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Expressions of local governance on the East Coast

In Tairāwhiti in 1862 the total Pākehā population on the East Coast (excluding the area now known as Gisborne City and the Poverty Bay Flats) was estimated to be 20, while that of Maori was around 5,000.

This report by Jane Luiten commissioned by HistoryWorks for the Crown Forestry Rental Trust written in 2009 as part of the Waitangi Tribunal investigation into historic breaches of the Treaty, refers to a resident magistrate’s recollections of Māori community governance structures that existed before the settler governments imposed their local government on local communities:

“…Every day affairs on the coast at this time were said to be arranged by runanga. [Resident Magistrate] Baker reported that:

‘Almost every village has its own, in which everything, from far country news to domestic life, is freely discussed.’

Based at Rangitukia, Baker defined existing runanga as a community, consisting of any number of persons exceeding one family:

‘Thus, within a few hundred yards of my present residence, there is a collection of some three or four huts, the inhabitants of which style themselves “Te Runanga o Pahairomiromi;” the latter being the name of the village. These, and many other similar Runangas, assume all the powers and privileges of the largest Runanga (as at present constituted), and claim to be independent… of any control by the general Runanga, if such a term may be applied to the voice of the mass of the people.’ 

So there was a strong tradition of community governance and while settler governments imposed ‘local government’ straight over the top of these tribal arrangements undermining the mana of traditional runanga, in the post­‐settlement environment we are seeing a burgeoning of sub-­tribal groups being re-­established as hapū collectives and trusts with a focus on the social, economic, cultural and environmental revitalisation and wellbeing of their tribal area.

More recently this is extending/reverting to taking back the regulatory role for activities in the rohe via mechanisms like the Joint Management Agreement between Gisborne District Council and Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou that gives hapu groups more influence and responsibility in resource management decision-making processes.

Tapuwaeroa, Ruatoria

Māori Land & ‘Utilisation’ Issues

Plenty has been written by central government agencies, local government authorities, legal experts and economic development consultants on ‘unlocking the potential of Māori land. I’m definitely no expert in these matters and perhaps shouldn’t have an opinion as I will never be a Māori land owner – but my wife and tamariki are, so I like to think about what might be good for them and our descendants.
The whole notion of ‘unproductive’ Māori land is a little problematic and ironic.
Problematic because it takes a very utilitarian view of whenua, which is much more than an economic asset to be ‘utilised’ or even natural resource to be ‘managed’ or ‘protected’. Hirini Moko Mead describes it this way:
The land and the environment in which people live became the foundation of their view of the world, the centre of their universe and basis of their identity as citizens or as members of a social unit…
Land was necessary as a means of maintaining social solidarity. Land was the foundation of the social system, the base the means of giving reality to the system in the forms of residences, villages, gardens, special resource regions and so on. Continuity of the group depended every much on a home base called te wā kāinga where people could live like an extended family and actually see it on the ground as a reality.
Undoubtedly land provides a place for one to stand. This is inherent in the concept of tūrangawaewae, a place for the feet to stand; where one’s rights are not challenged, where one feels secure and at home….
The net effect of various cultural bonding mechanisms and traditional tikanga practices was to develop a relationship with the land. This relationship is about bonding to the land and having a place upon which one’s feet can be placed with confidence. The relationship is not about owning the land and being master of it, to dispose of as the owner sees fit. The land has been handed down the whakapapa line from generation to generation and the descendant fortunate enough to inherit the land does not really ‘own’ it. That person did not buy it. The land cannot be regarded as a personal asset to be traded.
(Mead, H.M. Tikanga Māori: Living By Māori Values, Huia Publishers, 2003. pp271-275)
Legislation governing the way Māori Freehold land has been managed – since settler governments imposed British legal frameworks over most of life in Aotearoa – resulted in large tracts of Māori land being cleared for farming in the late 19th Century and many eventually having no effective administration as succession issues and urbanisation trends complicated management arrangements.
Many of those blocks left fallow for 30-50 years have started reverting to native plant cover with manuka and kanuka establishing themselves as pioneer (or seral) species that in time provide an ideal nursery for larger native trees to eventually takeover. So ironically, these ‘neglected’ land blocks are fast becoming valuable crops for the production of manuka honey, an industry experiencing exponential growth in the past ten years and on track to have a billion dollar turnover in the next five years.
The genesis of this post was when someone asked me this morning if I thought the first step to unlocking unproductive Māori land potential is improving governance of each landblock? If I had an opinion on it, I’d probably say yes and no.
Yes, I think where there is a group of shareholders already recognised by the Māori Land Court as the Responsible Trustee or Advisory Trustees for the block, then yes, they could be interested in accessing support with their governance role  – particularly planning and decision-making based on good information (getting access to the necessary ‘good information’ is another issue).
Where there isn’t that recognised group in place, or where the Māori Trustee has control of the block, there could be a service (and the government is setting up a new Māori Land Service but who knows how long establishment will take and how effective it will be) that:
  • works with any shareholders who express an interest to establish a group of owners interested in overseeing the process;
  • supports the group of engaged shareholders to contact other owners via the postal addresses held by the Māori Land Court and Te Tumu Paeroa, and via informal networks like whanau contacts and Facebook groups of various marae/hapū, to build a current database of shareholder emails that can be basis of ongoing, regular communication. Then they can start organising themselves as owners and making decisions about the land.

