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Like much of our nation's history, the Wairau massacre either draws a blank for many New Zealanders or is retold as a one-sided and unprovoked attack on innocent settlers.

So when playwright and author Justin Eade decided to write a play about the Wairau Affray, as it's become known, he did so knowing that it was critical to ensure, as best as possible, that both Maori and Pakeha perspectives were represented in the retelling.

The Wairau Affray - a play in development is just that - a staged reading complete with question and answer session afterwards, as part of the development process towards a full-length play.

On 17 June 1840, nine Ngati Toa chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Cloudy Bay. 17 June 1843 four Maori and 22 Europeans were killed in a dispute over ownership of the Wairau, the first violent clash between Maori and Pakeha since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

In the retelling, Eade says that while it's a colonists' story, he wanted to try and provide as accurate reflection of historical events as possible, while acknowledging some creative license.

The play follows Nelson Magistrate Henry Thompson (Cameron West) and Captain Arthur Wakefield (Nick Kemplen), the New Zealand Company's Nelson agent and brother of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, in their endeavours to provide over-promised land to the influx of colonists.

The Maori perspective is presented through the composite character of translator William Abbott (Matt Lattin), who delivers Thompson's and Wakefield's ultimatums in te reo to Ngati Toa chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeta. In his English translation, he tries to appeal to Thompson and Wakefield to consider the perspective of Ngati Toa, who, despite being adamant that they had never agreed to the sale of Wairau lands, were suggesting independent arbitration through Land Commissioner Spain.

Despite being a staged reading, all three actors brought incredible characterisation, strength and versatility to their roles. There was an interesting juxtaposition between the three characters - the racially-superior capitalist Wakefield, the dishonourable win-at-all-costs Thompson, and the respectful and conflicted translator Abbott.

Significant consultation was undertaken with Ngati Toa to ensure their perspective and tikanga (Maori lore) was represented. At the first reading it was a privilege to have a number of Maori present and to hear their feedback on the play.

Despite the pain that the story brings up for Ngati Toa in particular, it's a pivotal piece of history that needs to be told and Eade, along with director Giles Burton, did a magnificent job in bringing it together as a beautiful and moving story.

The Wairau Affray - a play in development is at the Suter Theatre from 15 to 17 April at 7.00pm. Tickets are available through

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From This Author Judene Edgar