I was interviewed on national TV early yesterday morning, to explain the drama of the day – the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gate Pa, in what is now suburban Tauranga.
You can check out the interview here:
The battle was the last flourish of the Waikato war, which raged from August 1863 until April 1864, from south of Auckland to Te Awamutu. Like the earlier Taranaki war (1860-61) it drew in the British regulars and naval forces, and was pretty much contemporary with the US Civil War, on the other side of the Pacific.
These wars shaped New Zealand in many ways –physically, from the location and name of towns like Hamilton (named after a commander who fell at Gate Pa) and Cambridge; and culturally, through the myths of race relations that dominated the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, and the re-mythologisation that was imposed across them in the late twentieth century flurry of ‘revisionism’.
Yet we don’t remember any of these battles. Gate Pa drew attention this time, but there was nothing to mark Rangiriri, or Orakau, or the siege of Paterangi. Nor can all these sites be easily found. There are memorials near some – many surviving from the flurry of 50-year celebrations in the early twentieth century. One or two battle sites have been preserved with interpretation boards, notably in Northland. But otherwise…nothing much.
Gate Pa was fought in the middle of a road, inside what is now suburban Tauranga. There’s a church and a bowling green where trenches were dug and blood was spilled. But apart from a plaque there was nothing to mark the moment until yesterday when eight carved posts were unveiled.
These wars and their battles are an important a part of New Zealand’s history. I wrote a couple of books on the subject, years ago – and one of them is being republished, in totally revised form. Soon. Watch this space.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014