Protest day turned the tide

The Maori land protest at Raglan 30 years ago helped bring about a major change in attitudes to land disputes

Last updated 22:19 30/05/2008
DONNA PAGET/Waikato Times
RESTING PLACE: Angeline Greensil at the grave of her mother, Eva Rickard, who died in 1997. The urupa also marks the site where Rickard and 16 other protesters were arrested on the former Raglan golf course.

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It is quiet now, a place of peaceful reflection. Angeline Greensill sits on a park bench beside her mother's grave and looks out at Whaingaroa Harbour. In an otherwise clear sky, a few wispy clouds stretch over Raglan. Tucked away down the end of Riria Kereopa Memorial Dr, half a dozen children from the kohanga reo play in the noon sunshine.

It was another beautiful day, 30 years ago, when Greensill's mother, Eva Rickard, was dragged from her ancestral land and arrested by police. There was shouting and anger as leading Maori activists from the hundreds-strong crowd were carried to paddy wagons by police, while television cameras filmed the chaos.

Rickard, who died in 1997, was one of 17 protesters arrested, accused of trespassing on the 25 1/2 Raglan Golf Course on February 12, 1978, and taken to jail.

The day was part of the turning of the tide for the land rights movement, following the historic Maori Land Rights March of 1975.

At the time, only five per cent of New Zealand was in Maori hands, and protesters were calling for no more Maori land to be taken away.

After the Raglan protests came Bastion Point, where 222 protesters were arrested on May 25, 1978, after a 507-day occupation of ancestral land.

It was a time when the country took a big step forward in race relations, acknowledging the rights of Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi, thanks in large part to protesters like Rickard. The Waitangi Tribunal had been set up in 1975 to deal with unresolved land disputes. The Maori language became an official language of New Zealand in 1987, and kohanga reo flourished.

Greensill, the eldest of Rickard's nine children, was beside her mother when she was arrested. She was a young mother in her late 20s, with three children, and Rickard was in her mid-50s.

"They arrested all the prominent faces," recalls Greensill, now a Waikato University geography department lecturer, Hauraki-Waikato Maori party candidate and mother of seven and grandmother of 11. "There were a lot of people in front of them, but they came for those they wanted."

There were hundreds of people, and only enough room in the paddy wagons for so many.

Syd Jackson, Hana Te Hemara, Rowley Habib, John Hippolite, Tama Poata, Turi Blake, and others who had been involved in the 1975 land march, were targeted.

The land had been taken from local Tainui Awhiro Maori during World War II for a military airfield, and never returned to the tribe.

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"Before 1941, this was our village," says Greensill, looking over the grassy land. "There were 11 families living on the land, on dairy farms. There was a marae over here. The airport wasn't much of a success though and planes could never really land, due to the air currents, and would end up in the lupins."

In 1969 the Raglan County Council leased the land to the Raglan Golf Club, and it became a nine-hole golf course. Rickard and other Raglan Maori happily played golf there.

Then, in the mid-1970s it was expanded into an 18-hole course. "That's what caused the conflict," says Greensill. "My mother wrote all these letters (to the golf club, the council and government), but they wouldn't listen."

The club wanted to turn a sacred area, a burial site, into a bunker. Another sacred area, where a taniwha was believed to live, became an effluent pond, to the distress of the tribe. Elders prayed to the taniwha, apologising and told it they couldn't stop what was happening, and would leave it for the spirit world to resolve. "That year there were 12 drownings," says Greensill.

To lift the tapu, 12 tohunga gathered on February 12 at noon.

It was the site of the 18th hole. The burial site had been bulldozed, the wrought iron surrounds destroyed, so graves were unmarked.

The service coincided with a golf tournament, and the disgruntled golfers arrived about 9am to find protesters already encamped on the course.

"They had built a whare so by the time the golfers arrived it was an occupation," says Greensill. "I didn't expect arrests though, not like that. I thought I was going to see something I'd never seen before 12 tohunga together in one place."

The noon ceremony was delayed because a few VIPs travelling from far away still had not arrived. The police went back and forth between the golf clubhouse, where the kohanga reo now sits, and the 18th hole, trying to negotiate. The core group, arms linked, sang and did welcoming haka as the police approached.

