“there shall be a piece of land set aside, so that when the Natives go to fish they will be able to camp upon that land… the Acclimatisation Society shall not come and put their fish into the lake… that would be against the spirit of our agreement to-day.”
Premier Richard Seddon at Tīpāpaku (Pigeon Bush), 18.01.1896
The agreement that transferred Wairarapa Moana to the Crown, signed at Papawai on 13 January 1896 guaranteed Maori ample reserves from land surrounding the lakes. At Pigeon Bush Seddon spelt out the reserve requirement: Maori would have continuing access to their customary fishery, protected by the Crown.
Years passed with surveying delays, increasing land prices and the goal of a lakeside reserve suitable for pastoral farming becoming increasingly unlikely. The one piece of land seriously considered in the area of Wairarapa Moana was the Whangaimoana Estate but it exceeded the Crown’s budget. The Crown and a reluctant Maori eventually decided to look elsewhere.
Wairarapa rangatira Tunuiarangi Paraone was the most reluctant, wanting a better class of developed land reserved in the Wairarapa. Te Whatahoro Jury, another Wairarapa rangatira, looked elsewhere for larger tracts of land and went to view Pouakani, which though large, was described by surveyors as very poor land covered in tussock and scrub
Fearing they might end up with nothing, Tunuiarangi and others ceased their opposition and in April 1916 title to the Pouakani land in the ‘King Country’ was vested in the owners of Wairarapa lakes. Inaccessible by road, the 30,486 acres was largely scrubby, pumice land.
In the early 1940’s the nation needed more power and major hydropower schemes were constructed on the Waikato River bounding Pouakani. To cure bush sickness in stock, aerial topdressing of cobalt began on the central volcanic plateau.
Construction began on Maraetai dam in 1943 and by 1947 a temporary township called Mangakino was built to house and service the construction workers.
The Wairarapa owners of Pouakani were unaware that their land had been taken until Prime Minister Peter Fraser visited Pouakani in 1947 to consider it for a Maori land development scheme.
Fraser met with the owners in Greytown and it was agreed their families would settle and farm Pouakani, learning new skills, and providing a return for the Wairarapa owners.
“We had a dairy supervisor there and all he was doing was to show us how to put cups on the cows. We already knew all that… Nobody was talking to us about the business… We had no training about things like pasture development…”
Pai Te Whaiti, Wairarapa ki Tararua Waitangi Tribunal Report 2010
Soon after Fraser’s intervention, the heke (migration) of Wairarapa people to the pumice lands began. Initially 26 Wairarapa Moana families were selected by their elders for the task, and others followed. They went to become farmers and landlords on their own lands again filled with hope and excitement for the challenges ahead.
Memory Te Whaiti came to Mangakino with her husband Sam in the mid 1950’s recalling in her evidence to the Waitangi Tribunal that her old people were against having the land in Mangakino. They felt we were tramping on someone else’s land. [They] refused to move up there and even refused to visit. We had… to visit them.
Nevertheless a marae was built and many came to see Pouakani as their permanent home, choosing to bury their whanau there.
Under the Department of Maori Aﬀairs dairy units and a sheep and cattle station were created. A large area of native forest was cleared and leased to New Zealand Forest Products for growing pine trees.
The new settler’s prior farming experience in the fertile Wairarapa did not prepare them for the hostile pumice lands of Pouakani, where, according to Pai Te Whaiti, only red clover would grow, cows died from ‘bush sickness’ and pumice blocked water bores. Most settlers did not succeed, in large part due to the inadequate training and support, as well as poor returns on farming, and high development costs. In the 1970’s the hitherto strongly held policy of only allowing owner’s families onto the farms ceased, and the dairy farms were oﬀered to outsiders.
There were successes however, the most notable being Tom Haeata winning the coveted Ahuwhenua trophy in 1958. The Maori Aﬀairs Department report stated that Mr Haeata… has provided… excellent shelter belts… a first class jersey herd… The house is extremely neat and well laid out lawns, and courts, with all buildings in excellent order.
In its findings the Waitangi Tribunal reiterates its view that the development scheme owes its failure to nothing so much as the fact that this was very poor land, in a totally unimproved state, miles from anywhere. If the Crown had granted Wairarapa Maori the decent land in Wairarapa that would have been the proper response to the gift of the lakes, they would never have needed a development scheme.
“The Pouakani 2 Trust has shown that this land can be farmed successfully. It has rationalised farm production, greatly increasing the productivity of the land by moving from sheep and beef to dairy farming.”
Waitangi Tribunal Report
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