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No. 19 (August 1957)
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FROM EELS to BUTTERFAT

It is not generally known that a vital link exists between the Pouakani Land Development Scheme in the Rotorua district, and the continual opening by means of bulldozer, of Lake Onoke in the Wairarapa. For if the right to open the lake had not been disputed during the nineteenth century, the Wairarapa Maoris would not today be enjoying the benefits of the new prospering Pouakani Block. Events moved very slowly, half a century elapsing from the time of the original dsipute and the actual settlement of Pouakani by young men from the Wairarapa.

Eels Were a Livelihood

Before the Wairarapa was settled by Europeans, the Maori people, whose main affiliation was with Ngati Kahungunus, lived on several kinds of roots, birds, rats and fish. Fish, however, was the most important food and consequently while the most valuable lands in European opinion, were frequently neglected, the areas such as the Wairarapa Lake were of great importance. The lakes, Lake Wairarapa and Lake Onoke, covered an area of 24,590 acres when low, but extended over 52,590 acres when at their highest normal level.

The natural outlet from Lake Onoke to Palliser Bay lay through a spit of sand. Great drifts of sand were piled against the spit by the sea, while the waters of the lake, fed by numerous streams constantly strove to sweep the sand away. During the months of the year when the rainfall was heaviest, the fresh water kept the lake open, but during summer and autumn, the current and volume of water in the lake was not sufficient to keep the drifts of ocean-sand from closing the outlet, which was rapidly strengthened by further sand deposits.

While the lake was closed the water gradually covered large tracks of low lying land. This was a considerable threat to the pakeha farmers.

Eels which were the staple diet of the Maoris abounded in the lake, as did flounders and other fresh-water fish. These fish were obtainable all the year round in the lake, and along the margins of the lagoons and streams. But the main fishing season was in April and May, when the Maoris caught eels by the hundred, along the sandspit, where the fish were waiting to escape into the sea, via the natural opening of the lake.

With the advent of the pakeha to the Wairarapa, many settlers, including Duncan McMaster, Donald Sinclair and Peter Hume, whose farmlands were being flooded, agitated for artificial opening of the lake. The Maori people, led by such chiefs as Piripi Te Maari, Hiko, Hemi te Miha, Raniera Te Iho, Wi Tamihana and Te Whatahoro (J. A. Jury) disagreed, for it meant that hundreds of eels would be allowed to escape into the sea before the fishing season closed.

Attempts were even made by the pakehas to

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open the lake with spades. On one occasion, a day was arranged for cutting an opening. Many people including police representatives, lawyers, members of the Featherston River Board and large numbers of Maoris gathered at the edge of the lake. The Maoris had erected a wire fence to prove their rights to the spit.

The pakeha men were directed to start opening the lake and almost immediately Maoris (obviously well coached by their lawyers) walked up to each shoveller and caught hold of the handle. Trying to prevent the Maoris from obstructing the workers, the pakehas joined hands in a circle around the men in the trench. Immediately a number of Maori women dived under the men's hands and plunged into the drain, kicking and scratching furiously, and bringing down large quantities of sand. The project was abandoned.

An Unpromising Deal

Negotiations on the part of the settlers continued for some time until finally the Crown, by virtue of an Agreement of Sale, dated the 13th of February 1896, acquired the lakelands known as Wairarapa Moana. The Maori owners received £2,000 and a promise of some land. It took until 1916 before an area of 30,486 acres of the Pouakani Block along the Waikato river, was actually handed over.

At the time this block of land seemed valueless. There were no roads and much of it was covered with virgin bush, its nominal value was 4/- an acre. Many owners felt that living so far away

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Lake Onoke is opened by tractors making a channel through the sand from the lake to the sea, (Courtesy: Wairarapa Catchment Board.)

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Piripi Te Maari was one of the chief opponents of the opening of Lake Onoke. This photograph is from an old Pirinoa School magazine. Te Maari belonged to its foundation school committee.

they were never likely to use the land and it would be much wiser to sell it at the first opportunity, so that the 139 original lake owners, or their successors, would receive their shares in cash.

Consequently, when New Zealand Perpetual Forests made overtures for the purchase of the block at £25,000 the majority of the owners, at a meeting held in Greytown on 4th July 1930, agreed

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Farmers of the future: Rangi Murphy and Andrew Namara on Tui Te Maari's farm, (Forestry Service Photograph.)

to sell the block.

There was however, a formality which needed the approval of the Minister of Maori Affairs, the Hon. A. T. Ngata. Here the Wairarapa owners struck an unexpected difficulty. Ngata, with the land settlement scheme in full swing delayed the sale until the block had been inspected for its land development prospects.

The inspection report was strongly negative, “The farming possibilities are poor … the climate cold and bleak … much too costly to fence and manure … not much chance of the timber being milled for many years.”

Nevertheless Apirana Ngata was not satisfied and decided to visit the land himself before giving a decision. The sale never took place.

Perhaps Ngata was influenced by reports becoming current in 1930 that scientists were on the track of a cure for the soil deficiencies on the volcanic plateau. It was only after the cure was found (that is the addition of cobalt to fertiliser) that stock rearing on Pouakani became a possibility.

