Telegram sparked dismay
This coming Tuesday will mark the 100th anniversary of the controversial Maori All Blacks-Springboks match at Napier’s McLean Park, which featured two prominent Poverty Bay players. The Gisborne Herald’s Wynsley Wrigley looks at the controversy and the players . . .
A leaked telegram stating “Europeans frantically cheering on a band of coloured men” shocked the New Zealand public a century ago.
The telegram from visiting journalist Charles Blackell, intended for readers back in South Africa and written after the Springboks played the Maori All Blacks on September 7, 1921, said the Boks were “frankly disgusted”.
The fixture, played at Napier’s McLean Park, was won 9 to 8 by the first Springbok side to tour New Zealand.
Two Poverty Bay players were in the Maori side, halfback Jimmy Mill and outside him, first five-eighth and Maori captain Parekura Tureia.
Both men were Ngati Porou.
Mill was a future All Blacks great while Tureia, a veteran of World War 1, was to be die in action in World War 2 as the commander of C Company, 28 Maori Battalion.
Maori and Pakeha alike were dismayed by the telegram but that did not prevent three post office workers from being sacked.
Springboks manager Harold Bennett disavowed the telegram.
He said it did not represent the opinion of the players.
Another future All Blacks great, Rangitukia legend George Nepia, watched the match as a 16-year-old student.
He later said the telegram “provoked a reaction and bitterness which within the heart of the Maori race have neither been forgotten nor forgiven”.
Tureia and Mill and four other Poverty Bay players also appeared for Hawke’s Bay-Poverty Bay against the Boks in Napier.
One of those other players was Tom Heeney who fought Gene Tunney for the world heavyweight boxing title in 1928.
The Boks won that match 14-8.
Tureia also played for the Maori All Blacks in 1923.
Mill was playing for the Tokomaru Bay Wanderers club in 1921.
East Coast was only a sub-union of the Poverty Bay union in 1921 and did not play its first match as a full province until the following year.
Mill was a gifted sporting all-rounder and opened the batting when Poverty Bay won cricket’s still prestigious Hawke Cup in a match against Whanganui in 1919.
In his four Hawke Cup innings, played over three matches, Mill was run out twice!
But it is his deeds as a footballer which made Mill a household name.
Mill, like Nepia, become a superstar of the 1924 Invincibles.
That All Blacks side won all 30 of their matches in Britain and France and featured other rugby luminaries such as Bert Cooke, Mark Nicholls and Maurice Brownlie.
Mill played 33 matches for the All Blacks between 1923 and 1930, including tests against England, France, Wales and the 1930 Lions, scoring 15 tries and kicking four conversions.
He also played for the great Hawke’s Bay side of the 1920s who defended the Ranfurly Shield 24 times.
But a low point came in 1928 when the New Zealand Rugby Football Union ruled Mill and Nepia ineligibile for that year’s first ever All Blacks tour of South Africa on racial grounds.
The national union had acquiesced to the wishes of the South African Government.
Mill was limited to playing provincial rugby in New Zealand as the other Invincibles halfback, Canterbury’s Bill Dalley, played all four test matches in South Africa in 1928.
Mill’s late daughter Patsy Mill said her father was deeply hurt by his omission and that of other Maori players and lived with a sense of humiliation for the remainder of his life.
He often discussed the matter with Nepia who had described the non-selection of Maori players as “leaving New Zealand indignant”.
Laurie Harrison, who first met Patsy Mill while demonstrating against the 1981 Springbok tour, and who gave a eulogy at her funeral last year, described her as a “firebrand”.
Harrison, and late cartoonist Murray Ball accompanied her as part of a (Gisborne) Halt All Racist Tours delegation which met with Poverty Bay rugby officials before the Springboks arrived in Gisborne to start their tour.
“They listened to us, but were committed to the tour,” said Harrison.
Patsy Mill told the rugby officials she was ashamed and disgusted. They had “forgotten the mana of my father” and didn’t understand the humiliation he felt.
Harrison said Patsy Mill felt consumed and disappointed.
She threw her father’s All Black cap on the floor before them and said “you can take it”.
He said to those present at her funeral, “ where is that cap (now)?”
Mill was noted for the speed of his pass, and it was this that helped the backs outside him scored a lot of tries.
The schoolboy sprint champion was a deadly threat running down the blindside.
“When Jimmy decided to go . . . It would be a try, “ wrote the country’s most famous rugby journalist, the late Terry McLean.
“He had a sort of lopsided, deferential grin which rather gave the impression of excessive modesty.
“So far as I remember he was modest.
“But when he moved in that tryscoring movement, he wore a lopsided, deferential grin which suggested that he was really sorry, he shouldn’t be doing things like this to your team.”
Tureia had suffered racism at the hands of South Africa as a Maori footballer before 1921.
He had been part of the New Zealand army rugby team which won the post-World War 1 British Empire army tournament and toured Britain.
The side stopped off in South Africa in 1919 to play matches while returning home from the war.
Corporal Tureia and Sergeant Nathaniel “Ranji” Wilson, who was part West Indian, were both forbidden from playing at the request of the South Africa Rugby Board.
Tureia served in the Pioneer Battalion in the first world war and in C Company (East Coast) of 28 Maori Battalion in the second.
Captain Tureia was killed on November 23, 1941, and is buried in the Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery in Egypt.
Tureia worked in the Department of Native Affairs.
He and wife Henihou both came from prominent Maori whanau and together raised six children.
His parents were Waiheke and Ruihana Tureia (nee de Jones).
Jane Tureia, whanau spokesperson, said he tried to look after his family while serving overseas in the army.
A tuberculosis epidemic was raging in New Zealand and Tureia sent poignant letters home.
He wrote beautifully in Maori and English, she said.
Tureia was educated at Tititiki Native School and Te Aute College.
He was an officer of great mana.
The family was very proud of his many achievements, said Jane Tureia.