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No. 25 (December 1958)
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The Conference Secretary, Miss Ngaio Te Rito, taking notes. (Auckland Star photograph)


There is of course one thinly veiled ambition of any Maori student group and that is to be like the Young Maori Party. The heyday of this Party is now sixty years ago and nothing so glorious and remarkable has happened since in the Maori world.

Today, the ideas of this small group of Maori students are the backbone of Maori Affairs policy. This is rather frustrating to the present generation of Maori students, for such spectacular planning cannot be done again; the main lines of policy are fixed and not seriously disputed.

What else is there to do? If one has to answer in one sentence, perhaps it is this: the students of today have to envisage the picture of the cultured Maori who can successfully live in a city. But that is far too abstract and it is better to reconstruct step by step the story of my trip to the recent students' conference in Auckland.

I first met the Wellington group at a meeting in a very large drawing room. There was a magnificent supper and the host and hostess were obviously anxious to encourage Maori student activity. The meeting was calm and during much of the time we sat in little groups peering at heaps of papers lying on the lush carpet between us. At other times we had formal explanations from senior people on things like educational grants and the workings of the Maori Trust Boards.

We also had several pages of close typing which represented a Constitution of a Federation of Maori Students, about to be formed. Mainly the brainchild of a member who was in the South Island, this Constitution could not be discussed in detail, but members agreed it was thoroughly worthy to be placed before the conference. It

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would create a single nationwide body of Maori students whose activities would be planned on a national scale.

Our other important proposal was for a special tutor to be appointed to each university to look after the progress of Maori students. Some European academics were known to support this idea which looked like a good way of improving students' examination results.

So the secretary put all the papers back into her little leather suitcase and we dispersed in the dark streets of Wellington.

Journey to Auckland

Night trains are almost entirely what you make of them. In the sleepers they are formal—service, tips, deference to the peculiar, impressive guest, long polite conversations with polished cabin mates, perhaps a sly whisky. In the first class they are still subdued and demure—some people wrapped up like stuffed cabbages, others nursing their migraines in their hands, thirty-three islands swimming in a gradually deteriorating atmosphere. In the early morning the pressed pillows are empty, the crumpled faces pale and sticky.

It is quite wrong to look upon this as the effect of the train on the transportees, for these have their fate in their own hands. Ten of us boarded a second class carriage in Wellington and at once we owned that part of the carriage and we were having a party. The inevitable conference papers were briefly slipped into selected hands by our secretary; an early copy of Manning's book about the bodgie was eagerly read and vaguely discussed; the food was unending; and people tried at times to leap over our preserve, blockaded by our blankets and luggage on all sides and more especially by a big guitar case with ‘The Comets’ in white paint,—and the guitar itself was being strummed by one of our more gallant companions. There was of course the battle of the lights—everyone else in the carriage wanted the lights out and we slowly complied, one light after another and eventually even the last one. But the soft conversation and the occasional song lasted; we were far too smug to buy cups of tea at the end of rainy station platforms; we all had a little sleep too. We woke up like birds.

Our breakfast reception at Auckland University had been planned to the last jamjar on the cafeteria tables; such masterly efficiency might have left us worried and bashful had it all come off but fortunately a high functionary of the reception committee had slept in with the key and the very brief spell before order was restored made us feel comfortable and at home.

The aims of the students

The first great test was the welcome ceremony. This was in the university hall, a fine gothic chamber where cigarettes are taboo. The Aucklanders, fortified by their Department of Maori Studies and many years of experience, put on a most elaborate and traditional welcome. Wellington, lacking these resources, went bravely through the hakas and action songs; then came our orator. He stood in front of the hall in deep silence, made his preliminary incantation, and then a deep silence. For what seemed many minutes hardly a word came from the orator but then suddenly the sentences came flowing out splendidly, expressing all the appropriate sentiments, and the honour of Wellington was saved. This was the first speech he had ever made in Maori; his ancestors had not deserted him.

For the rest of the day we had lectures,—Dr Biggs, Mr Ropiha, Mr K. Robertson and several others. Most of the lectures were rather practical—scholarships, bursaries, trust board grants, jobs for the finished academic. One of the speakers was a little disappointed at the mundaneness of his carefully stipulated subject.