Development Begins

After the war, plans for new power stations were well under way. In 1945 the Ministry of Works wished to acquire part of the Pouakani Block to enable the Maraetai hydro-electric dam to be built as quickly as possible. So part of the block was leased to the Ministry of Works, for the establishment of the town of Mangakino, the terms of the lease stating that it would either end in 21 years or within three years of the completion of the project. The power scheme had the effect of rapidly bringing modern roading and the amenities of a sizeable township to Pouakani. By 1945 the special problem of farming on pumice lands had also been overcome; the use of cobalt in fertiliser had become general and effective in overcoming “bush-sickness”. The development of Pouakani had now become a practical possibility.

Towards the end of 1946 the Board of Maori Affairs approved the setting up of the Pouakani Development Scheme, and by 1948 operations had commenced. At about the same time negotiations with a milling company for the sale of timber on the land, were completed. Instalments of royalty moneys were paid to the owners.

An Advisory Committee, with Mr George Te Whaiti as chairman, was elected by the owners in the Wairarapa. The purpose of this committee was to safeguard the rights of the owners and to advise the Board of Maori Affairs when it came to the selection of young men as settlers for the farms which would be available.

The older people, who were the direct owners were not anxious to make a new start in life. They

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Tui Te Maari, great grandson of Piripi Te Maari began farming at Pouakani in 1953. Also noted as a Waikato rep. footballer, he has become a very successful farmer (producing well over 17,000 lbs of butterfat annually). (Forestry Service Photograph.)

may not have owned their own farms, but they had their homes, their friends and firmly established roots in the Wairarapa, The contrast between what they had known all their lives and the unknown would be too great. But they had sons who were young and strong and who would one day inherit shares in Pouakani. Why should they not be eligible for a farm? For the young it was the opportunity of a lifetime. And so with parental support and encouragement, boys who were the sons of owners, or owners in their own right through the death of a parent, with little hesitation decided their way of life lay in this new adventure. The break was made and away went several young men to carve out new lives for themselves just as new farms were being carved from the bush. At first these boys, who went to Pouakani in the initial stages, were employed by the Government on the actual development work, clearing the land, fencing it and all the other jobs necessary to bring it to a farmable condition.

Farmers in the Making

When they left home their feelings were mixed: Behind them they were leaving their families, their homes and their friends for the unknown. Would there be many pitfalls ahead; would the work be too exacting; would they be able to cope, and so fulfill not only their own ambitions and hopes, but also the confidence their people placed in them? These were the thoughts of some.

Those selected for training saw their opportunity. At home they had no chance of owning farms. With the exception of a few, who probably helped their fathers milk a few cows, the majority were dependent upon working for the European for a livelihood, with much of the work being seasonal. Only a few had permanent jobs as sharemilkers, shepherds, farm labourers or truck drivers. Employment consisted mainly of shearing and crutching, helping with dipping, fencing, drain-digging, or scrub-cutting.

(Continued on page 50)

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With a high producing herd (over 17,000 Ibs butterfat) Mr George Ahipene, who came to Pouakani from the Wairarapa in 1954, is still constantly seeking ways of improving the yield of his herd, (Forestry Service Photograph.)

FROM EELS TO BUTTERFAT (conclusion)

Final Settlement

Some of those chosen as farm trainees, once more had their doubts about justifying the confidence placed in them. Before being placed on a farm each boy had to spend two years on a training farm which was established at Pouakani where he learnt all he could from his training, benefiting from the experience of the supervisors. Even when his training was completed he was not his own boss, but remained under probation. Once he proved that he was capable of running a farm, while under probation, he was then given a 42 year lease, during which time he must pay off the mortgage. Many did not realize (although they had been told by the department) to what extent the farms would be mortgaged, when they began. Considerable sums of money had been spent by the Government in developing each farm. The value of improvement on each farm were around £10,000 with livestock and plants worth another £2,500.

At home the parents and other young men eagerly awaited reports. Were the boys succeeding: Would more farms be available for younger brothers? More boys decided to go to Pouakani. After all, once they were settled on a farm they would no longer be working for somebody else. While many were successful there were also a few who did not measure up to the required standard, and after much official consideration gave up their farms, making way for others to try. The replacements, carefully selected have proved very successful.

To date, 26 dairy farms and 2 sheep farms have been settled. There are a further 7,700 acres under development and 1,500 acres more would be worth developing in the future. But it will be a few years before any more individual farms will be made available, and even then only 36 mixed farms and 11 sheep farms will be available. This will not absorb more than a fraction of the younger boys still living in the Wairarapa. The actual development work being carried out by the government, still provides employment for many, who hope to be given preference when more farms are ready.

The Future

Meanwhile in the Wairarapa, the pakeha farmer, who previously was dependent upon the local Maori people for casual labour, is now finding it more difficult to get work done, which does not warrant a full time employee. However, as more of the younger boys are growing up, and with a stalemate in the settlement of farmers on Pouakani, this position will soon be alleviated. From the Maori point of view, it means that these boys now growing up are not going to be able to find steady employment within the district. Their hope lies in training for the trades and professions.

