Maori culture comes to life on Lake Macquarie

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(ABC Newcastle, by Robert Virtue)

[quote_center]With its close proximity across ‘the ditch’, Australia is a place many New Zealand ex-pats now call home. This weekend Newcastle’s Maori community is commemorating their homeland’s national day with a vivid cultural display.[/quote_center]

On February 6th 1840, a significant moment in New Zealand’s history was etched into being.

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on that day, whereby New Zealand became part of the British Empire and the traditional Maori people secured rights to their land.

Since then, Waitangi Day is celebrated in New Zealand with a national holiday, and is marked by ex-pats overseas.

Despite Waitangi Day occurring a week ago, the Maori community in the NSW city of Newcastle is staging belated commemorations this weekend at Bolton Point Park on the shores of Lake Macquarie.

Amid singing, dancing and a traditional ‘hangi’ meal, the Newcastle Maori Club is also showing off their traditional war canoe, called a ‘whaka’.

The whaka’s significance

Richard Eriwata is the President of the Newcastle Maori Club, and was born in Mangakino – a small timber town on the banks of the Waikato River near Lake Taupo on the North Island.

The youngest of 14 children, Mr Eriwata moved to Australia four years ago.

The Newcastle Maori Club owns a traditional whaka – a 12 metre long canoe that’s painted red, with a black and white pattern on its sides.

“Whakas were the vessels that transported our forefathers from the Pacific Ocean,” says Mr Eriwata.

“There’s a triangle between Tahiti, Honolulu and New Zealand and in that triangle is where they made their trek south.

“These vessels would carry over 100 people.”

Along with the haka (a traditional warrior dance), the whaka forms an integral part of the Maori identity.

“We’re very strong on the water, as well as on the land.

“It’s actually quite an emotional, spiritual journey for us as a people, because we want to be able to reflect that in our culture on Waitangi Day.”

Waitangi Day commemorations

Mr Eriwata says the belated commemorations of Waitangi Day in Newcastle will be emotional for some New Zealanders.

“For us as a people it brings back all the ancestry that we came from,” he says.

“It’s a bit like the wind off the water, like a song that whispers in our heart. It reminds us of where we came from.”

During the festivities, a total of 20 people will take to the waters of Lake Macquarie to re-enact warriors arriving in a whaka.

Mr Eriwata says it will be an important day for the local Maori community.

“There’re a lot of Maori that are living here in the Hunter, and a lot of them are disconnected from their culture,” he says.

“Our vision and our mission is to reconnect with Maori people and also those who want to learn about our culture and heritage; and to also regain what we may have lost. It gives us all an opportunity to come together.

“We’re always moving forward. Whakas don’t go backwards, they’re always going forwards. Not only do we re-connect and regain what we may have lost, but we also retain what we’ve learned and keep for the generations to come.”

TheNewcastle Maori Club’s Waitangi Daycelebrations are being held at Bolton Point Park, Bolton Park on Saturday, February 14th 2015 from 9.30am.

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