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Abstract of Michael Richard SKERRETT, 2015

 Item — Box: 21
Identifier: H00510002


Interviewer: Rebecca Amunsden

Abstracter: Courtney Ellison

Michael Skerrett


00:00 Interview identification

01:15 Father Claude Skerrett, worked as Sailmaker at Railway, born in Bluff. His Father was George Skerrett and his mother was Anna West. Michael’s mother Cora Rask (sp?) was born in town, early life at SANDY POINT, father Charles Rask half Danish half Irish, mother was Mary Murray who was Irish. Michael’s Mother’s Grandfather came to NEW ZEALAND about 1870.

02:40 Michael born in Nelson Street, Invercargill, family home was in 134 Lindisfarne Street, brother lives there now. 8 children, so always lots of people there. Michael is 7th child.

03:50 Father spoke very little Maori in the home. Grandparents kept it from the children as Maori had become so impoverished, the only way to go was the European way. Oldest brother grew up with the grandparents, he heard Maori spoken quite a lot. Grandparents quite involved in Ngai Tahu Claim, had lots of people come and stay on the farm at Motorimu (just past Tisbury) during that time. Farm was only 40-50 acres. Back garden full of flowers. Seal skins with heads on being on farm house floor. Grandmother lived with them, when grandfather passed away.

06:00 Early memories mother nursing younger brother by coal range - described. Lived at Lindisfarme home until married. Went to St Theresa’s, and Southland Technical College.

07:30 Mother didn’t speak any Maori, but probably heard quite a bit. Her family settled at Sandy Point around 1870s, could speak Maori quite a bit, whaling pretty well over. Paddled across river to Omaui.

08:30 Aged 10/11 went to Mutton Island, very excited, realized importance from heritage point of view. Maori words around the island heard lots e.g. ‘puho’. Brother went to Island from very young age, now hasn’t missed a year since 1988, lives at Rotoma now.

11:20 Father as a young person had always gone. When he took Michael he hadn’t been for a few years, his mother didn’t want to go. Took school work with them. Colac Bay school became almost empty during that time, schools understood tradition and became almost expected - described. Still a lot of kids go now- mentioned.

13:15 Lots of preparation, no shops there. People who go for the whole season leave around 15 March and are there for around 2 months. People today with work cant go for the whole time, take leave and go for second half for ‘rama’. First half of season from 1 April – 20 April catch them from burrows, chicks start coming at night to feed, go out with torch to catch them.


00:00 Catching birds from burrows – explained. Plugging holes with puru (plug) – described.

01:50 Catch chicks, keeping it sustainable, life span, breeding, science work – explained.

05:20 Torching to catch birds, how to make flame/torch in the past – explained.

06:40 1800s lifelights made using carbide – described.

07:50 Birds scared/run away from humans, better to go up hill than down hill to catch them – explained. Lantern torch with wire lense, similar light to carbide. Better not to have spotlight, better to have wider range - explained.

10:20 Catch with hands, birds fight back with beak and feet. All ages go – described.

11:24 Stored birds in bladder kelp bags, lots of preparation collecting Harekeke, Totara bark – described. Evidence of ringbarking on Codfish Island – mentioned.

13:20 Sealers went muttonbirding with their wives, similar to how Maori did – described.

13:50 How the kelp bags, totara and flax was used – described. In old days birds were cooked before storing, process of boning– described.


00:00 Boning, cooking, preserving, last two or three years, sealers introduced salt – described. Once the huahua was full it was put inside a kete, strips of totara bark put around so the kelp bag didn’t get punctured then laced up for transport. Some still do this process today to keep tradition alive, but most packed into buckets.

03:00 No limit on number of birds but something being watched. Can’t access some of the islands, so some birds never harvested. About 30 islands, around Rakiura, about 20 would be harvested. Further south Snares Island about 5 million birds– mentioned. About 1.5 million on our island. Survey and cycle of birds – described. Plankton, Krill – Mentioned.

06:40 Availability of food, chicks hatching, El Nino conditions – described. Sub-Antarctic Islands, Chatham Islands, Tasmania – Mentioned.

08:50 Parents, most of them leave mid-April to Northern Hemisphere, telemetry, dive up to 60m deep – explained.

