There’s an extra sadness at the passing of good people, especially those who’ve been close enough for us to enjoy their friendship and their work.
So it is with our response to the death of Andrew (Anaru) Robb — a gentle, good-humoured, enlightened, determined, self-effacing man who did what he could to combat the pandemic of injustices to Māori.
Anaru passed away at Waikato Hospital on May 10. He was 66.
Here at E-Tangata, our bond with him goes back more than 30 years when a group of us were setting up Mana Māori Media as a way to deliver a Māori voice that was strong and independent.
Andrew warmed to that kaupapa — and, when we got under way in 1990, thanks to the support from Ruth Harley and New Zealand On Air, he was one of the original team.
He was our admin man. Not that admin was his vein of gold — but never mind.
There was another role where he could, and did, shine. That was as a bilingual journalist.
Andrew had the advantage of having reached a formidable level of fluency, of knowing the movers and shakers in the reo Māori world, and then, over the years, becoming more and more well-informed through stints, for instance, with the Waitangi Tribunal, as Tariana Turia’s press secretary, and as a reporter for the Māori TV channel.
We pulled him in to do some writing in reo Pākehā for E-Tangata — as much as he could squeeze in between his campervan adventures around the country. He’d had a front row seat in the reo Māori revitalisation movement, and we wanted him to share the insights and behind-the-scenes stories and chuckles that he and Piripi Walker and Huirangi Waikerepuru were party to, in their endless battles with government bureaucrats and lawyers.
There was sometimes a touch of formality and academia in his writing — but his gentlemanly presence, his sharp eye, and his principled voice have been valuable elements in the growing choir of journalists and commentators perturbed by the shortcomings of many of their colleagues and our politicians when it comes to making a priority of social justice.
Three of his grieving friends and colleagues — Wena Harawira, Tere Harrison, and Piripi Walker — have sent these reflections on their mate.
When I met Andrew Robb for the first time and learned he was a Pākehā who spoke Māori, you could have knocked me over with a pikopiko.
It was back in 1990 and we’d just started working for an independent company called Mana Māori Media run by Gary Wilson, Derek Fox and Piripi Whaanga. We were a bunch of Māori and Pākehā journos making bilingual radio programmes for Radio New Zealand and the iwi radio network with offices in Wellington, Rotorua and Auckland.
Andrew had greeted me in Māori and we kept chatting until I could ask Tawini Rangihau: “Ko wai te tangata nei?” (Who is this guy?)
“Anaru Robb,” she said. So I thought he was a nice but unusually pale Māori. (We do come in all colours nowadays.)
He spoke very good Māori, too, without the transliterated slang I was used to, and without any dialect that I could identify. He referred to Wellington as Te Whanganui a Tara instead of Pōneke and to Auckland as Tāmaki Makaurau, not Ākarana.
So, I thought, yep, he’s been to university, because my university-educated uncles used those proper Māori place names, too.
Anaru had studied Māori at Victoria University as a teenager. That led him into Te Reo Māori Society, Ngā Tamatoa and the petition calling for recognition of te reo Māori, and Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo and the Māori language claim.
That meant providing pro-Māori support for 30-odd years through tribunals and courts here and across the world to the Privy Council.
It also meant being on the Māori Land March, and at the Bastion Point occupation, helping Māori in prison, being part of iwi radio and Māori Television, fighting for Māori spectrum rights, and lending a skilful, professional hand to the Māori Party, Te Upoko o te Ika, and E-Tangata.
Anaru was in the thick of it all.
Paul Benseman, who also worked for Mana, knew Anaru during those university years. He recalls that Anaru and his flatmates had walls with A3-pages of handwritten waiata and whakataukī, and posters promoting te reo Māori or calling for the return of Māori land.
There were long political debates, formal whaikōrero, and all-night parties where waiata held sway. Visitors included poet Hone Tuwhare and the filmmaker Merata Mita.
One day, a young man covered with gang and other facial tattoos, arrived unannounced asking for “Andrew”. He’d just been released from prison, heard Andrew was “a good man” and needed a place to stay. Anaru took him in without question, found him a job, and even tried to unearth his whakapapa. But the trauma of the man’s childhood and imprisonment was hard to shake off. He robbed a chemist in broad daylight and was caught by the police spending the money in the shop next door.
During Bastion Point, Paul and Anaru ferried a contingent from Wellington to Auckland. Anaru had bought an old van which had “Acme Engineering” on its sides, and Paul had a Ford Thames van still in Electricity Department colours.
