Calls for Waikato Land Wars to have as much prominence as 'Anzac'

For many New Zealanders the Waikato Wars are a "side note in history".

For many New Zealanders, the Waikato Wars are a side note in history. Historian Vincent O'Malley says this needs to change. Source: Q+A

And one Wellington historian - who is about to release his new book, challenging Pakeha New Zealand views of race relations in the country - says this attitude needs to change. 

In his book The Great War for New Zealand, Vincent O'Malley argues that the Waikato Land Wars set the course of New Zealand's identity.

He joins a number of New Zealander's who say we need a public holiday in remembrance of this significant event.

He'd also like to see students learning more about the 1960s Waikato wars and an upgrade to the key Waikato war sites where the Kingitanaga movement faced off against Colonial troops.

The sites start in Meremere, "which is barely sign-posted and there's nothing in the area to suggest it is an important spot", the historian told Q+A.

"Up on the hill there was the the first line of fortification the Kingitanga set up to try to stop the British advancing south.

"So it's a really important historical sport - but you'd never know it, looking at it."

Further south is another sight of significance in Rangiriri where most of the men from the British side were killed.

An unmarked grave in the cemetery contains a number of Maori who were captured and died of their wounds, said Mr O'Malley.

Rangiaowhia is another location which was once a thriving settlement of about 4000 people.

Kingitanga fighters fled the area when the British advanced on the town, but left many of their elderly, women and children there, believing they'd be safe. They weren't.

Tom Roa, of Ngati Apakura and Ngati Hinetu, is directly connected to the Waikato wars with family members of his tipuna (ancestors) once living in the Rangiaowhia area.

"My tipuna and one of his wives stayed here and there's a letter [she wrote] to Governor Grey. She talked about their homes being ransacked."

He said 1500 of the best British soldiers, with the most modern weaponry, attacked the defenseless village of 200 old men, women and children.

About 15 minutes south of Rangiaowhia is the site of the Orakau Battle, also known as Rewi's Last Stand, where more Maori died than in any other during the entire Waikato Land Wars.

The Battle of Orakau was the final battle between the Crown and Kingitanga and is remembered by Maori as an atrocity against their people.

After two-and-a-half days since the battle began, the 300 occupants of the pa, including women and children, had no water, food and had run out of ammunition.

"So on the final day they were asked by the British if they would like to surrender and they famously replied that they would fight on forever, forever, forever," Mr O'Malley said.

"The respect and care which we afford these sites is the concern of many historians but for Roa it's a question of whakaora, restoration.

"The way our current histories treat these events is very marginal.

"If we are to be truly cognoscente of what happened here on this land, then this must be at the forefront."

Vincent O'Malley's book, The Great War for New Zealand, will have its formal launch at Waahi Paa next Saturday.

The book is published by Bridget Williams Books.