The second migration: stories of urban Māori

by Bradford Haami
Sun 25 Feb 2018
12 min read
  • Ella Henry celebrates her 61st birthday in 2015 with her daughter, Mia Henry-Teirney. Photo: Mia Henry Teirney
  • Barry Baker and his wife Helen at their home in Christchurch, 2016. Photo: Bradford Haami

In the course of Urban Māori, a 300-page book being launched next week, Bradford Haami has told many of the stories of what he calls "The Second Great Migration". 

That's the move which, in the wake of World War One, picked up speed in the 1920s when, according to official figures, 90 percent of the Māori population were still living out in rural, tribal areas.

By the end of World War Two in 1945, 26 percent had settled in towns and cities. That number rose to 35 percent in 1956 — and, 10 years later, was up to 62 percent. Five years ago, 84 percent of Māori were urban, with a quarter living in Auckland.

What was once referred to as a "drift" or a "trickle" had become almost a tsunami — and it's been followed up with thousands heading for Australia where one in six Māori now live.

Right from the start, the incentives for moving on have been the shortage of opportunities back home, and the prospect of work and money and fun in the urban centres.

Bradford's account of this major migration, some 800 years after the original waka made landfall in Aotearoa, covers developments all over the country. But here, in these excerpts, his focus is on two personal stories.

One is about Ella Henry, a Kaitaia girl who's had a close association with Te Whānau Waipareira. And the other is from Barry Baker, a Taumarunui boy who, like many other teenagers 50 or 60 years ago, took advantage of the trade training scheme and headed for Christchurch.

Their experience provides a glimpse into the challenges and satisfactions coming out of this rapid and massive movement in New Zealand society.


Ella Henry

Dr Ella Henry is a well-known face in Māori academia and film production circles.

A senior lecturer in Te Ara Poutama at Auckland University of Technology, she has extensively studied Māori women in leadership and Māori entrepreneurship, and taught Māori media, co-operative education and Māori business.

She has lived in the city since she was six years old. Her parents’ introduction to city life occurred during their courtship in 1935. “Dad was trying to be flash and he took my mother to the city. Because they had no family living in Auckland they had to stay down at the ‘in-town’ pā, called Waipapa.”

They married in 1936.

“Mum was a ‘half-caste’ and spoke no Māori. Her father was an Irish storeman who married a Māori woman and together they had nine children. Mum said they were told by their mother to marry Pākehā,” Ella explains.

But Ella’s mother Martha was disobedient and married Sam Henry who, as she told Ella, was Māori through and through. “He was a reo speaker and lived as a tūturu Māori.”

Sam was a mechanic who had joined the military in 1939 as an engineer and was stationed in Wellington. At that time the couple already had three children and the family still lived in Northland. Sam would return to the family on furlough once a year.

By the end of the war the couple had six children. “We lived in Ahipara, then at Kaitaia, where everyone was whānau. Mum was always home,” Ella remembers.

As a child Ella had the freedom to walk into any home; she lived in “a village, with lots of family time”.

Ella, was born in 1954, nine years younger than her closest sibling. All of her siblings moved to the cities during the 1950s because of the lack of work in Kaitaia.

Ella’s parents realised they too would need to move if they were to see their mokopuna, and relocated to New Lynn in West Auckland. Her parents took up employment at the local factories, alongside other family members.

“Mum and my sisters worked at Crown Lynn Potteries, my sisters’ husbands were employed at Amalgamated Brick and Pipe, and Dad was at the Astley Tannery.”

Ella’s extended family planted roots in both West Auckland and Ōtara.

“I grew up around my dad and his Māori mates who all spoke Māori. They didn’t need to prove they were Māori, they just were — whereas Mum came from a family who wanted to be Pākehā to fit in,” Ella says.

Ella always felt different in the city. Being at a new school she soon became aware she was different — she was brown and didn’t have flash clothes or shoes.

With everyone at work early in the morning, there were no village aunties to look out for her. “I’d come home after school and everyone was still at the factory. It was quite a lonely time for me and probably led me to going completely off the rails,” Ella says.

She sees her life from age 7 to 16 as traumatic and just a blur.

“While visiting a Pākehā primary-school friend’s house, I sat out on the back step while everyone else had milk and biscuits inside the house. I felt I couldn’t enter a white person’s house. This is something I internalised about Māori and Pākehā relationships: we were taught to be respectful to them,” she says.

Ella was a model student at intermediate. “I wanted to be what my parents wanted me to be and that was a ‘good Māori’. But Auckland was uncomfortable for me. The city was a dangerous place for young Māori who didn’t know who they were. I was the only one at home and the village wasn’t there anymore.”

Her low self-esteem became the root of a spiral of self-destruction that began when she reached 15. She escaped into a world of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.

“I went out with a Highway 61 gang guy who introduced me to hard drugs, which was fabulous at the time, and I did everything you would do to keep on those drugs. I saw Led Zeppelin live and worked at Levis Nightclub.”

