Native Affairs - A sad loss for Hato Paora College

By Aroha Awarau

A historical building that was once a central part of Māori boarding school Hato Paora is being demolished despite the efforts from Heritage New Zealand and former students to save it.

Hato Paora old boy Robin Hapi, who was part of a group that was trying to restore the estate, says the property was one of a kind and its demise is a loss to the school and all of Aotearoa.

“This is a unique and a potential category one heritage site. It is now being lost to New Zealand and cannot be replaced,” he says.

The sprawling homestead was constructed in 1913 by an Italian architect and craftsman who were sent to Aotearoa to build it for a local farming family on the outskirts of Feilding.  In 1947 the property was bought by the Catholic Church and transformed into Hato Paora – a boarding school for young Māori men. In its prime, the building was home to the priests and housed four dormitories. It was named Ihaka House after the school’s first rector Issac Gupwell.

Māori Heritage Manager at Heritage New Zealand Dean Whiting says the estate was so unique that his organisation was in the process of protecting it by scheduling it on the district plan and recognising it as a heritage site.

“The building was repairable and we wanted to support the school community to try and look at options in terms of its retention,” Whiting says.

But the Hato Paora Trust Board, which owns the building, saw the site as a health and safety risk for its students.  It was empty and laid dormant for eight years. It had considerable water damage and was riddled with the black rot bacteria.

Trust Board chairman Bernard Te Paa says despite the acknowledgement the building had historical significance, the safety of the students was more important.

“We based our decision on the fact that we couldn’t wait any longer. When the health and safety of our students are concerned, then we need to act,” says Te Paa.

The Trust Board gave former students the opportunity to raise funds to save the building.  But Robin Hapi says that the $2 million needed to restore Ihaka House and the logistics of its restoration proved difficult for the old pupils, despite their efforts. Hapi says many former students are heartbroken about the destruction of the building. 

“It’s a great travesty that Hato Paora has lost it, in particularly for those old boys who have had an affinity with this building,” Hapi says.

In past years there has been a demise of Māori boarding schools. In 2000, boys school St Stephen’s in Auckland closed its doors and its sister school Queen Victoria followed a year later. In 2015, Turakina School for girls in Marton also closed.

Hato Paora Board of Trustees chairman Peter Douglas says the demolition of a building that was a major part of Hato Paora’s history does not indicate that the school is in trouble.

“The roll has increased to 135 students and it’s increasing every year. We even have a waiting list. Also, our NCA results are very high. Our school is flourishing. Heading down the track of St Stephens and Turakina is remote,” Douglas says.

The demolition of Ihaka house has started and will take several weeks to be completed.