THE POLITICS OF SEPARATION
How a pakeha from the wrong side of the tracks embarked on a journey for Waitangi compensation
He was white trash in a brown working class neighbourhood, but never saw colour or culture as an issue. Now he does. Businessman ANDY OAKLEY has just released his new book “Cannons Creek To Waitangi” on the future of race relations in NZ, and in this extract explains what drives his worldview:
In the 1960s the government was building state houses for the working class and they were extending the latest subdivision, Cannons Creek in Porirua East. My parents applied for a state house and subsequently moved to Hereford St where I was born and with my older brother and younger sister lived for the next 5 or so years. We were later to move to Astrolabe St, also in Cannons Creek, and I began school at Maraeroa School.
As I recall and looking at the photos in the mid-sixties, the cultural mix in our classes was half European New Zealander and the remaining two quarters were equally Polynesian/Maori. I have no bad memories in particular of these early years and no memories at all of cultural differences. For all intents and purpose we were equal.
Younger readers may be surprised that I stated that in those days we were equal, particularly if they believe what our curriculum has dealt them up as facts about Maori during the 1950s and 1960s. I really do believe that in those days (1960s) everybody in my neighbourhood and school had an equal chance either to end up in prison or be the mayor. A look recently at the names of the councillors in the Eastern Ward area of Porirua East (where I grew up), certainly confirms that fact: Ah Hoi, Pautoa, Rangi, Latham and Seiuli (2012).
I do not think that cultural differences played any important role in growing up and those from Niue or Samoa were getting cultural stimulation at home and Pakeha, whether they were French or Scottish or English, would get theirs. We should not forget culture is “learned and shared human patterns or models for living; day- to-day living patterns”. We were all in the same space at the same time and being taught the same things in the same language… of course we were equal.
Was the Samoan boy, whose parents were recent arrivals from the primitive Islands of 1960s Samoa, missing out on anything because the Samoan language was not encouraged in class?
Was the Scottish kid, whose parents had come from the Highlands of Scotland, missing out on anything because the Gaelic language was not encouraged?
Was the Maori kid, whose parents had moved to Porirua from Raetihi, missing out on anything because the wearing of piupiu at school was discouraged?
The answer to these questions is obvious – of course not.
The truth is we were all mates and played bull rush together out on the fields at school and we played at each other’s houses after school. That was our culture and we did not want to be different from each other, we did not want to be living like our ancestors lived hundreds of years ago. Most children want to fit in, not stand out. I would have liked to see my dad put me in a kilt and try to make me go to school… not bloody likely! I may however, wear one at a wedding or special occasion.
If I really thought about it, of the three cultures mentioned above, in order of what we were most likely to learn about at school in Porirua in the late 1960s, Maori would be 1st, Samoan would have been 2nd and Scotland would be lucky to get a mention. As time has gone on this bias toward Maori culture has become even more prevalent, to the point now that it is impossible to live in New Zealand without the Maori culture affecting just about everything you do, at the expense of all other cultures.
It was during the late 1960s that, after school and during holidays, we were cared for by a Maori family up the road. They had four children, two girls and two boys, and once again I never experienced any cultural difference between us and them in the slightest. They had a Maori father and Maori mother, they were living in the same neighbourhood, going to the same shops, going to work in the same places and receiving the same pay. Culturally we were behaving the same, sure our histories were different, mine going back to the clans of Scotland and theirs to the tribes that arrived here in the late 1300s. But I wasn’t walking around in a kilt brandishing a claymore (sword) and they weren’t walking around wearing piupiu, swinging a taiaha (club).
Actually our histories don’t start with claymores and taiaha; they were just events along the way. Scottish, Maori and all human histories started in the very same place… East Africa. So, apart from our ancestors doing ‘slightly’ different things for a few thousand years, in every other way we were absolutely identical. We reacted the same way to happiness and sorrow, we laughed together and cried together as all humans do. Biologically it is impossible to tell a European apart from a Polynesian or Negro or Mexican for that matter.
Growing up, I didn’t notice any “special way” in which Maori I knew acted with regard to rivers and lakes, I never noticed how they had a “different” bond with the land, They certainly didn’t mention to me that they were pissed off about other cultures using their radio waves.
As I reached my twenties I was to meet one of the Maori girls from the family that cared for us in Cannons Creek when I was 5 or 6 years old. A relationship blossomed and we spent many happy years together. We moved into a house as partners and together we looked after my eldest son on his weekend visits. I have not one memory of there being any racial tension or difference at all between us or our families in any cultural sense. My son was and still is a red head and quite obviously European, while Kara was quite obviously a dark skinned Maori, leading to some surprised looks as we behaved as a family during outings in the weekends.
