Tim J. Veling Glenn Busch Hanne Johnsen Uiga Bashford Bruce Connew Maria Buhrkuhl Dean Kozanic
Look at that picture, the ice-cream was running all down my arm. It’s such a wee tiny postage-stamp corner of the world, isn’t it, but the thing is, that little shop means something to me. My grandparents lived just three doors along, in Abberley Crescent, and going to visit them was so amazing. This huge old villa with a big passageway up the middle and leadlight windows and such a wonderful garden. Every couple of years we would come up from the farm and stay in that house with them.
My grandfather was an old Scotsman who’d fought in the Boer War. He was rather deaf, sometimes conveniently and sometimes not, and every day he would give us a penny, a copper penny, which seemed to fill the whole of my hand and he’d say, ‘Don’t you spend it all in the one shop.’ But we did, a halfpenny at a time. And that’s the thing, in our throw-away society where they like to bulldoze every little bit of history, the shop is still there. Every bit still the same. From the oiled floor boards to the wonderful wee corner step we used to sit on and which caught the morning sun so well. Just to know it’s there makes me feel warm inside. All those memories that still comfort me. It’s true, even today, if I’m feeling down I’ll go back and buy myself an ice-cream or a chocy bar and sit in the little park nearby to read or perhaps write a letter. So many crap things happen in the world and this place reminds me of the good. Something good from back there and it’s with us still.
I’d been working in a factory in Yorkshire and had a bit of a disagreement. In the end I said bugger it – I told ‘em – I’m off to the navy. And I did. Straight down to Bristol and joined up. When the petty officer asked how long do you want to join for, I said twenty-four years. He gave me a bit of a wink and said, ‘Take my tip, boy, hostilities only.’ Five Welshmen came in right after me and he signed them all up for twenty-four years. Ha, I don’t know why, perhaps he had no liking for the Welsh. Camaraderie, though, I got that in the navy all right, and later it was the same in the air force out here. I was adopted, you see, an adoption boy, and so I knew about the importance of family and friends.
I had a sister, Winn, who had received food parcels from a teacher in Wellington during the war. When the war ended she and her husband were offered help to come out to New Zealand, but Winn was one of those types who gets homesick. Two days on holiday she’s wanting to go home, well, they never came. I got demobbed in November ’53 and applied for the London Police, New Zealand Air Force and the New Zealand Navy. The air force answered first, and by the fifth of January I was on my way here.
One night after I got here we had flying duties at Wigram and they was cancelled so we went off to see a film instead. It was at the Rex, in Riccarton. I knew the owner there: he always kept a half-gee in his office. Anyway, I’m in the shop there and these three women come in – asking for Rowntrees chocolates, they were – I could hear them talking. I said to one of them, ‘You’re from Yorkshire, lass. ’‘How can you tell?’ she asked. Well, you’d only got to listen to her, it were like you listening to me. I said, ‘How’s about going to town one Saturday to a dance?’ And that was that. We were mates always. One night we’d be out together, another night I’d go to the RSA and she’d be off to housie. If I was out, I’d come home and my tea would be waiting. And vice versa. When she went out with her friends, she’d come home and there’d be a cooked meal waiting for her. We’d do the ironing, the housework together, whatever. We were tight.
I suppose I was lucky, I could look after myself. Some men can’t. Some men – their wives do everything for them. When it happens, they’re helpless. Eleven years ago she died. March the twenty-seventh. Just me and the empty chair now.
In Tuesday’s paper there – you take a look – there’s this column that tells you how to live on your own. They say you can go off to the WEA, pay them five dollars a session and they’ll teach you how to do it. I thought, good God, never mind the five dollars, it’s the being on your own’s the thing – the aloneness. You can’t keep ringing people up every five minutes. But that’s what I wanted to tell you. That’s where the RSA comes in. That friendship. It’s given me friendship all my life, and that’s what you’re lucky to have. Even though you’re not living on each other’s doorstep, there’s still that basic friendship, a camaraderie, which is there at all times. It’s a place where you’re always going to be welcome. Always have a mate there, or meet someone that will talk to you. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Definitely!
I was born in Holland and immigrated to New Zealand when I was four. I didn’t have much choice, but I’m glad it happened. I went back to Europe a couple of years ago and had a ball, but by the time I got back I was homeless and penniless – which is how I come to be living here. The cottage is on my mum’s farm. I renovated the place, did a bit of this and that, and now it’s mine. I love it. I spend a lot of time here because I’m self-employed and because I reckon home is where the heart is. I’m pretty lucky to have something I feel so good about and also to share with my friends. Actually, I got a bit of a shock when you came – when you knocked on the door – most people just come in and help themselves.
The gardening started sometime before. I used to live in the city in a block of flats. There was a little piece of garden, about a metre by three hundred. It was all overgrown with weeds and I wondered what can I do with it. A friend of mine said, “Sunflowers.” I thought, brilliant. That’s what started it for me and it’s never stopped.
It was all weeds around the cottage when I first got back, so I just started pulling – pull, not spray, is the motto round here. Mum’s farm is very organic. Next thing, Mum and I thought why not start a garden and sell veggies – how difficult could it be? Very, as it turned out. A lot of work. We don’t sell any more. I grow them for the love of it now and just give them away. Zucchinis are a big thing with me. Tomatoes, chillies, strawberries; spinach I love. I learned to cook in Italy and use lots of spinach.
There’s nothing like it really, setting up the sprinkler on a warm evening, you can almost hear the plants sing. It’s bliss. And the bath, yeah, that’s pretty special too. My sister used to live here before me, and she had this friend of hers – a budding plumber. Mum asked him if he could hook up a tap outside, and somehow he connected it to the hot-water cylinder. There was also an old bath that’d been used at some point for the animals. I simply put the two together. More bliss. You’re lying there surrounded by the garden and the animals, the air, the sky above, you can’t hear the phone. Oh yeah, it’s heaven all right.
Talking about the sky, the farm’s not too far from the airport and we do get planes coming overhead sometimes. I often try to imagine the people in them – what they might think of my garden as I lie there waving up to them.
It’s always been a family landmark. Dad grew up in Heathcote and worked at the malting company all his life. All my childhood we lived virtually next door to the company. You just had to look up and there above you was the Bridle Path. I rode my horse there, we walked, we picked mushrooms, it really was a place in our lives every day.
My parents were close as a couple – we were close as a family. I was an only child and we did a lot of things together. Perhaps that’s why it was such a big shock when Dad died so suddenly. He’d been unwell, we knew that, but it’s just you think when you get someone to hospital they’ll be all right. We were there talking to him, then they took him upstairs and he had this massive heart attack and his kidneys failed. He slipped away and there was no-one could stop it.
Dad had already named the exact spot on the Bridle Path where he wanted his ashes scattered. He did this years ago. I remember saying to him at the time, you’ll probably blow back all over us, and that’s exactly what happened. Mum and I had a bit of a laugh at that. I didn’t realise then I’d be scattering her ashes in the same place just six months later. I’d actually said to her after Dad died,‘ Don’t you go getting sick.’ It was a silly thing to say because she was always so fit and healthy. Two weeks later we were at the doctor’s and they found she had throat cancer. It was pretty devastating. Watching her in pain, fading away like that. In a way it was a relief when she went but after . . . well, there was a terrible emptiness for me. I couldn’t believe how quickly life could alter like that. You learn some things. There was a friend of mine whose father had died years earlier, and I remember thinking, why isn’t she over it yet. Now I know why. It’s not something you do get over. More like something you get used to. Something you cope with and learn to live with.
I’m glad I don’t go to a graveside to visit them. I find it better to go somewhere that I love – to be with them, remember them – than to a cemetery. It’s what I’d want for myself. Yes, I’ve thought about that. It’s definitely what I would want done for me.
When Heidi and I got engaged, that’s we got our first tattoos done. They were down our sides – different designs on each side – and they kind of match. We didn’t get the usual heart and name – we would never have names put on each other – but just to know you have that special mark, it makes you appreciate things. That was early in the tattooing. I suppose I’d started off like most people do, you get a bit of piercing done – just like dipping your toes in the water. It wasn’t too bad. A little bit of pain and at the end of the day a little reward.
After I had three or four few small tattoos done, Kelly, being Kelly, was quite easy to talk to and we were just sitting in there talking to him and I was telling him how I didn’t like the work I was doing much, the boss and all that stuff. Then Heidi said, ‘Why don’t you come here and work for Kelly. Become a tattooist.’ Kelly picked up on it and I kind of liked the idea when I thought about it. He said, ‘Okay, draw me some pictures and I’ll talk to the boss. We’ll see how it goes.’ The next Saturday I was down there working. That’s pretty much how my apprenticeship started. A new start – that was just after Heidi and I got married. We’ve been happy ever after.
I like this place because it‘s been here ten or twelve years and no-one really knows it’s here, not unless they get sent here or unless they happen to be walking past and notice it. It’s on Manchester Street. Quite a dark little shop, it kind of fits the tattooing persona pretty good really. It’s not well advertised or anything so people come along wondering: what’s this? You see people walk past and look in through the bars – they could just open the door and come on in, look at the pictures if they want, but they just stand there. I think, come on, I’m not a big scary bikie or anything. You’ve got to look if you want to find out, don’t you?
I am getting to the stage now where people recognise my work and they come looking for me. I’m pretty happy doing what I do, but I guess the ideal would be to have my own shop where people would seek me out for my style. That’s the sort of thing you work towards.
Yasoya: The corner of Riccarton Road and Mandeville Street, that’s where our love started. Before that I had met Noel twice. The first time we went to Hanmer Springs with about ten people, and about a week later we went out for drinks with the same people. It was Noel’s farewell do, so we said goodbye. Everyone was new to me and even the second time I still hadn’t figured out who was who, but I knew Noel was going away.
Noel: When I was first introduced to Yasoya I wished I had met her earlier because my visa was running out and I had to leave. I wanted to live in New Zealand because this is the place I had dreamed about – this is paradise to me – but I had to leave the country before I could reapply for another visa. Then, just before I went, I managed to get a month’s extension from the immigration office. I was still here and that’s how we chanced to meet again. It was an Easter weekend, very quiet, and I’d walked across Riccarton Road to the video shop for something to do. I was there for over half an hour because I couldn’t find anything I wanted to watch. Finally I found something. I walked out of the store and crossed the street and this car pulls up. Yasoya is in the car – I couldn’t believe it! We ended up chatting away on the corner there and I found out that she actually worked on the same street where I lived. It was amazing. I asked her to come and have a cup of coffee after work, and she did. We ended up watching the video and then we talked some more. I think we really connected. It was a life-changing thing.
Yasoya: After that we went out for dinner and our conversation went well. We found we thought about a lot of things the same way. We had dinner and coffee and just kept talking and talking. It was well after midnight before I actually got home. The next day we went on the motorbike to Akaroa, and we talked all day again. We found that though we came from different countries – different cultures – it was easy to understand each other. We had lots of things in common. Now we’re together and eight years have passed. We have a deeper understanding towards each other and we are really comfortable being together. Our bond has got stronger and stronger, and that makes us very happy.
Noel: I had spent so much time in that video store and then coming out at the right time, just as Yasoya was going to her office, for me it was such a chance. If I didn’t see her then, probably I wouldn’t have seen her again. So yes, I would say that this place is very special for me. Whenever I go past that corner I think about crossing the road at that moment, just as Yasoya drove past. You have to ask yourself, how lucky were we for that to happen?
It’s good at this age because you can make more decisions for yourself and just be like, who you are. Be yourself and find the friends that suit you. I like doing make-up and hair, I like creating things – like art things. I like having my own personality in the way I dress or having my own room so you can have it just how you want it. And like say, when your parents have friends over, you can just go in there and you don’t have to make all that false conversation. Just come in and shut the door and listen to music or talk on the phone, whatever. Just be who you feel.
It’s like, if ever you see a girl walking down the street or something, you won’t know anything about her, but if you see her room you probably know who she is. You can tell people’s personalities from their room. Like, if you’ve never met them before and then you talk to them for like a minute, you won’t really know anything about them. But the minute you went into their room you’d know something about them. Just by what they have in their room or on their walls.
