Student Workcamp, Ahipara 1968
A Pakeha travelling at 40 m.p.h. through a country Maori community, may look out of the window of his car and gather a mixed bag of impressions. He may see a few people—cultivating gardens or riding horses, hanging laundry on a line or sitting on front steps. He will notice a few things that set this community apart, as Maori: the people of course; a meeting-house, perhaps in semi-traditional style; few signs of wealth; many signs of making do with what is at hand or with what has ‘had its day’. The best houses will still be modest by Pakeha standards; the worst may rouse in him vague feelings of embarrassment, that vanish as he speeds on through the more prosperous Pakeha farmland. He will not have gained an inkling of what it means to be born and reared in such a community.
For perhaps the majority of the 25 students who made up the ‘workcamp’ at Te Ohaki marae, Ahipara, in May 1968, their only previous experience of a country Maori community had been that of the Pakeha motorist. In one very full week, they realised how much they had not known, and could not have guessed, from the window of a car. In just one community, of the hundreds throughout New Zealand, the figures on horseback, the figures working or playing or sitting in the sun, became real people. People with names. People with problems—some of which were familiar to us, some new to us. People with skills we envied. People with pride and hope in their children. People with convictions. People with wit and humour—who would have replied to all this by saving, ‘What did you expect to find, Zombies?’
The very fact that this was an unusual experience for many of us is a silent commentary on the results of 150 years of Pakeha settlement. We have had, and still do have our own brand of ‘apartheid’ in New Zealand. Auckland Student Workcamp 1968 set out to ‘jump the fence’—to meet some people on the other side of the cultural ‘barrier’—to see ourselves, if possible, as others see us. Was our aim worthwhile? Was the venture a success? This account is one person's opinion in a field where each should speak for himself.
The idea of workcamps is not new. After World War II in Europe, volunteers from all over the world gathered to help in the work of reconstruction. The workcamps had a dual purpose—to do a necessary job, and to provide an opportunity for people of different nationalities and cultures to work together and get to know one another. The Society of Friends (Quakers) have been prominent in the workcamp movement. In New Zealand, the first camps were, I believe, organised by individual Quakers, with the original aims in view. A series of such camps have been held since about 1963, in the Hokianga District.
For several years the universities in New Zealand have also been holding workcamps. Auckland University students built a play centre at Herekino in 1965 and remodelled a building for the same purpose at Pukepoto in 1964. Although the work is important, it is becoming more and more evident that the social side—meeting people whom we would not normally have the opportunity to meet—is perhaps even more valuable, for us anyway.
The Ahipara camp 1968 was organized by an anthropology graduate student, who had had experience at Herekino. Initial inquiries were made through the District Officer for Maori Affairs, Northland. Final arrangements were made through the Maori Welfare Officer in the Ahipara district.
‘Come, be our guests! Don't worry too much about work—you might find something. If not, just enjoy yourselves!’ This was the spirit of the invitation. Meanwhile, back at the university, a committee of five had been planning, advertising, recruiting, Dr P. Hohepa agreed to give us an introductory talk on matters of observance and etiquette on the marae.
Finally, 25 students left Auckland for the far north—by car, by scooter and ‘by walk’—which meant hitchhiking. Arrival was
spread out over two days. This had been anticipated, so the formal welcome onto the marae was postponed until the Tuesday, when all were present.
We were a motley group—graduates and ‘undergrads’, daughters of the well-to-do and sons of the working-man, church members and socialists, arts students and science students, two engineering students from South East Asia, a lecturer in Zoology, a student with his wife and three small children, and even a student whose ‘bones’ were in Ahipara. We slept and talked in ‘Te Ohaki’, the beautifully ornamented meeting house. We ate and talked in ‘Maruaroto’, the well-appointed dining hall. It is significant, I think, that we took to communal living as ducks take to water. The sharing of resources, the sharing of chores, the sharing of ideas, the more intimate sharing of living space—maybe this comes closer to fulfilling our deeper needs than we dare to admit.
Meeting our hosts was a gradual process. We hadn't changed the national ‘balance of power’ very much. At any one time, on the marae, Pakeha tended to be a majority. But we also were, if not shy, then somewhat wary of being ‘hail fellow well met’ and of ‘horning in’. The local people came in twos and threes during the day. At first, usually for a particular purpose—to bring gardening tools, to help our fellows with the fence, to teach our people flaxcraft. Children came and went out of friendly curiosity. But as the week wore on, visiting increased. We got to know more people, friendships were struck, and diffidence melted away. Some students were invited to homes.
