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Speech

Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa Hui and Conference

Issue date: 
Saturday, 29 June 2013
Speaker: 
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi katoa huri noa o Aotearoa, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.  E nga rangatira o Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa tēnā koutou.  Mihi mai i runga i ngā mate, kua moe i te moenga roa, kua okioki.  Ka mate he tētē, ka tupu he tētē.  Na reira, kia ora tātou katoa.  

Distinguished guests and leaders of Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings to you all.  I specifically acknowledge:  Dr George Laking, Chair of Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa; and Terina Moke, Chief Executive of Te ORA – tēnā korua.

Thank you for inviting me here for the Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa awards dinner, and the launch of ‘'Te Paruhi a ngā Tākuta'.  It is an honour to be here to help celebrate people and excellence.  Tonight, I would like to make a few observations that might reveal why I’m here – other than because I was invited!

Up front, I want to congratulate you on the publication of the book – 'Te Paruhi a ngā Tākuta'.  The stories of the 27 Māori doctors, many of whom I understand are here tonight, is a fitting way of explaining and relating how and what it takes to become a medical doctor for our rangatahi – Māori and non-Māori. 

I commend also the 27 contributors for your contribution.  Reading your stories, I thought that many of our young people might easily associate with your experiences – the language, the images and the thoughts are as valid today as they were when you started your professional career.  And given that the book is aimed at secondary school students, I would not be at all surprised if its publication resulted in a surge of interest in medicine as a career among Māori students.

The book tells stories, and we are good at telling, listening and understanding stories.  Your stories show our rangatahi that there is both a clear career path to and in medicine for them to follow, and that it is a path that has been trodden well.  Rather than being daunted by the prospect, the stories show that it is not a new path, that it is one that Māori have walked before, and that the doubts, qualms and uncertainties can be overcome.  It shows that it is a path that young Māori are continuing to follow with passion.  It shows that people just like them have done just that for more than a century.  And it shows that it’s not “talent”, but mahi and determination that count.

Perhaps the most obvious examples are the two men who sit at the top of the ‘the tokotoko’ - Sir Maui Pomare and Te Rangi Hiroa - Sir Peter Buck.  And it is about these two men that I want to speak about tonight, and the lessons that can be drawn from their lives of public service because for our rangatahi and all Maori it’s also what we do with our education that counts.

Sir Peter, as Director of the prestigious Bishop Museum in Hawai’i, was renowned internationally as an anthropologist, and was one of the best known New Zealand expatriates, along with Sir Ernest Rutherford, in the years before Edmund Hillary climbed Mt Everest.  He was a most extraordinary man.  Having graduated in 1904 and appointed Medical Officer for Māori in 1905, he served as the Member of Parliament for Northern Māori from 1909 to 1914.

As a mark of the man, during the parliamentary recesses Te Rangi Hiroa worked as a medical officer and undertook research in Rarotonga and Niue.  The papers he wrote were published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society.

During the First World War he helped with the recruitment of a Māori volunteer contingent – Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu - and served as its Medical Officer including on Gallipoli where he was twice mentioned in dispatches and was awarded a Distinguished Service Order.  In 1918, after having seen action on the Western Front, Te Rangi Hiroa worked at the No 3 New Zealand General Hospital at Codford in England.  However, he still made time to do research.  Historian and biographer Keith Sorrenson records that, Peter Buck used his time in Britain to meet the leading anthropologists.  He borrowed instruments from them and did measurements on members of the Pioneer (Māori) Battalion – who were waiting, in the midst of the post-war shipping crisis, to go home.  And again he published the results in the Journal of the Polynesian Society.

After returning from the war, Te Rangi Hiroa became the Director of the Māori Hygiene Division in the Department of Health.  It was a job that had previously been held by Dr – later Sir – Maui Pomare.

Te Rangi Hiroa knew Maui Pomare very well – they were whanaunga both of Ngati Mutunga.  Both had grown up in the small North Taranaki town of Urenui.  And both had worked together as social and medical reformers in the early years of the 20th century, along with Sir Apirana Ngata - a lawyer.  

And like Sir Apirana, Maui Pomare served with distinction as a Cabinet Minister, including as Minister of Health.  Drawing on his experience as a medical practitioner he was to institute a number of initiatives, particularly in maternal health, that resulted in a dramatic decline in puerperal (Pyoo –ur-per-al) sepsis , which had been one of the prime causes of the death among young mothers.   Maui Pomare had taken himself to the United States to do his medical training in 1893.  He had put himself through college in Michigan by serving behind the counter in a pharmacy, working in a kitchen and also supervising cotton picking in the South.

Sir Maui Pomare was renowned as an orator.  Dame Whina Cooper remembered seeing him in action when he was the Minister for Māori recruitment during the First World War.  She told her biographer, Dr Michael King: “He’s the best speaker I ever heard.  When he saw that people were getting bored with his talking, he’d throw in a bit of humour so that they would all listen again and laugh.  Then when he had them, he’d throw in the serious stuff again.  I learned a lot from listening to him.”

A number of things seem to be obvious to me about these two great doctors.  The first is that they were gifted communicators as well as gifted doctors.  It is a skill all health practitioners need, whether it is talking to patients and family by a hospital bed side, through to addressing their colleagues in symposia such as this conference.

The second is that they were holistic in their scope and took their opportunities.  Both Sir Maui Pomare and Tā Te Rangi Hiroa came from humble beginnings, and yet they achieved great things.  Both were undeniably Maori, and yet learned to be comfortable in a Pakeha world.  Buck and Pomare, and I might add Ngata, combined their study of Māori anthropology, ethnology and history with their outstanding public service. 

Finally, they worked together to pursue their aims of a healthier and stronger Māoridom.  Again, to quote historian Keith Sorrenson, for these men such studies into Māori history and ethnology were “no mere academic game, but were a necessary means of facilitating action in the field, in land development and in cultural regeneration.”

I can see from the material I have received about Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa that this organisation is making a parallel pathway – and I applaud you for making sure the opportunities that you have experienced, are extended to younger generations, because they are a great taonga.  As in “fishing” for trout, the book 'Te Paruhi a ngā Tākuta' may tickle the interest of our rangatahi in medicine, but it will be the example you set in awakening passions in our young women and men to emulate people like Maui Pomare, Te Rangi Hiroa and Rina Moore that will land the fish. 

I will close with a whakatauki often quoted by Te Rangi Hiroa: “Ka pu te ruha.  Ka hao te rangatahi – the old net is laid aside, the new net goes a-fishing”.  At his tangi, my predecessor adapted that whakatauki and challenged Maori when he said: “The old net is cast aside, but where is the new net?”

With your intention for a series of books to this end, it gives me great pleasure in launching the first of them, 'Te Paruhi a ngā Tākuta' and celebrating with you Matariki and new beginnings tonight.  Thank you.  Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.

Last updated: 
Saturday, 29 June 2013

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