Sharon Hawke: The media were there to discredit us — and they did that very well

by Dale Husband
Sun 25 Mar 2018
12 min read
2

As a girl, in 1975, Sharon Hawke joined the hikoi after Whina Cooper, at almost 80 years of age, set off  from Te Hapua on the Land March to parliament to protest against the continuing alienation of Māori land. 

And, inevitably, Sharon was on hand again, not much more than a year later, when her dad, Joe Hawke, along with scores of whānau and friends, made it clear that they weren't going to roll over just because the Muldoon government coveted prime Ngāti Whātua land at Bastion Point in Ōrākei.

Sharon has had way more than her share of first-hand experience of having to cope with the prejudices and misunderstanding of politicians, police, and journalists.

But, as she tells Dale, through the years, the Crown and Ngāti Whātua have been finding ways to get along.

 

Kia ora, Sharon — and thank you for joining us on e-Tangata. Most New Zealanders are very familiar with your surname because of the role your dad, Joe, and other whānau, played over the years in the struggle to reclaim Ngāti Whātua land at Bastion Point. But what about your other names?

Well, my other names are Sharon Aroha. And Sharon is said Sha/ron with the emphasis on the second syllable. It’s a Hebrew name meaning “the valley”. But it's also the name of the rose of Sharon that Jesus picked on his way to Galilee. So that's why my parents named me that.

I was born in 1962, and I was only two months old when my parents (Joe and Rene) shifted us from Ōrākei (from Boothill) and down to Hawke’s Bay, to Heretaunga, where Dad was completing his apprenticeship as a carpenter — and we lived there for five years. So Hastings and Havelock North is where we ended up, and became my hometown.

However, a kuia in this dark coat turned up in our brand new state house and pleaded with Dad to come home because our land there was going to be taken. She was my dad's mother, Piupiu. So we made our way back to Auckland. But Mum made Dad stop in at Clevedon because her mother had land at Kawakawa Bay. And we lived there with her for a year.

So I went to the school that my mother had attended, Clevedon Primary School. Potatoes and pipi was our main meal of the day, depending on whether Dad had brought any money home from his building job.

I was in the middle of two brothers, Parata Terrence Mario and my baby brother, Lance Joseph, commonly known now as Taiaha. And we had a wonderful childhood. Our parents brought us up as Christians (Open Brethren). And every Sunday we’d go to church three times and have other people, other family, with us at home for a pot roast. 

So that was the routine. And I hated it. Hated going to church anyway, mainly because I had to wear a dress, which was one of the things that I found really inhibiting because I was very much a tomboy. I wanted to be just in my shorts running around bare-chested everywhere and climbing trees and so forth. So church became a constraint to the freedom I felt as a child.

Then, after I was schooled in Hastings and in Clevedon and in Auckland, in my primary school years, Dad was able to secure a scholarship for me to go to a private school (Corran School for Girls) in Remuera.

And, although the guy who sponsored the scholarship went bankrupt in my first year there, the school board thought it was important that they should have a Māori attend their school of 70 girls. So I was the one and only brown-skinned kid at the school for about five years. That was until a couple of my cousins joined me there. They were “the Brown Sisters”.

Your move to Corran must’ve been around the time of Whina Cooper’s Land March in 1975.

Yes, it was. And I spent a month on that march with my parents and my brothers — and that politicised me as a Māori. We’d already shifted to Auckland to support Dad in trying to save the land.

At the start, he was young, in his 20s, just getting his career sorted — and Mum and him were on the bones of their arse. Very poor. And, in our first year in Hastings, we lived in a church. We didn’t have hot running water or a flush toilet until we moved into a state house later on.

Your mum must be an interesting person. One of the sayings I’ve heard is that behind every successful man is a surprised woman. But whether or not that’s true in your family, she's been a real strength to your old man, hasn’t she? And to the whole whānau. Can you tell us a bit more about her, please Sharon?

My mother is Ngāti Mahuta. Her mum, Rihi Te Ahu Noda, was born in Kāwhia, and raised at Rangiriri. And her father, Asajiro Noda, was said to be the first Japanese immigrant to Aotearoa. His first wife was my Nana's mother.

Nanny was brought up with Te Puea and her role was as Te Puea's leg warmer, for want of a better description. She slept with Te Puea to keep her warm. Her first language was Māori, but, unfortunately, Mum grew up in the 1940s when we were at war with Japan. And any Japanese-looking Māori got it from all fronts.