It was inevitable growing up in Cannons Creek that I had relationships with not only Maori but also other Polynesian girls. I found women to be women no matter what race you want to call them. Today I have many ancestries in my extended family, Maori, Asian, Scottish, English, Polish, Norwegian, Filipino and French, I am proud of them all. I have no preconceived ideas about any of these members of my family. I judge them by their actions not by their ancestry. What’s more, if any of them should need assistance, who would think it a good idea for me to base this assistance on race?
The points I am making here are that the society we were living in was mixed culturally, no one was missing out by not living day to day how their ancestors lived hundreds of years ago. In fact, with the diverse cultures colliding we were learning more about tolerance than most other kids in New Zealand, perhaps more than most other people in the world. No one was taking away anything from anyone culturally. If culture was important to a family they would be teaching/learning it at home. For Maori to suggest ‘we’, whoever ‘we’ are, suppressed their culture is to agree that the same was happening to me as I was not allowed to go to school in a kilt and the Samoans were not allowed to go to school in a lava lava. It is inconceivable that one or another culture is more or less important. Maori culture is no more important than mine. That must be stressed to all in New Zealand. No matter what cultural heritage you have, it is every bit as important as Maori culture.
If Maori culture is no more important than anyone else’s why has it slowly and ever more intrusively entered our lives, to the detriment of ALL other cultures? We now have a tribunal that has siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from our economy and put it into the pockets of the elite of this culture. We are contemplating giving them ownership of our water, air, wind and every other natural phenomenon that existed in New Zealand.
This slow but gradual shift towards a cultural bias, or superiority, is a disaster waiting to happen. We should not accept any statement, policy, assertion or cultural activity that allows cultural supremacy of any kind.
Let me tell you about my best friend when I was about eleven, I will change his and his family’s name for reasons of privacy, although I am pretty sure my friend is now dead. Herewini was the funniest boy I knew, he had a laugh and wit to die for. He was intelligent, always seemed happy and was great to be around; he was my best friend and the fact that he was Maori and I was a Pakeha did not cross our minds. His mother was European and his dad was Maori and in the two or three years I was mates with him I saw his parents only briefly and his father only once or twice, despite me going to his house nearly every Saturday and Sunday to pick him up.
There were four children in the family, the oldest was a European boy, then Herewini, Mark and Louis were Maori. Louis was being systematically sexually abused by the father. Herewini seemed to accept this as he and the rest of the family knew it was going on. The mother, who was a barmaid at the local tavern, knew what was happening too. I was too young and would have been too scared anyway to tell anyone, perhaps the mother was as well. Whenever I picked Herewini up I had to wait at least an hour to an hour and a half for him as he had the entire house to clean; he started an hour before I got there. His mother and father would be in a locked bedroom and I never saw them at the house at all. He not only had to clean the entire house, he also had to cook for the whole family. The house stank, there were no coverings on the floors and Herewini’s clothes were often obviously well past their use-by date. He was being abused by his parents and his other three siblings were too, he was only eleven and his sister was about eight or nine; this was his normality.
At eleven or twelve Herewini and I were breaking into shops and stealing lollies and smokes, we were regularly going on shop-lifting sprees getting anything we could lay our hands on. Occasionally we would be caught and arrive home to a good beating, his much worse than mine.
I will never forget that family and my mate Herewini and it is for them and people like them that I have made my claim to the Waitangi Tribunal and it is the reason I am writing this book. They were not part of any Maori tribe, they are not part of any Maori race, they were hardly part of the human race. I know that not one cent of the Maori elite’s millions and millions of dollars will help families like Herewini’s and this is a tragedy. I know of many others who grew up in this area and areas like it in New Zealand who suffer abuse, some very close to home.
We have had 38 years of the Waitangi Tribunal coming up with recommendations that allow Maori Corporates and the tribal elite to rake in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. The Maori asset base is now $36.9 billion, as reported by Business & Economics Research Ltd at the 2011 Maori Economic Summit, in a paper by Dr Ganesh Nana and yet the incidents of child abuse in these suburbs continue to rise. We have heard recently that one quarter of Maori children suffer some sort of blindness. Research has stated that the best way to reduce this number is to reduce child abuse within these families.
There are reasons why families do not have much money and live in Cannons Creek. Aside from education and economics, one of the most common is some sort of dysfunction by one or both of the parents. As a young child I was unaware of my own family’s issues, I knew nothing else and so it didn’t seem bad at all. Other families’ issues were more obvious but in nearly all families who had some kind of dysfunction the kids were suffering. A lack of parenting skills, an inability to act as role models, unhealthy or illegal lifestyles, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, unable or unwilling to show healthy affection for children – all of these things were seriously affecting our ability to grow into successful people. This society was turning out people like the Parnell Panther, the Auckland rapist (he was in my class at Waitangirua Intermediate), Mongrel Mob leaders (in my sister’s class), drug addicts (they were in everyone’s class), murderers and bikies.
