Henare Te Ua 1934 – 2007

“It was a busy week in the Waikato, wasn’t it Libby? On Monday there was…”

Like an arm sweeping flotsam and jetsam from a desktop, Henare Te Ua would sweep the formalities of the opening theme for his weekly programme Whenua on National Radio aside and launch into an hour of korero on matters Maori.

The veteran broadcaster, who died yesterday, was best-known for Whenua which ran for 7½ years on National Radio, with co-host Libby Hakaraia and, latterly, Alma Ma Ua.

For many years, Henare Te Ua was a serious threat to weekend gardening productivity at my house, which had to be curtailed in time to get inside to listen to Whenua at 4 o’clock. From the moment he opened the programme, his keen listeners would be glued to korero on current affairs within the Maori community.

The programme featured interviews, live coverage, conversations, visits of local and foreign dignitaries, major events, and regular guests. Whenua generally avoided controversy, but one of the regular contributors, Bishop Muru Walters, was a straight-shooter and often provided a thought-provoking counterpoint.

Henare Te Ua’s ability to easily move between clearly spoken English and Maori made it possible for non-Maori speakers to gain contextual insight to the language. His great gift was the ability to create “spoken pictures” of what he was seeing through his vivid descriptions.

It wasn’t until I heard him reading his autobiographical notes on National Radio as his health failed, that I learnt that he had started life with a serious speech impediment. That he could overcome it and become such a clear bilingual speaker, often in situations that required ad-libbing, is a tribute to his determination.

Few could fail to be moved by his biographical commentary when he re-visited places from his family’s past at Puha and in the Waioeka Gorge.

Henare Te Ua was an accomplished broadcaster, and is probably as well-remembered for his broadcasts from Waitangi Day celebrations, Te Maori exhibition in New York in 1984 and many other events.

But I will long remember and thank him for bringing Maori current affairs into the mainstream through Whenua.

Radio New Zealand has published a brief obituary of Henare Te Ua on its website.

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