It was a bone of contention which vehicle broke down the most, but they both made it to the Point and Anaru lived there long enough to become a hit with all the protest kids. They called him Gentle Ben, after a bear in a TV series that would save people from various disasters.
Anaru’s ability to speak Māori committed him throughout his adult life to holding the government to task about its obligations to te reo Māori and Māori rights.
But he wasn’t blatant about it, as he recounted in an interview on Radio New Zealand. “I had the privilege to learn Māori at university when a lot of Māori never had the same privilege themselves. There were embarrassing situations when I was a more fluent speaker as a Pākehā than many Māori people were. I had to be very conscious of the sensitivities around that. I was there to support, not to take over.”
Jodi Ihaka (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Porou) couldn’t speak any Māori when she landed at Mana, fresh out of journalism school. So, Anaru locked her in a studio until she could pronounce her surname properly, not E-Harker as she had been doing.
“He said I had a great voice for radio but my Māori pronunciation was shit. That’s my word,” says Jodi. “Anaru gave gentle, considered feedback.”
She was another one who didn’t realise, at first, that this was a Pākehā man (with Scot and Aussie roots) who was teaching her Māori. She thought he was Ngāi Tahu, an iwi renowned in those days for their fairness.
“There weren’t any kōhanga reo or kura kaupapa Māori for us growing up,” says Nevak. “So it was a bit scary joining the Mana ranks alongside Waihoroi Shortland and Rereata Makiha. We were enamoured with Anaru and his reo. He was generous with his historical recount of all the various milestones in the renaissance of the language.”
Of course, they tested Anaru, too.
But he didn’t spin out when Jodi and Jason Rameka, our studio operator, accidentally started a fire in the rubbish bin in Derek’s office. He didn’t judge Nevak (or was it Mel?) when she threw up in another abused rubbish bin after a big night on the town, or took the Mana cellphone (the size of a small child in those days) to a party to look cool.
He was also sympathetic when they got a telling off from a senior journo, Carol Archie. Tahu says they got up to some real dumbass stuff and there were plenty of practical jokes. Anaru would just chuckle at it all.
Anaru had joined Mana initially as a bookkeeper in the Wellington office with Caleb Maitai, Hinemoa Rangihuna, Chris Wikaira, and Piripi Whaanga. He was promoted to being a reporter and presenter because he was one of the few bilingual staffers we had, with a rich, melodic voice. So, it made sense to move him in front of a microphone. Our chief reporter, Sue Wilkie (Ngāti Porou), got the job of slapping him into shape.
She reckoned she could tell whether a person had the makings of a good journo by how quickly they walked. Anaru, being reflective by nature, eventually got up to speed, but sometimes it was tempting to give him a good shove to make him go faster.
Deadlines were his enemy, especially when he had the complicated stories that needed explaining. His analytical mind would have him poring over research and documents, discussing his findings, reminiscing about so-and-so and asking others what their opinion might be. And maybe there were other angles that one needed to consider?
One day, I made him write and present our daily bilingual news bulletins that we broadcast to the iwi radio network. Tawini was away and I had a sick kid at kōhanga to pick up. I couldn’t see his face when I spoke to him on the phone, but I could hear the fear in his voice as he tried to convince me he wasn’t ready for the responsibility.
After 20-plus years of speaking te reo Māori, the guy was still underestimating himself. But when I hung up on him, I solved his dilemma.
Gideon Porter, another Mana journo, learned that you should never speak or act against his deeply held passions without engaging your brain. That’s when Gentle Ben turned into a rampaging grizzly bear.
Another thing that set him off was racism, bullies and abuse of power — which he saw and raged against in the behaviour of Maurice Williamson, a former broadcasting minister.
The Mana crowd stayed in touch over the years. If anyone needed his encyclopaedic memory to explain the whakapapa of a Māori issue, he was still our go-to-guy, even in retirement.
His Facebook posts would show us which part of the country he was in as he travelled around in his campervan. His large network of friends and whānau always guaranteed a carpark for a few days. Then he’d head off to another fishing hotspot — and soon, more photos of his latest catch, scenic vistas, and mokopuna visits would pop up.
But ill health started dogging him and it finally caught up with him.
He left us all with a magnificent legacy, though. There’s a Māori saying: E noho tauira mai, ka tū tauira atu. Remain a student until you become the example.
That was Anaru.
