Waihaere Mason (Ngāti Kuia, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Rangitāne o Wairau, Ngāti Rārua, Te Atiawa o Te Waipounamu) has become a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) this summer, marking his work with many organisations, from iwi, marae and the Waitangi Tribunal, to Māori Rugby and anti-violence programmes, environmental work such as the Te Hoiere Project, and a long-running effort to preserve the catchment including Canvastown.
Kahuroa te maunga
Te Hoiere te awa
Ruapaka te kāinga
Ngāti Kuia te iwi
Te Hoiere is in the DNA of Te Hoiere Kaitiaki Trust chairman, Waihaere Mason, raised by Ruapaka Stream near Canvastown.
Towering macrocarpa and the shallow stream trickling under a moss-covered concrete bridge mark the spot where Waihaere and his siblings spent a free-ranging childhood in the 1940s and 50s.
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Waihaere remembers a slow-moving stream with deep pools where he caught brook trout with a worm-line.
Koura, tuna and cockabullies were abundant. Kōwhai, coprosmas, punga and ferns grew alongside cherries and cape gooseberries in secluded corners along the banks.
Nearby, a smaller creek ran a tortuous course from a patch of ngāhere (forest), under the culverted highway and into Ruapaka Wetland.
In one pool were kākahi (freshwater mussels) and native fish takariwha, despite the upstream obstructions.
Creek water was bucketed daily to fill a kettle kept on the simmer for drinks and washing up.
Twice-weekly baths were enjoyed in a large tub, by firelight, in a shed out the back.
Sun, rain or hail, Waihaere’s mother Haromi boiled the copper for the weekly wash, scrubbing the family’s clothes on the side of the creek.
Large eels weighing up to 18lbs (8kg) were caught in Ruapaka Wetland. Waihaere remembers impaling one on a spear, which “took off across the pond like a submarine periscope.
“An enormous tail then came to surface and broke the handle.”
Each eel was opened, salted and hung out to dry. Pig-hunting was another way of feeding the family.
Waihaere was a pupil at Canvastown School along with other iwi whanau including Walker, Hemi and Wilson tamariki.
Many, like him, were born in the Māori Ward at Havelock Hospital.
“There was no te reo me ona tikanga Māori, just learning about the British kings and queens.”
At around 7-years-old Waihaere started work, helping neighbour Elliot Jones milk his cows.
Later he cut manuka wood for 10 shillings a day, enough to buy a pair of high-quality shoes.
Secondary school holidays were spent in shearing sheds.
The recently retired Ngāti Kuia chairman and one-time Nelson Intermediate principal was, in his youth, not overly concerned with iwi identity but considered all whanau as cousins.
He remembers his Toro (grandparents) speaking te reo among themselves and was proud to be a great-great-grandson of Meihana Kereopa.
The tohunga rangitira and carver provided evidence to the Native (Māori) Land Court on behalf of the Kurahaupo Waka in the 1880s. He now lies in Ruapaka Urupā.
When Waihaere started high school at Marlborough College, the Masons moved to a new house on whanau land where his father, Martin, managed to buy back land earlier sold by the family.
He was a hard worker employed in forestry, fishing and farming and was one of Marlborough’s first contract shearers.
Romney and half-bred sheep were run on the Ruapaka flats and slopes, and a small herd of cows milked, common for the time and valley.
A wharenui had been established at Ruapaka around the 1890s but dismantled in the 1930s.
However, people knew of multiple sites where tūpuna (ancestors) had lived, Waihaere recalls.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that Te Hora Marae was built not far from Canvastown, near the old Urupā.
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