It’s been an especially tough week for the Jackson whānau. On Monday, Dame Temuranga June Jackson passed away in Taumarunui, aged 82 — and a few days later, June’s brother-in-law Moana Jackson followed.
Here, Moana Maniapoto pays tribute to her former mother-in-law. A fierce and fearless advocate for urban Māori — and a “matriarch of Donna Corleone proportions” who believed in second chances.
June Jackson’s painted, manicured fingernails were decorated with tiny diamantes. They’d flutter in the air like butterflies when she talked — and when she’d give a cheeky finger to the odd gangster shaping up to race her on to the motorway. That’s when the Dame would drop the posh act, cackle out loud, and raise an eyebrow, as if to say: “Just try, you bugger. Give it your best shot.”
June wasn’t averse to taking pot shots herself. Her impressive diamond rings morphed into potential weapons when she bunched her fist. She threw it a couple of times as she launched herself across the office desk and cursed at someone she thought had done her wrong. Not quite the done thing for a chief executive.
June was a matriarch of Donna Corleone proportions. Smoked up a storm, was a hotshot card player, and swore like a trooper. She had a shotgun under her bed. Looking back now, there was always a whiff of Outrageous Fortune around her, South Auckland style. She was on a first-name basis with all the gang presidents.
June’s real name was Temuranga. Pākehā teachers couldn’t pronounce it. So Temuranga was tucked away like many other Māori inconveniences and replaced by “June”. That’s how it was in those days.
She was the eldest of three children born to Huinga and Barney Batley, who were King Country farmers. Her brother, Richard, was a well-known accountant, highly active within iwi business, while their sister, Christine, has been widely acknowledged for her work in the health sector.
Barney was a tough old bugger. Once June sent her eldest son Willie to the Taumarunui farm for the holidays. Barney tossed his grandson some tools and told him to get outside and “do the fencing”. The teen who grew up on the mean streets of Porirua and Māngere stared at the tools and the wire. Bewildered.
Barney was a hard worker. I suspect that kind of lifestyle toughened June up for life in the big city and inspired her own demanding work ethic.
June’s husband, Bob Jackson, was, like my own dad, a wharfie. Hardcore unionist — and as one-eyed a Coastie as you could ever find.
She and Bob had three kids. Willie (who I was married to for a while), Vaughan (“Huk”), and daughter Rowanne Huinga. Now a cabinet minister, Willie described his mum as “fearless”.
“I remember when we lived in Porirua,” he said. “The next-door neighbour said something to us, like: ‘Bloody mowrees’. Well, Mum shot across the fence and had him up against the wall, half strangling him. Dad had to pull her off. No one was going to talk down to her kids.”
June laughed a lot as she smoked and plotted and ate chocolate. Tons of it. I recall her providing a big bowl of chocolate for my son to help himself from when he was a toddler. He’d wash it down with the Coke she stashed for him in the fridge.
I’d argue with her about how it would make him hypo.
“What do you know?” she’d snap. “You new mothers . . . no bloody idea.”
I’d bite my tongue and mind my place.
A couple of years later, June put the bowl away and quietly announced that maybe her moko shouldn’t have so much chocolate and Coke.
Bob and June were highly active in South Auckland. They lived in a rough street but never locked their doors.
Willie recalls his mum as “the classic dutiful wife, a loving mother, a great organiser, as tough as guts and not afraid of anyone”. But I think she always wanted to stretch herself, use her brains. She was such a great organiser.
Under her watch, the Manukau Urban Māori Authority (MUMA) ran contracts with various entities, including the Black Power. If the gang’s reports were late, June would march into the Factory — their Ōtara HQ — demanding the report be filed on time. The BP president, Abe Wharewaka, would shuffle and hum and haw. But June would read the riot act and, on Monday, that report would land on her desk.
As the head of MUMA, June surrounded herself with a tight posse of switched-on, hearty, no-nonsense women.
MUMA established a fitness centre, a hairdresser, credit union, driving school and a café. The matriarchs of Māngere would get their hair done and mosey on down to the café for a kai — usually puffing on their ciggies.
My nickname for June was MIL (mother-in-law); she’d call me DIL. Even though we hadn’t legally been in-laws for over two decades, June and I continued to whisper those pet names to each other. I shouted June her first manicure for her birthday once and she never looked back.
