Rowing club vows to stay put

8:49 am on 11 October 2015

A rowing club in Levin is refusing to be "bullied" out of its building next to Lake Horowhenua by local Māori who want the club to leave.

Andrew Bealing, Bonnie Packer and Vanda Packer outside the rowing club building.

Andrew Bealing, Bonnie Packer and Vanda Packer outside the rowing club building. Photo: RNZ / Bridget Grace

The Horowhenua Rowing Club hopes a Waitangi Tribunal hearing into Māori claims to the lake will let it know whether it can stay where it has been for the past 50 years.

The rowing club building is padlocked up, its windows covered with corrugated iron.

Club captain Andrew Bealing said the club had had years of tension with some locals.

"When we come down here, especially when we have the kids around, we've been getting abused and threatened. Several members of our club have been assaulted," he said.

"It's just disappointing because we're just trying to be down here, look after the kids, and ... they have to put up with abuse and threatening behaviour."

The Crown took the land from private Māori landowners in 1905 and it is no secret that some Muaūpoko iwi members want the rowing club to pack up and leave.

One of them, Phil Taueki, is angry the club uses the building rent-free.

But Mr Bealing said even though its lease had ended the council had not told the club to leave.

"We were paying lease up till a couple of years ago. We've paid everything that we've been invoiced, as such. Everything has been up in the air the last couple of years so nothing has come through. But we're paying rates on the building. We're paying the upkeep."

The rowing club has 30 members, including Bonnie Packer. She said they would not be bullied off the land.

"I've been told I've got no mana, I've got no right to be here.

"It's not okay because, you know, I've been here and three times children have had to leave and not be able to row. They're our next generation, we need to look after them.

"We need to show them that we will not be bullied and that they can continue to row on this lake. Without this rowing club, these tamariki will not get the chance to row on this lake."

Another building next to the lake, belonging to the old sailing club, was claimed by local Māori a month ago. Most of its windows are smashed and one garage door has a huge dent in it.

The damaged sailing club building at Lake Horowhenua.

The damaged sailing club building at Lake Horowhenua. Photo: RNZ / Bridget Grace

The Waitangi Tribunal this week heard from claimants who want their rights to Lake Horowhenua recognised, and are calling for an end to its pollution.

Mr Taueki, a Muaūpoko descendant, has made it his mission to return Lake Horowhenua to Māori hands.

The first thing he wants to do is stop Horowhenua District Council pumping storm water from Levin into the lake.

"The second thing that needs to happen is the Levin Wastewater Treatment Plant needs to be relocated, because it periodically discharges and seeps raw sewage into the lake."

He said about 5 million cubic centimetres of toxic sediment was in the lake and urgently needed to be removed.

"That's laying on the bottom of the lake, on top of our ancestors, and it needs to be removed as quickly as possible."

Rowing important to Maori - Packer

Ms Packer's mum, Vanda, owns land at the lake and wants the club to stay put.

"I've never ever thought about it being a fight here but the last five years it's been a hell of a battle. Just a small group of people not wanting to be in partnership and progress here with the rowing club and any other sporting body that so would want to use it.

"I mean I look at it - we're Māori - we got here on the waka, rowing."

Vanda Packer said she believed the lake would be in a worse condition if Māori had been in charge instead of the local council.

Anne Hunt is a supporter of Māori activist Phil Taueki. She said the abuse was not one-sided.

"I'm sick and tired of Phil and I being threatened, harrassed.

"Three weeks ago Phil had to barricade himself in the house because a couple of rowers were pounding on the door threatening to kill him, and last night I had a home invasion myself."

Rowing club captain Andrew Bealing denies any involvement by its members.

He said he hoped the Waitangi Tribunal could give the club certainty about the situation with the land around the lake and whether it could stay.

But a decision is still some time away, with two further week-long hearings set for November and December.

Lake Horowhenua

Lake Horowhenua, near Levin. Photo: RNZ / Bridget Grace