An article that was written by Sally Cowley and appeared in The Mail under the heading Tom Parata, Man of Peace to mark the 80th anniversary of the first Anzac Day of 1915.
It is timely to remember those servicemen in training 80 years ago and one man in particular, who served his country in a different way.
Tom Parata of Waikanae gave many Kiwi soldiers cause to remember him with kindness and gratitude as later they fought in the trenches in France.
A letter from John H. McKay of Paraparaumu Beach to the Kapiti Observer in June 1960 tells of the Waikanae district being invaded by troops in 1915 and of the hospitality afforded by Mr Parata. In the winter of that year an epidemic of influenza had broken out in Trentham Military Camp and because of the conditions at the camp it was evacuated.
Mr McKay’s letter explains: “… well over 1000 patients were in the military hospital. Bell tents were their only accommodation and, with their tendency to leak, bedding was usually damp. Seven or eight men occupied each tent and fed from a dixie brought from the cookhouse.
“There must have been a hullabaloo about it because we had a visit from Bill Massey and Joey Ward and evacuation was ordered. Featherston camp was in course of construction but not ready, and the infantry troops packed up and moved to this district.
“We stayed for two days in some paddock off the main road and got bogged there and then shifted to the mouth of the Waikanae River.
“Discipline was relaxed in comparison to the huge establishment at Trentham and the troops thrived under the new conditions. The weather must have improved considerably because we had many bathing parades on the beach.
“One of my mates, a wealthy squatter from the Wanganui district had a huge car and we used to get around of an evening and look for diversion. We had many an evening of cards (and what goes with it) at Mr Tom Parata’s home…”
Mr McKay made only this brief mention of Mr Parata but his hospitality and the kindness of others in what was then a small village at Waikanae remained etched in his memory as many a time he sat it out in a broken down trench under Fritz’s bombardments.
So who was Tom Parata? Born Tohuroa Parata in March 1879, he was one of the highest-ranking and best known chiefs in New Zealand and grandson of the founder of the Waikanae township, politician and Cabinet Minister, Wiremu Te Kakakura Parata.
Wi Parata had vainly led the fight for recovery of Wellington ‘tenths’ land that had been granted to the Anglican Church. He had lost, with the Chief Justice of the day declaring that the Treaty of Waitangi was a “simple nullity” so far as the court was concerned.
Wi’s grandson, Tohuroa (Tom), was of the highest rank in the Te Atiawa, Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa tribes and closely connected with many others. He was awarded the OBE in 1954.
Tom was the son of Hira Parata and grew up at Tukurakau near Waikanae Beach. When he was 10 the family moved house and lived on land now occupied by the Waikanae Hotel, adjacent to their marae, Whakarongotai.
Educated at Te Aute College and St Patrick’s College in Wellington, Tom later took up a position with the Ministry of Works. At school he had been a keen footballer and became an administrator and referee. He refereed throughout the country and in 1921 controlled the Hawkes Bay – Poverty Bay v. Springboks match at Napier. He was also prominent in cricket, was a life member and former judge of the Otaki Maori Racing Club and later became a bowls enthusiast. Among his many friends were former Governor-General Lord Freyberg (a rugby chum who at the time was a dentist at Otaki) and Sir Peter Buck.
Tohuroa Parata descended in direct line from Waipunahau, who married an English whaler named Stubbs, who was at Kapiti Island in the early part of last century. Waipunahau had two sons – Te Kakakura and Hemi Matenga. The latter became the husband of Huria who was later known as the “Grace Darling of New Zealand”. Te Rangihiroa, the father of Waipunahau, was prominently associated in the fighting that subdued the tribes opposed to Te Rauparaha in the West Coast areas.
A measure of the prestige Tom enjoyed because of his descent was that he was selected by his elders to marry Hera Herangi (granddaughter of King Tawhiao and sister of Princess Te Puea) but he had already chosen his bride, Teoiroa Amy Mita Kuti (Cootes) and refused their decision.
Tom married Teoiroa in 1900 and they had five children. His first son, Wene would become a Maori All Black and all his children would become well-known in the field of sport. Tom and Teoiroa lived near the marae in a house where Woolworths now stands. The Parata family at that time owned the block of land extending from the present Waikanae township to Kohekoke Road, Ngarara Road, and Sylvan Avenue.
Tom’s granddaughter, Wai Cooke of Levin, has fond memories of growing up in her grandfather’s house at Waikanae: “My grandfather was a fine man; stern when he needed to be, very much master of his own home, but a kind and loving man who enjoyed meeting people. The house was always full of friends and relations and I remember the sing songs we had around the piano in front of a big open fire. The marae was also the focus of much entertainment.
“The village was like a family where everyone knew and mixed with everyone else and I’m not surprised that my grandfather gave hospitality to the troops camped by the river mouth. He loved cribbage and bridge and in those days the evenings would go well with a glass of port wine or sherry.”
Wai says there would have been local men among those camped at the river mouth or who would have passed Tom’s name on to those who visited his home because he was so well-known for his hospitality. But she says the Parata home would not have been the only one in Waikanae to open its doors to the soldiers as the arrival of troops in the area would have been quite an event for the locals.
Tohuroa Parata OBE died at the age of 77 in 1956. His obituary perhaps best sums up the man: “As a wise counsellor he was much beloved by his own people, and by Europeans he was held in the highest respect for his character. In every respect he upheld the highest ethics of the rangatiratanga to which he belonged.”
He Tangata Rangimarie Whakamaharatanga ia i tenei ra (Anzac).
A man of peace, fondly remembered this Anzac week.