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No. 26 (March 1959)
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The Tolaga Bay District High School stands on a historic site (Kandid Kamera Kraft, Gisborne)


A survey of the Tolaga Bay Community (Part 1)

Tolaga Bay is a pleasant little East Coast township that nestles snugly on a smallish area of flat dairy land which is almost completely encircled by a crescentic series of easy to rugged sheep hills. The horns of the crescent project far out into the sea as precipitous cliffs of soft sedimentary rock, forming a deep bay lined by a dazzling white sandy beach. The broad Uawa river curves gently around the south western limits of the township and discharges its blue green waters into the sea at about the centre of the bay. The whole aspect is dominated by the evergreen slopes of Titirangi Station whose grassy trig capped peak towers some nine hundred feet above the unique concrete wharf that abuts its base at the southern extremity of the bay.

The township serves the rich pastoral lands that comprise the Uawa County. Wool is king here, but cattle and dairy farming all contribute their quota to the community income. The bulk of the land is owned by the descendants of the early pioneer families whose original holdings were gained in the years following the Maori Wars. Many of the larger holdings were subdivided in the 90's of the last century and millions of superfeet of peerless native timbers that sheltered uncounted hosts of native birds gave way to rich grasslands. Military settlements followed the close of World War I and World War II saw an even more ambitious rehabilitation project carried through to a most successful conclusion.

In this article, I shall briefly record the history of the Maori people in Tolaga Bay, and describe their way of life today—the occupations they follow and the way many of them migrate to the cities. Of course all the changes that have occurred in the last century have been influenced deeply by education at the local school. In fact, without the

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school, the other things that happened could hardly be understood. After describing the life of the people I shall therefore give special attention to the history of education in Tolaga Bay and show its influence and the way the school has supplied the basis of the peoples success.


The close relationship between the school and the spirit of the community is symbolised by the beautiful site, adjacent to the Uawa River, on which the new school was built. This site is rich in Maori traditions and it was the marae of the Ngati Kuranui hapu for many centuries. The school derives a constant source of water from an old well that belonged to the ancestor Kuranui, many generations ago. The Auckland Museum is now the proud possessor of the wonderfully carved Te Kani meeting house that once graced the marae. An ancient totara whata kai once stood not far from the meeting house and there are still old people alive in the district who can remember passing part of their childhood in Te Kani. This house was erected about 1870 to commemorate the great chief Te Kani who refused the offer of Waikato leaders to make him king of all the Maoris, just as readily as he refused to sign the treaty of Waitangi. Maori middens, abundant shell heaps and an adjacent old cemetery bespeak the close association the school site has had with the original owners of the land. The surrounding hills abound with the evidence of a once numerous Maori population. Numberless house and store pits cover their ridges, while many still retain the ditches and ramparts of fortifications that surrounded the fighting pas. It is said that the preeuropeon Maori enjoyed a most excellent standard of health and we attribute that principally to his diet of sea foods and bird flesh, together with his habit of siting his houses on the ridges as before mentioned. When one inspects these old hill pas it becomes evident that the Maori sited his pas so that they would be warm and well drained. Each house would hold no more than four adults and even the larger houses would be strained to hold more than thirty persons. There may have been much larger houses on the flats but cattle and other stock have obliterated almost all the traces that may have remained. The fighting pas were built to withstand assault and their positions were often very exposed on the very summits of the high hills. Skilful use was made of the natural precipices and the further combination of ditch, mound and walls of pointed stakes made the attacker's task a difficult one indeed.

The advent of the European brought trade, muskets, rum, clothes and new diseases. The old Maoris of the district came down to live around the stores and the whaling stations. The threat of intertribal warfare with muskets as the weapons of death caused many of the hapus to aggregate for the common defence, and in the earlier life time of Te Kani a Takirau almost the whole of the people of the district, as far south as Whangara, were banded together at Tolaga Bay for their common defence. The Christian faith was brought to the Ngati Porou at the tribe's own request. A great convocation of the chiefs of the Waiapu sent a chief to the Bay of Islands to learn the new faith direct from the Mission stations there. On his return, four chiefs were selected to carry the word of the new faith to the main centres of the tribe. The Ngati Porou like many other tribes in that time, conducted their own conversion rapidly and effectively without the help of European missionaries.

