The New Plymouth mayor, Andrew Judd, had an upbringing not too different from that of many other Pākehā. Like his parents, he never had much to do with Māori. But he didn’t see that meagre contact and limited education as any barrier to adopting firm ideas about Māori failings.
He now sees those years of uninformed prejudice as a serious mistake. In fact, he now refers to himself as a “recovering racist”. But that recovery hasn’t won him widespread Pākehā applause. Not in Taranaki anyway. Instead, his pro-Māori advocacy has been such a bruising experience he won’t be standing for re-election. Here he tells Dale of the paths he’s been travelling.
I was born in 1965 and I grew up in Masterton in the Wairarapa. I’m one of six children. Second eldest. Five boys, one sister. My mum’s from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. She came out here, as a 16-year-old, with her family after the war. The Germans had invaded their little island — and their house was occupied by a German officer.
Her dad, who was a newspaper typesetter, picked up a job in Masterton for the Wairarapa Times-Age. And it was in Masterton that Mum (Jennifer) met my dad, Peter, who was a young, sprightly chap at the local church, St Matthew’s. They were both into scouting — cub leaders and then scout leaders. I whakapapa back to Kent on my dad’s side. He ran the YMCA and a menswear shop for many years. But he died when I was a teenager. Mum’s still alive. She lives in Masterton.
As kids, we went to Lansdowne Primary School, Hiona Intermediate and then Makoura College.
Did you have much contact with Māori in those early days? Classmates? Or team-mates when it came to sport?
There were certainly some Māori children in my class. But no, I never really engaged or connected with Māori. I knew there was a marae at high school, but I never went to it. I’d quickly walk past if I saw anything going on there. I’d look the other way. Never had a need. Not even when I was into scouts. And I didn’t play rugby as a young child — although I did later on. So, no. I had no real contact.
I think that a significant part of the reason for the distance between our peoples is that we didn’t interact much as kids. But now, when you look back at those years, do you recall any incidents that help explain your discomfort with Māori — and your distance?
There’s a couple of things that come to mind. Once we were driving past some state houses. And I remember saying to my parents: “Look, they’ve got sheets for curtains.” And they said: “Don’t stare, Andrew. That’s rude. They’re Māoris.” I wonder now what that sort of remark plants in the mind of a child. I’d bike past other state houses and Mum would say: “Make sure your lunch is locked and safe because it might get stolen.” So, as I’d go past, I’d speed up. And no lunch was ever stolen. I was never stopped and harassed in any way, shape or form.
Small examples, but examples of how attitudes to Māori were planted deep in my psyche. And there’s another shameful example from those years. Please bear with me. There was a silly routine as kids when, if you touched somebody that you thought had maggots, you’d run around and touch someone else and say: “I’m fans.” Meaning, I’m free of the maggots. Then they’d have to touch someone else to get rid of the maggots. And I distinctly remember doing that to a little Māori girl at school. And I think back now: “How horribly, horribly cruel. How hard that must have been for that little girl.”
Yet we thought that game was fun. I reflect on those times now and I can see that’s definitely where it all started. And, from that point on, it gets reinforced by never having to engage — and never having to see the consequence of those actions. Never knowing how that would have affected her in her life. Never knowing what that behaviour said about me as a kid. Hearing: “Don’t stare. They’re Māoris.” Feeling the need to speed up past the state houses. Avoiding the marae. In fact, I couldn’t even look at a marae — or the carvings, or the flag — without a sense of fear and anger.
Anger! Why did I get angry about that? What’s wrong with me? But, of course, as I now say: “Well, actually, you’re racist.”
It’s unusual to hear someone describe themselves that way, because most people are in a state of denial about that. But perhaps we should cut some slack here for you and your folks because, if you haven’t met Māori families, if you haven’t spent time with Māori people, you’ll have a nervousness about that whole scene. There was your mum coming out from England as a 16-year-old. She probably never met many Māori. She probably never had any Māori mates. So, that nervousness about an entire people is understandable. We might assume that, growing up in New Zealand, you’ll meet Māori everywhere. But there’s a lot of Pākehā who never have that contact.
That’s right. And Mum and I have talked about this recently. She’s one of my biggest supporters. We were a churchgoing family. My dad was a lay minister and my mum sang in the choir. And we just didn’t see our attitudes as racism. And she’s acknowledged that she just didn’t have any Māori friends as a migrant from the UK. And then she went straight into her husband’s world.
