Once Was Gangman Styles

As I approach my 60th year (next month) I’m increasingly reflecting on times past and what the hell I intend to do with the time left that the Good Lord has allocated to me. My brother Laurie died as the result of an aggressive throat cancer early in 1998 at a relatively young age, 56. Compared to me he was a goodman. I’m the gangman of the family. I’ve accepted the brickbats that follow gang membership. Being looked down upon by mainstream society goes with the turf. It pains me though that my perceived sins are visited upon my children. Laurie would tell me that life’s not fair.

Laurie was a lawyer and died in office as the Commissioner for Children. To the best of my knowledge he never indulged in the substances that I have, and he certainly had a much better grip than me on the only social drug (well apart from tobacco) willingly let into our father’s house, namely alcohol. In this Laurie not only withstood the sirens of our Irish genes, but also the cultural norms of our family home and of the rugby clubs that became the marae of his life. Laurie was influenced by our mum’s keen awareness of social justice issues. I admired him (and often embarrassed him). His work with the Christchurch Catholic Maori Mission, the Samoan Mission, the 6A youth centre and, finally, his extraordinary advocacy on behalf of children, inspired me.

Denis (front) & Laurie: the groom receives a final coaching from his tuakana Waiohiki 15 May 1976.

I miss him. I wish his wisdom was still available – I suppose it implicitly is in Ludbrook Family Law and other considered lectures and publications – but it would nice just to ring him up and chat. He stayed relatively fit, didn’t drink much, didn’t smoke, and I wonder how it can be that he died so young. There is no answer. Like Greg King: a good man and a great lawyer can be with us one day and gone the next. By our own direct hand, lifestyle, genes or force majeure, the consequence of death is the same. You are no longer around.

Come almost any issue concerning gangs I invariably get a call from a media person. Regardless of the fact that I’ve put down my patch to take up the ‘pakeke’ role they still must have me listed as the gangman on their talent list. So, as a former gangman my questions to self are “What can I do with what time I have available to me in this next phase of my life?” “Do I reposition and if so, what will be the action locus and strategic focus of my future korero?”

In the meantime let’s have some catchups.

First I again apologise for the delays between postings. I feel like I’ve been on a marathon for the last 18 months in particular, face downwards towards the tarmac, making one sure foot follow another through what seems like a minefield, sucking in breath and conquering the little internal voices that justify quitting. I’ve always been a hard worker, an attitude honed through being the youngest child in a seven day a week family business. I cannot not work. It’s a form of mania. The dawn of a new day generally has me up and cracking with aspirations of knocking off another chunk of the mountain. As I’ve previously mentioned, over the past year or two a few fresh twists and unexpected turns in the realities of my world mean that I’ve carried a bigger workload than I’d planned. It’s been tough. A bit of a trudge really. The dearth of blog postings is an indicator. But recently, by crikey, I think I see a bit of blue sky ahead – and I don’t think its because of a downward curve.

Speaking gangman-wise (I mean even if I joined the Sensible Sentencing Trust tomorrow I’d still be a ‘former gangman’) have you watched the bizarre roll-out of the Police dealings with the Red Devils in Nelson? I don’t know this crew and I’m not trying to defend them, but policing must stay within the law. In my last posting back in July I proposed that some of the Police operating in this area, particularly those in OFCANZ, are coming from a TV-influenced imagined reality. To digress – recently a mate emailed me a copy of a racist rant about how Maori are an unfairly privileged race. He asked me what I thought of it. I said it was racist crap. “I know,” he said. “But so much of what it claims is true.” And these gang-linked police cases are a bit like that. There is generally much truth in what the Police say but sometimes – not everytime, but sometimes – the overall construct they present is askew of reality and even askew of the law.

I woke up on the anniversary of the 2007 Police raids on Tuhoe to hear Greg O’Connor from the Police Association announcing on National Radio that patched gangs were trying to infiltrate the NZ Police. It seemed unreal both as regards to its timing and the nature of the assertion. It raised for me, once again issues of the Police State, our surveillance society and the propensity of spooks to create a cinematic-like script.

I like Greg. He’s good company. Like me he comes from Irish Catholic stock and we probably share a number of values. He’s a West Coaster and a damn good unionist to boot. It was in the course of his Police union work that this issue of gang infiltration of the Police was being raised. Greg advanced it at the Police union national conference as a consequential risk of reducing ‘the local knowledge’ needed to weed out unsuitable candidates because of a new “Bullshit Castle” (aka Police National HQ) policy to do away with local Police recruitment officers.