10:45 Only touch land here, rest of the year at sea – described. Off coast of Japan, Glasgow, California, feed there and come back, travel average 67,000 km – described.

12:35 Feeling like home, no roads or footpaths, just tracks, walking in ancestors footsteps – described. Kaimoana important, shellfish, paua, to supplement the diet – described.


00:00 Working together as families, traditions get passed on. 3 years ago had a great –grandson, having four generations in that house on the island. Learn by copying what we’re doing, stories passed on, chanting while weaving – explained. When arriving at the island, call to the island, tangi, some of these things not done the same today – described.

02:30 Becoming more important going to the island, get back and always look forward to going back. Hard work, some aspects getting easier with time – explained. Plucking birds – described.

04:20 Originally went by waka – described. Colac Bay, East Ruggedy, Whenua Hou, Mason Bay - Mentioned. With marriages to sealers, changed to whale boats, more maneuverable, and carried a bigger load – explained. Women on sweeps as well.

06:35 Then travelled by sail boats, early 1900s small motors on boats, government vessels ‘Matai’, ‘Wairua’ – explained. Michael always went by fishing boat. No wharf, difficult to get ashore, and get everything up to where they stay – described. Stewart Island ferry – Mentioned. Easier now with helicopters to bring gear in, stacking things on the boat easier – described.

11:40 Children love going, build swings off trees, fishing off rocks, gathering paua, torching – described.

12:35 Strong family connections to Southland, sense of responsibility for the area, work at Te Ao Marama, resource management. Used to train race horses, no racing for 5 months of the year down here, harder to make living here – explained. David Sutherland, said to come up to Cambridge area, with parents here wouldn’t shift.

14:50 Involved in tribal affairs, on board of Te Rununga o Ngai Tahu since 1999.


00:00 Importance of managing assets for future generations.

00:45 Had horse without parents knowing, around 12 years old. Two of mother’s brothers were jockeys. Training horses – described. Won 23 races one year. Only a 7 month season. Hard to make living, so worked at the same time. Ran a fish shop, large commitment, hard to train horses at the same time.

02:45 Sister in law, Marcia, always trying to get Michael involved in runanga. Led to being representative on Te Rununga o Ngai Tahu.

03:30 Job at the moment came about through the rununga. RMA had come in, it was a lot of work – described. Looking at formal consultation, 4 rununga and 4 councils. Southland District Council – mentioned. Te Rapa – mentioned. Loyalty to Council as employer, setting up structure of Te Ao Marama, trial from 1996 for 2 years – explained.

06:00 Councillors like it, protocols around input into policies and consents. Facilitating input into processes under various legislation, workshops hearings – described.

07:40 First in country to set up like this, incorporated society. Otago set up a company but struggled, moving towards our model – described.

08:30 Simpler down here with only one tribe, Ngai Tahu, more rununga structures, more difficult where hapu don’t work together. Nelson – mentioned. Biggest area of any tribe in country, 18 rununga, 4 in Murihiku (which goes to Clutha, Wanaka, Lake McKerrow). Four rununga are Awarua at Bluff, Hokonui at Gore, Oraka Aparima at Riverton, and Waihopai at Invercargill.

10:30 Throughout country, Maori have sense of frustration at not being able to achieve anything, bulk of it because not structured properly and no hard boundaries – explained.

12:30 Environment continuously growing, need to be more effective. Still doesn’t fulfill the promises of the Treaty, tino rangatiratanga not just ownership, partnership, participation, shared decision making, active protection, provisions like this in purpose of the Resource Management Act, sustainable development, cultural wellbeing, section 6 of the Act – explained.


00:00 Ancestral lands, wahi tapu, taonga (treasures) – mentioned. Role in protecting water, rules in plans – explained.

01:30 Shifting to take more holistic approach, example of river affecting estuaries, and affected by use of land next to it – described.

02:50 Ngai Tahu Settlements, involvement with animal health board, 1080 drops – described. Regional Council, Peter Fisher, DOC – mentioned. Scientist presented to rununga, birdlife flourishing, water testing, monitoring – described.

06:35 Catlins – mentioned. Included trees in monitoring, possums stripping vegetation. Now seen as valuable in developing consent applications.

