Former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters made a rare public appearance after losing last year's election, in the very region that cost him his job.
The New Zealand First leader attended the unveiling of the Ventnor memorial in the Hokianga alongside the former Minister of Regional Economic Development Shane Jones.
Peters has been keeping a low profile since failing to reach the five per cent threshold in November.
On Saturday, though, the 76-year-old re-emerged to honour the 499 Chinese bodies lost on the SS Ventnor in 1902 and the 13 people who drowned.
The boat was carrying the remains of hundreds of Chinese gold miners when it sunk off the coast of the Hokianga Harbour.
The NZ First politicians were among a handful of dignitaries at the event, including Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon.
Jones, hinting at running again in 2023, said in his speech: “Rest assured this is not a long Shane Jones speech, tune in in three years.”
Peters was forced into the limelight by his colleague Jones for an impromptu speech. But, he was reluctant to talk politics.
“This was supposed to be a very enjoyable event to attend where all I’d do is sit over there and listen to everyone else speak," he said.
He thanked everyone for the invitation and said: “It’s a proud day for New Zealand and a proud day for the Hokianga.”
NZ First was behind the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) that contributed $100,000 towards the memorial and $4.6 million towards the Manea Footprints of Kupe Cultural Heritage and Education Centre were the Ventnor statue now stands.
Speaking to 1 NEWS after the ceremony, Peters said: “It was a critical investment in this country’s history and very much appreciated by the Chinese people.”
When asked if he was disappointed that the new Labour government has done away with the PGF, he replied, “well so have the people of this country,” before walking away, chuckling.
The PGF had been criticised by some as a “slush fund”. Despite a large portion being spent on Northland, it failed to win the Northland public over.
Northland candidate Jones, tipped as NZ First’s only chance to get into Parliament, lost dismally. He came in behind Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime and National’s Matt King.
The PGF was allocated $3 billion to spend over three years.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says all the money has been allocated, with $1.23 billion so far being paid out.