Like all births, modern New Zealand’s has been a real mess. In 1840 two people’s signed documents hastily translated to better facilitate signatures and end short-term problems, the long-term ramifications of that have continued to the present day. It all took place in Waitangi, on the 6th of Feb. It’s our favourite divisive national day, and it’s the date I told the blog to publish this!
Here’s another picture of my site at the Waitangi Holiday Park, because it was amazing.
The estuary I looked out on was tidal. At dawn and dusk I watched the wading birds coming in (terns) to feed, further and further out as the water receded. In the morning over a coffee, it was silence aside from the rhythmic splashes of an old man rowing out to check his nets. It was serene. I felt at peace, relaxed, watching the calm water curl from his oars. He rowed gently. He banged straight into that log. It added a fun human touch to the whole scene. It was wonderful.
Waitangi and Russell are key spots in New Zealand’s history. In Waitangi the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, which granted Maori the rights of British citizens and governance over their lands and so on. The understanding and application of the treaty hasn’t been stellar, but it’s a key document and moment in our modern history.
The area (Bay of Islands) is a wonderful place even without the history – a sheltered cove dotted with islands (obviously), and golden beaches throughout. I’d come for the history and had completely overlooked the fact that it’s a popular holiday spot just because it’s nice – it’s great that it’s still an area for the living.
Paihia, a 20-minute beachside stroll down the road, is the ‘town’ for Waitangi, with shops and bars and the facilities you’d expect of a popular beach-side holiday town.
After my coffee, I toddled down to Paihia to get the ferry over to Russell.
Russell was the first European settlement in New Zealand, then known by it’s Maori name, Kororareka. That means ‘sweet penguin’, on account of a chief having a penguin stew that was sweet there apparently.
The first Europeans got here well before any semblance of British government, and the settlement was mostly to service the whalers and sealers. By all accounts it was a total dump, just lawless chaos, a proper ‘frontier town’. Eventually it was dubbed ‘The Hellhole of the Pacific’. It was the local tribes who’d allowed the Europeans to set up camp there that requested the British government get some semblance of governance there to Reign the Europeans in (wordplay!) and well, the rest is history. The place has changed since then, it’s now a rich person’s holiday retreat.
To see where everything kicked off I wanted to go see the flag, which stands on Maiki Hill, just behind Russell. It’s not just any spot for a flag – it’s where the British flew the Union Jack, particularly after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed (1840). It flew there, symbolic of fledgling New Zealand as part of the mighty British Empire. But not all was well, the treaty didn’t mean the same thing to all people. Maori thought they were confirming their ‘trusteeship’ of the land and self-governance of their people while pledging allegiance to the Crown. The British interpretation was more far-reaching when ‘granting citizenship’, which came to a head pretty quickly around crime and punishment. British law was applied to Maori for crimes, yet Maori thought they would be responsible for governing their people. Around the time, the crown had just tried and performed their first New Zealand lawful execution on Maketu, a chap who killed some settlers after they were dicks to him. Not all Maori were cool with British crime and punishment methods applying to their people – Hone Heke for one. Heke, Chief of the Ngapuhi iwi, saw that flag on the hill as a real ‘up yours’. He’d actually provided the flagstaff so they could fly a Maori flag; the chagrin! So he (or his buds) cut it down, not once but three times over the next wee while.
Recognising the symbolism in all this, the British stationed some soldiers at Kororareka, some in town and some by the flagstaff. This isn’t a history paper so I’ll cut some corners – Heke and Kawiti and their warriors came to town, chopped the flagpole down again, killed the defenders and started looting the town. The Naval ship Hazard bombarded the place, Heke withdrew, and then both parties went about looting and sacking the hellhole of the pacific until it was ash and rubble. Not a great start. So yea, that flagpole is ‘a thing’.
On a knoll behind the flagstaff, there’s a little sculpture to celebrate the surveyors, and a great mosaic has been laid down representing the Bay of Islands. Really nicely done!
Back down in Russell, Heke had set down for his people not to destroy the church stuff – he was a Christian afterall. So one block from the beach is the Christ Church, New Zealand’s oldest surviving church, built 1835 and survivor of the Kororareka razing. It’s a cute wee thing as humble and functional as you might expect. A wave of disdain washed over me on the site however, as hordes of shuffling young tourists popped in, looking thoroughly unimpressed and bored.
