Donna Awatere Huata: if circumstances had been different you would know her name as a superbly talented opera singer rivaling other New Zealand vocal stars of the international operatic stage.
I must have been still at school when one afternoon or evening I walked over the road to the Mary Gonzaga Hall in the grounds of the Mater Hospital for some kind of event or concert. There was talking or speeches from old religious people whose manner and style of running their words off at the end of each sentence made me want to laugh. But what I most remember is the singing. It must have been a school choir. And a young woman stepped forward and sang. Wearing a little blue and white checked dress her chin length helmet of shiny black hair swept back off her face. She sang and I was entranced by the sound. I never knew who she was.
The Auckland University of the late 1960’s and 1970’s was a much smaller educational organisation than today. Clustered around summer-leafy streets on the other side of Albert Park, in those days the clock tower and the main building were imposing. The library had long, long wooden tables and there were books. Tutorials and lectures were in the large old residential houses that lined the adjoining streets. And the University Cafeteria was somewhere off the Quadrangle and the food would not have been awarded a Michelin Star – the mashed potato would slide through your fork.
The young woman who asked if she could share my table introduced me to a world and to people I most probably would have never met. We were doing the same degree in different subjects. I was also a “part-time” student doing one or two units of my degree each year while working in a downtown Auckland law firm. The young woman I got to know turned out to be a dedicated, hard working, satorially out-there, clever member of the student community. Often when she talked her hand chopped the air like a patu. She was also kind and incredibly funny. She became a detested member of contemporary activist groups. She created a transformative accessible literacy programme. She became a member of the New Zealand Parliament. She has survived many storms but, she has survived and in 2020 is the Maori Climate Commissioner 1 She is the warrior her father wanted: wahine toa maori mana wahine.
The five part documentary Rangatira: In the Blood He Toto i Tuku iho – Donna Awatere Huata is an insight into the life of Donna and her family. The images of this woman describing why she did not pursue an international operatic career are intensely moving. As in mythology the prayers of her father Arapeta Awatere to Tumatauenga were answered by his personal tragedy.
Notes: 1. The Maori Climate Commissioner is a privately funded Maori advocacy role
This article has been compiled from videos, information and articles available online.
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
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