Just this activity of contacting shareholders and building a contact database is a huge undertaking that likely needs proper resourcing so interested shareholders can rebuild connections between whanau that may not have been physically connected to the whenua for a generation or more.

There could also be support for hapū groups to develop capability and capacity to take over land administration as Responsible Trustee from Te Tumu Paeroa to provide more active management and local accountability for decisions. Support may need to be provided to shareholders to go to the Land Court to make the changes once the hapū entities have the internal infrastructure to take on the responsibilities of administrating the land blocks in partnership with engaged shareholders.

In terms of then making ‘good decisions’ about the land use, shareholders and Responsible Trustees may be interested in accessing support to build consensus around the values they collectively hold for their whenua and systems for decision-making – particularly how the issue of share numbers may or may not determine the relative influence of shareholders in decision-making.

Locally we have recently invested in the establishment of an online platform to connect better with hapū and marae whānau, this will also be used to connect landowners in interested blocks.


How ‘eco-friendly’ is our new house?

Some students from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa are interviewing me tomorrow about whether we built an eco-house. I thought it might be useful to list the ways I think it is and isn’t ‘eco-friendly’.

11196325_10153250715811273_8827879323077468267_nHouse Site:

  • We chose a building site next to Penu Pa, Tarsh’s marae we lived at for 14 months while the house was being built. That was partly determined by cultural imperatives – we were keen to be close to the pa and able to help out by keeping a close eye on it, opening up when necessary and helping out, fielding enquiries if people dropped in, etc.
  • It also had some financial benefits: we were able to utilise the marae septic system that already had a resource consent – we just need to pay for it to be cleaned every two years instead of every three; we can also utilise the free public internet (WaiWhai) that the pa offers; the new house proximity to power lines was also a lot cheaper than our preferred site up the hill which was going to cost $50,000 just to run an electricity cable to.
  • We are about 10km south of Ruatoria, so there is some transport impacts to consider – school, health clinic and shops use more energy to get to than if we had a house closer or in the township. But you can’t choose where your marae is! Some families further out of town than us occasionally ride their horses to town, so I guess that’s an eco-friendly option we can pursue regardless of how soon we’re all driving electric vehicles.


  • We designed the house with a lot of large windows and positioned it facing north so it is a sun trap. As I sit writing this at 8am two days out from the Winter equinox, there is a heavy frost outside but I am bathed in sunlight and getting quite hot. The house is designed as two boxes – one side for sleeping/washing and the other for eating/living/working – joined by a small foyer.
  • We installed a wood burning stove in both sides, one is an oven with wetback to heat the water, the other a small heater for the sleeping side. Both fireplaces do a great job of warming the inside areas – if we load them up before bed, even on frosty nights (we live at the bottom of a valley) they keep the house warm overnight. We’re finding the wetback stove is over-efficient, so if the fire has been going full bore for more than 4-5 hours it heats the water too much and the hot water gets dumped outside so cold water can cool the cylinder. That’s a waste of precious water, so we’re looking at installing an additional cylinder to store the hot water or may just run the hose into the bath so it gets dumped there instead.
  • We looked at solar options but our building budget didn’t stretch far enough so that’s something we can save for as it is quite easy to install solar retrospectively. It was going to cost close to an extra $50,000 for a stand-alone off-grid system or $20,000 for a decent grid-connected system.
  • We use the wood oven for nearly all our cooking – we have a BBQ outside that is used more in summertime and we have a few electric appliances like a slow cooker and rice cooker. We have a gas hob beside the wood stove but hardly ever use it, maybe in summer when we don’t have the fire going as long it will be used more. Ideally we’ll replace that gas hob with an electric option to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  • We used LED lights throughout the house – they are heaps more energy efficient, though a bit more expensive to start with. I did the lighting design which has turned out to be probably at least a third more lighting than we really needed as the LEDs I chose are brighter than I realised. We have dimmers on abut half of them so that saves power consumption as well as creating nicer lighting options.
  • We have polystyrene underfloor insulation and pink bats in the walls and ceiling. With more time and money we would’ve used wool or hemp insulation products.
  • The house is double-glazed aluminium windows and doors throughout. Aluminium isn’t very eco-friendly of course, but it is the most air-tight house we’ve ever lived in. Because of the double-glazing we just use custom-made vinyl roller blinds on most of the windows and doors as we have no need for thermal drapes. Vinyl isn’t very eco-friendly either.


