From a non-Māori Maui to Spanish shipwrecks: Who is Noel Hilliam?

Noel Hilliam (Facebook) northland maori european new zealand history
Noel Hilliam (Facebook)

Northland man Noel Hilliam has caught media attention again this week for new claims about finding human remains that pre-date Māori.

He has been criticised since for alleged grave-robbing, and his claims of humans in Aotearoa before Māori have been substantially rubbished by qualified archaeologists, notably in a thorough article published by Vice.

It's not the first time Mr Hilliam, a dairy farmer and founder of Dargaville's museum, has been in the news:

  • In 1982 he reported seeing a wreck of a Spanish ship on Bayly's Beach, but it was never found.
  • In 1998 elders from Te Uri o Hau banned visits to all sacred Māori areas in the Kaipara after Mr Hilliam visited without permission, and claimed to have discovered a prehistoric village.He said the site belonged to a group of people who were driven out by Māori about 600 years ago, but he would not say where exactly the site was.
  • In 2000, Mr Hilliam pulled out of the Historic Places Trust's Northland board because he was frustrated with its lack of inquiry into pre-Māori people, NZPA reported.
  • In 2004, Mr Hilliam helped excavate a shipwreck west of Dargaville - something he'd been looking for for 30 years. It had last emerged from the sand in 1973 and prior to that in 1909. A number of items were salvaged from the site including an anchor chain and a 1.5m cannon.
  • In 2009, it was posited Spanish sailors arrived in New Zealand more than a century before Abel Tasman. A researcher looked into the claims based on Mr Hilliam's belief a Spanish ship visited the country in the 16th century and sank. He says 22 of the 53 crew came from Aranga in Spain - the same name as the area in Northland near where the wreck was spotted. The main street in that town was called 'Rua Tui' which is also a Māori name.
  • In 2012, Mr Hilliam co-authored a book called To the End of the Earth in which it claimed famed Māori demi-god Maui wasn't Polynesian, but an ancient Egyptian navigator.