Pākaraka signs marking Whanganui village destroyed hours after being installed

By Robin Martin for RNZ

Signs re-instating the name - Pākaraka - at a settlement on the outskirts of Whanganui have been ripped out of the ground just hours after being installed.

Ngāti Maika hapū says the act of vandalism is "gut-wrenching" but it will not stop the name change or poison the spirit of reconciliation it represents.

Pākaraka - meaning an abundance of karaka trees - was officially re-instated on Saturday at a ceremony at the village - more recently known as Maxwell.

Pākaraka Pa kaumātua Ray Hina said it was devastating to find the signs were no longer standing that evening.

"Oh pōuri, sad. Straight away, straight away, immediately because I sort of guessed what had happened when I couldn't see the signs, you know, within myself.

"And that's the first thing that comes to mind, it's pretty gut-wrenching to see the signs didn't even last 24 hours."

Sergeant George Maxwell, a Scotsman, was a founding member of a settler militia in the 19th century.

In 1868, Maxwell's militia attacked a group of unarmed Ngā Rauru Kītahi rangatahi, killing two, in what became known as the Handley's Woolshed incident.

Pākaraka Pa kaumatua Ray Hina and Ngāti Maika hapū member Ruta Broughton - who campaigned for the name change.
Pākaraka Pa kaumatua Ray Hina and Ngāti Maika hapū member Ruta Broughton - who campaigned for the name change. Photo credit: RNZ

Ray Hina said he hoped the Pākaraka signs would be put back up as soon as possible.

"I know you can't change history, but we can change a name of what has happened that's all I can say.

"The pain and the hurt that happened in the past we don't want ... it looks like we're starting all over again and no, we don't want to do that."

Ngāti Maika hapū member Ruta Broughton - who campaigned for the name change - said she and Ray Hina collected the signs and took them to Pākaraka Pa.

"It looked like a truck had knocked them over and they just lay on the road side, all posts broken.

"And one of them is buckled because it looks like there are tyre marks on the sign."

The whole community had come together to see them installed, she said.

"The signs went up on a wonderful day the hapū, iwi, the council and a lot of those people involved and the community celebrated the signs going up on the road side."

Whanganui Mayor Andrew Tripe was also there.

"It was quite an emotional time and quite moving in a lot of ways. There were some people shedding tears and that kind of thing which shows the depth of meaning for the change for a lot of the local iwi.

"But also even for some of the neighbours, the farming neighbours, who turned up in support of the change as well."

The vandalism was devastating although not unexpected and it had been reported to police, Tripe said.

"I'm deeply disappointed by what is probably the act of one or two people and so I don't see the act, the pretty despicable act by one or two people, as representative of the majority but that's what happens and there are obviously some people who are anti the change."

Tripe said the case for a name change was a no-brainer for those who took time to understand the history and the signs would be re-installed.

He hoped as people became educated about the motivation for the name change that over time they would come to accept it.