Brynderwyn disaster commemorated

Candles commemoration

On Pepuere (February) 7,2024, a moving commemoration was held at Te Awaroa Museum to honour the 15 people who died and the 21 who were injured on that date in 1963 when the bus bringing them home from Waitangi Day celebrations crashed at the bottom of the Brynderwyn hills. Those involved in the worst motoring accident in Aotearoa’s history were mostly either connected to Rewiti Marae on State Highway 16, just south of Helensville, or to Onehunga.

The Waitangi Day attendees had had a great day on the 6th. They attended the celebrations as part of the Maori contingent from around the country selected to meet Queen Elizabeth, who was in attendance. Concerns about the wooden-framed Army surplus truck, converted to a bus, that arrived in Helensville to take them to Waitangi after they were transferred from their original bus had faded – the feeling was “it got us there so it would get us back” – and the travellers were not prepared for the accident that took so many lives and caused so much pain to the living. The bus had crashed on the last bend in the twisty Brynderwyns due to complete failure of service brakes.

Many whanau of the dead and injured attended the ceremony, officiated by Rev. Warahi Huinga Paki, JP. Interspersed with waiata, hymns and prayers, the names of the dead were read out, a bell was rung, and a candle was lit for each one. Connected forever by the disaster, several whanau gave emotional accounts of their stories from the event, saying that talking about it helps them deal with the grief they still feel. With current issues also front of mind, one speaker emphasised the need to “hold fast to your reo, mana, and lands”.

The special event was organised by Te Awaroa Museum President Leigh Bosch (Ngati Whatua) who lost whanau in the accident and Vice President Megan Williams, assisted by other Museum helpers.

An exhibition of newspaper articles and photographs, including documents from the inquiry held after the accident was of great interest, as was the Mark Sainsbury - fronted documentary ‘Descent from Disaster’, which had screened on television to mark the 50th anniversary of the Brynderwyn accident. This exhibition is ongoing and has been visited by several people since the commemoration.

Whanau who attended the commemoration expressed thanks for the opportunity to come together and honour those involved. “As old as we are we have not forgotten. Out of grief comes growth, and opportunities to connect.”

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