Name change debate resurfaces

Greymouth. Photo: Wikipedia
Greymouth. Photo: Wikipedia
Calls to rename Greymouth are back in the news, this time because of worldwide unrest over historic figures with a dark past.

Greymouth was named after New Zealand colonial governor Sir George Grey.

However, the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement to New Zealand has resulted in this country’s colonial past being re-examined, and suggestions made to remove monuments to Captain James Cook and even Richard Seddon.

Sir George Grey was governor during the initial stages of the New Zealand Wars, in which many Maori were killed and land was confiscated.

Yet he was also a "pioneer scholar" of Maori language and culture, and his published works include Maori mythology and oral history.

"His reputation was tarnished by his policies in Taranaki, his invasion of Waikato, and the massive confiscation (raupatu) of Maori land which followed. The confiscations, in particular, caused decades of bitterness and deep division," the NZ History website says.

Auckland University of Technology professor of history Paul Moon told Stuff yesterday that Grey was an "odious" man in many respects who was disliked by many settlers and Maori due to his confiscation of land.

Grey’s statue in Auckland was vandalised at the weekend.

Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae chairman Francois Tumahai, who holds an iwi seat on the Grey District Council, said he was more than happy to have a discussion about changing the town’s name.

"It’s up to the community what they want to do in terms of a change. It’s Mawhera to us. If the community wants to keep calling it that [Greymouth], it’s fine. We are more than happy to have the conversation."

However, he cautioned he did not want people to get caught up in the present excitement and take it the wrong way.

"It’s important people understand the past; there needs to be context."

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said she had expected the town name debate to resurface, given the national protests.

The Grey District Council tended to use both Mawhera and Greymouth, she said.

"We have been there before with this issue. I think the public has spoken."

The Greymouth Mawhera Business Association started using the name Mawhera under present chairman Phillip Barnett. It also hung tourist flags around town proclaiming "Mawhera", not "Greymouth".

Mr Barnett said changing the name altogether was a "worthwhile discussion".

"I’d love to have that discussion. Why wouldn’t you use the original name?"

As early as 1891, the Grey River Argus ran a letter canvassing a name change: "It is a great pity the early settlers, or whoever they may have been, should have discarded the euphonious Maori names of localities for such ugly names as Greymouth, Point Elizabeth, and other places I could mention. You will agree with me that Mawhera is more pleasing to the ear than Greymouth." — Greymouth Star


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