So, she met racism right from the get-go, even though she had pale skin. Everyone hated the Japanese during the war — and post-war too. And her Japanese uncles were interned on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour. It was a concentration camp where they were treated like animals. There’s been a play written to show how it was there.

My mum is a keen gardener and an avid reader. She’s very quiet. Doesn’t like the limelight. She’s staunch and quite stoic. You lie to her once and you're off the Christmas present list. All done. That's it. Gone-ski. Very high principles.

But she always believed that the land struggle that Dad was involved in was Ngāti Whātua’s — and her role was to be supportive though it all.

That whole land struggle, including the occupation, was at a time when Dad and Mum had a successful building business. It was taking off, and Dad was able to employ all his brothers and father.

We had everything. A house. A boat. Several cars. Even a piano that was bought for me to learn to play. As a couple, they were climbing up from being really poor to becoming independent after almost 18 years of marriage. And then, all of a sudden, they were caught up in the 1975 Land March — and next, by the occupation at Bastion Point.

And they basically lost everything. Had to sell all they had, apart from the house that Mum held on to in Mt Wellington.

I understand that Māori Affairs was unhelpful. Obstructive, in fact, at times. Do you think that there was something more sinister going on and that they were gunning for the Hawke whānau because of their stand on Bastion Point?

They were a Crown agent. For example, during the occupation, our telephones were tapped. We knew that for sure because every time you picked up the phone you could hear a click-click-click that was never there before.

So Mum had to be careful about who she spoke to on the phone. And she was really scared for us kids. She wanted us to go and live with her brother, Uncle Roy Kemp, who was down the road towards Selwyn College. He was a single man and he was lovely, but that lasted only a month. We had to be on the Point. There was no-way-Jose we could live away from what was going on.

And we had my baby brother out at St Stephen’s School — but that wasn't safe for him. He was only 13, still a young boy, but he was beaten up by some of the senior students. The media had done such a great job of painting us as bad people that even the bullies of the school would do something like that. 

It's not encouraging for you to make a stand when your own people are going to treat you badly. But, in retrospect, they were people of their time. And our family was different because we’d been politicised by being on the Land March led by Whina Cooper — and walking through the country chanting: Not one more acre of land.

We could see that Aotearoa wasn’t God’s own country. Not when you don’t have your land or your language and having to bow to a system that wasn’t of our making.

So Dad and Mum, during the occupation, were there every night in the caravan, discussing how the day had gone, what to do next, and how they were going to get enough money to feed the people there with them.

That was a great sacrifice, wasn’t it? But it was such a principled stand that it has resonated through the last four decades. In fact, it's inspired many other Māori groups and iwi to stand their ground and to put a pou in the ground.

All through this occupation, the media, as you’ve mentioned, was playing its part. And not an especially noble part.

All I can say is that the media did their job according to what the state wanted them to do. They were there to discredit us — and they did that very well. But so much of what was in the print media was simply untrue. Especially in the Truth newspaper. For instance, they had a front-page photo of Joe Hawke hopping into a helicopter with an “unknown mistress”.

In fact, the photo was of Mum and Dad heading off to Pakatoa Island for a break because some do-gooder, knowing the strain they were under, had given them a voucher for the short trip to the island.

One way or another, the media had the general populace believing it was a bunch of Communist radicals running the occupation. That was the picture painted by the National Government led, at the time, by Muldoon.

And the media fitted right in where it was meant to fit in — and that is, to be a tool of the Crown and to misreport indigenous protest.

There was, of course, another harrowing experience for Ngāti Whātua leading up to the Queen’s visit in 1953. Burning down the village at Okahu Bay so that the Queen wouldn’t see anything unsightly as she was driven along Tamaki Drive. That’s part of your whānau history, too, isn’t it?

Well, in December 1951, there was the announcement that Queen Elizabeth was coming — and the City Council’s reaction was: “Oh, my gosh! We have to get rid of that eyesore.”

So that was the beginning of the end of our papakāinga. And they built 30 state houses up on the hill for the families — although that was enough for only half the families. The rest were homeless.

Actually, there’d been Ngāti Whātua homelessness years before. Back in 1938, after we’d gifted four and a half acres to the Anglican Church, it did the dirty on us and evicted our people, even though we’d lived there for generations. We lost out there.

And then, just over a decade later, our village was being burned to the ground. As an adult, I’ve kept asking each successive mayor of Auckland what reparation they were offering Ngāti Whātua, but nothing has come of that.

