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Flavell: Bishop Suter Art Gallery Governance Bill

Bishop Suter Art Gallery Governance Restructuring Bill

Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki

Wednesday 2 July 2008; 5.30pm

Tena koe Madam Speaker. Kia ora tatou te whare.

There is a special reason why I wanted to speak to this Bill, in my capacity as the Member for Waiariki.

That special reason has everything to do with the relationship between Bishop Suter and Te Matamua o nga Pihopa Maori, the first Maori Bishop, Frederick Augustus Bennett.

A relationship that developed at a little place called Te Mu, at Te Wairoa in the Rotorua district.

Madam Speaker, my research tells me that in 1886, Bishop Suter of Nelson, returning from General Synod in Auckland, decided to visit the Pink and White Terraces around Rotorua and while there conduct a service at Te Wairoa – a village that would be destroyed later that year by the eruption of Mount Tarawera.

During the course of the service, so the story goes, a beautiful voice was heard singing the traditional Maori hymn, “Whakarongo ki te kupu”, with its repeated verses “Oti rawa!”

The voice of course was that of a young Freddie Bennett, and so impressed was Bishop Suter, that he insisted he would track down the young singer.

Upon finding him, Bishop Suter asked this young boy to come to Nelson to be educated and to train for the Ministry. It appears that without too much hesitation, this young lad walked to Ohinemutu from Tarawera, asked his parents for permission, and took off to Nelson.

And so began a lifetime of dedication from this young leader from Ngati Whakaue who would in December 1928, become consecrated as the first Bishop of Aotearoa, and further on, to become bishop of Waiapu.

It was a position held for 22 years; part of the total commitment he gave to his Maori people – a commitment represented also in his support for the Young Maori Party at that time.

And so, here we are, the Maori Party in 2008, connected through this Bill, to a relationship that developed some 122 years ago.

I might add, Madam Speaker, that one of the houses at my former school, St Stephens School that some of us in this House attended, was named after the Bishop – Bennett House. But they did not win too many competitions unfortunately so we will leave that aside.

What it says though is that Bennett’s name is set in the same category of Maori leadership as Pomare, Ngata, Te Rangi Hiroa, Timi Kara and the like.

So this is just one of many distinctive relationships and achievements that characterise the link to this person, Bishop and the place which give this Bill their name.

The Bishop Suter Art Gallery – ‘Te Aratoi o Whakatu’ - is aptly named to represent art as the pathway to Whakatu, to Nelson.

It has been shaping out this pathway for over 109 years, since it first opened its doors as a provincial gallery in 1899.

As the third oldest art gallery in Aotearoa it can pride itself on an outstanding collection of classics, including art works from John Gully, CF Goldie and Sir Toss Woollaston as other speakers have spoken about.

But it is also passionately devoted to sketching out the future horizons for art in Whakatu, hence the reason for this Bill.

The Suter has set its sights on becoming a state of the art gallery for the 21st century, by seeking to revise the original 1896 Act of Parliament, to now become a Council Controlled Organisation with the Nelson City Council.

Alongside internationally recognised artists such as Jane Evans, or photographer Craig Potton, the new Bishop Suter Trust Board, also includes a nominee representing Ko Te Pouranga – the group representing each of the six manawhenua iwi trusts of Whakatu, Maata Waka and Nelson kaupapa Maori artists.

The transfer from the old board to the new board affected by this Bill creates a more publically accountable governance structure spoken about by Dr Nick Smith, which is appropriate given that the Suter Art Gallery - Te Aratoi o Whakatū, now depends on local authority funding and support.

This is all good, and the Maori Party is happy to stand with other parties, to ensure that the Bishop Suter Art Gallery can move promptly to take up its new governance structure.

Our only other call at this stage, Madam Speaker, is to ensure that priority is indeed given, in advancing Te Aratoi o Whakatu, to the relationships with mana whenua.

And so I return to the beginning again – to think of the impact that Bishop Frederick Augustus Bennett made in the lives of Te Arawa and indeed tangata whenua.

You see, Bishop Bennett was our first Maori missioner in Rotorua, vicar of the Ohinemutu pastorate, and played an important role in advocating against the damaging effects of alcohol abuse on Maori – a problem he described as imported by the Europeans.

His son, Manuhuia became the third bishop of Aotearoa in 1968; another son, Paratene, was the first Maori to obtain his commission in the Royal Navy; and another son, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Bennett was the first Maori diplomat and for some time, in command of the Maori Battalion, and later, Assistant Secretary of Maori Affairs.

Another son, John, was a distinguished educationalist, remembered as the father of kohanga reo and the Maori Education Trust. And we think too, of Henry, the first Maori psychiatrist who left an enormous legacy in the field of Maori mental health.

That Bishop Suter picked out from the congregation, the young Freddie Bennett that fateful day in Te Mu, was the start of an incredible legacy of leadership and community passion in Te Arawa, in the Anglican Church, in Maori Affairs, in the armed forces and in politics.

The Bishop Andrew Suter, and his wife Amelia, also emblazoned a pathway forwards for the community of Nelson, which will outlast even the most distinctive of the art works collected in the Suter Gallery.

For from even the most humble beginnings with the Bishopdale Sketching Club established in 1889 by Bishop Suter and friends, there was always the intention that through art, the community would grow.

That has indeed become the case in Nelson and the wider top of the Southern region.

The legacy of pride and generosity, and community spirit that the Suters sowed over a century ago, lives on in the hearts of the people of Nelson, of mana whenua, of the people that you might call Whakatu. We are honoured to help them to achieve their aspirations by supporting this Bill.


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