The public have come to appreciate that the Police have a symbiotic relationship with gangs and that creating gang-linked moral panics are a regular and generally successful tactic for securing more money or increased powers. This issue looks to be no exception.

However, I’m equally aware that Greg was the harbinger of the threat of methamphetamine back in early 2000. At the time it seemed more like shroud waving. It was generally treated as Police beat-up and hype (to some degree the way in which it was presented it was just that) and it was more or less ignored it – to our cost as a nation. We may well now have halved meth use to less than 1% of the population but its been a steep and expensive learning curve. If people like me had listened to the cops earlier we might have been able to move into a community resilience building mode earlier. Similarly if the cops listened to their communities they might be able to deploy their resources more effectively and Government might more readily have treated it primarily as a health issue rather than simply a criminal issue.

So, I accept that I don’t know what I don’t know. Policemen infiltrate gangs and tell lies to do so. Gang members may be playing a similar game. There may well be some sort of nefarious plot and conspiracy by a group of gang members. If so, that would intimate a new type of gangman abroad in Aotearoa.

On the flip side it could just be an example (or examples) of people from hard to reach gang communities looking to do new and better things. In general terms one might expect a person holding aspirations of joining the NZ Police to be an expression of pro-social beliefs. I know young people from so called ‘gang families’ who are determined not to be gang members. They have a range of aspiration across disciplines and professions, often including the armed forces and the police.

These aspirations arise in part from the improved-future-seeking ‘moemoea’ process being catalysed by the Whanau Ora programme. Don’t get put off by the allegations of abuse of funding. It’s annoying that there has been at least one indirect incident, but in the greater scheme of things this doesn’t negate the powerful progress being made. Through the whanau ora initiatives,  Maori families, in fact any New Zealand family is eligible,  particularly those that have been otherwise hard to reach and hard to deal with, are getting the opportunity to develop family plans that amongst others issues address health, education, and employment. So a kid from a tough rough household dreaming to be a copper “just like on TV” is in my view a pretty reasonable thing. And some cops, particularly those working at an Iwi Liaison level end up being awesome role models, and kids want to emulate them.

Matua John Te Ngaire. Nga Kaitakawaenga Pirihmana-a-Iwi Maori role model speaking at Fathers and Sons gang hui Otatara.

I also know young people from gang families who have actually joined the NZ Police and whose parents were absolutely chuffed about it for all the right reasons. I started to imagine how in an area like Hawke’s Bay you might try to sequester out Police-applicants who have whanau members linked in some way to a gang. It would be difficult to find a ‘clean’ candidate. We’d end up only being able to employ South Africans and Poms – we may already be close to that!

I also wondered what would happen if we extended the gangman brush to those criminal gangs operating in the business sector.

If a candidate was linked by blood or relationship to corrupt traders or financiers – the quantum of whose rip offs make the impact of patched gangs look minuscule (currently allegations are being made against Ross Asset Management over a thought-to-be-missing sum of $440 million; South Canterbury Finance racked up $1.6 billion!) – would we block them out too? I mean we dress to the right in that way: I advance the revelation that benefit-fraudsters whose rip off on average is $40,000 are three times more likely to be imprisoned than business tax-fraudsters whose average rip-off is $240,000.

In any case I’m glad we’ve moved past the days of the local Police recruitment officer whose bias and prejudice could well lock out the necessary diversity to provide us with just and honest Policepersons. I leave it up to a well thought thought-through Police recruitment and selection process. If there’s evidence of a systemic attempt to infiltrate the Police by people with evil intent then plug the gaps and let us know we’ve moved to a new phase of criminal organisation in New Zealand. If not, then the Police Association should stop creating moral panic to meet their members’ wants.