  •  The foundations are non-eco-friendly H4 treated pine and the external ‘ShadowClad‘ ply and flooring is H3 treated pine. Some nasty glue is used to seal the ply to the floor, wall and ceiling framing – along with a million nails. Ply uses a lot of nasty glues to seal the sheets of wood cut from the logs but we used untreated EcoPly for interior linings.
  • We were planning to use an Osmo eco-friendly natural oil product on the outside but had to send the 30 litres back after using over a litre for one coat on one of 80 sheets it was just too expensive. I used a water-based stain from Resene in the end.
  • The interior was finished with Aquatec Wood Coat by Cotec – a water-based polyurethane.
  • Our flooring is half synthetic carpet and half vinyl strips. In retrospect I wish we’d gone with the wool carpet but got talked out of it by the flooring guy. There wasn’t a huge difference in cost, it was more an aesthetic decision about how much it would fade in direct sunlight and a durability decision about how quickly it would wear out.
  • The roof is ColourSteel by New Zealand Steel, not the most eco-friendly option compared to something like a soil and grass living roof. The stormwater downpipes are recyclable PVC by Marley and feed two 30,000 PVC water tanks by Promax – who don’t seem to provide much sustainability information about their products.
  • The kitchen uses natural wood (macrocarpa) bench tops and plywood for the joinery facings with the standard chipboard for the internal linings. We reduced the need for hardware on kitchen joinery by cutting hand holes in the ply, but used standard aluminium hardware on all the internal doors.
  • The bathroom units are all fairly standard off the shelf products.
  • Decking timber is standard pine decking. We could have gone with Kwila decking but even though some of it has FSC accreditation, the products imported to NZ have had terrible environmental impacts.

I think in retrospect if we’d planned the build better by starting much earlier (like a year before we moved rather than after we moved into caravans so the pressure was on), then we would have made better environmental choices and/or saved more money to afford the eco-options or a longer build.

Anything else?

Connecting sewerage to the marae system

Four of my ‘co-housing’ experiences

A Twitter contact, recently asked the awesome Enspiral network about experiences of co-housing – in particular experiences and issues related to things like: interest-based intentional community; shared infrastructure; social interaction; group design/build/own… I chipped in and foolishly promised to write a blog post about my experiences. So, here it is…

There are four specific experiences that my wife Tarsh and I have had in different versions of what might be considered ‘co-housing’:

  1. a faith-based community in Wellington (1994-1998)
  2. attempts at intentional community in Gisborne (2004-2006)
  3. sharing infrastructure/resources in Gisborne (2007-2014)
  4. living on the marae and building on multiply-owned Maori land at Makarika near Ruatoria (2015-)

I’ll give a brief overview of my upbringing and summarise the contexts and experiences, and at the end share some lessons I think we’ve learned along the way.

I had a fairly typical upbringing in middle-class New Zealand, raised in a two parent, two child family in Tauranga, my parents both came from large working-class Pakeha families and both had been quite independent from an early age. My father considers himself an egalitarian and has a lot of sympathy for Marx and communitarian ideas. My mother worries a lot about money and security is important to her – so she would have been very pleased they were able to build the first house they owned as 20-somethings in the late 1960s for about 1,200 pounds. She was a high school teacher with a commerce degree and he was a postie who dropped out of school at 14 to work in an engineering workshop making glasses. Their co-housing experience included building a self-contained flat in the downstairs of their new house to rent out – and potentially for elderly relatives to eventually utilise, that provided extra income and extra security. And like most Kiwi kids before the internet and console games, we did heaps with the other children and families in the neighbourhood – sharing meals, childcare and gardening tools.

In the early 1980s when I had just turned 10, Mum and Dad bought a small farm with 20 acres on the edge of the city. They joined the NZ Small Farmers Association (Dad eventually becoming President for a while) and were good gardeners and tried their hand at husbandry of various animals. It was 1984-5 and interest rates shot to 24%, so they really struggled to keep the dream alive, but they managed to keep the farm as Dad had a job in the public service (Dept of Social Welfare) and Mum worked in an educational toy shop they owned with another couple. Eventually the city expanded and the farm was acquired by the local authorities in 2001 who wanted to use the flats for stormwater run off from all the new subdivisions being built on what were previously similar small farms and orchards.

1: Urban Vision, Wellington (1994-1998)


Our wedding reception in 1998 – the old orphanage I was living in is just through the trees – a great meal was provided by our generous UV friends who gave up their day (and the night before) to help us out. All up we spent about $1,000 on the wedding and reception for 200+ guests. So cheap, in more ways than one!


