The recent ANZAC 100th has once again reaffirmed Australian and New Zealand bonds since Gallipoli. However it often comes over that it was at Gallipoli that these bonds were first forged and so our close relationship is only 100 years old, but as with so much of Sydney’s history it goes a bit further back than that.
Sydney’s connections to New Zealand began as early as 1793 when the first Maori were bought to the new colony. The two men had been kidnapped by the British and sent to Norfolk Island to teach convicts how to weave flax into cloth. They didn’t teach anyone and in an unusual twist for colonial British interactions with Indigenous peoples, they were actually returned to New Zealand after a stay with Governor King in Sydney.
Before returning, one of the men, Tuki Tahua, told King of the immense pine trees that grew near the Bay of Islands where he was from. This information sparked renewed naval interest in New Zealand and ships were soon regularly visiting the area for timber and trade. Maori in turn began to voyage back and forth to Sydney on these timber trading ships, as well as whalers and as curious visitors.
Maori chiefs and princesses became regular visitors to Sydney in the years up to 1820. Chiefs like Te Pahi, Te Hikutu and Korohoro, all from the Bay of Islands area visited between 1805 and the 1820s. They were part of a multi-cultural colonial scene that at times meant some pubs in the Rocks had more Maori clients than European ones. Enough timber was coming in from New Zealand and Maori traders in the mid-1820s that a wharf at the end of George Street dealt exclusively in it.
In 1814 the Reverend Samuel Marsden helped establish the first mission stations to the Maori in the North Island. In doing this he organised for the first export of horses and sheep to New Zealand from Sydney farms. Sheep in particular were a lucrative trade item to the missions, and Sydney became the main port for live export to our near neighbour. By the 1840s, 1000’s of sheep were leaving Sydney for New Zealand farms.
So much relied on New Zealand trade that between 1839 and 1841 the whole country was bought under the administration of the NSW Governor, with James Busby appointed as vice-consul.
But friendly relations with the Maori were about to come to an end. Increasing European incursions into Maori land and expanding settlements heightened tensions between Maori and European’s which was bought to a head in 1840 when a treaty was forced on the Maori to cede control of their lands to the British Crown. The first land wars erupted in the early 1840s with Sydney playing a major role. In the years prior, many Maori chiefs had used Sydney to buy weapons for their people, for internal Maori conflicts as well as use against Europeans. When war broke out, two gunboats were built in Sydney for use against the Maori, with volunteers also rushing to join militia groups heading to fight.
From 1863-64, the Waikato Wars attracted more than 2500 Australian volunteers, with about 650 going from Sydney. A memorial in Burwood Park remembers the conflict.
Of course, the war all but ended Maori connections to Sydney in the nineteenth century. The trade they had relied on was decimated, their lands were taken and the Sydney population dwindled. It never fully disappeared though, confirming a connection between Sydney and New Zealand of at least 222 years and counting.