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Te Rangi Hiroa whanau and tribe special guests at new college opening

Clocktower from the Leith

Monday, 10 February 2014 10:07am

Te Rangi Hiroa Opening

The new University of Otago student accommodation facility “Te Rangi Hiroa College”, named after the late Otago medical school graduate, was formally opened on Saturday by the University Chancellor John Ward.

Mr Ward said he was delighted to have the privilege of formally opening and naming this College in recognition of the strong bond between the University of Otago and the whanau and tribal connections of Te Rangi Hiroa, who was also known as Sir Peter Buck.

“We are honoured to have been able to use the name of this man, an Otago graduate, who was such a strong leader among Maori people in so many ways. We warmly thank the whanau and Ngati Mutunga for this privilege,” he said.

The opening took place at the newly refitted college on Saturday at 11am, and involved 130 distinguished guests, including 40 members of Te Rangi Hiroa’s Taranaki whanau and his tribe, Ngati Mutunga, representatives from Ngai Tahu, the University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne, and distinguished alumni of Otago, including former graduate, and prominent Māori leader Professor Sir Mason Durie.

Te Rangi Hiroa will be remembered in the taonga (treasures) that adorn the walls that were also unveiled on Saturday. A large carving was commissioned by the Whanau of Te Rangi Hiroa, and has been carved by master carver John Mutu in Motueka (and Ngati Mutunga). A large Tukutuku panel was commissioned by the University, and has been woven by well known weaver Ranui Ngarimu (Ngati Mutunga, Ngai Tahu). Several kete have also been woven by Ranui Ngarimu and another member of the whanau of Te Rangi Hiroa in Urenui. These have all been installed in prominent areas within the building.

There is also a permanent pictorial display depicting the life of Te Rangi Hiroa – large panels gifted to the College by Te Tumu at the University. In addition, a permanent photo display relating to various aspects of Te Rangi Hiroa’s life – including a copy of his application to medical school held at the Hocken Library.

After five short months of fast-tracked work, Te Rangi Hiroa College (the former Living Space Hotel in Castle St) has been transformed into the University of Otago’s newest student residential college, adding to the suite of quality accommodation offered by the University. One of its key points of difference is its location close to the main city shopping precinct.

The brief was to freshen up the 127 bedrooms and corridors on the four floors; repaint the interior; add a third internal staircase as required by fire regulations, and convert several common areas formerly used by hotel guests into functional student recreational and dining spaces.

This latter work involved reconfiguring the former hotel foyer to make it more accessible to students; converting a large ground-floor store-room into a new light-filled study centre capable of hosting lectures; extending an existing dining room on the third floor (by incorporating former balcony space) to provide for 112-seat capacity, with room for extra seating when required; and to service dining, adding a new adjacent kitchen and service lift for the provision of meals.

The renovations also involved the construction of a college warden’s flat, as well as a new common room on the top floor with a balcony and views over the city. A purpose-built “movie theatre” with a Sky movie connection on the first floor will be retained for student use.

New college warden Ashley Day says Te Rangi Hiroa college will cater to 127 mainly first-year students, and students will move in from the beginning of this academic year. The point of difference with this college, compared to others at the University Ashley has run, is that all the bedrooms have the luxury of having their own in-built ensuites, sinks and fridges – a legacy of its days as a hotel.

“The important thing is that students coming here will be very aware of what the name means. We want to reflect the importance of this great man in the college. Each floor will be named after one of the rivers where Te Rangi Hiroa grew up – so that the life-force still flows through the building.”

So far the 127-capacity college is fully booked with mainly first-year undergraduate students, including 25 Maori students, which is “great,” Mr Day says.

The strong connection with Otago is that Te Rangi Hiroa was a graduate of Otago’s medical school – in fact the first Māori medical graduate from a New Zealand University. He gained the medical degrees MB ChB in 1904 and in 1910 graduated with a MD. His thesis topic was “Medicine amongst the Maoris, in ancient and modern times.”

After completing his medical qualifications in 1904 he began work in general practice, and a year later was appointed as a medical officer to Māori. Te Rangi Hiroa went on to make significant contributions to his people and country in the fields of public health and Māori history. From 1909 to 1914 he was a Member of Parliament, during which time he also completed his MD. About this time, Te Rangi Hiroa also became interested in anthropology.

A medical officer during WWI, he received a DSO after Gallipoli. On his return from war service, he continued working in Māori public health, but also became recognised as an authority on Māori material culture. In 1926 he became a professional anthropologist, first as research fellow at Hawaii's Bishop Museum, then as visiting professor at Yale University. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Otago in 1937, and was knighted in 1946.

The University’s Office of Maori Development Director Tuari Potiki says he was an extraordinary man who gave so much to many people and it is fitting that his name will live on here at Otago. This is also significant because this not only honours him, but it also continues the ongoing relationship with Te Rangi Hiroa’s family and iwi.

In November last year, representatives from the University, Ngāi Tahu, Te Rangi Hiroa’s family, and his tribe, Ngāti Mutunga, met formally at Urenui Pā. The visit was led by Maori Development Director Tuari Potiki and Ngai Tahu leaders including Edward Ellison, who had made the initial request to Te Rangi’s iwi and his surviving family members to honour Te Rangi Hiroa in the name of the new college.

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