It wouldn’t have been a great surprise if Wayne Panapa had followed his dad and landed a job in the Anglican church after he emerged from St Stephen’s School, not far from Pukekohe, in the late 1960s. But he found his calling in the police. And, in these reflections with Dale, he touches on the time he’s spent helping see that not too many of us are straying unduly beyond the law. That line of work has meant a mixture of grim, sometimes difficult but often satisfying experiences for him. Flash motorbikes too. And not only filling an essential role in the community but doing so with a style and a warm touch that was his specialty.
Kia ora, Wayne. Scores of other cops — and a good few folk who’ve been copped — know you as Wayne Panapa. But perhaps there’s more to your name.
My full name is Wayne Ingoa Panapa. I’ve thought that’s a strange middle name, but it relates to one of our tūpuna from our marae in Te Awamutu. It comes from Mum’s side, from Tainui and Ngāti Maniapoto. And I’m proud to carry it.
On my father’s side, I’m from Ngāti Whātua, up Dargaville way. Dad went to St Stephen’s School before the war, and I was there in 1961-67, when Joe Lewis was the headmaster, as he was for many years. But I ended up back here in the Waikato. And I was brought up mostly on my mother’s side in Tainui.
That Panapa name is synonymous with the Anglican Church, isn’t it?
My granduncle was Bishop Nētana Panapa. He was the second Māori Bishop of Aotearoa. Frederick Bennett was the first. And, of course, my dad was also a minister. He was the archdeacon in Kāpiti, down in Ōtaki, for about 10 years.
One of my six brothers, Ngapera, came out of the navy and followed in our dad’s footsteps. And another brother, Tuhanga, also became a minister. But he went back up north and has spent the last 40 years up there. The church has always played a big part in our family.
We went to an Anglican boarding school in Hamilton and then to Tipene. But, for us, when we were growing up at the marae, nobody was too fussy about the different denominations. It could be Methodists coming one Sunday, the Catholics another. All types of religion.
We have a sprinkling of all sorts of ministers at the marae. For me, no matter who’s taking the karakia, I’m happy whoever’s in charge. There’s a tendency to put labels on us that we’re Anglican or Methodist or whatever. But, for us, when the kaumātua takes the karakia, we become part of it and feel at one with the wairua of the minister of the day.
At Tipene, among the teachers around your time, there were some influential Māori personalities. Like the chaplain, a former Rūātoria taxi driver and mechanic, Apirana Mahuika. And your science teacher (and ex-prisoner of war), Rawhiti Ihaka. Also, Awi Riddell, Koro Dewes and Scotty McPherson. They were pillars of our Māori world. How rich is it for you looking back now and reflecting on your time with these great personalities?
I sometimes think about how fortunate we were to have teachers like that. And not just teachers, but also our headmaster, Evan Lewis. We used to refer to him as Joe — short for Joe Louis who’d been one of the great world heavyweight boxing champions. Joe Lewis was Pākehā, but we were lucky because he was Māori through and through in many ways. And he fought to provide the best for all his students whether they were Māori (which most of us were) or from Melanesia or the Pacific, or Pākehā.
No doubt, you kids came up with nicknames for the teachers.
Yeah. Like Mazook, the name we had for Api Mahuika. We never called him that to his face, of course. He had a moustache, and he used to curl the ends of it. And we all tried to pinch his pack of Park Drive tobacco because he was a smoker. If he left that lying around, some boys would get at it.
Boarding schools sometimes have had a reputation for allowing bullying. How was it in your day?
I never saw much of it. Because it was a boarding school, in many ways, it was the prefects who ran most things after classes were over at 3pm. About five percent of the 200 or so boys were sent to the school by the MSD (Ministry of Social Development). They may have been in trouble before, but they mostly did well while they were there — and in later life too. And there were strong leaders among the senior boys. Like John Marsh who was the head boy one year. He went on to become an army captain in the SAS.
Were you a 1st XV guy? That team has had an awesome reputation through the years. Smashing other 1st XV teams all around the country.
Yeah. And when you first made that team, of course, you could walk on water. You were privileged. All the Māori boarding schools had strong 1st XV teams and we had traditional games with Te Aute, Church College, Hato Petera and Hato Paora. We enjoyed our reputation and our successes. But it was really just Māori boys having fun.
And kapa haka?
Yeah. That was important. Luckily, we had the Huata boys, Paraire and Tama, who came from a long line of composers and were brought up on waiata. We had boys from the East Coast and the Waikato, and they’d bring their traditional songs and their talents to the school. Kapa haka and the 1st XV were pretty much part and parcel of the same operation.
You’ve been in the police a long time. I’m assuming you did some other mahi before you joined them. What were your stepping-stones, work wise, after your schooldays were over?
At first, I didn’t know what to do. Worked on the rubbish bins for a day and a half, but then I thought: “No, no. That’s not me.”
But we were lucky. When we were at school, Steve Watene was in charge of Gear Meat in Petone. My mum and dad paid our fees with the family benefit. But about 20 of us from Tipene would go down to work at Gear Meat and our pay would help with our school fees.
Of course, there was other work that we did. And, when I was in Wellington, I had various jobs — like on the Interisland ferry services and in the Post Office. Then I went overseas with the New Zealand national brass band in 1970. The band also had a Māori group of seven girls and me. And we’d perform to break the monotony of the brass music.
It wasn’t anything flash. We were singing Me He Manu Rere and other well-known tunes that were put to a brass score. When you hear the trombones and all the other instruments, it’s a unique sound. Much different from a guitar.
There was a score sheet, but none of us could read music. We just went by the beat on the floor. But that experience allowed me to travel all around the world. There were four of us Māori boys working there. Then I left to join the Ministry of Transport where I spent 18 years before we merged into the police in 1992.
One interlude, though, so I understand, was you being a kaimahi at one of the boys’ homes. How was that experience?
That was at Tokanui where they had a very good nursing staff. There were a lot of Māori staff there — registered nurses and many at the executive level too. I never saw any mistreatment of our patients there. Most were Māori and there was a very strong Māori nursing presence. And the patients were well looked after. I enjoyed my two years there. Then I decided that I’d go and do something else.
When you joined the Ministry of Transport, I suspect that there weren’t a great many Māori in the organisation. Were you ever made to feel uncomfortable because of the colour of your skin?
Perhaps some of that went on, but there were eight or nine of us Māori boys on my intake, and we had a strong background from being brought up on the marae — and we wouldn’t take any of that nonsense from Pākehā traffic officers.
We were getting paid while we were training. And we had the boots and choppers, and we were trying to look like those fullas on that TV show CHIPS. We spent nearly three years on motorbikes in all weather. But the training was first class. Safety was always the top priority in everything we did — and that crossed over to when we merged with the police.
What was your favourite motorbike?
I rated the Milton Commander and then we went to the Japanese Yamahas. And the Norton Commanders were good. But you had to kickstart them. Then, when the new bikes came in, you just pushed a button and everything was done for you. At that time, you had the radio mounted on the petrol tank. So, if you came off, you could do yourself some serious damage. I was lucky. I never had an accident on a motorbike. I had a couple of flat tyres though — and at speed. But nothing other than that.
You know, we just thought we were on to it. Māori boys getting paid for riding around on motorbikes. How good was that?
No doubt, many of the cars you had to pull up would’ve been speeding or had no rego, no warrant, or no seatbelts. And I’m assuming that a lot of the drivers that you had to deal with were our people. How did you find that part of the work?
With our people, we didn’t wait for an introduction. We’d just say: “Kia ora.” And that’d break down any barrier straight away. Maybe they’d have no licence, or registration. And we’d sometimes pull up people in strange positions. Like one woman who was driving but still breastfeeding her child. You could just imagine the harm that she’d have caused that young one if things had gone wrong.