Dad has told me about that village being burned and cleared. He was only a 10-year-old boy, holding on to his grandmother as she wailed and screamed while her house was set on fire. She was the last to be pulled from her house, which was the last one to be burned. And he could feel her whole body racked with grief and sorrow.

That must have been one of the most powerful formative moments of his life. A young boy feeling and witnessing that. Being landless and being kicked off your land is one of the most destructive things that could ever happen to any indigenous community.

So, naturally, as an adult he took on the role of putting a stop to it. He was committed to seeing that it would never, ever happen to us again.

That commitment of your dad and many others led to a major step in New Zealand’s race relations. And the 506-day occupation of Takaparawhau, or Bastion Point, was a principled stand against the Muldoon government’s plan to turn that land into a playground for the rich. But, as this was unfolding, you were still just a schoolgirl. What were some of your memories?

Well, I knew that Mum and Dad had sent numerous letters to parliament after they’d gotten wind that Muldoon wanted to have housing developments up on the land. It was our land that had been taken under the Defence Purposes Act when the Crown wanted to defend the harbour because, so they thought back in the day, the Russians were coming.

So they built cannon turrets, or bastions, to keep the Russians away. But they never came. And, under that Defence Purposes Act, land not used for the purpose it was taken was to be returned to the owners. That was us. Ngāti Whātua. So there should never have been any plan for the Crown to use it for luxury housing.

I was a keen softballer — and on January 5, 1977, I was in Dunedin representing North Shore in the national softball tournament. My uncles were the coaches. So we watched, on television, Mum and Dad starting the occupation. It was the first thing on the news, and so we’d be going: “Hooray. Go for it Joe!”

Then a few days later, when I came back, there were all these tents on the land, which was kind of exciting because it was like living on a marae. With a wharenui called Te Arohanui. That, as a matter of fact, was the beginnings of a kōhanga reo, because we had a lot of children under five there.

I continued to go to my Remuera private girls school. So that was interesting. And my schoolmates kept saying I’d changed and that I was different. I lasted one more year there — I had to leave because they weren't speaking my language any more. Or I wasn't speaking theirs.

So then I went to Selwyn College. But people of note kept coming up to the Point. John Denver was one. And I remember Phil Goff, a university student, bringing Walter Lini, who, a few years later, became Vanuatu’s first prime minister.

Another one was Bill Andersen, the trade union leader, who’d put a green ban on the site, which meant that no union member could do any work there. So that put a halt to the “housing for the rich” scheme that Muldoon had in mind — although it also allowed Muldoon to carry on about Communists running the show, because Bill Andersen was a Communist.

Eventually, after nearly 18 months, the police moved in, carted away more than 200 of our people, and put an end to the occupation. But it was a success because the land was returned — and, because of Ngāti Whātua’s generosity, that land is shared with the nation. It’s something you can all feel proud of.

Well, in 1991, we received 33 homes on Kitemoana Street, Watene Crescent, and Reihana Street. Some of which is Reserve Land. They came back under the Ngāti Whātua/Ōrākei Māori Trust Board. And there’ve been two Treaty claims since the Bastion Point occupation. I was involved with both, one as a woman in my mid-20s, and then the other in my mid-40s.

Our last claim wrapped up everything and brought us into this new age as a post-settlement governance entity. And I’m now an elected representative along with eight other whānau members. There’s an election every two years. 

Now, with the 40th anniversary coming up on May 25, it's a time of reflection — and we sometimes wonder if we could’ve done better. We’ve had a time of reconciliation, on our 30th anniversary.

There's that whole thing of needing to forgive the police for them being used as a tool to remove us from the Point. We also need to forgive the church for their blindness, and we hope that one day they’ll see more clearly.

Because we need to move on as a people. And we need to keep working at protecting our language, educating our babies, and learning how to look after Papatūānuku, because she's looked after us. She and Rangi, our sky father, have been looking after us from time immemorial — and we need to give back.

There is a sense of Auckland City being in our debt, but we continue to open our doors and our arms to a positive collaboration with the city. We all need to know the true history of the city. And it’s clear that our neighbours don't need to be scared of us.

I’m hoping that, through my work in film and television, I can play a part in our communities understanding our past and each other. Our stories need to be told and shared — and not blocked, as happened, for some time, to Merata Mita’s Bastion Point: Day 507. That was the story of our eviction in 1978.

We all need to keep hearing pivotal stories like that. Amnesia does too much damage.

 

© e-tangata, 2018

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