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Creating a National Spirit: Celebrating New Zealand's Centennial

9: Auckland's Remembrance of Times Past

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9: Auckland's Remembrance of Times Past

The terraced volcanic cone in the centre of the Tamaki isthmus called Maungakiekie by Maori, and One Tree Hill by Pakeha, dominates the Auckland metropolitan landscape. It is an honoured landmark.1 For Maori, Maungakiekie is a hallowed hill. For two centuries a lordly totara crowned its summit. That tree, called Te Totara-i-ahua (the totara that stands alone), commemorated the birth nearby of Koroki, a Ngati Awa chief in the early seventeenth century. By the time Europeans came to Tamaki, the totara was no longer there, its place having been taken by a large pohutukawa. Yet Maori continued to revere the single tree. In 1852, however, this deeply tapu site was desecrated when an unidentified colonist wantonly felled the tree.

But through the twentieth century the hill had another tree which 'stood alone'. This was the sole survivor of a group of radiata pines which John Logan Campbell, famed 'Father of Auckland', planted in the late 1870s. Sadly this tree had its life prematurely shortened, too, when Maori activists, who claimed it was a symbol of colonial oppression, attacked it with chainsaws during the 1990s.2 After the second attack the wounds of the stricken tree became terminal. It was feared that it would topple once exposed to violent winds. So the city council, realising that the tree had become a public danger, reluctantly decided that it must be cut down. This was duly done on 26 October 2000. Happily, since then the council has initiated a planting programme for the summit that will ensure that the name One Tree Hill is not a misnomer.

These facts are generally known. But what few realise today is that the obelisk that now stands alone on the summit is a celebration of the Maori race and a belated memento of New Zealand's first hundred years under the British Crown.

As early as November 1931, three local historians, John Barr, city librarian, George Graham, and James Cowan, each with a respectable record for historical publications, alerted the Auckland mayor, G. W. Hutchison, to the fact that the centenary of the colony, which coincided with that of the founding of Auckland itself, was not far off.3 They recommended that 'the main feature of the celebration' should be a historical pageant, a commemorative medium much popularised throughout the Commonwealth in that era by, as they put it, the 'world-famous master of pageants, Frank Lascelles'.

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But the prevailing mood of the council, immersed as it was in the slough of economic depression, was that 'branching out into new endeavours . .. would have been madness'.4 By late 1935, however, the mood of the Auckland City Council seemed to have cheered up. A high-powered Auckland Historical Research Committee had been formed under the auspices of the council, meeting fortnightly at first, then every week. It was composed of: the Revs A.B. Chappell, chairman (Methodist), and J. Simkin (Anglican); Fr McKeefry (Catholic); Professor James Rutherford of the Auckland University College; M. H. Wynyard, mayor of the borough of One Tree Hill; Duncan Rae, principal of the Auckland Training College; and John Barr and R. Forbes Edie. Rutherford and Barr were mainstream historians, and Simkin and McKeefry diligent archivists. Graham was a renowned collector of Maori lore; Forbes Edie, better known as 'Lee-fore-brace', had developed in the press and on radio a reputation as a maritime historian; and Rev Chappell, under the pen name of 'Matanga', was a feature writer in the New Zealand Herald. The last three, incidentally, were all respected amateur historians. In its first year, this committee made what it called an 'authentic compilation' of the events leading to the Crown's assumption of sovereignty over New Zealand and to the founding of Auckland. This work, painstakingly done, was based on primary sources and where possible official documents, and, before circulation, was subjected to what we would
The summit of One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie) as it was for half a century. Kate Stone.

The summit of One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie) as it was for half a century. Kate Stone.

page 130 now call peer review and amendment by T. Lindsay Buick of Wellington.5

Planning for the centenary picked up pace in Auckland during 1936. As elsewhere, effort was invigorated in the province by the new course charted by J.W.A. (Joe) Heenan, the dynamic undersecretary of the Department of Internal Affairs, who encouraged local groups to press on with their preparations for 1940. It also helped that Auckland's new mayor, Ernest Davis, was historically minded. Chappell's historical committee, seized by the conviction that 'a history of the Province of Auckland is urgently necessary' proclaimed, predictably enough, that such a publication 'would form the most fitting permanent memorial' of Auckland's first hundred years.6 While the mayor and his council were sympathetic to the notion of a history of the province, they knew—and Davis particularly so for, despite his wealth derived from brewing, he was essentially a man of the people—that a history book would have limited appeal to the average citizen. Mayor and council preferred to prepare for the centenary in a way that would appeal to the people as a whole.

