• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Ranginui Walker's Return to Pipiwai

Sixty years after he was a teacher in the back of beyond, Ranginui Walker revisited the area where draconian measures led to owners losing their houses and land in the late 1960s.

Te Horo school in the early 1900s. Ranginui Walker was a probationary teacher at the school in 1952.
Te Horo school in the early 1900s. Ranginui Walker was a probationary teacher at the school in 1952.

This unpublished article was written for the Listener in 2014 but didn’t go to print at the time because of Ranginui Walker’s position on the Waitangi Tribunal.

In 1952, Harry Lake in the Newmarket office of the Ministry of Education assigned me to Pipiwai as a probationary teacher at Te Horo Maori School. He told me it was only 30 miles from Whangarei. He did not say it was in the back of beyond along a narrow winding gravel road occasionally bereft of gravel and a muddy challenge for a 19-year-old on a 350cc Royal Enfield motorbike.

At the heart of the Pipiwai community was the school, the Runciman store next door, the Tau Henare Memorial Hall across the road and the shop opposite the school selling icecream, sweets and soft drinks.

The last one was owned by the Armstrong whanau, who had a house at the back and another across the road at the entrance to the village. Up the valley beyond Pipiwai, where the Te Orewai people lived, there was no electricity. Although the homes were basic with outdoor privies and tank water, they were adequate. People eked out a subsistence living from tending vegetable gardens and orchards, trapping eels, hunting game and earning money to buy store goods by milking a few cows. They were the “billy suppliers” to the Hikurangi Dairy Factory. Young men earned wages as contract fencers, shearers and labourers at the Moerewa Freezing Works.

There was one Catholic family in the valley; the rest were Mormons. Despite the tenets of those churches, there was a vibrant social life, around beer parties, gambling, betting on horses and dances at the Tau Henare Hall.

At the first dance I attended, one of the senior pupils came to me with the message: “Sir, they want you outside.” I did as bid and was surprised to meet the locals in the car park handing out alcohol. That was their way of integrating me into the community. I realised the King’s writ prohibiting alcohol within a mile radius of a dance hall did not run to Pipiwai. This was the territory and rangatiratanga of Te Orewai and Ngati Hine, whose ancestors did not cede their mana to the Crown under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

On my first day at school, facing a class of primer three and four, I was disconcerted to learn the pupils all spoke Maori. They were fluent, I was not. I was there to teach them the ways of the Pākeha curriculum and felt slightly uncomfortable about setting aside their culture. I was too young and inexperienced to incorporate it into my teaching programme.

Ranginui Walker and Deirdre Dodson in 1951. Photo/Walker family collection
Ranginui Walker and Deirdre Dodson in 1951. Photo/Walker family collection


In August 2014, I revisited Pipiwai with the Waitangi Tribunal. We were taken on a site visit through the length of the Pipiwai Valley up to Kaikou. The 20km route was marked with signs indicating where 18 houses had been destroyed by the Crown. During the course of the tribunal hearing, people who had migrated to Australia and other parts of New Zealand reported their houses had been destroyed while they were away, raising the total to 30 houses. People were afraid to leave the valley for more than a day or two in case they too lost their houses.

The ostensible reason for the destruction of five houses ordered by the Ministry of Health was the outbreak of typhoid fever in one of them. But the underlying reason for the destruction of the rest was more sinister. Community leaders worried about outward migration and lack of employment in the valley sought help from the Maori Affairs Department. The department responded in 1966 by establishing the Te Horo Development Scheme.

Under the Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1967, the Crown began the compulsory acquisition of shares in Maori land “deemed to be uneconomic” and amalgamated 800ha into the Te Horo Block.

Substantial landholders Ataiti Armstrong and Rehu Hoterene opposed having their lands amalgamated into the scheme. Despite strong opposition from other owners as well, the Maori Affairs board issued amalgamation orders over 62 separate titles encompassing 2800ha. The objective was to develop 10 dairy farms and one sheep farm for settlement within five years by nominated owners.

Te Horo Chapel.
Te Horo Chapel.

At a meeting of owners, only 71 of a total of 547 were present when the board authorised the amalgamations. The Armstrongs lost their land to the scheme because, under the Native Land Claims Adjustment Act, the Minister of Maori Affairs was empowered to designate any Maori land suitable for development by publishing a notice in the Gazette. Maori property rights to their land and houses guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi were simply overridden by two statutes mentioned above.

The Armstrongs’ shop and house at the back were demolished. This was a punitive act because the shop was on the roadside in the centre of the village and therefore of little use as farmland. The rest of the houses scattered throughout the Te Horo block were demolished because the Maori Affairs Department deemed them substandard. This draconian measure was the equivalent of the highland clearances to make way for sheep and cattle.

The Te Horo Development Scheme was an abject failure because of managerial ineptitude. For 22 years, the landowners received not one cent in rent. In 1988, the director of Maori Affairs admitted the scheme should never have taken place because the major shareholder had opposed amalgamation. The Crown was the only winner, while the owners got nothing from the scheme.

Despite the damage the Te Horo Scheme did in separating owners from their land, the Te Orewai people have shown remarkable resilience. The marae has a new dining hall, a new chapel and a kohanga reo. There is a strong sense of community and urban dwellers feel a need to return home and reconnect to their turangawaewae. They want the land de-amalgamated and returned to the owners so they can rebuild their lives.

Read more: Our tribute to Ranginui Walker

Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.