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Don Stafford MBE, CBE 

Rotorua's Great story teller


The love (aroha) felt for Dr Don Stafford is due to the real understanding and devotion he showed to the people of Te Arawa. This special affection began when, as a boy in his father’s shop in Rotorua, he learnt the stories of the old Māori world from the kuia and kaumatua who visited the store.


Dr Stafford was widely admired as a respected authority on the history of the Rotorua district. As a fluent speaker of Te Reo Māori, he had mana (standing) in the Māori world. His remarkable skill with the English language and the knowledge he shared as a speaker has been recognised in Rotorua, across New Zealand and worldwide.


In 1967 Dr Stafford published a very important history book called ‘Te Arawa: A History of the Arawa People’. This text is still used today and is a collector’s item. Many of the topics written about on this website were originally researched and recorded by Dr Stafford. Although some people disagreed with certain versions of the stories told in the book, Dr Stafford believed this was a healthy as the stories were kept alive by people talking about them.


Dr Stafford wrote twenty two other books on the Rotorua area. In recognition of this great accomplishment, he was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the  British Empire (MBE) in 1982 and a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1993. The University of Waikato also awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1993. This is a special academic degree only given to a person who has achieved a great deal in their area of knowledge.


Due to his remarkable knowledge, in 1968  Dr Stafford was appointed as the first curator of the Rotorua City museum. You can still see some of his legacy today at the Rotorua Museum - Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa in the important photographic collection he created.


In 2011, the museum opened a new wing in the Bath House. It was named  The Don Stafford Wing in his honour. Dr Stafford had participated in the planning process and was looking forward to being at the opening. Sadly he died in April 2010, before this happened. Despite their sadness, museum staff and the community were thrilled that Dr Stafford would be remembered for all he had done to preserve and share stories of Te Arawa and the Rotorua region.


In 2010, Mauriora Kingi described Dr Stafford as having been a ‘library of information on, and about, Te Arawa’ and Te Arawa’s ‘Pākehā hero’.

Qualities: diligence, scholarship, relationships, identity, humility

More to watch:

Don Stafford’s daughter’s speech at the opening of the Don Stafford Wing:

About the relaunch of Don Stafford’s book Te Arawa: A History of the Arawa People:


About the passing of Don Stafford:


More to read:

Rotorua Library has an entire temperature controlled Heritage and Research area dedicated to Don Stafford containing dozens of his research items on everything from fish and wildlife to Māori education.  There are also many video interviews of well-known Rotorua people made by Don Stafford and available on DVD.


This excellent bibliography created by Rotorua Library lists all of Don Stafford’s work and is a great place to start

investigating his important and fascinating work:


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