Play centres in the district were a special interest to students of education. Visits were made to Herekino, Pamapuria, Awanui and to the pre-school group at Ahipara.
Each day brought its varied and brandnew experiences which stimulated discussion far into the night, as groups lolled or squatted on mattresses and mats in the meeting house. A new generation of New Zealanders had recreated the democratic spirit for themselves in its ancient New Zealand setting. Carved figures and portraits of Maori dignitaries presided, as the foundations (who knows?) of a more liberal society were being laid.
We talked frankly not only amongst ourselves. A formal debate—toward the end of the week—refused to remain formal as Maori and Pakeha, young and old, jumped up to say their piece. The spirit of a proud people showed through that night—and we came close to seeing ourselves as others see us. Some of us felt we had come close to understanding the burden of being a Maori in a white man's world. We saw, too, that this burden is felt in different ways by the old and by the young adult. For the old it is a sorrow—that Maoritanga is dying with this generation and that the young do not seem to care. For the young adult (for some) it is a bitterness that the kaumatua have not schooled them in the
old traditions. For the children there appears to be no burden and no sorrow. As with children anywhere, the world is their oyster. They don't yet realise that the oyster will be so hard to open—and may be lean and bitter to the taste.
Some kaumatua said, ‘Forget the Maori way, the language,—even the Maori aroha; it will keep you poor, hold you down’. Maybe they are right. But some of the students could hardly believe it. They defended the Maori ‘life-style’ (as one put it) because they could see already that it was the way of a people who, in significant ways, could teach the Pakeha to be more human. And so it went on, everyone feeling strongly about this problem—‘Whence Maoritanga?’. Everyone with an opinion; no one with an answer. Is there one?
The night before, there had been a dance for the young people, in the dining hall. The musicians were shy at first and it was ten o'clock before the show ‘got off the ground’. At first, students danced with students, children with children. But not for long. Without prompting, the music and the gaiety rose in tempo, as everyone became everyone else's partner. There was no ‘organizing’; fun was the master of ceremonies, until 3 a.m., when it finally folded up.
Next day, a small group of students made a lightning opinion survey in the main town. Their opening gambit was an ‘innocent’ question about the worth of play centres, for Maori mothers and children. They came away surprised and sometimes shocked at the mixture of complacency, cynicism and Pakeha prejudice which the answers revealed. ‘He iwi kotahi tatau, 1968?’ After 150 years it is still mostly on paper—on the statute books, in political speeches, in polite conversation—but not in fact. Not in the cities and towns, except marginally. Certainly not in the rural communities. We are still a divided people.
Friday night. Most of the work was completed—the fence was up, the grass cut, the drains dug, flax bushes and pohutukawa trees planted, a play centre painted. Some of us went to town, to the pub; some to a dance. A dozen of these ended up at a party—a real live ‘Hoolie’—and had their eyes and ears opened wider than they had bargained for. More food for thought! How to equate this side of life with the grace, courtesy and wisdom of the older people. There were sore heads and sad hearts next day. Saturday was pure holiday, for those in a condition to enjoy it. An outing to Reef Point by tractor and trailer—or by horseback for the romantic ones. Mussel gathering. And back on the marae that evening, a hangi-cooked meal and a final get-together of residents and students.
Sunday, and the camp folded up. We departed as we had come—at intervals and by various means. But we ourselves were a little different. We had found new friends amongst our own group and amongst the local people, young and old. We had enjoyed the variety and depth of personalities. We had caught a glimpse of what might be called the spirit of old Maori life—a stillpowerful and intensely human thing that is not easy to understand, and even harder to put into words. We had, to some extent, crossed the old boundary of ‘race’ and culture—where this is still clearly defined —and felt a little wiser, and much richer, for the experience.
These are our hills, Moana,
But the kowhais are gone
And Cherry Grove is no more,
Nor the pa where friendliness
Wrapped me in warm embrace.
Your trim house nestles
Under nostalgic hills
Where once we went barefoot
After wild strawberries.
You do not want to rermember.
You are preoccupied
With your silver teapot
And wall to wall carpet
And console televsion.
I could cry on your ample bosom,
I shall not come again, Moana.