Yet I do not think the students have unduly limited interests. Compared to the famous students of 1897, they are of course less ambitious, but naturally so. The members of the Young Maori Party would prepare lectures on almost any subject—the history of the Maori Church, education, Maori employment, the position and influence of the Clergy, Maori politics, sexual morality, ‘a scheme of reform work among the Maori people’.

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At the Presidential table were Mr John Tapiata (left), Captain of the Auckland University Maori Club, Secretary, Mr Pat Hohepa, a junior lecturer in the Department of Anthropology. (Auckland Star photograph)

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The student of today, however brilliant, would hesitate to give such addresses when unlike sixty years ago, there are plenty of experts in these fields and it is natural for a student to defer to such senior scholars if they exist.

Students consider that getting degrees is their prime responsibility. They also see the importance of having a Maori professional class and their conference concentrated on promoting such a class. Most of them take anthropology and Maori Studies and their thinking about general problems affecting the Maori is influenced by this study. Developing Maori language and culture seems to them a most important objective. Many discussions, and exactly half of the twenty remits, aimed at strengthening the Maori content of our educational system.

Perhaps the most impressive thing at the conference was the maturity of outlook where so many young Maoris in the city are confused and do not know what role they should play. To be sure, this confusion can be overcome by clear thinking about the position of the modern Maori in society and it is evident that among students in Auckland much discussion and clear thinking, helped by the anthropological discipline, has been going on. Even if anthropology is not one of the most practical career subjects, its value in developing the personality of the young Maori is remarkable.

By the time we had the ‘formal dinner’ or ‘banquet’ at 6.30, the atmosphere had brightened considerably. Then came the dance at the invitation of the Auckland Community Centre and a splendid private party for all the students (at least sixty) at the home of Mr Koro Dewes.


I woke up at eight in the morning. It was hard to imagine that we really had to be back at the University by nine. But the Prime Minister was coming and honour demanded that we should all put in an appearance. Furthermore, if the Old Man could get up in Wanganui (with a bad cold), fly to Auckland and still be at the University by nine, we should be able to make our little journey too. So the gothic hall was very respectably although not entirely full at the stipulated hour.

The Prime Minister, just back from his Asian tour, was in top form. After cautioning the Press, he gave a remarkably frank and obviously heartfelt picture of race relations in the world, dwelling on the Negro problem in the United States, South Africa, Dutch colonialism and generally on the changing relationship between white and coloured people in the twentieth century. He also discussed the responsibilities and the value of the Maori student group.

The visit made a great impression and invested the Maori student movement with an importance it had not had before; it certainly stimulated its sense of responsibility. After the welcome, the students put forward some requests to the Minister—greater facilities in training colleges for ‘teaching people to teach Maori’; introduction of the study of Maori into primary and secondary schools with substantial Maori rolls; an increase in the number and value of university scholarships for Maoris; an inquiry into possible anomalies in the administration of Maori trust moneys. Mr Nash promised to look into all these matters and showed himself very sympathetic to the students' aims.

After the Prime Minister came the remits which by and large covered the same kind of ground. The formation of a federation of Maori students was ‘approved in principle’ and machinery was set up to bring it about. Proposals in the draft constitutions which would give European members of the Maori Students' Federation limited voting powers found no favour with Conference; there was a minority of very useful European members in the various clubs and the general wish was to regard them just the same as other members.

It was explained that the present value of Maori University Scholarships (£90) was exactly equal to the bursary for country students, and the two could not be held simultaneously. Therefore there was no advantage in Maori country students applying for the scholarship at all, seeing they would be eligible for the same financial assistance anyhow. Therefore, it was argued, the Maori Scholarship should be somewhat higher than the bursary. Some government officials present seemed sympathetic to this argument.

Yet this proposal, more than any other, had a stormy passage. Was this money from the State? the students asked. Well, in that case they did not not want to ask for it. They did not want special treatment from the State. If it had been Maori money, it would have been worth asking for.

This remit passed with a very small majority. The students' reluctance to vote themselves higher allowances certainly showed their devotion to higher causes.

One further remit we should not omit to mention complained of ‘the great number of misprints in Maori texts in Te Ao Hou’. Everything will be done to minimise this in future.

Wellington's proposal to ask for special tutors for Maori students was not accepted by this self-reliant group; it was thought the guidance should come from the senior students themselves, and Rev. Marsden, from his own experience, said this approach had been very effective in Auckland.

After this the farewells. These were very warm indeed; we had made many real friends. There were violent hakas and showers of kisses on the station platform.