Before beginning a career in broadcasting in 1984, Tainui Stephens worked for the Race Relations Conciliator Hiwi Tauroa. In December 2018, Hiwi passed away, surrounded by his precious family. He was 91 years old.
In this fond (and frank) tribute to his old boss, Tainui — who still feels that he’s working for the Race Relations Office — shares some memories of his time working with Hiwi.
Kei taku rangatira, kei taku pōhoi toroa, arā te pā whakawairua kei te tihi o ōku rau mahara, moe mai rā koe. Edward Te Rangihiwinui Tauroa ko koe tērā i ahu mai i te ao o nehe, te whakatauira mai i tā ngā wheinga i whakawhirinaki ai, i pono ai.
Ka whānau mai koe ka ngotengote koe i ngā ū o te aroha: he mea whāngai tonu nei i a mātou. Ka pakiri koe ka taea e koe ngā toi o te taha tinana, o te hirihi i te mahara, o te whakapono i runga i te ngākau iti: he mea whāngai tonu nei i a mātou. Ka tō te rā ki runga ki a koe i hoki koe ki tō ūkaipō ki Te Pāfūnga marae i Kaeo kia karapotia koe e ngā maunga whakahī o te kāinga: he mea whāngai tonu nei i a au, i a au e haere atu ana ki ngā whenua taurikura o te Nōta mō te whakapā ihu atu ai ki te anu mātao, te take.
I a au e taraiwa atu ana ka tukuna a whakaaro kia rere noa …
You were a great man, Hiwi. You were also my first boss. Nōku anō te whiwhi.
In 1980, fresh from dropping out of varsity and a gap year of looking for permanent work, I answered an ad in the New Zealand Herald looking for an investigating officer for the Race Relations Office. I happened to be well aware of the stoush that had caused that job to be advertised.
A couple of years earlier, I was an enthusiastic member of the Canterbury University Māori club, which had done some community work in prisons with Dr Peter Sharples, the right-hand man of the highly respected Race Relations Conciliator Harry Dansey.
When Harry retired, Pete was expected to get the job. The government of the day didn’t want that. The Kahungunu academic and kapa haka warrior was rightly regarded as a threat to the status quo. He was an intelligent, charismatic, eloquent force of unafraid nature who happened to be utterly pro Māori.
The government chickened out from hiring him and went straight to Hiwi Tauroa, a South Auckland teacher whose greater reputation was as a former Māori All Black and successful rugby coach.
Pete resigned in protest, as did other staff. That’s why jobs were being advertised.
I knew that the Race Relations Office was a hot political potato. I fully realised my good fortune when Hiwi decided to take a punt on me to be one of his three investigating officers. Along with Eddie Twist and Feleti Ngan-Woo, we did work that was edgy and important.
The best way to fight bigotry and prejudice, as far as Hiwi Tauroa was concerned, was with education.
But the Conciliator’s first job was to uphold the anti-discrimination aspects of the Race Relations Act 1971. This meant we had to investigate allegations of racial discrimination in certain areas. There was also a provision for considering complaints about actions or materials that cause racial disharmony. This 9a section of the Act always generated the most heat.
The range of complaints we dealt with was very wide. In the early ‘80s, as now, discrimination veered from the blatant to the darkly discreet.
Not every complaint became a case. Far from it. We could only consider matters of employment, accommodation, and the provision of services or goods. Like the time an outdoors equipment shop in Symonds Street got caught charging nearly twice the hireage fee to Māori than to Pākehā.
Hiwi was perfect to be a conciliator. He was not an angry man. He was a naturally diplomatic kind of guy, yet had the capacity to set his jaw, dig his heels in, and rark his voice up a bit. He was a gentle speaker, wove stories, and laughed a lot. So when he got serious, you knew it. Focused, punchy sentences that made the point.
The Symonds Street shop owners were encouraged to come in to the office, to have a kōrero with Hiwi.
This was a big deal. The Race Relations Conciliator was a high-profile position with clout. He had the power to impose a financial settlement, or take the matter further. But, because his job title was “conciliator”, he was charged by law to achieve resolution, rather than impose a punishment. I always felt that was enlightened practice — as far as it went.
This case was a perfect example of many where the root cause of a racist action is simple ignorance — sometimes coupled with a will to remain so.
People who don’t hang out with people of difference deny themselves a chance to see the many ways we are all the same. They’re vulnerable to believing the entrenched stereotypes or mean-minded insinuations that diminish people who look or who think differently to them.
Hiwi was stern and also kind with the shop owners. They had charged extra of the Māori complainant because they believed the risk of damage to their tent was somehow greater. It was an action based on prejudice, and a clear breach of the law.