The great majority of the Ngati Porou chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, although, as has been mentioned, their foremost chief, Te Kani a Takirau refused to sign away his sovereignty. Te Kani, however, was not hostile to the Europeans and indeed he extended his protection to the Rev. Baker when the inland hapus journeyed down the river on their canoes with every intention of attacking his simple little mission station.


The great majority of the local Maoris were intensely loyal to the Queen throughout the Hauhau Wars and they participated in the rapid mobilisation of the Ngati Porou at Gisborne and so staved off Te Kooti's threat to that infant city. As a token of their goodwill to the Queen they readily surrendered the rich hinterland of Tauwhareparae, Arakihi and other blocks to the Crown's accredited Land Purchase Officers. Many other blocks were also readily sold to promote European settlement among them, but the tribal leaders wisely retained several valuable blocks as adequate for their own needs.

The Maoris however soon found that it was not enough to own valuable tracts of land but that it was also necessary to find capital to pay off survey liens, legal charges, the cost of clearing, fencing and stocking, as well as current rates and arrears, on lands that they were unable to bring into production on a sound economic basis. The Maoris did not have the ‘know how’ that comes from a long acquaintance with the demands of competitive farming. For these, and many other reasons too many to enumerate, it was not surprising that they soon got themselves into insuperable difficulties.

The core of their difficulties was that they were unable to hold on to their land. The close of the Maori wars brought greater numbers of settlers from the South Island to settle in the district and by about 1870 the greater part of the lands around Gisborne were leased to settlers who would pay about £100 a year to a tribe for the grazing rights

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to their lands, which would perhaps average somewhere between five to twenty thousand acres. The Government Purchase Officers purchased millions of acres at nominal prices which were ceded as an act of good faith on the part of the Maoris who had remained loyal to the Queen. These lands were rapidly occupied and other settlers purchased blocks of land around this period.

The advent of R. J. Seddon as premier brought about the compulsory subdivision of many of the great estates owned by those who had been fortunate enough to have made their purchases when land was a cheap commodity. A wave of new prosperity came to Tolaga Bay when the new settlers came to take up the subdivided estates. The Wigan and Mangaheia schools were built to educate the children of these new folk and commercial life beat with a stronger pulse in the Tolaga Bay township. It was around this time that the Bank of Glasgow failed and many prominent landowning families lost all their holdings. The Maori people had become greatly reduced in numbers and formed a minority in the district. Their lands passed almost completely out of the [ unclear: ] r control because there had never been a policy to ensure that the several hapus retained sufficient lands for their present and future needs.

This was the period when the Maori as a race appeared destined for oblivion and the dominant causes were substandard living and working conditions. The more fortunate Maoris had fairly large rents to assist them, but, by and large, they became an agricultural labouring class. There was plenty of work in the district and the Maori folk earned their fair share of the annual wages bill, but, the Maori had not yet acquired the talent of accumulating capital, nor of putting his capital to work for him, in the way of investments, business practices and the progressive development of the lands that remained to him.


The Tolaga Bay Maoris saw a chance of salvation in the attempt of certain of their leaders, notably Sir James Carroll and Wi Pere among others, to launch a company called the East Coast Lands and Settlement Company, which had as one of its very laudable objects the desire to obtain adequate capital for the development of their own lands by raising mortgages through the Bank of New Zealand and issuing scrip. A vast area of Maori lands extending from Wairoa to Tolaga Bay became involved. The Company however was beset with difficulties as great as the ones it had tried to avoid, and the Maoris were soon struggling to save their lands from foreclosure. In 1901 the bank took steps to foreclose and several blocks were advertised for sale. Government intervention finally saved much of the land, although some fifty to a hundred thousand acres had to be sold to reduce the enormous debt of over £170,000 to manageable proportions. Some of the finest land in the now greatly reduced Tolaga Bay Maori reserves had to be sold to relieve their mortgage burden.