The committee of Auckland historians did get their centennial book, nevertheless, though its conception was essentially serendipitous, and even though it ultimately turned out to be a much more modest tome than the one for which they had originally hoped. This book had its unexpected beginnings in 1936 when the National Historical Committee in Wellington made an appeal in Britain for a return to the dominion of records dealing with New Zealand's first hundred years, which they suspected might be lying, unregarded, in private hands. Among those who responded to this appeal were the descendants of Felton Mathew, the colony's first Surveyor General. They wrote offering a substantial holding of letters and journals not only of Mathew himself, but also of his intelligent and perceptive wife.7 Professor Rutherford was authorised to collect these Mathew papers during 1938 whilst on sabbatical leave in Britain. Immediately he sighted the journals, he recognised their value. For they threw a unique light on Hobson's governorship, and (as Rutherford later predicted) 'would serve as a very useful Centennial publication'.8 It would appear that during the remainder of his leave, and while on shipboard returning to New Zealand, Rutherford set about collating, annotating and editing these papers. With this task almost completed by the time he arrived back in New Zealand, he promptly explored the possibilities for publication.9

Convinced that the cache of Mathew manuscripts were of 'extraordinary interest and value to Auckland',10 Rutherford wrote to the Centennial Publications Committee in Wellington, offering to produce a book based on those records if the national committee would agree to add it to their list of official publications. The committee's secretary, E. H. McCormick, replied that Rutherford's offer must be declined. 'Their hands were full of Centennial Publications already'; but, as a compromise, the committee was prepared to sanction a private publication if Rutherford could arrange for such a book.11

With this government sanction, Rutherford negotiated an agreement with the page 131 Wellington publishers, A.H. and A. W. Reed, on the understanding that sometime during the centennial year they would undertake to bring out this book, which Rutherford was now beginning to call The Founding of New Zealand. This title, for what turned out to be a book as useful as it is entertaining, is something of a misnomer, since the Mathew letters and journals are primarily concerned with the founding of Auckland. But the title pleased the Wellington committee which, understandably enough, had a dominion-wide perspective. It was also considered an 'excellent' one by the publishers who, eyeing the national market, believed that 'the title should help us in selling the book'.12 Nevertheless, the harsh fact remains that it is unlikely that this particular history of New Zealand's first permanent capital would ever have reached a printing press, had not the Auckland University College and the Auckland Centennial Council (backed by Auckland City Council funds) jointly stumped up in advance more than 60% of the costs of publication.13

As early as 1936, the Auckland mayor, on the urging of the Department of Internal Affairs, had attempted to convert the city's preparations for the centenary into a province-wide activity. On 11 August 1936, Davis convened the first meeting of the Auckland Provincial Centennial Council, to which he invited representatives not only from every local body in the province (and they were legion), but also from a sweeping cross section of community organisations: lodges, trade unions, employers' associations, choral societies, gardening groups and so on. The multiplicity of representation in a province the component parts of which were notorious for their particularism, seemed in the months ahead to make effective, coordinated action impossible. But it was not inaction that came from lack of trying. Committees multiplied like rabbits. In March 1939, the month that he completed his Mathew book, Professor Rutherford complained:'... we are all tremendously busy with all our Centennial projects just now. I find to my horror I am on no less than twenty-six different committees'.14

The records seem to show that where the city council had close participation in or control of a designated centennial activity it was able to act most efficiently. Together with the Auckland University College it effectively financed the publication of the Mathew journals. It also provided much of the impetus in the formation of the Centennial Memorial Park Board which, since 1941, has built out of the landed benefactions of various people and groups an enviable reputation for preserving the forested and coastal lands of the Waitakere Ranges and its adjoining west coast.15

Yet back in 1938, with the centenary a mere two years off, Auckland (already the most populous city and province in the dominion) still lacked a major centennial project. Then salvation came from an unusual quarter. It arose out of the decision of the Sir John Logan Campbell Residuary Estate Trust to realise at last Campbell's dream of erecting an obelisk as a memorial to the Maori race.