But, hey. You have to do your job. Like when you come across six or seven kids in a car, and no seatbelts, no nothing. It’s an accident waiting to happen. So, you try to get that sorted. Of course, sometimes you get serious offenders, and you have to deal with them. But, in my experience, it’s all in the approach.
Sometimes Māori see the police as the enemy — mainly because it’s been the police who’ve locked up our people over the years. But policing involves attending tragedies. And you guys in blue must sometimes have to struggle to keep your wairua intact.
In our work, you see death in all shapes and sizes. You’ve got to be able to deal with that and also understand what our people may be going through. Understand the perpetrators, as well as the victims.
As you know, water has always been healing for us. And also the karakia that our people have given us to get us through the tough times. You never forget that. Never, ever forget that they took the time to help you get over those things.
I can remember every fatal accident I’ve ever been to. And every murder. Date, time, and place. And, when you go past a particular place where something serious has happened, the memory just comes back. But you’ve got to be able to put it in its place.
Māori have had great input into what we see as a changing culture within the police. It started with the introduction of Māori liaison officers of which you may have been the first.
Not the first, but I was in the first tranche of the Māori iwi liaison officers. There was Joe Diamond who was rugby-league-mad. And there was Patrick (“Paddy”) Whiu. They were both from Ngāpuhi. We were all about the same time.
We’ve learned a lot along the way. The “engagement model” that we use now is Māori wardens first, the iwi liaison officers next, and then the thin blue line way at the back. That’s the approach or the model of engagement that we’re trying to put through.
We’ve tried to practise that and hopefully that’ll continue well after Wally Haumaha (the deputy commissioner) and I have left the job. Wally is having a farewell next January, and then his last engagement will be at Waitangi, on February 6. And after that? Hey, we’re on our bike.
Within the police, there are now more Māori in senior roles than there’s ever been. What’s good for Māori is good for Polynesian. And what’s good for Polynesian is good for all our ethnic people. We now have them in senior ranks within the police — and they’re fitting in with our Pākehā brothers who’ve become more and more comfortable with Māori and Pacific tikanga and culture.
Do you feel a responsibility, as an older policeman, to mentor and tautoko young people who are joining the police ranks?
You do. But they have to be able to cut it at the police college where there are 80 recruits in each intake. The Māori recruits will gravitate to each other, and to the Māori instructors. But, if you don’t get over 60 percent in the exams, you’re gone.
You do the real learning, though, when you’re in the streets. When you get assigned to a district, you’ll have a sergeant who’ll make sure you work through the things that you have to tick off. Like, you have to do a suicide file, and other trials, including firearms training, that you have to complete before you can move on.
Well, congratulations, Wayne. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to who’s been 50 years in the police. It’s been a time of many changes in policing styles, with the introduction of community panels, restorative justice, youth courts on marae and iwi liaison officers. When you look back over your career, especially with the MOT, what pleases you most?
As we go about our work, we often don’t know what influence we’ve had. Sometimes it’s just lending a hand in little ways that’s valued. Not long ago, I was reminded that, 20 or 30 years ago, I was able to help a Māori colleague whose dad had died. He was trying to get his father back from the mortuary so that the family were able to start the grieving process. And that was greatly appreciated.
I like to think that all through my police years, I’ve done a good job and I’ve been fair to our people — that I’ve been true to the values instilled in me. I was lucky enough to have been brought up in a good environment. State home, food on the table, clothes on the back, and with that wairua, that belief in the spiritual world, in atua always being there.
Wayne, I wish you well with life after the police. You deserve the recognition, the thanks and the accolades that are coming your way. It’s been a pleasure for me to have this kōrero with you. I note that you say you’re a Māori first and a policeman next. The way that you prioritise this pride in our people is inspirational to us all. I’m wondering what life now has in store for you.
Well, there’s always tribal politics, isn’t there? I’ll do some work for our hapū as well. And spend time with mokopuna, even if they think you’re an ATM machine. Thank you, Dale, for taking the time to help me reflect and reminisce.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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.