Buddy Mikaere, pictured in front of the Gate Pā reserve in Tauranga.

On 29 April 1864, just over 200 Māori faced a force of about 1,700 Pākehā on the outskirts of what would become modern-day Tauranga. Against all odds, Māori won the Battle of Pukehinahina—Gate Pā. Sadly, as Buddy Mikaere writes in this extract from Victory at Gate Pā?, that decisive win didn’t prevent Tauranga hapū and iwi from becoming landless and suffering the devastating consequences of that loss.


As a descendant of one of the Pukehinahina defenders, I am often asked: so what does that mean?

Firstly, it has an intellectual meaning. As a historian of race relations in New Zealand, I believe that understanding the past is a precursor to understanding our present and building a foundation for how we go into the future.

Pukehinahina–Gate Pā is such a rich and resonant story that continues to evolve, but over 150 years later, we are still trying to reconcile our past with our present, and the best I can say is that it is a work in progress — watch this space.

Māori look at the future through the lens of their past, so the events of April and June 1864 contain unresolved elements that must be addressed if we are to truly go forward as a united people.

In many ways, the story of Pukehinahina–Gate Pā gives us an opportunity to do that. A good knowledge of that event and its aftermath and, importantly, its consequences, gives us a common understanding that is a solid foundation for mutual respect and a shared sense of community.

Despite the ongoing efforts of many to disrupt or push a different perspective, the whole of our history shows me that, in the end, good sense will prevail as far as the core Māori–Pākehā relationship is concerned. We will reach an accommodation where all of us, willingly or not, will have moulded a society that is uniquely different from anywhere else in the world.

We are not there yet, but it is something that I am happy to pass on to my children and their children and their friends and families, so that embracing our shared history, the heritage stories like Pukehinahina–Gate Pā, becomes a natural part of being a Kiwi.

As Governor Hobson described it on 6 February 1840: he iwi kotahi, one nation.

It will come as no surprise that it is the Pukehinahina story from the heart that captures me every time.

Of all the hapū and iwi in Tauranga, the confiscation of lands in 1865, some 214,000 acres (in 1928, the Sim Commission found it was 291,000 acres), as punishment for rebellion, fell most heavily on my Ngāi Tamarāwaho hapū.

Governor Grey had promised that the government would only retain one quarter of the land confiscated. But he did not say that that one quarter would be all in one place. While representatives from almost all those same hapū and iwi fought at Pukehinahina, participated in the “rebellion”, most of them had their lands returned to them.

Big tracts of our land were also allocated as reward to those who had taken the British side in the Tauranga fighting, land which they immediately sold. Other land was put into reserves.

But the government kept a tight grip on the 50,000 acres that now form Tauranga city. Our protests about the unfairness of that situation began almost immediately, and in one form or another continue today.

That 50,000 acres was almost entirely our traditional lands. We were left with a small reserve at Huria, Judea, mostly swamp, and land at Taumata on the far side of Pyes Pā, halfway to Rotorua.

A series of protests about the inadequacy of the Huria reserve led to the granting of some further small reserves along present-day Cambridge Road. In 1927, it was found that of the two “urban” reserves at Cambridge Road and Huria, 59 acres was owned by 61 persons and a further 4-acre block was owned by 112 persons. With succession orders, some owners had as their share one 300th of a share.

Yet, according to previous inquiries, this land was said to be ample to provide for their subsistence. The tiny reserves were not enough for the hapū families to live on, let alone support themselves. Every inch of the Huria reserve that could be, was cultivated right down to the tide line, where high tides and storm surge could ruin the gardens — and that was without even considering the difficulty of making the salty soil productive.

But gardening and what they could gather from the harbour and sea shore were what sustained them. Many Ngāi Tamarāwaho families were forced to occupy any vacant land around the city; they became squatters.

From the early 1920s through into the 1950s, they could be found living in the middle of Tauranga city — along Spring, Elizabeth, Grey and Willow Streets, in and around Cliff Road, the Domain, Memorial Park and right through to Greerton, including Gate Pā.

They were similarly spread across land on the Ōtumoetai and Matua Peninsula. The families lived in tents, makeshift shelters — sometimes in hedges — on lands which they also cultivated.

At Ōtumoetai, much land was given over to them to use by generous families, who allowed them to live there in return for farm and cropping work. The city squats were mostly in locations which were remembered from much earlier times as being suited to intensive cultivation and which, as in Spring Street, had a reliable water supply.

Gardening took on a great importance because it was the main source of food, while the sale of surplus vegetables earned money to buy those basics that had become part of their lifestyle: flour, tea, sugar and tobacco. In some cases, the vegetables grown were bartered for goods such as clothes.

Fishing and the gathering of kai moana were other activities. The fish was also traded. At the Taumata, those living there had access to birds and bush foods. The legacy of those days remains with many of our families today.

