Young children learn through playing, and it is important that they should have suitable equipment, the chance to play in groups, and kindly, understanding people to supervise their play. When a community wishes to provide its children with a play centre where these things are available, the N.Z. Play Centre Association helps them to get started, and trains mothers who are interested to act as supervisers. In a later issue of Te Ao Hou we will be publishing an account of the facilities which are necessary and the help which is available. Meanwhile, here is the account of a trip which Mrs Andrews, an official in the N.Z. Play Centre Association, made to certain parts of Northland to discuss play centres with parents.
A Northland Play Centre Tour
The New Zealand Play Centre Association hopes to assist in the establishment of play centres in Maori country areas and this tour was our first attempt to visit people, talk to them and arouse their interest.
My thoughts at this time are perhaps irrelevant, but may be of interest. I had no expectations of failure or success but determined to keep an open mind. My knowledge of the Maori people was very little, I was English and a foreigner, so it could be understood if I felt apprehension. Who was I to be visiting groups unknown to me and suggesting a new way of life for their pre-school children? To talk and enthuse about it was one thing, to be actually doing it quite a different story.
And so to my welcome from the Maori people; such warmth and friendliness I had not dreamt about. My first visit among them will always remain very special in my thoughts.
The tour was arranged under the auspices of the Maori Affairs Department, Whangarei. I journeyed up north to Okaihau with Mr Pihema, a Maori Welfare Officer; there we met Miss Paitai, also a Maori Welfare Officer, who was to take us to our first meeting place in North Hokianga.
Waihou had made preparations to receive us that morning, and on arrival we were duly welcomed by the Elders who were present, Mr S. Ngarapo and Mrs and Mrs K. Tetai. An elder from a nearby village, Mrs M. Ngarapo, was also present. Altogether twenty-five people attended the meeting.
We listened to the speeches of welcome, not without qualms on my part as I noted their easy eloquence and wondered about my talk, then we settled down to the purpose of our visit. I told them how children learn for themselves if we provide the opportunity; that is, the right kind of play equipment, sufficient space and time for them to grow in, companionship and good supervision. How play equipment carefully planned and designed can help children to develop in all ways; how groups of parents who are concerned about their pre-school children can band together and establish their own play centres, and how this is being accomplished all over New Zealand.
The audience listened attentively, and in the discussion that followed, the elders were particularly interested in the social adjustment of the young children before they go to school. The discussion brought to light a concern felt by many present, that to solve the educational problems of young children we must start in the important pre-school years.
The evening of the same day there was a gathering at the meeting-house Punguru, and thirty-nine people came to see a showing of slides taken at a play centre. The slides were of the various kinds of play and depict the meaning of play far more vividly than words. I met Father Wanders at this meeting, the Roman Catholic priest of Punguru and the surrounding area. He is greatly admired and respected by the people, and an inspiration to them all. He has worked for many years to obtain a District High School at Punguru, and now that wish is to become a reality.
As we journeyed along next morning, Miss Paitai fell into her task of Maori Welfare Officer, and it was indeed enlightening to me to see her at work. All the people she knew, not only their names, but their hopes and fears also. We stopped to chat first with one family and then another. It was the same story in Miss Toia's area. I had the impression of one large happy family. Many was the hand that I shook during the three day tour.
A Fish for Tea
We waited patiently on the banks of the Hokanga for the car ferry. Miss Paitai caught sight of a fisherman in a dinghy a little further along … ‘Why it's Fanny! Hullo Fanny, how are you?’
she called. Fanny slowly turned round to see who was calling her. She pulled in her line and rowed over to where we stood, ‘Hullo Mere my dear,—our heads as a large schnapper came hurtling over here, have a fish for your tea tonight!’ We ducked to land on the shore close by.
I don't know what I expected in the way of a car ferry, but it had bumped alongside when I was still looking out over the water for it. This was definitely not what I had visualised. However, the Hokianga car ferry it was. After tucking her fish in the boot, Miss Paitai drove her car on to this mirage and we sailed across to Rawene where we were met by Miss Toia, her sister Mrs Sarich, and several of the women from Kokohuia, which was our next meeting-place.
