The Two Colossi of Ahuriri, Pat Magill and John Harre

Closing a Community Chapter. The Two Colossi of Ahuriri, Pat Magill and John Harre


On Monday 24 April Pat Magill, my kaumatua Pākehā, tangata Tiriti, called a few of us together for a coffee at Haumoana. He gave us the relentless dissatisfaction and restless activism game plan. On the Tuesday Pat told his daughter Jess that he believed he would simply ‘slip away’ sometime during the week. “Just like Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit”, I replied. ‘A very cute Hobbit,’ said Jess.

On the Friday afternoon I went to his cottage on the West Shore at his beloved Ahuriri estuary and prayed a couple of decades of the rosary with him. His late wife Cath was a staunch Catholic and though he was coma-like I sensed that he heard the prayers and was comforted by the repetitive rhythm of the Hail Mary and recitation of the benediction.

On Saturday morning 29th April, not long after sun rise, at 96 years of age, Pat willingly joined the spirit world. “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith”. (2. Timothy 4:7)

Pat Magill. If you come from Hawke’s Bay or have been active in issues of social justice, whether you are from Helsinki or Hokitika, the very mention of Pat Magill is likely to bring a a little smile to the corners of the mouth, a warm flutter of the heart, and the echo of the beat of a different drummer.

Pat was a Christian. Neither a happy clappy chappy, nor an intense and dour Jansenist, but a loving and non-judgmental ‘doer’. He walked his talk. “The bigger the problem” he would say “the longer the walk”. With child-like innocence he enrolled others, particularly members of the Diplomatic Corps who would be swept up in his enthusiasm for world peace, child friendly communities, social justice and a caring ‘pilot city.

In the mid-1970s, when I first met Pat in Napier, he was already filled with hopeful goodwill and enthusiasm, aroha ki te tangata.  He began to turn ANZAC day upside down by focusing on peace and unity rather than the commemoration of that wasteful human endeavour called war.

Pat Magill gives new meaning to the term ‘social butterfly’. He came from a successful business family and had been cocooned in the casual racist social chrysalis of the red-necked burghers of Napier. He served as the Chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union a role in those days of Hawke’s Bay’s Ranfurly Shield era akin to the grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan in another land.

Whether Pat had a spiritual epiphany or simply decided to enact his pragmatic Christian beliefs I do not know but in the 1970’s pat Magill underwent a radical transformation, a metamorphosis, and emerged as a beautiful Titi-conscious social justice activist. He was reborn as a socialist butterfly. KKK became Korero, Kaupapa, Kapai!

Pat created Unity Day and held ANZAC Day events at the Napier Returned and Services Association where local individuals, kahukura, otherwise unrecognised champions of peace, by dint of their community building efforts and practice of aroha, were recognised through the Pilot City Awards.

The “Pilot City” was a notion that Pat Magill fostered in conjunction with the late Dr John Robson, another warrior for peace and justice. John Robson’s was an old school career public servant, a profession he embraced in 1924 at the age of 15 when he started working in the Public Trust office in Wairoa. He studied Laws at Canterbury University and eventually graduated from the University of London with a Ph D in Laws. In 1960 John Robson became the Secretary of Justice, an office he held until 1970. The 1960’s were a time of reform. Under the political stewardship of the reformist Ralph Hannan as the then Minister of Justice, Robson, competently implemented Parliament’s intent with the Abolition of the Death Penalty (1962), the introduction of the Crimes Act (1961), the “visionary” Criminal Justice Act, Family Law Reform, and the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman and what ultimately became the Law Commission. John Robson made an outstanding contribution to law reform and the administration of justice in New Zealand, becoming the first Director of the Institute of Criminology at Victoria University, and in developing restorative justice initiatives.

John Robson believed that Napier was a city “not too large to learn about itself”. Part of Unity Day is now the annual Robson Lecture, and this lecture has been presented by a range of knighted luminaries including the late Paul Reeves, Sian Elias, Doug Graham,  Anand Satyanand, the late Moana Jackson and the late John Harré .

Ah, Dr. John Harré. John gave me my first government funded job at the then Hawke’s Bay Community College. He was a treasured chief, incomparable educator, inspirational leader, courageous decision maker, and relentless champion. He and Pat were like brothers from another mother. Together they turned the then prevailing notion of education upside down, minimizing the role of the colonial pedagogue and amplifying the potential of indigenous knowledge and learning systems.

John Harré revived use of our local maraes such as Waiohiki as centres for the sharing of existing knowledge and the creation of new insights necessary for survival in a volatile, complex, uncertain, and ambiguous world. The Work Co-operative Movement of the mid 1970’s was fostered at the Otatara campus. John Harré championed and enabled the Keskidee Tour of New Zealand and the subsequent flowering of indigenous theatre and politically conscious waiata across the motu. And he enabled Barry Barclay and Merita Mita to establish a school of Maori film production at Otatara which not only resulted in the production of the film’ Ngati’ but also enlivened a cadre of Maori filmmakers and creatives.

This afternoon May 2nd after concluding this blog I am going to pick up John’s widow Gitti, and carrying a photo of these two colossi, John Harré and Pat Magill, we will take John’s kawa mate onto the marae at Pukemokimoki. The cyclones prevented us from paying respectful farewell to John when he passed into the arms of Hine Nui Te Po on the 18th of February 2023. The campus at Otatara was flooded and the institution is operating offsite in varied locations. Moreover, the organisational reforms of Te Pukenga mean that the EIT Council has been dis-established and the executive team disbanded. It is most appropriate that we say goodbye to these great men together.

Ananand Satyanand told us once Of John Robson’s shibboleth that “the best attitude to adopt is one of restless dissatisfaction with the present situation”. Let this be the epithet for Pat Magill and John Harré. Indeed, at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.


Denis O’Reilly

2 May 2023

Tags: Denis O'Reilly  

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