The epic migration of Scottish Highlanders to Waipu in Northland is an important part of the family history of a number of Mathesons in New Zealand. This story is being kept alive by the community in the area settled by the Highlanders, and the 2013 Waipu Grand Pageant was an important contribution to that effort.
The pageant was spectacular. Over two pleasant summer evenings thousands of visitors and locals sat in a natural amphitheatre on the banks of the Waihoihoi River, just behind the Presbyterian church in Waipu and very close to where the first settlers landed, to enjoy the show.
The migration story told in the Waipu Grand Pageant (photo by Peter Davies, Northern Advocate)
The pageant started with a narrative by Dame Fiona Kidman, whose novel The book of secrets is set in Waipu. Her perspective and the use of her book as a focal point for the introduction was a unique feature of this pageant. The first part of the performance sketched the history of Waipu since the settlers arrived, following which the narrative went back to the original Maori inhabitants of the land, the settlers’ roots in the Scottish Highlands and their move to Nova Scotia. The story then followed their journey to New Zealand, and ended up where it began with the landing at Waipu.
There was plenty of action: a burning crofter’s house, horses, cows, vintage cars and tractors, a waka and clinker-built dinghies. The cast numbered around 300, with many performing multiple roles, so this was a pageant on a grand scale. We left having really enjoyed the performance.
Waipu settlers at the 1903 commemorations who arrived on the ‘Gertrude’
The Grand Pageant was an important part of remembering and respecting this famous migration story. Fifty years of Waipu settlement were marked with a community gathering in 1903 and a reunion of many who travelled on the six ships that contributed to the settlement.
In 1953 the centenary included a re-enactment of the landing of the first settlers — and the youngest descendant to attend, Lachie McLean, is now the director and driving force behind the Waipu Grand Pageant. The 150th commemoration in 2003 was the first pageant, and this year’s production begins what is hoped to be a pattern of repeating the pageant every decade.
The settlers’ arrival is re-enacted at the 1953 centenary celebrations
Lachie McLean and the people of Waipu are to be congratulated for their efforts. If you missed out this year, make plans to attend in 2023!