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Shaped by strong whanau values

Gisborne Herald reporter Sarah Curtis caught up with Gisborne lawyer Jacqueline Blake, soon to be a District Court judge.

Jacqueline Blake's grandfather knew her future was in law from the moment she started university.

In her first year of an arts degree, she took one legal systems paper as part of her course.

It prompted her grandfather, the late Thomas Smiler junior, to boast to his friends she was becoming a lawyer.

So when she completed her Bachelor of Arts, she decided to do a law degree and joked to him, “Well I couldn't make you a liar, could I Papa?”

The jesting continued after she completed her law degree, with her grandfather telling his friends she was going to be a judge.

This week she definitely made him an honest man.

Appointed as one of nine new judges announced this week by Attorney-General David Parker, Judge Haapu-Blake will be sworn in on December 4. She will have a family court jurisdiction and be based in Hastings.

The five women and four men are from a range of ethnic and work backgrounds and will replace retiring judges.

They take up their roles in November and December this year.

President of the New Zealand Law Society Tiana Epati, who is based in Gisborne, says the appointment is “a wonderfully proud moment for the whole community and the local Gisborne bar”.

“Judge Haapu-Blake is an experienced senior family lawyer and proud wahine Māori who will bring valuable insights and expertise to the bench,” Ms Epati says.

Mrs Blake (nee Haapu) is married to Soloman Blake, with whom she has two daughters — Amorangi, a kaiawhina at Tomairangi kohanga reo; and Kararaina, a student at Te Karaka Area School, where Soloman is a teacher.

Her iwi affiliations include Ngati Konohi, Ngati Porou, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, and Te Whanau a Kai.

She was born and raised in Gisborne, educated at Te Wharau Primary, Te Karaka Primary, Waikohu College (now Te Karaka Area School) and Lytton High School.

“I was a ‘Gizzy kid' and a country bumpkin at that,” she says.

Growing up in a rural and mostly Māori community at Te Karaka, where her papa was an orator on the marae, was like growing up in a “cocoon of protection”, she says. The family's regular visits to the marae in Te Tairāwhiti saw her immersed in Māori language and culture.

She was lucky to have been raised in that sheltered environment, she says. She credits her family for the values that helped shape her career. Her mother Carol Haapu was a teacher at Waikohu College. Their home was filled with books and education was a focus of family life.

Her father, the late George Haapu, was a hard worker who instilled that same value in her and the importance of service to her whanau, hapu and iwi, Mrs Blake said.

She is grateful for the support of her whanau, and education grants she has received from Māori incorporations and organisations, enabling her to pursue her career aspirations.

Graduating with her law degree in 1995, Mrs Blake did not begin her legal career immediately but first worked as a researcher for the Te Aitanga a Māhaki Waitangi Tribunal claim and as a self-employed consultant with Te Runanga o Tūranganui a Kiwa and Turanga Health.

She joined Gisborne law firm Burnard Bull and Co in 2000 as a staff solicitor. She was a partner there from 2003 until 2019 when she became a sole practitioner primarily in family law.

She has been a lawyer for the child since 2003.

Mrs Blake also has governance experience serving on Whangara Farms, Tapuwae Whitiwhiti Incorporation and Gisborne Holdings Limited.

She is a former committee member and chairwoman of the Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve.

Those roles helped hone her natural inclination to be impartial, a good listener, and decision-maker, she says.

Kapa haka has been a big part of Mrs Blake's life. Her heritage has enabled her to travel internationally and showcase Māori culture on a world platform.

In 1992 she took a year off university joining Tommy Taurima's Young Ambassadors, a Gisborne-based song and dance group that performed in other centres and with which Mrs Blake went on a three-month tour of international dance festivals in Spain, Holland, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

In 1995, she was a founding member of Te Kapa Haka o Whāngārā Mai Tawhiti, a Maori performing arts group led by principal tutor Sir Derek Lardelli. The group won the national competition Te Matatini in 2007 and 2017 and also toured nationally and internationally.

Sir Derek and his wife Lady Rose Gould-Lardelli have been major life influences for her, Mrs Blake said.

“I have benefitted immensely from the exemplary leadership and knowledge they have shared,” she said.

Physical fitness has also been a feature of Mrs Blake's life. She became a certified Les Mills Body Jam instructor in 2017 and has been teaching with Julie Walker at Gisborne's YMCA since 2019.

Mrs Blake said she was hugely appreciative of Gisborne's legal circle who provided support and mentoring in her early legal career.

The technical skills she has learned stand her in good stead for her new role.

NEW ROLE: Gisborne lawyer Jacqueline Blake is one of nine new judges announced this week by Attorney General David Parker. Judge Haapu-Blake will be sworn in on December 4, with a family court jurisdiction. She will be be based in Hastings. Picture by Liam Clayton