Hiwi imposed no fine, only restitution. He saw no need to be hard-arsed, but he pulled out all the metaphors to speak to them of cultural difference. He was very fond of the one about the garden and the many flowers of wondrous shade and hue.
Around Hiwi’s office were all sorts of objects and taonga that would spark a story, and a point to be made. I can’t forget his slightly kitsch framed image of a noble native American warrior and the gilded words: Oh Great Spirit, help me to walk a mile in my neighbour’s moccasins.
The chastened couple left, relieved that their only penalty was a chance to do better by their fellow flowers.
Hiwi believed in the innate goodness of people. Sometimes, however, that faith was challenged.
A particularly unpleasant case concerned a young Pākehā man who had recently hosted some friends for a few days in his rented flat. When he rang to make an official complaint, he said that his landlord had evicted him because of the race of his friends. I asked him how he knew that. He said that when he went back to the flat to get his bond, his landlord had told him so. I suggested that it might be a matter of one man’s word against another’s. He said: “Not at all, because I recorded the conversation!”
Technology was not flash back then, so to record the sound of anything was a bulky business. The hidden cassette player revealed several minutes of a disturbing stream of invective from a sneering boor:
“You’re bringing dirty blacks, fucking Malaysians, into my clean European house. Who the fuck do you think you are? You’re not fucking worth spitting on B____. You’re a prize cunt!”
“No. Mr _____. I …”
“Fucking upsetting the neighbours bringing dirty fuckin’ Malaysians into this clean area. You bring your fuckin’ dirty niggers into a clean fuckin’ house. Who the fuck do you think you are? You dirty cunt. It’s all you are, boy. Stop fuckin’ upsetting me, you and your dirty black fuckin’ huas, and upsetting Mrs next door.”
“How did we upset them. Do you know?”
“Bringing dirty cunts into a clean fuckin’ white neighbourhood, you have no fuckin’ right!”
Tracking this chap down didn’t take long. He came into the office rather sheepishly. He was a bland man who knew the game was up.
In an earlier meeting, Hiwi had been profoundly disturbed by the tape recording — we all were. He was less angry than sad about it. As we now gathered to resolve the matter, I was impressed with how courteous Hiwi was to the clearly embarrassed landlord. The friendly civility was brief.
When Hiwi was in a serious mood, he often looked slightly downwards or to the side as he spoke, raising his eyes to the listener only as he needed to. He would look right at you when he got to the kernel of the point he was making, and then look away again. It made you listen because you felt the words were being carefully considered, chosen, and then offered to you. Just to you.
I really hoped Hiwi would play the tape to this guy, so that we could witness his response to his own toxic ravings. The boss chose, however, to merely read out sections of the transcript.
I wondered if Hiwi, as such a devout Christian man, would utter the obscenities that we would never otherwise have heard fall from his lips. He didn’t falter, and the freshly sprung miscreant was regretful and apologetic. There was a settlement reached that reflected the seriousness of the breach, and the chap slithered off.
We did encounter some truly nasty people from time to time, but they were the exception. Nazi wannabes and malevolent people do exist among us, but the prejudices to which many of us are prone can be fixed.
Hiwi once wrote:
The basic feelings of humans are the same. That the emotions of Māoridom towards their values are not seen as being of value, is but another expression of a cultural superiority syndrome. For some, an oversight and simple thoughtlessness.
Hiwi was at his most enthusiastic when he was devising ways to use education to stamp out ignorance, and thereby enhance positive race relations.
Because he had been a headmaster, he was very well organised. The office was small and efficient. He was always open to ideas from anyone. He didn’t steal them and pretend they were his. He encouraged people to dream. He appreciated creativity and imagination and he loved to fine-tune a good idea with pointed questions.
One year, we hosted decision-makers like judges and city councillors on marae. We would all stay for a couple of days and have a full programme of talks from people of mana, like John Rangihau, Ken Mason, Louisa Crawley, and Mick Brown. The intent was to get influential people to understand Māori perspectives on life and death.
Another year, we thrashed Rotary clubs around the country. One of the issues at the time was getting employers to understand that bereavement leave for Māori had to stretch for a few days rather than one, and that the scope of family obligations was wide and couldn’t be ignored.
Teams of two of us would travel to a district and get billeted by local Rotarians. For a week, we would speak to schools during the day, and to Rotary dinners at night. The theme was usually the intent of the Race Relations Act. And that flower garden. The response was usually fantastic. Sometimes less so.