We were late in arriving, but time didn't seem to matter. Mrs T. Clarke, the president of the Maori Women's Welfare League, waited at the entrance of the marae and called greetings to us as we approached. Kokohuia's meeting-house stands on a hillock looking out over the sweep of the Hokianga harbour; it commands a most magnificent view. The day was bright and clear; we looked down on to the waters and could see clearly the treacherous currents. Miss Toia drew our attention to them … ‘Look, Mrs Andrews, see the currents of the Hokianga harbour, many a Maori fishing boat has been lost out there’…. past and present … the past of the great warriors and the fishermen lost at sea … and the present wish to give to their children the opportunity to fit themselves for living as Maoris within the European culture that is to be their world.
We were welcomed into the meeting-house where we were formally greeted by an elder, Mrs H. Dunn. There was a meeting of thirty-five people, and six Maori Women's Welfare Leagues were represented. In the discussion which followed, I noted once more that their concern was for social adjustment in the early years of childhood … ‘The children are so shy when they come to school’, said Mr Holland, the school headmaster. ‘It is sometimes many months before we can even begin the task of teaching; they spent this time learning to live with others’. Mr and Mrs Holland both offered their services to help the community towards establishing a play centre. Since our meeting here a committee has been formed, called the Opononi-Omapere play centre committee; they have mothers willing to train as supervisors, and are now setting about the task of fund-raising.
After lunch we bade the Kokohuia people good-bye and continued on our journey. There was a warm and happy friendship within our party by now, and we laughed and joked as we continued along our way. I could write a book about the stories my Maori friends told over those three days.
It had been arranged for me to stay that night at the Kaikohe Hotel. The difference of atmo-
Members of Northland Women's Welfare Leagues who attended a recent weekend training school for play centre supervisers. Left to right: Mrs N. Harrison (Pukepoto), Miss M. Paitai (Kaitaia), Mrs K. Sarich (Waimate North), Mrs E. Murray (Pukepoto), Miss Te A. M. Toia (Kaikohe), Mrs M. Ruhe and Mrs R. Ruhe (Te Ahu Ahu), Mrs Y. Robson (Pukepoto).
sphere between the happy group I had just left and the quiet of the hotel struck me as being particularly poignant, and the thought occurred that Maori people have much richness in the way of family living, a richness that could benefit our European living.
Te Ahu Ahu
After this we continued to Te Ahu Ahu, where we met Mr York, the District Officer at the Maori Affairs Department in Kaikohe. There was an attendance of twenty-eight people, including representatives from the Maunganui Maori Women's Welfare League. There were many elders present, including the late Mr H. Leaf, Mr W. Marino the chairman of the Eastern Kaikohe Tribal Executive, and Mr N. Arihana. Mr and Mrs N. Anderson, the local headmaster and teacher, were also present. It was following the lecture that Mr Arihana made the following statement in an eloquent speech … ‘Always the Pakeha is ahead of us; always he can get the good jobs; this is not race discrimination, but lack of education. Sixty years we have education in this country for Maori people, and still the pakeha has to come and tell us what to do’.
The Te Ahu Ahu play centre committee has since been elected, and has raised funds to the extent of £60.
And so our trip was over. I hope that I left some good impression behind, because for myself, I came away greatly enriched.
In the following month we took our demonstration session to Oruawharo, this time south of Whangarei. The Onerahi Play Centre at Whangarei lent us equipment. It was piled on to a truck and we set off early in the morning, complete with qualified supervisors and experienced mother helpers. We stayed at Oruawharo the whole day. Forty children played with our equipment, and Maori mothers and fathers joined in with their children. The headmaster of the local school, Mr Abbot, brought some of his school children along, and to watch them enjoying the delight of finger painting, brush painting, clay, and family play was all the thanks we needed for our hard work.
As well as this, a day school was arranged at Okaihau. Mr A. Gray, the Director of Supervisor Training of the Auckland Play Centre Association, was the lecturer, and it was good to see a mixed audience of Maori and Pakeha. There were representatives from Kaitaia. Kaikohe, Te Ahu Ahu, Maungamuka, Keri Keri and Moerewa. The day was most useful, full of good discussion; and how pleased I was to see some familiar faces from my Northland tour.
And now we see them going from strength to strength, and it will not be long before the first play centre will be established by Maori parents supported by their community.