The ubiquitous “boil up”, which in some families remains a mainstay meal, dates from those desperate times. Cheap cuts of fatty meat, like brisket and mutton flaps, any green vegetable including pūhā or watercress, potatoes and kūmara, dumplings made from flour and water, all cooked together in one pot and providing the whole family with their main meal for the day.

Fish was treated the same way. The fillets might get sold or traded but the frames and heads were kept and served up with boiled potatoes; the bones were picked clean.

For a treat there might be enamel mugs of hot sweet black tea and bread made from roughly kneaded flour and water, baked in camp ovens or in the ashes of the fire; dripping or lard was a substitute for butter.

The same dripping in a mussel or pāua shell and with a rag wick made the smokey candles that lit the hovels in which the people lived.

Some work was available but it was irregular and relentlessly physical. Farm work and labouring became the mainstay of the Ngāi Tamarāwaho economy, providing employment but more importantly food.

The hapū provided the labourers who worked on the town roads and laboured on the railway bridge and the railway line. They were the ones who were given the work of carting the soil and digging, largely by hand, the railway cutting through their old pā site of Otamataha. This then allowed the railway line along the harbour front to be constructed using the fill.

The impoverished hardship spawned by the land confiscations was a constant reminder to our people of the unfairness of their treatment and they determined not to accept the injustice of their situation. Many hui were held to discuss the hapū circumstances and it was decided that this was a matter that should be taken to the highest level.

Between 1873 and 1889, some 40 petitions to parliament were made by Tauranga Māori seeking redress over their confiscated lands. Opportunities to corner visiting politicians were also taken. Te Auetu, the woman who as a young girl had carted wounded soldiers from the Pukehinahina battlefield, confronted one such visiting Minister in 1907 and received the glib promise that the government would look at it.

Ngāi Tamarāwaho realised at the start of the 20th century that a real commitment and concerted effort was needed to redress matters. Those with jobs were asked to put aside a shilling a week from their wages to fund the petitions that, from the 1920s especially, were regularly sent with delegations to Wellington, seeking a review of the hapū and its landless plight.

A shilling (10 cents) was a great deal of money at that time and was an additional hardship that the working hapū members had to bear.

Te Auetu’s son, George, took a leading hand in organising the petitions. In 1928, those petitions led to a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Tauranga lands question. But although the injustice was recognised on the ground, there was no change in the hapū circumstances.

The Commission, which did not bother to investigate the structure of the various tribal and hapū groups around the harbour, found that the confiscations were justifiable and not excessive.

Undeterred, the Ngāi Tamarāwaho efforts to seek redress continued up to the outbreak of the Second World War, when many of the hapū leaders went overseas to fight as part of the Māori Battalion.

The protest resumed immediately after the war, with the return of the soldiers giving a fresh impetus to the efforts to right the injustice. There was some sympathy for the Ngāi Tamarāwaho plight when it was made public that Huria, easily the poorest marae in Tauranga, had raised over £45,000 (around $3 million in today’s currency) as their contribution towards the war effort.

But the end of the war also saw a growth spurt in the city and, as the vacant lands in the growing town filled up, the hapū squatters were slowly but inexorably pushed out.

The stories from these times are pitiful and it is the memories of those hard times that keeps the Ngāi Tamarāwaho mamae (grief, hurt and sorrow) over the loss of their confiscated lands, alive.

It is these stories of injustice and the hand-to-mouth, desperate daily existence of life for my grandparents that has helped shape me.

A Grandfather’s Legacy

I honour my ancestors. The people of my grandfather’s generation were born and raised post Pukehinahina–Gate Pā in a largely rural Tauranga that we would not recognise today.

They were poorly educated, lived in sub-standard shacks and lean-tos with dirt floors, had no water supply or electricity, drew water from springs, fed themselves from their own gardens and from what they could gather from sea and bush, and suffered from health problems, with little or no access to medical facilities.

I can remember being taken to see my great-grandmother’s sister who, almost blind, was living in a dirt-floor house, which she kept as neat as a pin.

The people just lived lives of grinding poverty. It is not that they were lazy or lacked a work ethic — in terms of productive work, they would put any modern labourer to shame. In their time, a dawn-to-dusk work day was the norm for adults and children.

Even the lives of my parents in their early years together were rooted in an existence that relied hugely on what you could gather from land, sea and forest.

My grandfather, Rātoru Mate Mikaere, became a successful entrepreneur. He owned a truck, which was central to gathering and hawking vegetables, fish, shellfish and watermelon around the town and further afield.

His children, my father and his brothers and sisters, provided the labour in growing or gathering the goods for sale. As a small child, I can barely remember him running a film projector from the battery of the truck and showing jerky movies at the marae, to the delight of the people who paid a penny for the privilege. He also sold hot dogs just outside the marae on the dance nights, to raise money to rebuild the dining room.

His name was another reflection of the poverty he was born into. It means “Death on the third day”, which was the fate of his mother, Ngāwhetu, who died three days after he was born, from untreated sickness.

