Written By: - Date published: 8:33 am, December 26th, 2013 - 17 comments
Categories: activism, democratic participation, labour, Maori Issues, Unions, welfare, workers' rights - Tags: Bastion Point protests, michael joseph savage, social security
The 25th of December is a good day for traveling around Auckland and visiting a historic site or 2. Yesterday I went to the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial on Auckland’s waterfront, next to Bastion Point. So much political history in one small area!
Like Richard Seddon and William Massey, Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage died in office (in March 1940). Like Massey, Savage was buried in a gun bunker originally built for the 1885 Russian scare. It was decided to erect a memorial above his grave at Bastion Point, Auckland. A competition was held and was won by two Auckland architects, Tibor Donner and Anthony Bartlett. The design had a garden, a reflecting pool and the statue of a worker. The pool and garden were built, but the worker was seen as too divisive a symbol.
Instead, sculptor Richard Gross provided a design for a tall obelisk. On the side facing the pool was a figure symbolic of love and justice, while facing the sea was a portrait of Savage surrounded by flowers. Above were the words ‘He loved his fellow men’, and, below, ‘There is no fame to rise above the crowning honour of a people’s love.’
[Sigh] Too divisive a symbol, eh? It’s a beautiful site. I wonder how much of the history of the area Kiwi and overseas visitors are aware of. At the main entrance of the memorial park is a sign with a very abbreviated history. The side facing Mission Bay: The print says:
In 1860, 1879 and 1880 Ngati Whatua leaders Tuhaere and Te Kawau assembled many North island chiefs to the Kohimaramara Conference to establish a Maori Parliament. They sough redress on land issues and equality under the law. In the 1930s Maori sought remedy through Michael Savage, the then Prime Minister, of the Labour Government. With Maori support Labour had entered parliament for the first time beginning a long standing relationship.
An embankment carries Tamaki Drive past the base of Resolution Point and across Hobson Bay. On the east side is Okahu Bay, the site of a Ngati Whatua village until the 1950’s. The road skirts a headland known as Bastion Point, the end of which is now occupied by the Tamaki Yacht Club. On the other side of the road once stood Fort Bastion, built during the “Russian Scare:” of the 1880s. Gun emplacements here once guarded the entrance to the Waitemata Harbour, as did other fortifications on Mt. Victoria and North head at Devonport on the North Shore.
Bastion Point was named after (the) Bastion Rock, a distinctive fort-like outcrop which stood offshore here until the 1920’s, when it was demolished during the formation of Tamaki Drive. This is now the site of the memorial to Michael Joseph savage (1872-1940), this country’s first Labour Prime Minister, remembered by a tall obelisk, sunken pool and gardens.
To the right of the memorial, in the background is Ōrākei Marae.
Ōrākei Marae: The Waka Maori site gives some history of the Marae:
Ngāti Whātua history in Tāmaki Makaurau began in the 17th century when Te Taoū, a hapū of Ngāti Whātua led principally by Tuperiri, successfully campaigned against the area’s incumbent proprietors, Waiohua.
However, within five years of signing the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the thousands of acres previously occupied by Ngāti Whātua had been reduced to only 700 acres at Ōrākei.
As a result of Government policy, decades of displacement and loss followed for hapū members who were evicted from their homes and marae buildings burnt.
However, an announcement in 1976 by the National Party, led by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, that uncommitted land at Bastion Point would be taken for high income housing and parks marked a turning point in the country’s history when some Ngāti Whātua occupied Bastion Point in January 1977.
The following 506 days of non-violent occupation and protest ended on 25 May 1978 when 222 protesters were arrested and the temporary meeting house, buildings, and gardens they had established were demolished.
However, subsequent demands for the return of Ngāti Whātua land was the catalyst for the formation of the current Waitangi Tribunal, as well as Treaty settlements for iwi throughout New Zealand.
In 1991 the marae was returned to Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei, which now controls a property asset base worth in the range of $400 million, with only $3 million derived from Treaty settlement.
An excellent vegetable garden initiative on Ōrākei Marae was included in a 3 News report last night.
On 25 December 2013, a handful of people were protesting near the entrance to the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial Park. There were also placards in the car park. The banners/placards were in Chinese. I guess they were targeting international tourists. The English language pamphlet I was given explained the protest. It had the url for this website. And this one about organ harvesting: the main focus of the pamphlet.
So much political history in one site – as well as being a tourist site for its gardens and harbour views. And that really adds up to a very strange mix. I’m glad Savage’s name is kept alive in the landscape. I’m sorry the statue of a worker was not included.
Remember Bastion Point and the public face of brutal government repression!
And remember that once the Labour Party had the strong support of Maori.