After leaving school, I moved to Wellington to study design and got involved with an organisation called Youth For Christ Wellington. YFC had its origins in the conservative North American evangelical movement but the Wellington branch had become quite progressive. In addition to the youth clubs YFC had always run with volunteers, we started more focused conscientisation groups with young people and would regularly organise protests, pickets and support civil disobedience aimed at challenging the abuse of political power, oppression, injustice and violence against the poor and marginalised – whether it was Council housing tenants, young offenders, East Timorese villagers or Iraqi families. We had a number of flats of young people as well as one home for teenage girls that were unable to live with their family because it was too dangerous for the girl or because the girl had burnt her bridges (sometimes the home) with family.

Out of this came an idea to move away from YFC and form an intentional community called ‘Urban Vision‘ to develop more intentional cooperative living arrangements grounded in common interests and a faith doctrine focused on a ‘discipleship journey’ and gospel of helping those from more privileged backgrounds give up some of the opportunities and benefits of their privilege and to create opportunities for those society had marginalised to realise their full potential.

We took over an old Presbyterian orphanage that a local church had previously housed a number of young adults in. The building was ugly, cold and rundown but we turned it into a home for teenage boys supported by a group of young adult men (aged 22-40ish). We had room for 14 of us – seven teenagers and seven ‘men’. The adults paid to live there, sometimes the boys were referred Child Youth & Family Services so they had an care and accomodation allowance that contributed to their costs, other times they were referred by Police, schools or friends and didn’t have any funds to contribute.

At the same time other co-housing experiments were being established in the wider Urban Vision community with a couple of households focused on the inner-city and homeless populations, another on refugees and migrants, another group was based in the Council housing units, another provided supported accomodation for young men with intellectual disabilities and another specifically for Maori girls run by wahine Maori.

Resources in most of these co-housing arangements were shared through a household budget and those that were able to give more did so. Some had a main couple, often with small children with teenagers, with teenagers and/or single adults living with them. Some were large buildings like an old carpet factory in Cuba Street that housed 15+ people at a time, others were small 1-2 bedroom units in Council housing estates.

The Urban Vision community gathered together weekly for a shared meal, prayer, singing and collective celebrations, though eventually after we had left the ‘teams’ focused on particular communities got too large and the big UV get togethers were less frequent as much larger venues were required and the smaller teams kept meeting daily and/or weekly.

UV has continued to evolve, about ten years ago it became an ‘order’ of the Anglican church and one of the UV founders, Justin Duckworth, is now the Bishop of Wellington.

Around 2000, Justin, his wife Jenny, their family and a couple of friends involved with UV formed another trust and purchased Ngatiawa, an old Presbyterian campsite on the Kapiti Coast. This has provided accommodation and a common life together for hundred of people, young, old, single, couples, families – as well as a retreat from the city for many of the people connected to UV homes in Wellington. A number of UV members and affiliates have trades and have helped construct and renovate a dozen or so buildings including large halls and dining spaces, cabin accommodation, family homes, a chapel and other facilities. Each year Ngatiawa community hosts the Passionfest music/arts/theology/resistance/community festival.

2: Attempts at intentional community, Gisborne (1998-2006)


Before we bought the units

Moving to Gisborne in 1998 to care for Tarsh’s grandparents who raised her, was a bit of a shock. Coming out of the high commitment, high intensity of Urban Vision, I was both happy and sad – we enjoyed the opportunity to do whatever we wanted from scratch, but I missed the level of support and accountability that the intentional community provided.

We bought a house with help from my parents, and Tarsh’s grandparents and two of their sons lived with us off and on for a couple of years until her grandfather passed away in 2001.

Tarsh and I got involved with Te Ora Hou, a faith-based Maori youth and community development organisation that started as the Maori and Pasifika arm of YFC in the 1970s and became its own national organisation in the mid-90s.

While we were still heavily involved in a wide range of local community projects on both voluntary and paid roles, Tarsh was content to be doing our own thing. I was missing the sense of purpose and direction I enjoyed in the intentional community experience of UV and so we had a go at a co-housing experiment. In 2004 we had the opportunity to purchase four adjacent residences, initially we hoped to do it under the auspices of Te Ora Hou locally, in the end the TOH board were reluctant to invest in residential property so we purchased the four residences (two 3 bedroom houses and two three bedroom units) and immediately sold the units to another Te Ora Hou family and rented out one of the houses to another Te Ora Hou family before selling it to a third family.

Incidentally, we sold our original house after advertising it at three different prices: The lowest price was for first-home buyers, the next price ($10,000 higher), was for purchasers who already owned a home but planned to live in this one, and the top price (another $10,000 higher) was for anyone who just wanted to buy it as a rental ‘investment’. I still think this is how Housing NZ should arrange its sales when it flogs off unwanted properties – give preference to those who need it most and disincentives for speculators and investors.