Okay. So, you’re a young fulla. Off to high school. And then off into the wider world.
Well, I didn’t feel challenged by school, so I left as a 15-year-old and went and worked in a factory, as a cloth-cutter, in Greytown. That was the period when my dad passed away. And, in trying to come to terms with that, I wound up in a flat in Hamilton and working as a cloth-cutter in another factory. Next stop was Huntly where I met and then married Trudi.
Gee, you’ve gone from one predominantly Pākehā society in the Wairarapa to a very, very Māori scene in Huntly. How did you find life there?
There were two sides to Huntly. You were either an east-sider or you were a west-sider from across the river. But there was a strong connection when it came to sport — and that’s when I started having some contact with Māori because I played rugby and cricket in Huntly. But even then, although you’d have a laugh with other players, I never had Māori friends or walked on to a marae. So nothing had changed with me. I still wouldn’t look at a marae. I wanted to get past as soon as I could. I’d drive through Ngāruawāhia. And just keep driving. It’s bizarre, if you think about it, that I never felt any need to connect. Yeah. Go figure.
Your wife, though, being a Huntly girl, probably had a more thorough Māori “apprenticeship” than you got in Masterton.
I give a lot of credit to her. All of her schooling was in Huntly, so she had a completely different perspective and world experience than I had. But, through our young marriage and having children, it wasn’t something we talked about. My wife’s a nurse so, in the course of her training, she went through some cultural training which I distinctly remember poo-pooing. I told her I didn’t want to hear any of that stuff — or any te reo — around the home. So, she didn’t. Then, just a few years ago, she did some reo training. And, once again, I said: “I don’t want to hear that around the house. Thank you.”
When I think back now, my ignorance and arrogance was just mind-blowing. But that’s how it was. That’s how I was. But she supported me the whole way. She never judged me for having that attitude. And she hasn’t judged me now that I’ve come to realise my ignorance.
Kia ora, Andrew. This is kōrero that I don’t hear very much even though I interview many, many people. But let’s hear now how you and Trudi moved on and made your home in Taranaki.
Well, I’d started work in the home appliance world and I got the chance to take over an electric store in New Plymouth. And, 21 years ago that’s where we headed. Sold up everything we had in Hamilton where we’d settled down, and moved to Taranaki. After a couple of years, though, it became clear that the store wasn’t the goldmine I’d been hoping for.
So I took on a sales job with The Radio Network. Wrote and voiced a few ads, and did a bit of on-air work. And, in the course of that work, I saw a lot more of Taranaki and got a good perspective on Hawera and Stratford. But still had no interest in anything Māori. Drove past Parihaka umpteen times. It was just a road sign. Went to Waitara. Never went on to a marae. Nothing. That wasn’t part of my world.
You must have been conscious, though, of some of the Māori issues around that time. Māori radio. Māori television. Kura kaupapa. Māori Language Week. All of that sort of kaupapa. Were you conscious of what was going on?
Only peripherally. And the only time I would probably engage with a lot of that was to have a go at it. Maybe I’d be watching the news on Waitangi Day and I’d be thinking: “What now? How much more of this stuff do we have to put up with? When are they going to move on? I’m sick of this. When are they going to get over it?”
My classic line was: “Who owns land anyway? If arriving first means that you own the land, then America owns the moon.” That’s where my mind went on issues like that.
Pretty soon, though, you were moving into local government. What was the pathway to that line of work?
Through the radio work, I got to know an optometrist who suggested that I should do some training and become a dispensing optician. That required seventh form level maths and physics — which I’d been well short of when I left school at 15 with no School Cert passes. I was quite intrigued and I thought I’d give it a go — even though it meant doing night classes for mathematics and physics.
Funny thing in life is, if you focus on something, at times you can surprise yourself. Which I did. I passed with a distinction. I was really proud of that. And I ended up going out on my own and opening my own practice. I employed optometrists and went on to become the president of our association for New Zealand.
And we had a night here in town where there was a top shop award, and our business won top shop for Taranaki. The then mayor came over and encouraged me to stand for the council. He told me I could be the mayor one day. Apparently he’d say that to everybody. I’d never really given that any thought. But, as you can appreciate, it gets to your ego. You think: ”Yeah, I’ll give that a crack. I’ve got a business. I’ve got the optics thing going on. Life’s going good. I’ll give it a crack.”
