23 Sep 2015

Taranaki history debated in court

8:21 pm on 23 September 2015

A hapu leader and a corporate lawyer locked horns over the merits of oral versus written history in the Environment Court in New Plymouth today.

An aerial view of Taranaki town Waitara

An aerial view of Taranaki town Waitara Photo: Phillip Capper / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Greymouth Petroleum is appealing a Heritage New Zealand decision to denying it permission to begin excavations for its proposed Kowhai D well site in the Waitara Valley.

Heritage New Zealand declined the application on the grounds that the Otaraua hapu - supported by the Pukerangiora hapu - said Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake, who lead Maori in the Taranaki Land Wars in the 1860s, was buried in the area.

Heritage New Zealand said the proposed development would have a significant on the area's wider cultural values which it had to consider when making its decision.

Under cross examination by Greymouth's counsel, Les Taylor, QC, Otaraua hapu chairman Rawiri Doorbar was challenged on why he could not reveal the precise location of the burial site.

Mr Doorbar said revealing it would break a promise given to his grandfather the day before he died.

His grandfather had pointed out the site, told him to look out for it, and had sworn him to secrecy, he said.


Mr Taylor said it was convenient that Mr Doorbar could not reveal the precise location of the grave because there was no historical record of Wiremu Kingi being buried in the area.

Mr Doorbar said Mr Taylor had no right to suggest his record of events was any less correct than that captured in the Pakeha history books which he relied on.

Asked why he had not registered the burial place as waahi tapu [sacred] in the New Plymouth district plan if it was so important, Mr Doorbar said he did not believe things told to the council in confidence remained secret.

"You are essentially alerting people to the location of these sites," he said.

He contended that Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake's remains were reburied in the Waitara Valley "because it was his dying wish to be buried within the footprint of his mother's whare, a place he had untroubled times".

Mr Doorbar said any industrial development in the area would be contrary to memory of Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake, who fought to protect Maori rights.

"The well site will essentially become his headstone."

Mr Taylor said Mr Doorbar was someone who actively campaigned against oil and gas projects in the Waitara Valley and did not want to see any development there.

In 2009, the Otaraua hapu occupied the Tikorangi pa for 66 days in protest at plans to install a pipeline, an action which forced Greymouth Petroleum to redirect it.

Mr Doorbar said Maori had been ineffective in protecting their own lands and could only fight to preserve areas of significant interest - and he was not ashamed to do that.

"The record of protection for our sites has not been good enough."

Pukerangiora Pa remains

Another area of disagreement between Mr Doorbar and Mr Taylor was whether the remains of up to 1600 people slain in the sacking of the Pukerangiora Pa in 1831 were in the proposed well site area.

Pukerangiora kuia Ray Belton was the hearings last witness and she supported the contention that Wiremu Kingi was buried in the vicinity as were many of the victims of the massacre at Pukerangiora.

The hapu and initially supported Greymouth's application but withdrew that support after Mrs Belton met with Mr Doorbar.

"The site is very sacred to us however because industry was coming in Rawiri had to admit there was something more there than what happened up at Pukerangiora.

"I asked him how he knew (Wiremu Kingi was there) and he told me. He told me what was here and I bowed to him.

Mrs Belton said she was told about the area by her grandfather in Maori.

"I know the sacredness of the whole area and that's why I turned down the application in the blink of an eye."

Cultural values considered

Heritage New Zealand counsel Tom Gilbert told the court earlier today when considering an application it had to take into account the cultural values of the wider landscape rather than purely the likely damage to the archaeological site.

Greymouth said an archaeological authority for its Kowhai D well should have been granted because the burial site will not be affected.

Mr Gilbert said the court had to decide whether Heritage New Zealand had interpreted its statutory obligations correctly, and if the Otaraua hapu's evidence that Wiremu Kingi was buried in the area was factual.

It also had to consider whether the protection of the cultural values had been balanced against the merits of the development.

Mr Taylor challenged Heritage New Zealand's Maori manager, Te Kenehi Teira, on why it had accepted the word of Mr Doorbar that neighbouring Pukerangiora hapu had also withdrawn support for the project.

Mr Taylor also asked why no assessment was done of what actions could have been taken to mitigate the adverse affects of the proposed development.

He suggested Heritage New Zealand had been influenced by Mr Doorbar's assertion any industrialisation of the wider area would be an offensive to the memory of Wiremu Kingi and the ideals he represented.

Judge Brian Dwyer has reserved his decision.