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Lived a long and busy life

Rutene Irwin, of Whatatutu, Turanganui-a-Kiwa, passed away peacefully on March 11 at his home.

He was 92.

Rutene was born in Opotiki on June 12, 1926. He was the first son of Atapo Dawn Wharekino of Ngaitai of Torere, Ngati Konohi of Whangara, Ngati Wahia and Ngariki of Mangatu, and Te Aitanga a Mahaki of Turanganui-a-Kiwa.

He attended Torere School, then Wairata School in the Waioeka Gorge before attending Whatatutu School in 1937.

He and brother Roddy were raised by great-grandmother Meri Kamemata Puru at Pakowhai, Mangatu Pa.

They milked cows and raised pigs on their piece of land.

Meri, along with her parents Hori and Wikitoria Puru, were part of The Whakarau — the group of 298 Maori exiled, along with Te Kooti, to the Chatham Islands by the government in 1866 after the Siege of Waeranga a Hika.

Rutene left school when he was 14 to work as a “cowboy” on Arowhana Station.

He moved to Edgecumbe in 1941 and worked in the Rangitaiki butter factory. He enlisted in the Armed Forces in 1942.

The following are his personal recollections of experiences from those times.

“I was posted to Fort Dorset in Artillery and I got transferred back to Trentham.

“I was posted to MCO School where I was made a corporal. By then, the war years were getting towards the end. I was transferred to Papakura Military Camp. I went away with the Div Cav Battalion to relieve the 28th C Coy Maori Battalion in Mizuba, Japan via Fiji and New Caledonia.

“All of our officers were in the 28th. After two-and-a-half years in J Force, we came home. After 50 days leave in NZ I went back into the regular forces — Trentham, Linton, Papakura and Waiouru.”

After the war, Rutene trained in carpentry and joinery through the Rehabilitation School.

This course was for returned servicemen after discharge from the forces. He spent two-and-a-half years training, and qualified as a tradesman with trade calculations, architectural drawing, joinery and residential construction. Later he gained his drain-laying certificate.

In 1949 he married Mary Jeanette Brown and they had two daughters — Cynthia Malone and Irene Irwin.

Mary was killed in a car accident in 1953, leaving Rutene with two young children.

In 1955 he married Tewai Arani Smith. Eight more children were born from 1957-1972 — Phyllis, Ian, Adele, David, Richard, Maraea, Wikitoria and Monowai.

He began working for Mangatu Blocks as a carpenter in 1955 and was with Mangatu Blocks Incorp until he died, serving on its committee and as a cultural and historical adviser, and kaumatua.

In 1960 he won a ballot for a 30-acre soldiers’ Lands and Survey farm unit in Whatatutu on which he ran 18 cows and supplied cream to the Okitu Butter Factory until its closure.

He also raised pigs, chooks and sheep, grew his own vegetables and planted an extensive orchard.

He hunted and fished to provide for his growing family.

'Gone but not forgotten'Rutene was chairman of the Mangatu Maori committee, Mangatu Marae committee and the Takitimu executive committee, and was a member of the Tairawhiti Maori District Council and NZ Maori Council.

He served as a Maori Warden, a Justice of the Peace and was an honorary ranger with the wildlife department.

In earlier days, he was also a member of the Gisborne Gun Club at Tatapouri.

He was a Te Runanga o Turanganui-a-Kiwa board trustee and member of the Mahaki Research Unit. He was also an honorary member of the Maori Women’s Welfare League.

His historical knowledge was of great help to Tairawhiti Museum and the C Company Memorial House.

Rutene was a kaumatua for the Turanganui-a-Kiwa District, incorporating 11 marae including Mangatu. He was also a kaumatua for Gisborne District Council, welcoming new citizens to the area.

Whatatutu School and Waikohu College gained from his wide-ranging experience as his 10 children made their way through the school system.

He served on the Whatatutu School committee and Waikohu College board of trustees.

He was kaumatua to Te Whare Wananga o Aotearoa from 1997 and for Toihoukura since 2000.

Rutene was part of Waikohu Lodge 261’s initiative that built a fire station at Whatatutu and the Mangatu Marae committee project that shifted the marae buildings away from the flood-prone Pakowhai site to a higher site at Whatatutu before Cyclone Bola struck this area.

He visited many international war sites and in 2007 travelled to London as guest of the New Zealand government for the Hyde Park commemoration of New Zealand’s commitment to World War 2.

In 1999, he was awarded the NZ Order of Merit for his services to his community.

Last year he was awarded the Me Uru Kahikatea Award by the Federation of Maori Authorities lfor his lifetime services to Maori farming, governance and leadership.

He was well travelled, having been to the United States several times, Hawaii, London, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar.

His great-grandmother Meri died when she was close to 100 years old.

Rutene survived several medical mishaps. His family believed he had nine lives. He lived a long and busy life to the end.

“Our lives are a lot richer for having had a dad like ours, and for this long . . . gone but not forgotten.”

Rutene is survived by his 10 children, 30 grandchildren, 43 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild, and two sisters — Phyllis Drury and Sheila Burrows — from his 10 siblings.

— Obituary by Irene Irwin

SOLDIER, FATHER, CARPENTER, FARMER, JP, MAORI WARDEN, KAUMATUA: Rutene Irwin, who died earlier this month, was a man of many talents. His service to the community was recognised with a New Zealand Order of Merit in 1999. He started working for Mangatu Blocks in 1955 and was still with Mangatu up to his death. This Gisborne Herald picture was taken in May of last year.