Taumarunui Queen Carnival
Never before have the Maori people of Taumarunui and district banded together to work so well in a common cause, as they did to put their Maori candidate, Mrs Martha Taiaroa, at the top of the poll in a 10-day queen carnival, to raise funds for the Taumarunui Red Cross Society. Martha's committee raised $4,800, the country candidate, Mrs Jenny Tuck, raised $4,164 and the town candidate, Mrs Colleen Ferguson came next with $2,417.
Altogether the campaign raised $11,381, or more than double the original targt of $5,000.
The result was not known until the very end and as the chairman of the central committee announced the Maori victory, Maoris in the audience at the sedate final social could not disguise their delight. They immediately moved into a spontaneous and vigorous haka.
The campaign was a personal triumph for Martha. A member of the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe, her husband is Taumarunui Maori Welfare Officer, Mr Archie Taiaroa, an elder of Ngati Haua.
Tribal elders gave their blessing and showed their approval by appearing at several of the organized functions.
It was not only the fact that the Maori candidate won that drew generous praise from the European people, but the methods they used.
The Maori campaign committee decided early that it would endeavour to provide entertainment that would not only raise money, but would benefit the Maori image. Raffles and games are recognised methods of fund raising at queen carnivals but the committee decided to widen the field.
A highlight was a N.Z. Sportsmen's dinner—the first ever held at Taumarunui. The hall was transformed by decorations and coloured lights and the tables were decorated with candelabra and flowers. A four course dinner was served that would have graced any hotel.
Twenty Maori girls, representing all the local maraes, wore white uniforms as they acted as waitresses, and Maori boys acted as wine waiters to serve the champagne during dinner, and handled the cocktail hour that preceded it.
Top sportsmen present included All Black coach Fred Allen, athlete Peter Snell, All Black Waka Nathan, All Black Colin Meads, jockey Bob Skelton, New Zealand Basketball members, Taini Jamieson and Tilley Vercoe from Rotorua, equestrian Ivan Grattan, Maori All Black captain Bill Wordley, New Zealand rowing manager at North America last year, Mr Don Croot, top golfer Trevor Ormsby, New Zealand Maori tennis champion Hine Peni and world champion axeman and sawyer, Sonny Bolstad.
Members of the New Zealand Maori Theatre Trust brought a party from Wellington which gave two evening performances of Dr James Ritchie's story of the creation, He Mana Toa. On the first night, the Mayor and Mayoress of Taumarunui, Mr and Mrs L. A. Byars and their party, were welcomed in the foyer with action songs and haka, making it a gala night performance. During the second half of the programme, Don Selwyn, Josh Gardiner and George Henare of the television show ‘Blowing in the Wind’ proved a hit.
Who ever heard of a poetry reading as a queen carnival attraction? Yet this was another popular function. In the intimate setting of Repertory House. Maori poet Rowley Habib read some of his works and Don Selwyn read some of the poems of Hone Tuwhare.
Carnival day at Ngapuwaiwaha pa was another popular one arranged by the committee. When an elder, Titu Tihu, named the wharekai at the pa ‘Rangikapuia’ some years ago, he expressed the hope that it would become a meeting place for people from the four winds. His wish must surely have come true when some 650 people, Maori [ unclear: ] and Pakeha, thronged the pa grounds.
Attractions included a wheelbarrow race in the streets outside the pa, a King Country championship tug-o'-war, an egg tossing contest, wrestling competitions between members of the Taumarunui Police Boys' Club and a team from Rotorua, a demonstration by the Taumarunui Judo Club, an exhibition by world champion sawyer and axeman, Sonny Bolstad, and chopping events
by several axemen. Then the Taumarunui Fire Brigade arrived with its new engine and put out a fire in a small building especially erected for the purpose and the St. John Ambulance Brigade gave an exhibition of rescue work. A stall, a hangi and quick raffles did brisk business.
A cabaret, a woolshed jamboree and a benefit film—one of Howard Morrison's—put on by a local theatre, were other efforts. A Maori-Pakeha Rugby match at Owhango, with a hangi served, brought in $250.
‘Grogan’, the beautiful home of a European family, was offered to the committee which held a fashion parade there. And the fashions came from a boutique of a Maori girl, Mrs Anne Rupe.
It was a busy 10 days at Taumarunui but the Red Cross Society benefited financially, the Maori people thoroughly enjoyed their effort and the Maori image glistened from the result.
E. R. Clark, Taumarunui.
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