New Post Office at Maketu
Wednesday, 14 July. 1971, was a ‘red letter day’ for the small seaside township of Maketu, in the Bay of Plenty, when a new Post Office building was officially opened. Resplendent on the front wall is a plaster cast of the New Zealand Government Coat-of-Arms enamelled in brilliant colours and mounted on a highly polished plaque of stainless steel. Alongside it, another stainless steel plaque says in bright scarlet letters ‘Maketu Post Office’.
A number of local residents and the older children of the Maketu School were present for the occasion. Mr D. R. Froggatt, Chief Postmaster for the Rotorua district, spoke briefly of the history of the Post Office in the Maketu area, and handed the keys of the new building over to Mrs Pat Newdick, wishing her many happy years as Postmistress of Maketu. Mr D. R. Campbell, Postmaster of Te Puke assisted Mrs Newdick to raise the house flag of the post office, for the first time in Maketu. The sun shone brilliantly, a light breeze wafted the flag overhead and everybody deemed the simple ceremony a great success.
For the last forty years this small town has been served from ‘temporary quarters’ for its Post and Telegraph facilities, but now this pleasant, modern building means that the Post Office of Maketu reverts to something akin to its outward status of over one hundred years ago.
Maketu township, nestling in the inner curve of a narrow peninsula, lies half way between Mount Maunganui and Whakatane on the shores of the Bay of Plenty, but is almost unknown to the rest of New Zealand. This even though it is one of the earliest, if not the first settlement in ‘Aotearoa’, and one of the oldest harbours and trading centres used by the European settlers of New Zealand. At Maketu the Arawa canoe landed back in the 1340s, and at Maketu, Pakeha traders and missionaries arrived in the 1830s. using it not only as a port but as a base for travelling inland to the Rotorua and Taupo districts.
Opened in December 1859, Maketu's original Post Office was one of the earliest in New Zealand, and for a number of years it served a very large area of the Bay of Plenty and back country areas, including the Rotorua district. Sited on the ridge
known as Te Rahui, the Post Office stood between St Thomas' Anglican Church and the Maketu Hotel overlooking the Bay. Built in the early Colonial style, it was of considerable size as it included residential quarters for the Postmaster and his family.
As the services for Money Orders, Savings Banks and Telegraph came into being in New Zealand, so were they made available from the Maketu Post Office. For some years mail services were operated by Maori runners on foot, between Maketu and Te Ngae (Rotorua) and Maketu and Tauranga, taking in the Te Puke area en route. In the late 1860s primitive roads, really little more than tracks, were used by horse traffic, the road to Rotorua being improved in 1869 in readiness for the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh, who travelled through from Maketu to Rotorua by this route. By the mid-1870s coaches were being used for mail services, but these were still often erratic and hampered by innumerable difficulties. One early mail contractor, perhaps the first in the area, was Te Kiri Karamua, who was highly respected and could be trusted to get the mail through safely.
Prior to 1880, settlers in Te Puke obtained their mail by a once-a-fortnight service begun in 1873 by the Maori runners, or came to Maketu themselves to collect it. In April 1880, a weekly mail service by horse was established between Maketu and Te Puke, but by the end of 1881 Te Puke had direct mail services with Tauranga. For many further years, Maketu served the Pongakawa and Paengaroa areas.
In the early 1920s the residential quarters of the Post Office were no longer being used and later the building was closed and sold, the facilities being transferred to a local store. where they continued at a small counter until 1949. In July that year, in response to urgent requests because of an upsurge in the population, the P. & T. Department deposited an ex-Army hut in Maketu and the Post Office resumed operations there until 1971.
A complete list of earlier postmasters and postmistresses is not available, but from 1949 to 1971, the township has been well served by one postmaster and four postmistresses. Of these five, three have been Maoris. The present postmistress, known to everyone as ‘Pat’ is Mrs Pat Newdick (nee Tewhakamiharo Tatana) youngest daughter of the late Rawiri Tatana of the Ngati Huia subtribe of Ngati Raukawa tribe of Poroutawhao, Levin. Her husband's family is of Arawa heritage through the maternal side, and is well known in Maketu as also were the families of Mr Chris Rolleston and Mrs Alma Rae.
