Lois Williams is Radio New Zealand's Northland reporter. A mainlander by birth, she moved to Whangarei in 1989, intending to stay a couple of years, fell in love with the north and a Northland man and has never left.
There are so many stories to be told in Te Raki. It's the place where Māori and Pākeha first lived side by side and so much of our identity as New Zealanders was forged. I think Northlanders have a slightly different worldview because of that relationship, and I find the Māori stories compelling" - Lois Williams
There are some people in this world who seem born to take charge – and take care of others. Nora Rameka is one of them. The Ngāti Rehia kuia, born to a teenage Ngāti Kuri mother in Te Kao 72 years ago, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, for a lifetime of service to Māori.
Lois sits down for a chat wiith Nora Rameka at Rewa's Village, a replica Māori fishing pā at Kerikeri.
By today’s standards Nora was raised in dire poverty: a home with a dirt floor; no power and no running water. She had a dozen young siblings, a father who would walk through the night every Sunday just to make it to his labouring job, a mum who pushed a horse-drawn plough through the paddocks – even when she was heavily pregnant.
Te Reo was spoken at home and church but not at school and Nora was one of the many Māori children punished for speaking their mother tongue at school. But her love of learning survived the sting of the strap and when she turned 12 her parents somehow found the money to send her to boarding school, she lasted two years. Nora left Turakina Māori Girls School in Marton, to head back to her home and help her mother raise her siblings.
But her parents were disappointed she’d given up on school and to her dismay she was packed off to live with an uncle in Auckland and work in a hospital laundry. It was in Auckland that Nora's social life flourished.
The era was all about rock n roll and Nora would meet her future husband, Waata Rameka. They have been together for 54 years. It was through Waata’s career in the railways that her career in education was born. Wherever the couple moved for Waata’s job, Norah, with a growing brood of children, found herself involved in community work and eventually union issues. She was the first Māori employed by the Trade Union Education Authority and her brief was to teach Māori workers about their rights.
"Māori workers never had anything before. When the union would call a strike they didn’t understand that. And I would know who they were and some… had never been on a marae before and we went to marae, and they were appreciative of that" - Nora Rameka
The Trade Union Education Authority quickly recognised her talents and sent her off to the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a course in labour management. In the early '90s the authority was disestablished. Nora applied for a job as Māori Recruitment Co-ordinator at Waikato University. The job led her to complete a degree in Social Sciences.
But the achievements of which she’s most proud is the restoration of the historic Ngāti Rehia marae, Whetu Marama, at Takou Bay and the building of the papakainga housing. Takou River is the last resting place of the Maatatua waka. But it’s not a place Nora had ever imagined living until her father died in 1975.
Following her dad's death, she and her family went and stayed at the unspoilt bay, one of the few on Northland’s east coast where Māori have managed to retain their land. Nora and her sister Marcia found themselves drawn to the old, dilapidated marae across the river, Whetu Marama.
"We walked towards the old marae, and it was just the warmth that came over me... like there was, whoever they were, they were saying ‘We’ve been waiting for you. It was a wonderful feeling, We went to the marae, the broken down marae... my sister and I were crying we didn't know what for... her and I didn't talk to each other. The gorse was coming out of the floor, cow poo everywhere... I guess for me that day I vowed that I would do as much as I could, to make sure the marae would be rebuilt" - Nora Rameka
It was the beginning of a journey and years of work by Nora and her whanau, culminating in the restoration of the marae and the building of 20 houses in a pioneering papakainga housing scheme at Takou where Nora and Waata and many of the whanau now live.