A few years after the units had been renovated into one house

So the units sold to one of the TOH families were converted into one house by knocking a hole in the downstairs wall. The three properties were able to share a common backyard, we took turns moving each others lawns with a shared lawnmower and the kids played between them. We had meals together at least once a week. Before domestic WiFi was easily accessible we even strung ethernet cables between the three properties and shared one internet account. Sometimes we’d share a washing machine and dryer between homes, regularly had each others children in our care (to varying degrees of care, my tendency to be too relaxed and distracted probably didn’t build great confidence in my childcare services) and we would often borrow a vehicle from one of the other households.

This arrangement came to end by 2007 – one of the families was highly committed to the intentional community idea, one was not sure they wanted to be there anymore and another was having internal conflicts about the whole nature of the arrangements and the inherent tensions of doing something ‘intentional’ with some neighbours and not others.

3: Sharing resources, Gisborne (2007-2014)


So by 2008 the other two families had moved out of the neighbourhood and new families moved in. We bought the house that had been the units back off that family and shifted in, we sold the house we had been in to another young couple involved with Te Ora Hou who shared our interest in doing voluntary youth work and community activities in the neighbourhood – but without the same level of intensity we had experienced with the previous neighbours. We had another single man (an old school friend of mine who has become an uncle to our kids and our closest friend) and Tarsh’s grandmother – move into our house with us and our two children.

This arrangement worked quite well for everyone – we had childcare and a wonderful cook on tap, he got to live with and contribute to a family he loves deeply. Tarsh’s grandmother had a self-contained part of the house and company looking out for her everyday, and our kids got to experience living with their great grandmother for the last years of her life.

Over this time we continued sharing meals, backyards, lawnmowers, washing machines, surfboards, vehicles, etc. and a community garden over the back fence – but without any explicit commitment to each other beyond neighbourly sharing and caring.

Our single friend living with spent a lot of his own money helping renovate parts of the house and outside areas, he had a real investment in the family and the property – but eventually we all agreed that the season was coming to an end and he won a post-doctoral scholarship to Cambridge University so left us for the UK. After he left Tarsh’s grandmother got too frail with dementia and Tarsh made the difficult decision to let her go first to the home of an aunty and then into a nursing home just before she passed away. We had another couple of relations live with us after our friend moved out and then a year or two of just us and the kids before we sold up at the end of 2014.

4: Living at the marae and building on multiply-owned Maori land, Makarika/Ruatoria (2015-)

In March 1997 when Tarsh turned 24, as her new boyfriend (as of that day) I gave her an antique builders level. We were living in Wellington, part of the newly formed Urban Vision community, and she had told me her dream was to return to the East Coast one day and build on whānau whenua (traditional family land).

Like many other Ngati Porou, Tarsh’s mum and most of her siblings, moved from the Coast to big cities for education and employment opportunities in the 1960s and 70s. Tarsh was raised by her grandparents but in her last year of high school went to live with her mother in Christchurch – which felt a long way from the East Coast – both geographically and culturally.

We had our first child, Miria, in 2002, and from an early age decided we wanted our children to have experience living in the heart of Ngati Porou on the Coast.

Gisborne is great, but it’s still very urban and Pakeha dominated. Tarsh says “We want our kids to live in a community where Ngati Poroutanga is the culture, immersed everyday in the reo, tikanga and landmarks of my tipuna. Those taonga are the birth-right of every Ngati Porou child and you can’t get them anywhere except within your own turangawaewae.”
For the last ten years we have been actively involved with Penu (Rongo-i-te-Kai) Pa, at Makarika just south of Ruatoria. I have been the marae Treasurer since 2005 and Tarsh has been stepping up to help at tangi, wananga and other activities that happen around the pa.

While we talked about planning to ‘move home’ for Miria to attend high school, it wasn’t until that time was just about upon us that the work really started.

We looked at a range of options – renting or buying a house in Ruatorea, relocating an existing building, starting with a shed, using a kitset and even building from local and recycled materials.

Penu Pa sits on the original Totaranui block that runs from Makarika to Hiruharama. Totaranui A1D2B2B is 130 hectares between State Highway 35 and the summit of Tutae-a-Whata and Tarsh’s grandmother owned ten percent of the shares in the block through her grandmother who was the original owner. The block is administered by Te Tumu Paeroa, the Maori Trustee, and leased by Tarsh’s cousin who farms most of it.

The first step was to seek support from the other 300 landowners. Te Tumu Paeroa and the Maori Land Court only have addresses for about 150 of the listed owners, so a letter from us went out to these owners asking for permission to use a small section of the block to put a house on. The overwhelming response was full support for the request.

There were a number of shareholders very happy to hear that a whanau wanted to live on the land. We don’t know most of them, but of course Tarsh is related to all of them. Many of the older ones lived here in their younger years and would like to live here again but their circumstances make that difficult.

