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For staff at the Eastern Institute of Technology, is Ōtātara a placeless geography? Or a geography of significance?

This thesis explores the experience of place for a group of tertiary employees in a regional area of New Zealand. Staff based at EIT Hawke’s Bay in Taradale, Napier can see the Ōtātara Pā Reserve from several vantage points on campus, and often visit because of its immediate proximity. Originally, joined and now adjacent, the cultural significance of this land for Māori over some centuries prior to Pākehā settlement, is still being uncovered. Through a series of interviews, the historical significance of this place is joined with the experiences of staff in being in this space. A range of meanings including belonging, attachment and sense of location were described by participants, showing the development over time of threads of connection for themselves, family, community and also staff members. Ideas in the literature of place were considered including attachment to meaningful locations and landscape. A particular interest in the thesis was bringing this more general literature into focus for a New Zealand place, which has substantial Māori history connections including for participants of both Māori and Pākehā backgrounds. Several methodological issues were discussed within a series of interviews including cultural appropriateness and representation. The researchers transition from an English cultural upbringing, to developing and extending indigenous landscape knowledge, illustrates the changing recognition and involvement in an increasingly bi-cultural New Zealand, and demonstrates the implications of this in understanding place attachment. Findings from this research were organised in three main chapters. The first, recounted historical material about Ōtātara, Māori and Pākehā times, exploring ideas of place and belonging. It also provided a natural anchor for the second and third chapters, which reported the findings of EIT staff enjoying being within, and feeling the presence of that history. Several themes emerged and were summarised as embodied landscape experiences, and the intriguing dimensions of social relationships and place for these tertiary staff. Place is important across the social sciences as it is for other disciplines. It evokes on the one hand aspirations and ideals of an aesthetic and spiritual nature but at the same time, reminds human beings of their literal and biological being in time and space. The present study has contributed to this wider narrative by looking at one example and in one national bi-cultural setting. The question posed at the start of the thesis considered whether EIT staff view Ōtātara as a place of significance or a geography which does not matter. The historical connections and physical closeness between EIT and Ōtātara, mean that the Institution and the landscape are inextricably linked. People are equally bonded to this place through culture and lived experiences. Often unconscious or incidental associations are handed down through the generations, within the organisation and throughout the wider community. How we now occupy this place in a modern world, how we share the (hi)stories and become authors of new ones, will have a profound influence on the ways that staff continue to connect and develop feelings of belonging. Related to this, an idea about an institutional-wide hīkoi around the boundaries of the campus and Ōtātara is offered as an addendum. Our responsibility as educators is to signal to future generations that this is a landscape of significance ensuring that Ōtātara continues to be acknowledged as a taonga for EIT employees, and that it is nurtured in the same way as it nurtures us.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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