Te Rau Aroha Museum of the Price of Citizenship
Te Rau Aroha Museum of the Price of Citizenship is one of two museums at Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The museum opened in 2020 and is a must-visit for lovers of museums, military history, Māori history, and for people who want to understand one of many ways Te Tiriti o Waitangi has shaped our country.
I am the first to admit that in writing about this museum I am cheating a bit. This was not written about my first, second or even hundredth visit to Te Rau Aroha. Between January 2015 and February 2023, I worked in a curatorial capacity at the Treaty Grounds, with the last five years as curatorial manager. Te Rau Aroha was opened in 2020 and I know the museum and its contents intimately. On my most recent visit of the likely more than one thousand I have had to the museum, I looked for the stories of health and medicine and was pleasantly surprised by how often these histories featured.
With a focus on the third article of Te Tiriti o Waitangi | The Treaty of Waitangi, the museum explores the commitment of Māori to serve in the armed forces and uphold the promise their tūpuna made on 6 February 1840. For many Māori they felt it was their obligation to enlist and serve in theatres of war to support their Treaty partner, even if their Treaty partner was not necessarily upholding their own promises. With a topic as deep and rich as this, it is easy to miss the mentions of health and medicine if you are not looking for them.
The first face that greets you as you enter the museum is that of Captain Harding Waipuke Leaf. A soldier in both the First and Second World Wars, Harding Leaf came home from the First World War to see the devastation of the 1918 Flu pandemic making its way through the country. He was killed in action in the Second World War on Crete in 1941. He did not make it home, but his belongings did, and many of them are on display in the museum. Harding’s first aid kit and other medical supplies are in the gallery dedicated to the 28 (Māori) Battalion’s A Company, displayed with taonga from other soldiers from the north.
Around the corner from Harding’s photograph is a striking image of the Ngāpuhi nursing sisters, taken in 1901 in Whangārei. The South African War was underway and New Zealand as part of the British Empire sent soldiers. The Ngāpuhi nursing sisters were a contingent of volunteers with nursing and first aid experience. At the turn of the 20th century it was difficult for wāhine Māori (Māori women) to access training in medical fields as many hospitals refused to accept them. Despite this, the Ngāpuhi nursing sisters were attending to the health of their communities and were ready to serve in South Africa had the need ever arisen.
Opposite the Ngāpuhi nursing sisters features Major Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa), the medical officer for the Pioneer Battalion in the First World War. He saw action at Gallipoli where a fifth of his contingent were either wounded or killed in action. After seeing action in France and Belgium, Buck was transferred to the No. 4 New Zealand Field Ambulance and later the No. 3 New Zealand General Hospital in the UK. His immediate post-war career saw him entrenched in the flu pandemic, attempting to improve sanitation and working with communities and their local health professionals.
In later parts of the exhibition, post-traumatic stress disorder becomes an evident theme. It is a heavy subject, with 28 (Māori) Battalion veteran Sir Robert (Bom) Gillies narrating a film that hits incredibly hard. He speaks of his fellow soldiers turning to alcohol to cope, and of losing more friends to drink upon their return home. The mental health of anyone who has lived through theatres of war is incredibly important and for Te Rau Aroha to integrate it into the exhibition through the words and experiences of the last surviving member of the Battalion is incredibly poignant.
These examples of how health and medicine are integrated into the exhibition in Te Rau Aroha illustrates the depth of content throughout the museum. There are many layers to delve through and a visitor interested in medical and health histories could spend hours there. I was grateful to be part of creating Te Rau Aroha, to work with the descendants of the soldiers and learn their stories and experiences. I am even more grateful that after more than a thousand visits to the museum I can still find new ways to experience the exhibition.