|Arohanui Ki Te Tangata 4 of 6|
te Runanganui o Taranaki Whanui ki te Upoko o te Ika a Maui Inc.
A "GLORIOUS DAY" DAWNS AT WAIWHETU
WAIWHETU was one of the 100acre blocks left in the hands of the Maori when the pakeha settlers arrived in 1840. On it Ihaia Puketapu and his people lived in primitive conditions, while all around, Lower Hutt grew up into a busy, modern city.
In 1937 the government was proposing to take the land at Waiwhetu for subdivision for state housing purposes.
However, when Mr. Puketapu produced evidence showing that the land was one of the 100 acre blocks set aside for the Maori people as part of Wakefield's land settlement agreement, the government abandoned its proposals.
At the same time Ihaia Puketapu recognised that his people should not continue to live as a depressed minority.
He saw a way out. But the people doubted.
"We respect you, but what can you do?" they asked. "You're a chief, but you've got no money, you're not in parliament."
At this stage he kept the meetinghouse idea to himself. He thought it better not to mention that in addition to a scheme for more than a score of new houses, he was planning for the people to build a fully carved Maori meeting-house on the grand scale. His first concern was better houses for the people.
He talked much of his plans, Still the people doubted.
He took the matter up with the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser. After lengthy negotiations it was agreed that the government would buy the land for state housing purposes. As part of the agreement the government undertook to provide state rental homes for all people living on the land at that time
The government's plan was to scatter the houses throughout the pakeha community at large. But Ihaia Puketapu was firm. The people must not be scattered. The family must be kept together. Far from being scattered he insisted that the houses be built to form a settlement around a reserve - a reserve for a meeting-house.
If the houses had been scattered in a general state housing settlement a problem in bedroom accommodation might have arisen. For the size of the average Maori family concerned was such that up to five-bedroom houses would be necessary.
It was finally decided to erect all the houses in one settlement at Waiwhetu to be known as Puketapu Grove.
Plans were drawn up by government officers, in full consultation with Ihaia Puketapu, for modern brick homes with up to four and even five bedrooms.
When he told his people that new pakeha-type homes were to be built for them, many still found it hard to believe. But twenty two families accepted the offer. The foundations of the new homes were laid in 1945.
These homes stand today around Arohanui ki te Tangata.
The people at Waiwhetu were not the only ones astonished at the changes taking place. While the houses were under construction Sir Apirana Ngata went to see the scheme for himself. Ihaia told him of his plans. On his return Sir Apirana said: "I have seen a miracle." Here was another Maori visionary big enough to understand all of what he saw - a vision of the future way of life of Maori and pakeha.
Originally, twenty two homes were planned. One old Maori woman could not believe this nonsense that Ihaia Puketapu was talking until she actually saw the foundations being laid. So in the black chill before dawn one morning, she came to him and said: "1 want a house, too". Putting on a bold front he asked the Prime Minister for a twenty third house. Further, when he read that the children of the Anglican Maori Vicar of Wellington had been bitten by rats in their tumbledown vicarage at Kaiwharawhara he braved the Prime Minister again. "Could he have a twenty fourth house, please." Both requests were generously met.
At this time also, single Maori men returning from service overseas started moving into the WellingtonHutt areas where work was plentiful. Single Maori girls were also moving to the urban areas. Numbers increased rapidly. Men were accommodated in single men's camps such as The Shandon at Petone and the Winter Show in Wellington. Girls were accommodated in large numbers in hostels.
These were young people "from the four winds." To the established resident community they were a problem. For the benefit largely of these young people, the Te Aroha (Hutt Valley) Maori Association Inc was formed.
It fostered rugby, rugby league, cricket, tennis, hockey, basketball and cultural groups.
The association was formed by a large gathering at Waiwhetu. Plans to raise money to build the meetinghouse of the old man's dreams came into being. The formation of the association brought the first step toward a concerted organised effort to raise funds for the meeting-house.
Monster galas were held. A queen carnival followed quickly.
An appeal committee under the chairmanship of the Rt. Hon. WaIter Nash, Member of Parliament for Lower Hutt, was formed to raise further funds to complete the house.
The committee decided to launch a house to house appeal in 1956 throughout the Hutt Valley districts. The Hutt Valley Junior Chamber of Commerce under the grand leadership of Mr. Les. Winslade played a major part in organising the campaign.
The Te Aroha Maori Concert Party set a killing pace in backing the appeal. Night after night they campaigned throughout the Hutt Valley. Advancing from one community centre to another they staged 10 outstanding concerts on nine successive nights. All this worked up to a broadcast appeal by Mr. Nash followed within hours by a door to door blitz by hundreds of collectors drawn from the churches, the Jaycee movement, rotary and Maori youth.
The response was staggering. The collectors found themselves actually welcome. The most upset people were those whose houses were accidentally missed. They besieged the organisers with phone calls asking for someone to please take their money.
Some gave on behalf of people who were away overseas who they knew would not want to miss sharing in the endeavour. The descendants of the pioneers remembered old favours. The people were generous. More and more it became a labour of two races.
The meeting-house dream was under way.
Tenders were called for the construction of the building.
The successful tenderer, the J. M. Construction Co., completed the shell of the building in May, 1959.
The Prime Minister and Minister of Maori Affairs, The Rt Hon. Walter Nash, laying the meeting-house foundation stone in 1958.
(Photo by The Dominion)
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