Story: Māori overseas

Page 4. Retaining Māori culture in Australia

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Many formal and informal Māori religious groups formed in Australia. One of the most important was the Anglican organisation, the Māori Arohanui Fellowship. From 1984 to 1987 Archdeacon Kīngi Īhaka served as chaplain to Sydney’s Māori community. His arrival in 1984 was celebrated with a gathering in the suburb of Blacktown, attended by Cook Islanders, Aborigines, Mormons, and Rātana and Ringatū church members.

Te Wairua Tapu Church in Redfern is a cornerstone of the Sydney Māori community. It has hosted many weddings, christenings and funerals, as well as Māori language classes. The interior is decorated with carvings, paintings and ornamental panel work.


In 1986 about 22% of Māori in Australia spoke Māori at home. Older people were more likely to be fluent, while very few children spoke Māori – a pattern also seen in New Zealand at that time. The revival of the Māori language that took place in New Zealand over the 1990s has also reached Australia, and language classes now operate there. By the early 2000s Māori radio operated in Sydney.

Traditional arts

The Te Arohanui Māori Culture Club was founded in Perth in 1977. Club member and weaver Wai Payne taught anyone who was willing to learn the traditional art of flax weaving. Because flax was difficult to find in Western Australia, she experimented with other plants and modern materials. On the other side of Australia, master carver Verdun Walker honed his skills and passed on his knowledge. In 2003 he taught a diverse group of youths from Sydney’s south-west to carve a canoe named U-Turn.

Sydney’s kapa haka (traditional Māori performing arts) group Te Huinga Waka has competed at the Aotearoa Festival since débuting in 1988. Much of their spare time was spent rehearsing and giving fundraising shows across Sydney so that they could fly to New Zealand and compete. By 2001 another group, Tupuranga, had sprung up in western Sydney, when travelling across the city proved too demanding.


Several players with Māori ancestry have represented Australia at rugby league. Sydney-born ‘Lord’ Ted Goodwin, whose mother was Māori, played for the Australian Kangaroos in 1972–73. On rare occasions some Māori have even played Aussie Rules – in the 1990s Wayne Schwass made a name for himself in the Australian Football League.

Māori sports teams occasionally tour Australia. In 2003 the Counties Manukau Māori under-11s side finished their Sydney tour with a match against the Sydney Māoris. Netball and touch rugby tournaments are also important events in the Australian Māori social calendar, and are often followed with a hāngī.

While many Māori league players based in England or Australia still play for the Kiwis rugby league team, there are signs that this is changing. By the late 1990s, rugby players such as Jeremy Paul were representing Australia, and league players such as Timana Tahu of the Newcastle Knights had made it clear that his ambitions lay with the Kangaroos, not with the Kiwis. Like Timana Tahu, many second-generation Māori are more likely to have allegiance to Australia than to New Zealand. As Jai Taurima, the Queensland-born Māori long jumper has said: ‘Obviously I have some feeling for New Zealand, but I’m an Australian through and through’. 1

  1. Quoted in Paul Bergin, ‘Maori sport and cultural identity in Australia.’ Australian Journal of Anthropology 13, no. 3 (2002): 266. › Back
How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Māori overseas - Retaining Māori culture in Australia', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 September 2023)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005