June was once a store detective. She worked with disabled children, too, a job she loved. But when I first met her, she was a cleaner and I was singing in the kinds of pubs that required a ring of Tongan bouncers to keep the calm.
Tai, a former SAS soldier, was the owner of the security firm. I introduced him to June, and, next minute, she was running the books for him. That was June, though. Great head for numbers. Probably all those card games she played.
At one stage, June gave my sister and her mate a shot at running the café. They were freshies, just back from London, keen but no idea. So that relationship ended happily after a wee chat.
June gave plenty of people chances, particularly women. She’d pull me in to talk to ladies who’d just left prison. The gym became part of their recovery and the café a place to reward themselves.
MUMA wrapped itself around a corner of Papatoetoe and June presided over it. She was Donna Corleone at her desk enveloped in a cloud of smoke. She loved gossip but could keep a secret. When her younger son was rocking up to court for the odd court case, June would always be there to support him. Bob had no idea what was going on.
Willie took over as the chief executive of MUMA until he went into parliament. His wife Tania Rangiheuea was recently appointed to lead the organisation.
Bob and June joined other community leaders to build Ngā Whare Waatea which serves as a marae in the heart of Māngere. The team built a kōhanga reo there too, to accommodate our kids. Then a school, which Rowanne helped set up. Bob supervised the construction of a little playground that was an imitation pā. June’s dream was that women would one day sit on the pae.
The complex is still home to a thriving kura and to Radio Waatea, the station that took over the 603AM frequency after Radio Aotearoa folded. Huk is a producer there.
The Black Pearl Party was another initiative that bore June’s imprint. That was at the outdoor night markets at Waatea. June wanted to create events that would get ordinary, older Māori women dressed up and out of their homes — the widows, the shift workers, the women with husbands who didn’t get out much.
No men were allowed unless they were being useful serving drinks or kai. That first event morphed into the Black Pearl Awards that my mates and I ran for 10 years.
June always had a good head for business and a bargain. She was the queen of bartering — never paid full price for anything. Bob spoilt his wife, though. Especially with jewellery. And, man, did she love clothes.
She and I visited our friend Tynnetta Muhammad in the US. After watching the Black Muslim sisters sashaying through the hotel lobbies in their beautiful silk robes, June had a dressmaker run us up fabulous numbers that were African-Māori flavoured.
June was just a mass of dash. Quite gangster sometimes. She had a floor length possum coat that must have cleaned out half the vermin in the bush.
One night, her second Auckland home, in Papatoetoe, burned to a crisp. I was overseas at the time. Bob, June, my infant son, and Tynnetta escaped the furnace in the middle of the night. All they were able to save was Tynnetta’s Holy Quran and a car parked in the driveway.
And there were other grim realities that June often confronted. That was as the longest-serving member of the Parole Board.
Those 20 years on the board took their toll. I remember her looking up sadly from her papers once, as she described an inmate who had murdered an elderly woman.
“He was chained and kept in a kennel as a kid,” she said. “Treated like a dog, Moana. How would he know the difference between right and wrong?”
Occasionally, an inmate would face the Parole Board and yell: “Fuck you!” June would shout back: “Fuck you, too!” She’d dish out a business card to some of them. It was to the Silver Dawn Funeral Services that she set up. “You’re gonna need that,” she’d bark.
June would get a growling from an astonished Judge Thomas Thorp, who chaired the Parole Board at the time. But Sir Tom knew that when some of New Zealand’s most notorious criminals were due for release and had nowhere to go, it was June who’d take them. They’d end up at Ngā Whare Waatea.
That included New Zealand’s longest serving prisoner, Dean Wickliffe. And Mark Stephens, a convicted rapist. And then there was “Mr Green” who’d play table tennis with my young son.
Willie remembers a policeman mate of his telling him: “Hey, you know that guy’s a killer, eh? We just couldn’t get enough evidence to convict him.”
But that was June. She believed in redemption. June reckoned she needed them close so she could work on them and try to get them right for the outside world. She was into reintegration programmes long before others had made a move.
For a long time, there have been restorative justice panels on site at Waatea. These were run for many years by Deirdre Nehua, whose late husband, Anzac Wallace, had the original vision for Waatea.
There were other instances of personal warmth and generosity. Like with her cousin Barbara, who’d had a sad life and did time for killing someone. Barbara lived with June until she died of cancer.