To understand the origins of this unusual proposal to put a monument on One Tree Hill, one must return first to 1906, and then go back even further, to the mid- page 132 nineteenth century. In 1906, the blind and aged Logan Campbell announced at a public gathering when he unveiled his own statue that he nourished the ambition to erect 'a towering obelisk . . . uprearing heavenward from the summit of One Tree Hill in memoriam to the great Maori race'.16 At first blush it might appear culturally inappropriate to use an ancient Egyptian monument to honour a Palaeolithic Polynesian people. But it would not have seemed so to Campbell. Ever since 1849, when he had journeyed up the Nile to visit the ruins of the ancient Pharaonic cities, he had been entranced by the obelisk, 'clean, sharp, beautifully proportioned'; for him it was the most admirable of monuments.17 By dedicating an obelisk to the Maori people, he was, according to his lights, bestowing on the people of the land (tangata whenua) the highest of praise.

Upon Campbell's death, and burial on the summit of Maungakiekie in 1912, the executors of his will were directed to spend up to £5000 in erecting an obelisk. But because of the war and financial considerations related to the development of Cornwall Park, no action was taken until May 1924 when Alfred Bankart, chairman of trustees, instructed Arnold & Abbott, the trust's architects, to prepare plans which 'would give effect to the monument clause in the will'.18 Nine months later R. Atkinson Abbott provided the trust with three sketches and a plan showing alternative possibilities, with an obelisk variously sited and at 100, 150, and 200 feet in height.19 The drawings had the effect of alerting the trustees to a range of hitherto unsuspected problems, chief of which were: would £5000 cover the expanding cost?; what height was necessary for a tapered column that would attain 'monumental proportions' yet 'not overpower the Hill'?; and would the scoriaceous volcanic strata immediately beneath the summit support such a massive weight? Prolonged debate on these issues, budgetary problems within the trust and the onset of the 1930s economic slump delayed the project for some years.20

In August 1933, Bankart and his fellow trustees decided to postpone their obligations no further but begin acting on a further and more detailed set of plans prepared by Abbott. The chief features of the new proposals were a hundred-foot column made of reinforced concrete with a granolithic face, standing on a reinforced concrete base that would be buttressed and lined with hand-cut basaltic bluestone.21 Abbott had introduced, and the trustees sanctioned, new and often costly features to the scheme. In order to 'give point and emphasis to the monument', Abbott proposed to erect on the corbel on the side which overlooked Campbell's grave 'the bronze figure of a Maori chief of heroic mould'. Richard O. Gross, a local sculptor of proven abilities,22 was commissioned to prepare a plaster model of this larger-than-life chief, seven feet six inches tall which on completion would be shipped to England, there to be cast in bronze.23 Further, on each of the four sides of the base, a bronze plaque was to be inset. These would bear inscriptions, two in English, two in Maori. One inscription was to carry a brief epitome of the story of Aotearoa from the arrival of the first canoes till the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the other page 133 would spell out Campbell's desire to have such a monument to express his admiration for the Maori people. These revised plans also involved a flattening of the summit to enable a paved courtyard to be set about the obelisk and Campbell's grave, together with extensive rockwalling for retaining the summit, and an enlargement of the approach road.

These changes led to an escalation of costs which were to have two not unrelated consequences in the years ahead. First, the Campbell trustees were obliged, on two separate occasions, to persuade the new Labour government which came to office in 1935 to sponsor legislation that would empower the trust to depart from the original provisions of the will so that, not £5000 but £10,000, and then later £15,000, could be spent in order to erect the memorial and 'complete the approaches thereto'.24 Second, in order to put pressure on the government, and to impart a sense urgency and eclat to the now ambitious scheme, the trustees decided in 1937 to convert the construction of the obelisk into a centennial project. In doing so they approached the Auckland Provincial Centennial Council and Te Akarana Maori Association which was, at that time, the mouthpiece of Maori tribes in the vicinity of Auckland.