My room used to be a boy’s room when we first moved here. It had green walls and was pretty crappy, pretty ugly. I had to make it my own, like how I wanted it. I’ve got all these pictures of friends on the wall now and notes that they write you, stuff like that. So when you’re in your room it’s like your own little world with your friends and your letters and pictures – everything out so you can see it and just think about it. If you’re feeling sad or something you can just look at the letters and stuff and think it’s not that bad because you have your friends.
Friends are important – my social life is important – because you can tell your friends things that you can’t tell your parents. You know, boy problems or other problems you wouldn’t tell your parents. Your friends can relate to it because they’re your age and they’re going through the same things. So they understand a lot. I mean, it’s not just that. It’s not that parents don’t understand. It’s just there’s a big generation gap and if you tell them something – like, it’s not fair that blah, blah, blah – they always get into: ‘Well, in my day . . .’And it’s like, well, it’s not your day now, is it? Anyway, I’d rather be a teenager than an adult, because if you’re an adult you just end up having to look after kids like, and clean and stuff. I’d rather be me.
My father, who was a great boatman himself, gave me my first model when I was twelve, the age he’d been when it was given to him. It had been made by a boatbuilder as a sample for a client – beautiful little sailer it was – and it was that that started me making models of my own. Of course we sailed a lot with my father in his different boats, wonderful places around the coast of southern England where I grew up. There’s nothing better really, that feeling that the boat is almost a living thing and you’re out there riding on the swell with nothing in front of you except the horizon. Oh yes, that was a great joy, a feeling of complete freedom when anywhere in the world seemed open to you.
It was all I wanted to do really, and when I left school I was offered an apprenticeship with Dixons, who were the major boatbuilders then in Exmouth. They built fishing boats, pleasure boats, the lot. A four-year course which was to cost Dad eighty pounds and no return on the money. Well, that was a tremendous amount of pounds and I don’t really think he had it. Not with wages as they were back then. And so I missed out on it – missed out on my dream. My mother had her sights on me becoming a bank manager, and that’s where I went, into a bank. It was a disaster, a complete mess. Ha, I think I came to the other side of the world to get away from the embarrassment. Came out to a job with the Bank of New Zealand, met my wife, Margaret, and this is where I stayed.
One thing I discovered when I got out here was that New Zealanders, without any formal skills or whatever, made their own boats anyway. Well, that got me going and I set about making a number of small boats myself. Later I had ambitions to go on and build a decent-sized yacht – it was actually in the drawing stage – but that’s when the angina caught up with me. Put an end to it right there.
Never mind, I’ve still got the models and I get a lot from them. I suppose it’s the full-sized boats that really give you the love of it, but the models let you relive those moments, that joy you had years ago. And that’s the thing about Lake Victoria too. It’s a large lake which brings back memories of those open horizons. I mean, you can stand at one end looking down the lake – your eye goes down that water – and it’s a mighty long way to the other end. It can set you dreaming, that can, no trouble at all.
It’s interesting how some people react. You’ll be out somewhere and people will ask ‘And what do you do?’ ‘I’m a prison officer.’ ‘Oh,’ they say, ‘I wouldn’t want to do that.’ Well, I do. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years or more and I still enjoy it.
It was a time when the government of the day was looking toward equal opportunities, and none of the big men’s institutions had women working in them in those days. As it happened, I’d had two interviews – one for a nursing job and one as a corrections officer –and both answers came on the same day. For a while I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I feel now I made the right decision. I’m a principal corrections officer now, and to be honest I don’t ever see myself leaving here, not as long as I’m able to do the job.
I suppose for some people a prison is a scary sort of environment. You walk into this place and they lock the door behind you. Big bunches of keys and the doors banging away . . . it all makes a bit of a noise. If you were at all claustrophobic, I don’t think you’d last five minutes, but I wasn’t too fazed by that. I felt okay. I guess I thought of it as an opportunity to do something different – to help in a different way.
Some days are good, some not so good. You get all kinds of people in here. I try to treat everybody the way I’d expect to be treated if it was me. I’m not there to judge people, to say whether they are guilty or not, my job is to kept people safe and secure – give them what they are entitled to. Do my best for them. I think it’s important work – it’s important to me. Personally, the job’s given me a lot – rewards and disappointments. A bit of both, I suppose you’d say. Probably the most difficult thing to watch is the suffering of the families. You see a lot of children coming out to visit their fathers, their grandfathers, their brothers – they’re not the ones at fault, but they are the ones that suffer. A lot of them suffer a great deal.
I have no craving for culture, no craving for antiquities, we are full of that in India. Here in New Zealand you don’t find too much of that. It is not yet a hugely sophisticated country – there’s more a beautiful simplicity about it, and that is important to me. It’s something I really appreciate – really enjoy.
In India my business was farming – the farming industry – and then I became involved in politics. Eventually I was asked to stand for Parliament on a party ticket. A huge constituency, a million voters, but the government cancelled the election on the last day. We went through the whole rigmarole and I never knew if I would have won or lost. There was a lot of militancy going on in those days, people getting shot left, right and centre. In the end, my wife and I decided to call it a day – we wanted to go to a quieter place. A family get-together brought us to New Zealand and we saw the beauty of it. Originally my heart had been set on going to America, but coming here seemed like a safer, more secure proposition for the children. A better spot overall.
We are in the restaurant business here, part of the chain of Little India restaurants. It is a family thing – everyone owns a restaurant in one place or another. It started from a garage twelve years ago and now it’s a pretty large chain. We are very grateful for what we’ve got. For me, in New Regent Street, it is very nice. The character of the place, the colours and the trams that go past, I like that. But of course it’s not just New Regent Street that is special, there are many other places, the whole city is excellent. The beaches here – when you come from a landlocked area you want to be able to understand the ocean. The beauty and majesty of it can feel like outer space to us. Simplicity, you see, when life gets too complex we crave the simple things. Observe the simple things and you will see the wonder of the place everywhere – and the beauty of the people also.
I love dancing. I love the movement and the music – all of it. The best bit is performing for other people – being able to go out and perform. On opening night I don’t really get nervous. I can’t remember ever being nervous, because it’s just fun. You might be a bit nervous when you first run on, but then you think about what you’re doing and it just goes away.
Mum and Dad do lots to help me. Mum does all the sewing. That’s good because you know it’s going to fit and it’s going to be on time. Mum does do lots, yeah, that feels nice. Both of them do so much, it’s really good.
My dancing studio’s awesome too. My teacher’s brilliant and I get to be with my friends. It’s all in like a big hall, with a stage at one end and there is a barre and some mirrors. It feels like you’re in this large space and the atmosphere is different. It’s a ballet atmosphere – it feels like you can do anything. You go there and you know you’re going to have fun. It’s real cool. Right now we’re doing on pointe, using our pointe shoes at the end of each class. They’re like blocks of wood and it takes three or four weeks to break them in. It’s hard, but I still like it. I like learning something new.
Ballet is something I absolutely love. It feels like I’ve got lots of energy and I can get in there and do it. Push myself to the limit. I do push myself. I want to be good at it because it’s what I love.
I think everyone has a special place where they feel right, and this is it for me. The strength of the port nearby – I love it’s grittiness, the way people kind of know who you are but are not nosy or cliquey in that suburban sort of way – the light on the water, the ruggedness of the Port Hills. It’s such a magic place.
Actually, I never realised its importance to me until a few years back when I went to Australia. I was there with an ex-boyfriend and not having the best of times. Finally I said, ‘I’m off.’ I’d only been away ten days but I’d had it. I missed my dogs, I missed my life, I just wanted to be home. I got back from the airport about two o’clock in the afternoon and the first thing I did was grab the dog and walk the track. That’s when it kind of hit me, when I realised how important to my well-being this place was. It was just so right. I had this feeling that I was home – where I wanted to be.
I’ve travelled pretty extensively overseas and to a lot of places in New Zealand, but I’ve never felt about a place like I do about this track. I’ve only got to walk a few metres in and it’s like an enchanted garden – those huge trunks and the green ivy all fresh. It’s weird, really, I’ve never told anyone about it before. It’s difficult to explain it exactly, it just makes you feel good to be alive. It’s magic all right. If you ever happened to be walking the other way, you’d see a smile on my face for sure. Every time.
I was very involved in Bible class work as a youngster. The teaching we had there gave us the real bones of Christianity. That teaching – the message that Christ brought to us, of what God means to the world – is one that I accepted early in my life and have never rebelled against. Durham Street Methodist Church has been my spiritual home. I have always felt the need to worship somewhere, and while, in one sense, this place is just a building, it’s a particular building to me. Of course a church is not simply the building, it is the people as well. A very important part of it all has been the many close friends I’ve made there through the years. I even met my wife, Ida, in a church, in England during the war.
I was a navigator on heavies – involved in special duties, one of those cloak-and-dagger-type operations supplying the underground movements in different European countries. We’d go in very low and drop these large containers by parachute. It felt like we were doing some good rather than having to drop bombs. It would not have been easy to keep one’s faith while at the same time dropping bombs. But then, war is never an easy thing. When I left New Zealand the threat from the Japanese was very evident. I thought highly of the men who were prepared to stand up and say no – pacifists who said they would not go. I wrestled with that for a long time but decided that it had to be. There is a certain evil in the world and, unfortunately, there always will be. In England I spent time praying in the little chapels there. I believe that helped sustain me in those terrible times.
Today you don’t see the congregations of earlier years. It’s a worldwide thing. I think it comes from the affluent times we live in. People don’t see a need for anything but their own particular wants. I don’t believe Christianity will disappear, it’s just that people seem to be concentrating on the material things of this world. Unfortunately, it may take another tragedy to draw people back in, to realise there is more to life than material wealth. I hope not.
It would have been really nice, you know, just having it there – knowing that it was still the same – but there are so many of us for one small house, it had to become someone else’s. It’s my brother and sister’s now: they share it and it’s all totally changed. It felt quite funny at first going back into it,it was really strange – this isn’t how I had it – and like, suddenly it wasn’t mine anymore. And Mum’s like, well, you moved out so it’s gone on to the next. End of an era. I think I must have got it when I was about eight, until then I used to share a room with my middle brother. These days when I go into it, all that’s left of mine are the memories.
I had it right up until I was sixteen and left home. I mean, I can look at it now and think it was just a room, but it was so important to me as I grew up. There were five children in the family –it was a loud and busy household. The two youngest were born about twelve years after the rest of us, so I had a role in looking after them while Mum did all the other things she had to do. Also, Samoan families are very strict, very strong-minded, which can sometimes lead to a few clashes. My room was a little bit of space – somewhere to have a breather and pick myself up again – otherwise I think I would have gone bonkers.
I moved out of home when I was sixteen going on seventeen. Those were rebellious days which I’m not proud of, but at the same time there were other things out there that I wanted to see and do. I was away then for a couple of years. I went to Auckland and to Sydney, and all the time I was away I absolutely missed home – missed my room – but more than anything I missed the family. Sort of a love–hate thing. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
Nowadays I’m a bit more aware of the importance of family. Knowing they are there gives you the base you need. You can go out and do your own thing – live your own life the way you want–but you never forget who is there to back you up. Home to me now is a bit like my room used to be. If I’m feeling down or just had enough of things, I go home and just sit there. Chill out. I love it. The presence of the family is very special, very comforting. That’s what I’ve learnt. To have a base like that is vital. Yeah, if you don’t have a place in the world it would be very easy to lose your way.
I first came from Germany in 1986 and absolutely fell in love with this country. To me it was like this is how God wanted the world to be. This is how he made it – very unspoiled. I bought a van and travelled all over the South Island. Everywhere I went was so beautiful it moved me to tears. After a year I had to leave, but I was determined to come back, and I did. It must be, what, something like fifteen years that I’ve lived here now.
I love to swim and I think someone must have told me about Rapaki. I’m sure I didn’t just stumble across it, because it’s difficult to find. I went to other places as well, other beaches: Sumner, Corsiar Bay, South Shore. None of them measured up to Rapaki. Over the years it has become my favourite place. I’m a very sensitive person and I get affected somehow by the energy of the place. Rapaki’s very calming, with almost a healing sort of energy, a place that’s both quiet and safe at the same time. You lie there on the beach and there’s this wonderful openness of still water. Above you, in the summer, is a hill covered in golden grass, and beyond, a totally blue sky. I never get tired of looking at that. Everything about it is special.
