GUEST BLOG: Moana Maniapoto: The Willie Jackson I know


Willie Jackson can be really annoying. In fact, that was one of the reasons we divorced about 16 years ago. Another reason, no doubt, was that he got fed up with me. But that’s the way things can pan out in a marriage. In New Zealand, according to the stats, one in three married couples split up.

Back then, Willie had a short attention span. No idea about the Treaty either. I tried to break it down for him once, as we drove from Rotorua to Auckland.

“Repeat back to me what I just said.” He’d give me a blank look, shrug, then laugh. Hopeless.

On the plus side, he forgave me for writing off two of his cars, and he was a fantastic manager.

Once, our band was playing in Sydney and, unknown to me, some of them ended up in a big fight at a local hotel. The following morning, Willie called everyone into the motel carpark.

“How dare you come here and get into a fight,” he yelled, taking in the bruises and scratches. “And what’s even worse, you fucking lost?! What sort of a bloody look is that for warriors?”

Embarrassed coughs from band.

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“This isn’t a holiday,” he spluttered. “You’re ambassadors for our people. No more drinking, you hear me? Anyone got a problem with that, you can just fuck off now!”

No one moved a muscle. Point made. One thing about Willie is he always walked the talk, and expected others to.

When I first met him in the early ‘80s, he was rough around the edges. Actually, he was always on the edge. Maybe it was a South Auckland thing. In Willie’s circles, you could earn a punch in the head just for looking at someone “funny”.

Willie was the youngest freezing worker union president in the country. He got involved in the union side only because the chain, with its repetitive work, was his idea of living hell. Only a couple of people challenged Frank Barnard in his 26 years as district president of the Auckland Freezing Workers Union — and Willie was one of them. Didn’t win. But it showed that he backed himself and wasn’t afraid of taking on the big boys when he thought he could do better.

He worked as a union organiser under his uncle Syd Jackson (who he saw as a brilliant negotiator), alongside Tau Henare and Atareta Poananga — a team of fierce Māori activists going into bat for their mainly Pākehā female office workforce. He’d get so angry when he saw the lack of respect for honest, hardworking people, whether they were clerical workers or school janitors.

By night, Willie was moonlighting as a bouncer. His mum, June Batley-Jackson (Ngāti Maniapoto), began life as a cleaner and was made a dame in 2010. In between, June managed a security company on behalf of a former SAS soldier, placing bouncers into the worst pubs and clubs in South Auckland. Willie was the only Māori among a bunch of huge Tongans, none of whom were hired for their communications skills.

His dad was Bob Jackson (Ngāti Porou), a proud wharfie and hot-shot chess player — skills he passed on to Willie and our son. Bob went to university between shifts, graduating with a degree in politics and Māori.

“There are only two kinds of people in this world,” Bob would tease. “Ngāti Porou — and those who wish they were.”

However, Bob was no iwi fundamentalist. He was on the fiery Auckland Māori Council with the likes of Ranginui Walker, Hone Kaa and Titewhai Harawira, and was greatly respected for his community work and deep knowledge of tikanga. Bob and June backed a vision by Anzac (Zac) Wallace to create a welcoming space for Māori, particularly those with weak ties to their iwi. Bob named that complex in the middle of Mangere, Ngā Whare Waatea.

Waatea is linked to the Manukau Urban Māori Authority (MUMA), which June ran. And now Willie runs it. At various times, the operation has included a kōhanga reo, funeral parlour, driving school, cafe, fitness centre, credit union, night markets, second-hand shop, foodbank — and now a partnership or charter school, and the award-winning Radio Waatea.

When we were married, I hosted talkback on Aotearoa Radio (a forerunner of Radio Waatea) and Willie was in sports talkback. Alongside our mates Wyn Osborne and Neil Cruickshank, Willie was plotting my music career and we were taking on the New Zealand music industry.

A number of friends from back then and some of Willie’s old mates from Mangere College work with him now. His brother Vaughan (“Huk”) is a longtime producer at Radio Waatea, and Claudette Hauiti, a former National MP, is presenting and producing too. But some at Waatea haven’t had it easy — it’s a huge win if they can hold down a regular job or not smash people over at the drop of a hat. Zac and his wife Deirdre Nehua are now back at Waatea, helping reintegrate former inmates into the community.

Willie might have all the flash titles, but he’s always been answerable to boards dominated by very stroppy, on-to-it wahine. Most of his managers are female too.

Willie’s wife Tania Rangiheuea, a former Victoria University lecturer with two degrees, runs the charter school (cue shock and horror among some Labourites).

The kura creates an in-point for whānau ora programme managers to wrap their services around those families that need them. Not all do, but some who have nothing drop their kids off and pick up kai from the Waatea foodbank.

Newsflash. All the teachers are registered, they follow the New Zealand curriculum, and no one makes a profit — unless you factor the positive gains for society down the track.

For the last 10 years though, many people have only known Willie as a broadcaster. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, in their time as RadioLive talkback hosts, Willie and his bestie JT (John Tamihere) were the only staunchly Māori voices on commercial radio. They got stuck into racist policies and politicians, challenged police and journalistic practice, and basically had a go at anyone (Māori included) they thought was out of line.

Like many overpaid talkback hosts, they often crossed the line themselves. When their mouths ran away from them during the “Roast Busters” saga, genuine offence was exacerbated by everyone else with a historical beef piling in. You need a whiteboard to work out the various agendas.

Similar comments that week by Sean Plunket and Andrew Fagan barely rated a mention, but I guess there’s only one thing more offensive than “a cheeky darkie” (to quote Paul Holmes): it’s two. Instead of creating a golden opportunity in a follow-up show to explore sexist attitudes among all blokes, an unforgiving and highly vocal lynch mob demanded Willie and JT be fired.