I recall one Pākehā woman telling me with pleasure that her son was learning the Māori language. “That’s great.” I said. “Yes,” she added with a flush of pride. “So that he can speak it to the people he’s going to employ.”
There is a spot near Te Hana, Northland, where a side road and the highway join up. Every time I drive past, I remember a hot day 35 years ago when Hiwi and Eddie and I were returning from delivering some talks. We had bought a feed in Kaiwaka and then parked up. We had a munch, sprawled on the grass, and went to sleep. A simple no-big-deal thing that I’ve never forgotten.
My boss was a very ordinary man with no airs and graces whatsoever.
Hiwi was very assured in his own cultural connection to his northern tribal roots and to those who had nurtured him in other parts of the country. It was his habit to discuss his ideas with his kaumātua before he did anything. This was very important to him. As much as he needed their intellect and insight, it was meaningful to simply keep his relationship with his old people. The job was difficult and heady. It aged him. He found safety in his tikanga.
And he needed to be brave. The 1980s were years when anger and ignorance percolated easily in an uneasy society. We had recently loosed the bonds to Europe and were figuring out what it meant to be a Pacific nation. The tenor of the times threw up many contentious issues. As an Auckland Star editorial noted in October 1980:
Trouble involving Maoris seems to be breaking out all over, but things need to be regarded with a sense of perspective. Nationhood doesn’t come easy to any country and New Zealand is no exception.
The Springbok Tour of 1981 truly exploded on our streets and in our minds.
The arrival in New Zealand of a sports team that was an icon of our national game of rugby — but also of white Afrikaner pride, divided our country right down the middle.
On one side were the lovers of the game who said politics should stay out of sport. On the other was a protest movement utterly committed to stopping what they saw as propaganda for a racist regime. The prime minister, Rob Muldoon, wobbled on the fence and waited to see which way it would pan out.
As it turned out: not well. It really was an ominous and violent time. And in the middle of it all was Hiwi. As a keen rugby fan, he was torn between his love for the game and the responsibilities of his job.
The country was expecting to hear from him about his thoughts on the tour. He refused to say anything too soon. On this issue, he took longer than usual to think it through. He even accepted an expenses-paid trip to South Africa to view the scene there for himself. We in the office were anxious in case his rugby inclinations came to the fore. We were already being accused of being soft on the matter.
Hiwi returned and then went into hiding for a few days while he wrote his thoughts. They eventually appeared in a short paper he entitled (rather self-defensively, I thought): I Only Had Twenty One Days.
He was appalled at the discriminatory laws condemning most black families to poverty and fear for their lives. He was also keen to support the integration in sport that he had witnessed because it could lead to greater change.
On balance though, he believed the tour should not go ahead.
We were relieved that the boss had taken an appropriate stand. Hiwi seemed relieved, too. I see that sense on his face in photographs, when he marched side by side with other protesting bigwigs on the eve of the final test.
That trip where he witnessed firsthand the evils of apartheid, and the subsequent difficult experience of the tour, deepened his concerns for the injustices in our world communities. He was ever more determined to explore relationships with cultures beyond Māori and the Pacific. He sought a greater variety of flowers to seed in his garden.
Our offices in the Norman Doo building on Karangahape Road resounded to many languages, and hosted many functions for New Zealanders of every shade and belief. From time to time, we pumped out publications giving information about the growing numbers of cultures starting to make their presence felt in our everyday lives. We gave many talks to refugee centres.
In 1982, the office released a comprehensive survey on Race Relations. It had been instigated because of public outrage after the so-called Haka Party incident of 1979. Māori activists had put an emphatic physical end to a university student stunt that had been an annual and gleeful bastardisation of the haka dance form.
The report Race Against Time argued that urgent action was necessary to stop conflict between races. Hiwi said that the changing face of New Zealand compelled us to work hard to ensure that the term “New Zealander” became collective and inclusive. The immediate step was to ensure that we were a bicultural nation before we could even start to talk about multiculturalism.
One issue that challenged our bicultural capacities concerned a telephone operator working at the Post Office who was threatened with dismissal for answering her phone with “Kia ora” rather than an English-language greeting.
Naida Povey (now Glavish) was insistent about using her native Kiwi tongue, and asked for help from the Auckland Māori District Council. The issue went nationwide immediately and many Māori forces, including our office, became part of the debate. Naida’s stance was supported in the end by Prime Minister Muldoon. She then resigned and moved on.
As far as Hiwi was concerned, he was right behind any activity that would support Māori language and tikanga to become part of the Kiwi way of life. His successes in education and on the rugby field were firmly shaped by his Māori ethos of respect and team work. He believed utterly in the power of a culture, any culture, to express our humanity in positive and loving ways.