With support from Te Tumu Paeroa, the shareholders and current leasee, we then had to find a bank willing to lend on Maori land. A government programme called Kainga Whenua is designed to help Maori build on multiply-owned land – the interest rates and deposit required are the same as any other bank but Housing New Zealand underwrites the loan for Kiwibank, so there is less risk for the lender.


Our whare designed by Shane Kingsbeer & Greg Saunders

The Kainga Whenua scheme is far from perfect and very frustrating at times. Because the bank can’t use the land as collateral they will only lend what the building is worth. Registered valuations ($800 each) must be done at each step of the build to allow the next amount of funds to be drawn down to pay for the builder, materials and sub-contractors. This adds significant costs and delays to the building process.

This probably would have had less impact if we had started the build before moving! We have been living in caravans at Penu Pa all this year waiting for the house to be built.

In many ways it’s been the perfect transition from the city to the Coast. Living in caravans at the pa has its challenges, but it’s also been like one long camping holiday for the kids and we been able to pay rent to the pa instead of someone else.

I work for clients around the country from our caravan utilising the free Nati Waiwhai internet provided to the pa by Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou.

We helped establish Hikurangi Takiwa Trust, a hapu (tribal) collective for the six pa in the local area, and both have volunteered in a range of roles for the trust. There are two existing papakainga of 4-6 houses each in the hapu and a third is currently in the early stages of development. Like us they are built on multiply-owned Maori land but the buildings all belong to a trust or marae, whereas in our situation we own the building and just lease the land it sits on.

The new house is almost completed and we have built it just over the fence from the marae. This has allowed us to save some significant costs as we got marae committee and Council consent to utilise the marae septic tanks system, electricity is also close already as is vehicle access – and family visitors can use the marae communal sleeping, eating and bathroom facilities and still be close to us.

This marae has always had someone living at it, there is Nanny Lucky who still lives here she spends her days doing gardening and sleeps in the dining hall or with her son in the cottage next door. Before her we had Papa, he drank too much and caused a few issues but was always happy to see any visitors and kept the place warm for everyone else. Back in the 70s another old man lived here – that was before the new dining hall was built so he cooked his meals in the meeting house, spelt in there and had it set up like a lounge with a TV.

I think there is heaps of potential for marae to provide housing for older people who are still independent but who need somewhere to feel at home and appreciate both the history and the communal living opportunities that marae provide.

We’re living the dream and have found it’s not as hard as we thought, wish we’d done it ages ago.

While packing up our house in Gisborne last year I found the builders level I gave Tarsh when we first got together 18 years ago, we plan to display it in our new house built on whanau whenua before her next birthday.


Conclusion: Some lessons learned

  • Intentionality should be allowed to grow organically. As the great Jean Vanier has suggested, those who go looking for community probably won’t find it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try – it’s just saying that those who earnestly attempt to build community sometimes try too hard and instead we should focus on nurturing caring relationships wherever we are and let the communal live emerge naturally where it will.
  • Issues around money tend to bring out the worst in people. We often think we’re entitled to more than we are, or we think someone else is taking too much, or we leave arrangements too ill-defined for fear of tackling the money matters, we conveniently ‘forget’ the details of some agreements, etc.
  • We can always share more. My parents generation were sold the Kiwi Dream – a couple, 2.4 kids, a mortgage and one or two incomes. That ‘dream’ of consumerism is a nightmare in a finite world and no good for mental health and community. Whether it is starting with the bare basics like sharing a lawnmower, creating a community garden, adding a spare room  or taking it all the way to the ‘common purse’ between a group of families and singles – there is always more to share.
  • We can always make space for others. We have a number of single friends now in their 40s who have chosen not to relentlessly pursue the societal expectations of couplehood and who challenge the dominant paradigm of what it means to be a family. Some of them enjoy living by themselves but appreciate the opportunity to participate in family life during significant times of the year like birthdays and Christmas; others can’t stand to be by themselves so have found ways to bring others into their home and/or helped create home with other single people and families. These are the people who often provide care and support for both the young and old who are too often overlooked by those of us with tight-knit nuclear families.
  • Indigenous and cooperative models are better for us and the environment. We like the idea of living on multiply-owned land – it makes decisions, plans and actions a lot harder and often adds more financial costs but can in the long run mean costs are saved to the household, community and environment. Ultimately it means we have to take others views into account and the wider implications for the community and the environment get factored in more than if we control the resources and most of the decision-making process.


Note: #4 section is a rewrite of an article we wrote for a recent edition of Nati Link magazine about our experience moving to the marae and building a new house on the land. 


More Bureaucracy = Less Community

Four years ago the Government produced the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children. Nearly 10,000 submissions were made on the Green Paper and in response, the Government released the White Paper for Vulnerable Children with the Children’s Action Plan in October 2012.