The East Coast Commission was established by the Government and brought the remainder of affected lands under efficient control, carried out its dedicated task so well that more than 150,000 acres have been handed back to the owners, in a solvent and productive state. The Maori owners in Tolaga Bay have resumed control of their ancestral lands and they are managing quite well. Two of the three blocks however will need to set a [ unclear: ] ide huge reserves if they are to be fully developed, and one of the drawbacks of the present system of committee management general throughout the many similarly administered Maori blocks is the fast that far too much emphasis is placed upon the payment of dividends that leave little or no funds for adequate development and investment reserves.

However, most of the lands that were not farmed by the commission had eventually to be leased to Europeans in order to ensure that the rates were paid, while many other holdings were taken over for the nonpayment of rates. In certain cases the fault lay in the multiplicity of ownership which led to undue restraints and impositions being practised upon those to whom the management was entrusted. Many of the ancient hapu names disappeared completely from the district and there are now only five maraes in the district. Certain hapus have become almost completely landless and yet they persist as a vigorous adaptation in a modern world.


It now remains to examine the reasons why the Maori folk, in this district at least, have now become once more, a vigorous and progressive element in the district and study the part the school has played and will play in their future progress.

Sir Apirana Ngata is regarded by the Maori people as the principal architect of the renaissance. His scheme for the development of Maori lands with capital provided by the Maori Affairs Department unlocked the remaining Maori lands throughout the country. European supervision brought innumerable Maori Blocks out of hitherto unmanageable debts incurred by litigation and the advent of the large incorporations brought improved and cheaper farming methods, while the development schemes worked miracles in building up a sturdy and dependable Maori farming community that rapidly gained their independence and their full share of what we like to term our ‘standard way of life’. The Ngati Porou north of Tolaga Bay had ample lands to derive the full benefit of Sir Apirana's enlightened policy, and the reason dates back to the time that Mokena Kohere refused to accede to Sir Donald Maclean's de-

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mands for the larger portion of their lands. Several hundred thousand acres were yielded but the greater portion of the land was kept inviolate from sale through the years that followed.

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Dr Sinclair, author of this article, in his surgery at To [ unclear: ] aga Bay (Kandid Kamera Kraft, Gisborne)

The Maoris of the Tolaga Bay district were apparently outside the ‘rohe’ or district. They therefore had no lands to develop under Sir Apirana's scheme but the remainder of their lands were mostly in either the Whangara Incorporations or the East Coast Commission and both of these concerns were brilliantly administered and began to pay increased dividends to the owners over the years. The Anaura Block was similarly administered by the Tairawhiti Maori Land Board and the trustees of the Waru Estate salvaged and successfully developed the lands under their control. The story of these people has been the story of their lands; as the lands disappeared so did the people, and as the lands prospered so did the people. Sir Apirana Ngata played his part in the district by religiously attending the annual general meetings held by the owners of the various blocks and his advice was in most cases regarded as an order. He gave great moral support to the people when he attended the various great huis held by the people. His personality was amazing and his talents unlimited. He was to be seen at his best when in the midst of his people, single-handedly coping with the mult [ unclear: ] tudinous affairs of Master of Ceremonies at some great hui wherein thousands of his Maori people would be continually de-lighted by his dry wit, kept applauding the excellence of the entertainment provided by his tribal teams, and stimulated by the general excellence of his own contributions, whether topical or traditional.

The Maori in Tolaga maintained a long tradition of mutually harmonious relations with the Europeans of their district, both at school and at work and they have benefited from this relationship. The principal reason that has prevented them from capitalising on these circumstances has been, fundamentally, the lack of sufficient land to maintain an independent and progressive rural farming community life. Inability to be able to create capital is a racial weakness and is amply demonstrated here. Once they have the land and the capital they are able to make progress in the modern competitive farming community. This is being fully borne out at Horahora and Manga-kino.

(To be concluded in our next issue)