A battle for land justice told through diary entries, Samuel Lee
Bastion Point – 507 days on Takaparawha
03 May, 2021
Tania Roxborogh tells the story of the Bastion Point protest through the eyes of a young girl named Erica. The story is told through her diary entries over the course of late 1976 to mid-1978. Erica and her family are fictional but the events of the protest mentioned are historically accurate and readers looking to gain a full understanding of the protest can find a complete timeline at the end of the book.
Erica began writing her entries to document her progress of training her newly purchased horse named Silver. However, several happy days after meeting her horse she is whisked away from her home by her family to join their tribe Ngāti Whātua at Bastion Point to protest the government’s plan to build new housing on their land. Although Erica and her younger siblings are part of their local marae, they are bitter about being away from their home and Erica vents her disapproval about having to sleep in tents for weeks on end in her diary. Neither she nor her siblings understand why they have to protect land they have never seen before. Their spirits plummet when long weeks turn into months and are eventually enrolled in the local school. Erica realises her reunion with Silver and her home will be a long time coming.
One thing that quickly became apparent to me was the awful conditions of living on the Point. Their occupation of the area was only meant to be temporary as the protesters lived in tents with no running water or electricity. However, the government’s disregard of the protesters’ complaints forced them to remain through the harsh cold and stormy conditions in the winter. Erica’s family’s tent is constantly muddy and leaking. One morning her mother notices mould growing on her mattress and her siblings grow sick, the youngest of which develops rashes on her legs. Erica misses days of school to help with the flooding and is humiliated by her teacher for getting mud and water stains on her book. The newspapers write hurtful stories about the protesters and as time goes by the residents hurl insults at the protesters:
“Tell your parents they should be ashamed!”
“The sooner they arrest your black arses the better!”
As well as that, the protesters find little success in their case against the government which creates a truly miserable environment.
One thing I enjoyed throughout reading the entries was how Erica’s attitude towards the protest developed over time. Towards the beginning of the text all she can think about is going home to be with Silver and she dismisses the weight of the protest. But, through participation in haka and waiata, Erica is immersed in her culture. In her social studies class she learns about the similarities her tribe’s protest share with globally recognised activists such as Gandhi. As a result, she develops strong beliefs about the importance of Ngāti Whātua’s land struggles and incorporates these into her high school debates with topics relating to social justice.
This book taught me about the tremendous sacrifice the people of Ngāti Whātua gave to their land. It becomes clear to the reader that Māori view their land as taonga – not an asset to be owned and profited from. It also highlights how little the government would comply with their complaints. The only way to prevent Ngāti Whātua land from being exploited by harmful laws such as the Native Land Act and Public Works Act, was to physically prevent the housing development from going ahead by camping on the land as they knew they would have been otherwise ignored.
These messages were effectively shown using the format of diary entries. The reader gets to see how moving away from home to stay on the Point flipped the life of a young girl upside down. Especially with the added challenges of living through harsh conditions with only basic equipment.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in New Zealand history. I think younger readers will find the medium of diary entries presents a much easier read compared to long history reports. However, readers should keep in mind that whilst there are historically accurate elements, Erica’s story is purely fictional. Despite this, Tania Roxborogh’s story gives a fantastic overview of the Bastion Point protest and shows the fight Māori have shown (and continue to show) in their battle for land justice.
Samuel Lee is 16 years old and a student at Aotea College in Porirua