I was deeply surprised when I came upon Turangawaewae House in centre of the little Waikato town of Ngaruawahia last month – surprised that, as a Waikato girl myself, I had never seen it before; and surprised for the startling combination of Pakeha architecture with Maori embellishment. Listed as a Historic Places Trust Category 1 property, it sits just off the main State Highway, surrounded by residential homes. It was built over a seven year period from 1912-1919 as a kauhanganui, or parliament building for the Maori King Movement, or Kingitanga Movement as it is also known. Kingitanga was founded in the 1850s and was made up of a federation of tribes who opposed the British and the growing spread of colonial settlement in the Waikato and beyond.
The building itself was designed by the Hamilton architectural firm, Warren and Blechynden, combining Maori and Pakeha design elements and cultural traditions. Broadly Arts and Crafts in architectural style, it includes a stunning painted door and handsome carvings by Te Motu Heta on the porch and gables – and let’s not forget the cute little guy holding up the chimney. The inside was (apparently, for I never saw) beautifully painted and featured a throne. The building though – as beautiful as it is – was rarely used for any parliamentary gatherings and by 1920, it became the meeting place for the planning of the much bigger, more traditional and even more elaborate Turangawaewae Marae, which was built on the other side of the Waikato River and eventually took over as the focus of Maori political and social activity in the region.
Turangawaewae House has since been used as a health clinic and as home to the Maori Land Court. I couldn’t quite establish if it has a current purpose beyond being a beautiful, historical reminder an important period of Maori history in New Zealand. PS. I loved the gates too. www.historic.org.nz