Calls for park to be established to remember both sides of land war conflict

New Plymouth councillor Craig McFarlane and Te Atiawa kaumatua Grant Knuckey want a memorial park created on McLean St ...
Robert Charles/FAIRFAX NZ

New Plymouth councillor Craig McFarlane and Te Atiawa kaumatua Grant Knuckey want a memorial park created on McLean St to commemorate all of the lives lost during the Maori land wars of the 1860s.

A Taranaki kaumatua wants a separate memorial set up to pay tribute to Maori who died in the 19th century land wars.

Te Atiawa's Grant Knuckey said his idea to establish a memorial park on Waitara's McLean St would address the current historical imbalance, which only reflects the losses suffered by the colonial troops. 

Knuckey said the park would incorporate the existing obelisk erected in 1915 to honour 34 British soldiers who died in the 1860 land wars.

There was a lack of public recognition for the losses tangata whenua suffered during this time, he said.

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"It really is a tragedy," he said.

"The memorial park would go some way in getting the message out there and saying this is our history," he said.

Of the 18 land war memorials dotted around Taranaki only a handful make mention of Maori being killed. 

Although the total number who perished during the fighting is not certain, it is believed about 2750 people died across the country,  the majority of which were Maori.

Recently, there has been a campaign for nation-wide recognition of the wars.

In December, Otorohanga College students collected 10,000 signatures in support of a national holiday to commemorate the conflict.  There have also been calls for more education to be rolled out in schools about the land wars.  

However last month, the Ministry of Education refused to include the topic in the national curriculum saying it was up to school boards to set their own learning programmes.  

Knuckey said if the commemorative park was created, a kind of history "precinct" would be formed in the town, which also encompassed the Waitara war memorial, which is across the road.

Knuckey said the area had the potential to be  transformed into a place people could visit, complete with walkway and seating.

"It would be a nice place to bring a cuppa and talk about the history of Waitara," he said.

The section became  vacant after the old head master's house was demolished and it is currently land banked with the Office of Treaty of Settlements. 

Knuckey said he did not see funding  as a barrier as long as the community supported it.

Waitara community board members and district councillor Craig McFarlane was totally behind Knuckey's idea.

He described the area, which is maintained by the council, as a "hidden gem" for Waitara and one which provided a unique link to its history.

But while the losses suffered by the British had already been memorialised, that was not the case for Maori, something he thought needed to be rectified.

"I think the story needs to be complete," he said.

He said the memorial  park could provide a positive focus for the town and believed  it would attract a cross-section of support.

"I couldn't see why Pakeha Waitara wouldn't embrace something like this," McFarlane said.

Fellow councillor Colin Johnston said he was happy to work alongside Knuckey and other iwi members to try and make the idea a reality. 

He said it was important that both sides of Waitara's land wars history was recognised.

Waitara RSA patron Barry Quarterman also supported the prospect of a park being established on what he described as a "wasted" piece of land.

"It sounds like a good idea," he said.

 

 - Stuff

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