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The magic of Bastion Point: 40 years on

On Friday, it will be 40 years since the historic Bastion Point eviction. On that day, the state arrested more than 200 protesters and destroyed the makeshift occupation camp on Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s customary land. Teuila Fuatai reports.

In his book The Inconvenient Indian, Native American author Thomas King takes a tactful approach to explaining cultural misunderstandings.

Using a spot in the Canadian national park of Gwaii Haanas to illustrate, King writes:

“I think that many non-Natives find it hard to understand why Native people are willing to fight so hard to protect their land.

“In the case of Gwaii Haanas, all you have to do is stand at the ocean’s edge with the cedars at your back and the sky on your shoulders, and you will know,” he says.

“The place is magic. No doubt about it.”

While most people won’t ever make it to the cedars of Gwaii Haanas, head to Takaparawhau or Bastion Point, and you’ll find New Zealand’s version of this. On those crisp, autumn Auckland days, the Waitematā glistens below the mighty Rangitoto, and the place - as King says - is magic.

Alec Hawke on the protest camp: "We had the best view in Auckland". Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

But 40 years ago, despite the same serene backdrop, the headland at Ōrākei was a very different place. Mud reined in the protest village and there were no tourist buses on the public road. Those who were at the point were there to make a stand for the “magic” King describes, and fight for the tūrangawaewae of the people of Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei. The Crown, under the government of National's Rob Muldoon, had plans to subdivide and develop much of land for expensive private housing.

Alec Hawke, whose eldest brother Joe led the protest movement, looks out at where it all took place those 40-odd years ago.

“We had the best view in Auckland,” he says. “You’d wake up and Rangi[toto] would be right there….but it got cold in winter, very cold.”

Alec is showing Newsroom around what is now all proudly Ngāti Whātua land in Ōrākei. Taking time out from planning  events to commemorate the historic May 25 1978 eviction date, he rattles off key developments since the 506-day occupation while responding to numerous greetings of “kia ora uncle Al” from passers-by.

A lot has changed in that time, he says. And while that change stems from the original aim of regaining the land for Ngāti Whātua, the tribe, its portfolios and membership have also grown extensively.

Landlords of Auckland

Well-known as a major player in Auckland’s property market, highlights this year include the launching of Ngāti Whātua’s own health insurance scheme. The hapū’s commercial arm also expressed interest in purchasing the Ports of Auckland land. And while it settled its own treaty claim in 2012, Ngāti Whātua remains attached to the settlement process - appearing in the Supreme Court just this week over a treaty claim for other Hauraki tribal groups.

On the hapū’s growing influence, Alec says: “It’s an ongoing learning process. We’ve had to actually borrow to buy [land].

“When we first went to the Waitangi Tribunal, it was totally different. There were only three judges, and they had our first hearing in the Intercontinental Hotel. My brother Joe said: ‘this is not good enough, we want you to come to our marae so you can hear the stories from where we are’.

The view from inside the Ōrākei meeting house. Photo: supplied.

“I think everybody was finding out what it was all about,” Alec says of the general Tribunal process. “I don’t think I had a clear view on what it took - I might have been naive to say they could give it back [the land] straight away. That wasn’t the case. The Government also had to catch up - they had to widen the Tribunal powers.”

Eventually, it took 10 years for any land to change hands after the eviction. The occupation site, Ōrākei marae and Okahu park were returned to Ngāti Whātua ownership in 1988. A $3million endowment was also paid.

Alec, whose five-year-old daughter Joannee died in a fire during the protest action, says watching whānau members learn about Ngāti Whātua’s history is always interesting.

“Forty years on, I got mokos asking me questions: ‘What happened to Joannee? How did she die?'

“You got to temper that at a young age to gradually let them know. A lot of young people know the Bastion Point story, but don’t really know what happened. It gradually gets to them as they get older. It’s usually when they’re at college and university level and are able to comprehend what has happened.”

'The wealth is never enough'

Matt Maihi, manager of Ōrākei marae, was part of the original protest group with Alec.

Reflective of tensions in the wider whānau, Matt and his father disagreed over the decision to protest at the point.

“He was one [of the ones] in opposition to building something up here because it didn’t belong to us. The Crown owned the land,” he says.

“But, I knew that when the marae did come back, we’d have to take over. I’d never experienced the marae down the bottom because I was only five-years-old when we came up, so for me it was important to have a marae. The mana had to come back to the marae.”

In 1952, the marae at Okahu Bay and some remaining village homes were burnt down by the Auckland city council. The arson was used to force the relocation of all remaining Ngāti Whātua members from the waterfront up ‘boot hill’.

Matt Maihi has been managed Ōrākei marae for about 30 years. Photo: Teuila Fuatai.

Matt: “Things have changed, but they’ve changed for the good. It’s given us a bit of wealth.

“But, one of the things I laugh at now is that wealth is never enough.”

Housing its members remains an ongoing challenge for Ngāti Whātua, he says.

“It goes between not having enough land to build on, to having the land but not enough cash to build. In 40 years time, hopefully it will be a bit easier for our mokopuna to have assets - but the trouble is the family is growing and growing. Basically, it’s about building the family as we build the business,” he says.

Changing story tellers 

Sharon Hawke, a niece of Alec’s who was 15 when the protest began, says being able to tell Ngāti Whātua’s story from the hapu’s own perspective has been invaluable - particularly because of the portrayal of the protest in media at the time.

“The basis of journalism is to report accurate facts and be honest and fair about it. Had that protocol been upheld by some of the practising journalists of the day, then my feeling about how we were mistreated by the media wouldn’t be true,” she says.

Sharon, who has a background in television and film, helped produce the documentary Bastion Point: The Untold Story. “There’s been movement to tell the facts the way we see it,” she says.

“I think the fact that we have more Māori and Pacific journalists who may have an insight to some of the issues they report on helps  - but they’re still constrained by their [mostly Pākehā] editors and producers, and by the institution of the so-called fourth estate. However, they are there to give a view that’s not dictated by the state.

“The media of the day back in 1977/78 were reporting for the state,” she says.

Importantly, the kaupapa for Ngāti Whātua from that time remains true:

“Bastion Point is Māori land. It didn’t belong to the Crown. Never has, never will.”

Just like Thomas King, she understands the appeal and magic of the land - for natives, and non-natives. She believes wholeheartedly the best way to uphold that is to keep it, rightfully, as customary land.

“Our Land is not to be sold,” Sharon says. “Our land here is to be used to house us, to enjoy each other’s company and to communicate with other communities.”

“Everyone loves coming up here - they love the view,” she says.  “But, if it had been in Pākehā hands, it would look a hell-of-alot different now.”

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Watch Bastion Point: The Untold Story here

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