The other Police and gang matter is this extraordinary set of events in Nelson wherein the Police forged documents and told lies to get convictions. Like the Kim Dotcom raid the case involved the alarmingly named Mr Wormald and OFCANZ. I’m in no doubt that we need an agency like OFCANZ and that by its very nature it’s going to operate in a climate of subterfuge and deception. Crooks are tricky too. But Machiavelli can’t set the standard. The ends do not justify the means whether it means an extrajudicial killing by drone strike of an alleged terrorist in Pakistan or telling fibs to a Court in Nelson NZ. If we have a responsibility to support the UN in the worldwide campaign against the international criminal conspiracy and corruption in government – and that’s the rationale for determining that our street gangs are examples of organised crime – then we can practice it ourselves here. Note the instance of the 5 guys convicted for the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in New York’s Central Park. They’ve now been found to be completely innocent. They were arrested and found guilty essentially on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes. It’s a common story. There are some who would be happy to have our criminal justice system run as a media production: arrests by Graham Bell and sentencing by Judge Judy. We muck with it at our peril, and, in recent years, muck with it we have.


It’s been awesome working alongside Taape in supporting Andy Lowe and Ngati Mihiroa and other stakeholders in their efforts to re-establish various indigenous flora and fauna at points around Hawke’s Bay particularly at Cape Kidnappers. This is one of those ‘on-land island sanctuaries’ in line with the late Paul Callaghan’s impossible dream. I’ve previously reported that I’m heavily influenced (indeed, directed through my missus) by the kuia Hariata Mohi Baker in this regard. Like her tupuna Pukepuke Tangiora she is smart in her dealings with newcomers and adept at understanding their ways. Andy Lowe and the kuia Hariata had battled over his planned establishment of a settlement at Ocean Beach. The kuia’s stance – supported by her daughter Dawnie – won out in law and it was vindicated by subsequent weather events that would have wiped out the development.

Taape, Girlie, Dawnie and Ngatai.

In any case the two of them now work collaboratively on this shared cause, the kuia smoothing the way with species-holding hapu and expressing the species transfer as being “between hapu”. Like the Treaty of Waitangi not everyone understands the implications of the deal. On the 4×4 bus up to the sanctuary site for the release of the Takahe the sanctuary spokesperson was asked why this site had been selected to host this rare fauna. The spokesperson advanced reasons that included scale and size of the sanctuary and sums spent on fencing and so forth. A soft voice from the back of the bus murmured “Aunty Hariata would say it was because the hapu agreed between themselves.”

Southern hapu bring their taonga Takahe to Whakapau. Takahe are now present on Te Matau a Maui for the first time in many hundreds of years.

To spell Kiwi, you gotta include iwi. Andy regularly cites the Cape Sanctuary project as being like a multi-legged stool comprised of: landowners; DOC; business; volunteers; and iwi. The metaphor could equally be a two wheeled cart, tangata whenua and tangata tiriti.

The relationship between the Lowe’s and the descendants of Pukepuke Tangiora – and in fact the relationship between the Lowe’s and broader tracts of Ngati Kahungunu iwi – is something of note. It provides a sense of hope for the peoples who share and willingly create our nation Aotearoa New Zealand. Graham Lowe, up until the time of his recent death, was the family patriarch. Not everyone appreciated his dynamic changes to the meat industry. It resulted in the loss of many jobs for Maori and the balance has never really been regained regardless of subsequent efforts.

I never knew Graham in any meaningful way. I accept the words of his contemporaries and friends like matua Tom Mulligan, that he was a great man. A couple of times, at events at Mihiroa Marae, I sat next to Graham and attempted to converse. Parkinsons had robbed him of the power of speech and yet he could convey his responses by eye and physical indication. Regardless of his state of health he always seemed to transmit a certain vitality of purpose and interest in what was going on. When he died the kuia Hariata wanted to host him at Ocean Beach (Waipuka) as a sign of respect. In the event the tribe decided to raise the stakes and opted to honour him at Mihiroa Marae, at Pakipaki.

The late Graham Lowe, Ngati Pakeha, Tangata Tiriti.

As acknowledgement of some forty years of mutually beneficial business relationship between the Lowe’s and the estate of Pukepuke Tangiora & Ngati Mihiroa there has been an implicit, and now demonstrated, understanding whereby the Lowe’s have a place to stand at Mihiroa Marae. So there, now another Pakeha family has a marae they can connect to intergenerationally. This sort of relationship between tangata whenua and tangata tiriti will provide the bedrock for future sustainable wealth generation in our country. It is to be nurtured and encouraged. The re-appearance of indigenous species otherwise lost to the area – kaka, kakariki, tuatara, takahe – is symbolic. Our peoples increasingly recognise the growing interdependence between both people and land, and peoples and peoples.

Standing beside matua Dave Stone, D has a korero at the powhiri for the Takahe.

So, in support of this kaupapa one recent day, late in an afternoon, Taape and I had the honour to be part of the liberation of a pair of a breeding pair of takahe (Orehu a female and Oraka a male) at Whakapau (a point on the southern side of Cape Kidnappers). They had been brought from the Deep South.

Actually they’re the South Island species (Porphyrio hochstetteri) rather than the truly indigenous North Island species (Porphyrio mantelli), known here as the ‘Moho’, which have been extinct for hundreds of years. Never mind. A cuzzie will do fine. Takahe are a big-arsed bird. On release they looked like props attacking the blindside, weaving up the hill away from an excited crowd of conservationists. Having commented on the lush crop of puha I heard a couple of the locals musing on how good a feed these birds looked.


I was in Wellington on the night of the US election. I was relieved at Obama’s win, but also touched by the respectfulness of Romney’s speech of concession. It was, as I saw it, an example of this thing Maori call ‘whakamana’ – the respectful ‘uplifting’ of a role or line of authority – the significance of which is ultimately derived from the tribe; the people. I felt good for the USA, for a short time anyway.

Speaking of uplifting talk what about Hone calling the Maori Party MP’s “house niggers”. That’s very poor. For a start, even as an insult, it should have been “House niggers”, surely? Secondly, Hone seems to imply in this insult that he’s not in the House. He is, and in that he’s bought into the same paradigm that his former colleagues have. Korero awhi brother!


In October Taape and I went up to Marilyn Waring’s 60th birthday celebrations. I was the MC of an event at the Devonport Yacht Club. It was pretty close to a secular canonisation and had been preceded by a seminar at AUT University on Marilyn’s social and intellectual contributions to the world. We had a ball. Marilyn’s mum and dad are still sharp as tacks and you get a glimpse of the derivation of her intellect and resolve. There were also old codgers (males) from the National Party and a who’s who of feminist action over the last 30 years. I think there was a bit of head scratching as to where the hell I fitted in. In fact Sue Bradford asked me exactly that. Marilyn’s currently researching the period of her Parliamentary service so, eventually, all will be revealed!


We’ve had a lot of fun here recently with various community projects. Over the school holidays the Waiohiki team, led by Kevin Tamati, staged a youth development programme. The aim was to provide the youth with a series of experiences that helped them realise their potential and become contributing citizens. Most of the experiences were just simple things: making a hinaki and catching an eel; setting a kon-tiki; making designs and screen printing a t-shirt. Four of the older guys participated in a two week long “Moving Images Incubator” run by Robyn Spence. They produced a fantastic six minute film-piece on bullying. This was backed by a piece of music they created and lyrics they wrote telling of their own thoughts about being bullied and having suicidal thoughts.

‘Paka’ Kevin Tamati (KT) and his Waiohiki Minties.

It was good fun. What was particularly significant was the response of the young guys, many of whom lack a father figure in their life and seemed to hunger for male role models. The older guys interacted with them and provided the tuakana influence, a little bit of ‘straighten up’ here, a bit of “well done bro” there. The kids ended up calling KT “Paka” after the grumpy old fulla in Whale Rider. KT’s tough all right, and demanding of one’s best efforts. Its blokes like him and John Te Ngaire who provide a sense of futurority for some of these otherwise lost rangatahi, and who facilitate and enable them to enjoy positive experiences as part of their rites of passage to adulthood.

Another awesome project has been the raising of a number of pou to create a cultural pathway (Te Ara o Nga Tupuna) around the Taradale area (Dolbel Reserve, Otatara Pa, Taradale Park, Riverside Park, Tareha Reserve). I liked the way that the Napier City Council community development team went about developing this idea. It stemmed from community concern (I’m presuming from older Pakeha) that people didn’t feel safe walking the new walking and cycling network that has recently been developed. Following good community input the Council decided on having Hugh Tareha carve, and Roberta Hawaikirangi otherwise decorate, five pou to help tell the old stories of the various sites.

The intention was to help people feel connected to place and people. Local schools ‘adopted’ a pou each. At the launch of each pou there was a brief ceremony and the ‘kaitiaki’ school sang a song. In the main these were locally connected songs in Te Reo Maori. Greenmeadows School sang in both English and Maori and accompanied themselves on ukulele. Bledisloe School performed a special song about the area and the river, written for them by Hoani Hawaikirangi of Waiohiki. Hoani had also written a powerful new waiata linking the various tupuna and the places where the pou have been sited and this was performed by the Waiohiki Culture Group at the beginning of the day. It was so cool.

