Anzac Wallace "more than an actor"

updated By James Perry

Anzac Wallace is best known for his role as Te Wheke in iconic film Utu. He passed away yesterday aged 76 after a battle with cancer. 

Wallace is being remembered by friends and colleagues for his work in the community as much as his acting.

South Auckland community leader and longtime friend James Papali'i recalls his first time meeting Wallace.  Papali'i says as a young trainee social worker Wallace asked him to come to the plot of land where Ngā Whare Waatea Marae now sits. 

"I remember there were two old cars, marquee tarpaulin up, it was a bit wet that day.  He had a good rapport with the youth and it was then he was telling me that these youth shouldn't be living like this."

He says a matter of a weeks later Wallace was showing him his ideas for a marae complex in Māngere.

While Wallace rose to national prominence via his acting talents in movies like Utu, and Mauri, his friends and colleagues believe his greater legacy is his work helping young offenders, particularly domestic violence abusers.

Papali'i recalls another meeting where he and Wallace were with a group of recently released prisoners. 

"He was sitting there, everyone was calm and he goes 'EFF!' and we all jumped out of our seats and he goes 'if your best fight is with your missus, you're no match for me'.  And that was what Zac was. He had their attention and then he'd pick them up and talk about strategies around how not to use the violence.

"You just listen to him talk to the men and they listen to him, every word he says.  That's his legacy.  I mean he was a brilliant actor but in real life, he had a real heart of gold and he just wanted to do things better and as a community," says Papali'i.

Moana Jackson, who first met Wallace in the 1980s while he was conducting research into the criminal justice system, remembers a man who was determined to see changes in the way Māori criminals were treated, "particularly with the way police and corrections dealt with our people.  And that became a commitment and an activist interest for the rest of his life."

Project leader of he Tūkino Mutunga Kore, the project charged with updating Jackson's report from the 1980s, Anne Waapu says Anzac Wallace was the catalyst for the criminal justice summit that was held last weekend, where Crown Ministers and Māori criminal justice advocates discussed ways forward together. 

"In the August 2018 criminal justice summit in Porirua, we spent the first three hours of that day listening to ministers, to Pākehā speaking from the atamira at Māori, about Māori.  Telling us about ourselves.  Anzac had enough of it, a lot of us did, he was the one who stood up, had the courage to stand up and say 'speak with us, not at us'."

Anzac Wallace will lie in the marae he established until Thursday when he will be cremated in a private service.