Even before I get there, just driving through the Lyttelton tunnel on my way around the bays, I start to feel different. It’s like I’m leaving a lot of stuff behind and the closer I get, the lighter I feel. By the time I get into the water there and start to swim, I don’t want to stop. I just want to swim and swim and swim and not turn around. I can’t really explain that. I’m sure it has to do with the special energy the place has. I think maybe it is why the Maori people settled there. Or maybe it has that energy because it’s been protected from intrusion and development by Pakeha. Part of me would love to buy a house there, but then I think if that were possible it would lose that specialness somehow. Now it is protected and I feel good about that. I’m very lucky there’s such a place for me to go to.
I’m in the car and it’s like a sort of freedom, I feel in control of the situation. I’m not very good at being a passenger – being a passenger is very much not being in control.
Dad bought me my first car when we lived out at Rangiora and I was sixteen. The teenage years weren’t easy, so that car was my escape. That’s when it started – my life in the car. It was symbolic, I suppose, the journey into town and everything that brought into my life. I could go wherever I wanted – escape. It gave me my own life. It still does. Yes, that’s true. If I didn’t have a car now, I would certainly feel trapped. Not having to rely on others, it’s a very important part of me.
At the moment I drive a lot during the day because of my job selling real estate, but come the end of the day, you know, I’ll go through my diary, I’ll organise everything –appointments, open house, whatever – then I’m in the car and it’s relaxation time. Driving somewhere, anywhere – a journey. It’s what I do. What I love. The diary gets put aside, the music goes on, the suit jacket comes off, the hair goes out, the cigarette gets lit, the windows are down and I’m gone. And it’s like . . . it’s like heaven.
I began as a volunteer, which then led to part-time work and finally a full-time job. Before that I’d had heart failure and psychiatric problems – I’d been out of work for four years – you might say I was in training for the position.
I manage the works program here now, and one of the important things I’ve tried to develop is a supportive employment service for people who have experienced mental illness. When you’re recovering from such an illness, more often than not you lose confidence or self-esteem, if you ever had much in the first place. Some people might have been out of work for two or three years; others much longer. Some might never have worked at all. For those of us who have experienced that, getting back into the workforce is something special, a way of heralding a recovery from mental illness. It’s saying we are people again and we are doing what people do: we are working. Work gives you a certain pride and it also gives you money, which is a way of accessing the larger community.
Step Ahead is an organisation that has been going now for twenty years. We have over three hundred members, people who have experienced major mental illness. My goal is to break down the stigma and discrimination attached to that. A lot of people confuse mental illness with intellectual disability. The fact is, we get all sorts through here, from academics to cleaners, the whole nine yards. Employers who have taken on these people find they are loyal, motivated and valuable employees who contribute to the company’s bottom line. It’s my job to help people understand that, to bridge the gap. It’s work I love and it’s given a meaning to my own life. It’s the only job I’ve ever had where I go to bed on Sunday night anticipating work the next day, knowing that whatever I do it will have some meaning to it. Every day there’s a double bonus: I love what I’m doing and I know there will be a positive impact on the people I’m working with. I really feel I’m in the right place.
The house in the Avon Loop is a special place for all my family. When my grandparents, Jack and Elsie Locke, bought it in 1941 it was a rundown shack.The only reason they bought it was because it looked out on the river.They put a lot of time and effort into making the cottage like it is now and bringing up their four children, most of whom were born there.
When I was younger, Elsie and Jack were just my grandparents – they did grandparenty things with us and that was it. As I got older I began to learn that they were amazing people – as all grandparents are – but that they had this whole thing with politics and they were really well known and respected. One of the things I regret is that I didn’t talk with them enough. I didn’t have a chance with Granddad because he died when I was eleven and I wasn’t really interested in that sort of thing then. Now I am . . . it means a lot more now.
I didn’t even know that much about Nana until her funeral. It was really good hearing about all the things she had done – it was a really proud time. There were some regrets too, hearing about things I didn’t know about and wishing I could have talked to her more about them. All those stories about how tough she was, how tight they were as a couple and what they’d been through. All the activities that have happened here in this house. Granddad’s communist stuff, the books that Elsie has written, and heaps of political things happened here. Lots of different meetings, helping to set up Family Planning, all sorts of stuff to do with peace and the anti-nuclear movement.
It’s like this place is something really solid in my life – it’s given me lots of memories and lots of strength. Lots of ideas and encouragement. It was always a good place for me to be. It feels like whatever changes – if things go wrong – it’s still there. Just being here, it’s really important to me.
When I got married three years ago my parents had both passed on, as had my granddad, whom I adored. All of them gone, but there was still one place we could go that had a special meaning for us, for my family, and that was Mona Vale.
My grandfather lived there with his father after he bought it in 1916.They bought it and then he went off to the war. Later, when he died, it was sold. I know at some point it was offered back to my father, but he wasn’t into it. I guess it could have been carved up for real estate, but the City Council stepped in and negotiated to buy it. That was a good thing because now it can never be cut up. Sometimes you have to do these things.
The place is important to me because it meant so much to my grandfather. He spoke so fondly of it to me when I was a child. He used to tell me all about the gardens and what they meant to him. How they used kerosene tins full of whitebait for fertiliser, and the way the perfume from the roses wafted down all over the place.
It’s still a special place in Christchurch and it makes me feel that I am part of a chain of events. That’s why I chose it for my wedding reception. When I stood up to give my speech, I felt humble. It was a special privilege to stand there. I had a feeling of belonging. I suppose it’s like some people have a marae or a mosque that will always be there for them. Well, that’s how Mona Vale is for me.
Paul: I was raised in Linwood and lived here all my life. Our boy’s been raised here as well, so him and me, we’ve got something in common. Same sorts of memories but at different times. When I was a kid I used to go over there and play in the cemetery, build huts and play war with my mates. Most of them live around the area still. There’s something about this area – we just like living here.
I met my wife fourteen years ago in a nightclub. Spotted her on the other side of the floor and thought, oh yeah, she’s good-looking. We just looked at each other – had the glance sort of thing – and finally I had enough balls to go up and speak to her. It snowballed from there. Now we’re a family, undisputed love, no matter what. Life is short, real short – most of my time is spent working, forty to fifty-five hours a week. If I could, I’d spend all my time with my wife and boy. I don’t want to waste it.
The cemetery is the place we go to spend time together, just walk the dogs and be by ourselves. You have this activity around you all the time now, a life of noise, but you get up there – it’s raised up on a small hill – and it’s like the whole world is behind you. It’s peaceful. There’s a sort of respect for the place. You can look over the whole of Linwood to the things we’re familiar with. Every second person that walks down the street I know. Real people. People who will help each other. It’s probably why I’ll live here till the end. Everything about it is me. I suppose you could say it’s my comfort zone.
Jo: Yeah, it was a nightclub – a hotel – and I thought, hmm, he’s not bad. He was sitting by the door and I was by the dance floor in the middle of the room. The way I looked, I must have stood out to him. It was good. I’d seen him the weekend before, actually. We kept bumping into each other at different places, so I think it was meant to be. Definitely. I knew that straight away. My soulmate. I’ve always known what I wanted from life. I know that love can be short – our lives are short. I try to tell my friends that, when they’re having a little whinge about things. Hey, look at the big picture! We’ve got our health, our families, just keep moving. You get these bumps and cracks in the road, but you’ve just got to jump over them and keep going up the hill.
Paul and I have a good marriage. He’s my best friend. When he gets home from work I can’t wait to see him. Like most people, we’ve been up and down, but once you’ve been down – and you come back up again – you learn. Why did that happen? And you never go back there again. You put the effort in. Try your best to care for one another.
We started going up to the cemetery about twelve years ago. It’s something we do together. It’s brilliant how you can look out on the world from up there. The dogs love it too. We usually do a couple of blocks around the place and then have a wee sit on the hill. Just sit and talk about our day, tell a secret or two. Usually there’s no-one else around, just us and the dogs. Just a place for me and Paul. It might seem an unusual place to other people, but that’s just us. When the time comes, I’d like Paul and I to be buried there. Then we’d always be together in this place. That would be nice.
I’ve always had a love of shops – well, a love–hate relationship I suppose you’d say. I hated them because my mother would drag me around the shops in York during the war. The duty it was to be paraded before the tailor and measured for school clothes and so on. But I loved it when we went to places like Terry’s Café, a wonderful gold and marble and mahogany emporium for morning teas with coffee and chocolate biscuits sort of thing. What I liked about it most was that you knew the shopkeepers, and the shopkeepers knew who you were. You weren’t going into a place with some anonymous wage slave behind the counter doing something they didn’t want to do. Forty years later I went back to this little yard in York where there was a sweet shop run by a woman with one arm and her mother – they were still there. ‘Oh hello,’ she said, ‘I remember you, you’re Mrs Elsworth’s boy. ’To me, there seems somehow to be a value in that.
I have a particular love of books and bookshops. I always think a bookshop has a responsibility to be a bookshop and not like these big places that I call book libraries. To people who run such places, books have simply become products. You’ll find no sense of the love of books in a place like that. I feel lost in them.
Scorpio Bookshop is the antithesis of such a place. When you walk in there, you feel like you are going into a community. The dog will be sitting in the chair, and there’s Helen – she’ll be chatting away to someone, giving them a little bit of gossip. They’re such a wonderful team, Helen and David, between them they make the place what it is. Perhaps it does go back to my childhood, but I can think of no other shop in the city where I feel like a person who is welcome to be there.
For a kick-off, you don’t get much choice when you live in a vicarage. Being a priest’s daughter, I don’t suppose I could help myself. At any rate, my religious life has always been of importance to me. I was brought up in the church and it’s stuck. You go through your teenage things where you get a bit silly, get a wee bit rebellious – and I did, but only faintly. You come to realise which is better. The church supplies all one needs.
After I left school I went on to art school, in Worcester Street – Bill Sutton was still a student then – but I didn’t work very hard. Then the war came along and I became a land girl. That was hard work but also quite fun. Driving a horse and cart into Addington, ploughing, milking cows, everything. Later I became a nurse aid doing voluntary work at the Burwood Plastic Surgery Unit. Some of the men had an appalling time, but they survived it. Afterwards I became a Karitane nurse, and finally a doctor’s nurse-receptionist in the city until I retired. And now you find me here, in the cathedral.
I think the cathedral has a great sense of belonging for the people of Christchurch, of all creeds. There are some who embrace Christianity, others don’t. If you have that belief, then the cathedral – any church – means much to you. God is present there. If you don’t, it’s only a pretty building – actually it’s quite a splendid building – but one hopes, whoever enters, they get the feeling of sanctity here. For me, at any rate, it has always been a place of importance – of sustenance.
So here it was coming up to Christmas. I was living week to week. I had absolutely no savings left and was really struggling to survive. I was selling stuff just to pay the rent. It was very disheartening. I was going for these jobs and being told by kids younger than me that I had too much experience. I wanted to work with food because that was what I knew. It was all a bit of a bummer, and then I saw an ad in the paper. An Auckland restaurateur had bought the Governors Bay Hotel. Apparently he’d spent a lot of money doing it up and now was looking for a chef. I went and met him, had a chat with him, and got the job. It was a good break. It’s a good environment. I’m my own boss, so I can do what I want with the food, and I hire the staff, which means I have a really good team.
When I started, my kitchen was not the flashest. I walked into it last year and there was absolutely no equipment – nothing to do anything really good with. I spent a year working it out, getting it to work well. That was the first thing. I also spent a lot of time practising and training because I wanted to do some competitions. The hours I spent in that kitchen late at night – sometimes till four in the morning – just trying to figure out how to put things together! I had never done anything like it before. I hated it but I got really attached to the kitchen at the same time. In the end I triumphed – I won the South Island Chef of the Year title. If I hadn’t been working in that kitchen, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I really wanted to make it my kitchen – to put my name to a good restaurant. Now I have, it’s something I feel really good about.
Barry: I always said I’d retire when I was sixty and just go for the music – I love to play the organ – but it hasn’t worked out that way. I can’t stop work. They call me a workaholic, but I can’t sit around all day doing nothing. I’d feel uncomfortable. Even if I retired I’d still need the workshop to fix things for people, the grandchildren and all. No, I’d be lost without the workshop. Well, ask yourself, I’ve been in the business for sixty-five years – brought it off an old fellow called Ted Elliot who had one leg. What else would I do now? I’d be lost without this place.
