How whānau living in Australia keep sense of belonging to te ao Māori

More than 150,000 Māori have made the move to Australia, but as whānau migrate for a better quality of life and work opportunities, they leave behind their culture and tikanga protocols is the price to pay. 

A marae is central to that feeling of belonging, so without that, how do whānau living in Ahitereiria (Australia) maintain their cultural identity?

"We only came here for two years. You know, 15 years later, we're still here," one whānau said.

"Sydney's been fantastic to us. And we can still uphold our tikanga, uphold our reo," Māori in Australia Brendon Martin said. 

Martin and his whānau left their papakainga in Panguru in the Far North 13 years ago. It was a massive shift from a population of fewer than 100 people and moving to Australia's largest city of more than five million.

"Sydney's very busy and our main focus is mahi and there's a lot of mahi, so whānau sort of don't get much time to acknowledge our taha Māori mai ngā kapa haka ngā reo." 

Despite not living back home in Aotearoa, it's Martin's dedication to his Te Aranganui kapa haka that helps foster that connection to home. 

"I feel my job here is to maintain the best I can for our rangatahi, just so they remember who they are and where they come from."

The roopu are invited to perform at corporate functions and warm up crowds at large sporting events.

"We do it because we love performing. We do it because we love to show the world our tāonga. our mahi rangatira. I'm fascinated by how people really love our culture here in Sydney, we're in demand."

The assumption that some have for whānau Māori finding it difficult to uphold their cultural practices while living in Australia is relevant but is not necessarily the case. Māori are known to be thriving across the Tasman, they do, however, yearn for a place to come together.

That's why plans for a first-of-its-kind marae built outside of Aotearoa should be for celebration. Instead, the proposal has been ridiculed over lack of consultation with local mana whenua the Dharug Mob, said the director of Dharug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation Corina Marino. 

"The first time they did contact us, we told them about the cultural protocol around that and you simply can't get a yes from us today because we have to go back into our community and we need to get them on board."

Marino has Dharug and Te Ati Haunui ā Pāpārangi whakapapa.

"Is it appropriate for marae to be here? My people are saying no, they don't feel like it is. The process needs to start again."

For Sonia Taylor, her connection to back home is made through waka ama as a kaihoe (rower) for Yarra Bays Maia Outrigger Canoe Club.

"I like the fact of being out in the water. It's peaceful and surrounded by my culture and feeling like I'm at home."

While waka ama gives Taylor a dose of culture once a week, she said she's watched in awe at the gains being made by Māori back home - especially hearing more te reo Māori being spoken in the four years since she left Aotearoa.

"A lot of people walking around with moko kauae on, on the TV speaking Māori. I think that it's our culture that has really grown in New Zealand. It's extremely strong right now."

Taylor longs for a place where Māori can come together, but is not alone on that whakaaro - many crave that togetherness and a hākari. 

Chef and food writer Bridget Foliaki-Davis and her whānau are re-creating memories of being back in the kautā to fill the void. 

"We're so far away from home so having people come around and share kai with us, cook with us. It kind of feels like we're back on the marae a little bit."

Foliaki-Davis wrote her first cookbook five years ago and she's now just published her sixth. She is creating a healthy food empire that employs her entire whānau.

"It's about sharing. I'm not the sort of person who just wants to keep it all up here, because then you get the option to go and cook it for your whānau in your whare."

Foliaki-Davis still pines for the pātaka and kautā at her Kāretu Marae in te Pēowhairangi (the Bay of Islands).

"We have this sense of culture and it's so interconnected to food. One uncle knows where the best watercress is and that other uncle knows where the best kutai are. That sort of central idea of being Maori. It's hard being here and not getting to experience that all the time."

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.