The local Maori community responded to the enlarged scheme with enthusiasm. As early as 1935, Te Akarana had written to the trustees to point out that since a large number of rural Maori planned to be in Auckland in 1940 for the centennial celebration, that occasion would provide an ideal opportunity 'to publicly open the obelisk'.25 A further letter in 1937 from Te Akarana applauded the determination of the Campbell trustees to press on with construction. The letter also enclosed a memorial, in the sense of a declaration of support, which had been signed by over one hundred chiefs, all descendants of the voyagers who came to Aotearoa on the Tainui canoe. Among the signatories were King Koroki and Princess Te Puea Herangi and lesser leaders of various Waikato hapu, together with chiefs ands chieftainesses of Ngati Whatua, Ngati Maru, Ngati Haua, and many other iwi and hapu. This joint letter spoke of the 'high appreciation' of the signatories regarding the proposal to 'realise the Ohaki (dying injunction) of the late Sir John Logan Campbell'. It also gave full support to the decision to enlarge the memorial; for 'it is the desire of the Maori people', ran the petition, that the monument 'should become in every sense fully fitting the purpose to [honour] the Historic Maori past'.

The new Labour Government, aware that the Auckland efforts were in danger of flagging, was equally supportive of this new focus for celebrations in the northern city. A newsletter from the Department of Internal Affairs spoke of the 'happy circumstance' that 1940 would also 'mark the 100th anniversary of the landing in Auckland of the late Sir John' and could thus 'be honoured in the thanksgivings, rejoicings and celebrations with which our Centennial is to be commemorated'.26 Certainly, cabinet ministers and Auckland MPs made a point of facilitating the work of the Campbell trustees by rushing through legislation in 1938 and 1940, making further funds available by changing the provisions of the original trust.27

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The only opposition to the memorial to manifest itself came from an unexpected quarter. At the centennial Maori ball held in Auckland on 2 September 1938, the chairman of Auckland's Centennial Council, Sir Ernest Davis, delivered a speech inviting representatives from all Maori tribes, far and wide, to take part in the ceremony of dedication of the Campbell monument in 1940. He was taken aback when Sir Apirana Ngata rose to express misgivings about the proposed ceremony on One Tree Hill. Nothing should happen in 1940, he said, that would 'subordinate Waitangi as a national shrine'.28 Ngata was obviously uneasy about what he thought was a certain ill-founded complacency in Auckland about the state of racial harmony, and this, he feared, might well become reinforced by the imagined message of the monument. Not untypical of the kind of effusion in the press at that time, that Ngata could have had in mind, is this excerpt from an article written by an Aucklander for the New Zealand Centennial News: 'Despite many past misunderstandings' between Maori and Pakeha, 'those rejoicings will... mark the present-day happy relations of the two races'.29

In a letter which Ngata wrote to Davis shortly after, he explained why he had spoken out as he had on the night of the ball.

Auckland City has not occupied a very high place in the esteem of the Maori People, and I will explain why. Historically it was the centre of events which led to the confiscation of Native lands; it became associated with the pressure of European settlement at the expense of Maori communities. I did not say this at the Town Hall, but it was at the back of my question, 'What has Auckland meant to the Maori people?' If you have any doubt about this aspect of the queen city's reputation in past years, read the leading articles in the NZ Herald. We who are on the margins of the Province, do not forget these things, and our tribes cannot be expected to get up the necessary enthusiasm on receipt of a formal invitation to come and partake in the celebrations to be held in the Provincial capital.30

These opinions would be looked on as unexceptionable among historians today. But they must have seemed sulphurous and incendiary to the city fathers of that era. Early in 1939, the Campbell trustees commissioned Thomas Clements, contractor, to construct the monument, and Richard Gross, sculptor, to prepare the plaster model of the chief. It was expected that this work would be completed in ample time for the Governor General to be able to conduct an unveiling ceremony on 28 January 1940.31 This ceremony was scheduled to coincide with the week (27 January to 3 February) when a general assembly of Maori people would join in as honoured guests at the Auckland centennial celebrations.32 Over this period, 'five hundred selected representatives of the various Maori tribes' were to be encamped on the Epsom showgrounds, so that they could take part in varied activities such as pageants, a page 135
The uncompleted obelisk in January 1940. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, National Newspaper Collection, New Zealand Herald, 24 January 1940, C-27616-1/2.

