Monday, May 19, 2008

Remembering 1978...and 1943

Next Sunday is the thirtieth anniversary of the eviction of protesters from Bastion Point. It is not surprising that a range of events, from academic seminars to a public 'remembrance and reconciliation' ceremony to a photographic exhibition, have been organised to mark the date. The five hundred and seven day occupation of the headland the Ngati Whatua people call Takaparawha has come to symbolise the wave of Maori protests that swept through New Zealand in the 1970s and '80s. The size of the occupation, its location near the centre of the country's largest city, and the massive scale of the state action it prompted all helped to embed Bastion Point in the memories of a generation of Kiwis. The settlement of the dispute and the return of Takaparawha and other parcels of Ngati Whatua land at the end of the 1980s give the story the extra appeal of a happy ending.

But the battle to regain Takaparawha was only one aspect of a drawn-out conflict between Ngati Whatua and the Crown. Long before the famous occupation began, Ngati Whatua's energies were consumed by the struggle to retain a toehold in the city they had once dominated. In this struggle for survival, Ngati Whatua made many allies. One of their most important allies was the trade union movement. Although they had mostly Pakeha memberships, Auckland's trade unions played an active role in championing the Ngati Whatua cause and defending the iwi from attacks by the state.

The decline of class-based politics over the past twenty years and the diminished role of the unions and the Pakeha left in Maori protest movements have both contributed to a forgetfulness about the role that workers' organisations played in Ngati Whatua's struggle to hold on to its land. The history of the alliance between Ngati Whatua and the workers' movement should not be forgotten, though, because it shows that, contrary to the rhetoric of right-wing politicians and redneck talkback radio hosts, Maori campaigns for land and justice can attract the active support of ordinary Pakeha. By the 1940s Ngati Whatua possessed only thirteen of the two hundred and eighty hectares which tribal elders had set aside for future generations when Auckland was being established in the middle of the nineteenth century. There were three hectares of low-lying land at Okahu Bay, and another ten hectares on the hills behind the bay. The land on Bastion Point had been alienated for sixty years, on the grounds that it was needed by the state for military purposes.

A village named Orakei had been maintained at Okahu Bay, in the shadow of Bastion Point, as a focal point for Ngati Whatua, but a lack of electricity, the low-lying nature of the land, and the effects of a nearby sewage line meant that the site was often a quagmire. By 1943, both local and central government were threatening to clear the settlement at Okahu Bay by force, and relocate the Ngati Whatua people in state housing. Preoccupied by the war raging in Eurpe and Pacific, few Kiwis seemed aware of the plight of the tangata whenua of Auckland.

After Ngati Whatua appealed for her help, Princess Te Puea of the Tainui people became involved in efforts to protect the people of Orakei. Te Puea had a history of collaboration with the Pakeha left and the labour movement, and she used her contacts with the trade unions to build support for Ngati Whatua. In April 1943 she paid a visit to Okahu Bay, and in the first week of June 1943 she and several Auckland trade union leaders, including the poet and Communist RAK Mason, organised a massive work bee at the bay. Led by Mason, two hundred mostly Pakeha members of the Labourers Union laid a three hundred foot long palisade of manuka stakes and totara posts in deep concrete around the Ngati Whatua village. The Auckland Trades Council gave Ngati Whatua three hundred pounds worth of building materials, so that improvements could be made to their village and to the marae that formed its centrepiece. The Council also announced that any worker who helped either to clear the site or build there for a non-Maori authority would be blacklisted, so that he could not work anywhere else in Auckland. In his biography of Te Puea, Michael King described the response to the work bee:

Orakei inhabitants shed tears when Wally Ashton, secretary of the Trades Council, presented them with a visitors' book for the marae. Te Puea, for her part, thanked all the Pakeha workers. 'For what you have done for our people who needed it most, I do not know how to say often enough, 'God bless you', she said.

By 1943, Peter Fraser's Labour government had given itself sweeping powers to curtail trade union activity and political protest if such activity was deemed to be damaging New Zealand's war effort. Fraser had used his powers to ban The People's Voice, the newspaper of the Communist Party, for opposing the early stages of the war. Even in 1943, when the party had reversed its position, Fraser was deeply suspicious of Communist Party members like RAK Mason. Fraser had no sympathy for the desire of Ngati Whatua to preserve their village at Okahu Bay. He could not understand why iwi members would prefer the unheated and unhygenic housing of the village to the comfortable state-owned homes that had been built in nearby suburbs and offered to Ngati Whatua. Fraser's dour, economistic worldview could not accomodate the Maori concept of mana whenua, which assigns a special, unquantifiable value to an ancestral home. Nor could Fraser understand that the collectivism of traditional Maori society, with its extended families living together and communal organisation of labour, would be badly damaged by the settlement of nuclearised families in scattered state houses.

