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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)

The Historian's Paradise

The Historian's Paradise.

Rich in purely secular historical associations, also, is this part of the province, providing a happy hunting-ground for the student eager for knowledge of old New Zealand. Incidents of old Maori life and the lives of the early settlers, stirring tales of the Maori war and other stories unrecorded in any text-book, most of them probably quite authentic, are revealed in visits to native villages and talks to the oldest white settlers. How the old eyes light up as we exhibit interest in the cradle-days of British settlement in New Zealand, and how we thrill as we are guided over the ancient battlefields, where the brown patriots took their last despairing stand against the conquering alien! Ruapekapeka! Okaihau! Ohaewai! Hear those liquid syllables flow from the lips of an old Maori, watch the kindling eye and the unconscious warrior-like gestures, and catch a little of the spirit of those old savages who resisted so bravely and so desperately the doom of Maori dominion. On the battlefield of Ohaewai we sit under the same puriri trees round which raged one of the fiercest conflicts of the war. The man still lives who, as a boy, cut down the famous tree in which a ball from the English had conspicuously lodged. He rubs the seat of his trousers reminiscently, and says he still tingles at the memory of the parental displeasure that his sacrilegious act provoked. One wonders what became of that cannon ball. We climb the hill up which Colonel Despard led his troops, and down which he was forced to retreat before Heke's victorious warriors, who were under command of the great chief, Kawiti. It is said that Kawiti's widow—or perhaps we should say one of his widows—still lives, at the great age of 104, quite close to the scene of the famous battle. She, too, for those who follow the Maori tongue, can unroll the folded canvas of the past and present it again, clear and glowing as the imperishable colours of her own old kahu huruhuru. Tragedy and comedy, selfishness and sacrifice, love and hate, all played their part in the winning of New Zealand for civilized settlement. We, white New Zealand born, can scarcely be expected to feel regret for a conquest that gave us for heritage such a pleasant land, but the very fact that we realise that our title was established “by right of conquest” should make us more fully conscious of our duty to our native race, that noble people who were dispossessed of their native soil that we might be “native born.”