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Gordon Coates

In 1925 Gordon Coates became Prime Minister. He was the first elected Prime Minister to be born in New Zealand and he was a man with a reputation.

Born on a farm in the Kaipara, north of Auckland, Coates was a charismatic figure, a ladies man and everyone had something to say about him. But there was a side to him that few at the time knew.

Before he was married he had two children by a Kaipara Maori woman. The relationship apparently ended when he entered Parliament. The son died and the daughter was raised by her Maori family. Her parentage was never publicly acknowledged.

Coates's background made him very sympathetic to Maori. He spoke some Maori and had a sensitivity to Maori land grievances that was unusual for the time. During one election campaign he made the then astounding statement that Maori should have the same rights as Pakeha.

Throughout the 1920s Coates worked closely with key figures of the Maori world, like the Ngati Porou MP, Apirana Ngata. The partnership between the two was one of the most productive ever for Maori.

Coates remained Prime Minister until 1928. Soon after the Depression hit the then Prime Minister, the uninspiring George Forbes, threw in the towel. A coalition was formed. Forbes remained Prime Minister but Gordon Coates was effectively back in charge.