Te Reinga

By David

My search for a photograph of Greg Meade to illustrate the last Swimwatch story resulted in the discovery of this gem from the past.

The picture is of the 1964 Te Reinga boxing team. The members competed in the New Zealand Junior Championships in Wanganui and won three national titles. That’s not a bad result for a small group of guys from a village as small as Te Reinga. I lived in Te Reinga for eight years. The town had a three teacher school, an active and well maintained marae, a small trucking company, about fifteen houses, a scenic waterfall and one dusty metal road. The nearest pub was 12 kilometers away. The nearest shop was thirty eight kilometres away in Wairoa.

I’ve mentioned my two best Te Reinga mates before on Swimwatch. Both were on this boxing team. Donald Uatuku, that’s him, the big guy second from the left and Kahui Duncan, second from the right. Donald was one of the three who came back to Te Reinga a national junior champion. The coach was Mani Mokomoko. He’s the guy with the beard on the far right of the photograph. He was also one of the teachers at the Te Reinga School. The other two teachers were my mother and step father.

While we sit around complaining about pool space and crowded lanes this group of guys did their training in a Te Reinga shearing shed in a ring made of hay bales. Mind you the guys in this group were real tough buggers. The coach, Mani Mokomoko, was from Opotiki and, before becoming a school teacher, fought for his country in the Vietnam War. You may have seen the name Mokomoko in the news recently. Mani’s great, great grandfather was a Bay of Plenty tribal chief who, in the 1860s, was hung for a murder he did not commit. Two weeks ago parliament passed an act pardoning Mani’s ancestor. Mani taught me to ride a horse and then took me to the Tiniroto Hunt and the Wairoa A&P show to test my equestrian skills. He also taught me to hunt pigs and deer, a skill that would pay for most of my swimming trips to championships in New Zealand and Australia. The Wairoa butcher paid a shilling (10 cents) a pound for the pigs and deer that fell victim to my old fully wooded 303.

Twice a week I went with Kahui and Donald to their boxing training and, to help my swimming, did their callisthenic sessions. I was way too scared to get into the ring and fight them. Friend or foe – they would have murdered this skinny pakeha. The shearing shed was 5 kilometres from Te Reinga village. Mokomoko made us run both ways before and after training. I still recall the pain we endured the night he demanded we hop on one leg to half way and on the other leg to home. Sadly Mani Mokomoko died a couple of months ago. I wish I’d known at the time. His is a tangi I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I owe him plenty.

Kahui and Donald were mates of genuine character. During the hour and a half bus trip to school they would sing and play their guitars. They were masters of the old gospel hymns – The Old Rugged Cross, Washed in the Blood of the Lamb, Onward Christian Soldiers, Amazing Grace, Blessed Assurance, Nothing But The Blood of Jesus, Rock of Ages, When the Roll is Called up Yonder and still they sang on.

And yet in the bush they hunted with lethal efficiency. I asked Kahui why I found it so easy to beat him in a school cross country race and yet failed to match his pace racing after a wild pig. He smiled and said, “You run around the trees. I run through them.” They were both experts on a horse. Not long after we arrived in Te Reinga Donald took a day off school to hunt pigs on the slopes of Mt. Whakapunaki. The only way home was past the school. My stepfather had been warned that Donald was on his horse around the corner in the road wondering how to get past the school. My stepfather decided to make life a touch more difficult for the errant youth and sat, with his cup of afternoon tea, on the school veranda watching the road. Donald could not wait any longer and spurred his horse into action and raced past the school, his face buried in the horse’s mane. The next day he clearly expected the worst – in those days school punishment was administered with a polished leather strap. But nothing was said. Even I was wondering what was up. And then, at about eleven o’clock, it was time for English. My stepfather opened the blackboards to reveal our sentences for correction. There they were, sentences like – the boy rides past the school on his horse; Donald goes hunting on his horse. That day Donald’s attendance record became one of the school’s best. Clearly he recognized that a fair go deserved no less.

Kahui and Donald demonstrated their special talents best during a 12 kilometre school road relay between Frasertown and Wairoa. Two weeks before the road relay the three of us, plus Billy van Burkham took part in the Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Inter-secondary Cross Country Championships. There was no way our small Wairoa College team could beat big city schools like Napier Boys High School, Hastings Boys High School, Te Aute College and Gisborne Boys High School. But we did. Three boys from Te Reinga and we were either provincial cross country champions, national boxing champions or provincial swimming champions.

Anyway back to the school road relay. Our house team was Kahui, Donald, me and a city (that’s Wairoa) guy called Bill Drysdale. Donald was picked to run the third leg, while I was to run the final leg through town and into the school finish. I am told the first two legs were very close. All four teams were running together. As Kahui handed our team’s baton over to Donald a local dairy farmer let his rather large herd of cows out on to the road. The other runners jumped over the fence and ran along the paddock, past the cows before climbing back onto the road. None of their caution suited Donald. He crashed his way through the startled cows, pushing any slow member out of his path. By the time his competitors had regained the road Donald was two hundred yards ahead sprinting towards the handover with me. I was surprised and delighted with his lead and had a relatively easy run through to the finish. But then I was oblivious to the rodeo tactics that had produced our victory.

These days Kahui lives in Wairoa and Donald has shifted to Gisborne. We’ve all become city dwellers. But remember, you can take the boys out of Te Reinga but I doubt you’ll ever take Te Reinga out of the boys.