Fraser was very angry at the work bee, and threatened to arrest Te Puea and her trade union allies. Te Puea herself later revealed that she wore two pairs of underwear on the day of the bee, because she feared she might be spending her next night in a cold prison cell. Many trade unionists stayed overnight at Okahu Bay after the day's work, because they feared that the police or the army would attack, tear down the palisade they had built, and destroy the village. In the end, the government backed down and the people of Okahu Bay were left undisturbed.

In 1951, though, the National government of Sid Holland gave the green light for the destruction of the Ngati Whatua settlement, and police and bulldozers moved in. The kainga and marae at Okahu Bay were knocked down and torched, the land they had stood on was seized by the state, and Ngati Whatua were forced into state houses they could never own (iwi members could not resettle on the hills that overlooked the bay, because the ten hectares they had owned there had been seized under the Public Works Act in 1950).

It is significant that the destruction of the kainga at Okahu Bay took place in the same year that the Holland government used the famous one hundred and fifty-one day lockout of waterfront workers to crush the militant wing of New Zealand's trade union movement. It is likely that the state only felt free to move against the Maori of Okahu Bay after it had sapped the strength of their allies in the trade unions.One of the weeping children who watched their homes and marae burning to the ground in 1951 was named Joe Hawke. Twenty-six years later, Hawke would lead the occupation of Bastion Point to highlight Ngati Whatua demands for the return of all the land stolen from them. The epic occupation was supported by many Auckland trade unions and left-wing political groups.

On May the 25th 1978 the National government of Robert Muldoon used seven hundred police, soldiers, and naval personnel to destroy the village that the occupiers had built on Bastion Point. Hundreds of protesters were arrested. As soon as they heard about Muldoon's attack, trade unionists across Auckland walked off their jobs in a 'wildcat' (spontaneous) strike. Following in the tradition of 1943, the unions declared a 'green ban' which barred their members from doing any work for developers on Takaparawha. It was thanks partly to this union ban that the site remained undeveloped in the years after 1978. The collaboration between organised labour and Ngati Whatua is an important part of the story of the successful struggle to return Bastion Point and Okahu Bay to their rightful owners. Today Maori are still trying to win back a lot of stolen land, and ordinary Kiwis of all races are increasingly concerned by the buy-up of coastal land by wealthy individuals and multinational companies. The multi-racial, union-backed fight against the theft of the lands of Ngati Whatua is an example to us all.

Michael King, Te Puea: a biography, Hodder and Staughton, 1977, pg 219; Rachel Barrowman, Mason: the life of RAK Mason, Victoria University Press, 2003; Ranginui Walker, Struggle Without End, Penguin, 1990, pgs 215-219.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On this theme their is an article in the latest Class Struggle on 'Iwi socialism in Aotearoa' which speaks of class both inside and outside Maoridom.

2:35 pm  
Blogger Ana said...

Kia Ora

Good stuff to remember the noho whenua ki Takaparawha & the tautoko of the unions in Tamaki. I'm sure that some of the strength of that support is because a lot of our grassroots Maori leaders of those days were stanch unionists, I cant agree with the happy ending though, mangement of a Treaty "settlement" is a long way from Te Mana Motuhake O Ngati Whatua.

naku noa na

6:33 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I didn't know of that earlier struggle or that Mason was involved - my father knew him (in the days before the war) - and, while he didn't have much (or understanding?)time for his political views, he loved Mason's poetry and one day brought a book home of his poetry - I used to read his poems over and over as teenager -I think some of my deep inspiration comes from the "voice" of Mason - also the passion and the power you can feel in his words - even the romantic force -

I was involved in marches against Maori land occupation around 1978 but didn't go to Bastion Point as I felt that that was for Maori and I was busy with work and young family...but I followed it ...

Thinking of it now it is a tragic episode - Joe Hawke and others showed great courage - also I think he lost his daughter in a tragic fire there...

Things like that and the Spring Bok Tour (three years later); where Maori and Pakeha united closely (I was shoulder to a young Maori woman (!) [come to think of it she was very attractive! And I was only a little after 30!] I put myself in the front line (but I was pretty drugged and boozed up - I was still terrified though] - a bit silly (being so close to the Red Squad etc) as I didn't have face-guard...

showed what a bastard Muldoon was - and the police were bastards (they were like Nazis)- they still are - and his "Remmer" mates were...later we got Rogernomics...but the land struggle continues.

Also - some of the Unions were quite right wing (econometrists - or sell out creepies who cooperated with the Capitalists) and secretly were in league with Muldoon ...

12:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rogernomics, gst, the lifting of the price and wage freeze and international ownership of state assets were introduced by the Labour Party and the right wing faction of it. They were the equivalent of Reagan Democrats or other political expedients who can be bought... that perhaps echoes the constraints of Maoridom and the treaty afteral the Black Power haka at Muldoons Funeral at Tamaki God Bless Them

1:54 am  
Blogger maps said...

