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A Dispute in the Bush

PAColl 8550 11 1935
Maori Home Front Blog Avatar
Lachy Paterson
07 March, 2022

In January 1943, Paraire Paikea, the Minister in Charge of the Māori War Effort, asserted that, through the work of the Māori War Effort Organisation that he headed, Māori had demonstrated strength of patriotism in their war effort. 

Paikea also claimed: “regarding many of their outstanding claims and grievancesthe Maori people, generally speaking, have decided to allow these to remain in abeyance till more propitious times. In any case, at the present time their thoughts are directed to one thing only, and that is the war effort.[1]

The grievances that Paikea was referring to were those Māori had with the Crown. No doubt there was some truth to his claim, but as previous blogs have shown (for example, on the Ōrākei Petition) Māori were prepared to mobilise in opposition to government actions when delay might prove detrimental to their cause.  This blog looks at a different dispute, a private civil case, where Māori were prepared to stand up for their rights in a way that could have impacted on the war effort.  

Ellis and Burnand was one of the largest sawmillers and timber retailers in the country.  Based in the Waikato and King Country, it used its private railway to access native timber from Māori land in the Tīroa area, south west of Te Kuiti, including the Rangitoto Tuhua 36 and Maraeroa C blocks, among other places.  They began milling the 13,727-acre Maraeroa C, owned by Ngāti Rereahu of Ngāti Maniapoto, in 1912, continuing well after the war.[2]   The Māori owners of Maraeroa C were paid according to 100 feet of timber, with the royalty rates redetermined in 1930, 1937 and 1949.[3] 

According to T.J. Hearn’s report for WAI 898 Te Rohe Pōtae District Inquiry, the rates paid by Ellis and Burnand were less than for timber milled on government lands, despite the fact that the government was meant to be monitoring prices to ensure that owners received a fair price.  Despite this, the company attempted (unsuccessfully) to get the royalties reduced in 1932.  An investigation in 1935 also found that “the company was short measuring (by four inches in every 12 foot length), that the company had left too much small millable timber on the block, and that too much was being deducted for defects.”  Even in 1949, the royalties paid were half, or less, of what the Crown received on timber from its own lands.[4]

Māori expressed their dissatisfaction through petitions to parliament, such as Tāroa Te Ringitanga’s 1924 petition to release timber land from the Ellis and Burnand contract, and his obstruction of the company’s tramway the following year with earth and logs.[5]  Matters came to a head in 1936, with the owners complaining of unpaid money, “bad felling of the timber, covering up good trees by the debris, and leaving the stumps too long.” 

One member of the hapū decided to put her body on the line to block the railway through the forest.  According to the King Country Chronicle

From Tuesday to Saturday Mrs. Mahuri, who is about 50 years of age, had no food or drink and for the latter part of the week as she remained sitting in the centre of the line, successfully resisting all persuasions to shift her and free the line for the operations of the locomotive.[6]

The hapū resorted to the same tactic in December 1941.  With support from other owners, a gate was erected, and Mrs Mahuri (also known as Te Tau Waretini) again sat on the track.[7]  

At the start of the war the government passed the Emergency Regulations Act, which enabled it to issue regulations for a variety of reasons, including “the efficient prosecution of any war in which His Majesty may be engaged, [and] for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.”[8]  Because timber was deemed essential for the war effort,[9] in March 1942, the government issued “The Tiroa Native Land Emergency Regulations” to specifically give Native Land Court judges authority to investigate and issue a final ruling on any disputes between the Māori owners and Ellis and Burnand, to allow “the winning and transport of timber . . . to continue without fear of recurrent disputes”.[10]   

The judges held a session of the Tiroa Emergency Commission the following month, where they dismissed some of the Māori claims, but compensated them for the company’s use of the tramway line for services other than hauling the timber milled on the block, and forbade the company from taking sleepers for their line without payment.[11]  This, the Native Department believed “will have the effect of obviating further causes of friction between the Native owners of the Tiroa and Maraeroa C Blocks and the company which is working the extensive areas of timber of these lands”.[12] 

What we can see from this example is that direct action and patriotism co-existed during the war, and the war effort was not all-consuming for Māori communities.

