Bay freezing works’ story need local input

Malo lalei, talofa lava, tēnā koutou, and hello there,

This is my first missive written from the MTG, as I am the new Curator Taonga Māori for MTG Hawke’s Bay Tai Ahuriri. Otherwise known in the native as Kaitiaki Taonga Māori Ahuriri Ngāti Kahungunu. Nō reira tēnā ra koutou katoa.

My name is Te Hira Henderson, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou. Down the pā I’m called Nene or Pete. A characteristic trait of my bi-cultural personality, combining the cultural attitudes and customs of two nations.

My background leading me here is just as wide, complex, and diverse. Born into this world of light in 1960 Hastings I was raised as Ngāti Kahungunu Waipatu, a native. Educated at St Johns College in Latin, I became more Catholic than the Pope – and having a Red-Coat soldier as a great grandfather, I am more English than many of my Pākehā kinsfolk. In accordance with the Treaty of Waitangi I am entitled to equal rights and should be granted a British Passport. In hindsight, when I left Hawkes Bay at age 17, I think I needed counselling!

In 1978 my working career started at Avalon Television Studios as a trainee Television Assistant on various shows such as Ready to Roll, Radio With Pictures, Country Calendar, Telethon, and all the rest, progressing to Floor Manager. In 1985, I transferred to TVNZ Auckland to direct and produce the beginnings of Māori Language programmes for television, initially documenting the oral history of our Kuia and Koroua. This was an effort to drag us out of the time warp of my great grandfather’s time and to change the status quo of NZ from a monolingual English country. This revitalising and normalising of Te Reo I continue to the present day. In the last 2 years I also combined this with Funeral Directing – one can see the similarity.

After 41 years I have returned to my ancestral home and this year have been granted the fortunate opportunity as Kaitiaki Taonga Māori. It is absolutely fantastic. And so are the roads: I became too scared riding my bike in Auckland.

I am working on preparing an upcoming exhibition called Rongonui, translating as Famous.

In this case any object or person that is Rongonui is for this exhibition. For example, in the museum collection is a tiki, once owned by Kawiti (a Ngā Puhi chief) and given to Sir Apirana Ngata (a Ngāti Porou chief). As Kawiti and Apirana are both Rongonui, the gifting between them makes this tiki very Rongonui indeed.

Researching is not so much a job, it’s a passion. Luke (who locks up) has had to expel me from the building twice, and I’ve also had be to let back in after hours, but only once. The MTG staff have been most welcoming, helpful, and bi-culturally very embracing. A couple want to speak only Māori to me, and another wants to accompany me whenever I go to the marae.

I am also proposing a future exhibition on Freezing Works in Hawke’s Bay: which will be a big exhibition if the proposal is accepted. The first closure of a Freezing Works in Hawke’s Bay was Whakatū in 1986, with Tomoana following in 1994. The closing of the Whakatū Freezing Works shattered and dispersed a community which impacted through generations, causing premature death and severe physical and mental illnesses – changing families forever.

A study by Vera Keefe-Ormsby, titled ‘Tihei Mauriora: The Human Stories of Whakatū’, relays the sadness, the loss, compounding negatively on families and a community. It does tell positive stories – women holding families together, positive career changes, an increase in Māori education subject matter, and wonderful race relations – however it ultimately tells of the extinction of a way of life and a community.

As I am in the research/rangahau stage, I would appreciate hearing from anyone who worked at the Freezing Works. I am wanting to gather in stories and find related objects for potential display.

Well, heoi anō ra, a te wā anō,

Te Hira Henderson

  • Sustainable Backyards Plastic Summit. A discussion about plastic with artist George Nuku and guest speakers, followed by an outdoor activity. Today, Saturday 3 November 2-4pm in the MTG Century Theatre. Free event, all welcome
  • Curators Talk, join Social History Curator Gail Pope for a talk on the House of Webb Tuesday, 6 November at 11am, meet in the MTG front foyer. Free event.
  • House of Webb Twilight Art Class – Sketching. Explore various mediums used by the Webb family throughout their journeys, taught by experienced educators and professional artists in a unique setting. Tuesday, 6 November 5.30pm-7.30pm. $35 (Friends of MTG $30), materials provided. To register visit MTG reception, email – or call 06 835 7781.

Whakatu freezing worksImage: Tomoana freezing works, which closed in 1994

Te Hira Henderson, Curator Taonga Māori, MTG
Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 3 November 2018


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