It is a problem similar to many other farming districts. Most farmers prefer older, married men as permanent employees. Therefore unless these boys leave the district, they are going to be dependent, chiefly upon seasonal work, such as shearing, as were the young men in the days before the development of Pouakani.

The town of Mangakino, which is owned by the Maori people of the Wairarapa may provide employment for some. It is situated on 636 acres part of an area of 675 acres of which the Crown has a leasehold which is to expire 6 months after the completion of Maraetai, Whakamaru, and Waipapa hydro-electric schemes.

The owners have formed themselves into an Incorporation with the view of managing the owners' assets in the town. Negotiations are now taking place with the Ministry of Works to settle the arrangements. The owners wish, not only to preserve the town but also to develop and extend it, providing employment, other than farming, for many of those boys in the Wairarapa.

At present Mangakino provides a livelihood for 5,000 people. When the Ministry of Works with-draws, it is estimated that the town will provide an assured livelihood for 2,500 people.

In addition to the Maori Affairs Department's activities, at Pouakani, the Lands and Survey Department also has extensive land development schemes in the area, and these are regarded as sufficient support for the town. The owners desire that the whole block leased for water power be managed so that all the owners benefit.

Most important of all, the owners wish to see a Maori Community Centre established in Mangakino, to benefit not only those living in the town, but all those living on the Pouakani block.

A nine-man management committee of the new Incorporation consisting of Messrs M. Parker, G. Te Whaiti, G. Enoka, W. P. Karaitiana, R. Tamihana, R. P. Te Maari, P. Otene and A. H. Palmer was elected recently. An annual report, giving an account of operations during the year must be submitted by the committee to the owners.

The last ten years have confirmed Sir Apirana Ngata’ belief that Pouakani would be of immense value to the Wairarapa Maoris. He has provided this part of Ngati Kahungunu with their major landed heritage where many young men have been given the opportunity of permanent employment and the chance to prove that they are capable of running their own farms. Also, the owners, some at Pouakani, but many still living in the Wairarapa, now have a steady income, no matter how small, derived from something which two or three decades ago was valueless. And the Wairarapa pakeha farmer knows that his land will not be flooded, because the lake is now kept open.

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The Iron Millionaires
of Taharoa

New Zealand may soon have a large iron and steel industry based on Taharoa, a small Maori village south of Kawhia harbour. Taharoa is one of the most isolated places in New Zealand. Strong opposition against the onrush of modern life by the people of Taharoa has so far prevented even a road to be built to the settlement. The people carry their supplies, including building materials for their homes, on sledges drawn by horses. Access is either through the Kawhia Harbour or by canoe over a lake east of the settlement.

On May 15 the people of Taharoa, at a meeting of the Maori Land Court at Kawhia, were definitely told that a powerful syndicate was interested in mining the 6346 acres of ironsand they own. They were offered royalties at the rate of one twentieth of the value of minerals which are being processed at the pit-mouth.

As a first move, it was proposed to send several hundred tons of partly refined sand overseas to America, Scandinavia or Southern Europe for trials to see just what the sands are capable of producing. The whole project, if proceeded with, would be a good deal larger than the Kawerau pulp and paper enterprise.

The Maori owners, represented by Mr B. D. O'Shea, of Ngaruawahia, the solicitor of King Koroki, have asked for an adjournment to give the proposal the study it deserves.

Te Ao Hou is preparing a full-length feature story in a subsequent issue on the rugged conservatism, and the remarkable future of Taharoa.

Queen's Birthday Honours

Two Maoris have been honoured by the Queen in Her Majesty's birthday honours which were announced recently.

Mr Karauria Tiweka Anaru, of Rotorua, has been made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.).

Mrs Olma Taka Moss, of Christchurch, has been made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.).

Mr Anaru is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Te Arawa Maori Trust Board. Before the last Municipal elections he was deputy mayor of Rotorua for three terms. At the last elections he declined nomination.

Mr Anaru is a chief of Whanau Apanui and has been prominent in the affairs of his people. In addition he has given outstanding public service to the people of Rotorua.

At present he is president of the Bay of Plenty Justices of the Peace Association.

Mrs Moss is president of the Christchurch branch of the Maori Women's Welfare League and is South Island representative on the Dominion Council of the league.

She has been prominent in welfare matters pertaining to South Island Maoris. In addition she has done general welfare and social work in the city of Christchurch. In making the award recognition is given to the part that she has played, with drive and initiative, in greatly helping the promotion of the Maori Women's Welfare League in the South Island.

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The Maori population of Canterbury was 1500 in 1945, but in 1956 it was over 2000. Most of the increase comes from young North Islanders who came to Canterbury to find jobs.

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Four members of the interim committee of owners of the Taharoa ironsands had their photographs taken during the Maori Land Court sitting at Kawhia last May. (From left) Messrs A. Rubay, W. Falwasser, P. Tuaupihi (secreatary) and M. Ratahi (chairman). (Photocraft, Hamilton.)