Syd Jackson, who had just arrived and was helping two kaumatua from the car, was promptly arrested.

"Poor Syd. He said to mum later, `Jeez Eva, you invite me to a celebration, and I don't even get a cup of tea, I just get arrested'," laughs Greensill.

She says she and many of her mother's supporters also wanted to be arrested too, but the police didn't want them. "I remember Mrs McQueen, a tiny old lady, trying to get herself arrested. She was trying to step up into the paddy wagon but her legs were too short, and the police said, `dear, we don't want you'."

The protesters were non-violent, with several men sitting or lying on the ground, but the police picked out the ones they wanted, and carried or frog-marched them to the waiting vans.

As Rickard was lugged away by two policewomen, her wrist was severely twisted, an injury that bothered her for years after.

"They wanted her, and isolated her. I was angry, I wanted to get arrested too."

Her six-year-old son Antony, was upset to see his grandmother Eva arrested. "He said, `why are the policemen taking nanny away?' Before that, we'd thought of the police as someone who helped you. I don't know if he ever got over seeing that."

A TV crew was there to film the lifting of the taniwha tapu, but caught the protest and arrests instead, which appeared on the 6pm news. "I think seeing that woke people up," says Greensill. "People were shocked."

The Raglan police station cells were not big enough to hold the protesters, so they were transported to Te Awamutu, because the Hamilton police station was having a public open day.

The 17 were fingerprinted and photographed, then transferred to Hamilton at the end of the day, given a hotel-prepared meal, and sent home about 6pm.

"They had a tangi at mum's," says Greensill. "All these people `come back from the dead' and they spent the night at my mother's preparing their court case and what they would do next."

 

TUWHARETOA poet and playwright Rowley Habib, 75, remembers that sunny February day, 30 years ago. He was arrested, alongside Eva Rickard and the others.

"Eventually the cause was won for Eva," says Habib. "The Raglan arrests were before Bastion Point, but I think for the Maori land movement, Raglan put things on the path."

Of the 17 arrested that day, only eight or nine are still alive.

Habib had walked the length of the North Island in the 1975 land march, and attended protests around the country during the mid-1970s. "Eva's (protest at Raglan) was just one of them," says Habib. "She was making her stand."

He remembers getting the call. "They said, `Eva is going to have a sit-in. She needs support.' We would pack in a couple of cars and would travel (from Wellington) overnight." One time he came, but the police didn't show up.

But on February 12, 1978, they did. 

``It was more to do with the taniwha rather than the protest, but then we got through word that Eva was having a protest or sit-in and needed bodies. She needed a body count and we were likely to be arrested,'' says Habib, who now lives in Taupo.

There were several hundred gathered at the urupa, including many elderly. There were only about 15 or 20 police.

``We were told to be peaceful and we tried to make ourselves as difficult as possible to carry off. I think I lay down, but I was hauled off to the van. A couple (of policemen) had me  a leg each  and one had me by the scruff of the neck, and they carried me. They pulled others aside who were in front of me and came straight for me. I'd never had a policeman lay a hand on me before, and it was not one, but several. I felt defiled, like I needed a shower.''

One of his worst memories was from later that night, after they were released from ntsGthente Hamilton police station and were back at Rickard's house, which overlooked the golf course. ``I was sleeping out on Eva's veranda, and the sound of the golf club people down there, celebrating and boozing up and laughing their heads off, came up to me. It felt like they were laughing at us, as if they were saying, `silly buggers, did you see them?' ''

In retrospect, he feels sorry for the golfers.``The golf club people were the meat in the sandwich,'' says Habib. A lot of money was invested and the golf course was seen as a jewel in the crown for the remote seaside town, not only for local retirees and sportspeople, but to attract rich golfing tourists.

Several months later, the case went to court and the protesters got off their trespass charges on a technicality.

 ``The judge searched through the law books for some obscure technicality to let us off because he knew Eva was right, but he had to abide by the law,'' says Habib.
After that, came years of bitter court cases, and back and forth between the Crown and Raglan Maori.

