For the second time since New Zealand went into lockdown, the public toilet block and carpark at Ōwairaka has been defaced with racist images.
The dispute over the native restoration programme for the maunga of Ōwairaka took a nasty new turn last week when the words “Majurey lies” were spray painted in orange across the public toilet block at the base of the mountain, accompanied by two stars of David. Paul Majurey is the chair of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority (TMA), the Auckland mana whenua collective who have ownership and kaitiakitanga of Auckland’s 14 volcanic cones.
The TMA has been embroiled in an ongoing battle with protesters who oppose the native restoration programme for the maunga, which includes plans to cut down a number of exotic trees. Protesters believe that cutting down the trees will have a negative impact on native flora and fauna.
By yesterday morning the words “wai” and “5G?” were painted on stall doors in the same orange paint, and a large star of David with a dollar sign in its centre – an unmistakable anti-semitic trope – was painted in white across the carpark. According to a local spoken to by The Spinoff, a group of walkers discovered the vandalism around 5am. As far as he was concerned, it was “just some random idiot who’s picking up on several different messages and is totally confused”.
Whatever the motivations of the vandal, the action risks reigniting the conflict between the maunga authority and the protesters who occupied the land. Accusations have flown on social media, with fingers pointed in all directions.
Anna Radford, spokesperson for the protest group Honour the Maunga, emphatically rejects any link between the vandalism and the group. “We have absolutely no idea who this person is,” she told The Spinoff.
Radford yesterday had an op-ed in the NZ Herald rejecting other accusations that there was a racist thread to the protesters’ actions. “The Honour the Maunga tree protection group routinely experiences accusations of racism based on nothing more than our daring to challenge the authority’s plans to fell hundreds of trees during a climate emergency,” she wrote.
Speaking to The Spinoff yesterday, Radford said she disavowed a string of actions that claimed association with the group. Those include a “curse” placed by protestor Suala Wilson on supporters of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, outspoken local personality Lisa Prager’s bizarre claims to being mana whenua, and the Don Brash-led group Hobson’s Pledge, which distributed literature calling the TMA’s authority under the Treaty of Waitangi into question.
“If a comment wasn’t made by me, then it’s not a reflection of the beliefs of Honour the Maunga. It’s not a race issue, we don’t think this has anything to do with the Treaty,” she said.
“The maunga is held in trust by the iwi for the common benefit of mana whenua and the other people of Auckland. The TMA has six Auckland council members on its board to represent ‘the other people’ and our issue is with them more than anyone, they’re meant to be representing the ratepayers of Auckland. We are ratepayers, many Māori are rate payers, and this is just part of the democratic process, holding them to account.”
She added: “When I saw Don Brash at one of our events here, I walked over and I asked him to leave.”
The dispute has boiled over in recent days on Facebook following TMA workers’ removal of an abandoned encampment of tents left by protestors when New Zealand went into Covid-19 lockdown. Protestors claimed TMA had broken the rules of alert level four by moving the tents to a room attached to the toilet block, saying they had evaded detection by doing it under cover of night.
Photos of the people moving the tents, along with what appears to be a truck belonging to Recreation Services, the company contracted by the TMA to maintain the maunga across Auckland, were posted to the public Honour the Maunga Facebook page. Radford said the photos were taken by a member of the group who was out exercising early in the day.
Underneath the images, supporters of the group allege, without any evidence, that the Tūpuna Maunga Authority themselves might be responsible for last week’s act of vandalism. One commenter theorised, again without any evidence, that TMA had committed the act and then fed the photo to journalist Russell Brown, who published a photo of the graffiti on his Twitter feed.
Brown called the conspiracy theory “hilarious” and said the photo he posted had been taken from a Mt Albert Community Facebook page, although he later visited the site and took some photos himself.
TMA chair Paul Majurey called the claim “bizarre”.
“We’ve got enough on our plate, and that perhaps speaks to the values of anyone who thinks that’s a possibility,” he said.
A media release from TMA in response to last week’s vandalism attributed it to “protesters”, although it didn’t name Honour the Maunga. Radford still took the accusations made in the release as directed at her group, and disputed TMA’s claim they had removed protestors’ tents with police support, saying that police officials told her they had no knowledge of the enforcement.
Majurey countered that there had been regular reports to police about incidents that had been observed at the site, that the police were informed the enforcement action was going to take place, and they were there in attendance when it was carried out by a warranted officer for the TMA and an essential service worker for Recreation Services.
“If that’s not ‘support’ and there’s a more appropriate word, that’s not really the point. The police were involved and in attendance.”
He said they continued to suspect that the vandal, whether or not they were an official member of the Honour the Maunga group, supported its cause. “How does she know it’s not one of their members?” he said.
The first act appeared to have been prompted by the removal of the camping equipment, he said. “Clearly it was a reaction to that, with the reference to my name. The statement we had made presumably was behind the reference to ‘Majurey lies’.”
And what of the reference to 5G? “I don’t do social media so this is what has been passed on to me, but apparently there are conspiracy theories doing the rounds that our native restoration programme is a Trojan horse for putting in 5G sites. The wai reference we think is shorthand for either the Waitangi Treaty Settlement land that the maunga is part of, which has been returned to the tribes of the Tāmaki collective, or similarly the WAI prefix that is used for Treaty legislation and deeds of settlement,” he said.
No threats to his safety have been made directly.
The Spinoff has sought to reach the Mt Albert community constable for comment, so far without success.