The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)
About a New Zealand Battlefield — Historic Ohaeawai
How many motorists who travel the road between Ohaeawai and Kaikohe, Bay of Islands, take notice of a little church standing on a slight eminence and surrounded by a stone wall; a lone building without access, save through the paddocks amongst which it stands. On 1st July every year there is surely some stirring amid the grass; bugle calls, however faint; an echo from the hills of Maori warrior cries; a smell of powder in the air. For around the spot marked by the little church many gallant men advanced to certain death in an assault on the native defenders of their land, impregnably entrenched behind three circles of stockades. As late as 1914 a number of cannon balls and a broken cannon could be seen lying there to remind one of
“Old, far-off forgotten things,
And battles long ago.”
On the hill to the right of the church Colonel Despard assembled his forces; units of the Navy and Army, and volunteers from Auckland. On rising ground to the left camped friendly Maoris. That was in the year 1845 and our artillery was such that at two hundred yards the cannon balls were no more effective against the puriri stockade than would have been so many tennis balls. As was natural the defenders were incensed by their renegade brothers and made a sortie against them, capturing a British ensign which they hoisted above their stockade, upside down above an emblem of their own.
Forty British dead marked that assault, brief as it was. Lieutenant Phillpotts from H.M.S. Hazard, stripped himself of his uniform before going into action, and courting death deliberately, he fell—whether as a protest or for another motive we do not know.
The descendants of the Maori braves erected the pretty church we now see. They also removed the remains of the British fallen from a nearby field and erected above them a memorial cross.
As an inexpensive contribution to our Centennial celebrations and for the purpose of cultivating our historical sense, a descriptive tablet by the roadside, stating some particulars of the action known as the Battle of Ohaeawai would draw the attention of many a chance traveller. To some, perhaps, indifference; to some it might be, in this queer age, a slight irritation of the existence, even, of the past; and to others a deep pondering on the bravery, the nobility and the ultimate significance of human life.
The Litter Nuisance.
The lead which the Railway Department has given in an endeavour to overcome the nuisance caused by the indiscriminate throwing of litter from railway carriages is one that might well be followed generally (says the “Evening Post,” Wellington). Although New Zealanders are probably no worse than the people of many other countries, the fact remains that they are far too careless in disposing of litter, and the result is that streets, parks, and other public places have an appearance of untidiness. Some local bodies may be held partly culpable in not providing sufficient rubbish receptacles and in not keeping streets and other public places clear of litter, but the real solution of the difficulty lies with the public. If people would stop to think before disposing of rubbish there would be no nuisance. It is really all a matter of education. The Railway Department has made a start and if the example is followed by local bodies and other authorities a general improvement should be the result. The average person is not naturally untidy, and if the standards that apply in the average home were applied outside the home the litter nuisance would be greatly minimised. A distinguished visitor to New Zealand once described New Zealand as “a slovenly democracy.” He was referring to political methods, but a similar allegation might lie on other grounds. The best way to avoid such charges in the future is to remove the cause.