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Story: Te Tau, Katarina Kuini Wharerauaruhe

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Te Tau, Katarina Kuini Wharerauaruhe


Ngāi Tahu leader, welfare worker, community leader

This biography, written by Angela Ballara and Katarina Te Tau, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Katarina Kuini Wharerauaruhe Ellison (Erihana) was born on 29 December 1899 at Puketeraki, north of Dunedin. Both her parents, John Matapura Ellison and his wife, Hera Parata, were of Ngāi Tahu; their main hapū were Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki and Ngāti Moki. John was a licensed interpreter who had studied law, but made his living by farming. He was one of 12 children of Rāniera (Daniel) Tāheke Ellison and his wife, Nani Weller (Hana Wēra). Raniera’s parents were Thomas Ellison, an English whaler, and Te Ikairaua, the daughter of Te Āti Awa chief Te Whati. Nani was the only child of Otago whaler Edward Weller and Nikuru, the daughter of Te Mātenga Taiaroa, whose name appears on the Treaty of Waitangi.

Kuini’s mother, Hera, was the daughter of Tame Haereroa Parata, MHR for Southern Māori from 1885 to 1911, of mixed American and Ngāti Huirapa origins, and his wife, Peti Hurene (Elizabeth Brown), of high rank in Ngāi Tahu. Uncles from both sides of the family were lawyers, doctors and ministers. With this tradition of responsibility and achievement, much was expected of Kuini. She attended Waikouaiti Native School, attaining her proficiency certificate, then the district high school at Port Chalmers. She left school to help on the family farm when the First World War began, but continued music lessons in Dunedin.

On 22 October 1919, at Puketeraki, Kuini married a Wairarapa farmer and returned soldier, Record Te Maari Te Tau. Better known as Reki, Rick or Rec, he was the son of Pūhara Te Tau, of Ngāti Hinepare hapū of Ngāti Kahungunu, and his wife, Kate Ann Church. There were to be two sons of the marriage, Edward (Ted) Piriniha and Record William Huriwhenua (Huri).

In the inter-war years Kuini worked with Reki on their farm near Masterton and brought up her sons. A keen sportswoman, she played tennis, represented Wairarapa at hockey and started a hockey club for Māori girls. With other family members she had an eight-piece dance band called Te Tau Melody Makers, which played at weddings, parties, and Saturday night dances in the Masonic Hall in Masterton. She also played the organ in the local Anglican church. When fire destroyed the meeting house Ngā Tau e Waru at Te Ore Ore marae in 1939, Kuini helped to organise the building of Ngā Tau e Waru II, opened in 1941.

During the Second World War Reki Te Tau was an officer in the Home Guard and, after learning Morse code with him, Kuini joined the New Zealand Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps as a driver. In 1942, by now a corporal studying for a commission, she was recruited by Southern Māori MP Eruera Tirikātene to work for the Māori War Effort Organisation. Working under the Native Department as a liaison officer, she looked after the many Māori women and girls directed to Wellington by the National Service Department, helping to place them in factories and arranging accommodation in hostels. She also visited wharves and brothels with police, rescuing girls from prostitution and placing them in supervised care and useful employment.

Kuini Te Tau was one of the first women welfare officers appointed under the Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945, with responsibility for Wellington and Wairarapa. Her work included encouraging Māori women to form branches of the Women’s Health League. In 1950–51, working under the controller of Māori welfare, Rangi Royal, she was responsible for the formation of 10 branches in Wairarapa. In 1951, with her encouragement, these groups became branches of the newly formed Māori Women’s Welfare League, of which Kuini was a founding member and treasurer. Through this organisation she helped teach Māori mothers domestic, child-rearing, gardening and other self-help skills.

In June 1951, when Rangi Royal invited the Ngāti Pōneke Māori Welfare Committee to become the nucleus of the Wellington branch of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, he offered them Te Tau’s services. At this time Reki Te Tau was working in Wellington building housing for the Department of Māori Affairs, but the family did not break their ties with Masterton, commuting home by train every Friday evening. As part of her Māori Women’s Welfare League programme Kuini organised the making of tukutuku panels for St Matthew’s Church, Masterton, assisted by Wiremu (Bill) Parker, who came from Wellington to teach the necessary skills. During these years she was also raising her eldest grand-daughter.

In 1959 Kuini Te Tau resigned from Māori Affairs to avoid having to relocate to Palmerston North. She became principal of Fareham House in Featherston, a home for maladjusted teenaged girls sent by the Child Welfare Division. After her retirement in the early 1960s she brought up her grandson, and later adopted his daughter. With Reki she built a bach at Riversdale Beach, where she was able to indulge one of her favourite hobbies, diving for crayfish and other seafood. She also assisted in the restoration of the house Nukutaimemeha, and in its removal from Carterton to Masterton. In 1975 she was awarded a British Empire Medal for her services to the community. On 17 December that year Reki died.

Around this time Kuini began supervising girls doing community service for minor offences in Masterton, teaching them catering skills, machine sewing and nursery gardening. Her success with the young derived from her sense of fun and good humour. She did not patronise those in trouble but motivated them towards positive self-help. In the 1980s she also worked for Meals on Wheels, often delivering meals to people younger than herself, until advancing age forced her to give up driving.

Her constant companion in later years was her great-great-grand-daughter, Katarina. With her help, especially in picking fruit, Kuini tended her orchard, and flower and vegetable gardens, making huge amounts of jam and preserves to share with her family and visitors. Outliving many of her descendants, she planted a new rose bush for every one when they died, until her lawn was encircled with roses.

Kuini Te Tau was awarded the Anglican church’s Order of Meritorious Service in 1992 and the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal in 1993. About that time she took part in a documentary, The nineties , which presented New Zealand’s past through the memories of seven women. Her own hereditary rank and position bemused her: she was startled to find herself in old age a person of importance among Ngāi Tahu, called on as a witness concerning their claim before the Waitangi Tribunal. Aged 98, she died at her Masterton home on 8 March 1998; both of her sons had predeceased her. After lying in state overnight in Nukutaimemeha, she was taken to Te Ore Ore marae. Her funeral took place at St Matthew’s Church, and her ashes were buried with Reki in the military section of Masterton cemetery. In October a mourning ceremony was held for her in Dunedin.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara and Katarina Te Tau. 'Te Tau, Katarina Kuini Wharerauaruhe', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5t10/te-tau-katarina-kuini-whare-rau-aruhe (accessed 22 May 2024)