Veteran celebrates historic Maori protest

A defining moment in Maori land claims will be celebrated today, with the 30th anniversary of the forced end to the occupation of Bastion Point.

On this day 30 years ago, New Zealanders were stunned when an 800-strong force of police and army moved on to the Auckland landmark and arrested 222 Ngati Whatua and Pakeha supporters who had camped out on the site for 507 days to try to force its return to the tangata whenua.

One of the occupation leaders, Joe Hawke, will have mixed emotions when he stands on the precious land today to join other "patriots" in remembering the historic moments.

"It will be a time to remember and a time to celebrate," Hawke, 68, told Sunday News. "But it will also be a time of sadness because of what we had to do.

"It was the price we had to pay for the whenua (land). New Zealand cried that day."

The former Labour MP, now the Bastion Point kaumatua, stirred supporters to action to reclaim the land in 1977.

"We are landless in our own land. The struggle for retention of this land is the most important struggle our people have faced in a number of years," Hawke said at the time.

"To lose this last bit of ground would be a death blow to the mana, to the honour and to the dignity of the Ngati Whatua people. We are prepared to go all the way because legally we have the right to do it."

Bastion Point, on Auckland's waterfront, was owned by Ngati Whatua before the British colonisation.

In 1885, the NZ Government built a military outpost there because it commanded a good strategic position over Waitemata Harbour.

In 1941, when the Crown no longer needed the land for defence, it did not return it to Ngati Whatua but instead gifted it to the Auckland City Council for a reserve.

The last straw for the iwi was when, in 1976, the Crown announced it planned to develop Bastion Point by selling it to the highest corporate bidder for high-income housing.

Hawke led a group of 30 on to the land on January 4, 1977.

The occupation gained quick support and hundreds turned up to join.

Supporters included now Labour MP Phil Goff, Green MP Sue Bradford, Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt, Maori Doctors' Association CEO Ripeka Evans and chairman of the Auckland DHB Pat Sneddon.

To help fund the protest, musicians played free concerts at a number of venues.

Unions also pitched in which lead to Hawke being dubbed a "communist" by then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, who ordered police and army to end the occupation.

Protestors got wind of the government force's imminent action three days before they moved in.

"We had to make sure it was a peaceful protest and no one resisted or started trouble," Hawke said.

"We had prepared for it. You are talking about some tough bar brawlers in Auckland not starting trouble.

"We got the children away. But people were crying everywhere and old kuia and kaumatua were asking young Maori and Pacific Island police officers why they were arresting their own people.

"Since then, I have had many officers involved in the arrests come to Bastion Point and cry because they were just doing what they were ordered to do."

Officers targeted kaumatua first, who were taken along to Auckland central police station, where emotional and chaotic scenes broke out.

As new groups arrived, they were greeted with hakas and waiatas, as one by one the 222 were charged with the illegal occupation of the land.

The protestors had to wait a further decade before they won the land back.

In its 1987 report, the Waitangi Tribunal recommended Okahu Park and Bastion Point be returned to Ngati Whatua with the proviso the land be used as public domains. Orakei marae, Okahu church and the urupa were also to be returned, along with a $3 million payment for securing an economic base.

Hawke said the stand they took at Bastion Point will be remembered for "awakening Maori".

"It set the tone for the future," he said.

Sunday News