Upper Hutt marae's founding father dies

BUILDER OF CULTURAL BRIDGES: Distinguished career public servant, the Scotsman who became a kaumatua, Jock McEwen pictured here at Orongomai Marae on Waitangi Day 2005 with the carved stick presented to him by the late Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu upon his retirement in 1975 as head of Maori and Island Affairs.
BUILDER OF CULTURAL BRIDGES: Distinguished career public servant, the Scotsman who became a kaumatua, Jock McEwen pictured here at Orongomai Marae on Waitangi Day 2005 with the carved stick presented to him by the late Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu upon his retirement in 1975 as head of Maori and Island Affairs.

Jock McEwen once told a reporter: "The European tends to measure success on the size of his house, his car, his yacht; this doesn't count for anything in Polynesian society. A man is judged there for who he is or who he is not - not what he has."

It was that deep understanding and respect for the peoples of the Pacific that led him to a distinguished public service career in Maori and Pacific Island Affairs, and a life-long interest in Polynesian culture, where he excelled as an expert linguist, tribal historian, composer of waiata under the pseudonym Te Oka and Master carver.

Resident of Silverstream for more than 50 years, Jock Malcolm McEwen CMG died in Wellington on May 10, 2010, at the age of 95.

Such was his standing in his local community, this man of Scots ancestry who wore the cloak of a Maori kaumatua lay in state at Upper Hutt's Orongomai Marae, where he was a founding father. His final farewell was last Friday at St Margaret's Presbyterian, the Silverstream church where he had worshipped for more than 50 years.

He would always say there was a lot to be said for the Christian philosophy - "If you want to have a good life, you do it helping other people". It was a philosophy he lived to the full throughout his 95 years.

Mr McEwen was born near Feilding on February 17, 1915, the son of the local headmaster. He lived 200 yards from the local marae and from boyhood was speaking Maori, taught by Elders the likes of the grandparents of Eddie and Mason Durie. He attended Palmerston North Boys High School and did a section of an arts degree before changing his focus to law.

His real interest was with things Maori and he started in Palmerston North at the then-named Department of Native Affairs as a cadet in 1932 - at "one and a half dollars a week" he recalled to the Leader in an in-depth interview in 1990.

The man who hired him was Sir Apirana Ngata and that was to be the beginning of his contact with many leading figures of Maoridom, among them Sir Hugh Kawharu, Professor Whatarangi Winiata and Professor Ranginui Walker.

He served under many Ministers of the Crown, including Ralph Hannan, Duncan McIntyre, Brian Talboys, Matiu Rata and Phil Amos.

Mr Rata had once famously commented that "if every area had a Jock McEwen, what a great country New Zealand would be".

The young McEwen steeped himself in Maori cultural interests .

In 1937 he was one of the founders of the Ngati Poneke Maori Club; in the 1940s on the Polynesian Society Council, and later its president for 21 years. He played a lead role in revising the Standard Maori Dictionary - his was the sixth edition of the work originally written by the Missionary Williams. His tribal histories of Rangitane are highly acclaimed.

When war service intervened he was based at Trentham with the New Zealand Scottish Regiment. Afterwards, he completed his law degree and went on to a long and distinguished career overseeing Maori and Island Affairs in its various departmental guises.

He followed in the footsteps of his great grandfather Hon John Bryce, who was Minister of Native Affairs from 1879 to 1884, and created policy to advance the social and economic equality for Maori during the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1941 Mr McEwen had married Ruth Durrad, the daughter of an Anglican vicar, and they were married for 64 years before she pre-deceased him in July 2005.

With wife and young family in tow, he served as the Resident Commissioner for Niue Island between 1953 and 1956 at a politically difficult time following the assassination of his predecessor Hector Larsen. It was an inspired appointment. Jock McEwen displayed there his innate ability to communicate with the locals in their own language and demonstrated such an understanding of the island culture that he produced the first Niuean dictionary, earning the undying respect of the Niuean people. Older Niueans still remember him with respect and fondness and an eloquent tribute was paid at his funeral by Her Excellency Sisilia Talogi, the High Commissioner in New Zealand for Niue: "this humble little family man who arrived on our island was a bridge builder, who worked with a passion for the advancement of Pacific Islanders in their home islands and in New Zealand. He linked the old with the new, encouraging those too humble to take the next step to step up, and the social policies he introduced have stood the test of time for the good of our Island peoples."

In 1956 Mr McEwen returned to New Zealand, to the post of Assistant Secretary for Island Territories (Niue, Cook Island and Tokelau), settling with his wife and family- sons David, Andrew and James- in a then very rural Heretaunga Square. Two years later he was appointed head of the Department. In 1963 he was appointed to the State Services Commission and went on to head the Department of Maori Affairs, the only person ever to be secretary of both while they were separate departments.

Mr McEwen retired from the Public Service in 1975 and rarely would any civil servant have experienced the round of farewells accorded him - with ceremonies in all the Pacific Island communities along with a personal farewell from the late Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu herself, a woman whose qualities and aim of "uniting people, not dividing them" he admired and shared.

While his work as a public servant may have ended, his service to the public stepped up. The Orongomai years were to follow, a legacy that will live on and flourish in this city where all resident are "from the four winds".

Neighbour for over 30 years, Humphrey Rainey, recalled how Mr McEwen had introduced his wife Pat Rainey to the Mawai -Hakona Maori Association, a successful and prizewinning cultural group which had been chosen to entertain Royalty and, as the winner of the National Cultural Competitions in 1973, had been awarded the honour of singing at the opening of the Sydney Opera House. It was through Mawai-Hakona the dream began for an Urban Marae for Upper Hutt.

After eight years hard work by many, including these two Heretaunga Square neighbours Orongomai Marae officially opened in 1976, an inclusive Marae with its carvings representing New Zealand's major tribal areas and some of the Polynesian Islands of the Pacific. Amongst the Maori who welcomed visitors on the Marae for that opening was Jock McEwen. From its carved house Kahukura, a 12 year labour of love, to carvings for Te Atiawa and local colleges, the hands of this Master Carver were never still. His work with prisoners from the local prison bore the hope that by teaching young men the cultural arts of their ancestors, then that would help them become whole again. A Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship for his work with these men was one of Mr McEwen's proudest moments. Another was being appointed by the Queen to the Companion of Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) to honour important his service to the Commonwealth and other nations.


Mr McEwen had a long family history in the Hutt Valley area. In 1840 he had three great-great grandparents and four great grandparents living in the Hutt Valley, all from Scottish stock.

All his eight great-grandparents eventually lived in New Zealand and seven of his great-great-grandparents. His great- great -grandfather Andrew McEwen settled on "the hill" now known as Normandale and great grandfather David McEwen lived in Belmont. David McEwen did much of the road prospecting in the Hutt Valley, including the road access from Stokes Valley to Whirinaki (Silverstream) and he explored the possibility of an alternative road north through to the north.

David McEwen was also MP for Hutt in 1863. The McEwens arrived at Petone on the Bengal Merchant from Glasgow in February 1840, along with a fellow Belmont settler William Golder, the first Colonial poet and another whose family remains connected with Upper Hutt.

Also arriving on the Bengal Merchant was Mr McEwen's maternal great grandfather John Bryce, who lived in Naenae. A McKenzie great grandfather also lived in the Hutt Valley.

Later the families moved north to the Manawatu-Rangitikei-Wanganui areas- his mother's family in 1850 and his father's in 1867, where they continued to be to the forefront of moulding the fledgling new country, mainly as farmers, but also taking an interest in wider community affairs. Now the mantle has passed to Mr McEwen's three sons, 8 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

Upper Hutt Leader