Wena Harawira (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Tūhoe) is the head of news and current affairs at Māori Television.
Last year, during the Covid lockdown, Anaru Robb began sending many of us photos and videos of seaside walks along Te Ākau Tangi from his front-row Evans Bay Marina camper site, while we gazed on longingly from within our Covid restrictions.
Then he moved on to regularly updating us on his latest fishing expeditions in Whaingaroa, or adventures through the South Island or in the forests of the Far North.
The accompanying te reo Māori messages of his freedom didn’t make it any easier to consume while we sat in the concrete jungle dealing with affairs of the day.
Once I said to him: “E mutu tō toutou māunu mai, Anaru,” (Quit dangling that bait, Anaru). He’d chuckle, his eyes twinkling — and the reo messages and “adventure” images continued.
You see, Anaru had been brave enough to pokaia tana tueke ā ka patu te rori — to pack his swag and hit the road, choosing to spend his time in ways that mattered to him most. Seeing friends and whānau.
But there were other links with city life that he maintained. For instance, there were regular Zoom meetings with Anaru, who’d be parked up in his campervan wherever he could get a signal, in his role as a long-term trustee of Te Reo Irirangi Māori o Te Upoko o te Ika, the Wellington Māori radio station.
Anaru had been appointed as proxy to Huirangi Waikerepuru, and for many years he was the secretary of Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo Māori. And he rarely missed a hui. If he wasn’t on Zoom, he was walking into the office with his worn leather courier satchel crammed with papers and notes and often a smoked delicacy, too.
In settings like that, and in his work as a journalist, we and many others came to know of Anaru’s razor-sharp mind and skill as a reo Māori linguist.
But there was another area of Anaru’s life that wasn’t so well known. That was his love for the environment and his steel gaze on matters of importance to te ao Māori. He was committed to protecting both.
For instance, it was normal for him to be checking trap lines in the Ruahine Ranges, actively opposing attempts to dam Makaroro/Ruataniwha waterways, and monitoring Māui dolphin species populations or archaeology in Horoera.
And he didn’t waver. I recall Anaru arriving at a hui with smoked trout, and that prompted me to ask him: “How long is the trout season, Anaru?”
“Every day, e Tere. Trout are an invasive colonial species in natural waterways and should be convicted in the fry pan immediately.”
That was an example of Anaru’s take on life. Whatever the species or issue, his instinct was to work so that it could exist in its natural state. That applied to te reo Māori, manu māori, rakau māori, tuna, 5G spectrum, and Te Upoko o Te Ika Radio.
Sadly, Anaru passed too soon. I’ll miss the reo Māori adventure messages from our friend. We’ll all miss the wit, humour, the twinkle in his eye, his powerful mind, and his tenacity as an advocate for a natural world according to te ao Māori values. We all are poorer for his passing.
Anaru, you have served te ao Māori and te taiao (the environment) well, and we thank you for it.
Hoatu koe e te hoa.
Tere Harrison first met Anaru when she was an announcer with Te Upoko o Te Ika Radio in Wellington, in 1994. She is now with Creative New Zealand, as Pou Whakahaere Kaupapa Mahi Māori strategy and partnerships.
Kei taku rangatira, Anaru, te mokopuna a ō mātua tūpuna kua ngaro atu i mua i a koe, haere.
Whatiia tītapu mārōrō, ka tōkia tō kiri e te anu mātao. Haere ki tō rahi, ki ō hoa, ki ō tātou kaumātua e tauwhanga mai nā i te Pō. Okioki mai rā i te āhuru nui. Kua haere koe i te tai ata, waiho mai mātou i te tai ahiahi, whai atu ai.
Andrew (Anaru) Robb was an incandescent personality, with a blazing smile and a deep, caring heart. He was a close friend, and we would relish sharing stories about our escapes and escapades in the 40 years of knowing each other.
In recent years, I was still a work colleague and saw him regularly, but every other week I’d follow him by phone as he moved about the country in his campervan. My wife Heather and I would have him to stay for a meal, showers, and catch-ups. We were like other whānau he’d visit around the country.
Andrew grew up in a loving, well-off household in Khandallah, Wellington, and attended Onslow College. He and I both decided to become Māori speakers in the 1970s.
He was a non-Māori person by descent who became fully bilingual — and in many ways, he was almost fully acculturated by the time of his death at 66. I’m a person with Māori whakapapa, but I have pretty much the same blue-eyed Pākehā look. This gave us a common cause, and we enjoyed each other’s language learning and sharing the beauty of te reo.
