Te Ahi Kaa begins a series of interviews with pākeha whose work has been associated with te ao Māori for much of their lives.
How did a Pākeha with little or no contact with the Māori world end up as a fluent speaker of Te Reo, with an expertise in media that saw him working as a media advisor to the Māori Party?
Listen to Andrew Robb in conversation with Jerome Cvitanovich here:
When Andrew Robb enrolled at Victoria University in the early 1970s he enrolled in Māori language lessons. To him it was just another subject, just like the French he had studied at school.
But when he went to his first meeting of the Te Reo Society – the Māori language club at the University - he started hearing the language spoken by native speakers for the first time. Although he only recognised two words – “pakeha” and “Māori” – the meeting had a big impact.
It was a stunning, astonishing revelation. There was the whole culture out there who I had known nothing about. It was a revelation of my ignorance.
The meeting set Andrew on a pathway to immersing himself in the language. He says he was a sponge, listening to people talking, attuning himself to Te Reo and trying to absorb as much as he could.
When he first started being able to understand sentences he was overjoyed.
The 1970s were also an exciting times politically and the students couldn’t remain separate from what was happening around them. A petition calling for Māori to be taught in schools had been presented to parliament and Te Reo Society students were active in pushing for formal recognition of the language.
In Māori society generally I was apprehensive but not because I was made to feel that way, people were incredibly generous, incredibly open, they were very welcoming and te reo māori was a great group to belong because people were aware of what te reo Māori society were doing and they supported it... I felt that I had a role.
Te Reo Society members also supported the efforts of the Land March as well as those protesting at Bastion Point. Andrew remembers visiting Bastion Point in the late 1970's and helping in the kitchen at the marae. He was among a group of over 200 people arrested when the protesters were evicted by 800 police and NZ Army personnel.
After graduation Andrew stayed involved in Te Ao Māori. He moved into media in the 1990's, first as a presenter and reporter for Mana Māori Media, and later in Parliament as a media advisor for the Māori Party.
Andrew says he has never felt self-conscious using Māori language or being in Māori culture.
“I never felt excluded. I was always made to feel very very welcome in their communities and in their affairs.”
He says that being able to use the language has always felt like an extraordinary gift.
“It made such a huge difference to my life. Like gaining sight in another eye.”
Andrew says he learnt Māori because he loved it. One way or another it has been part of everything he’s ever done.
Archival recordings provided by Nga Tāonga Sound and Vision
Te Ahi Kaa presenter Jerome Cvitanovich was born in Marlborough of Tarara descent. He started in radio in 1984 working on a range of programmes including the long running series Spectrum.
In the last 20 years he's been involved in rural TV programmes including Rural Delivery, Number 8 Wired and Country Calendar. Whenever he can he loves coming back to his first love - radio.