Sydney Marae gets green light after landmark deal

By Will Trafford

Video / Arterra Interactive

A landmark deal between Māori in Australia, a Sydney council and local Aboriginal people will see a first of its kind marae built in the city’s outer suburbs, for expatriates wanting to reconnect with other whānau from home.

The Sydney Marae Alliance (SMA) has been raising funds for almost 30 years to create a place for Māori to connect on Aussie soil and says it's finally inked a 20-year lease for a site in the city’s southwest, with Cumberland City Council.

The 15ha-hectare site at Hyland Road Reserve in Greystanes will feature a $4 million purpose-built community facility that supports cultural and educational activities according to a joint statement from the groups.

“It will be a combination of tradition, heritage and contemporary cultures, a place for future generations to learn and connect with their culture and identity,” Sydney Marae Alliance chief executive Domenic Brunetta says.

The group, made up of 65,000 Māori who reside in New South Wales, say it has worked with both council and the aboriginal Darug people for the whare and say they see an opportunity to bridge both indigenous cultures in new ways while respecting their hosts as tangata whenua.

“We acknowledge the Darug people, as the original caretakers of this land, the waterways and the environment.”

Connection to indigenous people

“The support and engagement we have had with the Indigenous groups through the process of planning for this project have enabled us to feel confident that we can grow and develop our cultures together – side by side in partnership.”

The whenua has been given new life by the council,  having previously been the site of a recycling facility; local mayor Lisa Lake calls the deal an "exciting opportunity" for the suburb of Greystanes and a ‘significant key milestone for the community.’

“This is about strengthening the cultural diversity and community connections within Cumberland.”

“Creating a purpose-built facility will celebrate and support all cultures, people and places and will provide opportunities for local jobs and support demands for social infrastructure,” she said.

Brunetta thanked the council for "this opportunity to allow us and to be part of such a great development that will have an impact on the local community and cultural groups for the next 25 years.’

‘This will be the first traditional marae, a sacred meeting place for Maori communities throughout New Zealand, outside of New Zealand.’

A whare wananga

The marae alliance's Kiri Barber says the community was grateful "to have Te Ataarangi here, and we have a Waitangi Day. and we have a Māori league day, and we also have kapa haka every second year. But we need a connection back home." 

It is estimated there are more than 150,000 Māori living in Australia, with about a third in New South Wales. Barber says the complex will include a traditional wharenui and a cultural centre where whānau can immerse themselves in Te Ao Māori to learn Te Reo Māori and kapa haka. The marae will also allow Sydney-based Māori to gather together for tangihanga, celebrations and hui.

"It will be a whare wānanga. So it will give our people an opportunity to reconnect to who we are.

"About 90% of those [who live in Australia] will probably not take a language journey. So this is about the revitalisation of those 90,000 [sic]. All we have to do is start with one or two and be able to invigorate them. 

"Even though we might be thriving at home, this is also where a large population of our people are now living. No one's taking care of them but this."

The agreement will see the complex built on land that traditionally belonged to the Darug people, in a suburb named for an indigenous ancestor who led the resistance against the British in the late 1700's. Barber says that historic connection with the tangata whenua is an important relationship that has developed over the years, with its origins dating back 200 years.

Tribute to leader

"We have a deep association with the traditional owners of the land and the council. Some 200 years have passed since Māori first arrived here, and we are still here. 

"Pemulwuy was a leader of his people, in the same vein as the like of Kawiti and Te Rauparaha. Pemulwuy and his people married off their whānau to Māori whānau, and from that time on those connections and stories have been maintained. "

Barber also paid tribute to the late Muriwai Ihakara, who passed away last month, who was the chairperson of the committee that first explored the possibility of establishing a marae in Sydney in 1992.

"He was a poutokomanawa for many families in Sydney that are still living here. And from that we've been working hard to fulfill his wish.

"Those sentiments were shared on Saturday. We are still in shock because he left a legacy in Poihākena. And those descendants of his learning still sing and talk about his work."  

Securing the lease is a major milestone on the journey for the Sydney Marae Alliance. The process of securing resource consents for the project is now underway, and Barber hopes that in three or four years' time the gates to the new marae will be opened to one and all in Sydney.