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Image: Archi Banal
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BooksMay 24, 2023

Takaparawhau: The people’s story of the Bastion Point occupation

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

May 25 marks 45 years since the arrest of more than 200 people at Takaparawhau, Bastion Point. In 1977 Joe Hawke, with the Ōrākei Māori Action Committee, led an occupation to protest the loss of Ngāti Whātua’s land rights. The following extracts are memories from that time, recorded in a commemoration book produced and edited by Sharon Hawke in 1998.

Vivienne Smits (Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei)

During the confusion of the 70s, my time spent on Bastion point was probably the sanest.

Here was a group of people from all walks of life, family, nationality, tribe and political agenda thrown together on top of a royal piece of land smack bang in the middle of metropolitan Auckland.

Along with the injustices suffered by the Ngāti Whātua and the belief that this land claim was rightful, was the deep connection I gained from just being on the land, marking the days with the ever-present threat of eviction by the Muldoon government. We lived simply day by day and we evolved and built our lives literally from the ground up.

There were no mod cons — power, hot water, buildings, toilets, etc. They just weren’t there. This was grass roots — a few tents, a couple of caravans, wood stoves, long drop loos, tilly lamps and candles. We lived in the moment.

As winter approached we grew bolder as deadlines for eviction came and went without event — a meeting house was built. It was a permanent marker of our presence and an embarrassment to the government. The building was a focal point for many meetings and visits from people. Māori icons — Dame Whina Cooper, Matiu Rata, Eva Rickard, Donna Awatere — passed through with their spiritual and political support. Tim Shadbolt would quietly support by attending meetings. John Denver also visited, sang and shared and gave us free concert tickets, which was very uplifting.

Language like “Camp Runamuck” and “rat patrol” existed only on Bastion Point. Listening to discussions, karakia, singing in Māori, gave ritual pause for reflection of our actions as we moved on to the next step of our daily routine.

It is the people I lived and shared with that I have the fondest memories of. Joe’s mum, Aunty Didi and his dad Eddie were always there, calmly going through their day to day chores — be it in the garden or simply boiling the water for a cup of tea. Aunty Didi taught me how to make kete and I thank her for her kindness in sharing her knowledge.

Rachel and Grant and their beautiful children Celeste, Grant, Dayna and Barry-Gene! I thank them from the bottom of my heart for all their strength and kindness, sharing their home.

Aussie Bob and Margaret Jones — my friends from Camp Runamuck. Ngaio, you beautiful strong Māori woman — who made me laugh and cry and sing and celebrate life. Thanks for sharing your love of music — Bob Marley and Joan Armatrading. The tin whistle and your grandfather’s tangi.

Mavis and Alec and little Joanne — A special place in my heart for you all. Thanks for the music Alec and your lightness, Mavis.

Doc Ngaheu, my enigma! — we shared so many experiences during our time together.

Steve and Maude — the big blue humber car. Maude with her headband. The whare Kokiri and many versions of dwelling.

Ricky Allison and his dad Percy, Big Mike Rameka, Roger the Dodger, Dilworth Karaka and the boys, Sam and Adrienne, Diane and Colin, Terry, Lance and Sharon Hawke, Rocky, Rex, Lyn and Roger, Toira and Gina Tumahai, Taua Solomon and the many that my memory can no longer recall.

On reflection — what did Bastion Point achieve? Was this experience worthwhile?

I like to think that the increased awareness of land injustices and government recognition of these issues were highlighted with Bastion Point. Looking back I see that it was a pivotal point in my desire for justice for the Ngāti Whātua. Bastion Point was another marker in the history of Māori self-determination.

I do question the monetary exchange for the current land grievances. Haven’t we learnt our lesson that money can’t replace land? Land has no cash value to the Māori! It is sacred — our taonga! We are just the guardians.

Vivienne Smits stripping flax at Takaparawhau.

Ricky Allison

The take of Bastion Point went far deeper than any news media could or would divulge, as I would discover when I visited the protest site one evening in February 1977. My first impression was of a close community devoted to an issue. They were enthusiastic to tell the history and issues of the day to those prepared to take the time to come and listen.

Meetings with hours of kōrero were held every night in the newly erected whare and went on well into the night, long after manuhiri had gone home and those of us who had to get up for work had gone to bed.

Crops of kūmara and potatoes had already been planted when I arrived and we dug them in March for storage in the outside cookhouse behind the main whare.

Two camps had been established, one on the hill above Kitemoana Street called Camp One (this was the main Marae camp) and a second, Camp Two, which was at the bottom of the hill at the end of Aotea Street in Mission Bay. I believe number two camp was often called “Camp Runamuck”. Two camps were established as residents on Bastion Point could not be sure which side of the camp an evicting party would enter.

A well-worn track through the long grass joined the two sites where the top camp occupants would make their way to the lower camp in the hope of a better meal where the better cooks were reported to be.

I erected my pup tent between the two camps several metres off the track, unaware that we were to experience the wettest winter Auckland had had for decades. This weather resulted in wooden pallets being used as walkways around the camp and as a floor inside my tent. The mud had engulfed the groundsheet and was rapidly encroaching onto the sleeping bag.