It was my father taught me the trade when I was still going to school. He taught me how to do things that people can’t or won’t do today. Peter’s good at doing these things too, which means we can do stuff other shops won’t attempt. They tell people to get a new one – we fix things. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that, which is good because it looks like I’ll be at it for a long while yet.
Jeanette: I used to go past here to the pictures. There was an old picture theatre down here, just a small one behind someone’s house, and he used to see me toddling past the shop window. So then he comes down to the pictures too, and the next thing you know we’re going out together. That was a while ago. One minute I’m living in King Street, in Sydenham, and the next minute I’m living here married to Barry King. That must’ve been, what, going on forty-eight years now. Long enough to bring up the three girls we had. During the day they all used to sleep in the backroom here, under the buzzer. Never seemed to worry them. Pauline, Susan and Julie. They all came so quickly they were born right here at the shop. Barry delivered them all. He always said he’d like to see them being born, so he got his wish, didn’t he? Oh yes, there’s a lot of memories here. Well, there would be, it’s an old place. But we love it. Barry’s done all the decorating and made it the way we want. We’d never leave here. This is our home. It’s the only place I’ve had and I’m here forever. Isn’t that right, Barry? Here forever. Both of us, here forever.
Peter: Being back at the shop with my dad, it’s almost like a second childhood in a way. Even some of the people that come into the shop now were customers back when I was a young lad. It’s where I was brought up and learned to use my hands – and my brain of course – but mostly it’s in the hands. Fixing things. Pulling them to pieces and, more importantly, putting them back together again. He taught me to do that.
It’s a joy really, going to work there every day. The interaction with the people – the customers – and even though they pay us to do things for them, I feel that we’re helping them. It’s the way this place has always been. It reminds me of Open All Hours – people are always knocking on the door looking for help. And that’s another thing Dad taught me. Quite often we have two prices for things: people who can afford it get charged the normal price, and it tends to slip a bit for beneficiaries or people we know are not that well off.
There’s not many shops like this one any more. Not too many places around where you’ll get a customer coming in with a cake they’ve baked for you or some other little present. I came to give my dad a hand for a year or two, but who knows, I’ve enjoyed it so much maybe I’ll end up here for the rest of my life too.
Definitely an obsession. Oh yes, from a very early age, maybe six or seven, I’ve been absolutely infatuated with the moving image. In fact, not just film itself but the places where film is shown – the cinemas, the architecture. Be it gaudy Victorian or Art Deco, I was always fascinated by it. And of course the magic of that beam of light from beyond the little window – the projection room. A projectionist, that’s what I did straight from leaving school. I was just waiting for the chance, it was all I wanted to be, but the careers advisor couldn’t see it. All he could say was that it was antisocial and the pay was poor. I thought, some careers advisor you are! I was no star pupil in the education field. I was a dreamer and so I knew the silver screen was the right place for me to be. I was hellbent on the world of fiction and its architecture.
It was Laing Masters gave me my first break, at the Hollywood in Sumner. I got tremendous excitement from getting that film to them – the audience – making their lives different, even if it’s just for two hours. I always got a thrill from it. You don’t have to do drugs or alcohol to get away from it all – film is the clean way to get out of it. The overture, the lights, that whole wonderful performance that facilitates your entry into another world.
My interest in films and cinema architecture has grown and grown over the years, and of course Alice’s, where I work now, is the perfect treasure chest for that. It’s important to me and it’s important to Christchurch. It’s an archive temple of film in a wonderful Deco building. It’s the passion of all of those who work here, an amalgam of our interests. I mean, it’s easily the best store in the country and we don’t even have to push that. Like any good place, it’s all word of mouth. All things to all people, that’s what it is. Little Johnny comes in looking for A Bug’s Life, but there’s the chance he’ll work along the shelf and come across Asterix. I get a tremendous thrill out of that possibility. The chance that new horizons may be opened up for you. I like the fact that working here we might help people expand in that way. I’m forty years old now and I come home each day absolutely buggered. The day is never less than a full-on adrenaline buzz. Everyone there from the owner down is totally dedicated.
DVD is the big transition at the moment, and the goodies it brings to us make it an exciting time. I’ve always been in love with the tactileness of film – something I can feel and touch – but you have to say that this new technology is giving us all sorts of exciting alternatives, things that might not have been possible otherwise. I think discovery is the key word. That’s what film is all about. Certainly it’s the passion that keeps me here. Keeps that adrenaline pumping. I tell you, I love it.
I think perhaps it evokes certain feelings rather than exact memories, but that area around the drain was socially pivotal to us kids. It’s a place where four different roads meet, so it was often a place where you would see your friends. Nearby is the stone bus shelter where we used to sit on the roof and eat lollies. And the drain itself was very exciting when it rained. It had this wonderful rushing sound with all the water running off the hill and coming down from Rapaki Road. It only took a little bit of rain and it would be like this huge flood. You could jump on the iron cover as well, and it would make this great clanging noise.
There was another aspect to that drain that I haven’t thought about in a long time. Going past it every day – going to and coming back from school – it was a landmark of sorts. I was a timid wee kid and very unhappy at school. My folks had come out from Britain just before I was born, and when I was five I went to school with an obvious British accent. I didn’t sound like a Kiwi kid at all. I also wore glasses, real wing jobs, and they were pretty ugly. I hated them so much I used to try to hide them or break them. When I was older, in high school, I enjoyed being different, but in my primary school years those sorts of things isolated me. Passing that drain in the mornings meant going somewhere I didn’t want to be. Coming home, the drain was like a gateway. Passing it was very significant: it meant I was nearly home – on the home run – and that represented absolute security.
I’m a loner really, so it’s company for me to go in and have a bit of a yarn for half an hour. They‘ll have a laugh with me, have a joke. I feel at home with them, they’re good people. Turn their hand to making anything, those guys. Oh yeah, clever. Couldn’t wish for better people.
It’s important, I suppose, to have people. I never married – never really interested in it. I’ve had a couple of friends and that, but, you know, we only live from day to day. Live life to the fullest would be the way I’d put it. I just say gidday to anyone in the street. I certainly do. I used to have a dog once too. Labrador-kelpie cross she was, but she’s gone now. I used to walk her all through town, and even today people still come up and ask, ‘Where’s your dog?’ She went on the twenty-fifth of November – gone twenty-seven months now. I still count the months. We used to go round the river, chase after possums and that. If she found one, boy, that was hers! She’d bowl you over to get it. She was put down in the end. I didn’t want that, but there you are, that’s life, something you’ve got to take. Sad day. I miss her all right.
I’m still a pretty active sort of a guy. I work in a bike shop six mornings a week, and on Sundays I walk out to the Riccarton Market. Keeps me trim. After working at the bike shop I usually come into town and visit people – all different sorts of places. Give them a hand if I can. Generally, though, I’ll always go into Longhorn first. You couldn’t wish for better company than those guys. Oh yeah,A1.They’re good friends, them guys – always will be.
I know that for some people it’s seen as a negative place, a place where people have decided to end their lives. One of my friends did exactly that, so I know the repercussions of such a thing, the devastation in the family. Sometimes I’ve sat up here and wondered what the heck was going through their minds. I see the cigarette butts and I think, gosh, they must have been in so much pain to do that. But you see, to me Whitewash Head is a very positive place. It’s a place I choose to go to all the time. I really love it. It takes me away from the bustle of the city. There’s a sort of solitude up there, and getting some space for myself is important to me. With my job, I have targets and if I don’t meet them, my job is history. I’m on the phone a lot of the time, I’m out with people and I’ve got a daughter who doesn’t go to bed until nine thirty or ten. Having a bit of time on my own to relax is really important to me.
A few years ago I was sitting up at Whitewash Head and I had a realisation of sorts. My life then just seemed to be drifting by and I very much needed to have some sort of direction. I seemed to be surrounded by people who were depressed, people who were not getting anywhere with their lives. I can remember sitting there that day and deciding that I wanted to be different. At the time I had a little girl, I was overweight and I was reliant on the government. I thought I was nothing. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I had to do something.
Going to university was the first big step. First of all I did a course that helps you to write essays. I did really well, so I went along to the open day and enrolled. It was a great feeling to have a schedule, get stuck into things – to persevere. And I started to get really good marks. That gave me confidence and also it surprised other people who had always thought I wouldn’t amount to much. I realised what a bad thing all that negativity was for me, how limiting it had been. These days I make sure I surround myself with motivated, ambitious people. It made me think about my own daughter too, and how I never want to be negative to her. I think that’s one of the worst things you can do to anyone.
Anyway, you can see why coming up here is special for me. It’s a very majestic sort of place with its own unique beauty – all of that – but to me it’s about feeling positive. I can come up here and just unwind and feel positive all over again. It’s a good place to dream. Yes, that’s it, a place I can come to and think about how I want my life to be.
It was my flatmate actually, he was the first to get into BMX. He kept nudging me: ‘Have a go.’ Finally I borrowed a bike for a week and I was hooked. But when I first went to a park and saw other people there, I didn’t want to ride. I felt uncomfortable riding in front of these people I didn't know. I thought they would be judging me, that they’d think I wasn’t very good. You know, you’re not doing any tricks, you’re falling off and getting in people’s way. You’re hopeless. But then the more you come – the more people start to know you – the better you feel and you try more things. You get loosened up a bit and start to feel comfortable. Then you’ve got it. Acceptance.
There are a lot of different aspects to BMX. You get people who just like riding the streets. You’ve got skate parks – trying to do the tricks and so on there. Dirt is where you’ve got trails and dirt jumps, and you’re just trying to survive. It all gives you a different perspective. You meet people too. Another guy comes along and it’s like: ‘Hey, how you goin? Where you from?’ You do get some people who are fake. They’re riding because it’s an image thing. Bit like surfing, some people just hang out on the beach with a board. When you get better at it though, and you’re really pushing it, you get that feeling of relying on yourself. You’re not wanting anyone else’s approval, it’s just yourself and that’s awesome. Specially if you’re stressed in any way. I can go down the park for a couple of hours and it’s like a release for me. A place of peace.
Course, not everybody sees that. They see a hooded guy with big baggy jeans on and he’s riding a bike or a skateboard and making a lot of noise. It’s all they see, they can’t look past that. There’s an elderly guy who lives down the road from the park, and we might put out a stereo system to listen to and straight away he’s over. ‘Turn that music down or I’ll call the police.’ It might be a Sunday afternoon, it’s sunny, a good atmosphere – lots of people just sitting around watching, families and that bringing their kids down and so on – we put some music on and along he comes. Next thing the police come over and that’s it, broken up. All ruined. He doesn’t understand that we’re just trying to have some fun. Maybe you get the odd hooligan, but the people I’ve met down there are generally good people. There’s hardly ever any conflict. Any physical pain down there is usually self-inflicted. Having somewhere you can be together like that – it’s about communication really, isn’t it? I think that’s the most important thing in the world. Don’t you?
Cliff: We virtually live in this snuggle-up place here. It’s the great joy of going to bed at night. We’re not ones to be watching the television, hardly go into the house at all. More a glass of wine and doing our small talk. Lying back there and taking our ease, looking out to the night sky and the wonder of it all. This is what man has lost – the ability to wonder. He puts out the electric light and goes to sleep. We light a candle and cuddle up under the heavens. In the morning I’m looking out through the wide-open door there, straight out to the flowers and the greenery and the nectarines on the tree.
I was born in Wales – in the valleys. The Avon valley to be precise. A grim place – bleak in winter, short summers. That’s why I treasure this place. The alternative to the coal mines was the merchant navy. It was my way out. Only one of my family who did get out. Actually, I went back recently to see them. It was the second Christmas I’d had at home in the whole of my adult life. To be truthful with you, it just about drove me up the wall. The people are wonderful, but the rain sweeping up the valleys is diabolical. It had rained for four months solid, and then my brother had said there’s a change coming. I said, ‘Thank God for that. What’s happening?’ ‘Snow,’ he said, and he didn’t laugh.
