In memory of Waiari Pa battle

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2014
Colonel Bede Fahey and Frank Kingi Thorne
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

OWNING HISTORY: New Zealand Defence Force Colonel Bede Fahey and Ngati Hikairo spokesman Frank Kingi Thorne mark the 150-year commemoration of the battle at Waiari Pa with a hongi.

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Military representatives, Maori and a mayor came together on a grassy knoll that overlooks a stream near Pirongia to remember the battle that produced New Zealand's first Victoria Cross.

A bloody fight broke out at the Mangapiko Stream 150 years ago as Maori and colonial troops clashed.

A wounded Captain Charles Heaphy was awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, after he carried a fellow soldier to safety.

Yesterday, more than 60 people from Ngati Hikairo and Ngati Apakura, Waipa council and community members gathered at the old Waiari Pa site that overlooks the Mangapiko Stream to pay tribute to the conflict.

It continues a series of 150-year commemorations to sweep through the region from Mangatawhiri in north Waikato to Orakau Pa in April and although Waiari was not well-known, Ngati Apakura elder Tom Roa said it was important to remember.

"The primary thing is that we have to remember those lives that were lost. This site, Waiari, has historical significance to Ngati Hikairo and therefore Ngati Apakura of such significance that we felt we had to commemorate it here at the heart of the pa."

Representatives from the NZ Defence Force and mayor Jim Mylchreest joined Ngati Hikairo at the pa site and Mr Roa said all sides should be remembered.

"There is also the loss of life on the colonial forces side but also the award of the Victoria Cross to Captain Heaphy," he said. "It's an opportunity for Maori to engage with Pakeha and for there to be meaningful sharing of history, sharing of thoughts."

Ngati Hikairo spokesman Frank Kingi Thorne said it was a chance to mourn their past and celebrate their future.

"It's a celebration of who we are and unfortunately it's a commemoration, a commiseration and a celebration."

Ngati Hikairo lost 39 lives from a population that numbered fewer than 150 at the time of the land wars and Mr Thorne said remembering them left him with mixed feelings.

"It's emotional. It's weird. It's good but it's bad," said Mr Thorne. "It's an opportunity for Ngati Hikairo to own our history, we want to be able to operate as who we are and celebrate our history."

Mr Mylchreest said it was a moving ceremony and gave him a chance to reflect on how far the district had come in a short space of time. "I suppose it's very telling that these events took place in our grandparents and great-grandparents time so it's not that long ago."

Waipa historian Alan Hall said the commemorations had brought a greater public awareness to local historical sites.

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- Waikato Times

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