Stab Magazine | NZ Shootings: Private Land, Armed Threats, And Gang Accusations

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NZ Shootings: Private Land, Armed Threats, And Gang Accusations

“When your kids go to school with these families and you have to live amongst this all the time there are things you can say and things that you have to let go.”

news // Aug 27, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Taharoa coastline has been under fire both figuratively and literally of late.  

Just over a week ago, a trio were shot at three times from a nearby headland while surfing an ‘invite only’ left-hand point break in Taharoa, just prior to being yelled at by two men on the bank. The father, friend and 14-year old son have since gone underground following a barrage of heated abuse after the issue went public, making news headlines around the world. 

Initially, both myself and other media organisations naively assumed this to be an unmitigated and unprecedented example of enforced surf localism; but as other stories were unveiled and recalled, it was clear that this issue was much further reaching than people surfing an ‘invite only’ wave without approval.   

Over the past 10-years, surfers, divers, and fisherman have all reported being shot at offshore of the Taharoa coast, but more recently in April a classic car club encountered armed threats while driving through the Taharoa region back, as one of the members reported to the NZ Herald.

This being the first publicly reported incident involving threats on land within the region.

The club member recalled stopping their 10 or so vehicles on a public road heading towards the Taharoa Ironsands to read a sign which detailed the region’s history, at which point they were approached by two men aggressively yelling at them.

“The next thing these fellas come out with the guns and say ‘you better piss off, we will shoot the lot of you and wreck your cars.’” The club member reported to the Herald. According to the man, there were a further four armed men at the top of the hill overlooking them below.

“They were really threatening saying, ‘get out of here, get out of here – we will smash your cars, we will shoot you. So we did what they said and shot through.” he continued, “It’s not just surfers. It’s also the land as well, and anybody up there. If there were tourists from overseas and these guy pounced on them, they would be really shocked. There’s obviously a bit of an issue out there. It’s not just the surfing, they just don’t want anybody out there.”

As is implied from stories such as the above, these incidents are far from an example of surf-related localism or the protection of a wave, instead it’s an issue concerning private land ownership, in particular, Maori land rights. They’re not surfers trying to keep a spot secret, they’re locals trying to protect what is rightfully and historically theirs.  

The 166-hectare peninsula which the wave breaks upon has legally been deemed Maori land, and is now collectively owned by 35 individuals. Access to the wave where the shootings occurred is only accessible via privately owned land – unless of course, you access it via boat or jetski, as the trio who were shot at did over a week ago.  

The ocean and wave itself are not privately owned land, but local residents perceive it as theirs, and evidently don’t take kindly to people intruding on it uninvited. Whether that be fisherman exploiting the regions plentiful supply of crays, paua, and kina – which have diminished in recent years due to overfishing – or people making the relatively unknown wave popular amongst the greater surf community.

Reports of shootings aren’t the only events plaguing the region right now either, with the iron sand mine recently changing hands leading to a considerable number of layoffs and pay disputes throughout the local community. This conflation of media exposure and this local employment crisis have understandably lead to increased frustrations throughout the community. 

Late last week, journalists from Stuff went into Taharoa to speak to locals about the recent events: most were irritated by the coverage and disappointed by the shooting events, but some went as far as to deny the shootings altogether.

“It’s different out here, but it’s not as bad as in the media and on Facebook,” a resident from the general store told Stuff, “If it was true, why wasn’t the village swarming with Armed Offenders Squad officers.”

And to be fair, police didn’t visit Taharoa until six days after the shooting, suggesting that the incident wasn’t as severe as is being claimed. Although it should also be noted that Constable John Waoate is the sole police officer in the area.

Other residents condemned the shootings, but also understood why these locals were irritated by people accessing the area uninvited. “That is not public land out there. They go out there like they own the bloody thing.” one local told Stuff, “I don’t support the idea of pulling a gun on anybody, but I can understand why they get angry.”

Legally, however, the coastline is public land, and claims of ownership relate to ancestral and cultural ownership of the region – these claims are understandable, but in no way are upheld by the law.

“It’s more than just people surfing, diving, fishing, hunting etc. Which is why the police can’t and won’t do shit. I support Daniel Kereopa’s statement that unless invited, don’t go near there.” Another person told Stab, “Surfers try to tell themselves that they care about the places they go and the environment etc, but we’re such selfish people.”

Most individuals contacted by Stab agreed that the threats were concerning Maori and private land rights, adding that in no way are such incidents isolated to the Taharoa region.

“Most of the good spots are rural, so you get that universal small town suspicion of outsiders. There’s also the issue of communal Maori land and their ideas of respect.” Another New Zealand resident continued, “At a spot down my way a farmer used to shoot when surfers walked on his land. They’re having trouble with tourists at the moment, as walking the length of the country has become popular, but not all land owners are on board.”

Others, however, both publicly on comment forums, and privately, claimed that those responsible for the shootings were protecting more than just their land; inciting that the violent threats were related to more serious criminal activities.  

“They live on rural farmland, cut off from the mainland, therefore a place to grow their drugs, and deal them.” One person who wished to remain anonymous told Stab, This is very common to have your windows smashed and tires slashed, and yes it is common to be shot at in the water. It has happened many times but this time it has actually surfaced on to the news.”

“The police have never actually been here to investigate these happenings and will probably not likely go any further.” he continued.

Another individual also came forward claiming that the incidents were concerned with “Maori nationalism and are super tied to criminal gangs.”

“[It’s] super heavy to live amongst and very little to do with surfing.” the anonymous resident continued, “When your kids go to school with these families and you have to live amongst this all the time there are things you can say and things that you have to let go.” 

Following these accusations, Stab contacted the Waikato police department, but they were unwilling to dive into the heavy and unsubstantiated claims, “Unfortunately I don’t think we will be talking about this any further, for now.” Before redirecting further inquiries towards the media centre which has previously issued largely non-informative press releases.

Others contacted by Stab were unwilling to comment on the issue, but one person, when prompted on drug and gang-related allegations replied that those “rumours are off the mark.” Instead, that the violence and threats were the “Tangata Whenua wanting to protect their land and coastal surf spots.”

Regardless of the exact reasons for the violent threats, it is clear that what made media headlines a week ago is thoroughly disconnected from surfing and typical ‘surf localism’. It’s a much more complex issue that has been ongoing for a number of years and will likely continue into the future, and understandably, due to the issue’s complex nature, most residents are unwilling to discuss or comment about it on a public platform. 

Most are in agreeance that the violent threats are overt and unnecessary, but with no one willing to ‘out’ those individuals responsible, such acts are likely to continue, in turn perpetuating a negative image around the Taharoa town and its largely innocent population. The police have reiterated that if any violent incidents occur they should contact the police department, but judging from past occurrences, this is unlikely to abate the violence nor resolve the issue.

Private propety NZ RNZ Insight

Private land disputes are far from isolated to the New Zealand coastline. Inland tourist attractions are also on the receiving end of disputes between private land owners and tourists accessing their land uninvited.

Photography

Maja Burry/RNZ Insight

Furthermore, by no means is the occurrence of land ownership disputes and violence localised to Taharoa region. New Zealand is facing an increase in tourist numbers, and private land owners are rightfully unwilling to allow unrestricted tourist access to their land to access fishing, tourist and surfing spots. The violence in Taharoa is simply the tip of the land ownership disputes rife throughout New Zealand right now.

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