Tumutumuwhenua watches over Ōrākei marae (Image: Hannah Peters/Getty)

The occupation of Takaparawhā Bastion Point, 40 years on

This week marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most pivotal land actions in New Zealand history – the 506 day occupation of Bastion Point.

I don’t whakapapa to Ōrākei but I share an ancestor, Tumutumuwhenua, who didn’t arrive in Aotearoa on a waka but grew from the earth. The wharenui at Ōrakei is named for Tumutumuwhenua, who sits atop the ridge-pole welcoming visitors and descendants alike into the great house. After the original marae down in Ōkahu Bay was destroyed in 1952 ahead of a visit by the young Queen Elizabeth II, Tumutumuwhenua grew from the earth once more on Takaparawhā Bastion Point in 1989 and has welcomed a great many rangatira since.

For the past seven months it has been my home, living with whanaunga there. The new papakāinga block I live in has six homes on each side, facing in towards each other with a shared lawn and maara kai raised beds in the middle. Like our houses, we live shoulder to shoulder. I wake each morning to the sounds of my neighbours hurrying their children to get ready for school. ‘Kia tere!’ ‘Haere ki waho!’ Toddlers in oversized backpacks like brightly coloured ducklings make their way to the Puna Reo at the end of the street.

The twin of our development sits on the other side of Kupe St. At night the cousins over the road get a spectacular panoramic view of the brightly lit Auckland City skyline – the same view as the $3 million mansions down the hill. At the end of the road, past the Puna Reo and the kaumātua flats, past the marae and watchful eye of Tumutumuwhenua, to the cold and lovely monument erected to the memory of Michael Joseph Savage, the Waitematā spreads out below like a cloak.

From our vantage point up here, the road below that hugs the coastline, joining Ōkahu Bay to Mission Bay, to Kohimārama, to St Heliers, is hidden – the joggers with their relentless pace and the ice cream-hungry tourists just out of sight. Rangitoto, the great volcano named for ‘Te rangi i totongia a Tamatekapua’ (the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed) straddles the horizon. It all seems impossibly wide.

Last year Ngarimu Blair, deputy chair of the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust, wrote for The Spinoff:

“In 1840 it was our ancestor Te Kawau who invited Governor Hobson to establish his new capital on the shores of the Waitematā. My great grandfather’s great grandfather, Te Reweti, led the deputation to Kororāreka to put the offer. This was only months after both he and Te Kawau signed the Treaty at Manukau and just before a land deed was signed too at Te Rerenga Oraiti (Point Britomart) transferring 3,500 acres of central Auckland land to the Crown. The coastline from Opou (Cox’s Bay) to Mataharehare (West Hobson Bay) was the seaward boundary while both points went inland to the summit of Maungawhau.”

Te Kawau had hoped this generous offer would safeguard the rest of the iwi’s land and interests. By the 1850s, most of their land was gone, taken by the Crown for defence purposes against a feared Russian invasion that never materialised. Ngāti Whātua were relegated to a small base at Okāhu Bay.

In 1908 a sewer pipe was laid across the beach in front of the papakāinga, discharging raw sewage into the bay. The sewage outfall polluted the hapu’s shellfish beds, and turned the village into a swamp in heavy rain.

More land was requisitioned for defence during WWII and the hapū were hemmed into an even smaller area. However even the remaining land was highly desirable to the local council for its sea views and proximity to the city. In 1952, the remaining Māori families of Okāhu Bay were relocated as tenants of state houses in Kitemoana Street, and their dwellings and wharenui burned to the ground, conveniently removing the village from sight of the route the Queen would take on her official visit.

‘Get over it’ is a phrase you hear a lot as a Māori person. Think about where your family were in 1952 – you, your parents, your grandparents. And now imagine them being forced from their home because the Queen was coming to visit. Now imagine their home, your home, being burned down. Now get over it.

Although they no longer needed it for military use, in 1976 the government revealed plans to build expensive housing on the land at Takaparawhā. By this time Ngāti Whātua Orākēi’s ancestral land had been reduced to a quarter acre.

On January 5th, 1977, two days before building was scheduled to start, Ngāti Whātua protesters, under the banner of the Ōrākei Māori Action Committee, began occupation of their lands at Takaparawhā.

In February 1978 they were offered some land back at a price – an offer they rejected. So on May 25th 1978, after one year and 141 days of occupation, police and army personnel forcibly removed 222 people from Bastion Point. Their temporary meeting houses, buildings and gardens were demolished. Basic amenities were withheld from those who remained on the land.

Herbs’ 1981 LP ‘Whats’ Be Happen?’ featured an image of the police action to clear Bastion Point in May, 1978.

Ten years later the Waitangi Tribunal, in the first historical claim to be heard, supported Ngāti Whātua’s claims of grievance. The Wai 388 claim was a collective deed that grouped together five different claims. It was first lodged in 1993 with direct negotiations beginning in 2002. In their settlement, most of Takaparawhā was returned along with other lands and compensation, including the site of the original village destroyed by the Crown.

Ngāti Whātua gave it back to the council to be used as a park.

Every sunrise, sunset, misty morning and bright blue sky steals my breath up on the point. ‘Tino rangatiratanga’ feels possible, plausible, within reach. After years of canny financial and cultural investment, successful, healthy Māori families live on their tūpuna whenua, with access to their whānau, whenua, reo and tikanga. I know it isn’t all of the truth, that to many we’re ‘those fancy Māoris up on the hill’. That even some Ngāti Whātua whānau will never have the privilege of watching the sun set on the point. But I do know what it took to get here and I thank my Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei whanaunga for letting me stop here awhile.

Watch Bastion Point—The Untold Story from NZ On Screen

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