So I did. And I think I was the second highest polling councillor. And that’s the way my local government journey started.
When I got on to the council, we had a komiti Māori. I had never attended any komiti Māori hui at all. In fact, I had to ask one of the councillors: “What’s the difference between a hapū and an iwi? What does that mean?” That’s how ignorant I’d been. I’m laughing now at my own embarrassment. I didn’t know anything. Nothing. It’s amazing, eh? To think you can go through all your life in New Zealand, and not know anything. All I knew was a few words like puku and kia ora — and, of course, some racist jokes. So it was hideous. I look back, and it was just hideous.
But things have changed for you, haven’t they? How did that come about?
It was a succession of little things that began when I was elected as the mayor. I’d been in the job for only a month or two when there was a protest out at Waitara about the perpetual leases on Pekapeka block land. So, out I went and heard the complaints from some residents who were concerned that the iwi were getting back the land and were “going to kick us off”. And there was all that sort of fearful talking.
And I’m driving back to the office, getting into my groove: “Enough. Sick of that stuff. I’m the mayor. I’m in a position where I can change that. Enough of this handout. Let’s find a way to help those lease holders. This is scary for them, those poor people! Having to go through all of this. Not knowing who the new landlord would be! Oh, no.”
Back at the office, the staff gave me the settlement documentation that was going through with the Crown at the time. I opened it up and turned to where Te Atiawa were talking about the history of the Pekapeka block. And I got captured by the history. And before I knew it, a couple of hours had gone past. And I thought: “I didn’t know any of that. Gosh. That’s amazing. Why didn’t I know that?”
So it sort of chips away at you, these things. You wonder why you didn’t know. Then you find reasons to justify why you didn’t. You think about how you were raised. So you tell yourself that it’s not your fault. That you don’t need to feel bad about not knowing. And anyway, you’re not Māori.
So there were lots of little steps. And another one was when I was putting together the council committees — and there was the question of Māori representation. We’d always had a komiti Māori. Then the iwi liaison officer told me that the kaumātua would like to meet the new mayor, that’s me, at Tui Ora.
And, gosh, I’m thinking: “What do I need to do?” And they said: “Nothing. We’ll be there to support you.” So I go along to introduce myself. I’m at the door and my heart is pounding out of my chest. Because I look in the room and they’re all Māori. Then I thought, so what? Why would that be an issue? Anyway. Stiff upper lip. Be strong. You’re the mayor. And I went through and hongi’d right round the room. Sat down and it’s all in te reo. I’m thinking: “What do I say if I have to speak? What do I say? Kia ora? I don’t know.”
But what was actually unfolding was a welcome. They were welcoming me. “We’re honoured,” they said, “to meet you. We are here to work with you and help you where we can. Please stay with us for food and fellowship.”
That was pretty cool. And, when I spoke, I said I’m putting together a komiti Māori. I’ve come to say hello and thank you for your warm welcome. In the cup of tea period, some of the kaumātua and leaders said to me: “Look, with all due respect, we understand komiti Māori but, actually, we don’t want it because we’re moving from grievance to participation mode. It’s just compliance, really. We feel it’s not real. It has the same status as your youth committee. Things aren’t written. So, with all due respect — obviously you can put it together and you’ll find some people that will be on it — but, no thanks.”
You know, that night, sitting back, reflecting on the day, I thought: “Gosh, they were lovely.” Why was I thinking: “I’m the only Pākehā in a Māori room”? Why was that even a thought for me? Other than it was fact. But why would I even think that?
In the lead-up to the election, I’d campaigned on doing the right thing. My slogan was: Let’s bring honesty back to local politics. The message behind that was around finances actually. But, I thought: No. I want to do the right thing on Māori representation. So, a few days later, with some of our in-house people, I met with some of those leaders. I said I didn’t want to put a committee together that’s not wanted. And I asked them what would work.
Well, their preference was for a Māori ward. But they acknowledged that I’d get a lot of stick if that’s what we proposed, so they didn’t push for that. They suggested having Māori voting rights on the sub-committees. I would have final sign-off as the mayor, but for them, it would be a step closer to the conversation and decision-making.
But the councillors wouldn’t wear that. They said you can’t give unelected people a vote. They said that’s not democracy. And I heard in their tone, and saw in their eyes, myself. That was the early stages of recognition for me.
