Kaumatua of Oruawharo
28 October 1935 – 11 February 2022
E pa, hoki atu ki te waa kainga,
o matua tupuna,
haere, haere, haere.
Father, return to our sacred
home of our ancestors,
farewell, farewell, farewell.
Matua Ben de Thierry was a respected Kaumatua throughout Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland) and Te Tai Tokerau (Northland). Born on the banks of the mighty Waikato River, he and his siblings – Emma, Ina and Susan – were raised by their grandparents and mother, Tiraro Terewai Te Rungopuhi. Life was a struggle at that time in the 1930s as they owned very little and lived off the land and river. But it was the only life they knew, and Matua Ben remembered it as a happy time.
His grandfather was linked to the Kingitanga line of Ngati Hape, a subtribe of Tainui waka. Growing up with his grandfather meant strict rules and obeying Maori customs. Karakia (prayers) and whakapapa were a daily recital for him, as he was the only male in this line. There was one particular story Matua Ben told about his grandfather. They had returned to the Oruawharo around 1946, just before his grandfather passed away. He recalled his grandfather saying that his body was to be returned to the Waikato (his people) and should placed at the bottom of the Taupiri Maunga, below the Kingitanga, in an unmarked grave. Later, when Matua Ben asked his mother why they had done this, she replied, “So that the Kings above could stretch and rest their legs on top of his body, so that he would keep them warm”. Matua Ben had many stories like this that he shared with his own children.
When the family moved to the Kaipara, they lived in a one-bedroom wooden shack on land owned by his grandmother and known as Te Rakau Point, opposite the Port Albert wharf. The children went to the Oruawharo Native School about two miles from where they lived. Matua Ben remembered being strapped and slapped around the ears until they bled, all because he spoke Maori at school. As though this was not enough, when he went home and told his mother what had happened, he would get another slap and was told not to speak Maori at school. This had a long-lasting effect on him. It was only in later life, as an adult, that he would speak Maori among his peers.
In 1959, Matua Ben married local woman Kui Katoro Eruera/Edwards and they were together for 63 years. He had various jobs throughout his life, working as a bus driver with NZ Rail and the Auckland Regional Authority, as well as being a forestry worker in the Waikato. In his retirement, he returned to his turangawaewae Oruawharo, Kaipara, where the new homestead remains today.
Matua Ben was involved with many organisations and community groups over the years, often taking leadership roles. These included being a Hapu Te Uri O Hau taumata chairman, a Hapu Ngati Mauku, Ngati Kauwai cultural adviser and a Waka Kotahi, Puhoi to Wellsford Motorway iwi representative (Hokai Nuku). He was a founding member of Te Hana Te Ao Marama Maori Cultural Centre, as well as a Kaumatua and chairman. He was also a founding member of the NZ Police Waitemata District Maori Advisory Board, a board member and trustee of Rodney College, and Waitangi Claimant and Kaikorero.
In 2019, Matua Ben was recognised with a Waitemata District Commander’s Certificate of Appreciation, and he received a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) for community service in 2006.
Matua Ben spent his final night at Rangimarei Marae before being transported to his final resting place at Te Rengarenga Tapu Urupa, Oruawharo. His tangi was attended by hundreds of whanau and friends, as well as representatives of Police, Rodney College and Kaipara District Council. Matua Ben is survived by his wife Kate, four children and many mokopuna.