Lest we forget: our other war anniversaries

150th anniversary commemorations at Ōrākau (photo credit: alphapix / John Cowpland)

150th anniversary commemorations at Ōrākau (photo credit: alphapix / John Cowpland)

Ewan Lincoln is a senior policy analyst in the Cultural Policy Branch – Heritage Sector, at Manatū Taonga – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and is also a historian.

This Friday, Anzac Day, people around the country will gather around local war memorials to remember New Zealanders who served in conflicts overseas. Many of those memorials refer to fighting ‘for King and country’. But what of those who fought in this country for a different king?

Half a century before the Gallipoli landing, some 300 Māori supporters of the Māori king, Tāwhiao, defended a hastily constructed at Ōrākau against 1,100 British and colonial troops. This was the last battle of the Waikato War, before the fighting moved to Tauranga. Around 150 Māori are estimated to have died at Ōrākau, mainly when the defenders broke through the British cordon and headed for the Pūniu River. Seventeen died on the British side.

Until it was eclipsed by Gallipoli, Ōrākau was perhaps New Zealand’s most mythologised battle, remembered particularly for the defenders’ reply when they were invited to surrender. Usually rendered as ‘Ka whawhai tonu mātou, āke, āke, āke’ (‘We shall fight on forever and ever and ever’), this response became famous as a symbol of Māori courage and defiance.

On 1 April this year, on a baking hot day in Waikato, I joined hundreds of people at the battle site southeast of Te Awamutu to commemorate Ōrākau’s 150th anniversary. Today the site (recently registered as a wāhi tapu area under the Historic Places Act 1975) is farmland, with only a small roadside reserve and memorial to mark its importance. Fortunately, the current owners understand the historic significance of the land and made it available for the commemoration.

The memorial at Ōrākau (click for image credit)

The memorial at Ōrākau (click for image credit)

The outcome of Ōrākau shaped New Zealand’s development, paving the way for the confiscation of huge swathes of Waikato land. So it was appropriate that it should be remembered with passion, and that those in attendance should include the Māori king, Te Arikinui Tūheitia Paki; Sir Tumu Te Heuheu of Ngāti Tūwharetoa; Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae; Prime Minister John Key; Ministers of Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson and Minister of Māori Affairs Pita Sharples.

As part of the Crown party, I was privileged to witness at close quarters a series of impressive haka performed by iwi whose ancestors fought at Ōrākau (there are some spectacular photos on the ministry’s Flickr stream). Later, Tamati Kruger of Ngāi Tūhoe spoke in his address to the gathering about the famous Tūhoe haka ‘Te pūru’, composed in 1864 when Tūhoe were fighting at Ōrākau, which likens the British invaders to a rampaging and ravenous bull.

Speakers from the Māori side emphasised the importance of New Zealanders learning about the events of the New Zealand wars, and proposed a national day of commemoration for the wars. Crown speakers, including the prime minister and governor general, likewise spoke of the importance of understanding our history and resolving past grievances.

Despite the pain associated with the memory of conflict and confiscation, the atmosphere on the day was friendly and welcoming. I was struck by the fact that most of those in attendance, apart from representatives of the Crown and local authorities, were Māori.

One hundred years before, things had been quite different. The 50th anniversary in 1914 had been a predominantly Pākehā affair, despite the presence of some veterans from the Māori side. Perhaps when we commemorate the 200th anniversary in 2064 we will be able to acknowledge together that Ōrākau is an important part of our shared history in this land?

Seeking Amy Castle

Do you know where we can find a photo of Amy Castle?

Do you know where we can find a photo of Amy Castle?

Several years ago, when working at Te Ara as the theme editor for the science themes, I had a personal campaign to obtain photographs of scientists featured in the Biographies section of Te Ara (most of which came from the Dictionary of New Zealand biography).

With the help of colleagues from all over the country, most of the gaps have now been filled; but one person still lacks an image. Does anyone know of a picture of Amy Castle (1880–1971), who was an entomologist at the Dominion Museum?

Amy Castle was originally employed in 1907 as a temporary assistant at the Dominion Museum. In those days female employees were paid less than men, and filling junior positions with women was a way of saving money. She was obviously talented, and took on scientific responsibilities looking after the entomology (insect) collections. Despite her lack of formal training she was eventually appointed to a professional position as entomologist – one of the first women in the public service to be employed as a scientific role. But all the time she was only being paid two-thirds of the rate of an equivalent male employee.

Through the 1920s Castle continued to expand the entomology collections, helped groups interested in insects, undertook fieldwork and published several scientific papers. In 1931 staff numbers at the museum were cut as part of a government economy drive, and Castle was made redundant. Having been poorly paid as a woman all her career, part of the reasoning for her early retirement was that she didn’t have a family to support.

Her biography in the printed version of the Dictionary of New Zealand biography says that nothing was known about Amy Castle after 1931 – not even the date or place of her death. Subsequently, with the help of her relations, it has been established that she left New Zealand in 1957, and died in England in 1971. Her death certificate gives her occupation as ‘retired entomologist’.

We know nothing of the last 40 years of Castle’s life, and nor has a photograph of her come to light. The late Ross O’Rourke did an exhaustive search through Te Papa’s archives, without success. Can anyone help?

Remembering Ernie Abbott and the Trades Hall bombing

A police poster calling for information on the Trades Hall bombing (click for image credit)

A police poster calling for information on the 1984 Trades Hall bombing (click for image credit)

On Thursday 27 March I was part of a group of over 100 people who gathered in the foyer of Wellington Trades Hall on Vivian Street to remember the death of caretaker Ernie Abbott. Abbott was killed 30 years ago, on 27 March 1984, in a bomb attack on Trades Hall. He had noticed a suitcase left unattended in the foyer, outside one of the rooms in which union meetings had been held that day. When Abbott picked up the suitcase it exploded, killing him and substantially damaging Trades Hall. Ernie’s watch, which stopped at the time of the explosion, showed his death to have occurred at 5.19 p.m. At the memorial gathering this was the time that signalled the start of three minutes of silence in remembrance.

