Ngāti Pōneke farewells last ‘Golden Girl’ Riria Utiku

By Talisa Kupenga

The last 'Golden Girl' from the founding era of veteran Māori Club Ngāti Pōneke, Riria Utiku (nee Walker), has finally been laid to rest.  At 102 years old, she was farewelled by friends and family at Wellington's Pipitea Marae.

The new generation of Ngāti Pōneke farewell their beloved Nanny Riria.

Emanuiarangi "Marnie" Morgan says, "She was a straight shooter, she was very gentle, and I would say was like 'God save the queen', she always looked beautiful."

Of the 'Golden Girl' era she helped form the group back in 1937 when she was 20 years old.

Riria Utiku with Ngāti Pōneke - Photo / Supplied

Ngāti Pōneke President Rāwiri Ormsby says, "The younger generation and Ngāti Pōneke need to retain the skills she gave us, and those of the others too who have passed.”

Morgan says, "They were a hard team those golden girls, a hard team to follow and well, she was a diamond our Aunty."

Riria, a keen sportswoman, reflected on how the club helped her reconnect with her Māori identity at her centenary celebrations in 2016.

Nanny Riria at her centenary celebrations in 2016 - Photo / File

She told Te Kāea, “They were good years. Had to learn about a lot of Māori things because us children were brought up as Europeans, just grows on you once you've joined up you're all part of it."

During WWI she sent parcels and letters to the Māori soldiers and supported those who returned. She was known as a hard worker.

Morgan says, "When her husband Uncle Rangi died she farmed that land there for a further ten years. For someone who was smaller than I, and I don't consider myself to be very tall, being so petite she was so strong."

Riria will be reunited with her husband at Rangiatea Cemetery.