I helped write a submission on the Green Paper and was pleased to see some of the suggestions we made got a nod in the White Paper – particularly around focusing on villages and neighbourhoods as the most significant sites to invest in for child protection. The big disappointment was that – despite all the evidence on why focusing on the community is the best approach to keep kids safe – few of these ideas made it into the White Paper and only one initiative (working with a handful of existing providers of volunteer-based mentoring programmes) seems to have any resourcing in the Action Plan.

Communities have a role to play in stepping up to support children, their families and wha-nau, so they can succeed and look after themselves.

Research shows us that a strong community around a child, family or wha-nau plays a critical means of building resilience and supporting vulnerable families earlier. Some of our most vulnerable communities are well known, such as refugee and migrant groups, and some specific rural and urban neighbourhoods.

There are good examples of promising community initiatives where communities generate solutions to better connect and support vulnerable children, families, wha-nau, hapu- and iwi to succeed. However, many communities still need more leadership, information and guidance to play their role in better supporting vulnerable children, and their families and wha-nau.

Stronger communities can also be achieved through local government providing strategic leadership to support communities coming up with solutions for their most vulnerable children, and their families and whanau.

(source: Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, 2011)

What did make it into the Action Plan and has been funded is business as usual responses – more professionals, more administrators, more agency-centric approaches to issues that can’t be solved by paying more people to look harder for children at risk and work with families to prepare safety plans and run more checks on other professionals.

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O'Neill

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill

I just received a response to my Official Information Act request asking how much has been spent on the new Children’s Teams – a new iteration of Strengthening Families, only families are less involved in the decision-making. It turns out nearly $5 million has been spent to date so that “trained people in the community refer children to local professionals who work with families/whanau to help and support the child.”

The rhetoric is lovely, but looking behind the warm, fluffy titles, the reality is more bureaucracy and a less caring community. ‘Children at the centre of what we do’ sounds great, but it really means families are less empowered, professional ‘carers’ are given more powers and responsibilities, more ‘systems’ are required to manage the professionals and more administrators paid to administer the systems. Paying people to support social development is fine, but the emphasis and focus is all wrong. When you read what the government means by ‘child centred’ it turns out to be all about more people being paid to manage problems – they even call the people writing plans for ‘vulnerable’ children the ‘Lead Professionals’.

‘Working Together, Sharing Responsibility’ sounds interesting, but turns out to be about professionals being organised by a new level of bureaucracy under the Children’s Teams banner and a national hotline for people with concerns about children (in other words, rebranding the 0508 FAMILY phone line that CYF has used for more than 15 years).

Since the 1980s the emphasis for government-funded social development in New Zealand has been on ‘professionalising the (social work) workforce’, and commercialising community organisations so they run more like businesses – with strategic plans full of mission statements, business plans and a ‘customer’ or ‘client’ focus. Ironically the Puao-Te-Ata-Tu inspired 1989 Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act had a strong focus on community, whānau, hapū and iwi leadership in the care and protection of children – instead the trend has been consistently toward increasing the role of agents of the state, whether they are Child Youth & Family staff or ‘community’ organisations carrying out the work that the Ministry of Social Development or more recently Whānau Ora Commissioning agencies want them to do on behalf of the state.

The other major plank of the Action Plan is legislation requiring anyone who works with children to undergo Police-vetting, yet another exercise in over-regulation and bureaucracy – especially when you consider who does the abusing of children – recent studies have suggested the figures for those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years are something like: 11% is by a stranger, 30% by a male relative (other than child’s father or stepfather), 16% by a neighbour or acquaintance, 13% by the father or stepfather and 15% by another known person – a proportion of these will be the paid or volunteer adults in a childcare, school, sports, community or youth work context. So, I’ve asked for information on how much government money is being spent on establishing and implementing this new regulation – that won’t include all the extra time required by all the agencies and organisations that now have to get their workers checked.

So from my perspective, some of the initiatives being rolled out through the Action Plan are totally the wrong way to go, others may have some merit but the main point is that nothing of significance is being put into helping shift the culture of our neighbourhoods and villages where families and children live, work and play everyday.

Investment needs to be at the street level, not at a city or regional level that trusting relationships are nurtured and the forces against that are great – from the increasing individualism of consumer culture to the disempowering reliance on paid professionals to solve problems that must be addressed by families and neighbourhoods if they are to have any chance of enduring change.


Innovative Sexual Abuse Campaign Hailed a Success

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O'Neill

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill

A locally designed, produced and distributed sexual violence prevention campaign has been hailed a success based on feedback from a survey of Gisborne residents.

Te Ora Hou Te Tairāwhiti commissioned research in 2013 to identify local parents attitudes and activity around protecting their children from sexual violence. The findings from dozens of interviews and focus groups helped inform the design of a campaign across multiple media targeting local caregivers.

A series of radio advertisements, a websitesocial media resources and a provocative video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill were developed. The ads and video were used over six months to communicate key messages about knowing where children are, who they are with and how to talk to them about keeping safe. Nearly 20,000 Facebook users were reached with the video that has been played over 7,000 times – mostly by Gisborne residents.

