After European settlement of Auckland, the lands of the Ngāti Whātua tribe were gradually whittled away, and the harbourside area of Bastion Point was taken by the Crown for defence purposes. A 1977 government plan to develop expensive housing on Bastion Point prompted a 506-day occupation by the tribe and supporters.
Archival audio: Joe Hawke, who led the occupation of Bastion Point, explains why the issue was so important to Ngāti Whātua.
Narrator: Takaparawha, or Bastion Point, at Ōkahu Bay in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour, was the site of an occupation in the late 1970s that became one of New Zealand’s most famous protest actions.
The land at Bastion Point originally belonged to the Ngāti Whātua iwi, or tribe. In 1840, its chief, Te Kawau, invited Governor Hobson to establish the new capital city of Auckland on 3000 acres of the tribe’s area. Te Kawau hoped this generous gesture would safeguard the rest of his iwi’s land. However, by the 1850s, most of Ngāti Whātua’s land in Auckland had gone. The tribe survived on its small remaining base at Ōkahu Bay.
In the late 1850s, land at Bastion Point was taken by the Crown for defence purposes. During the ‘Russian Scare’ of 1885, when New Zealand feared a sea invasion from Russia, military fortifications were built. During World War Two, more land was requisitioned.
By the end of the war, Ngāti Whātua was hemmed into a tiny section of land. But even this land, close to the city and with great views, was coveted by the local council.
Various measures, some of them underhand, were used to try and force Ngāti Whātua off their land, but they were not completely successful. So, in 1951, Māori families still living at Ōkahu Bay were evicted and relocated, and their dwellings burned.
By 1977, the government no longer needed the Bastion Point land that they had taken for military use. Ngāti Whātua had expected that this land would be returned to them when it was no longer needed. But this was not the case. The government announced plans to develop Bastion Point into a high-income housing area.
Two day before construction work was to start Ngāti Whātua occupied the land in a protest action which lasted 506 days. The constant media coverage raised awareness of Māori grievances throughout the country. Visitors from New Zealand and overseas occupied the site to show their support, including the country singer John Denver.
In February 1978 some land was offered back to Ngati Whatua, but at a price, and the protestors rejected the offer. By late May the government’s patience was at an end and police forcibly removed over 200 protestors occupying the site.
However, nearly ten years later, the Waitangi Tribunal, in the first historical claim it heard, found that Ngāti Whātua’s grievances were valid and most of Takaparawha was returned to them, along with other lands and compensation.
The exception was the memorial to former Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage, which remains at Bastion Point. Savage was New Zealand’s first Labour Prime Minister and one of its most beloved. When Savage died in 1940, an estimated 200,000 New Zealanders, Māori and Pākehā, watched his coffin travel from central Auckland to Bastion Point.
Though he was buried on Maori land acquired by the Crown in 1941, five years earlier Savage had been instrumental in keeping some Bastion Point land in Ngāti Whātua hands, when he overruled a proposed government housing scheme on the site.