The uncompleted obelisk in January 1940. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, National Newspaper Collection, New Zealand Herald, 24 January 1940, C-27616-1/2.

procession, an all-Maori athletics meeting, and a regatta (which would feature Princess Te Puea's war canoes).33 The Provincial Centennial Council agreed to contribute £1250 towards the costs of this encampment, while the Campbell trust donated £500 for the purposes of the function on what it now called 'the Sir John Logan Campbell Memorial Day'.34

By mid-1939, however, serious doubts were surfacing as to whether construction of the memorial would be completed in time for a ceremony on 28 January 1940. Gross's full-scale model of a Maori chief, which was to be cast in bronze in a British foundry, was unlikely to arrive in London before the end of July 1939.35 And with the declaration of war on 3 September, there were further doubts about its completion in time because the ironfounders were temporarily diverted to defence work.36 More significantly, bad weather in late autumn and midwinter in Auckland had meant that many days were lost by the workers erecting the main monument on the windswept summit of Maungakiekie. In late October, the architect, Atkinson Abbott, was forced to break the bad news to the Campbell Trust that there was 'no possibility' that the contractor would be able to meet his 28 January deadline.37

The decision of the New Zealand government to follow Britain in declaring war on Nazi Germany extricated the Auckland Centennial Celebrations Council from page 136
Ricahrd Gross eases his statue of the Maori chief on to its plinth. Weekly News, 10 November 1940.

Ricahrd Gross eases his statue of the Maori chief on to its plinth. Weekly News, 10 November 1940.

the embarrassment of having to hold an unveiling function with the obelisk incomplete. As soon as New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, began to volunteer for the services in large numbers, Te Akarana Association announced that Maori in the region must immediately dissociate themselves from all centennial celebrations.38 The association declared that with the nation at war, tikanga Maori (Maori tradition) dictated that no dedication of a memorial could take place 'while blood is being spilt'.39

That was the official (and unofficially very convenient) explanation given for the decision not to unveil the obelisk, showpiece of the centennial celebrations in Auckland, in January 1940. The monument, which cost the Campbell Trust £15,436 (a huge sum at the time) to construct,40 was to remain throughout the war and beyond a highly visible part of the Auckland landscape, a pillar of stone by day, by night a red aircraft beacon attached to the stainless steel pyramidion atop the obelisk.

And even when the war ended no one hurried to carry out the opening ceremony. That function, in effect the unveiling of the pedestal,41 did not take place until 24 April 1948 (one suspects that the closeness to Anzac Day was no coincidence).42 At noon, a party of tangata whenua, Ngati Whatua from Orakei, welcomed twenty Waikato elders onto the summit of Maungakiekie. It was fitting that Waikato be there. Maori well knew the old proverb defining Tainui boundaries: cMokau ki runga, Tamaki ki raro'; 'Mokau [north Taranaki] above and Tamaki below'. And it must be page 137 recalled that the protective cloak of Waikato's Potatau Te Wherowhero lay over Auckland during the first years of the infant capital. That also was not to be forgotten. And it was fitting, too, that Koroki should unveil the monument, bearing as he did the name of the chiefly child who, two hundred years before had, through rituals of birth, made Maungakiekie a sacred hill.

Nevertheless, it was regrettable that representation should have been confined to Ngati Whatua and Waikato. No tribes north of Orakei and south of Ngaruawahia were invited to take part because, according to the chairman of the trust, 'the Maoris the late Sir John had admiration for belonged to the tribes in those districts'.43 This was not strictly true. Logan Campbell's pioneer reminiscences, which he published as Poenamo, and his voluminous memoirs, reveal that the tribes whom he knew best and admired most were members of the Marutuahu confederation: Ngaitai, who built his first home on Motukorea, and Ngati Tama-te-ra, from whom he had bought that island and among whom he lived for some months on 'Hauraki's shore', both come to mind. The chiefs he admired most were also from Hauraki: the aged Te Horeta, Kanini of Tama-te-ra, and Taraia Ngakuti Te Tumuhia, whom he respected even while he called him 'an old warrior of dread renown'.

But an incomplete invitation list to the unveiling is, after all, no great matter. And it is surely in character with the many misconceptions that have clouded the true story of One Tree Hill down to the present day.

1 For the background to this paragraph, see Russell Stone, 'Exotic tree image of united cultures', New Zealand Herald (NZH), 17 September 1999, A13.

