Iwi-hapu row blamed for state of pa site

 Historian Nigel Ogle is disappointed with the state of the Turuturu Mokai reserve pa site. He stands next to a scale model of the one of the pa as it was around 400 years ago.
Historian Nigel Ogle is disappointed with the state of the Turuturu Mokai reserve pa site. He stands next to a scale model of the one of the pa as it was around 400 years ago.

Graffiti, burnt-out buildings, and piles of charred rubbish covering one of Taranaki's most significant and historic sites is infuriating the public.

Turuturu Mokai reserve, on the outskirts of Hawera, has one of the best preserved Maori pa in the country but with almost head-high grass and gorse claiming the 10.5 hectare site it is barely recognisable from the well-kept reserve it was five years ago.

Its current dismal state has labelled a health risk by local iwi and "extremely sad" by Hawera historian Nigel Ogle.

Mr Ogle said thousands of Taranaki school children had visited the once beautiful site.

He compared 400-year-old Turuturu Mokai to Auckland's One Tree Hill in national significance, saying it would be difficult to find any Maori fortification as large or well preserved.

"It's been such a valuable education resource in the area for so long, it's got so much potential, it's cleary defined and easily accessible. It's a very good example of a pre-European pa," he said.

"I have no knowledge of the politics going on but it needs to be sorted out, it's such a shame how it has been taken away from Taranaki kids."

The responsibility of the mess, which includes a discarded fridge containing an old computer and a soggy Bible, officially lies with local iwi Ngati Ruanui.

The reserve, including a European military redoubt dating back to 1866, was handed over from the South Taranaki District Council to the iwi in 2001 as part of its $41 million treaty settlement.

However, its ownership has been challenged by a hapu, Ngati Tupaia, who fought for exclusive possession of Turuturu Mokai for more than a decade before it was given, they claim wrongly, to the iwi.

Yesterday iwi chairperson Ngapari Nui acknowledged the distressing state of the pa and said the iwi was in the process of passing it on to the hapu, which had demanded its return through occupation in 2002.

"At the moment we are just waiting for a couple of people to sign it over," he said.

"We need 100 per cent support from the trustees before we give it back, that's been a stumbling block."

Mr Nui said despite this there had been a clean-up effort over the past two months with a lot of rubbish removed from the reserve.

"We're just about to do a management plan on keeping the place up to the expectations of the community. It's probably a health risk at the moment."

Mr Nui said they were looking to other stakeholders to help bring the pa back to its former glory.

South Taranaki District Council Mayor Ross Dunlop said the council had not been asked for help in cleaning up Turuturu Mokai and he was concerned at its state.

"The treaty settlement process has not helped and caused issues about who's responsible between iwi and hapu," he said.

"But I have had positive discussions with Ngati Ruanui leaders and I believe a clean-up has begun."

Taranaki Daily News