In the early 1980s, Angeline Greensill recalled Prime Minister Robert Muldoon calling  her mother.
``He wanted to see mum in Wellington to offer the return of the golf course if they would pay for the land,'' recalls Greensill. ``And she refused. She said, `why should I pay for it, when the Crown never paid us in the first place'.''

In 1987, the land was finally returned to Tainui Awhiro.          

FOR Raglan, a small close-knit community, the protests saw a town divided, mostly along Maori and pakeha lines. ``There was a definite drop in climate. It was not a comfortable time,'' says Greensill. ``There was a feeling of, what are you going to do with it? Is it going to turn into gorse?'' 

However, Rickard had some pakeha friends supporting her in the community.  ``The wife of the Raglan Golf Club President (Keith Bird), Mrs Bird, would ring up mum and tell her what the golfers were up to,'' laughs Greensill.

Today, there is a new Raglan Golf Club on Te Hutewai Rd, not far above where the old course used to be.   Many of the old club members have since died, and Keith Bird died about  20 years ago. His son, Rusty Bird, remembers the arrests, and the impact on his father and the Raglan community.

``My father was an extremely passionate golfer,'' says Rusty, who was in his mid-20s at the time. ``It was a beautiful course, right on the water and I played there a couple of times myself.''

He says his father was philosophical about the battle for the golf course. ``I remember during a TV interview, he was asked `How do you feel about the Maoris?' and he said, `Well, at the moment I have four Maori grandchildren.'

``It was a bit of a conflict for him, I think he was torn between his role as president of the golf club and having a lot of Maori friends and family.''

The Bird family grew up at Te Akau, and Rusty was one of seven. He remembers Eva Rickard well, as someone involved in the community, and fundraising. As a boy, he would row across the harbour to get mail from Rickard, who was working at the local post office. He also sang in concerts she organised, including one for a battalion of Vietnam veterans, accompanied by Rickard's son, Jon-Jon.

``She did a lot for the community, it is a pity she is remembered in Raglan mostly for (the protests),'' says Rusty. 

He thinks it is good that Maori now have an avenue, through the Waitangi Tribunal, to address land grievances.          

TODAY, the once disputed land is a place of healing. 

After the land was given back, to Tainui Awhiro in the early 1980s,nte a kohanga reo and training centre were developed, with programmes helping marginalised groups, including former prisoners, young drug addicts and mental health patients.

A single-storey hostel provides a retreat for school children. ``A golf club was an exclusive place, but this is inclusive, giving school children time out and it is used by a lot of different people,'' says Greensill.

Now, some 30 years later, it is hard for the younger generation to understand what the protests meant. ``The sad thing is, young people don't know the history of the land marches and Bastion Point. Many of the students I teach (at Waikato University), in their early 20s, it is all new to them. Out of that time came a resurgence in Maori language and kohanga reo and kura kaupapa. My daughter can't envisage a time when we were punished for speaking our language, but I grew up being strapped for it in school.''
Greensill says race relations in New Zealand are not perfect. Statistics show higher levels of Maori in prison, in poverty and struggling. The police raids on the Tuhoi people last year was a fissure in race relations.

She is concerned that immigration will mean a loss of understanding of tangata whenua and the importance of Maori history and culture in New Zealand.

 ``On the surface (race relations) look okay, but there are 154 different nationalities now, and do they really know about the history between Maori and Pakeha and do they know about the history of the Treaty of Waitangi and the government's obligations under the treaty? There needs to be more education.''

In 1988, 10 years after the arrests, the protesters reunited at the site and the Maori Queen unveiled a statue of Kupe, which looks over the urupa and land today. At his feet are two taniwha, and he is wearing iron shackles. ``We had 17 keys and gave them to the 17 arrested, so they could symbolically cast off the chains of the past,'' says Greensill.

That February day set  events in motion with unforeseen impact. ``Bastion Point was a bigger version of Raglan and what happened there,'' says Habib. ``The battle seemed to be lost, but the war was won in the end, and they got their land back just like Eva got her land back.'' 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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