I did manage to get a moment to myself in there though, and they have their Church meeting minutes on the pinboard which I found mildly interesting. The state of the finances especially – I’m surprised they have it on the wall!
After having visited the flagstaff, I wandered off north to Tapeka point, to the exposed knoll where a defensive Pa site used to sit. Folks’d said it was a kilometre – I think it was certainly more. Wandering down the road, feeling the heat rise, I found a sign to ‘Jim’s walkway’. I took it, and it was a nice little privately developed bush track to the little Tapeka settlement, where I didn’t have to walk along the road. You’re a sport Jim, thanks!
At Tapeka, I was a little irritated by the holiday housing. I wish we could be more collective in our enjoyment of places rather than having to purchase a piece of it, then build a fence to keep all others out. Not saying I’d be any different mind you. On the rising cliff going up to the point, aggressive signs point you off the grass – ‘the council forced public walkway is this 1 metre edge of the lawn, not this huge expanse of open grass – keep off!’. I enjoyed seeing a rabbit eating the beginnings of their hedge. I made a point of Europeanly oogling their private deck area at the back from the public cliff-edge.
The views from Tapeka point were pretty neat.
I wandered back to Russell, heading for the Pompellier Mission.
The mission is a Heritage New Zealand property, recently restored. New Zealand’s olded rammed earth building, it was built in 1842 by French missionaries (including Jean Baptiste Pompallier, namesake) in their drive to spread the good Catholic word to the Maori. It was a race for souls; British Anglican missionaries were making a go of it too and there are missions are all over the place in Northland. The insidious tip of the settlement spear.
The property had a printing press for producing texts in Maori. It was also a tannery. Funds were short for the French mission, so they cleverly got into business with a local tanner. He’d tan there, and they’d get enough leather to cover their books.
The property is run with a tour. I waited patiently with a bunch of respectful tourists, and this one twat in a hawaiian shirt who turned up at the last minute. As our tour guide arrived and talked to us about the history of the property, I heard a strange sound. I looked around to see this guy leaning arm-stretched-out against the veranda pillar. He was idly picking flaking paint off one of our oldest buildings while listening to Heritage NZ’s efforts to protect it.
Inside we were shown how rammed earth buildings are built. They have re-created some of the boxing to show you how it was done. When asked if there were any questions, this guy asks ‘why print books for them if they can’t read?’ I should probably point out our guide was a Maori lady, and it was fairly clear she was affronted by this cretin. Unfortunately she rose to it and got on a big spiel. The tour went over time, I had to wait another hour for the ferry, which cascaded to me not being able to get through the whole Waitangi museum. Thanks dickhead. There are stupid questions.
Out the back are some tanning vats that were rediscovered after the buildings’ previous restoration in the 60s. The story of historic restoration is worth preserving itself sometimes; they thought the place was just a grand mansion, and set it up as such. Only later did some seismic surveys reveal all the tanning pits, many now hidden under hillside slips. So it went from a historic mansion to a historic industrial building.
I had never visited a tannery, it was a surprise to find one here, and Heritage New Zealand are actually doing tanning with some of the pits. So that’s darn cool – she talked us through the process, showed us leather in it’s various phases, and ‘did a cycle’ on one of the hides. Inside again, we were able to use era-appropriate tannery tools to try out smoothing the leather like they would have 200 years ago.
Upstairs they have the same model press that would have been used at the mission. Though there were a couple of presses in Britain I’d never seen one in action; here some kid got to do a print and take it home with him. Learning about the process was great – there are so many press/printing-related phrases in use these days, where the origin is forgotten! Such as:
- to ‘quoin a phrase’, is to lock the text into the page-box. A quion is a little wedge – slap a couple of those in and the text layout is ‘solidified’ for printing.
- a ‘dab hand’ is the guy who uses the ‘dabs’ (or dabbers?) – big soft blob things, which were used to dab the ink onto the text sheets for printing. It was a specialised job, as you had to be very even with your pressure else your printing would look like crap. Hence being a dab hand!
- ‘Skiving off’ is to scrape the leather to soften it. I am not sure why we use it in regards to leaving early!
In the final room there are re-creations of all the old fashioned book-binding tools and workflow; it’s pretty cool seeing how the strings were tied through. Pompallier Mission is absolutely worth a pop-in, I loved it.
So after the tour, I missed the ferry and had another hour to kill in Russell. I thought I’d do the right thing and support local business, so I sat down at a local cafe to have a $25 sandwich. While sitting I overheard the proprietor having a chat. ‘We’re off for 2 months around Spain’ etc. – so they’re doing alright in Russell.
