Pat Magic and Denis O’Reilly. (Photo supplied)

Denis O’Reilly celebrates his kaumātua Pākehā Pat Magill (96) who created Unity Day and held ANZAC Day commemorations focusing on peace and unity rather than war.


It’s the Saturday of ANZAC weekend. In the Hawke’s Bay, after a fortnight of balmy weather it’s raining. My wife, Taape, and I, our daughter, Anahera, and our two dogs, are living in a relative’s house in Hastings.

I’ve planted a garden: brassicas, garlic (planted early to avoid the rust); shallots, spring onions, broad beans, the iron-rich staples of spinach and silver beet, and the latter’s cuzzie, beetroot (Beta vulgaris).

Besides being a practical way of ensuring affordable food supply, gardening is therapeutic for the wairua and a hopeful investment in the future oranga of the whānau.

Cyclone Gabrielle’s visit, having destroyed much, has also presented the opportunity to create anew. Gabrielle after all is the French feminine version of Gabriel (“God is my strength”), one of the Lord’s seven archangels and a harbinger of good news.

When the floodwaters hit the shed at the Ngāti Hinewera papakāinga in which I’d stored my sunflower seeds, they were spread across the lawns and along the roadside. They have “riz” and, even though late in the season, and diminutive, their cheery yellow faces beam goodwill and a bright future.

(Photo supplied)

We held a cyclone recovery fundraising art show last month. I picked a few blooms and placed them in a recovered faux Chinese vase. These, and my mud encrusted tangata Tiriti banner, were positioned at the entrance to the exhibition.

One sale was a pre-flood photo of a studio ceiling panel “Whiti Te Ra”, carved by the Paris-resident artist George Nuku. And there was a graffiti work by DLT. Richard Brimmer took a post-flood photo on Friday. Aue! But still uplifting.

Same theme. I’d been lamenting the loss of an irreplaceable platter by the matriarch of pottery in New Zealand, the late Helen Mason, thrown at her studio in Porangahau during her “paua period”. Lost? Not so. On Friday we found it buried in the mud. Hope springs eternal.

In Napier, back in the early 1970s, filled with hopeful goodwill and enthusiasm, aroha ki te tangata, my now 96-year-old kaumātua Pākehā, Pat Magill, tangata Tiriti, began to turn ANZAC day upside down by focusing on peace and unity rather than the commemoration of that wasteful human endeavour called war.

He created Unity Day and held ANZAC Day events at the Napier Returned and Services Association where local individuals, kahukura, otherwise unrecognised champions of peace, by dint of their community building efforts and practice of aroha, were recognised through the Pilot City Awards.

The “Pilot City” was a notion that Pat Magill fostered in conjunction with the late Dr John Robson. John believed that Napier was a city “not too large to learn about itself”. Part of Unity Day is now the annual Robson Lecture, and this lecture has been presented by a range of knighted luminaries including the late Paul Reeves, Sian Elias, Doug Graham,  Anand Satyanand, the late John Harré and the late Moana Jackson.

On Friday April 21, the 2023 Robson Lecture was delivered by Ned Fletcher, author of the English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi. In this book, Ned relentlessly argues that the Christian humanist “Clapham Set”, the English proponents of the Treaty, had honest intent and recognised Indigenous values and human and property rights.

Tā Eddie Taihakurei says that these “lofty ideals” have so far failed, not because of the content of Te Tiriti  but because of our neglect of it. Ned Fletcher was introduced by Martin Williams. Martin is a descendant of William Williams (Wiremu Wiremu). Yes, those Williams. Martin had been preceded in kōrero by historian Patrick Parsons who set out the scene for the signing of Te Tiriti at the then inner harbour at the Tukituki River.

Pat Parsons is Ngāti Pākehā, tangata Tiriti, but accepted by local hapū as a trustworthy authority on history and whakapapa. One of the regional signatories was Te Hapuku, the Whatui-a-piti Rangatira. His descendant, matua Jerry Hapuku, gave the preliminary greeting to all speakers.

The mayor of Napier, Kirsten Wise, in thanking Ned, introduced herself as tangata Tiriti. Te Tiriti is alive and well. It is vibrant. It is intergenerational. The twin notions of tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti are interdependent.

Ned introduced his kōrero by reminding the audience of John Robson’s contribution to justice in Aotearoa New Zealand through his role as a career public servant, a profession he embraced in 1924 at the age of 15 when he started working in the Public Trust office in Wairoa.

At 18, John Robson began his studies at Canterbury and eventually graduated from the University of London with a PhD in Laws. In 1960, as Dr Robson, he became the Secretary for Justice, an office he held until 1970.

In his lecture, Ned described the 1960s, under the political stewardship of the “capable and reformist” Ralph Hannan as the Minister of Justice, who respected and trusted John Robson, as a time of reform.

Robson, as Secretary for Justice, competently implemented parliament’s intent. Ned cited the Abolition of the Death Penalty (1962), the introduction of the Crimes Act (1961), the “visionary” Criminal Justice Act, Family Law Reform, and the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman and what ultimately became the Law Commission.

During the 2008 Robson lecture, Anand Satyanand also spoke of the significant Robson contribution to law reform and the administration of justice in New Zealand, on his role as the first Director of the Institute of Criminology at Victoria University, and in developing restorative justice initiatives.

In this lecture, Ned encouraged us to remember the likes of John Robson, and to build on what he and others delivered in progressive government policy. It seems that the role of the career public servant has been diminished by the public sector “managerialism” that accompanied the neoliberal policies of the Fourth Labour Government.

Ned wound up the Pilot City 2023 Robson Lecture by saying that Te Tiriti had been developed in good faith. A partnership founded on an intentional deceit would be a rotten foundation for a nation.

He wished upon us that we’re still not too large a community not to learn about ourselves. Imperfect as we may be, as an entire nation I believe that neither are we too large nor is it too late to do so. I’m sure it’s not too late to do so!

Finally, in 2008, Anand Satyanand attributed to John Robson the kōrero that “the best attitude to adopt is one of restless dissatisfaction with the present situation.”

That wero has long been placed before us by that awesome and relentless local change agent, Pat Magill. Let us not forget and fail to salute Pat while he’s still with us. We should demonstrate that we hear and listen to his kōrero by way of restless activism.


Denis O’Reilly lives at Waiohiki, Hawke’s Bay, and is the chairman of the Waiohiki Community Charitable Trust.

© E-Tangata, 2023

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