Veterans' Steps re-dedication - 11/11/2006Speech notes: Mayor Michael Laws
Distinguished Guests, Fellow Councillors, Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys & Girls
First, thanks to all those who assisted in organising this day – particularly council staff and the RSA for agreeing to combine the re-dedication with Remembrance Day commemorations:
- Very important day in Wanganui's history because it commemorates a vital feature of our heritage as a community... and as a partnership between Maori and Pakeha.
- Also remembers a battle that contemporary times seems to have forgotten.
- A battle as important to Wanganui as Moutoa – the Battle of Nukumaru in 1865 fought by colonial troops against the Hau Hau (which is on our northern most border with South Taranaki & just north of Maxwell). It is estimated that around 2,000 men were involved on each side of this battle – a not insubstantial number.
- There is another such battle that we do recall – the Battle of Moutoa when a force of "friendly Maori" (as they were then known) defeated a group of supposedly "unfriendly" Maori on the island of Moutoa up the Whanganui River. That too had overtones of the Hau Hau insurgency and the Pai Marire movement inspired by the prophet Te Ua.
- But Nukumaru was just as fierce and involved a full scale battle that saw 16 colonial troops killed and 32 wounded by a Maori force that was actually outnumbered, but skilful in planning & attack (24 Jan 1865).
- Maori forces attacked the next day as well, driving into the British pickets with more losses on both sides. Contemporary records note that "the Maoris fought with great determination and considerable tactical skill. Their fighting leader was Patohe – a very intelligent & bold Hau Hau soldier".
- The Hau Hau also had the active support of Te Kahupukoro – the ariki of the Ngati Ruanui tribe. Which rather explains why John Maihi's ancestors – here in Wanganui – immediately offered to assist the beleaguered British!
- The Maori loss was rather more than the British but the Hau Hau had the satisfaction of surprising a British camp in open daylight and ... forcing the presiding Lt-Gen Cameron to keep the coast in his later military manoeuvres.
- More importantly the incident cemented relations between our local iwi and settlers in Wanganui. They regarded the Hau Hau as a joint threat and local Maori played an active role in protecting the Pakeha community.
- We continue to enjoy that special relationship to this day – recognised by the joint Council-iwi working parties.
- Today is not a celebration of war but a commemoration of sacrifice. A reminder that this country had a violent past that it overcame – that peace and prosperity can flourish where once there was conflict and dissension.
But it also suggests something else.
The need for Wanganui to embrace its past – Maori & Pakeha.
We have an appalling record for overlooking the fact that we stand here today because of the hard work and enterprise of all those who went before. Some, literally, gave their lives. They are buried under these steps and we salute them today.
Let this day – then - be the end of Wanganui's wilful blindness.
Let it be an occasion that spurs us to remember and celebrate, to acknowledge and re-dedicate ourselves ... to making Wanganui a better, brighter and more aware community.