Work behind the counter of this small country Post Office is something many city dwellers would barely know existed. The position carries great responsibility, and, to be as successful as the Maketu officers have been, wide experience and knowledge of the infinitely varied sections of the P. & T. departments, are essential. Add to this considerable patience which the official needs to help folk fill in innumerable forms and explain so many of the department's regulations, and add again, that some knowledge, the more the better, of the Maori language is a necessity, then one realises that the postmaster or mistress is no ordinary citizen. And only for a few short weeks at peak holiday time is there an ‘assistant’.
As with most Post Offices the mail seems to be the most important item of the day. Outward goes without much fuss, but half the resident population gathers with eager expectancy while the inward mail is being sorted, and departs with smiles or sighs. After school almost every child pops in to make sure there's nothing in ‘their box’, and here the advertising leaflet is really ‘something’ to them. The arrival of the high school bus brings a fresh influx of mailseekers, often the third or fourth member of the same family to ask for the day's mail—this for all those resident within a radius of one mile of the Post Office.
Inward and outward telegrams are handled, often for people who are unknown names in such a holiday resort. All types of Post Office money transactions are carried out, registrations of vehicles, etc., sundry types of licenses, and when it is taken into account that as is often their custom, many Maoris are known by more than one name, it is easy to understand that the job of a
postmistress in such a place as Maketu is no easy task. Yet one can step into the Post Office any time of any day and be met with a cheery greeting and happy smile. The Maori tupuna could be well and truly proud of their descendants who serve so well in the small township where one of the canoes of the Great Migration arrived in safe harbourage after their long voyage.
On 9 June 1971 a group of Hamilton people met at the Hamilton Y.W.C.A. for a six-week course entitled ‘Maori without Fear.’ The course was conducted by Mrs Ruma-tiki Wright, O.B.E. (formerly of Wanganui) of the Maori and Island Affairs Department and a Y.W.C.A. Board member. About 30 people enrolled for the course, which consisted of learning Maori conversational phrases from Alan Armstrong's book Say it in Maori, Maori action songs, and marae etiquette. The course was so successful that it was extended for a further three weeks.
The course culminated in a visit to Kai-A-Te Mata at Morrinsville on July 25 where our group was formally welcomed onto the marae by the Ngati Haua.
Mrs Wright led us onto the marae and gifts of food were placed there by members of the group. (Mrs Molly Hotene commented afterwards that she had not seen this done since she was a young girl and that it was lovely to see the old custom revived.) Mrs Rene Thomas (retired school teacher), Miss Kopak (nurse) and Miss Kennedy (student nurse) each gave the Karanga, and Mrs J. Manihera. Mrs M. Walker. Mrs R. Whauwhau, Mrs C. Thompson and Mrs M. Hotene welcomed us.
Mr Robert Hotene, elder of the Ngati Haua, Mr Jack Manihera and Mr George Thompson then welcomed us in turn, while Messrs Jim Morrison (flooring contractor). John Ormsby (farmer) and Ray Rossiter (pharmacist) replied in Maori. The group then sang the action song ‘Me He Manu Rere’. In his welcome Mr R. Hotene said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you for learning my language’, and all present were visibly moved by the occasion. Introduction followed and then we worshipped together by singing the hymn ‘Koutou Katoa ra’. joining in the Lord's prayer together and the blessing in Maori—a great experience for all. An informal chat followed and then we were entertained to afternoon tea in the hall. Before departing homeward our group sang Manu Re and Pokarekare.
Ten members of the group are continuing meeting each week to study the Maori language and culture at Mrs Wright's residence. We are using W. H. Wills' Lessons in the Maori language.
In August the highlight was our formal welcome onto Turangawaewae Marae on Sunday morning 15 during the Jubilee celebrations. Our group was led onto the marae by Mrs Rene Thomas who gave the karanga. Our group was welcomed by Mr Robert Kerr, formerly principal of Taneatua College and now teaching at Mangere. Mr Nad McKinnon of Ohaupo, a member of the Tainui Trust Board, introduced our group and Mr Jim Morrison replied on our behalf with the following speech—Queen Te Atairangikaahu
Tena koe, tena koe, tena koe.
Karangi mai, karangi mai e nga rangitira
Tena Koutou. tena koutou. tena koutou.
Tena matau o te ropu,
Ke te ako i te reo Maori
E iwi iti nei matau
Kanui te hari me te koa
Ki tenei honore, koa tae mai
Ki te mihi kia koe
Ma te Atua koe e
Tiaki i nga wa katoa.
Because time was short only Mr Morrison spoke, and at the conclusion he placed a gift from our group on the porchway of Mahinarangi. This and the rest of the day's activities will always be remembered by all of us.