A street survey of 100 random residents has been completed and the campaign developers are pleased with the findings.

Survey feedback was from a broad age range, with the largest group of respondents in the 30 something bracket. 62 respondents identified as Māori, 49 as European New Zealander, Pākehā or Kiwi, 11 as Pacific Islanders and four as Asian. Approximately three quarters of respondents were female.

Just over a quarter of respondents had seen the video online and 38% remembered hearing the radio ads. One in five had seen the campaign Facebook page and 15% had visited the campaign website.

For those that had seen or heard any of the campaign material (54/100 individuals), the campaign affirmed existing attitudes, beliefs and behaviours for about three quarters of respondents. 

A quarter of those who had seen or heard the campaign material said it motivated them enough that they raised the issues or a concerning situation with someone and the same number said they took action such as offering support to others or checking on a vulnerable child as a result of the campaign messages.

15% said their attitudes or beliefs about sexual abuse and neglect of children changed as a result of the campaign material.

Many respondents said they felt ‘angry’, ‘sad’, ‘sick’ and ‘afraid’ for the children in these situations after watching the video and hearing the ads. Some felt there needed to be much more sharing of similar messages:

“…so people are more aware and don’t sweep it under the carpet.” 

Many had personal experiences as victims or close friends and family who had been in similar situations:

“It made me relive my experience as a child.”

“I will be aware more for others and family as well around my future children.”

Other felt more determined to protect their children and others.

There was relief expressed that the message was being promoted on the airwaves and online:

“I feel relieved that there is now a source for public awareness.”

Some respondents shared ideas for getting the messages out further:

“Send information packs into the homes, fridge magnets. Get invites to marae meetings, school trustees meetings, just any area of the community that engage family. Big posters everywhere. Billboards maybe.”

“I think this is great and we need more ads of this sort. And more involvement from other child organisations also.”

“Hopefully this local campaign isn’t just a one off and it can be continued.”

A small number of respondents who had not seen the material were triggered by the video and were offered support and information on local helping services.

Project manager Manu Caddie said the survey sample was statistically significant and could be considered a snapshot of the wider population.

“That means more than 17,000 local adults have heard or seen the material and it has stuck with them enough to recall the messages” said Mr Caddie. “It means over 4,000 people are likely to have intervened in a situation to prevent sexual abuse or neglect as a direct result of this campaign.”

An economist commissioned in 2012 by Te Ora Hou to estimate the value for money in action to protect children found that preventing a single case of child abuse results in a saving of at least $20,000 to the public purse, let alone all the positive personal benefits for the child and their family of being spared the trauma and suffering of sexual violence and abuse.

“So even if only one per cent of the 4,000 people who did something as a result of the campaign actually prevented an incident of sexual violence or physical abuse, that’s a potential saving of $800,000.”

Mr Caddie said the campaign had been well supported by local media including The Gisborne Herald and iwi radio stations. He also paid tribute to former Gisborne woman and Te Ora Hou project manager Justine Crawford who led much of the campaign development work.

“A couple of radio stations are still running the ads after payment for them had finished because they know the message is so important” said Mr Caddie.

The Ministry of Social Development provided $38,000 in total for the initial research, local media campaign and evaluation with the proviso that if it was effective in Gisborne the material and approach may be used nationally.

“We think MSD has got real value for money and with the Cabinet paper leaked last week showing plans for a greater emphasis on child protection, we hope there are lessons learnt from this project that can be used in other communities.”

Mr Caddie said part of the motivation for the campaign was the paucity of information and social marketing targeting parents. “We know most children go in and out of extreme vulnerability at different stages in their early years, so any social marketing needs to reach the whole community and if we can prevent more violence and chronic neglect then we’ll have a safer, healthier community with less problems later in life.”

While the Budget last week announced significant increases in funding for the Childrens Teams, Mr Caddie said he is skeptical of continued emphasis on the child and family in isolation from their community. “It takes a village to raise a child and we think more resources need to be going into changing attitudes in behaviours within communities where vulnerable children live rather than pouring money into more professionals which is really ‘agency-centric’ rather than child, family or community centred.”

A report released last week by Treasury showed strong support for an approach to tackling difficult issues called Community-Led Development with less emphasis on paid professionals and more power given to residents in specific areas deciding what they will do to make the community safer and healthier for everyone.

“Whanau Ora has potential” said Mr Caddie, “but like Childrens Team’s, the new budget announcement sounds like the lion’s share of money will be going to employing more community-based social work positions working with individual families instead of seeing the community as the client.”

Te Ora Hou, established in the 1970s as a faith-based Māori community and youth development organisation, is involved with Community-Led Development projects in Whangarei, Gisborne, Hastings, Whanganui, Wellington and Christchurch.

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