‘Bob the Blind’ fights last battle
Robert Owen Rarere of Mahanga, Mahia, affectionately known as “Bob the Blind’ and “Bobby Girl,” has died, aged 80.
Many people gathered at Mahanga marae to farewell a well known and respected identity of the Wairoa district who was mentor, soldier, community man, kaumatua, father and friend.
As the last post sounded through the pines at the Ruawharawhara cemetery his army mates saluted the last Rongomaiwahine 28th Maori Battalion member lowered to his rest.
He was born on November 25, 1922, the son of Rapua-ite-Rangi Kara and father Haami Moa of the sub-tribe Hoko-Whitu-O-Ngaitu (mother’s side) and Ngai TamaKahu (father’s side) at Mahanga. He had eight brothers and sisters.
Bob’s schooling began at Opoutama and Kopuawara [Kopuawhara] ceased in standard 5 when, aged 14, he decided to go to work as a general hand for Fred Bowen at Poriwa Station.
Then he shifted over to join a metalling gang for P Andrews and Hammond Bros who were building a road from Mahanga to Tunanui. After that he joined the Public Works Department.
In 1939 he was off to Hastings to the Open-Hymer Cassing factory, in 1940 crossing over as a labourer for the Winstone Building Contractors in Wellington, helping to construct a hospital in Aotea Quay for the soldiers returning from the war.
Bob then became an apprentice boiler-maker for Cable Price. He heard the call for Maori soldiers, however, and on November 8, 1942 joined the 28th Maori Battalion at the Papakura Military camp.
In December 1944 he was posted overseas with the Middle East Forces and returned to New Zealand two years later. In 1946 he met the love of his life, Wahati Wilson. They married and had eight children.
Eventually he found employment at the Gisborne Refrigeration company until 1949, when he lost his sight due to his war efforts.
Blindness not an easy transition for Bob, but he wasn’t one to lay down his sword. A true soldier, he battled on, and in 1954 he entered Gisborne Hospital’s rehabilitation school to learn how to make soft toys.
It was the year which saw the beginning of his involvement in community activities and organizations.
He joined the Buffalo Lodge Mahia 275 (Mother Lodge) in 1962, and affiliated to Wairoa 133, Tiniroto 295, Napier 37, Pride of Ahuriri 60 and Greendale 102 Lodges.
He was very interested in the Labour Party, and in 1963 became president of the NZ Labour Party’s Mahia-Nuhaka branch. He resigned in 1973 after a shift to Napier.
The RSA was very important to Bob and he especially enjoyed the ANZAC Day dawn parades at Kaiuku. He held the position of President Mahia Branch RSA until his death.
Bob enjoyed community involvement. He especially looked after Mahanga marae and throughout his life was dedicated to maintaining it for everyone to enjoy. Despite his blindness he devoted a lot of his time to helping other organisations.
He was chairman of the Mahia Maori Committee; chairman trustee Mahanga Marae; trustee member Ruawharo Marae, member Te Whanau-O-Rongomaiwahine trust, advisory trustee Mahia Golf Club, member Wairoa District Council for Mahia; delegate to Kahungunu Executive committee, Maatua Whangai (Wairoa); Kaumatua Social Welfare (Wairoa, NZ Income Support); and involved with Children and Young Persons for Mahia.
Even though Bob was involved with community activities he always had time for his wife, Waihati and especially his family.
At recent birthday celebrations Bob was acknowledged as the ‘“Taonga of Mahanga” who was a mentor to local families and who had an excellent memory with great knowledge on whakapapa and tribal matters.
Bob believed in helping people and these treasured words were close to his heart:
Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
“Dad lived his life by this proverb, it was important to him and he tried to uphold fishing and tangata whenua rights because this is where life springs from” said daughter, Huia McKenzie.
Bob had imparted knowledge to members of his family and he was buried with the original Hoko-Whitu-O-Ngaitu flag.
Bob is survived by his wife Wahati, eight children, 22 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.
Photo caption – Robert Rarere