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Marae base for Dargaville Maori Methodists

Situated in the border zone between Nga Puhi tribes to the north and Ngati Whatua tribes to the south, Dargaville is a dynamic place in Maoridom. It was also an important place for early Methodist missionary Rev James Buller who established a mission there in the 1840s.

Dargaville’s Taha Maori congregation lives with these legacies. It is an active group with a range of facilities and assets.

Minita-a-iwi Rex Nathan explains the congregation worships at a church at the Oturei marae south of the Dargaville township.

“Oturei marae was established by tipuna from Hokianga, which was a Methodist stronghold. The whole complex includes the marae, a cemetery, and the church.

“The church is all-denominations and a few years ago we began joint worship services once every two months with the local Ratana congregation. Now it is mostly the Methodist who attend. We always get a core group attending and if whanau are back in town for a function we have a full house,” Rex says.

An active part of the Methodist congregation is the Oturei Ladies Fellowship. In addition to meeting for prayers they do fundraising for the church. Catering is their most successful means of fundraising and it includes not only the women of the church but their husbands and extended whanau.

Women members of the congregation say they mourn the passing of their former minister Rev Sam Toia and his wife Lorraine. Sam was a very gifted full time minister and he created an active congregation.

Under Sam’s leadership there were plans to expand the James Buller Centre, a small hall the congregation owns in central Dargaville. Among the activities held in the centre were choir practices and an after-school youth group. As the numbers dwindled in the congregation plans to enlarge it were shelved.

The congregation says they are fortunate to have Rex to lead their worship services but social changes mean there are less young people involved in the church than in the past. Many young people leave Dargaville to pursue work and careers. Those who remain work on weekends or have other interests.

Rex’s father Hugh Nathan is chair of the Oturei marae board of trustees. Hugh along with Rex are also trustees overseeing operation of the 22 acre Mt Wesley farm Taha Maori owns on Dargaville’s outskirts.

Rev James Buller acquired the property, with its commanding view of the Northern Wairoa River, from local iwi in the 19th century. In 1987 Taha Maori took control of the property from the former Home Mission Board and the local congregation managed it.

“We managed it for about 16 years,” Rex says. “The church owned 60 stock and we covered all the costs of operating the farm, looked after the animals’ health and did all the fencing, fertilising, and drainage. All profits went to Investment Funds Board of Te Taha Maori.

“A couple of years ago the man who led that work moved to Auckland and we have not been able to continue. Currently our stock agent has his animals on the property and we are looking at options to either lease or sell the property. As in all Church properties before the decision to sell is made, the land story has to be completed. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a phone call from someone who wants to buy the property because of its view.”