Harcourts Taumarunui has an auction tomorrow, Tuesday 30th April 2019 for three titles marketed as a fisherman’s dream come true. While the smallest of the three sections is 20m above the height of the Whakapapa River, unfortunately the two larger sections are made up entirely of the upper reaches of the Whanganui River. To me it is a marketing disaster in the making for a large real estate company to sell anything that touches upon the riverbed a Maori Taonga. It’s a messy situation as I explain following another investigation.
The Whanganui River has international acclaim as a taonga [treasure] of the Maori, and that has been awarded legal rights equivalent in status to a person. It baffles and bemuses most of us that an inanimate natural object can be given such a status but in the Maori culture this is accepted. It’s a cultural difference that requires non-Maori to think laterally in order to understand, or to walk away. The majority of Pakeha do the latter.
I’ve spent time on this river and on these lands in particular. I’ve even written a book about this region, that which I call “The Jewel”.
Just north of this property is the Whakapapa Island, a triangle shaped island that is and has been fiercely fought for by the local people for many years – a treasured piece of land that produced the massive totara tree used in the creation of the waka now held in the Wanganui Museum.
In my book, “The Jewel” I show how the strange shape of these three sections originated and why the Stone Jug Road curves strangely into the centre of the Whakapapa River and around in a sharp bend.
I also explain the differences between the Pakeha (European) system of land ownership and the Maori one. Essentially land is seen as a commodity by the Pakeha and it is measured and marked off with rigid boundaries. It can then be owned, mortgaged and sold. In the Maori ways however land is managed by the occupier and the principle of ownership is more that of stewardship whereby the people who live on the land claim rights to it. Abandon it or lose it in warfare and will become someone else’s.
In days gone by Pakeha too obtained much land by force, trickery and stealth. Much of the Maori land claims of the recent three decades is restitution for this dishonesty.
The Jewel has an interesting history and the two larger sections to the right on the above map cover the riverbed – clearly seen in a 1940 photograph that I have used to overlay the modern boundaries onto. The Mariner’s pit too, where three contractors extracted rocks explains the dog-leg in the road.
I understand from Ray Waterreus from Harcourts Taumarunui that they have had huge interest in this auction. Ray didn’t answer my questions about the sale so I only hope that the eventual purchaser understands that the two biggest sections of the land are actually riverbed, and that only the small top section is uncontestable from any local land claims.
For the iwi (tribes) who own this riverbed, methinks they have been caught napping as they have with other land sales, confiscations and alienations in the region. Acquisition by stealth seems to be quite alive and well in the King Country even in 2019!
Human nature and greed remains the same across cultures and the eons of course.
In the 2015 Waitangi claims, the Whanganui river iwi explained that the head of the Whanganui river extended to the mountains, in this case to Mt Ruapehu, and down the Whakapapa. To my way of thinking if this river is the head then these islands are the eyes of the Whanganui River, and the eyes are the gateway to the soul.
If I am right, then whatever the new owners think, say and do from tomorrow onwards will likely have big ramifications in a spiritual sense, and I’d bet on that.
Personally, if I was the real estate agent I would have been a little more upfront about the riverbed status of 90% of the land for sale. I’d also be a lot more careful about exposing a strong brand such as Harcourts have to claims of cultural insensitivity by selling off the riverbed of such a contentious piece of this country!
I’ll update this post when the book “The Jewel” is published.