In his middle-age, he took a petition to Parliament in 1944 about the raupatu (confiscations) of the Tauranga land that, by this time, had pushed our family to living outside the city and hapū boundaries, in a shack on the edge of a big vegetable garden at Waitao in Welcome Bay.

The reality of the raupatu for my grandfather was the lack of opportunity that came from not having an economic base. What he and others like him lacked was economic opportunity, because so much time and effort was invested in just staying alive.

The tiny edge he had was in being the baby of his family and, with no mother and being brought up very “hard” — no breast milk — he survived and flourished on thin potato gruel. He grew up to be a tough bastard and brooked no weakness in his kids, who he would get out of bed on bright moonlit nights to work in the gardens so that he could make the morning market.

But this upbringing gave him a huge ambition to get ahead. Māori families were inevitably large — more working hands made the subsistence gardening and the gathering of kai (food) from bush and sea easier. Boys and girls were set to work at an early age.

My father, born in the 1930s, did not get the chance to finish school, being sent out to work as a fencer and scrub cutter at age 12. His brothers and sisters were similarly treated. Like their father before them, in effect, they were trapped in a deprived cage, which society kept locked with invisible padlocks of rural conventions and social mores.

I remember as a small boy wondering why, when my father spoke to Pākehā people outside his work or neighbourhood circle, he was so deferential. I think now that if he wore a cap he would have probably held it in his hands and if the custom was to touch your forelock he probably would have done that too.

I realised later that he was stuck in a mode of life where society told him that he was inferior, of less status as a person, and this was his response. He accepted without question the casual racism that we encountered.

In the 1950s, Māori were not permitted to sit “upstairs” at the pictures, although the huge influx of Māori and Pacific Islanders workers into the timber town of Tokoroa soon knocked that nonsense on the head. My father, a teetotaller, would never dream of drinking in other than the public bar where he enjoyed a lemonade and raspberry with his sawmill mates. The lounge bar was for flash Pākehā people.

It makes me grind my teeth to think now how he put up with being addressed as “Hori” by snickering young garage attendants who were supposed to help with servicing the car but of course wouldn’t help a Māori man and his picaninnies.

I remember my mother insisting that we eat at a “restaurant” in Hamilton on one occasion and my father being shocked by the fact that the Pākehā waitress brought our meals to the table and that we were allowed to have dessert at lunchtime and sit at a white tablecloth table amongst all these “flash” people.

A kind and generous man who would give (and did) the shirt off his back to anyone in need, he did not deserve to be treated so and my heart weeps for him when I think of it.

The journey of Dad and his siblings typifies the arrested social and economic development of many Tauranga Māori and is the true legacy of not just Pukehinahina–Gate Pā but all the wars of the 1860s.

It has taken our whānau until now to believe that we can escape that legacy.

In my opinion, for the way the contemporary race relations cloth of our 21st-century world has been cut, we owe much to the vision and energy of one man, the Honourable Matiu Rata.

His championing of the Treaty of Waitangi Act in the 1970s, and the subsequent implementation of that radical enabling legislation, led to a re-examination of our history in the context of identifying injustice and, where such injustice was found to be proven, devising affordable ways to remedy it.

For Ngāi Tamarāwaho, it was the giant step forward that our ancestors had been seeking for four generations. Moe mai te rangatira, Matiu. Rest in peace, Matiu.

But the battle is not yet done. Two decades after the Waitangi Tribunal heard our claims, we are still arguing the settlement detail. Many of us remain trapped in an economic cage because, on a wider scale, inequality continues to flourish.

You can see that reflected in the existence of a large Māori social underclass, where every social indicator you can think of is skewed.

A Pākehā friend of mine once told me this joke about two mates, one a Māori and the other Pākehā. The Pākehā borrowed some money from his Māori mate. Much later, when the Māori asked for his money back, his mate refused, and when his Māori friend complained, he said (jokingly): “That’s the trouble with you bloody Māori, always talking about the past.”

It is an amusing observation but one which contains a bitter seed of truth. For most Māori, their past is always in front of them and they see the present through the lens of yesterday.

Four generations from Pukehinahina–Gate Pā, my generation of our family is still looking at the future through yesterday’s lens and we will continue to do so.

It is a legacy that will be passed to my children and their children. Firstly, to honour the efforts of all those, like my grandfather, who cleverly kept his whānau together through hard times, while utilising every small opportunity that came his way.

The thing is, he never lost sight of where he came from or who he was and what his duty to the hapū was. He refused to give up the formidable task of seeking justice over the land.

Like him, we, my generation, have an obligation to ourselves to never forget and to maintain our dignity and our integrity as his descendants, taking up with pride the challenge of our tainted inheritance.


This extract from the book Victory at Gate Pa?, written by Buddy Mikaere and Cliff Simons and published by New Holland Publishers, is reproduced here with permission. (Newhollandpublishers.com RRP $39.99.)

Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and not-for-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going.

If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider making a one-off donation or contributing $5 or $10 a month.