The inevitable has happened: a Maori woman is laying claim to a chunk of Australia.
It’s not a big chunk. It’s a reserve in Parramatta.
But it’s the thin edge of a wedge.
Before long – who knows? – similar claims will be spawned and matters won’t be resolved until all of Australia has been declared Maori territory.
Then the claimants will look further afield and bit by bit we will learn that the whole world, actually, has been wrongfully taken from Maori.
This scenario became a real prospect when Alf heard this from Radio NZ –
A Nga Puhi woman living in Sydney says the Parramatta City Council is being intransigent over a piece of land it wants to sell that rightfully belongs to Maori.
Jennifer Holt-Alexander says the Rangihou Reserve, on the banks of the Parramatta River, was given to Maori by Reverend Samuel Marsden 200 years ago.
She wants the land returned by the council so a cultural centre can be built on it for both Maori and the local Darug Aboriginal people.
Dunno about the whakapapa of this Holt-Alexander woman, although it does strike Alf that maybe there is a bit of non-Maori in her blood.
Nor does it matter not all Maori and Darug people support her.
What’s important is that she claims her support includes a 3000-signature petition to the council.
She complains the council refuses to say how and when it first acquired the land.
Ms Holt-Alexander says the council won’t meet with her or show her the title.
She says the Parramatta City Council wants to sell the land for $25 million.
At first blush, the Parramatta City Council is behaving outrageously.
But it will soon learn the hard way of the need to consult and negotiate with the likes of Ms Holt-Alexander.
Certainly it should come clean about its ownership of the land.
Actually, its Maori name is comparatively recent.
Mrs Grumble dug up the minutes of a meeting of the council’s Culture & Leisure Committee on 28 February 2005.
The matter under discussion was the naming of a reserve in Parramatta.
The committee agreed that the name Rangihou Reserve be approved in principle for referral to the Geographical Names Board of NSW for formal
assignment under the Geographical Names Act 1966.
So why give the reserve a Maori name?
This report proposes the name Rangihou Reserve for the unnamed reserve in Rangihou Crescent, Parramatta in recognition of the New Zealand Maori connection with Parramatta during the early 1800’s.
Hmm. Maybe Ms Holt-Alexander is on to something.
What was going on?
A background paper helps.
This name was recommended, as this park is close to the site which contained a seminary college which was established by the Reverend Samuel Marsden in 1818 for the sons of Maori chiefs.
Rangihou means “New Horizons” in the Maori language and was the name Marsden gave his seminary college for Maoris.
Reverend Marsden had formed special links with the Maori people in 1814 where he preached the first Christian sermon to them. During this time Reverend Marsden was the rector at St Johns church in Parramatta and, after founding missionary activities in New Zealand, he conceived the idea of establishing the seminary college at Parramatta for the education of young Maoris.
But there’s nothing here to say Marsden gave the land to Maori.
What he did do was build a school to educate a select few Maori.
And when the park was named in 2005, the street had already been named Rangihou after this historical connection with the Maori people.
Aboriginal claims to the land might be a different matter.
Dr Paul Tapsell, Auckland Museum’s director of Maori, has said
… Parramatta was the site of the first recorded contact between Maori and Aborigines.
Rev Samuel Marsden established the first mission there on land traditionally owned by the Duhrug and Eora tribes.
A recent report in a Parrematta newspaper tells us more.
A MAORI group gave Parramatta Council until yesterday to vacate a parcel of land which includes its depot.
Te Kotahitanga Rangihou Marae Tribes, lead by Jennifer Holt-Alexander, issued the council with a trespass notice for the land on the bank of Parramatta River, just outside of the city’s central business district, which includes the Rangihou Reserve, the Balundarri Wetlands and the depot and said the group would occupy the land if the council didn’t vacate it by 9am yesterday.
Ms Holt-Alexander said the council was illegally occupying land that Reverend Samuel Marsden had given to Maori people more than 200 years ago.
This report mentioned the site being home to a school for the sons of Maori chiefs in the 1800s.
But Ms Holt-Alexander said it was then given to the Maori people after several of the sons died.
Her credibility is somewhat suspect, however, because it seems she registered to speak at the public forum during a recent council meeting.
She had told the council she would be asking for funding for an event, but instead addressed the chambers about the land claim and spoke in Maori.
Aboriginal leader Richard Green, who had not registered to speak, also addressed the council in the indigenous language, Darug.
Parramatta Lord Mayor Lorraine Wearne asked that the pair address the council in English and Ms Holt-Alexander speak to the topic she had proposed.
When she did not Cr Wearne suspended the meeting.
“They were yelling and screaming and I’m not going to tolerate that behaviour, so I was forced to suspend the meeting,” Cr Wearne said.
“If members of the community want to address the meeting, they have to either speak in English or provide us with an interpretation of what they are saying.
“The council own the land and we will continue to assert our ownership of the land.”
Ms Holt-Alexander said she had been forced to issue the notice during her public forum speech because the council had previously not paid attention to her representations about the land.
And thus Parrematta is learning what happens when the slightest whiff of a claim to land can be based on a gesture like that of Bishop Selwyn hoping to educate the sons of Maori chiefs.
If bones or a tanewha are to be found on or near the disputed land, matters will become much more complicated.
Just one question: from whom did Marsden get the land? And if he took it from Aboriginals, what then is the worth of the Maori claim?