Maria Thompson did too. She became a part of the Jackson household after June found her on the streets and took her home. That was back in 1987. Maria was a heavy drinker, smoker, fighter and gambler. It was only ever going to be for a couple of nights, but Maria stayed for over three decades. She became the cook, cleaner, bouncer and chauffeur.
June, Bob, and their cohort of South Auckland community leaders were all strongly connected to their iwi and marae. Perhaps it was because they so clearly knew who they were and where they came from that they had such empathy for those who didn’t.
They would fight for those they described as “urban Māori”, those who were far from home or disconnected from their roots.
And she wasn’t afraid of going up against powerful iwi leaders, always male, to cut a break for those she represented. “Iwi fundamentalists,” she’d mutter.
June led a challenge against the tribes on behalf of “urban Māori”. Sir Tom’s son, Fred Thorp, represented urban Māori in the legal battle. They ended up in the Privy Council over the fisheries settlement. And she had some ding-dong battles with her dear friend and foe Sir Tipene O’Regan.
Justice Sir Joe Williams remembers June “coming up to me in a break in the fisheries case 30 years ago, telling me off with her characteristic brutality for acting for the bad guys (Te Ohu Kaimoana) against the good guys (Urban Māori Authorities), then giving me a big kiss and telling me how proud she was of me. I mean, if that’s not generosity of spirit, I don’t know what is.”
Bob busied himself spoiling my son, whisking him out of the Waatea kōhanga an hour after I’d dropped the kid there. They became besties wrapped up in te reo and cowboy songs. Bob and Kimiora, against the world.
In 1994, Bob was about to turn 60. June sent him on a world trip with plans to meet him in India — which she did, a couple of weeks later. But he died there in his sleep, June at his side.
June missed him terribly. He’d been her rock. Every now and then a well-meaning person would suggest she might one day meet another man. That never went well. “There was only ever one man for me.” June gave them the frosty death stare and never spoke to them again
She found solace, and a distraction from the loneliness, at the Sky City Casino.
And she threw herself into work.
Tariana Turia told me that when she announced that she was going to lead a new party, June phoned her. “She wanted to know who I wanted for co-leader,” explained Tariana. “I said that I hadn’t thought about it. ‘Be here on this day and at this time,’ June said.”
Tariana did as she was told. She turned up at the appointed place and time — “and there, standing beside June, was Pita Sharples.”
Smoking took its toll — and in 2008, June had a heart attack. Next thing, Willie’s in Auckland Hospital too, with serious heart problems. The two of them ended up in the same ward in adjoining rooms. It was quite handy. And I was a few floors above in NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit), taking care of my tiny premature daughter.
After June recovered, she went on long walks, stopped smoking for a while and ate healthier.
Temuranga was made a Dame in 2010. Hundreds gathered at Ngā Whare Waatea to celebrate someone who’d always been a dame.
But June’s heart was never really the same, and for the last five years, she lived in a nursing home in Taumarunui, run by her sister, Chrissie. Maria moved in as well, to keep June company. Maria died two years ago but I don’t think June realised. She had dementia by then.
“Mum may not know you,” Willie would warn me, when I was planning a visit. Once, I turned up to the nursing home and bumped into her in the corridor.
“Aw, you make my heart sing,” she said as her eyes lit up and she smiled. I melted.
“Who am I, June?” I asked. “Come on, who am I?”
She rolled her eyes and snapped back: “Don’t be so bloody ridiculous, Moana.”
So, yes, there was the same vibrant June we all knew. Gone were the flash fingernails and the cigarettes, the designer clothes and piles of books, but there was our June, alive and vivacious.
We’d laugh about old times and gossip about old friends. If we were lucky, I’d have an hour or so of our June before the mood changed and she’d start repeating herself.
“How’s dad, Moana?”
“He died, June.”
A few minutes later: “And how’s dad, Moana??”
Sometimes she would ask me for a hug. I’d help her on to her bed and rub her bare feet until she drifted off. Occasionally, she would stir and look up at me.
“Shall we go now?”
And I’d reply: “Just have a moe first, MIL.”
And as she slept, I’d kiss her gently and quietly leave.
Dame Temuranga June Batley-Jackson (Ngāti Maniapoto) is survived by her sons Willie and Vaughan, daughter Rowanne, and her 10 mokopuna. She died on Monday March 28, 2022, aged 82, at Taumarunui.
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