. dining hall, meeting house and all other modern facilities, an ambitious project costing £6700.
Both these community centres are in full use now. That means a great deal. It is good to be able to go to an attractive hall on a Sunday and play indoor bowls and to gather there in the evening to listen to a guest speaker or have a meeting or dance. It is good for the youth club to have a centre for its activities.
The Raetihi committee's interests were very wide. In order to carry out all the functions for which they were set up by statute, they parcelled out the functions between the different committee members. In this the welfare officers—Messrs Awatere and Puohotaua—gave a helping hand as they thought that by this system of ‘portfolios’ committees could widen their activities considerably. These included fund-raising, entertainment, sports and social work.
Housing, of course, remained a key portfolio. In 1952. Mrs Jean Rerekura, then a member of the tribal committee specialising in housing, made a survey of housing conditions and reported to the Department of Maori Affairs in Wanganui, twenty-four cases of families badly housed and desiring better conditions. At the end of 1955, nine of these families were in better accommodation or waiting for houses to be built for them through the department. Of the other fifteen families, six have left the district. There is no doubt that great improvement has occurred and although this is not solely due to the committee's work, there
The Karioi Community Centre (£6,700) was the biggest comm venture in the Whanganui North Tribal Executive district. Mr Wilson, the Executive chai (above), believes the modern sty the buildings is most suitabl Maori life today.
Dining hall, meeting house, water supply, outhouses, storage room and other modern amenities were all built at the same time. (Below) The huge meat safe is in a ventilated space below the rain tank, which acts as a cooler. The butchers' shop has flyproof double doors. Cooking is with a diesel engine. Excess water when the rain tank is full is run through the sewerage system. The skylights at the back of the meeting house (above) ensure good through ventilation and clean air.
The tribal executive naturally regrets greatly that there has been so much complaint about the housing conditions in part of Ohakune, which is within its area. In any market gardening area, there are a lot of people from other districts and other tribes. It takes much time and effort for a tribal committee to weld the community really together, and it also takes time for people from other districts to really feel that the place where they settle is their new home, and not just temporary. The first house for these new settlers in Ohakune is being built at present and this again will develop the social outlook. People in Ohakune who need houses can help themselves by starting to save towards sections and cost of building.
Quite a number of homes were built apart from those listed in the committee's survey. Each of the occupants was faced with the need to remodel his life in some way to cope with the new conditions. For instance, the men needed permanent jobs. This meant giving up the more or less casual work at the market gardens and finding regular employment with the railways or works departments. This demanded much more regularity and in many cases unfortunately long absences from home, for regular jobs right in Raetihi or Ohakune are not so easy to get. Here the committee's help must have been valuable, in helping the people to change their old outlook.
Mrs Edna Chadwick. Mrs Harriet Blackburn and Mrs Jean Rerekura did the actual welfare work of the committee. They helped in some child welfare and truancy cases. The two former of these women are on the parent teachers' association committee. They organise some of the meetings and are always looking for guest speakers who can bring something of Maori interest. They also organise a Maori entertainment evening once a year. In this way they encourage Maori interest in this worthwhile movement. Mr and Mrs Arahanga give much practical help to the child welfare officers by looking after boys or girls until a permanent home is found for them. Mrs Chadwick has represented her people on the local Crippled Children's Society. What kind of work does that involve? To give an instance she encouraged the parents of a 5-year-old boy to send their child to hospital to have his leg attended to; the boy was crippled. Mrs Chadwick is also secretary of the M.W.W.L. branch.
What does it all add up to? That is what the journalists ask and the politicians and all the outsiders. It means a great deal in human warmth and human dignity. These social workers set up ideals in the community, ideals that are not always achieved, but against which behaviour is measured. Undoubtedly the nation wide committees and organisations of the last few years have been an encouragement to these people. So have the housing loans and the marae subsidies, but they were never more than part of the story.