There was standing room only at the September meeting of the Tauranga Historic Society this week.
The monthly meeting featured guest speaker Buddy Mikaere presenting ‘The Case for a Museum’ and proved to be of high interest to the audience meeting in the hall behind the Brain Watkins House.
Buddy, a historian, author and national resource consent consultant, began by telling amusing stories about his time as a boy visiting the Auckland Museum, and the magic of those experiences staying with him.
“Even today I will still visit the museum as often as I can,” says Buddy. “I always get a rush of pride that one of the exhibits I part-curated - the NZ Wars Section of the Scars on the Heart exhibition - is still a well-visited exhibit on the top floor of the museum.
“I’ve had a successful book launch in the Museum foyer; led countless corporate cultural experiences through the Maori and Pacifica exhibits; attended fundraising dinners and other functions there; and like thousands of others, been there on Anzac mornings at dawn.
“That museum has been a beacon for the Auckland community and its visitors as my multiple use of the facility shows.”
Buddy served as one of the Museum’s advisory board members, which he found to be a useful experience later when working in Wellington as one of the advisory board set up to look at the design and exhibit content for Te Papa.
“Some of my ideas survived the design process – the Treaty exhibit and the outdoor area; the upstairs marae and the talking posts are features I recall and still visit with much fondness. There is not one major city in the world that I have visited where I have not tried to get to their museums.”
Buddy then went on to outline the case for a museum for Tauranga.
“I’m sure we all have our own ideas about what a museum in Tauranga could look like in location, form and content, and so I can only speak to my own vision.
“My choice of location is Cliff Road on the site of the former Otamataha Pa – the name suggested for the Museum is Te Awanui – which references Tauranga Harbour.”
Brain Watkins House in Tauranga.
Buddy’s tangata whenua reasons for preferring the Cliff Road site are that after Mauao, the Otamataha site is the mauri or mana site for Tauranga Moana. In its time the location would have commanded the harbour.
“Despite the fact that its wahi tapu status has been compromised over the years, it is nevertheless a site of mana and mauri for the three Tauranga iwi,” says Buddy. “That is important if it is to become a repository for the taonga (treasures) held in our Heritage Collection.
“Use for this purpose also restores to the site its iwi associations. The preliminary design plans for the museum incorporated a Whare Korero which is literally a Speaking House.
“As such it could function as the Ceremonial Civic Centre where you might do things such as welcoming visiting trade delegations; politicians; hold citizenship ceremonies; a place for public lectures; an alternative conference location. All these things combine to give tangata whenua a place to stand – a turangawaewae – in the city.”
Buddy reminded the Tauranga audience of past promises made to the local hapu in Judea, which is where his grandmother and great grandmother on his paternal side came from.
“Our Ngai Tamarawaho hapu of Huria made a number of sacrifices to allow for the construction of route K into the city through the heart of our traditional lands – the valley of the Kopurererua stream,” says Buddy.
“As part of the mitigation we were promised land for a cultural centre and a health or well-being centre. Those promises were subsequently taken off the table and the search for alternatives is not being pursued with the vigour we had hoped.
“The Museum on Cliff Road with an accompanying cultural centre would be ideal in our opinion. The Cultural Centre as we envisage it, would complement the Museum by providing living workshops for Maori Arts and Crafts; staff to act as guides, and a core kappa haka group which could give daily performances in the Whare Korero as well as undertaking ceremonial duties; powhiri to visitors and similar.”
The Cliff Road Reserve lands are part of the land originally acquired by the Church Missionary Society in the 1830s.
“It was held on trust ‘... for the benefit and welfare of Maori...’ and after 1864 given up under pressure to the Crown,” says Buddy.
“But the obligation to hold the land on trust was passed to the Crown. That land was subsequently passed to the Council.
“These actions are subject to legal challenge and it could well be that the hapu will end up in ownership of the Cliff Road land. The advantage of such a change in ownership is that the land will definitely be earmarked for Museum purposes.”
Dean Flavell, Manager of the Tauranga Cultural Heritage Collection.
The reason for this is self-evident. The site itself has views across the harbour and to the north and south. Buddy believes it has the ability to be the premium site in Tauranga in much the same way that the Opera House is in Sydney, or even the War Memorial Museum in Auckland and its premium site on the Auckland Domain.
The site also lies at the heart of what is starting to be referred to as the Heritage Precinct - incorporating the Elms, the Mission Cemetery, Monmouth Redoubt and Durham Redoubt.
The question is why tangata whenua don’t favour the Willow Street site.
“It is because that land is also subject to the same legal challenge I mentioned earlier,” says Buddy. “Exactly 31 years ago in September 1987 at the time of the demolition of the old Town Hall and library, members of our hapu occupied the site to protest the lack of progress with our Treaty claims and the acquisition of the land by the Crown and subsequently the Council. Several of our people were arrested and imprisoned.
"The site is described by us as being mana kore, mana mauri – bereft of mana and prestige and underlying spirituality – not a suitable place for the treasures of our ancestors.”
“You might also hear people – usually non-Maori – telling us how the site is a burial ground for a massacre and should not be used for a museum. The physical evidence of such an event has not been found. There is one record of skeletal material being recovered but that is over adjacent to the Monmouth Redoubt site. But the point is that we, tangata whenua, have our own way of dealing with these matters and it will be done in accordance with proper tikanga – customary protocols.”
Buddy has been working with tangata whenua to ensure a united front; firstly on the idea of a museum and secondly on where that museum should be.
“I was formerly a member of the Tauranga Moana Museum Trust but found myself compromised with their objectives in terms of my expressing a preference for the Otamataha/Cliff Road site. I have subsequently joined the Taonga Tauranga group which also has the objective of seeing a museum built and is committed to Otamataha.”
Buddy was disappointed with the by-election and the referendum results.
“I was shocked that some by-election candidates used the museum issue as an election issue. I am also disappointed that many people opposed the museum on an incomplete knowledge of projected costs – a situation exacerbated by some candidates.
“I may be naive but it seems to me that there are certain things that contribute to a healthy society or community and one of those is an acknowledgement of our history as a way of building a bridge to the future. This revolves very much around the idea of the museum being so much more than a storage or dry display place for objects from our past.”
Over 30,000 artefacts are being held in the Tauranga Cultural Heritage Collection. The collection has been in storage for about 13 years inside a warehouse of about a thousand square metres.
“It’s probably the most comprehensive collection in regards to the Western Bay and Tauranga City,” says Dean Flavell, Tauranga’s Cultural Heritage Manager. “It covers all aspects of the types of stories we’d like to tell.”
“A museum needs to have a life that is also firmly rooted in a vibrant present and accurately aimed at explain the potential of things to come,” says Buddy. “It further seems to me that as a society we have a collective obligation to ensure these things come to pass.”
Buddy says that Taonga Tauranga has several projects on the go to keep momentum moving.
“We are looking at a pop-up surfing museum at Main Beach at the Mount over the summer holidays.”
He is also working on a museum proposal for the Gate Pa reserve which has become available with the demise of the Gate Pa Bowling club. His proposal involves revitalising the Gate Pa Exhibition of 2014/15 which generated a lot of public interest during the 150th Battle of Gate Pa commemorations, and giving it a permanent home in Gate Pa.
Buddy Mikaere at the Gate Pa site.