As for his own use of the Māori language, Hiwi was not an expert and he never pretended to be. There were many occasions when he had to get to his feet and deliver speeches to the great and the good. He could cover the basics, and I always admired his bravery when he offered them to some of the most eloquent orators of that era. But his quiet mana, thoughtful demeanour, and absolute clarity in English always won them over.
And he liked to laugh.
We would tease him mercilessly sometimes, when he hobbled to work with one foot bound up. A clear sign that he had once again succumbed to seafood and the gout had kicked in. He’d say: “Leave me alone, ya cheeky beggars!”, wince with pain, and laugh as well, his face creasing into those many familiar wrinkles.
A long time after leaving the Race Relations Office, I remember going to Hiwi’s 70th birthday party. By then he had enjoyed a busy career after his successful term as Conciliator. He had returned to his Far North home in Kaeo and got involved in iwi politics. It wasn’t long before he was dragged south again to serve on a range of boards dealing with Māori broadcasting, sport, and education. He was also early to encourage closer relations to China: for reasons of cultural connection rather than business.
Hiwi had led a life worth examining. He was proud of what he knew, and humble before that which he did not. He had worked on his imperfections. It felt good to mihi my first employer, and to tell him how much he had shaped what I had become in my professional and personal life. I was pleased to make him laugh with this corny joke:
Winston Peters had been pulled over by the traffic police on suspicion of driving while under the influence:
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’ll have to ask you to breathe into this bag.”
“Well, I’m just as sorry, officer, because I have a letter from my doctor saying that, because of my asthma, I am unable to exert my lungs.”
“In that case, sir, I’ll have to ask you to come to the station to take a blood test.”
“It grieves me to say, officer, that I also have a letter here from my specialist telling me that, because of my haemophilia, I am quite unable to suffer any injections.”
“I see, sir. I regret that this difficult situation now compels you to come with me to the station to give a urine sample. No exertion or injections required.”
“I assure you, officer, the regrets are all mine. I have a letter here with a ruling from the Race Relations Conciliator Hiwi Tauroa. He says that nobody is allowed to take the piss out of the Māori!”
Sometime in the ‘90s, I interviewed Pete (now Pita) Sharples about Māori leadership. He respected Hiwi and saw that he had brought the best of an old style of consensual Māori leadership to the cause of national harmony. As Pete and I talked before the cameras, I noticed some framed words on his wall: I am the leader of the people I am following.
Hiwi did indeed lead from behind. He could see through the eyes of the people before him, and understand where it was that they wanted to go, and where they needed to go. He knew the difference, and how to get everyone on the same track.
He did it not just because of his personal qualities, which in measure were generous indeed — but because of his family. His wife Pat, a leader in her own right, their six children, and many mokopuna, were everything to Hiwi. They defined him, and he them.
A week before he died, his family took him to the Paerata Rise development near Pukekohe to unveil a street that had been named in his honour. Hiwi Tauroa Rd is smack-bang in the middle of the former Franklin District where he had once found joy and fame as a respected teacher and beloved coach.
As I spoke with Pat by the coffin, where her husband of 60 years, my old boss, now lay cold, she told me that Hiwi had been in pretty good physical shape. He had suffered infirmities of the mind for many years, but she believed he was all too aware of what was going on around him.
One of his habits was to slowly tear books or magazines apart, so that he would be left with a small bunch of pages clutched in his hand. She felt that the act of holding tangible pieces of paper gave him comfort, because he had spent a long life working with documents of consequence.
In a similar vein, he would go to local meetings and sit to the side with a book and quietly read the words out. If the meeting got a bit heated or the discussion was heading in a less fruitful direction, Hiwi’s reading voice would get louder and louder — until everyone got back on track.
Her recollections move me still. E aroha ake ana, e te whaea.
There is a mournful beauty to be found when all that is left of a life are the simplest of habits, acquired as we discover what we were created to be.
There is a place on the paepae of our people for those who are patient, and who pay attention to the moment. There is a place in my heart for the men and women who shaped me with the example of their own habits, and who did it with love.
Thanks, Boss. We’ll try and pass it on.
Moe mai rā e taku rangatira, e kara e …
Tainui Stephens (Te Rarawa) is an independent film and television producer, director, writer, and sometimes presenter. He started his broadcasting career with Television New Zealand’s Koha in 1984. Since then, he’s been responsible for bringing many Māori stories to the screen, including Māori Battalion documentaries, the TV series The New Zealand Wars, and the feature films River Queen and The Dead Lands.
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