Sir Graham Latimer - A Life in the North

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 12 June 2016
Sir Graham Latimer died on 7 June 2016, aged 90.

Sir Graham Latimer died on 7 June 2016, aged 90. Photo: Sourced online

Ko Te Paatu te marae
Ko Te Konoti te whenua
Ko Mangatakauere me Mangataiore te awa
Ko Rangaunu te moana
Ko Kotipu me Pukehapai te maunga

Sir Graham Latimer was laid to rest at Te Paatu Marae in Pamapuria this week. The prominent leader was the former president of the New Zealand Māori Council and played a pivotal role in the interests of Māori.

In 1991 he gave an interview with Neville Glasgow for an episode of the programme Directions. The series featured a range of New Zealanders talking about their lives, their belief systems and their work. 

As a tribute to Sir Graham Latimer, Te Ahi Kaa features the archival programme this week:



Interview highlights

On his entrance into the world

We were staying in the gum fields at Houhora and about a fortnight before mum was due to have me, they put her on a buggy to send her down to Kaitaia so that she’d be handy to the hospital. But when she got on the buggy I suppose the bumping around put her into labour, when she got to Waihora she started to labour and she had me on the side of the road, and the old house that they took me up to and I supposed bathed me and that, well it’s been renovated but it’s still on the corner, and I look there quite often with a little bit of emotion every time I go past their now.

On his parents

My father is a very strong Anglican and mum was a really strong Catholic when they first got married, that didn’t help too much because there was no love loss between the Catholics and the Anglicans above all a pakehā marrying a Māori. You were ostracised from both sides, mum was ostracised from both sides for a long time.

Your mother was pakehā?

That’s right she was a pakehā…she found it difficult living in a settlement because she couldn’t understand a word of Māori, to dad’s credit, dad never allowed anyone to speak Māori in our home in front of my mother. He said if you can’t attempt to talk English then you shouldn’t be coming to my home and upsetting my wife.

But on the other hand because my mother had married into a Māori family, the European side really didn’t take too kindly to that, and her own sisters, later in life had vehicles and they passed her on the road (she used to walk four and a half miles to do her shopping), and her own sisters and [their] husbands would pass her on the road rather than stopping to pick her up, so I know the agony of racism on both sides. 
I tried to make a point of it that nobody in my life would get hurt through racism as far as I’m concerned.

On religion

How important was religion?

Religion was number one, we had prayer…dad read a passage from the Bible every night and every evening you have to all go into the sitting room while we had a service, thinking back sometimes, services seem to go on forever but I suppose they were only quarter of an hour, twenty minutes. You didn’t have a meal of any description without having grace over that meal.

If people came to the home and they wanted to see dad, he’d welcome them and have a short prayer, and talk to them and always end with a short prayer before they went away.  So religion was to the forefront. My grandmother that’s my father’s mother, she was one of the Sunday school teachers, she used to ride for miles teaching Sunday school, of course her father was one of the intakes of the second ordained ministers in our area, so Anglican religion is very very strong in my tribal area in Ngāti Kahu.

On education

One thing about my father he insisted that we have the best of education that he could afford, he always used to say that the only endowment I can leave you is the best education that I can afford to give you, and if it means going to jail, I will go to jail to educate you. On two occasions he did go to jail because he couldn’t pay his bill at the drapery place.

So, education was the forefront, we had a reasonable education,..although mine was  (laughs) the poorest educated one of the lot, I was only proficiency level.  I decided to stay in Auckland and set sail on this road and try to be as good a pākehā as any pākehā could be.

Not forgetting the fact that I was born of Māori heritage, so I really set out on that trail, and tried to keep away from becoming involved in Māori land and Māori hui’s because they were time consuming, and very emotional. So I thought well if I’m going to get married to my wife and bring up my family I wanted to be certain that I was going to leave them in a position where they were able to carry on to develop themselves within the system that we lived in, remembering in the 40’s and 50’s Māori was still hardly recognised as ordinary citizens in this country. It wasn’t til 1943 that the first census was taken. That we actually become part and parcel of the community in 1943 and that mostly because they wanted to find out how many eligible male men in the settlements to join the army and go over and fight.

On leadership

My father with a number of people came to talk to me about becoming a leader in Māoridom especially at the home level. I said to them at that stage, they must be kidding themselves to think that I could ever do anything like that.  But the sincerity of the request was something that concerned me. My father was to repeat that request on a number of occasions.

With my father and them on one side, and Mr Kemp Nathan on the other side always at you, you were sort of funnelled into a direction that you didn’t want to go in, but you had to go in because you were caught with the current.

In 1958, they (Ngāti Whatua) had a big hui at Oruawharo just north of Wellsford and it was during that night they would talk about who would lead the people for the future, who would become the main spokesman for the tribe. I went there more or less to take these old people because they had no car, and I was growling away in my thinking well you beggars you’re only using me to get me to take you to this hui.

So anyhow when I got here, I went to sleep, in the morning I woke up and went to have a wash, at that time you washed outside there was no such thing as hot water service… if you wanted a shave, you scraped away out in the cold. The old fella came out Kemp, and said to me it was a marvellous, a marvellous night last night, I said oh yes what were you doing? He said oh well we were selecting who’s the future spokesman and the leader of the people for Ngāti Whatua in the north and possibly for the whole of New Zealand.  I suppose (laughs) naive as I was I said who did you people select? He said, you’re it son. 

I suppose that was really the period when people start to put a greater responsibility on your shoulders.

Ngā taonga Sound and Vision

All material supplied by Ngā Tāonga Sound and Vision . Special thanks to Sarah Johnston.