Jessica Wylie from Aquinas College is the 2019 winner of the Battle of Gate Pa Commemoration Writing Competition.
Local historian Buddy Mikaere presented Jessica with her prize at the school assembly on Tuesday morning.
“I did some research on the battle and last year in English we’d studied Wilfred Owen and his war poetry and I really liked that,” says Jessica.
“I was inspired by him in the New Zealand context and was trying to write the research I’d done in his words.”
Buddy addressed the college students with a brief outline of why he had started the competition.
“You have the special privilege of being close to a famous historical site in terms of Tauranga’s history, with the Te Ranga battlefield just up the road here,” says Buddy.
“Over the last few decades we’ve been trying as a hapu to raise the profile of our local history. This had a boost in 2014 when we had the 150th commemoration of both battles - the Battle of Gate Pa and also the battle here in Te Ranga.
“This poetry competition is part of an ongoing effort to raise the profile. I think it is important that we as people in Tauranga and the Tauranga region have a knowledge of our local history.
“As a historian it’s my belief that you can’t go forward into the future unless you have a really good grasp of where you came from and how it affects our lives today.”
Following Buddy’s presentation of the award, Jessica read her winning poem ‘Te Ranga Remembers’ to the school assembly.
This is the second year that Buddy has run the poetry competition, in partnership with Aquinas College, and it was a joint initiative with the Social Science and English Departments.
Aquinas College is located between the Battle of Gate Pa and the Battle of Te Ranga sites.
“Knowing the significance of this site and the history of it is important to us,” says Aquinas College Deputy Principal Kurt Kennedy.
“May we long continue this partnership with Buddy.”
“I’m hoping that this will start a tradition so that it carries on,” says Buddy, “and that every year people will know that Aquinas has a poetry competition.
“I’d like to also extend it further to others from the local schools.”
Te Ranga Remembers
Cold lilac light
Filters over rugged trenches
Shovels’ steady rhythm
Cut at the earth
Misty dawn surrounds the troops, 600 strong
1200 feet marching in sync
A battle cry breaks the calm thrum of digging
Soldiers appear, bearing down on the iwi
Cries of fear pierce the air as the blue army descends
A frantic rush, panic, mad scramble for weapons
Men swarm the land
Crack! Crack! Crack!
Shining rifles spit bullets
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Rusted muskets return fire
Artificial noises turn more human
The crack of a head against a gun
Grunts of pain and wails
The sickening squelch of a spear through flesh
Bare chests stained crimson
Flax skirts swishing angrily
Navy wool smeared in gunpowder
Brass buttons wrenched from uniforms
Wooden patu clash and splinter
Sharpened swords spray blood
Two sides blur into one
The fighting continues
Close and personal
A fight for vengeance
A fight for whenua
But then they start to fall
Man after man from the iwi
Bullets winning over spears
Lead over wood
The rest turn and flee
The British give chase
Victory coursing through their veins
Bare feet move soundlessly over the forest floor
Heavy boots slap in pursuit against fallen leaves
Trees snatch at clothing
Branches scratch at skin
Hammering horse hooves join the chase
Mixing with the pounding of blood through ears
An all consuming symphony
Over 100 Maori fallen
13 British lives lost
Next morning comes
Dawn light more grey
Same pain penetrating both camps
Same hatred of the war just fought
Both sides feel the losses
See gaps where friends should be
Both hear echoes of ringing gunshots
Smell gunpowder embedded in skin
Both taste the memory of coppery blood
Seeping into the earth
Ensuring Te Ranga never forgets