When we bought our house this whole space here was used as a barbecue area, but we are not big meat-eaters. To tell you honestly, eating meat makes me feel a violence, so we decided to call it a garden house instead. That’s when I started to make up the bed here and the other bits and pieces. I like the sense of freedom and, what’s more, we have far less housework to do. When the leaves come blowing in here – which they do – I come gunning for them. I got this great leaf-blower at PlaceMakers. Blasts them all out again, it does, no trouble. That’s about it really – easy living. Nothing to it at all.
Hilary: Joy is one of my favourite words and everything about this place brings me joy. Even when the wind blows in and around the place, it takes me straight back to the wonderful camping holidays we had as kids. Tucked up in those old canvas tents with no floor and the wind coming in under the sides and blowing around your face. They were such good memories for me, and now here we are every night, that feeling of the open air and being touched by nature. It’s just so good.
Modern-day living can be so detached from natural things, but we feel very attached. ‘Connected’ would probably be a better word. Just by moving from the house to a room in a corner of our garden we seem to be more connected with the world. Something as simple as getting up for a pee in the middle of the night and you look up and there in the night sky will be this beautiful huge white moon. Fantastic! How many people get to look at the sky in the middle of the night? We’re so lucky to have that. Then you wake up in the morning and your view is straight into the wonderful green green of the garden. I’m a passionate gardener. Cliff is fond of the garden too, but he’s not so . . . well, he’s enthusiastic and I have to watch him when it comes to pulling things out.
I think we have each other to thank for what we have here. We both feel the same way about it, but probably neither of us would have made this space on our own. I like that about it: that it’s something we’ve created together. A lot of our friends envy it in a way, and yet I don’t think there are many people who would take it that step further. I’m not saying we’re special or anything, but I’m glad we both feel the same way about it. It is a joy to us.
When exactly I had my first lesson is a little hazy. Dad sort of pushed me into it. I know there were four of us – four girls – and one had obviously been acting since she could talk. She was very, very good and I was extremely shy, so that first day didn’t do much for my confidence.
Sometime later I did The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate, where, in a cast of a hundred and thirty, I was a piglet. Margaret Mahy came to the opening night and she seemed to find the whole thing hilarious. That’s when I really realised how much I liked drama. That’s when I remember being hooked on it.Those few seconds before you walk on stage, you can’t really describe it. You have to do it to know what it feels like. It’s everything to me now. Dad says school is the most important thing in my life, and I suppose in a way you need something to fall back on, but my aim is to finish school and work in the theatre. Possibly even going to London or America, I’m not sure. But I do know that theatre has taken over my life and that there’s nothing more I want to do than be on the stage. To act.
When I read the ad about this Christchurch thing I immediately imagined all these shots of Sumner Beach and nice cafés, and it was sort of like, hey, how about a reality check here? It’s like reading National Geographic magazine with all those nice shots, and then there are the photos of guys working on the coalface – whatever that coalface may be – and that’s how I feel.
Thousands of Christchurch people have worked at Lane Walker’s over the years. I’m one of them, a mechanic, a guy who fixes the machines and keeps them running. I’ve been there off and on now for twenty years. There are people who’ve worked there thirty or forty years, which is like dedicating your life to it. They turn up for work forty hours a week, slog away there and no-one ever notices them. I’d like you to take a picture of that.
My name is Reverent Miao Shiu. I was born in Thailand and was brought up by my family as a Buddhist. I studied at the Buddhist college for four years and became a teacher, then I was considered suitable to become a master. My full title is Venerable Reverent Master.
For me, monastic life is very beautiful. Being a master enables me to work with people, and I believe I have it in my heart to help them. The purpose of Buddhist philosophy is to release yourself from the worries of the world and from all the bad things like hatred and greed. How this happens varies for different people. It depends on what sort of personality they have and on the nature of their problems. Buddha has different teachings, and I teach people in different ways.
The temple is important because it has the image of Buddha. Buddha symbolises perfection, purity and fulfilment. Human beings – all of us – are not perfect. So if we see the Buddha, we are reminded that we must be modest and humble. People come here and they can talk to the Buddha, like Christians talk to their God. They can tell Buddha anything, and the Buddha listens. They can also find a person to talk to or be close to. That is how it is special for me.
I think it’s called jumping off a cliff without a safety net. The stuff of dreams. I was interested in art at school, so it’s always been there, I suppose. But life takes you down many paths. You become so busy – wife, mother, all the rest of it – you just can’t think of these things. And then suddenly, many years later, your dream is happening and you think, God, where did that come from? It seems to have a life of its own and it’s galloping away and you’re saying, whoa, whoa, you know, I’m not ready yet. It just seemed to have an energy all of its own, and I had to look at it and say, well, this is it. It’s happening now. You better keep up with it or you’ll get left behind. That’s how it felt. Like it was buried deep down, then one day it comes up and suddenly it’s all on.
I suppose it really began quite a while ago when my partner, Peter, and I got together. Both of us had a feeling for art and started to collect it. It was a big learning curve, but you have to start somewhere. We just started buying it and enjoying it so much that we couldn’t stop. I think we were very lucky, but it was also luck we made ourselves. It’s never been easy. I mean, sometimes things can look so serene on the surface that it appears like nothing much is happening at all. Believe me, that’s not the case. The gallery supports two and a half people virtually full-time, and there is a huge effort goes into making it all happen. On the other hand, the sheer pleasure you get from it when it works is immense.
Originally we started working from home, but that got a little too much after a couple of years and we decide to make the move into town. It all seemed to happen at the right time. The right place was available. It felt like it was the right time in my life to do it, and so we jumped. That was four years ago now.
The other day we had a visitor in looking around and he was blown away by the whole place. He really seemed to love it. He said, “If I was going to set up a gallery, this is how I would do it. This is a dream gallery.” I thought, well, that’s a sort of confirmation – something is working. It’s how I feel as well. To us it’s special because we created it from nothing. It’s all about the atmosphere, the feeling, the joy we get out of doing what we do – and succeeding. That’s a very good feeling.
I was born in Linwood but came out here to Halswell when I was very young. No more than a year old. My father got the place after the First World War. He milked cows here – had a milk run as well. The place was only twenty acres in the old measurements, but it managed to keep them going. Me too: I’ve lived here off and on all my life. Got a place in town as well, but I hate the city. I still run about eighty sheep so I’m out here a lot of the time. I was here yesterday inoculating them and managed to stick a needle in my leg. It’s a bit sore today, but at least I should be right with the salmonella. Anyway, I love the stock work. Can’t sit and do nothing, and it keeps me out of mischief.
Eighty years, it’s a long time to be in the one place, but that’s how it was then. People today, they don’t stick, don’t stay. One time you would’ve lived all your life in the same house, now you get people that don’t know who their next-door neighbours are. Personally, I don’t think you can really call a place home if you’re shifting about too much. You don’t have the memories of it. This might be a run-down old dump now, but to me it’s a castle with all the memories still here. I can look around and say that Mum and Dad used to sleep over there. Here there was a wall I took out to make the room bigger. All heart rimu in those studs too. The boards were full of borer, but they couldn’t get into those studs. You can walk into every room and get swallowed up in memories. All flooding back at you.
I remember the garden here and the day my mother died. They kept prize gardens, my parents, a good acre or two of roses and irises. Beautiful it was. I don’t know how they kept it going really. Mum’d been working there that morning and she didn’t feel too good. I think she had something wrong with her but wouldn’t let on. The doctor sent her to the hospital and she died that night. I think she knew it, but there you are, she was busy until the day she died. It was a good way to go.
I’ve had two or three heart attacks myself, and the doctors always saying to get plenty of exercise. ‘Plenty of exercise!’ I said ‘You come out with me. I’ve eighty sheep and no dog now. I’m getting enough exercise.’
It is getting frustrating. though, not being so able. Each year I’m doing less and less. A year ago I’d be up there topping the macrocarpas, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it this year. It’s darned annoying that. I still want to do it. What do they say? The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak? I’d have a go if I could, but the balance is going and it’s getting tougher all the time. It’s hard to watch it all going downhill like this. Sometimes it’s even hard to look at the old photos, seeing what it was like, how good it all looked . . . But like I say, the flesh is weak. You do what you can, let the memories take care of the rest.
We were refugees, so the idea of home is important to us. I was actually born in Thailand. Both my parents are Cambodian, but when I was conceived my father was a soldier – there was war at that time – and my mother had to flee the country. She went to the border of Thailand, and that is where I was born. But my home is here. My mother has bought this flat we live in. We’ve had it about fifteen years now. The two other flats in our block are owned by real estate agents, but our place will always be home. My mother will always be here, and that’s important to us. We’ve made it the way we want it to be. Put up all our things that are special to us. The photos and the doll there on the wall, and my mum’s fish tank, everything there has a story behind it. Even that shoe collection of mine – I’m a bit embarrassed about it really – I have all these shoes, but mostly I just like to wear my flip-flops.
I think it’s been easier for my sister and me than it has for Mum. We went to school here and learnt English – learnt Kiwi ways – but even after seventeen years Mum still doesn’t speak English that well. It’s been harder for her. Her life has been more difficult than ours. Not that she ever talks about it. I think talking about it just brings back the bad memories for her, so I don’t know much about it. I know we’ve had a good life – my sister and me – we’ve been lucky. The friends we’ve made, the people that originally helped us here. Yes, this is our home all right. Well, it’s the only place we know.
I left home at fifteen because I was the oldest of eight kids and life wasn’t the best. I went into the army – Regular Force Cadets – but only lasted a year. I’m more of an independent thinker. I left, came back into regular life and promptly turned into a little ratbag. Probably the equivalent of a street kid now. After that it was bikes. I loved riding bikes and scaring the hell out of myself. Finally I went through a fence at eighty miles an hour. Wrote the bike off and very nearly myself as well. About then I decided to change the whole direction of my life and do something a bit smart.
I’d always wanted to do karate when I was a kid, but my parents couldn’t afford it. Well, for some reason – I still don’t know why – I just decided that was the time to do it. I got into lifting weights, the whole thing. Now, nearly thirty years later, my partner Leonie and I run our own club, the Academy Of Combat, and martial arts has become a major part of my life.
I also managed to educate myself along the way. A friend of mine – Janice Brown, a primary school teacher – convinced me I should go back to school. I was thirty-two by then and I said, don’t be silly, I thought I was well past that sort of thing. But she put together the information and finally got me along to Hagley Community College. I started doing maths, physics and chemistry, and then this fantastic teacher called Paul Buist suggested I have a go at biology as well. That got me into biochemistry, and the long and the short of it is that I now have a doctorate in cellular and molecular biology.
I’m always looking for information. I think it’s part of who I am. Always striving to learn – doesn’t matter what it is – anything I can get my hands on, I suck it in. It’s the same with the martial arts. I love the combat. I don’t mean thuggery, beating people up, I mean the complexity of manoeuvres involved in a situation between two individuals. It’s a chess match between two people – a physical chess match between people who want to test themselves. It’s not a science; it’s not an art; it’s something in between. A really complex pursuit which is always progressing, always developing.
I am not a traditionalist. You come into my gym, you don’t have to stand at the door and bow and all that sort of stuff. I really don’t have much time for that. We have a little acknowledgment when we start fighting, and when we finish everybody shakes hands with each other. We nurture a camaraderie right throughout the gym, but we’re also trying to develop good culture within the individual themselves. You don’t get anything for nothing –you have got to work for it. And the harder you work, the better you get.
I’ve had thugs come into the place and expect something from me. We had a couple of guys come in a while back and I asked them straight out, ‘Are you White Power?’ They said, ‘Yeah, but we leave our politics at the door.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t. Get out.’ I won’t have it. Beating up somebody because of their race is totally foreign to me, and I’m certainly not going to teach them how to do it. The people in my gym are my family. I get a tremendous kick out of seeing all these kids coming through. Watching them develop into strong, motivated human beings. They respect me for who I am and what I do, and I feel the same way about them. That’s how I see them. They really are my family – my kids.
With first babies it’s normally a long labour, and mine was no exception. It went on, but it went well. I felt comfortable and I felt secure. In a way it was all like a very surreal dream. You know why you are there, but when Adam was born I remember saying, ‘Oh, there’s a lamb, a baby lamb on me.’ It was like a hallucination, this little lamb. It was like I couldn’t believe it. That first night of his life I lay there gazing at this tiny baby, feeling totally stunned, just euphoric. It was extraordinary, really extraordinary.