Due to her drug abuse, at age 17 Ella was sent to a psychiatric unit at Oakley Hospital.

“When friends died of drug overdoses and alcohol, I knew I had to get away. I left for Australia and broke my father’s heart,” she remembers. He died two months after she left New Zealand, in 1975; he lay at Mahurehure marae in Point Chevalier, Auckland.

Between 1974 and 1979, she was in an abusive relationship. She returned to New Zealand and stayed with friends in the South Island. Interpol tracked her down to Moonlight Creek and took her to Christchurch to identify friends who had been murdered by Mr Asia. That was a turning point in Ella’s life.

She returned to Australia and worked on the prawn trawlers in the Gulf of Carpentaria for two seasons. In 1981 she sailed with a friend on a yacht to South Africa, where she lived in Cape Town as an 'honorary white'.

“I wasn’t an African, and I learned a lot about racism while I was living in South Africa,” Ella reveals. She was in South Africa at the same time protests against the South African rugby tour occurred in New Zealand. “We heard nothing in South Africa about what was going on in New Zealand until I returned to London,” she states.

She returned home in 1984 to find friends and whānau involved in land rights, joining Māori protests and studying. In 1986 she started university, completing two degrees in 1990 and 1995, the first in her lineage to obtain a university education and a degree. Today, Ella is a forceful voice for Māori and women’s rights, all proclaimed with a strong wit, a sense of humour and a smile. She has been a strong advocate for the work of Waipareira Trust in West Auckland, where her mother was a foundational kāhui kaumātua member.

Recently Ella took her three grown-up daughters on a road trip to reconnect with her marae and her urupā in the north. “At all the marae and urupā I belong to, even where my parents are buried at Waimahana, I realised I am a visitor to those places now and I’m an urban Māori. Those places are not my home. So I have decided I will live and die here in Auckland, but my children can decide where they want to be,” she proclaims.

Ella’s second daughter, Mia, is currently a producer intern for Jump Film and Television. “I got into this because Mum and others were in Ngā Aho Whakaari (Māori in Film and Television) for 20 years.”

Mia has a strong desire to help people through the medium of film and television and to tell stories with a social impact on a large scale. She has produced a pilot episode for a web series, and a short film.

Born in 1990 at Waitakere Hospital, Mia attended a local kōhanga reo unit and later a bilingual school, until she reached intermediate. Growing up, she was conscious of being raised in a Māori environment, but has also been mindful of her Irish and Croatian ties. “We weren’t one or the other,” she says. “I feel I’m deeply connected as a Māori woman who can speak Māori and who has a lot of empathy towards Māori issues.”

She has a strong connection with both Waimahana of Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa, where her grandparents are buried, and Avondale in Auckland, where she grew up. “Waimahana is where back-home is, but where my family is, that is home. Once you are urbanised, then that’s home. My cousins feel Ōtara is their home and they’ve been there for three generations,” she explains.

Mia sees herself as urban Māori or, as others call her, a ‘townie brownie’. “I guess being urban Māori means somebody who has grown up urban and can survive within that environment. I didn’t grow up in the country so I couldn’t handle it probably, whereas I know every bit of Auckland,” she says.

She feels a definite divide between urban and iwi Māori, “but I think that comes from not understanding each other’s challenges. I think it’s important for us to remember the past histories of where we came from and how people were led here and struggled. I know my grandparents were poor for a long time and so too were my parents, and I acknowledge that,” she says, “but many of our rural relatives think we’re rich because we’re urban.”

“My mum made a conscious decision to pursue academia for us, so we would have a better opportunity in life.” Mia went to university and has graduated from AUT with a Bachelor of Business.

“This has given me an understanding of the world and how to process information and broaden my preparation to live in this global environment. If we’d grown up in Waimahana we would all be more connected as a family to our whakapapa and to our elders as well. But I think there’s opportunities in the city — I have my reo and tikanga and live in an urban world. I’d say I’m privileged and that comes from my parents’ decisions to place us in this environment.”

Ella has strong views about the tension that exists between iwi and urban Māori. “Urban Māori is a made-up term, it became a social phenomenon — a way of being — with a huge population in this state. We as a people have been urbanising for a hundred years and it is not going away so we had better understand it, it’s a part of who and what we are as Māori.”

She sees urban Māori as ‘Māori at a different address’. She is adamant that “the opposing forces between urban and iwi — being those who are urban, those who never left back-home, and those who have recently returned home — start to define who is more Māori than the other, or who has a greater quality of Māoriness. At the end of the day, we all have an obligation for a better world for our people, where our kids feel comfortable in their skin and bones, no matter how they choose to be Māori.”


Barry Baker

Barry Baker hails from Taumarunui but has lived in Christchurch for 46 years. He was brought up in a number of mill settlements including Manunui, Moerangi,and Taumarunui. Wherever his father Jim’s work happened to be was where the family went. 