Over the road was the Russell museum. It’s a pretty small thing, a little of everything. The ‘draw’ is a 1:5 scale model of James Cook’s Endeavour; it’s pretty big, but unfortunately they kinda skimped on the custom-built gallery; it’s too tight to really enjoy the ship in it’s full form. For me, the highlight was sitting on my butt and watching an old 70s/80s TV spot advertising Russell. It was fantastic, so cheesey.
So, back on the ferry, I resisted the urge to enquire what was in this bag:
and walked back up to Waitangi, and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for 4pm. Jumping straight into the last tour of the day, I loitered to be joined by some knob from Hamilton and our guide; a direct descendant of one of the signatory chiefs. He was a lovely warm, amiable chap, very much running on his own timescale. Despite there only being two of us, he provided us with radio microphones with which to listen to him as ambled from the entrance down to the shore.
The spiel was geared for those who know nothing and don’t really care too much. I know some stuff, and cared a lot, and I had only two hours. I needed to walk my pace, not the meandering of a dude killing time. I would have ditched the tour if there were more than two people! But alas, there wasn’t.
So we had a look at the great war canoes. The biggest one weighs 3 tonne, carved from three Kauri in the 40s and requires 300 men to move it. ‘When it’s wet it weighs 12 tonne’ he said.
‘How many men do you need to bring it in then?’ asked Hamilton man.
‘We use a tractor’.
That canoe was pretty much mothballed until Prince Phillip wanted to go for a spin during the Royal Visit. Our chap told us they’d have to re-lash the flax bindings every time it was used; so they replaced it all with nylon.
Later he talked of welcome challenges and just dropped in ‘if it wasn’t good we’d eat them. Thank god we have KFC these days eh?’
Then we wandered up to the treaty grounds. Honestly the tour was a real pain in the arse, I couldn’t read and listen to the guy and I felt I had to listen since there were only two of us. So I didn’t really learn much up there, but yep – that’s where the treaty was signed. ‘Great view’ said Hamilton man.
After escaping the tour, I tore down to the museum with 45 minutes until closing. It’s a brand new space, exploring everything I’d come north to explore. Annoyingly I hadn’t enough time to soak it up. I recall only bits and bobs, such was my haste.
I did like this; a drawn map of New Zealand by a Maori guy, 1793, kidnapped to Norfolk island to teach them how to use flax (another good movie ready to go right there). You can see the different view of the world in what is given priority and focus.
Here’s some Waitangi stuff, since it’s Waitangi day and all.
In the treaty to bring the cultures together in one land, ‘sovereignty’ was the sticking point word. The British knew the chiefs wouldn’t sign something that gave away their chiefly power, so when the treaty was translated into Maori (overnight, by a non-pro), rather than give the Queen ‘sovereignty over the land’ (English version), they gave ‘complete government over the land’. There was no Maori word for sovereignty, but governance was understood; as in the governor of New South Wales, a ‘caretaker’ kind of role almost. The Maori understood they’d have some shared rule under the new system; whereas the English version was complete absorption as British citizens. One can understand why the Maori were a bit pissed off. Here’s more from people who aren’t talking out of their ass.
For a long time, the treaty was all but forgotten. When someone gave a crap sometime last century and pulled it out of the basement, it’d been nibbled to bits by rats. And so begun the ‘Treaty Industry’ – a large and ongoing effort to right the wrongs and undo the damage the rapid Britishing of New Zealand did to the Maori people and their culture.
As always, the Queen’s wise words captured the modern spirit of reconciliation nicely, during her visit in 1990:
“Today, we are strong enough and honest enough to admit that the treaty has been imperfectly observed. I look upon it as a legacy of promise. It can be a guide to all those whose collective sense of justice, fairness and tolerance will shape the future.”
So while my memory is a speed-run, it seemed a good museum. My guide was a bit miffed that the Government hadn’t released the actual treaty to the facility – it’s in the Archives vault in Wellington. Publicly viewable, for free – I think it should stay there too! The museum has a bunch of the duplicates from the regions, deal with it.
That was my visit to the Bay of Islands. What a place! It was a real dash visiting with just a day, I would love to spend more time there to soak it up. I did find a little time to relax after closing though – here’s a dumb selfie I sent, relaxing in the eve after a few ciders.