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by John Dix

Remembering Bastion Point with Music

by John Dix

Remembering Bastion Point with Music

On Friday May 25 2018, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the forced eviction of protestors at Auckland’s Bastion Point, a packed concert at the city’s Tuning Fork venue featured Annie Crummer, Ardijah, Che Fu, Harry Lyon, Herbs, King Kapisi, Moana Maniapoto, Papa Band Of The Land, Ron LaPraed (ex-Commodores), Tama Waipara and Tigilau Ness. John Dix provides this background.

Takaparawhā or Bastion Point, the promontory which overlooks Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, was gifted to the government in 1885 by Ngāti Whātua O Orakei for fortification due to a perceived threat of a Russian invasion. It never happened but the land remained in state ownership throughout the 20th century and in 1976 Prime Minister Robert Muldoon announced that the site would become available for high-end real estate development. Quite rightfully, Ngāti Whātua complained that that wasn’t the deal and Joe Hawke, later a Labour Party MP, formed the Orakei Māori Action Committee. From 6 January 1977 to 25 May 1978 the land was occupied in protest.

Throughout the occupation, Muldoon portrayed the protestors as squatters and undesirables, a view generally supported by the mainstream media and larger populace, but there was one section of society who supported and sympathised with the protestors – New Zealand’s musical community.

During the occupation, there was even an in-house band, Papa, featuring Alec Hawke, brother of occupation leader Joe Hawke and the organiser of the 40th-anniversary concert, and Dilworth Karaka, later of Herbs, who both lived on-site throughout. It can even be said that Herbs grew out of the Bastion Point occupation (and, indeed, the cover of the band’s 1981 debut 12” EP ‘What’s Be Happen?’ is an aerial photograph of eviction day. Alec Hawke recalls:

“Dil and I used to get home from Papa gigs in the early hours and have a cuppa with the Rat Patrol (Bastion Point security). During the occupation and to further show our solidarity, the band’s name was extended from Papa to Papa Band Of The Land.

“Those who performed with Papa at the Point or at fundraising events included Beaver, Billy TK & Powerhouse, Bunny Walters, the Senators, Maranga Mai, Midge Marsden’s Country Flyers, Sonny Day, Johnny Tucker & Mahana, Red Mole Theatre, Corben Simpson, Bobby Stinato and the Greasy Dogs, a funk outfit from Otara. Later, Moana Maniapoto, Truda Chadwick, the Topp Twins, Ardijah and others over the years have performed at memorial concerts.

“Papa used to spread the word among the muso fraternity to publicise the protest and many musos approached us to ask how they could help. One day Rick Bryant arrived on site and a week or two later Rough Justice played. Hello Sailor, probably New Zealand’s top band of the time, headlined one of our fundraising concerts up the hill.”

“We played up there during the occupation, taking time out from the recording studio, and prior to heading to LA, to show our support for the cause,”Hello Sailor’s Harry Lyon remembers. “Aside from that, the rebelliousness appealed to us too, standing up for what’s right in the face of authority and the status quo.

“I was honoured to be asked to celebrate this event 40 years on. During my time at MAINZ, we developed a strong relationship with Ngāti Whātua and I’ve spent many pleasant hours at the marae, talking, eating and playing music. I just love the place and I wonder at the idiocy of anyone thinking about turning that land into a subdivision.”

Tigilau Ness of Unity Pacific had yet to start his own musical career but was already a fully-fledged social activist as Minister of Culture for the Polynesian Panthers, an organisation which threw its weight behind the occupation from the beginning.

“I spent a lot of time up at Bastion Point during the occupation although I did have a day job. I was there most evenings though, and weekends.”

Originally handled by Gluepot booking manager Eddie Cook, Polynesian Panthers’ co-founder Will ‘Ilohahia began managing Papa Band Of The Land. He was later Herbs’ original manager.

Tigilau was one of the 222 people arrested when the police and army evicted the protestors and dismantled the camp on 25 May 1978. Another was Truda Chadwick, now a member of Papa Band Of The Land.

“The tension was unbelievable,” Truda remembers about that fateful day. “When the police circled the whole camp it was pretty scary. I was actually scared, didn’t know what to expect. It had never happened before, certainly not in my lifetime. Maybe the 1951 Waterfront Strike was similar, but it was just all so surreal. They put us in police vehicles and locked us up for a few hours to cool our heels.”

Photos by Christopher Pryor: