Wednesday, 15 May 2024 10:55

Couple's Ahuwhenua win 57 years ago still tasting sweet

Written by  Peter Burke
George Hopa and his wife Pani with the medal they won for the best dairy farm back in 1967. George Hopa and his wife Pani with the medal they won for the best dairy farm back in 1967.

This week the winner of the prestigious Ahuwhenua Trophy for the top Māori Dairy farm will be announced at a gala dinner in Hamilton.

Over 700 people are expected to attend this function, including many dignitaries from Māori royalty to top politicians and some of the big names in the dairy and agribusiness sector. There'll also be family of the two finalists, Wairarapa Moana Incorporation and the Whakatohea Māori Trust Board.

Besides the present finalists there will be many past winners of this competition at the awards function. Ahuwhenua had its beginnings back in 1933 when the great Māori leader Sir Apirana Ngata and the Governor General at the time, Lord Bledisloe, decided the best way of encouraging Māori to improve their farms was to hold a competition.

One of these past winners is George Hopa and his wife Pani who won the competition for the best dairy farm back in 1967. George and Pani will be at this year's awards and will proudly be showing off the medal they were presented with that year. During the recent field days that each of the finalists held, the pair were feted by the organisers as they showed their medal off to those at these events.

George says he took over the farm when his mother moved from Tauhei near Morrinsville in the Waikato to Hamilton.

"I was encouraged to come back to take over the dairy farm. I didn't really want to. I wanted to be a cabinet maker. But I took over the farm and then met my wife, married and we became farmers," he says.

George says he and his wife were encouraged by the then Department of Māori Affairs to enter the competition because they could see that there was potential for us to be able to compete in the competition. They milked 155 cows on 150 acres of land, which was quite big for that time. He says they had the highest production per cow and produced the highest amount of butterfat of all the entrants that year.

"This is what won us the competition," he says.

The judge of the competition at the time, one Mr Murray, described George as "a hard-working farmer of lands that were the toughest in the region".

He went on to say, "George and Pani's stock were of the highest quality and his management practices were sound". Judge Murray added that George's buildings were "well-kept and his farm implements clean and well stored".

George can trace the land he farmed back to the 1600s to the Ngati Waiwere people. They were the original owners of the land on which Hamilton city is now built. He says the land at Tauhei was confiscated by the new settlers in 1864, but in 1885, some land was handed back to their hapu, land on which the farm now stands.

George and Pani still own the land but have leased it out to another farmer who runs dry stock and grows maize on the land. But while he personally no longer farms that whenua, he never forgets the pride in winning the Ahuwhenua Trophy nearly 60 years ago. Seeing the trophy at the field days brought a tear to his eye.

"When we won the trophy, they took a photo of us with it and that photo is in our bedroom and we lie in bed and have looked at it through all those years. We have been married 66 years and the photo has been with us since 1967 in all its pride and glory," he says.

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