2 See vertical file of newspaper clippings on the attack on the tree, in the Auckland Public Library (APL), especially the articles and letters in Mana.

3 Report of Auckland Historical Research Committee (AHRC), 4 August 1936, NZMS 1128, APL.

4 G. W. A. Bush, Decently and in Order: The Centennial History of the Auckland City Council (Auckland: Collins for Auckland City Council, 1971), p.555.

5 The chief reviewer was T. Lindsay Buick.

6 Report of the AHRC to Auckland City Council, 25 November 1936, NZMS 1128.

7 G. H. Scholefield to Mrs H. McLeary, 18 November 1937, NZMS 385, APL. The negotiations for the Mathew Papers are fully recorded in this file, which also has most of the working papers of Rutherford during the period he converted the journals into a book.

8 Rutherford to A. W. Reed, 26 December 1938, NZMS 385.

9 Ibid.

10 Rutherford to Auckland Provincial Centennial Committee, 21 February 1939, NZMS 385.

11 Ibid.

12 A. W. Reed to Rutherford, 4 January 1940, NZMS 385.

13 Rutherford to Auckland Provincial Centennial Council, 21 February 1939; Rutherford to W. H. Cocker of the Auckland University Council; both NZMS 385.

14 Rutherford to Mrs H. McLeary, 9 March 1939, MS 385.

15 Bush, pp.275-344.

16 R. C. J. Stone, The Father and his Gift (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1987), pp.252-3.

17 R. C. J. Stone, Young Logan Campbell (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1982), p.150.

18 A. S. Bankart to Arnold and Abbott, 25 August 1924, fol.311, Campbell Papers (CP), MS 51, Auckland Museum Library (AML).

19 Abbott to Campbell Trustees, 12 May 1925, fol.310.

20 Abbott to A. E. Bollard, 13 November 1934, fol.312.

21 Ibid.

22 Gross had sculptures throughout New Zealand, such as the figure 'Endeavour' at the Auckland Grammar School, and the equestrian group on the Wellington City War Memorial; NZH, 24 November 1930, Supp. p.ll.

23 A. E. Bollard to Hon W.J. Jordan, 9 June 1939, CP, fol.314.

24 Russell McVeagh (lawyers) to H. G. R. Mason, Attorney General, 5 August 1938, CP, fol.313.

25 George Graham (secretary) to A. E. Bollard, 24 October 1935, CP, fol.312.

26 Newsletter in CP, fol.312, undated. It is not clear whether this effusion originated in Wellington or Auckland.

27 Bollard to H. G. R. Mason (Attorney General), 21 June 1938, Russell McVeagh (lawyers) to Mason, 5 August 1938, CP, fol.313; Mason to A. G. Osborne, MP for Onehunga, fol.315.

28 Davis to Ngata, 9 September 1938, CP, fol.313.

29 NZ Centennial News, 25 October 1938, p.18.

30 Ngata to Davis, 20 September 1938, CP, fol.313.

31 A. E. Bollard, to Lord Galway, 30 June 1939, CP, fol.314.

32 NZ Centennial News, 29 April 1939, p.3.

33 Ibid.; Provincial Maori Subcommittee resolution, 29 June 1939, CP, fol.314.

34 Campbell Trust Board resolution, 28 June 1939, CP, fol.314.

35 A. E. Bollard to Hon W.J. Jordan, High Commissioner, 19 June 1939, CP, fol.314.

36 Jordan to Campbell Trust, 13 September 1939, CP, fol.314.

37 R. A. Abbott to Campbell Trust, 24 October 1939, CP, fol.314.

38 J. Rukutai to Campbell Trust, 26 October 1939, CP, fol.314.

39 Ibid.; the phrase cited is from In the Shadow of Maungakiekie (Auckland: One Tree Hill Borough Council, 1989), p.21.

40 R. A. Abbott to Campbell Trust, 29 November 1940, CP, fol.314.

41 Manukau Progress, 8 November 1962.

42 For the programme see R. K. Jones to A. E. Bollard, 8 April 1948, CP, fol.317.

43 A. E. Bollard to Rt Hon P. Fraser (Minister of Maori Affairs), 22 March 1948, fol.317.