I think the most common issue with the kids in my neighbourhood was the complete lack of morals and a lack of self-esteem. Most of our parents gave us the ability to tell right from wrong, but we also needed instruction in the values necessary to have a happy and successful life, such as self-discipline, the ability to work hard, thrift, respect for the law, self-esteem, citizenship, responsibility, respect for the rights of others, courage of one’s convictions, obedience to proper authority, anticipating the consequences of one’s actions, honesty, tolerance, diligence and fairness. I don’t think my neighbourhood had many parents who were particularly skilled in teaching that sort of stuff.
How were the children of such neighbourhoods to learn about relationships, about love and parenting when the parents didn’t know themselves? I recall in my community that it certainly was not the school, and I think these subjects are still very much taboo today. While you may think these things should be taught in the home, there is a generational problem in our poorer suburbs that prevents these subjects from being raised. In fact, as it was in my house, if these subjects were never raised and what is displayed to you is almost the opposite of love and affection, this then is your reality. It will be your kids and theirs too until the cycle is broken and that is one of the most important statements this book makes.
I recall thinking when I was a child: “why on earth would I learn maths?” My father worked only sporadically; when he did work he was a truck driver and at the time my mother was a cleaner (she did go on to work for many years in an accountancy firm).
I could not for the life of me work out why anyone would bother with maths. Although teachers would say “if you want to be an engineer, doctor or scientist you need to learn maths”. There were no engineers, doctors or scientists in my street, or anyone else’s street in Waitangirua. In fact I would be interested to know if anybody raised in Cannons Creek or Waitangirua has ever become a surgeon. Drop me a line if you are one.
I wasn’t that wise as a kid obviously. Later I was to study engineering and I still struggle a little with maths.
Here we have an indication of how “relevance” has a huge effect on our ability to learn. I will go in to this later in the book but please note this sentence: it is of huge importance in our lives.
At school if you were in a class of well-adjusted kids and there were one or two bad ones, the chances of it affecting you were slim. But, if you were in a class of thirty+ and ten of them ranged from slightly bad to unmanageable it would affect you. The problems at home always affect how you perform at school. I remember standing amongst a group of my friends one day. There were perhaps five or six of us and I was the only one who had a mother and father in the same house.
By the mid-1970s my role models were the toughest boys at school and I wanted to be like them; unfortunately being the shortest in the class and a Pakeha wasn’t conducive to me standing on the top rung any time soon. My years from 12 to 16 did not get much better, although they were interspersed with many happy times and, looking back, I can see that, amongst the carnage, I was displaying some traits that would stand me in good stead later in life.
I was very competitive, to the point of obsession. I still am. The following is a list of some of my achievements ‘when I were a lad’. While not earth-shattering in any sense, in the context of what was going on and my diminutive size I am quite proud of them:
- I captained the age grade (schoolboy) Porirua Representative Rugby side for a number of years.
- I made and captained the age grade (schoolboy) Western Bays Representative Rugby squad and still have the medal presented by All Black, Ken Gray.
- As a European at Waitangirua Intermediate, a school of about 600 mostly Polynesian kids, I was the fastest sprinter. I was also one of the shortest boys, go figure?
- I was an obsessive skateboarder in the early 1970s and I won a few local competitions and also the Onslow Skateboarding Championships.
In contrast to the above achievements, from the time I entered Porirua College the following was also happening:
- Amongst adolescents, substance abuse was getting steadily worse. My friends and my siblings were abusing alcohol and other drugs regularly as early as age thirteen
- Cannabis and heavier drugs were being consumed in steadily higher quantities.
- At 14 a friend and I bought a car and so began a string of illegal activities, from drink driving to car conversion.
- I was regularly wagging school, to the point when I finally did leave at 15 my form teacher did not know who I was. I left without qualifications.
- I was attending parties all around Porirua, ranging from drug parties to scenes right out of ‘Once We Were Warriors’.
- By 15my girlfriend was pregnant and I became a father at 16. My son was born at 29 weeks into a pregnancy in 1979. There were complications which had him on the edge of life for months.
- I was drinking at both the Bottom Tavern and Top Tavern, witnessing and being involved in brawls.
- Friends from school were now in the Mongrel Mob and were being murdered or in jail.
- Members of my family were going out with future leaders of the Mongrel Mob.
- I seriously injured a gang member in a brawl at the Top Tavern.
- By 19 I had been in all sorts of trouble and was having to deal with some pretty hefty consequences.