The pou at the Waiohiki Creative Arts Village ready for placing.

Another local event was the now annual “Kai in the Bay”. It’s held on the headlands at Ahuriri. It used to be the point where Napier City pumped its crap out into the ocean. It’s signage says ‘Perfume Point’ (no doubt named by the same geniuses who brought us ‘North Island’ and ‘South Island’ – hey!). The local Maori call the place Te Karaka. Kai in the Bay is an opportunity to profile traditional foods and cultural practice. Ngati Paarau of Waiohiki took part in the “Marae Cook Off”. The challenge was to take the usual ingredients of a ‘boil up’ (pork, kumara, spuds, watercress) and present it in a fresh and healthy way.

Our chef was Laurence Miki (named after my brother, Laurie) with Taape, Tareha, and my mokos all helping out as waiters and kitchen hands. Laurie’s three course menu started off with spicy lime raw fish, then a mains of his home-made marinated ‘sticky pork rib’ with a caramalised onion, potato, and kumara cake, supplemented with watercress pesto. Taape provided a chocolate and ginger steam pud and custard as a sweet. Ngati Paarau of Waiohiki may not have a whare but we still carry on the tradition of hospitality. That night photographer Richard Brimmer and masterchef Ray McVinnie ended up around home. I ran out of red wine. “Hey,” said Richard. “I’ve got a bottle in the car” – and he did, Stonecoft Hawke’s Bay Serine Syrah 2006, goddam!


Well, thinking of fine old wine, Charles and Camilla have been around and about to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. For me it brought to mind a little known tale of a Waiohiki connection the last similar event back in 1897.

Kurupo Tareha from Waiohiki was appointed as the Company Sergeant Major of the Maori Volunteers who were to be part of New Zealand’s Jubilee Contingent. The Evening Post described members of the Contingent as ‘fine specimens’ being of an ‘average height of 5’10.’ Kurupo, a fine looking and very athletic man, was noted to be 6’2” in height and ‘well educated’.

Kurupo Tareha, gentleman golfer.

Stories passed down in the Tareha family tell of Kurupo causing quite a stir in London, his exotic good looks and physicality setting hearts aflutter. In fact he was invited back to England to attend the Coronation of King George V. During the jubilee tour he was taken to St Andrews in Scotland where he played golf. On his return home to Aotearoa this led to establishment of the Links at Waiohiki and, in later years, Kurupo’s winning of the 1903 NZ Open.

I cracked up when reading of the Contingent’s return to New Zealand as recorded in Boyd’s ‘A History of Hastings’:

“Sergeant Major Kurupo [Tareha] and five soldiers represented the district in the main contingent sent to the Jubilee celebrations in London. A large reception committee was elected at a public meeting to welcome them home. After weeks of preparation, all the town paraded to the station to meet the train only to find no contingent on board. They were having a good time down south and were in no hurry to disband. When the six stepped off the evening train two days later, they none the less received a right royal welcome. They were driven from the station to Waipatu in a dray accompanied by the Pakipaki Brass Band. The next morning there was a church service and tangi, that evening a smoke concert, and the following day entertainment at Redclyffe and Waiohiki, then a floral fete and concert. People admired and respected the way in which the contingent had moved in ‘the most exclusive circles’ in the Old Country ‘in a staid’ self-contained and gentlemanly manner.’”

God Save the Queen.


Tags: Aotearoa  Cape Kidnappers  criminal justice  Denis O'Reilly  gang cuklture  gangs  Graham Lowe  Hawkes Bay  Hone Harawira  Kurupo Tareha  Maori  New Zealand  NZ police  Takah?  Waiohiki  Waiohiki Arts Village  

  • Tamaiwaea Mohi - 9:36 pm on July 4th, 2019
    I share somethings in common with you.I am now 66 and from Pakipaki.I tautoko your conservation efforts.I hear your korero on police recruitment and the dangers of "unconcious bias" becoming entrenched through the process',"unconcious bias" being a cop out.It seems to be a not so obvious ploy at tightening the chains of colonial repression.The Police are the White Elite bastion of colonisation against which Maori advancement has been butting their heads for 179 years.My life is a picture postcard of repression,suppression,disinheritance,disenfranchisement,alienation of land,injustice,assimilation,and cultural genocide. I’m still standing.
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