Call to rename Greymouth

Greymouth was named after New Zealand colonial governor Sir George Grey. Photo: Getty Images
Greymouth was named after New Zealand colonial governor Sir George Grey. Photo: Getty Images
Calls to rename Greymouth are back in the news, this time because of worldwide unrest over historic figures with a dark past.

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

However, the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement to New Zealand has seen this country's colonial past re-examined, with suggestions of removing 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," NZ History website says.

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

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

The statue of Sir George Grey in Albert Park. Photo: NZ Herald
The statue of Sir George Grey in Albert Park. Photo: NZ Herald
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 on 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 current excitement and take it the wrong way.

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

Changes had to happen for the right reason, rather than jumping on the bandwagon.

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said yesterday 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.

Greymouth mayor Tania Gibson. Photo: supplied
Greymouth mayor Tania Gibson. Photo: supplied
"We have been there before with this issue. I think the public has spoken."

The issue last arose in 2012 when a play about Maori leasehold land in Greymouth revived calls to revert to the original name of Mawhera. It came up five or five or six years before that, and back then was met with strong opposition.

Mrs Gibson said times were difficult due to Covid-19, and it cost a lot of money to change a name.

However, she had also been reading up about Sir George Grey and learning more about him.

"It is a good chance to talk about who he was."

But for now, "we have other things to think about".

Blackball playwright Paul Maunder last raised the idea of adopting the Mawhera name eight years ago.

His play, the Cave Above the Pa, which played at the Regent Theatre, explored the issue of leasehold land and its impact on Maori-Pakeha relations.

At the time there was a "relative invisibility" of Maori and Maori culture on the West Coast that needed to be addressed, Mr Maunder said today.

The name should "certainly" be changed, he said.

"He (George Grey) was a pretty unpleasant fellow. Mawhera would be better."

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

Mr Barnett said today 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 had 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."

 

 

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