08:00 Birds there now that weren’t there before, like Parakeets, [1080] drops effective, Hokonui Hills, people in opposition, cannot cover same area by foot – mentioned.

09:20 Eradicated rats on Titi Islands 4 years ago, impossible on ground. 1964, Forest and Bird (or their predecessor) helped, put bait out in rat boxes, used poison worse than 1080, stays a lot longer, taken there as supplementary source of food taken over by Europeans – described.

11:25 Snipe or Hakawai were there but rats eradicated them. Last week of muttonbird season, heard the bird call, like a weta and woosh like a pigeon, but never saw it – described.

14:00 In decline by the time Michael was going, ground nesting bird, calling from 1km away - described.


00:00 Grandparents told story, lady who wanted to see the Hakawai, first sound of one she took off couldn’t stand the sound – described.

01:00 Extinct on the island now. Last place heard here was Omaui, on the Chathams, mating time, tail feathers fluttering make the noise – described.

02:50 Got some from Auckland Islands and put them on Pito Hingu, about 1km from us, rates were eradicated from there 10 years ago, thriving now – described.

04:00 Down on Island Muttonbirding, birding areas called manu. Learning Te Reo – described.

06:20 Intermarriage with sealers and whalers brought on by threat of invasion from North Island and the bloodshed as some of the sealers didn’t have wives, there were fights back and forth.

07:45 Honekai was Ariki, chief of chiefs, based down at Sandy Point, and his son Whakataupuka, used to go to those marriages, saw the value in trading, was a traditional thing to do - explained.

08:10 First people down here were Waitaha, Ngati Mamoe from East Coast of North Island came down fought and dominated Waitaha, and made peace by intermarriage. Smart choice as then had bigger hapu, and had local knowledge from Waitaha. Ngai Tahu also from east coast North Island, came and the same thing happened, became known as Ngai Tahu Whanui – described. Whakataupuka arranged the marriages to stop the fighting – described.

10:30 Prior to muskets, fights more minor, some of the tribed got muskets and created havoc – described.

11:00 Whakataupuka called council of war at Ruapuke Island, toa iti (war party) gathered things as they moved up the island, trading and marriages, went following year and cleaned up – explained. Bluff, Invercargill, Rakiura, people all mixed up now – Mentioned.

14:15 The name of island was Kanawera, also Maori name for Stirling Point, after prominent Maori Chief, when Whakataupuka arranged a marriage he didn’t say go to whenua hou, which means new land, he said I give you Kanawera as whenua hou


00:28 Ngai Tahu Settlement has provision about Whenua Hou, but was never included. Sub-Committee of the Conservation Board is the Whenua Hou Management Committee and have 50% representation on that. Naming of island – explained.

01:30 With intermarriages, people have got more European in their ways, unless they go to the islands. Prior to settlement only about 3000 registered, now well into 40,000 people registered with Ngai Tahu – explained.

03:20 Loss of land. Rakiura – mentioned. Totpatiki put Rakiura up for sale, doesn’t mentioned Titi Islands, offered it to the Governor in 1860. Island was surveyed. Discussion of price around 6000 pounds, first hui for sale held on 6 April 1864. Tacy Clarke conducted sale. Mantell, Scotland - Mentioned. Sale of land, most people away on the island during hui – explained. Second meeting in June – described.

08:10 2000 pounds paid, 2000 pounds retained in perpetuity by government and invested, to be paid out annually. Four people got benefits of a third of sale, but contrary to customary rights where chief shouldn’t get any more than anyone else. Lived as collective, which is why in settlements its managed as collective – explained. Remaining 2000 pound retained to purchase land in Murihiku for education. Valued land at pound per acre. Purchase of the land, Hukanui endowment – described.

12:25 Maori were wealthy in resources prior to that, really industrious, involved in trading- described. Mahinga kai – mentioned.

14:20 Growth in culture now, settlement has helped, $600 million of assets, 50,000 people though – described.


00:00 Focus on education, 12 years since settlement – explained.

01:00 Meeting Maori from north, started to learn some phrases, but didn’t really learn until took classes. Wife is local, keen on marrying within tribe. Later in life you can turn your attention to these things, but always staunch on island traditions and continuing those. Opportunities with the settlement have come along to be involved.

04:30 Interview finishes.


  • 2015

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