- In 1982 I was living in a state house in Cannons Creek with my girlfriend and 4 year old son on apprentice wages.
- In the early 1980s I suffered a near death motorcycle accident in Waitangirua. I still carry disabilities from those injuries today.
Now, when presented like that, it seems I had a pretty hard time and every year when another of my old friends dies of a drug overdose or alcoholism, I think maybe I did. BUT, and here is the rather unbelievable part of my story so far, if you were to ask any of my friends from either back then or now they will tell you that I am an honest, confident and well-adjusted person who has plenty of drive. I have managed to have a successful career when a lot of people who were unfortunate enough to have this sort of upbringing are still a drain on our society and living terribly sad lives.
I was like almost all teenagers, desperate to fit in and although basically intelligent and honest, I wanted to fit in enough to be as bad as anyone else. Perhaps my competitiveness meant that I wanted to be worse than others.
I still know some of these people from my youth; some are very close to me or part of my family and these people, regardless of where their ancestors came from, deserve our help. I have in the past and still do help some of these people, I have put in many hours to try to make a difference but my personal experience is that for most it is too late. Morals and ethics mean nothing to these broken people, they know little about love, have no self-esteem and it is the societies that produced these people that need fixing. We constantly see policies that put ambulances at the bottom of the cliff to work with these people but nothing to prevent it happening in the first place. Hand-outs for these people make it worse, as do the millions being poured into Maori Corporates. This money could have been set aside to fix the problems that our lower socio economic suburbs have.
The problems that stem from poverty and ill parenting are by far the biggest drain on our taxes. The Social Welfare System, Police, Courts, Prisons and Rehabilitation Centres are all put there at the bottom of the cliff to deal with something we could control if we wanted to i.e. to make sure we don’t turn out people like this in the first place.
I watched as a member of my family was slowly but surely assisted into a life of dependency via the state, which supported a flawed lifestyle. Week after week, year after year, a benefit went towards a life of complete waste, not working but with enough money to buy substances that make this kind of life bearable. I now have complete contempt for the social system that caused this problem and to my disgust I am now witnessing this system turning its back on the shell of a person it created. What’s more, the system is likely to be dealing with the offspring of people with this lifestyle for decades to come. And then their offspring.
How can we prevent the children of these people ending up in exactly the same place?
There is one place to which all of our children go where we have a chance to change behaviours. School, and it is at school that we have them together, as equals, every day.
We have a choice what we teach them while they are there and at present it does not include moral or ethical behaviour in any great measure. They get 10 years of English, Mathematics, Science, Technology and Social Sciences banged into them but little on living a meaningful and successful life. Who is teaching the skills of being a parent, who is teaching children the truth that we are equal, that there is no such thing as race? Who is teaching them how to love, how to respect, the rules of life, how to build a future and how to raise a family? Yes of course teach them how to read and write and teach them maths but make these things equal to the skills that will make them great humans, the skills that will result in great societies.
We do not need to build great scholars, they build themselves. We need to build great societies.
Our society has been fooled into thinking that for our children to be happy they require money and of course as a parent you want them to be as happy as possible, so that requires that they learn. The more they learn, the more money they will make and consequently the happier they will be. We then demand that the schools spend their time on core subjects, English, Maths, Science, Technology and Social Sciences so that our kids are filled to the brim with as much knowledge as we can stuff in them.
This can work well in a fully functional family that is in tune with our curriculum and provides all the nurturing, love, morals and ethics and then demonstrates the use of these openly in a family environment. I say “can work” because it does not always work. There are many highly educated people who live miserable lives. Ask yourself this, how many functional families in tune with society and our schools are in your neighbourhood? And now for my main point, how many of these families are in the Cannons Creeks of our country?
When did money and profits become more important than a happy functional society?
It is the bottom 10% of socio-economic population that is worst affected and it is this 10% that is a massive drain on society. The numbers though mean nothing. It is the lives of these people that are important and the lives of the people who are affected by the behaviour of these people.
This chapter has been a scene setter and puts who I am into context with respect to my claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. By making a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal and claiming to be a Maori, or the same as a Maori, I am a target of Maori activists; they will call me a rich Pakeha who does not understand their plight. They will accuse me of being a middle-aged white guy whose only connection to New Zealand and to Maori is that I am descended from the British who came here to steal their lands.
Hopefully I have shown the contrary to be true, I grew up in a mostly Polynesian city struggling with bad education and bad parenting which has gone on to produce another generation who will perpetuate the problems. I believe I understand their plight more than most of them. I have worked my way out of this society and can now look back at causes.
Cannons Creek to Waitangi by Andy Oakley, RRP$30. Available from
Tross Publishing, P.O. Box 22143, Khandallah, Wellington 6441 or firstname.lastname@example.org