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Knowing our own history

TREATY Of Waitangi researcher Dr Vincent O’Malley and Turanga claimants say more people need to know about the “tragic history” of this district dating back to 1865.

Dr O’Malley was the guest speaker at a packed Tairawhiti Museum last might as commemorations began to mark the siege of Waerenga-a-Hika that started 150 years ago yesterday.

About 100 people attended and some murmured in agreement when Dr O’Malley said the siege and its consequences, including imprisonment without trial and vast land confiscation, was not known to most people in Gisborne except for the descendants of those who had suffered.

Stan Pardoe, of Rongowhakaata, said the Waitangi Tribunal had stated the events of 1865 and afterwards — “our story” — needed to be discussed. That had not happened.

“We are very forgiving but a lot of people have no idea.”

Dr O’Malley, who researched for Te Aitanga a Mahaki for Waitangi Tribunal Turanga hearings 14 years ago, said the Crown launched a war of conquest in 1865, aimed to overthrow Maori authority here.

New Zealanders needed to know about the events in this district and in the Waikato Wars. He described those events as some of the most significant in New Zealand history.

He had previously commented that while overseas battles and fallen soldiers of 20th century wars were honoured, it was important the wars of the 19th century were commemorated in a similar way.

Dr O’Malley said the reaction was to criticise him for making such comments shortly before Anzac Day.

Government's role in promoting storiesHe believed the Government should ensure such historic events were better known, particularly among young New Zealanders.

Another comment from the floor was that more events such as Dr O’Malley’s address needed to be held.

One oerson asked Dr O’Malley if the events of 1865 were criminal. He said he was not legally qualified to answer, but the Waitangi Tribunal had found the Crown was not justified in attacking the Waerenga-a-Hika pa and had imprisoned about 300 people without trial.

Dr O’Malley said the Crown imprisoned those ‘‘troublemakers” in order to confiscate their land. He described the four years from the siege of Waerenga-a-Hika to the Battle of Ngatapa as four years of tragic history.

Before 1865, Turanga was effectively governed by Maori. It was a situation the Crown and settlers could not abide. The troops that were present in the area in 1865 presented an opportunity that might not arise again for some time.

Maori did not want war but Crown agent Donald McLean “did not go out of his way to achieve peace”, Dr O’Malley said.

The population balance between Maori and Pakeha changed dramatically after 1865, with high Maori death rates and settlers coming to the district to buy land, which was effectively being sold on a first come, first served basis.

Dr O’Malley said the changing of the region’s name from Turanga to Gisborne was the Government and settlers saying “we are in control now”.

Before 1865 settlers would never have used the name Poverty Bay, but would have used Turanga or Turanganui-a-Kiwa as Maori did, he said.

Commemorations continued today with a dedication and unveiling of a memorial site at Te Kairangatira. The siege of Waerenga-Hika was from November 17 to November 22 in 1865. It is believed 71 defenders were killed and more than 100 wounded.

Crown losses were 11 dead and 20 wounded.

Dr Vincent O'Malley