An aerial view of Hereheretau Station, near Wairoa on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, reveals a diverse landscape.

Hereheretau Station

Stands of regenerating native forest give way to pine tree plantations, steep gullies, a winding river and pristine green pastures populated with sheep. The soft, spring foliage of willow trees, planted to prevent erosion, is eye-catching, but ugly scars on some of the hills are stark reminders that the weather can unleash its savagery now and then. 

Perhaps this bird’s eye view needs to be kept in mind, because the task of keeping a clear perspective has, historically, not always been easy.

For nearly 100 years the Māori Trustee and Te Tumu Paeroa has fully committed to guiding this property into the future through skilled governance to ensure it remains a taonga tuku iho – a treasure to be passed down.

The Māori Soldiers Trust and Hereheretau Station

The sheep and cattle station was set up, at the urging of Sir Apirana Ngata, to help Māori veterans and their whānau after World War One.

The Māori Soldiers Fund was started on the East Coast in 1917. In 1958 The Māori Soldiers Trust Act 1957 formally established the Māori Soldiers Trust Committee to administer the trust’s funds, with all property of the trust is held by the Māori Trustee on the trust’s behalf.

The Māori Soldiers Trust Committee is chaired by the Minister of Māori Development. It consists of the Māori Trustee as deputy chair, and Māori representatives of each Māori Land Court districts. These are appointed by the Minister of Māori Development on the recommendation of local organisations.

Sir Apirana Ngata Memorial Scholarship

As well as contributing to The Māori Soldiers Fund, Hereheretau Station provides funding for Sir Apirana Ngata Memorial scholarships to promote higher education among Māori, the preference being given to descendants of Māori World War One Veterans.

407 scholarships for a total of $693,000 have been granted since 1996.

Farming Hereheretau Station

At times, Hereheretau Station, the major asset of the Māori Soldiers Trust, has gone through challenges that have threatened its continued existence.   

In the early years the station was meant to bring in income to assist the Māori veterans but instead, its farming operations drained the resources of the fund.

In 1925 the responsibility for the administration of the fund transferred to the Native Trustee (now the Māori Trustee) along with management of the stations (Hoia Station was the other) and this is how it survived.

From 1925-1946 Hereheretau Station was still in financial difficulty and Māori WW1 veterans obtained no benefits from the fund through these decades. However, with careful management and an improving economic situation through the 1930s, Hereheretau Station’s fortunes gradually began to improve.

The post-WW1 period was more successful and the Korean wool boom saw the station well placed to take advantage of years of extraordinary returns for sheep farms.

Interwoven in its early history are questions around how the Crown acquired the station’s land, then leased it to the Māori Soldiers Trust. Was it supposed to be given in perpetuity? What was to happen when the last veteran died?

A stubborn piece of country

In the 1930s, Hereheretau Station was described as ‘a very stubborn piece of country. With 700 acres of good sheep country but the balance dirty, unattractive country, growing fern, ti-tree, tahinu and blackberry.’

Blackberry, that botanical pest, introduced in 1844 by Reverend James Hamlin, has remained a nuisance (ironically, Pākehā used blackberry as an argument to push for acquisition of Māori land at Hereheretau) to everyone who has farmed in the area. Even today.

“We have a team of contractors from Nuhaka who come in and spend days spraying it with electric reels; they are saints,” said Dick Finnie, Hereheretau Station’s manager, who along with his wife Janelle and their two young daughters, has been in the job for three years.

Blackberry and fencing were number one on his list of jobs to tackle when he arrived in 2013.

Dick, who graduated from Smedley Cadet Training Farm in Hawke’s Bay in the early 1990s said managing Hereheretau Station is his dream job. He’s proud of the fact he has an excellent team of two general shepherds and two young shepherds.

He likes to encourage the young cadets. “The cadets often come from Waipaoa Station Farm Cadet Training Trust and while they are here I give them as much responsibility as possible.”

Aaron Hunt is the rural advisor for Te Tumu Paeroa.  He has a Bachelor of Commerce (Agriculture) degree from Lincoln University as well as hands-on farming experience. He’s a great communicator and is passionate about the work he does. “My role is to educate the trustees and directors about farming, from the ground up. The biggest kick I get is when I'm asked informative questions and I have to go and find out because I don’t know the answer.”

The purchase of 300ha of flat land at Whakaki has enabled the station to finish stock. “We bought it because we needed it to diversify the operation.  Previously we were essentially just a breeding unit, so finishing stock on the flats gives us added value further up the chain,” said Aaron.

He works hard to ensure everything at Hereheretau Station runs smoothly. He said, “Dick has taken the farm from something that was just ticking along to a whole new level; with his enthusiasm and the support of his team, everything is pumping.”

Te Tumu Paeroa and the Māori Soldiers Trust is the biggest sponsor for the Young Māori Farmer of the Year competition and Aaron is one of the judges. “I love seeing young people thriving in the rural industry.”

Māori Soldier’s Trust governance and leadership

In October 2016, the chair of the Māori Soldier’s Trust and Minister for Māori Development, the Honourable Te Ururoa Flavell; Deputy Chair of the Trust and Māori Trustee, Jamie Tuuta; and three representatives from different Māori Land Court districts visited Hereheretau Station for a guided tour of the property. A meeting at Whakaki Marae followed this.

What does the future look like for the Māori Soldier’s Trust and how will this best be shaped? What are our aspirations for Hereheretau Station as well as the Whakaki community? These were just some of the questions asked.

Minister Flavell said it was a good time “to reflect on where we’ve come from, what’s required of us and where things are heading into the future.”

With, apparently, no identifiable Māori veterans of WW1 and their dependents (children and grandchildren) still living that may receive support from this fund, according to the law, it now meant the Māori Soldiers Trust was at a crossroads. “If we want to do anything with it, we have to change the Act.”

“As trustees we need to conduct some work as to who should be the beneficiaries. Currently, all we rely on is an application saying ‘I am a descendent.’ We have no records to show this.”

Guidance was needed to answer many questions that were hanging in the air. One suggestion was “to take a road show around the country to give us a community steer about where to head to.”

Taking the Māori Soldier’s Trust beyond its current narrow, prescriptive application was one of the frustrations experienced by the committee, according to Jamie Tuuta.  

“How do you broaden and do things that fall outside what we can currently do?”

“Over the last three to four years, the trust has been looking at developing its strategy and creating a unifying direction. If we were to think about a vision for the future it would be to support the Māori leaders of the future. That’s pretty broad but let’s ask: what can this trust be the best in the world at and what is our contribution?”

“Given that the current asset of the trust, I am told, is one of the best farms in this region, we need to build a collaborative, sustainable farming model of excellence that nurtures and grows Māori agri-business capability,” said Jamie.

The trust was passionate about honouring the sacrifices of the past by working to create prosperity for the future through education.

Increasing farm profitability could generate further scholarships. “Sheep and beef stations don’t generate huge amounts of surplus cash so it’s about achieving the right balance between repairs and maintenance and any surplus.”

There are also aspirations to have two or three Māori cadets training and working at Hereheretau Station.

As well, the committee and the staff of the trust were “really keen to see a vibrant Whakaki community that is supported, engaged and benefits from the farm.”

A number of other speakers also expressed the desire to have the Whakaki community’s voices heard.

Any changes will take time because “there still needed to be much korero,” said Jamie.