National | Whakaari

Messages of aroha in moving commemoration of Whakaari tragedy

Video messages from survivors and family of people who died in the December 9, 2019, Whakaari eruption were among the most poignant moments of a commemoration hosted by Ngāti Awa at the Mataatua marae in Whakatane today.

Those messages of condolence to those who lost family members and thanks to New Zealanders for their help in rescuing them from the island and for medical assistance were listened to by people who had been first responders to the eruption last year, along with Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, cabinet ministers, MPs and Defence Force officials as well as Ngāi Awa people. Their messages brought tears to many, including the prime minister.

The mother of Hayden Inman who died at Whakaari, Avey Woods, told the gathering her heart went out to all the other families who also lost their loved ones and she recalled events from her son’s life. She talked about dealing with grief and said  she knew he was “in our hearts forever.”

Messages from other families recalled their lives and farewelled their whanau. One woman, from the United States, even said she and her husband would love to visit  New Zealand again in the future.

Dark day recalled

The service included a moment's silence for the victims and poignant waiata by songstress Maisie Rika.

The Governor-General said December 9 was a dark day in New Zealand history and she offered condolences on behalf of all New Zealanders to the families of the 212 people who died in the eruption.

Dame Patsy saluted everyone involved who helped in the aftermath including pilots, medics, hospital staff,  Defence Force personnel and people in the community, including Ngāti Awa. She said people who were injured on that day had had to call on all their resources and strengths since then and this in a year when Covid-19 had hit every nation.

Dame Patsy said "acting with courage and kindness we find we get what we need to get through these testing times."

"Love for one another is what binds us," she said.

The Prime Minister recalled the events of the day last December 9 and reminded New Zealanders that they had already had so much suffering last year, a reference to the terror attacks on Christchurch mosques earlier in the year.

Message of aroha

She thanked the rescuers including the helicopter pilots, noting their courageous actions "and nothing will ever change that."

Ardern praised local business, local government, scientists, the Defence Force and medical professionals across the country: "You gave your all to help."

She said she was sending a message of aroha overseas to the families of those who died. "We share in your sorrow and Aotearoa will always be connected to you."

Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner thanked Ngati Awa for its manaakitanga in bringing people together. "We will continue to welcome people with open arms."

The service was held in the beautifully restored Mataatua Marae, known as " the house that came back."

The marae was taken on an exhibition tour to Australia and London before spending 40 years in storage there before it was returned in 1925 to the Otago Museum where it was put on display. In 2011 Ngāti Awa brought it home where it was rebuilt and restored.