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Of Rosemary, Rainbows and Remembrance.

By Dale Meredith in All Sorts

remembering our own history and stories is important

I write this article today, Saturday 28 October 2017: Raa Maumahara, inaugural National Day of Commemoration for the New Zealand Wars.
A long time coming, it has been born with a gentle breath. Not the dawn service thousands of ANZAC Day. Just a civil gathering at Waitangi, recall of the 1845 Puketutu Battle, and a small fracas in the grounds of Parliament between supporters of the National Front and those promoting anti-racism.
Perhaps this day is as a baby’s first breath, and we as a nation need to take baby steps as we venture forth into this new phase of our bi- cultural journey.
The day is significant. On 28 October 1835, at the home of James Busby, the Declaration of Independence He Whakaputanga was signed by the first of the United Tribes. The British government acknowledged this declaration - it kept the British in and the French out. Based on reciprocity, British subjects would be protected in Maori territory, and the King of England would in turn protect the Maori against threats to their mana.
Commemoration: an opportunity to sit and listen, to hear stories of our people, our country. Stories known only by a few; stories breaking through the silence of the generations; stories of grief, pain, humiliation, injustice, confiscation, detention without charge, injury, death.
It is no wonder we should go forward slowly, for what is behind us is uncomfortable when viewed through a lens of 21st century values. It is what it is.
My story is of a hikoi, a modern pilgrimage, undertaken two years ago. Not to Jerusalem or Mecca or even Canterbury, but to Opotiki, land of my mother.
Having missed out on the Gallipoli ballot, our family commemorated the day that really mattered, 8 August 1915. That day our two great uncles, best buddies Ernest Jurd and George Hill, died on Chunuk Bair, along with another 502 of their Kiwi compatriots.
As I drove from Auckland, I stopped along the way: Drury; the Mangatawhiri Stream bridge marking the entry to the Waikato; Rangiriri, Huntly, Taneatua. Each place important; each place marked with a sprig of rosemary from my Dunedin garden, and blessed with a prayer. The first rainbow appeared at Mangatawhiri, as I pulled back onto the highway. It reappeared after Huntly, dancing against the distant hills. It taunted at Taneatua, in full colour, just before a shower, the tears of Rangi.
Our Opotiki commemoration was special. Over a hundred people gathered, linked to these two men whose portraits hung in the front hall of my grandparents’ homestead, handsome and loved.
Opotiki RSA pulled out the stops with a special service. We placed our red poppies in the field of white crosses, so carefully regimented in alphabetical order by the memorial.
Caitlin Papuni McLellan spoke. What a privilege for us. Head girl at Opotiki College and winner of the ANZ RSA Cyril Bennett Speech Competition, she had spoken in front of the thousands at Gallipoli. Now she gave that same speech here, to her whanau in Opotiki. Her uncle, Kurei Papuni, killed 6 August 1915, member of the first Maori Battalion. A man whose medallion hung on the wall of his family home, but who was never spoken of. A man of mystery and silence. It was Caitlin who uncovered his story, nearly a hundred years later. Her pride in him and her whakapapa was evident as she spoke.
Later that day I met with Whakatohea, leaders and kaumatua, We discussed the possibility of a national memorial for the Land Wars. They agreed this was important, and that any memorial would need to have meaning both locally and nationally.
I felt inspired by their support to keep going with the national memorial concept. In short order I was referred to Rahui Papa, and then on to the petition of the Otorohonga College students for this day of national commemoration. The success of their petition in creating this day is now part of our heritage.
Soon I hope we will have a fitting memorial at Pukeahu in Wellington. There we will be able to sing:
Now they have all gone into the light
te tatau pounamu
the greenstone door closed. (Colin Gibson, abridged)
As my sister drove home from Opotiki that August afternoon, she drove through the rainbow.
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth. (Genesis 9:16, NIV)
Dale Meredith