Tribute to the late P. T. (Steve) Watene
In the fifteen years during which I knew Steve Watene, I came to appreciate him as a warmhearted friend, a man of high Christian principles and a staunch champion of his beloved Maori people.
He was a true servant of his people.
Steve was constantly to be seen acting as friend, confidant and guide to a host of Maori people who came to seek his help and through him perhaps to petition Parliament with their problems.
The massive Tangi which his death inspired was vivid testimony to Steve's lifetime of service.
His career as a Member of Parliament was a brief one of only three and a half years. Though he was a most conscientious and industrious Parliamentarian it was in tribute to Steve the man rather than in deference to his status as an M.P. that all of Maoridom gathered at the Tatau-o-te-po Meeting House at Petone and at the nearby Te Puni Cemetery.
The East Coast people of the Hikurangi and the Hokowhitu-a-Tu parties were there in force as a tribute to the wonderful post and support which he had been to them. The same could be said of groups or representatives from all over New Zealand who came to pay their tribute. Gathered in large numbers were, of course, his own Ngati Maru tribesmen whom he had led in many a cause such as the Hauraki goldfields claim, both in and out of Parliament.
Pakehas also were there in large numbers. The Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Keith Holyoake, the Minister of Maori Affairs, the Hon. J. R. Hanan, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Norman Kirk and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr R. Jack led the waves of Parliamentarians at the Tangi, all showing by word and action how genuinely shocked and grieved they were at the sudden unexepected loss of their friend.
The presence of other leading Pakeha citizens was further evidence of the way that Steve had acted as a bridge between Maori and Pakeha.
He had made his mark in many and diverse fields.
Sporting notables from an earlier generation were a reminder of another area of endeavour in which he had made an outstanding contribution. Notable football heroes George Nepia and Jack Hemi recalled Steve's golden days in sport in 1936–37 when he captained New Zealand at Rugby League.
Other fields in which he had devoted himself to the welfare of the Maori people for the
good of both Maori and Pakeha were as a long-time Industrial Welfare Officer, as a member of the Petone Borough Council, as a member of the New Zealand Maori Council, as a long-time worker for the Labour Party and member of its National Executive.
Steve was too young to die. But if the end was inevitable it could not have been in more fitting surroundings.
He died in the Maori-decorated Maori Affairs Committee Room of Parliament Buildings while the committee was considering the Maori Affairs Bill—legislation in which he took an intense interest.
As he lay there on a Wednesday morning peaceful in death in the Maori Affairs Committee Room I thought how appropriate were his surroundings. There in the room he loved so well beneath the giant facsimile of the Treaty of Waitang and the photographs of Maori Members of Parliament of an earlier generation—Buck, Ngata, Carroll. Pomare.
How fitting an epitaph to a lifetime of service to the Maori people.