At the age of eighteen I was told I could not have children. There was a problem – things were not working correctly. At that age you’re not really thinking of having a family, but you are aware of that side of life, of your sexuality and so on, and hearing that ...well, it was difficult. At first I felt angry, then resentful, then just an intense sense of failure; that I had failed without even being given the chance. Finally, of course, I just had to do as I’d been brought up to do, which was to get on with things and make the best of my life.
I didn’t marry until I was forty-one. Three years later I had Adam at Christchurch Woman’s Hospital. That was beyond my wildest dreams, so you can imagine why the place is so important to me and to Duncan, my husband. It was funny how we found out. We were on our way to England – we’d arranged to spoil ourselves and go on a scuba trip, one of those boats you live on for a week. I was a little worried about getting seasick, but they assured us it would be like a millpond. Well, every morning I’d wake up and feel seasick, then I’d get into the water and sort of forget about it. It didn’t really register until we got to England. My periods weren’t coming and all the rest of it, so I went and got one of those little test kits. When I saw it I screamed, just screamed, I was shaking and trembling, I said to Duncan, ‘Look, it’s positive, it’s positive!’ And it was, it was Adam. That’s when he came to us.
At the moment I’ve been working with kids that are a lot like I was. Kids that come from lower socio-economic families and have a lot of problems. My own childhood . . . let’s just say a lot of things happened that were not good. One of the best things was that we lived in small country towns, which I loved, but then my younger brother got leukaemia and eventually we all had to move to Christchurch.
It wasn’t a good time. Things were not good in the family, and because we were poor we wore old clothes that were too big for us, stuff like that. I was a shy wee kid who wore glasses, and my brother was hassled because he had no hair. We were even hassled just for being country kids. It was a cruel time. The noise and the way things were, I came to hate the city. I was nine or ten, I suppose, and everything in my life was shit.
Then one night – I don’t know why, we never did it again – we drove up into the hills and sat there and had fish and chips. All of us: my mother, us kids and my stepfather. The sun was starting to go down and all around us it was very quiet, just the sound of sheep and the grass. There was no violence, no-one being aggressive. It was so peaceful, and then the lights came on down below and it was beautiful seeing the city that way. A totally different perspective. It felt like we were the perfect sort of family you see on television. I always used to wish that I had a family like that. Then, after a little, while we went back down and everything went back to the way it always was. But I had seen something else up there – like a fairyland – and I never forgot it.
It’s why I like working with these kids. We had a boy a while back whose family forgot to come and get him at the end of his week. Finally we took him home. Everybody was just sitting there smoking and drinking. Nobody said hi to the kid, how was it out there? Then my boss went back to get something out of the van and the kid came running out after him and asked if he could stay with us. ‘Can I come and live with you, please, can I?’ To me it was like . . . you know, it had changed his perception. It was hard, but at least he knew now there was another way. That life could be different. You can make things different. Perhaps not straight away, but the possibility is there.
There’s not much to tell you. You have a piece of land, so it’s important not to waste it. That’s why you grow some vegetables. The soil, you use it for the family. I’m not much interested in flowers and things like that. I grow food. Potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, corn, pumpkin – that’s all food for your family. It’s not a very big garden, but it’s better to put the vegetables in than cut the grass. Just a waste of time to cut the grass for nothing.
I don’t work now, so every day there’s nothing to do. Also, I’ve got asthma. So, if I’m in the garden I feel better. Digging in the soil, you feel like you can make something better. Recycling, that’s the thing. Dig a hole and put all your scraps and leaves and things in there. Some people say it’s too much trouble, but I say no – later you dig it up and you’ve got the new soil. That’s the thing.
It’s nice to watch the garden growing up. The things I grow, we don’t eat all of them. Other people come and ask, please can we have this or that – it’s a very popular garden. I don’t mind, I like that. The Bible says you love your friends and share your food. Some people say I should sell them, but I say, ‘Don’t be stupid. Don’t sell it, give it.’
My job is videos – it’s not hard, there’s no pressure. Occasionally people will come in and complain about a video not working and you say, ‘I’m sorry about that,’ and give them a free video. That’s about the biggest problem you have. I mean, it’s not like you’re flying the Westpac Trust helicopter, trying to save someone with a broken neck. I hire out videos, and hey, I love doing it.
I was a customer at Blockbuster for probably five years before I started working there. I was down there so often – it’s how I got to know them all there. I’m a bit of an insomniac, you see, and they don’t close till midnight. All my mates would have work or be at uni, so they’d be in bed by ten o’clock. Mum and Dad would go off to bed and Blockbuster was the one place I could guarantee someone would be up. There’d always be somebody I knew there, someone to have a chat with.
The crazy thing is, since they’ve given me the job I’ll do, say, thirty-five hours a week there, but then I’ll spend another ten to twenty hours a week just popping in. I’ll go in and talk to whoever is working there, maybe sort through some videos or serve a few customers because I’m bored. It’s mad. I should be trying to figure out a way of being paid for it.
I’m back at university now as well, doing a BSc in linguistics. I went there straight after school but dropped out after six months. This time around it’s going a lot better. I know how it works now. Eventually I’d like to join the police force. I was a bit of a geek at school. If someone was doing something, I was the person saying, ‘Look, you shouldn’t be doing that. You’ll get into trouble.’ I’ve got a fairly strong sense of right and wrong. I reckon I’d make a good cop. Right now, though, I’m enjoying where I am. I really love working with the people there. It’s so cool. There is no-one there I don’t get on with. The camaraderie and so on. Aside from home it really is the most important place to me right now.
When I first began working here it felt like a dream come true. Libraries have a great significance in any society. They are the repositories of information, and free access to information is of such fundamental importance. I feel really passionate about that. It’s such a special place and it belongs to us all. It’s true! It’s incredibly inclusive – you don’t have to have money up front to come and use it. Every morning there are twenty or thirty people waiting outside for the doors to open, and I don’t think there’d be too many other places in Christchurch where that happens. People come for a multitude of reasons, and we do our best to provide them with what they need. Librarians tend to be the type of people who want to share what they know. I think that’s one of the things I like most about the job – just doing what you’d do for a friend. Because I love books and read so much myself, it’s great being able to help people find the book they want, or to recommend one for them to read.
There are also a lot of people who come in looking for information about something. I love that too. It can be like detective work – knowing where to look and how to find it. There are so many things people want to know about, and it’s a wonderful feeling helping to track down exactly what they need.
I think people in Christchurch have a pretty good idea of how important the library is to them – perhaps more so than in some other places. Certainly when the council tried to institute costs on each book, people rallied around in a big way. People aren’t silly, they know what they have to lose. I think that’s a great thing. We try very hard to make the library a good place for people to come to. I’m really proud to work there. There are times in life when you can feel something was a mistake or wondered what else you might do, but I’ve never felt that about the library. If I get to stay here until the end of my working days I’ll be very happy.
Georgette: We came here for holiday, to stay a couple of months or a year, just to have a look. Everybody ask me about New Zealand. I say look, if you don’t come to New Zealand, you don’t know nothing. You come and you have a look.
First of all, the people. In Christchurch all the people we have met have been friendly to us. They’ve been helpful. And that’s the main thing to attract people. So, we stay. Now we are naturalised and we stay for 38 years in Christchurch New Zealand, the most beautiful city in all the world.
Beautiful place, good home, good husband, what more do you want? We have nice house – two bedrooms – our room, another room for friends when they come. What more you want? It is on a busy road too, so you can see the people come and go. That’s good. When we meet the man to help us get the house, I say, “Look, the home you’re going to show us, I like to be in a street where there is people. I’m not like some people who want to live in backyard. We want to see people.”
When you are pleased with your life everything is good. You have a good husband – I don’t want to say that in front of my husband – but he is excellent. Not only with his wife; with his friends, his workmates, everybody love him. That is important. If you don’t have the right person you feel sorry. I can see with my eyes and I feel sad for some things that I see. Oh well, that is life and you must follow your life as it is. We have come to this country and I am happy for it. All our friends in New Zealand are excellent. I love them, they love me. So, is good.
Nick: Actually, when the real estate agent – he stopped across the road – he said “That House?” We said, “Yes, that one.” He said, “You haven’t seen inside it yet!” We said, “It doesn’t matter, that’s the one.”
It was bad. Inside was very bad condition but when you have something and you feel it’s your own, you jump at it. I put all my effort in it. My blood, my sweat. I was working 10 or 11 o’clock at night, never mind, I had to do it. There was everything wrong, everything you could think of: cracked ceilings, the windows and the doors were all black varnish – I had to scrape night and day – the roof to do, everything. Where we came from – in Egypt – we used to live in apartments. There was nothing at all to worry about. You maybe paint inside, keep it tidy, no gardens to worry about. That’s it. In New Zealand, to own a house, it’s good, you don’t throw your money away in the rent. But I had to experiment – had to learn a lot of things. Then you feel the satisfaction from what you do. It’s kind of like a flower and you can see it grow. That’s good.
Also, last thing, busy road is good road. We like that. It’s what we were used to – people. Some others they are different, they complain about the kids. The movement, the noise, backwards and forwards in their cars, radios and all that – we don’t mind. They don’t have much to do, so, you know, you look out and see them enjoying their life. Has to be good. Yes. Has to be.
Superficially, my favourite place could be the Bay of Islands or Arrowtown – two places that I particularly enjoy in New Zealand. But at this stage in my life the place I prefer to go to when I need to contemplate or just to sit quietly is the Lyttelton cemetery. My former husband, Sam, is buried there, and next to him there is a gap and then there is Christine’s grave. I used to sit there between the two of them. Recently, however, someone else has been buried there. Now I sit either on Sam’s grave or Christine’s. Just to be there.
The overwhelming tragedy of my life has been the loss of Christine. She was my eldest child – my first-born. She was on a picket line at Lyttelton and was knocked over – run down – and she died two days later. I brought my children up to have a strong sense of social justice and to be independent. I think I might have made too good a job of it. Christine was very independent. I am incredibly proud of her, but her death is the thing that will colour the rest of my life. I don’t believe I have enough years left to come to terms with it. I am a practising Catholic and that’s been of incredible assistance to me, but at 2 a.m. in the morning you can find yourself staring at a huge black hole and you know . . . you know you are probably not going to climb back out of it.
Sitting there with her on the hill is a help. Sometimes I arrive feeling quite distressed, although not as distraught as I was three years ago when I used to feel I would lose my mind. What seems to help is the tranquillity of that place. I find Lyttelton a very calming place. I had many happy years living there, and I suppose the feeling is that I have come home. Yes, that’s it, I think. Sitting there, being there, it feels like I have come home.
I was born in England. Mum told me where I was born, but I can’t remember the name. I came out here with Mum and Dad halfway through last year. I remember England quite well. I came from the south-west, I think, near Plymouth. I went to Tavistock School and now I go to Sumner School, and the difference is one has three playtimes and the other has two.
The thing is, I enjoyed climbing on the rocks in England. There were a lot of rocks in the countryside, so we would go to places and go on walks, and whenever that happened, as long as it was rocky, I would enjoy it. When we came over to New Zealand, there wasn’t much to climb on. Well, Dad didn’t know about anything to climb on, so he found this climbing wall called the YMCA , which is the one we go to.
Well, the thing I like, the thing about the picture is, I have never really stood on that table before. I thought we weren’t allowed to, but I wanted to really. I have seen some pictures –there was this one where everyone was sitting around the table, and this man was standing on it. And that’s the first time I have stood on a table like that.
I grew up in a small town with limited options. I was young and had a child, a daughter I was bringing up on my own. It was not an easy time. People can knock your confidence and you can get really isolated on your own with a toddler. I moved to Christchurch six years ago because I felt there must be more to life than what I had. I wanted to be in a place where people were more open-minded. I suppose I wanted the sort of stimulation a larger place can give you. I love art and theatre and movies, all the cultural things. I didn’t want to be in a place where the only option on a Saturday night was the pub.
It hasn’t all been wonderful. Moving here was a bit of a cultural shock in itself. In the country you just parked your car and left it unlocked, you didn’t lock your house or anything. Very soon after I moved here my car was stolen, so I learnt about that. It was a bit scary being on my own at first, but now I love it here. I suppose I’ve lived here long enough to feel part of the community. Also, I think in the last couple of years I’ve become more confident as a parent. My little girl goes to school now and there’s more of a routine. I have more time. I’ve been so involved and concerned with her – making sure that everything is all right for her. It’s like part of me has been sleeping for the last ten years and it’s just woken up.
