New Zealand needs to 'push reset button' on controversial place names - Māori Council boss Matthew Tukaki

Matthew Tukaki believes now is the chance to change place names.
Matthew Tukaki believes now is the chance to change place names. Photo credit: The Project

New Zealand is at a crossroads when it comes to our place names, according to Māori Business Council Executive Chair Matthew Tukaki. 

Tukaki joined The Project on Tuesday to discuss whether places named after controversial figures should be renamed. 

Currently New Zealand has a mash up of Māori and Pakeha place names, some based on the settlers' and others adapted over the years.

Take Kanuka Hills for example, it used to be called N*****Hill but was changed in 2016.

Other place names which have been changed by Land Information New Zealand over the years include, Whakaari/ White Island Canyon previously going by 'White Island Canyon', and Maungatawa which changed from its previously misspelt version 'Mangatawa'.

Tukaki believes now is the time to act and bring in more Māori place names.

"The vast majority of bridges and streams in towns and cities across the country already have Māori names, some of them are absolutely amazing like Kaikoura… the English translation means crayfish," Tukaki told the Project on Tuesday. 

Since the death of George Floyd, there's been momentum around the world to take down statues of characters with controversial pasts.

In New Zealand, Captain John Hamilton was removed from Hamilton's civic square because of his role in the NZ Wars.

Tukaki supports the idea that this is the chance for change "this is a fantastic opportunity to push a reset button".

"We're at the intersection where we go as a nation and it's not just about the naming of towns and cities [or] about the historical record of how they came to be named. But also what do we want New Zealand to look like in the decades to come?"

The small South Island town of Cromwell was under the microscope on Tuesday night.

Cromwell was of course named after Oliver Cromwell who was a famous English General during the Civil War in the 1600s. 

But it seems the idyllic township known for its ripe fruit pickings had more of a dark past.

"He was also quite notorious for the way he suppressed Irish battalion brutally when he was conducting military campaigns there," Historian Grant Morris told The Project. 

After asking a number of Cromwell locals whether they supported a name change for their town, the general consensus was no.

"I was born in this town, it's always been Cromwell and it always will be Cromwell," community board member Neil Gillespie said. 

Another person said "the name Cromwell is really good, changing it is a load of crap".