Andrew loved things Māori, and easily made Māori friends, including kaumātua. After our trips out on Raukawa Moana after hāpuku, he’d always grab a large bag and take groper heads to Aunty Pae Ruha in her flat in Berhampore. He was an expert fly fisherman who could take trout in any waters, and was equally skilled out at sea.
In the last years of my degree at Victoria University–Te Herenga Waka in the late ‘70s, I got to know Andrew and his hardworking partner Alison Green. By 1980, they were setting up and staffing the Community Māori Language Resource Centre in Courtenay Place, organising badges carrying the message Kōrero Māori.
They also had a big hand in ongoing petitions for more Māori language on television, working with Te Reo Māori Society and Ngā Tamatoa, and childcare centres pre-kōhanga for te reo.
In 1981, we attended the initial meeting to establish a Māori Language Board under the aegis of the Department of Māori Affairs. Andrew became the founding secretary, and we took turns in that role. Our constant was Huirangi Waikerepuru as the chair.
This board, one of 20 established throughout the country, became Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i Te Reo, after Professor Hirini Moko Mead renamed it 1982. At the time of his death, Andrew was its deputy chair. Over many years, it’s been active in pursuing language and broadcasting rights for Māori.
More recently, Andrew was at the forefront of the fight to obtain radio spectrum licences for Māori. The fruit of these efforts was the agreement signed in January at a ceremony that he attended at Parliament. The accompanying Māori spectrum legislation is to be introduced in coming months.
From 1997, Andrew was a diligent, wise and perceptive board member of Te Upoko o Te Ika Radio. This work involved caring for staff and management, and a large part was grappling with gritty funding, licensing, political, archival and broadcasting issues. His contribution can’t be overstated. It’s in large measure due to his efforts that the station still proudly broadcasts the local and regional issues of the day in Māori — and its archives are digitised at the Turnbull Library.
Andrew spoke and wrote Māori clearly and accurately. But he would often say: “The job of the Pākehā person is just to support” — and he made many other careful decisions about where, as a Pākehā, it was appropriate to “place one’s feet”.
Andrew worked as both press and private secretary to Māori ministers using both languages. Outside parliament, in the Māori world, he was a key analyst and advisor to Māori negotiating teams on the Māori side of the Treaty line, tirelessly producing the necessary papers and analyses, in both languages, for the Waitangi Tribunal and court cases.
Andrew also didn’t fret too much. He just spoke te reo with love and respect for the people and culture. He was careful, in terms of Māori life, to take direction from elders, and to continue learning until his death. He was a regular visitor to many friends, former teachers, and elders in times of sickness, and attended tangihanga all over the country.
His concern in taking up the fight over language rights was the 80 percent of Māori adults who’ve been deprived of their own ancestral tongue, and who need every assistance to learn te reo so they can participate in their own culture and enjoy their birthright.
Andrew was there at the coalface of the work of Te Reo Māori Society and its later child Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i Te Reo.
He especially loved recalling a small hui that was called at Kōkiri marae by Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau to decide whether to take the broadcasting television case to the Privy Council in London in 1991, after it was turned down by the Court of Appeal here.
We failed to get a quorum of 10. Perhaps our court case debts (from six different cases) by then were troubling our members. The next week, we reconvened with three members, but no quorum was legally needed at a recalled hui.
Then Huirangi recited several traditional karakia, to move the canoe forward, to remove blockages, and to ask for spiritual assistance. Andrew would say that, at that moment, something like a thud was heard, and the decision to appeal was made.
Andrew was a very special and present father to his three children, a point they made strongly at the time of his death and tangihanga. He’d been thrilled to feel the electric blessing of having two beautiful grandchildren, and centred his life on them as their “Grandy” over the last three years.
I heard one of his two-year-old mokopuna, at a quiet moment at his tangi, reading the picture book Goodnight Moon. “Oo, titiro, kei te hī ika ngā rāpeti.” Āe rā hoki, e moko.
We salute you, our brother. You will never be forgotten.
Haere e hoa, ki tua o Paerau. Ka tūtakitaki anō tātou ā tōna wā.
Farewell, my friend, travel to Paerau and beyond. One day we will meet again.
Piripi Walker (Ngāti Raukawa ki te tonga) is Tumuaki, Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i Te Reo.
Much aroha to Andrew’s children, Te Kawa, Mahuru and Moana, and mokopuna Taiawatea and Matatū.
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