Such acts of protest and defence of rights are something held within the collective hapū memory. In giving evidence to the Waitangi Tribunal in 2014, Tūtahanga Eric Rākena Tēpu spoke of his kuia sitting on the line, “Pouaka Wehi [became] the next speaker for our family and he was pictured with my nannies sitting on the railway tracks. My koroua Pouaka Wehi, he was my great great grandfather. My great grandfather was my nanny’s father. You will see them [in photographs] sitting on the railway tracks.”[13]

Image:  Forestry workers with timber near Mangapehi, Waikato. The photo shows several men standing on a log on a railway system through the trees, and another man by a Caterpillar tractor.  The men are likely Ellis and Burnand workers.  Photograph taken in 1935 by an unidentified photographer. Ref: PAColl-8550-11. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22335597


[1] Evening Star, 30 January 1943, p.3.  He based this on the fact, “there were 10,825 men in essential industries, 4,844 Territorials for service within and beyond New Zealand, 2,049 enlisted Territorials for service in New Zealand only, and 9,875 men in the Home Guard. A total of 6,759 were engaged in the defence forces, making a grand total of 27,584”, and the MWEO’s work “had been widened to embrace the control and direction of all Maori man and woman power in essential industries in co-operation with the district man power officers, and the increased production of potatoes, kumeras, maize, and green vegetables had been organised and operated not only as individual projects, but as tribal projects.” 

[2] T.J. Hearn, Māori Economic Development in Te Rohe Pōtae Inquiry District c.1885 to c.2006 (Feb, 2014).  Commissioned by the Waitangi Tribunal for Te Rohe Pōtae Inquiry (Wai 898), pp. 259, 263; The Native Purposes Act, 1941. Report and Recommendation on Petition of Pouaka Wehi and Others, Concerning the Maraeroa C Block, AJHR, 1942, G-06C, p.1.

[3] Hearn, pp. 259-263.  See also, Philip Cleaver, Maori and the Forestry, Mining, Fishing and Tourism Industries of the Rohe Potae Inquiry District, 1880-1000, Report commissioned for the Waitangi Tribunal (WAI 898), February 2011, pp.14-187.

[4] Hearn, pp. 259-263; quotation, p.262.

[5] Petition of Taroa te Ringitanga and 17 Others, Native Affairs Committee (Reports of the): Nga Ripoata a te Komiti mo nga mea Maori (Mr. Williams, Chairman), AJHR, 1924, i-02, p.33; Cleaver, p.124.

[6] King Country Chronicle, 17 March 1936, p.5.

[7] Auckland Star, 4 December 1941, p.6; New Zealand Herald, 6 December 1941, p.10

[8] Emergency Regulations Act 1939, section 3 (1), New Zealand Acts as Enabled, New Zealand Legal Institution Institute,

[9] Cleaver, p.131.

[10] The Tiroa Native Land Emergency Regulations 1942, in New Zealand Gazette No.30, 19 March 1942, p.722.  Extract in Maraeroa and Tiroa Judgement File, Papers Regarding the Native Land Emergency regulations, BBOP A1295 10126 Box 1, Archives New Zealand, Auckland.  There were almost 500 sets of emergency regulations instituted during the war. 133 were revoked in May, 1945; the Tiroa Regulations continued in force.  See Emergency Regulations Tables Showing I. Regulations Revoked Since V.E. Day and II. Regulations Now in Force, AJHR, 1945, H-46, p.8.

[11] Maraeroa and Tiroa Judgement File.  See also, Waikato Times, 20 August 1942, p.2.

[12] Native Department. Annual Report of the Under-Secretary for the Year Ended 31st March, 1943, AJHR, 1943, G-09, p.3.

[13] Evidence of Tūtahanga Eric Rākena before the Waitangi Tribunal, Wai-898, In the Te Rohe Pōtae District  Inquiry (Wai 898) Hearing, Week 11, Wharauroa Marae, Taumarunui. (31 March-4 April, 2014), p. 1461. [I am endebted to Anaru Eketone for documents relating to the WAI 898 Inquiry.]

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