It took a lot of time, a lot of soul-searching, to know what else I wanted to do with my life but now I have it. I want to study at university – I am studying at university – and I’ve been on cloud nine ever since I started. I’m doing history and anthropology at the moment –where we’ve come from, where we are and where it’s at. Then I want to do some philosophy and, finally, major in political science. The meaning of life and all that stuff. Who knows why we’re here, but while I am, I want to do some good. I – we – belong here in Aotearoa. It’s our place. I grew up here and my daughter gets to grow up here. I think that means we’re lucky. It’s what makes me feel I want to give something back. Which finally brings me to my place – my verandah.
That’s where I make all my plans. After a long day I can’t wait to get back to it. Make myself a coffee, sit in my favourite chair and meditate on things as the world goes by. It’s where I read my books, make my lists, dream about the things I’ll do. As I said, the meaning of life. I feel I’m at a real crossroads right now, a new starting point and I intend to make the most of it. I have a real feeling for where we live, for our country. I want to do something that has an effect on people’s lives for the good. This is where I sit and think about what that will be.
It’s like how music – a particular song – can take you back to a time and you remember things. I think places can do that too. And the Arts Centre – specifically Le Café – is a place I’ve always gone back to. I remember the first time I ever went there. It was with Michael, my flatmate, and I think there were a couple of others. They may have been friends of his or perhaps friends of ours from training college – it would have been my first year at college. Anyway, it was exciting. We’d been to the Court Theatre and I thought it was amazing. I’d never been anywhere like it, the whole atmosphere. And the people who were there, I don’t know if you’d call them bohemian or arty – perhaps it was simply that they weren’t the sort of sports-mad people I’d grown up with in Hornby. Whoever they were, they were totally different than anything I’d known before.
I was always there after that. I loved it. In those days they would have a fire burning in the winter, so it was warm and we would sit around and smoke and talk about life and travel and all the things we might do. There was the prospect of things that you might not have thought of before. I suppose difference is always exciting. Certainly it was different from anything I’d seen before and it helped me realise there was more out there than I’d perhaps imagined.
All these years later it’s still the place I go back to. My brother used to have me on that if he came around home on the weekends and we weren’t there, he’d find us at Le Café. These days you’re more likely to find my husband and me outside under the trees, it’s easier with the kids. My dad used to say that I had a chair there with my name on it, and one day I found the kids looking for the chair. I suppose it’s nice to know that some things in your life are fairly constant, that they haven’t changed too much. I’d be quite upset if the place disappeared or if they made it different in some way. There are some things you just want to stay the same.
It’s been a long time now since I’ve seen some of those people I used to meet here. I sometimes wonder if any of us ever did the things we dreamed of. It would be fun to catch up and swap a few stories, see if any of those things ever became a reality.
I grew up in Harakeke Street, one door away from the Avon River. The river, of course, is spring-fed and freezing cold, but by the time we were seven or eight years old we were all swimming in it – loving it. It quickly became a real magnet to me. There was a little island in the middle of the stream we called Bamboo Island. It was solid bamboo, and that’s where I got all my fishing rods from. My father’s tomato stakes came from the same place. Inevitably, at the end of every season my rod ended up attached to a tomato. I had to make a new one every year.
They were wonderful days for a child, exploring the river and the streams around it, sneaking into the local estates. One of my favourite places was Tracy Gough’s, which of course is Mona Vale. I caught some magnificent fish there – four-pound browns and so on – and lost some big ones too. Then, when I was a little older, my aunt Thelma Kent – she was quite well known as a photographer – took me out of school and, together with my grandmother, we toured remote areas of the South Island. It was an inspiring experience and I credit her with giving me this great love for the outdoors. That, and fishing I suppose. The two have been a wonderful combination. And nowadays, after thirty years of practising medicine, it’s what I do: go fishing and continue to explore the rivers of New Zealand. The guidebooks I write cover over seven hundred rivers, so there are not many places I haven’t been to at some time or other.
Over the years I’ve become a rather passionate conservationist, well aware of the damage being done to New Zealand rivers and enormously saddened by what has happened to my childhood playground because of what it meant to me. It’s a rarity these days to see a good trout in the Avon. De-watering and increased pollution means there are very few places now in Canterbury where kids can have what we had. We seem to forget that the parks and the river are what make Christchurch special. It would be sad to see the Avon destroyed. We need to remember what it once was and make it that way again.
I remember the first time I came to New Zealand. We were on holiday and I spent a day just wandering around downtown. Then at one point I saw this Starbucks and I just ran for it. I mean, no-one seems to drink coffee here. Whenever you go to someone’s house, it’s instant – which is really more blasphemous than not drinking coffee at all – and so I made a run for this Starbucks. I thought, this is a momentous occasion, what will I order, a cappuccino or a latte? Oh yeah, I remember it all right. It was pretty fabulous.
So that’s why, when I first read about this project, I said to my husband, ‘Oh, I’m going to write in about Starbucks.’ He just rolled his eyes and he’s like, ‘Why are you going to do that? It’s so American. ’Which it is. It really is. But it happens to be the coffee shop we used to go to in Calgary before we came here.
What I like about Starbucks is that it’s a little place that’s familiar. You know what to expect there and you feel like it’s a little piece of home. Even though it is an American icon and you see it in movies and so on, it doesn’t mean that to me. To me it’s a coffee shop from back home, from Canada, a place that feels familiar. When you travel around the world I think it’s important to have that little piece of something from home, and Starbucks seems to be that little something here for me.
I was looking around for somewhere to go and I saw this little house. It was too expensive, but it was the only place that spoke to me. One of the first things I saw was the glory bush. It was in flower and I said, ‘That’s the thing on Mum’s tea towel.’ My mother had crocheted these flowers around a little tea towel thirty years ago – I have it there on the table now. Then there was a poem I wrote called ‘The Silent Flower’, about a magnolia, and when I looked out of the window there was this huge magnolia in flower. I know it sounds crazy, but those were the two things that sold me on the house.
It just seemed right that I should have a garden – that I really needed a garden. I’ve had a great deal of illness, which has meant quite a lot of time in bed. It’s been hard at times – very hard to keep my spirits up. I don’t think I could if I didn’t have surroundings that nourished me. That’s really important – I’d say almost a necessity. For a time I used to live in a little flat in Fitzgerald Avenue, but I found myself getting sicker and sicker living there. It did have a tree in the courtyard, which I wrote poems about, but there was really too much traffic. Too much noise.
There’ve even been times here when I’ve thought that perhaps the garden was getting too much for me – that I wouldn’t be able to manage it. Then I realise how important it is to me. How it feels more like home than anywhere I have been for a long, long time. There’s a lovely feeling of community with my neighbours on either side – the kids come over the fence and seem to have such fun playing in the garden – and I love that about it. Having friends here, having something to share with them ...I don’t think I could live without that now. The feeling of creating a peaceful space – a space where people can really relax and have fun together – that’s always been important to me.
I like doing things fast – moving fast– my whole life is pretty much like that. I quit university because I couldn’t tolerate the idea of being there for five or six years before I actually went out and did something. I’ve always had this ability to look at something and quickly see three or four steps beyond it, to see the possibilities in something.
When I found this place it was pretty rough. It had been used by a manufacturer who had abandoned the building, so basically it was just a derelict space. No internal walls, the floors were hacked up. I thought, fantastic, this is great. This could be interesting. We’ve pretty much got a blank canvas here. We just went hard at it and within a couple of months the place was open. Another phase of my life had begun. It was a good move.
It’s interesting to look back and realise how much of my life and creativity is wrapped up in this place. So much has happened here. It’s been an exhibition venue, a studio for many different artists; we’ve run classes and workshops here, fashion shows, film screenings, theatre, events of every possible kind. People have been married here. I gave birth to my son here. It’s given a physical expression to so many ideas and experiences over this time. It’s almost like you can experience life without even leaving the house. All of these things have come to where we are – to our home. And our son is now growing up in an interesting and open kind of environment, quite different from my own childhood.
Last week we stripped the whole place down to have a big clean-up before winter. Took out all the fittings, objects, everything out of the space – we do this a lot, totally rearrange and repaint the space – and at the time it made me think of the importance of a place. How it is that you construct yourself within a space. Do you know what I mean? The way you infuse a place with the things that are meaningful to you. It made me realise how I see this place as an artwork in itself. Partly me – constantly changing.
People do come in and say it must be nice to make a living out of your hobby, but I explain it’s not quite like that. You know, I’m doing it eight hours a day. But yeah, it’s good, oh yes. Better than working for someone else.
I come to work in the morning and, because I’m the boss, I make what I like. Because I’m making what I like, the quality is high, and because the quality is high, it sells. That’s the guts of it really. Also the staff ratio is about right – limited to one, and that’s me. If the business got any bigger you’d lose those freedoms that make working for yourself so good. You know, the ‘gone fishing’ thing. It’s pretty good fun doing the wood turning, but not quite as much fun as fishing. What do they say – a bad day’s fishing is better than a good day’s work? Something like that.
As for the place, the Arts Centre, it couldn’t be better. It was the perfect thing to do with the old university. These old Gothic buildings lend themselves to the work that goes on here. I’ve spent half my working life here now, and what I do seems so closely bound up with this place. I even met my wife, Maria, here. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Genevieve: I was born into a religious cult and had a very restricted upbringing. I did my schooling – my high school years – by correspondence, and that, together with this extremely oppressive religious thing, made my life a rather limited one. Imagine living on a very small isolated planet with no radio, no television, no movies; a place where men ruled the roost and told you what you could do or could not do and where anything on the outside was seen as an evil temptation. That was how I existed.
For all this I still managed to do well at school and at the piano, which I loved. My teachers were very keen for me to go on to university but – as much as I wanted to bust out of this cage I was in – I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead I went to work in a gift shop in Linwood. It was a good thing to do. It was like coming from my planet to visit Planet Earth. You can’t imagine what it was like for me. I’d been so sheltered and then suddenly I was surrounded by all these different and incredible people. I loved it. It was through a woman I worked with there that I met Hamish and – a few years down the track – finally married him.
Hamish was involved with a different sort of Christianity. He attended the Spreydon Baptist Church, which, after some obvious reluctance, I found to be a positive sort of place. Very down to earth. It had people prepared to get involved in the community in a practical way – not at all a pious religious sort of group – which was fine with me.
The vision we have for our youth café comes from that sort of attitude. We realise that church is all well and good, but it can also be kind of limited and in some ways unapproachable to certain parts of the community. Thinking about that, and also because of my own screwed-up religious thing, I found myself going back to basics. I thought about Jesus and who he was. What he did. Why was he such a radical figure and why did so many people follow him? I began to realise what a role model he was. Out there, practical and hands-on. The type of modelling that makes a difference and the sort of thing we’d like to emulate in our own way here with the café. To be a listening ear for young people – somebody who believes in them – and to help show them that their dreams really are possible.
Hamish: I became a Christian because I felt there was a truth there I could believe in. A rock I could stand on. I gave me hope and it gave me a future at a time when a lot of young people – myself included – were struggling with that. What could we hope for, where was our future? Now I can I believe there is a plan and a purpose, and that’s a powerful thing to be able to tell any young person. The mission statement for our trust is to fully realise the potential of young people, and that’s what we want to do – provide a community base that becomes the hub of youth culture in this area. We want to give them a place where they’re safe, where they can walk through that door and be accepted straight away for who they are. One of our main premises here is that there be no dissing – no put-downs.
Most of the people who work here come via the church, but we don’t call ourselves a Christian outfit. We don’t go around trying to recruit or convert. Our doors are open to anyone. Anybody is welcome to come and see what we do here. In fact, one of the best things that’s happened with the café is the way the people have made it their own. It isn’t just a white wall with a couple of posters on it. Everything you see, they have done. They made the decisions and they did the work. That’s how it’s become their place. What I hope for is simply to be a positive influence on people’s lives. Most young people will search for a role model outside the family – good, bad or indifferent – and they will generally find it. We hope to make it a good one.
