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Exhibition on Bastion Point occupation extended

Exhibition on Bastion Point occupation extended

By James Murray

A photography exhibition and documentary telling the story behind the Bastion Point occupation of 1978 has proved so popular that Auckland City Library has extended its run until the end of June.

Maori services manager Whina Te Whiu says the exhibition says the exhibition has already attracted 1500 visitors in its first week.

The exhibition is important in educating new immigrants about this turning point in New Zealand history, said Te Whiu.

“We have had Chinese visitors sign the guestbook making comparisons with the problems in Tibet,” she said.

Te Whiu’s favourite photographs are those of everyday life in the Bastion Point camp.

“Most of the media showed only the struggle but Bastion Point was their village. There was a sense of community.”

Merata Mita’s documentary Bastion Point Day 507 captures the events of the final day of the occupation, May 25 1978, when the army was sent in to remove protestors from the disputed land.

English teacher Ian Haley, who was taking a group of Language Studies International students around the exhibition, recalled being at Bastion Point as events unfurled.

“I was in the vicinity when who should pick me up other than Tim Shadbolt.

“Tim bolted up the hill and joined the protestors. I was less intrepid – I didn’t want to get arrested,” said Haley.

Haley said the protestors held their ground against the army’s advances.

“They were very solid in their stance.”

Bastion Point overlooks the Waitemata Harbour and has long been a disputed piece of land. It was part of 700 acres guaranteed to Maori who gave Auckland over to settlement.

Until 1941 the Crown had used it for defence purposes.

When the land was no longer needed, it was gifted to the City of Auckland and turned into a reserve instead of being handed back to its traditional Maori owners.

Protests were sparked when the Muldoon government decided to sell the land to developers for luxury housing.

The Orakei Maori Action Committee, led by Joe Hawke who later became a MP, was formed and started an illegal occupation of the land.

A marae was built alongside temporary dwellings and crops were grown. More than two hundred protestors occupied the site.

On the 507th day of occupation the New Zealand Government sent the army and police in to break up the protest and destroy the settlement. More than 220 protestors were arrested and charged with trespass.

The event was a seminal point in the history of Maori protest and the Maori Renaissance. In the 1980s the land was returned to Ngati Whatua with compensation as part of the treaty settlement process.

The idea for the exhibition came from Joe Hawke’s brother, Alec, who approached the library last year.

“We couldn’t say no really,” said Te Whiu.

In a recent talk at Hoani Waititi Marae in Glen Eden, Alec Hawke, who was one of the protest leaders said that the Bastion Point saga remained a relatively untold story because there was still a lot of emotion surrounding the event.

“The trickle’s coming out but it won’t become a flood,” he said.

Alec, who lost his five-year-old daughter in an accidental fire at the site, said that a sense of family and community kept the protesters going during the harder times.

“It was a belief that at the end of the tunnel there will be a light,” he said.

Alec recounted a story that occurred when the protestors were being processed by the police. Each new person that entered the communal cell was greeted with a loud haka.

“The guy that came in last probably got the biggest haka ever seen,” said Hawke.

Many of the photographs in the exhibition were sourced from documentary photographer Robin Morrison and Mairi Gunn, a photographer for the University of Auckland newspaper Craccum at the time.

Bastion Point is also the site of the Savage Memorial erected in honour of Michael Joseph Savage, the first Labour prime minister who was instrumental in advocating the initial links between the Labour Party and the Ratana movement.


James Murray is a Journalism Student at AUT

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