Commemoration plans under way to mark watershed Waikato battle

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 12:16 28/03/2012

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Big commemoration plans, possibly involving royalty are in the works to mark one of the largest Waikato battles of the New Zealand Wars.

It's still two years away but March 2014 marks the 150-year anniversary of the colonial attack on Orakau Pa during the New Zealand Wars and the coinciding establishment of the district's towns including Pirongia, Te Awamutu, Ohaupo, Kihikihi and Cambridge.

The battle was particularly significant. It marked the end of the Waikato land wars and was noted for the complexity of the pa fortifications and the brilliant defence by 300 Maori including women and children.

The clash was about 5km east of Kihikihi township and is recognised as a site of national historical significance.

Waipa District Council's community manager relationships, Wayne Green, presented a report on the proposed commemorations to yesterday's council meeting.

He wrote that the site is expected to be the focus of a national, and potentially international, commemoration event, involving iwi, the Crown, international guests and possible members of the royal family.

Behind the plans is The Battle of Orakau Heritage Society Inc.

The current war memorial was dedicated in 1914 but is now crumbling away.

Consultation with local iwi and the wider Maori community showed was it time for a new memorial "more aesthetically appealing, culturally affirming, compelling and does justice to the more than 170 souls, both Maori and pakeha, who fell at Orakau".

A series of concept drawings to create a NZ Wars National Museum and Education Centre have been drafted and fundraising will start this year. Discussions yesterday focused on where it should be located and whether it could be leveraged as a tourist attraction.

Redevelopment of the pa site would include open lawns, a carved entranceway and several fully carved poupou, landscaped gardens, paved walkways, native plantings, a peace grove, water points, park benches, larger car park, and the new War Memorial.

The council's community relationships manager is also preparing to brief the Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples and Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson on planned activities and to provide a communication channel to central government. The report says VIP guests should be expected.

matt.bowen@waikatotimes.co.nz

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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