The attack was one of the few acts of terrorism to occur in New Zealand, but no one claimed responsibility. It to this day remains an unsolved crime, despite the offer (now lapsed) of a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the bomber. The bombing occurred at a time of increasing industrial tensions and frequent strikes. This tension was heightened by the wage freeze Robert Muldoon had introduced in 1982. Muldoon, who had been prime minister since 1975, had carried out a long running campaign against what he described as militant unions. Muldoon claimed they were run by ‘pommy stirrers’, bringing British class hatreds that had no place in New Zealand. He also maintained that communists had undue influence in the unions. These claims struck a chord with many New Zealanders holding more conservative and anti-union views.

It seems likely that the Trades Hall bomb was planted by a lone right-winger with a hatred of unions. It was probably aimed at union leaders who were holding a meeting in the hall earlier that day. A number of unionists recalled walking past the case around 5 p.m. as they headed off to another meeting. Abbott moved the case, triggering the explosion, when he was mopping the foyer, his regular activity at that time of the evening.

Peter Cranney remembering Ernie Abbott

Peter Cranney remembering Ernie Abbott

Ernie Abbott was more than just the Trades Hall caretaker. Originally from Liverpool, he had served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. During his careers as a merchant seaman and as a wharfie he had been an active unionist. As Trades Hall caretaker from 1966, he was a member of the Caretakers and Cleaners Union and at the time of his death was union vice-president. In a bitter irony, Abbott had been made a life member of his union the day before the bombing.

At the memorial gathering speakers recalled the events of 1984 and paid tribute to Ernie Abbott. They recalled his role as a ‘stirrer’ at Trades Hall, provoking arguments between ‘poms’ and Scotsmen. Speakers gave differing views on Abbott’s reputation as ‘a grumpy old bastard’. Peter Cranney, who became vice-president of the Caretakers and Cleaners after Abbott’s death, said he always got on well with Ernie, who welcomed the chance to lean on his mop and have a yarn. Cranney also recalled Abbott’s two dogs, Patch and Patch II. Ernie’s first dog called Patch famously jumped off the Trades Hall roof in pursuit of a seagull. Patch survived the fall but thereafter had a limp. His successor, Patch II, was badly burned in the explosion but survived. On his recovery Patch II was fostered out to a new home.

Some of the members of the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band playing in the Trades Hall foyer

Some of the members of the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band playing in the Trades Hall foyer

Speakers compared Abbott’s death to those of Frederick George Evans, killed in the Waihī miners’ strike of 1912, and Christine Clarke, who was killed by a driver breaking a picket line at Lyttelton in 1999. Others compared his death to those workers who were killed each year in industrial accidents. The ceremony included a showing of Rod Prosser’s documentary film The hatred campaign on the 1984 bombing. In fine union tradition, tunes such as ‘The Internationale’, were played by the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band. There were calls for the memorial ceremony to be held annually in the future.

Precious metal quiz

A glam bunch of entries

Viewing art, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, 1958 (click for image credit)

Viewing art, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, 1958 (click for image credit)

GLAMs – galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Without their support and the expertise of their staff, the Te Ara Resource Team would not be able to bring you the wide range of images, film and sound files that we do.

This April Te Ara is launching three entries that are very dear to our hearts:

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten Museums – that entry will be launched later in the year.

Since the beginning of the Te Ara project, we’ve had the support of museums, galleries, libraries and archives throughout New Zealand and all over the world. We would like to acknowledge their support and highlight a few things you might not have known about them.

  • Before the establishment of National Archives (now Archives New Zealand), government archives were stored all over Wellington city. When fire broke out in the Hope Gibbons building in 1952, numerous public records were destroyed or damaged.
  • Auckland City Libraries are home to the Sir George Grey special collections. Ranging in scope from illuminated medieval manuscripts to photographs, the initial collection was acquired by Sir George Grey, governor of New Zealand, and gifted to the country in 1887.
  • The National Art Gallery building in Wellington was requisitioned by the air force during the Second World War. The paintings were stored in Hastings for the duration of the war. They were returned to the gallery in 1949.

We would also like to acknowledge just some of the repositories that we work with every day. There are too many to list them all, but here are just a few:

Archives New Zealand, which supplies us with newsreels like this; Radio New Zealand Sound Archives, who are keepers of songs like this, the New Zealand Film Archive, which has supplied us with many films for the upcoming entries in our Creative and Intellectual Life theme, and of course TVNZ Television Archive.

We also source material from specialist archives, like the Christchurch Anglican Diocesan Archives, the Society of Mary Archives and the Presbyterian Archive. Banks like BNZ and Westpac have their own archives and museums. Crown research institutes like GNS Science and Landcare Research also have libraries and archives.

Regional libraries and archives have always shown us a great deal of support, especially when we were working on our Places entries. We would particularly like to thank the Wairarapa Archive, Palmerston North Library, Hastings Library and Tauranga Library.

Te Ara’s resource researchers and writers regularly visit the Alexander Turnbull Library and use the collections of research libraries like the Hocken Library and Macmillan Brown Library.

We also source artworks and archives from galleries in the four main centres, as well as regional galleries like Timaru’s Aigantighe Art Gallery.

It is always a pleasure to showcase the collections of New Zealand galleries, libraries and archives on Te Ara. We hope that you enjoy the images, films and sound files in these new entries and join us in thanking all the librarians, archivists, curators, technicians and collection managers who make these resources available.