A standing joke was that if an eviction happened during the night, I would be the only one left to tell the tale because my tent was secluded and hidden in the long grass. This became more plausible with my heavy sleeping habit; I awoke one morning to find I was in the whare having been removed from my tent during the night due to heavy rain and flooding.

A final decision was reached that the lower camp be dismantled and the two camps combined, much to the consternation of some lower camp members, one of whom ran from the meeting down the track in the dark yelling, “We’re being evicted, we’re being evicted.”

As winter approached, tents were replaced with caravans or modified with claddings of corrugated iron to shelter them from wind and rain. Others would make stand alone outbuildings (wharemoe) as building material became available.

People from the trade donated demolition building material. One of these was Tim Shadbolt. Local residents began donating material once they realised that government greed was the issue and they would be affected by the sale of the land.

I was given sheets of corrugated iron, windows and a hand basin. There was enough to build my shack which had a bed, washing facilities, a clothes rack and a shower which I made from a 20 litre drum painted black. I hung a tin can with holes under the tap, allowing for a tepid shower at night. The window was built into the corner, so from my bed I had a 45 degree view of the Hauraki Gulf. The same view Muldoon was trying to sell.

As the government became more officious, protesters became more defiant of bureaucrats and their laws. The moment the court ruled the protesters were trespassers and must go, the construction of the first concrete floored building began. There were toilets with a septic tank and a tepee style hut was made out of the trig station frame. This created an outburst of rage from respective officials. 

As the weather got worse cars could not get through the mud at the gate and had to be abandoned there and gumboots donned. The exception was Alec’s VW. With a good run up, it would reach the whare.

Eddie Hawke was working for the Auckland City Council as a driver. At the end of delivering a load of seal the surplus was to be dumped. He dumped it on Bastion Point to create a driveway and also created a job vacancy for one Auckland City Council driver. He was sacked for dumping the seal in the wrong place. Like most things, this didn’t phase Ed as it gave him more time to spend in the gardens and tend to the roosters. The roosters were under constant threat from victims of their attack, because of their early morning crowing.

Motivation became sluggish over winter. The Monday night meetings drew cringes of remorse as Joe’s mother would tear strips off of those that could only bring themselves to play the guitar or stoke the fire all day while her gumboots were still missing in deep mud somewhere between the gate and the whare. This kōrero would bring a hive of activity on the Tuesday morning and would last until the afternoon — if she was lucky.

One job that was taken seriously was rat patrol. This was several two hour shifts throughout the night to keep an eye on the camp and watch for possible intruders. One of the drawbacks was the patrol spent more time in the pantry than on patrol, and a lock was installed, although the key holder was still under suspicion.

Bob and his partner Margaret had come from Sydney. His handyman skills never ceased to amaze me. It was obvious he knew a fair bit about the workings of most things. These skills became frazzled when the old petrol generator that had been anonymously donated, gave trouble. It would run awhile before dropping its revs and then roar into life, with cheers from those of us who were sitting in the whare waiting with bated breath for darkness to engulf us. We finally reverted back to the kerosene lanterns when it became irreparable and the police came to retrieve it. It was reported stolen from Hirepool — I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Spring brought drier days and the start of summer gardens. Kumara, corn, watermelon, potato, kamo kamo, cucumber, tomatoes and beans, were some of the crops planted. Newspapers reported the possible sighting of weapons being moved onto the point although the most obvious explanation was bamboo stakes for the tomatoes and beans.

Ed was a great mentor in both patience and gardening. At first light in the cool of the day we would work in the garden until breakfast and again after tea at night. One morning Diane left the garden, lit the coal range and cooked breakfast for the gardeners. Having set the porridge and toast on the picnic table outside, she sat down and called us for kai. After we all started to eat, she stood up to get the pot of tea. Unfortunately we were all sitting on the same side of the table and ended up wearing out breakfast.

The better weather also brought more visitors and a need to revamp the single cubicle loo and build a men’s and a women’s loo. It was built behind the main whare overlooking Mission Bay. This gave a good view of the bay and gulf. The one drawback of the new site was the wind would swoop up the hill, funnel under the floor, create a swirling motion in the drop hole and cause the used toilet paper to wind around the victim’s wrist.

Pets on Bastion Point consisted of about ten fowl that had been donated as chicks. Guaranteed to be good layers with age, they grew up to be roosters. There were ten dogs, one of which was my Labrador/Dane cross. The dogs got used to day visitors but were great night eyes and ears, lunging from the dark at unsuspecting visitors.

On my return from a week in Northland looking for kumara plants, I discovered a university student had moved a bed and clothing into my shack, making himself at home. Unfortunately, my dog Ben disliked this new tenant and would not let him back in after the first day.

Spreading the word around the country was known as lighting fires. It was slow and involved lots of travel. On one trip to Dargaville, Colin was to meet with his whānau and was due back in a couple of days. After a week, I told Mike there must be many fires for him to be away so long. His reply was, “Fires my arse, he’s more likely striking matches in the Puhoi pub.”

On Thursday 25 May, a concert to commemorate the forced eviction of protesters at Auckland’s Bastion Point 45 years ago will be held at the Spark Arena Tuning Fork. Headline acts include Ardijah, Annie Crummer and Herbs. Tickets at Moshtix. For information on other commemoration activities, visit Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s Facebook page

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