This post was my thought for an initial offering to guest post on Public Address, but after a little prompting from Russell I composed the gourmet-Melbourne blog instead. I thought I’d run this one here though, on account of a little to-do that popped up in the papers a few weeks back about the cost of going to the Treaty grounds.


I think it’s appropriate that the Treaty grounds fail to inspire awe. I know that other nations insist that the birthplace of their collective spirit be a monument, but the Waitangi Treaty grounds just didn’t really give me any breath-taking moments to take away.


Now you might think that a bad thing, but I’m not sure that it’s the New Zealand way to expose our collective arrogance in the way that a say, Washington DC does, or the collective fear of power the way that the Kremlin does, or a big phallic symbol, a la Eiffel Tower. There was a bit of a phallic symbol, but it’s mostly tied down with steel ropes to stop the ‘the Maoris’ chopping it down.


This raises two points. First, you have to think that the Treaty really is the birth of our nation. Controversial in and of itself. But, love it or loathe it, the Treaty is the beginning of British rule, and therefore the New Zealand we now know and love. Second, it was indicated out to me that the scenery surrounding the Waitangi Treaty grounds is, in point of fact, absolutely spectacular. But that just kind of makes me think of the New Zealand spirit as well.


You know, a couple of lovely but modest houses in the middle of a splendour that cares little if we were here or not.


The contrast between the Treaty House itself and the Whare Rūnanga is also interesting. The former prefabricated transplant from Colonial Sydney, the latter a piece from the early Māori restoration period under Te Puea and Apirana Ngata. They sit at odd angles, with the Whare looking patiently across to the space in front of the Treaty House. Strangely, if the Treaty House was a Wharenui then sitting on the paepae of the Whare Rūnanga would allow you to watch the activity on the Treaty House’s marae.


In plain English, the front door of the Whare Rūnanga seems to be watching everything going on over at the Pākehā neighbours place. And I’m not sure that isn’t deliberate.


In turn the Treaty House itself looks out past a stonking great flagpole towards the hamlet of Russell; once known as the ‘hell-hole of the Pacific’, Kororāreka. These days it’s delightful little collection of incredibly expensive B&B, some cafes, and generally exudes calm. That said, it’s easy to see how the House was deliberately situated to be a reminder to the denizens of the town of the power of the growing British Empire.


In contrast, if you have an aversion to package-and-piss-drinking-tourism Paihia is a nightmare. So now you have the Treaty ground watching the calm spot that’s now watching the hell-hole. Weird.


In a way, and joking aside, the Treaty grounds are an interesting little analogy for the Treaty itself. It was after all the misbehaviour of our whaling and sailing ancestors that gave rise to the need for a Treaty and a clearly established rule of law. In addition the Treaty clearly recognises the independence of Māori within the sovereignty of the Crown. And, Māori seem to spend their time keeping an eye on the activities of their neighbours. It’s a weird little relationship really, one based on proximity and necessity, with everyone getting something good out of it as long as all the actors behave responsibly. It’s something that has inspired me and many others to write screeds, a fine tradition that’s unlike to abate any time soon!


So. How do you get to the Treaty grounds if you want to take a look for yourself?


Well, head to Paihia obviously, and then drive through town towards the lower marae, and cross the bridge. What the lady at our backpacker place told us to do (good old local knowledge) is park immediately before or after the main entry to the grounds. There’s a public accessway between the golf course and the grounds themselves. That way, you can do the coastal walk along the outside of the grounds. From there, you can see the Treaty grounds pretty clearly, because the place isn’t fenced off!


We accidentally found ourselves wandering through the Whare Rūnanga without having paid the fee! Oh… and then the Busby’s old place, the grounds themselves, and the waka…