While 'happy ending' might not have been the right phrase to use, I do think we can all be pleased that Takaparawha never got turned into expensive housing. I realise that arguents exist within Ngati Whatua about the best way to use the returned land and the best path into the future in general, but at least the iwi has held on to a chunk of the land that elders set aside in the nineteenth century. After the destruction of Orakei village all they had left was a one hectare cemetry.

I got interested in the events of 1943 because some of the staff at the museum were putting together a slide show in one of the Information Centres to mark the 30th anniversary of the Takaparawha evictions.

I mentioned to my manager that we should include something on the union work bee decades earlier, but I had the idea that the bee and the standoff with the government had taken place in 1937. I had to go away and do some research. I think the destruction of the village at Okahu Bay in 1951 is relatively well-known, and the evictions of 1978 very famous, but the events of 1943 are almost forgotten.

This is a shame, because we need reminders of the very long history of solidarity beteen iwi and the unions. If you're a trade unionist, no matter what your race, then people like RAK Mason and actions like the defence of Okahu Bay are a part of a history you can identify with.

I think that we need to create a narrative of Pakeha history that emphasises people like RAK Mason, so that Pakeha don't come to believe that the left thinks their history is simply a catalogue of war crimes and land theft. If they get that impression, then they'll recoil into the hands of the right, which goes to the opposite extreme and denies that anything ever went wrong.

11:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Scott hope you are well met you with RT over ten years ago your NZ work is a fine history expose, about Obama this seems like a device to undermine Clinton and that is the comparison made to Reagan democrats

6:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To NZ I have been involved with Maori over here for ten years now with BP affiliates we are of the 'street' and are suspicious of government instititions whatever wing thats why sometimes we can settle into the right wing as they purport freedom from govt however misguided...

6:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post maps. just been reading the book Green Bans, Red Union about the NSW Builders Labourers Federation. inspiring stuff. go the builders labourers!

8:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, well Richard Taylor. A secret conspiracy of pro-Muldoon union leaders!

This is of course the sort of ultra-left rhetoric which I remember and others will remember emanating from the very pure Maoists with whom Richard was involved at the end of the 1970s.
I remember a bookshop at the bottom of Newton Hill, which nobody ever visited, because all the volumes were in Albanian and Chinese! The denizens of said shop saw themseleves as a politburo-in-waiting.

It is disarming to see Richard still parroting the line of the long-defunct Purified Communist Party. How are the Reid brothers and Mr Gintao, Richard?

Bob Feith

9:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maps aren't you just repeating the failed recipe of Michael King when you talk of Pakeha identity?

And doesn't Pakeha just mean 'long white pig'?

1:44 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I was a builder's labourer once! Heavy work...always wished I learnt building as a trade.

2:00 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Feith Fieth Feith - upon my feith!

Ye of little Faith (in yourself?) did you know the Shaggers who lived down in
Matakanamagouorleewaganakamoookie BTW?? - great blokes they were the Shaggers [hard men! hard men!] [the sheilas loved hard men - get it!!] - Mrs Shaggers was great old sheila she was......and a lot of bloody good blokesses also...

Comrade Feith - I thought Clark Titman was probably dead but thou art not he - no?? (Dead to the world....

Good on ya mate!

One of the Shaggers - I think it was Dale Sahgger - he was bleeedn' Commo and the funny thing is his missus turned out to be a bloke! Decent bastard he was though - always give you a tip of his pint and once he gave me the time....

2:10 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Omar - that's a great site your on or associated with..will have good look at it from now on... we'll have to get comrade Feith also to look there...

2:14 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Perhaps I shouldn't have attacked Muldoon - in the end he was a sad figure... but that round up of the Maori at Bastion Point was terrible -whoever was or whatever was reponsible...

Pakeha means something like "outsider" isn't necessarily derogatory.

King was a great historian - consvervative a bit - but still very humane and insightful like Sinclair. (A mate of Smithyman's whose poem: "Reading the Maps" is the name and basis of this site...

I met Sinclair as I had to play his son (Mark) at chess about 1961 or so)... he and his son were very very nice people...I have read his book of NZ History ... his (Sinclair's and indeed Smithyman's) poems are interesting - Bill Direen reviewed a book of his poems once - I found (the review) by some chance...Bill gave Sinclair quite a thumbs up...

2:24 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Here is an interesting discussion on the term "pakeha"

2:40 am  
Blogger Richard said...

The link doesn't show properly
again -

2:44 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Richard,

could you make your points more clearly plase? Though I have attended to them carefully, I can't made head or tail of them.

Yours (very) courteously,
Bob Feith

2:44 pm  
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