I thought the comments in their interview were unacceptable, and I told Willie that. He took all the criticism on board, apologised then, and is still apologising three years later. There are still those who frame him now as less a devil’s advocate and more the devil incarnate. But given the failure of Willie’s most vocal critics to deal to star Pākehā broadcasters with a history of consistently spouting crap stuff about women, and Māori in particular — I’m putting racism near the top of my whiteboard, next to power plays.

Andrew Little rightly believes Willie shouldn’t be defined by his Roast Busters interview — that everything he’s done off air and the people he represents, count for something.

Andrew would be aware that Willie already knows the main players, has enough mongrel in him to thrive in parliament, and isn’t afraid of being unpopular.

After all, Willie and JT have battled iwi leaders, taken the Independent Māori Statutory Board to court, positioned themselves on to various boards, influenced iwi radio and Māori TV, and snaffled some of the biggest government contracts around. Willie has obviously honed his powers of concentration. And he gets the Treaty now.

Backstage at a recent concert, I ran into Rangi McClean (Māori Party), James Papali’i (Mana), and Willie. They’re all very active in their communities and longtime mates. I realised how things have changed in the last 20 years. Plenty of Māori will stand in this next election across all parties. It’s a huge decision for those who are key influencers already. Willie says his reason for standing is to “make a difference”.

It begs the question that all potential MPs must ask themselves: Can I really be more effective inside parliament than out?


First published on the brilliant E-Tangata blog


    • I think the point Moana is making is that the kura has been created despite the NatACT government and its public-funded private school experiment, not because of it. One could argue that Willie (and everyone else involved in establishing this school) subverted the intent of the charter school scheme (a stealth move towards commercializing and then privatizing public schools), and strategically hijacked the funds earmarked for it to set up an exemplary public school instead of the dumbed-down commercial school they wanted.

      If the charter schools scheme had never happened, it seems likely MUMA would have set it up under the existing system, as a “special character” public school, like Otautahi democratic schools Ao Tawhito (Discovery and Unlimited). If charter schools are abolished by a future left government, the MUMA kura could easily be converted into a special character school. Claiming that Willie is a advocate for the privatization agenda behind charter schools on the basis of his participation on this kura really is clutching at straws. Thanks a lot Moana for sharing your perspective on Willie’s work.

  1. Thank you for the back-grounder, Moana. It was insightful. (It gave us more knowledge than the superficial *Shock!Horror!* reporting of the msm.) As I wrote elsewhere, we’ve all made blunders in our lives. (I’m no exception.)

    The real point is, do we learn from them.

    If Willie learned from the experience, then it’s part of his life-journey. Just as every single one of us is on his/her own life journey.

    Now. On the issue of learning-from-past-mistakes – the same applies to the Labour Party itself and if some individuals can point the finger at Willie, then I point my finger at them and ask;

    What lessons has Labour learned from 30+ years of neo-liberalism, and what remedies does it intend to implement?

    Time will tell.

    • 30+ years of neoliberalism hasn’t helped or benefited the average New Zealander, it has enabled a huge wealth transfer to the elite or 1%, State Assets were sold off for a pittance to colleagues of Government Ministers who made huge sums of money as they refloated them to the public, sold off shares to multi national corporations or just asset stripped them. We the public got basically suckered. We haven’t witnessed the social benefits we were promised from the sale of SOE’s as the new investors sought higher returns on their investments and guess what we the public are paying the price. Neoliberalism was flawed ideology.

  2. Thank you for this Moana I have always admired Willie he is true to his people and always will be. He also cares about our pakeha whanau throughout this country many who are suffering unnecessarily to.
    I am so happy he has chosen to stand.
    You mentioned he is not afraid of being disliked and unfortunately this is all part of being a good leader having to make the hard decisions sometimes ones that many may not like but we need for the betterment of our country and all our people. I haven’t voted for labour for many years but now because of Willie I am seriously thinking about it. Bring on the election and let the people speak my hope is for change because I believe if we carry on down the same old path under the tories we are heading towards social unrest

  3. One day I guess Labour MPs will learn that airing dirty laundry in public is the height of stupidity. The Nats don’t do it. Act did it once (to their cost). NZF doesn’t do it. Why? Because it is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!!!


    Thank god I’m voting green this year.

    • I don’t know about that Priss aunty Judith showed she wanted to be the tories leader and next minute shes been demoted

  4. Thank you for your feedback.

    You’re correct Strypey, the National Government was intending to establish a charter/partnership school in Mangere so Waatea decided to pitch for it. It made sense, given they can wrap their whanau ora programmes around some of their students and families. They have two well respected educationalists on their board, awesome women. I’ve written articles for e-tangata criticising much of the National Party’s policy on education but I can’t argue with the kaupapa and commitment, let alone the results, that Waatea and the Whangarei charter school are having. And having met the kids from both schools – well behaved, proud, respectful, kind of hard to knock in these two cases.

    Bit nerve wracking as I saw a tender on the government website this week for more schools. I do fear what you are saying, Siobhan – no doubt.

    SamWise – “waka jumper” was a mischievous narrative. Shane Jones or Tau Henare, yes. But I guess if you question the policy direction or leadership or strategic power of your former party or think maybe you could be more valued or effective in another, then you will jump ship? Hone did that with Mana. Tariana did that from Labour while everyone else stayed put. Hard to understand why they didn’t feel compelled to join here.

    Agreed Frank. Can Labour distinguish itself now with a new vision? We all watch with bated breath!

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