The Rangiriri Hotel

This is from the ‘author’s note’ in Peter Maxwell’s Frontier: The Battle for the North Island of New Zealand (I think the ending is a overly dramatic, but his point is nicely put):

One afternoon in the summer of 1985 on a drive between Auckland and Hamilton my father insisted that we stop at the Rangiriri Hotel. I accepted the invitation with reluctance, he seldom drank outside the confines of his club and had never taken me to a hotel in his life. It occurred to me that he had something of importance to say, possibly in connection with our family. I hoped that he was not about to burden me with something I might find embarrassing to discuss. We sat at a window with a view of a neighbouring hilltop. “On the slopes of that hill,” he said, “a British naval party was cut down.”

I did not understand his terminology. For a moment I literally did not know what he was talking about, but while we finished our drinks he explained. The sailors had stormed the hill from gunboats moored against the river bank he told me, pointing to a line of willows on the opposite side of the highway. Then he led me from the hotel into the nearby cemetery and showed me their graves. I was genuinely intrigued. By what circumstances could three dozen sailors have been killed on a hillside 30 miles from the sea?

For the first time it was impressed upon me that I knew nothing of my country’s history. At home I began to inquire, discovering at once that among my acquaintances ignorance of New Zealand’s past was universal.

One day in the following winter, during a motorcycle journey through the Waikato, I remembered Rangiriri. Thirty minutes later I climbed the hill in a rainstorm. I remember squatting on its summit in the wet grass listening to the cars on the highway below, certain that none of the travellers knew any more of the events that had taken place there than did I.

The passing traffic symbolised the issue. We were all going… somewhere? But none of us knew where we had come from. There are ghosts on that hilltop. I felt faint. I sank to my knees, then inexplicably – burst into tears.


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