The Battle of Gate Pa is, along with Te Ranga, one of the defining military engagements in Tauranga’s history.
It is so significant that when my grandfather and I talk of the city’s colonial history, we ask: “Did this happen before or after Gate Pa?”
It’s the local equivalent of the Treaty of Waitangi for its status as a historical ‘turning point’, thus it is fitting that we should commemorate it.
For the past few years, St George’s Anglican Church has been the place for people to come and mark the battle’s anniversary – particularly fitting, since the church itself sits right on the battlefield.
Vicar’s warden and historian Cliff Simons is one of the organisers for this year’s commemorative service, which is as much about education as remembrance.
“It’s a contentious battle, and one of the things we try to achieve is reconciliation between Maori and Pakeha. We believe by telling the story of the battle and explaining what happened, it helps that process.”
The service includes ringing the church bell 60 times, to acknowledge the roughly 60 men killed in the battle – around 30 on each side.
“In essence it’s like Anzac Day – we’re not trying to score political points or take one side over another. “It’s about recognising a significant battle that changed the city and people’s lives.”
An account of the battle, written by a chief named Hori Ngatai, will be read, alongside slides with images of the battle. Buddy Mikaere is also expected to speak about the Bush Campaign, which was fought in Whakamarama and the surrounding area in 1867, and is having its 150th anniversary this year.
A new plaque and path will also be unveiled.
The service begins at 4pm on Saturday, April 29, which is the same time the assault on the pa was launched by Crown troops in 1864. All are welcome.