So it wasn’t on. I thought: What do I do now? Can’t have komiti Māori. I can’t get representation on standing committees, even though parts of the country have that. What was next? Well, if one option was for a Māori ward, then we’d have elected councillors. Which is what they wanted. So I tried that — and somehow it got passed.
Shortly after, I went overseas, in my capacity as a dispensing optician, for an international optics conference. On the final night, we were asked to come dressed in our national costume — and to do a skit from our country. We were sat next to the Australian table. We were teasing them. Asking what they were going to do. Waltzing Matilda? They said: “Yeah, well you’re lucky. You’ve got Māori culture.”
We were all middle-aged, pale, frail cats. And we all got up to do the haka. None of us actually knew how to do it. We just got up and fumbled our way through it. Laugh. Laugh. Chuckle. Chuckle. And teased the Aussies because they just sang Waltzing Matilda.
Flying home I had all that time to think. Okay, Andrew. What is your culture as a Pākehā New Zealander? Because you’re not English and you’re not Māori. And yet you thought you were justified in grabbing something from Māori culture as yours. Giving it no respect. Not knowing what it meant. Not knowing how to do it. What does that say about you, Andrew Judd?
So that was another step in the journey of discovering who I thought I was when I was a part of that performance. Then, of course came the journey of the Māori ward. And the pushback. The pushback had me fighting, in a way, against myself. Because everything that was being fired at me was what I used to say. And think. And do.
And it was coming from people I’ve known for many, many years. People I care about. They were saying what I’d been saying. But I’d been racist. Because the more I was engaging with Māori, the more love I was getting from them. Love.
This, of course, was during the settlement process. I was there at the tail-end of that, observing how the Crown was operating with Te Atiawa. And, of course, I was doing more research and reading. And I became especially interested in Parihaka. So I read Dick Scott’s book Ask That Mountain. And I was moved to tears.
Why don’t we talk about our history? This is bizarre! No wonder I’ve been like I was. Parihaka has been an inconvenient truth. Not only do we not talk about what was done, but how it was done. Yet we stand on a world stage like we’re the be-all and end-all of race relations. No, we’re not. We’re no different.
So I learn about Parihaka. Then I watch the process with the Crown. Watching how they were just bullies really. And then the settlement process. The signing. The love and inclusion I was receiving from iwi. I was starting to learn correct pronunciation of te reo. I had a lovely lady on staff who said: “You don’t have to, I’m just offering it as a starting point. But, if you want, I can help you with your reo pronunciation.” She just wanted me to stop with the standard Pākehā mispronunciation of Taranaki and Waitara. And I thought: “Yep. Absolutely.” Because what was unfolding in me was enlightenment.
There are many things that bring us together in New Zealand. And this rich kōrero of yours, Andrew, is part of that. So I thank you for it. But I realise that your principled stand has come at a personal cost to you. I’m disappointed you’re not standing again but I can understand that.
What I’ve found wasn’t what I was looking for in my journey as a mayor. But for me, I’m blessed beyond belief. I’ve found a richness of understanding that I could never have hoped for. I’m not a victim. I’ve been blessed.
For me, ignorance is one thing. But to realise it and then look past it would be indefensible. So I’m addressing Pākehā. I’m reflecting on what I’ve been through. And I’m saying: “We’ve got it wrong. We’re a major part of the problem. We’ve never acknowledged it because we don’t talk about our past. But we need to talk about it in order to understand.”
Taking the land was bad enough. But taking away somebody’s ability to identify with who they are is just plain wrong. We have to change. And it’s an attitude change.
If you can identify with what I’m saying, then come with me. And let’s see if together we can change this.
What people said to Andrew Judd
Māori don’t need any special treatment. They just need to be more like us.
If I’d known you supported all this Māori stuff, I would never have voted for you.
They need to get off their backsides and stop holding their hands out for special privilege.
We’re all one now, Judd. Get over it.
They’ve just got to be more like us.
You do realise when Māori get settlements the first thing they do is go down to Michael Hill and buy gold watches.
The loser must follow the laws of the victor, Andrew.
You gotta drop all this Māori stuff.
You’re so misguided, Andrew.
You’re not a politician, you’re an idiot.
You’re a bigot.
You’re a separatist.
You’re supporting apartheid.
Enjoy your one term as our mayor, fella.
You’re done, mate.