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Treaty of Waitangi Commemoration

Issue date: 
Friday, 6 February 1959
Viscount Cobham, GCMG, TD

This is, for my wife and me, a most momentous occasion, for it is the first time that we have been privileged to attend these celebrations - celebrations which mark one of the most significant stages in the long and coloured pageant of English colonial history. But they signify far more than this, they mark the birth of a nation.

Waitangi will one day become famous for its new concept of what can be achieved in the sphere of human relationships; it is possible to speculate sadly on how much blood and treasure and bitterness could have been saved if similar wisdom had been displayed in other lands where the English flag has flown.

The treaty has been called the Mori's "Magna Carta," but it was more even than that: it was the document which extended to the Mori people all the rights and privileges of full British citizenship. Today they bear the proud name of New Zealanders; and side by side with their Pakeha brethren they have served the Crown with loyalty and distinction during the years that have passed since they made their great decision.

As one reads the story of the events which unfolded themselves in these islands, since the days of Tasman and Cook, of their government by New South Wales, of the whaling-stations, of the bands of adventurers and speculators who gained great tracts of Mori land in exchange for a few blankets or guns, of the sublime and heroic work of the Christian Churches in the face of all these discouragements, of the work done by Mr Busby, the first British Resident, who had nought to rely on but his own native wit, of the apathy of a British Government, too preoccupied with difficulties at home and abroad to wish to undertake new commitments - as this tale progresses, one is filled with wonder at its successful conclusion, the Treaty which we celebrate today.

It is perhaps a truism to repeat that only great men can achieve great results; but those of us who believe in a Higher Power, who chooses from time to time good servants in the cause of human progress, can only attribute to this Power the fact that two outstanding men met on this spot a hundred and eighteen years ago. Captain Hobson was one; Tamati Waaka Nene the other.

Kipling must surely have been thinking of these two man when he wrote:
But there is neither East nor West, border nor breed nor birth,
When two strong men stand face to face though they come from the ends of the earth.

Tamati Waaka Nene was one of New Zealand's greatest sons, and his name will be honoured by future generations as the man whose vision penetrated a hundred years into the mists of the future. Negotiator, sage and warrior, he was to the Moris what Pericles was to the Ancient Greeks. To him and to those other Mori chieftains who signed the Treaty, New Zealand owes her unique position in the world today. They realised that no country can progress without law; and they trusted Hobson to bring law and to administer it justly. Nene's speech was a masterpiece of cool reasoning and understanding.

Scarcely less shrewd and far-sighted was the speech made later by Nopera at Kaitaia. One day I would like to hear that speech declaimed by one of his own race, for even rendered into English, it is still a magnificent piece of oratory. And in the course of it, he made the wise observation that has now been woven into the vivid tapestry of New Zealand history: "The shadow of the land goes to the Queen, but the substance remains with us."

We do well to meet here, and to remember these men and the Treaty they made, for Waitangi is hallowed ground. It is one of the few places on earth where good sense once prevailed over passion and prejudice. It brought together two fine races who settled down together to achieve full nationhood for a young and undeveloped country, under the Queen's peace and law.

And in remembering these men, let us also remember those who came after them and who played their part in implementing the provisions of the Treaty during the following century.

Finally, I think that I should join my own tribute to one whose death last year must necessarily cast a shadow over our celebrations. If refer, of course, to Lord Bledisloe, through whose generosity this Waitangi land became dedicated to the nation. It is indeed good to know that every year his memory will, by these celebrations, be kept ever fresh in the land he loved so well and served so faithfully.

And so we meet here, amid this matchless scenery, to do honour to those able and honourable men who paved the way to New Zealand's nationhood, and forged the links which will always bind our two countries together. As the world grows smaller, and the speed of events even faster, it is natural that New Zealand must increasingly turn her eyes toward her sister Dominion of Australia and to that other great Western democracy which lies to the north-eastward, the United States. It is indeed prudent and necessary for her to do so.

But none of those who speak the English tongue will forget the little island of Runnymede, in the sleepy Thames, where 700 years ago was born that love of justice which was embodied in Magna Carta. Its contents have been reaffirmed throughout the centuries by English-speaking peoples all over the world - in the Declaration of Independence, in the Treaty of Waitangi, and more recently in the Atlantic Charter.

There are seldom accounted the landmarks of history, but they are things better than landmarks: They are signposts, pointing the way to that dimly-discerned vision of a world wherein fear and want and war can no longer haunt mankind.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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