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No. 76 (June 1975)
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Kaumatua Flats
Opened at Manutuke

‘I know of no greater urgency than to see our people well housed, and no greater joy than to see many of our elders enabled to live beside and to keep our maraes warm.’

These words were expressed by the Hon. Matiu Rata, Minister of Maori Affairs, in a letter to members of a marae committee considering the erection of kaumatua flats in their area; and in a speech prepared for the opening of ‘Manawaru’, the Maori and Island Affairs Department's most recently completed block at Manutuke, Gisborne, he said, ‘As young people, particularly young parents, face the necessity to move from traditional tribal areas into the cities and towns to be able to earn a living, the older members of the family are often confronted with a dilemma. They have to decide whether to keep the family together in a new location at the risk of imposing a burden on the breadwinners, or whether to remain in the home area and to risk weakening the links with the past which the younger people will need to depend on as they cope with the new and strange situations of life in the city.

‘Many of those who have made the decision to stay have had to cope with inadequate housing conditions in their declining years. The plan is to build flats adjacent to active maraes so that retired people can take a full part on marae activities. This is good for the people and good for the marae. This is nothing like a feeling of being useful to make one's life a satisfaction.

‘Rather than thinking that our building homes for the elderly is to show our gratitude and our aroha, which we must keep if we are to retain our integrity as Maori, the real reason is the desire to keep our elders where they become the ones who keep our maraes, our communities and our lands warm with their presence. Not for us the Eventide homes, the boarding houses where the elderly are put on their own, the communities consisting solely of the aged and the infirm. Elders are part of the community and must

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The first tenants for the new flats; from left, Mrs Rangitahi Kaimoana, Mr Oha Porter and Mrs I ranui Williams. photographs by Gisborne Photo News

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David Pohatu issuing the challenge to the visitors.

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Bishop Paul Reeves of Waiapu, who dedicated the block of flats, accepts the challenge.

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These young people provided waiatas for the speeches.

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be given better housing within the community. The need for them as the link between the old and the new and as the stabilising group which will perpetuate Maoritanga is greater now than ever before. Ko koutou lo o matou pakeke nga kaihautu o te taonga nei te Maoritanga, mai rano.’

Unfortunately, because of the necessity to remain at Parliament on opening day, the Minister was unable to be present, so the Maori and Island Affairs Department's District Officer at Gisborne, Mr P.J. Brewster, spoke on his behalf.

The block of flats at Manutuke, nine miles from Gisborne, adjoins the Manutuke marae, and the shopping centre, primary school, church and Police Station are all within easy walking distance. The site was purchased from the Waiapu Board of Diocesan Trustees, who before transferring the land which it held as part of its church property, obtained the consent of the descendants of the original Maori donors. This was readily and willingly given.

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Mr Tom Dennis welcoming the visitors.

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Mr Percy Brewster. District Officer of the Department of Maori Affairs, who officially opened the flats.

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Mr Martin Pohatu welcoming visitors.

The Rongowhakaata Maori Committee

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decided on the name ‘Manawaru’ for the new block, a name of deep historical significance to the district, as explained by local elder Mr Tom Dennis in his welcoming address. Manawaru, which means ‘delight’, owes its origins to Hine Hakirirangi who brought the sacred kumara tubers with her on the Horouta canoe. She took up her abode at Papatewhai at the foot of Te Kuria-a-paoa—Young Nick's Head—then traversed the entire Manutuke locality in search of suitable ground in which to plant the tubers, and eventually selected the hill now known as Manawaru. Symbolically, local tradition has always observed the custom when planting the kumara of ensuring that the roots of the first row of plants are pointed to the east. The roots of the second row are always pointed towards Manawaru, and by observing this practice a bountiful crop is said to be ensured.

Bishop Reeves of Waiapu, who dedicated the block, said he welcomed the building of the flats as all ages would be represented and housed in the community, to give a balanced group of people. He welcomed anything that would bring youth and the elderly together, and considered that many problems in a community would subside if this were done.

Mr Brewster paid a tribute to those who had given their time and help in establishing the flats and grounds, especially a Pakeha farmer and his wife, Mr and Mrs John Clark, who had spent many hours, often in inclement weather, assisting in the layout of the lawns and gardens. Mrs Clark donated the flower plants, a number of shrubs and the jacaranda tree which was planted by Bishop Reeves at the end of the ceremony.

The Rongowhakaata Maori Committee who selected the three tenants, Mrs Iranui Williams, Mr Oha Porter and Mrs Rangitahi Kaimoana, and the local Youth Group, had displayed a keen and active interest in the project, and have undertaken to keep a close watch on the welfare of the tenants and the upkeep and maintenance of the grounds.

Since the first block was opened in Kaikohe in 1965, flats for elderly Maori people have been erected near maraes in Paihia, Te Kao, Ahipara, Waitangi and Tauranga, and this year a block has also been opened at Ruatoki. More flats are under construction at Te Hapua, Tauranga and Tokomaru Bay. Discussions on suitable sites are being held in several other places.

The Department of Maori and Island Affairs has sought the co-operation of local Maori Committees in the siting of these kaumata flats wherever they have been built. In some cases land adjacent to a marae has been given by the tribal committee, and of two blocks under construction in Northland, one site was gifted by a Maori Incorporation and the other by a local European resident. Sometimes it has been necessary for the land to be purchased, but this has inevitably delayed building.

A report from Northland, where the scheme began says, ‘In the past, elderly people have been very reluctant to live in a rental home of any description, preferring in spite of their age to one day own a home of their own. However, since they have experienced living in flats over the last decade, their views have changed to those of praise for such accommodation. Demands are now being made to build this type of accommodation in other rural areas, and there have been a number of people who have come forward offering the Department sections on which to build flats.’

It is obvious that the demand for these kaumata flats will increase, but it is not intended that the Maori and Island Affairs Department will build them all. Last year the Government made it possible for the Board of Maori Affairs to acquire Maori land by way of gifts, to be used for housing the elderly. It is also possible for statutory Maori Trust Boards to receive subsidies when they undertake to house elderly people, and it is hoped the Boards will take advantage of this provision.

It seems that after initial hesitation about the whole idea our elders are now ‘only too happy to move into modern flats provided they can stay near their own relatives’, to quote another report, and the indications are that Manutuke elders feel the same way, as plans are going ahead to build a second block of two flats beside the three recently opened.