New subdivision planned for site of historic eviction reignites anger of the land wars
An entire Maori community were forced from their homes. Now Fletchers plans to buy the land for a new subdivision – but not if the descendants of the original owners can stop the deal.
The date was July 9, 1863. Armed British and New Zealand troops entered a small unsuspecting village and forced the inhabitants from the land on which they had lived for 800 years. Even the aged and sick were compelled to pick up what they could carry and leave.
Now the small community of Ihumatao, just three kilometres from present-day Auckland International Airport, is the focus of renewed controversy, as the urgent need for new housing clashes with the protection of New Zealand heritage.
"It is one of the sites of earliest human settlement in New Zealand," says historian and writer Vincent O'Malley.
The Te Waiohua people who gave Auckland its original name of Tamaki Makaurau settled there around 1100 AD. Moa still roamed scrublands and Rangitoto hadn't erupted to dominate Auckland Harbour.
The area, now centred on the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, contains New Zealand's oldest stone-walled field systems, windbreaks, heat-conservation areas for tropical crops, burial caves, and the foundations of whare.
"It is almost like a New Zealand Stonehenge and, really, would the English put a housing development right next to Stonehenge?" asks O'Malley. "No, they wouldn't."
BUT NZ NEEDS NEW HOUSING?
"Clearly, there is a big shortage of housing in Auckland," says Steve Evans, chief executive of Fletcher Building's Residential & Land Development. "So we are going through a development process for up to 450 homes at Oruarangi Road and we think it will be a great community."
"We are respectful of the site's cultural history."
The subdivision will be designed to provide "a sympathetic gateway to the stone fields". The company has set aside 25 per cent of the land as buffer zones and used ground-penetrating radar to identify historic sites.
"This is the place where Polynesians became Maori," explains Pania Newton, the spokesperson for the 2,000 member SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) group. "It is a national treasure. Don't let 450 millionaires own this space, let five million New Zealanders enjoy it."
For Vincent O'Malley, this fresh heritage confrontation is simply another engagement in a very long war. His just-released book, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800 -2000 is the first full length overview of the Waikato Wars since 1879.
Taking control of the small village of Ihumatao in 1863 was the initial step towards a much larger goal. The Waikato was "seen as an incredibly fertile area just a few miles from Auckland that was closed to European settlement," says O'Malley.
Governor-General George Grey also wished to destroy the Maori King movement. "It was a rival to his unbridled power and authority."
O'Malley's revelations about Grey are central to his case. "Grey is just the master of deception and fraud really," he states "and the evidence, or so-called evidence, that he puts together to send to England is just a trail of lies and deceit."
"Grey constructed his own personal dodgy dossier which he sent to Britain which basically conned the British government into a war they didn't want to be part of."
It led to a conflict where the Maori casualty-rate was higher on a per capita basis than New Zealand soldiers in World War One.
"You have a professional standing army belonging to the world's sole super-power, which Britain was at the time, up against a civilian population. It was an asymmetrical war. The Maori have no artillery, no cavalry, they have no logistical supply train, so they have to not only fight but feed themselves. On the other hand, the British have armour plated steamers. They construct the Great South Road and they have the latest firepower and artillery."
It was at Rangiaowhia, near Te Awamutu, that the war's most infamous moment occurred. "It was a place of refuge for women, children and the elderly," O'Malley comments. "There were no fighters there."
Armed cavalry charged into Rangiaowhia at dawn on a Sunday morning when the inhabitants were at prayer. Those fleeing the conflict were shot. Another group were deliberately targeted and burned alive in a whare.
O'Sullivan says the official casualty rate of 12 is problematic. "There are many suggestions it was much higher."
"That is something Tainui remember with bitterness and pain over many generations. It is one of the most shocking episodes of the entire conflict."
THE NEXT CONTROVERSIAL LAND SALE?
For Pania Newton and SOUL, the effects of the war are still resonant.
Newton grew up in Ihumatao. Her family still lives there. "1100 acres were confiscated," Newton says. "All we have now are 0.067 acres where our marae lies."
The confiscated land was given by the Crown to Gavin Wallace in 1867 and has been passed by inheritance to his descendants, the Blackwell family, who are negotiating its sale to Fletcher's.
"Fletcher's at this current point in time, do not own the land," Evans admits, "but over the coming weeks we will own the land."
"No one has approached us with regard to any alternative arrangement," he continues.
Newton, on the other hand, says SOUL has met with Fletcher Living manager Ken Lotu-liga and raised their concerns. The group points out "failures in the decision-making processes" of local bodies in the transfer to the Auckland Supercity which have gone against "earlier agreements that promised that the land would become part of the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve".
"It is a continuous landscape," says Newton. "Eight hundred houses right next door to it is not a sensitive development."
- Sunday Star Times