Barry is the sixth of 13 siblings. He was brought up around Taumarunui, after his family shifted there from Northland for employment. Barry fondly remembers the settlements they lived in, as they were all like villages.

“We all lived in each other’s homes.”

His father died in 1962 when he was nine. Barry’s mother, Mary, worked a number of jobs to pay off the cost of a Māori Affairs home in Taumarunui.

His oldest brother, Len, took on the mentoring role their father would have performed.

Barry lived with his Uncle Colin at Hauhungaroa, where he attended Tongariro High School for two years. It was here that Archie Taiaroa, the Māori Welfare/vocation guidance officer at the time, recruited Barry to join other local boys to attend trade training in Christchurch.

“That’s where the boys from Taumarunui all went. My brother Fred did the mechanic training in Christchurch in 1968. This appealed to me — an adventure, my big OE,” Barry remembers. “I remember a one-armed Pākehā Australian guy turned up at my Uncle Gilbert’s at Moerangi to meet me. He was an ex-air force pilot in the war but now was in charge of pastoral care at the hostel. He travelled the country to meet every boy before we came to Christchurch. He was an amazing man.” This man was Bill Cox.

In 1970, the boys left Taumarunui on the train, caught a ship to Lyttelton Harbour and took another train to Christchurch. Mick Hughes, a Māori Affairs representative, met the boys and guided them to three buses divided into carpenters for Te Kaihanga hostel, mechanics for Te Aranga, and painters at Rehua.

“I was heading to Te Kaihanga hostel. We travelled down Moorhouse Avenue, it was absolutely amazing, everyone appeared to own a bicycle. We travelled to 34 Hansons Lane, which was in the old Ballantyne family homestead, where we met Bill Cox again, which was comforting.

“The carpenters spent two years in residence, which meant on our arrival there were boys starting their second year. The second-year boys already knew the ropes and Bill utilised them initially in paving the way for all the newbies.”

Bill Cox, with Bill and Mary Davis, created a whānau-orientated environment. Kapa haka, rugby and church events featured in the early days and were the platform for lifelong friendships between the boys.

“Bill Cox was tenacious about empowering young men to make decisions about their well-being. We had a social committee, a council and a law-and-order committee,” recalls Barry. “Training was in an air force warehouse in Weedons that had been transformed into a training centre for bricklayers and builders. And we spent most of that year doing theory with a basic introduction to practical building under the tutorage of Trevor Marsh, Robin Sides, Bert Helm and Ken Cooper, and Bob Coulters for the bricklayers. The second year was practical building on Māori Affairs’ homes. We were split into four gangs of six boys under the supervision of Māori Affairs tutors Dave Townsend, Ted Hill, Ray Caully and Jim Ponsonby.

“The trade training brought out the competitive edge in each gang trying to outdo each other. During the school holidays we were placed with builders for practical experience out in the real world. I was placed with cottage builder Doug Timperley. On completion of our two years, we generally ended up working with the builder we had a placement with. My builder (Doug) was a bit unconventional and paid everyone the same wage and that arrived in the form of a cheque. In the early 1970s they were hard to get cashed. I would go to Bruce Hills' Menswear to cash it, having to buy a shirt each time,” Bill laughs.

“One positive thing about the trade training of the time was how big companies like Fletchers valued the quality of the graduates of the scheme and would take many of them on. They were great days, we were young, fit and created a comradeship between us all that has endured for 46 years.”

The boys at Te Kaihanga had a strong kapa haka team, tutored by Hori Brennan and old boys Tommy Reihana and Harry Williams. There was always rivalry between the hostels in both kapa haka and rugby. After two years in Te Kaihanga, Barry left and flatted with others for a few years. “In that time many of us met our future partners.”

Barry finished training in 1973 and continued in the trade. He worked as a furniture mover then went for a job in the prisons, where he worked for 24 years.

At the same time he was still actively involved with the hostels, coaching rugby and performing administration tasks and the running of Rehua marae. When the hostel system closed, Barry was vocal about it.

“Trade training was an investment, but we all worked and paid our taxes to New Zealand,” he states. “It cost $360,000 to run a hostel and trade training a year, and instead they built a new 60-bed youth prison that cost three million to build and three million to run. Where do our kids go now? They’re high on the suicide list. The hostels exposed us to diversity and whanaungatanga. I believe pastoral care and mentoring was the key to the success of our guys, many of whom run their own businesses now.”

In leaving home, Barry came to see the importance of his own culture, tikanga and identity, something he believes in and has tried to impart to the youth in the prison and to his own children. “My children saw their dad go to work but many of our whānau at home didn’t. Kids from the north would come and stay with us to work and I’d try and tap into their passion. The trade-training schools tapped into the potential of our youth.”

His wish is one day to head back to Taumarunui, but Christchurch has been his home for 46 years with his wife Helen, his children and now his mokopuna. His mokopuna and his strong sentimental love for Christchurch holds him there for the present.


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