The nice thing is I have a lock on the bedroom door. I’ve wanted that for ages. It’s double-sided, so it can be opened from the other side but it still gives me the ability to stop someone like my little brother coming in. He likes getting at the cards from my prized Pokemon collection. It’s quite nice that before anyone comes into my bedroom they have to knock, even if the door is not closed. They knock and I’ll say, ‘Come in.’ No-one comes barging in, and so it actually feels like it belongs to me. I can do what I want. It’s kind of like I’m free and not tied down. It’s mine and no-one can change it. I always have somewhere to go and just relax – watch TV or do a bit of writing – cool down from what is happening.
I like writing stories. Most of them are very closely related to what I have read. I like to make stories from events that have happened in certain books or in a movie that I’ve seen. I like to create something of my own from that. One story I started was based on what would happen if the sun died, or something blocked out the sun. I haven’t finished it yet. When I started at Hagley College I began writing down ideas for stories and names for everyone and what they might be. I had the ideas but it was hard to get them down on paper. That’s why it’s important to have a place of my own. Every day I can come here and think and escape. I can go with my mind into a story that I have created, and not have anyone bother me. It’s my own space – like a cubbyhole – something that belongs to me. That’s the best thing.
I don’t know – I just felt it was a thing that needed to be done. We started with virtually nothing. When I look at it today I think it’s amazing, absolutely incredible what has happened there. I was down there only yesterday with my daughter – I quite often go down there and just wander around – and when you do that, when I look around and think of all the work people have done, I can feel a bit emotional about it all.
I’ve always thought that once you plant a seed, ideas will flourish if you just keep watering them. That’s what happened with Ferrymead. One of my clients back then was the Heathcote County Council. It seems they’d bought a bit of land down by the river and weren’t too sure what to do with it. It was just this tiny little L-shaped site in those days. I happened to be talking with the council engineer – he knew I was a member of the Jaycees – and he asked if I thought they’d be interested in a proposal to turn the land into a park. Well, I said I’d put it to the board and see what happens.
The proposal was accepted. Everybody agreed it was a good idea, and I chaired the committee that was set up to investigate the different possibilities. A good friend of mine, George, designed a scheme plan for us. It’s amazing how these things are done. The whole aim of a Jaycee project is to get things done on a voluntary basis, and it’s wonderful watching how the community gets behind something like this. We then produced a small book – a report –for the council. They chewed on it for a while and then came back and said do it. That’s how it started, we were off and running then. We involved all the societies with an interest in the proposal – the Railways Society, the Tramways Society, the Horse-Drawn Vehicle Society – we snuck in all sorts of people who were keen. Of course, after that came the hard yakka. Raising all the money and making the place that you see here today.
I suppose I’ve spent a good slice of my working life involved with Ferrymead. Certainly I have a strong feeling for the place. It’s given me a lot of pleasure over the years. Yes, yes, I’ve become quite attached to the place. Feels a bit like leaving a footprint behind. In the end, though, I was merely a catalyst. It’s the enthusiasm of hundreds and hundreds of people that makes a place like Ferrymead tick.
It was strange enough for us, so try to imagine what it must have been like for them. Templeton Hospital was being closed down. The place they thought of as their home – their whole life – was about to be uprooted. It would be like picking you up and putting you into Outer Mongolia. There we were putting these people into our van along with whatever they had. A bag or two of clothing perhaps; one or two might have had a duvet cover or some other personal item, not much else. And of course they were happy to get in the van because they were going for a drive. What they didn’t know was that their whole life was about to change.
I became a nurse because my auntie told me I should. I did it for fifteen years before I moved into psychiatric nursing and discovered how much more rewarding it was. In general nursing, people come in, you do what you can for them and they go home in a week. With psych, it’s a long-term commitment. You are there for them every day. They don’t just get well and go home. They’ll be there all day, every day, and you are their support. It’s the small and priceless experiences you have in a place like this that are so absolutely brilliant. They’re your reward.
My husband and I came to Christchurch four years ago, which happened to coincide with the closing of Templeton and the opening of the Hawksbury Trust’s home where I now work. I can understand the apprehension of some of the parent groups who fought to keep Templeton open, but now, four years later – when you see the difference in the lives of these people – I think they realise how much better it all is. I’m not saying it was an easy beginning – the first six months were hard – but today you wouldn’t believe they are the same people. The choices and opportunities they have are so much better and the difference to their lives is huge. It’s just amazing.
Working here is pretty amazing as well. It’s really nice to walk in here in the mornings –every morning – and have people greet you in such a warm and affectionate way. The staff too, they’re all special. There’s no-one here that doesn’t want to be here. Some places you can’t get people to do the silliest little thing; here the staff will do things like take our guys on holiday with them. That’s not something that’s in the job description. It really is a home, this place, not an institution. I get a warm feeling in the morning to wake up and think, hey, I’m going to work and it doesn’t feel like a chore.
I remember being up in Hamilton watching my son row in the Mardi Cup. All of our supporters were shouting, “School! School!” and people were asking, ‘Which school are you talking about?’ It’s a Christchurch thing, I guess, ‘School’ or ‘College’ because of that rivalry of a hundred-odd years. A little a bit of history.
I suppose I’ve always been proud to have gone to Boys’ High. As a kid at primary school I’d struggled, I had a lot of bad health, but I always looked forward to going to high school. My dad had been there before me, and my own son went there as well. It did make a difference in my life. Quite a lot of difference I think. They were inspiring teachers – some of them quite brilliant. The whole ethos at Boys’ High was designed to encourage students to believe in themselves and to do their very best. The motto is ‘Seek Higher Things’. At the time I was there, Peter Snell had just gone to the Tokyo Olympics, and I saw myself as a future Peter Snell. Ha, I never quite got there. I broke the two minutes for the half-mile, but I was never going to get to the Olympics.
Perhaps one of the best things the school gave me was a sense of identity – of belonging – and I believe that’s important to all of us. I look at Maori who can trace their whakapapa right back, and I feel a wee bit envious of that. That’s a privilege I’ll never have, but with Boys’ High I get a little bit of that. It’s hard not to sound patronising, but I think we do have to get back to that whole ethos of caring for each other. As a nation we have become very individualistic; we need to think beyond things like the America’s Cup – a yacht race -– to actually create a feeling of union. Find a way of being together and working together – being your brother’s keeper type of thing.
Personally I have a lot of confidence in youth, that they will find new ways of doing this. They are much more global in their outlook today than we ever were. I hear people carping on about poor spelling and getting back to basics, but I believe the social things that are going on in schools today will make a better and safer society.
For me, it was a privilege to attend Christchurch Boys’ High School. I had enormous pride in the place and it exerted a great influence on me. The teachers I had there inspired me so much that I decided to became a teacher myself. They taught me that when you stand in front of a class you are not simply teaching a subject, you are helping someone prepare for life.
I didn’t know anyone in Auckland, all my friends had gone. There had been a lot of alcohol and violence in my upbringing, what you might call a bit of a dysfunctional family at times. It happens, I suppose, and one day you all move on. That’s what I did: got on a train with my guitar and a bag of clothes and ended up in Christchurch.
Straight away it was better. People talk to you here. I got a job on a part-time basis at a place called Trees for Canterbury, and to get there I used to walk past this house every day. One day Cliff was out in the yard and he yells out, “How are ya?” I said, “Yeah, I’m good, I’m just going to work.” And after work I wondered if he was still going to be there – you know how you have this feeling – and I walked across and, sure enough, there he was. He said, “Come in, come in,” and that’s how I met him. That’s the sort of person he was. A decent man. I come down from Auckland not knowing anybody and I’m walking along the street and bump into him. That was like a crossroads for me, a real good feeling.
At first I gave him a hand part-time, keeping his lawns down and doing his shopping, all that sort of thing – he had glaucoma and his health was going down – then after a couple of years he went into hospital and they wouldn’t let him come home until the house was cleaned up. That’s when he asked me if I’d move in and keep an eye on him. I said, ‘All right, but I’m cleaning the place up.’ It didn’t even have a proper kitchen, there were rats, everything – it took four skips to get rid of all the rubbish.
I lived with him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for exactly one year. He died on the same day I’d moved in, just a year before. And do you know what he’d done? He’d given me the house! ‘Home’ is the word for it really. My own place that nobody can take away from me. I’ve always had the thought that I have to move on – got to move on – but this is what you call secure, and I’ve never had that before.
I’ve spent my entire life, except for a few months, within a golf ball’s throw of Misceo. I love the area. Fendalton is where I grew up and Misceo is like a focal point – it’s the centre of it.
I suppose the place is something of a base for me. I mean I work there, but even if I didn’t, I would still spend the same amount of time there. I’ve met a lot of cool people because of that place. Frank, the guy who owns it, is very clear about us being friendly to the customers. At a lot of the places around town they make you leave when you finish a shift, whereas with us it’s a different story. I mean, if the staff didn’t want to – if we don’t feel comfortable staying on and having a few beers – then how are the customers supposed to feel?
It was one of the first of the successful suburban cafes; a lot of people are very loyal to it. Some people have been coming ever since it opened. People dine here a lot, not just because the food is good, but because it’s a place where they can walk in and people will know who you are. They’ll remember your name and what you like to drink. I know it can sound like a bit of a cliché, but it’s easy to underestimate the sort of ambience that creates. It’s the sort of thing that conveys why I feel comfortable at Misceo – why it’s become like my base.
Most people think of work as a way of generating income. I think of work as a way of using my time in an interesting way. The fact I might – not very often actually with this job –generate some income is a secondary factor. I’ve always been like that. I mean, I worked for a pittance as a hospital doctor in my junior years. For two years I was averaging a hundred hours a week, and in my first year I earned $1,250. But I didn’t think about the money, I only thought about my activity. I got a lot of personal satisfaction from what I was doing. If work becomes uninteresting, I move on, which is why I began to do this. I enjoy building things and I wanted to learn to spray paint decently and to weld better. I would rather be doing something I felt fulfilled in than to worry about how much I was getting paid. Having said that, I do believe the Warehouse mentality has had an unfortunate effect on artisans who work on their own. Life isn’t always about making money, but it is nice to get a little bit more than the dole.
This workshop defines what I am doing. It centralises my activity and is a place to which people come to see the display, as well as what I am actually doing. These anatomical models are for the Life Education Trust – they go in their mobile classrooms. You might have seen them around, the big caravans with Harold the Giraffe on them. I also make mannequins, shop fittings and other ornamental things.
Having my own environment here means I am actually making things to sell – which means they have to be good. I used to make things in my garage at home, but taking on this place was a step up. I’m probably more susceptible to criticism than I need to be – being a perfectionist has been one of the bugbears of my life – but I actually feel that what I make here can’t have a blemish. This is a professional workshop, which means that what I make here has to be up to standard. I need it to be as perfect as possible.
I yell out ‘Hello!’ when I pull up at the gate, and Hocus looks up and it’s like everything just goes. It’s just him and me, and I don’t have to rush. Don’t have to hurry. It’s calming, very calming. When I call out he’ll look up and walk over to the fence to meet me. He’ll watch me while I walk over to the shed to get the halter, and if I’ve got any carrots he’ll get one before I tie him up. Sometimes he gives me a wee nudge – hey! is there any more? He doesn’t get too much at the moment because he’s a bit overweight. Then I groom him, saddle up, put my hat on and away we go. Mates.
The paddock is a place I can escape to – it instantly became my favourite place. Yeah, I share it with my sister, but coming here is something I do myself. I enjoy being on my own, away from everything. Traffic noise, job worries, everything. There are neighbours, but when I’m here I feel as though I’m on my own. I don’t have to think of anything, just enjoy the company of my horse. There is definitely a very big connection between the two of us.
I was introduced to horses when I was eight and I’ve had a love of riding ever since. They’re such beautiful animals. If I’m sad, Hocus cheers me up. If I’m feeling angry about something, he calms me. He’s really important all right, like a best friend.
This house came up for sale and I’d never owned a house of my own before, so I thought, okay, I’m turning forty, time to do something radical. A $9,000 Home Start loan from the government, a $33,000 mortgage, a $3,000 deposit, and sweet, I had my own home. Oh yeah, I was over the moon. No landlords to complain. Finally I could do what I wanted –create that space I’d always dreamed about – and now, twelve or so years down the track, I’m well on the way. In my fifty-two years on the planet this is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place and it feels good. Growing up in an air force family you didn’t stay anywhere too long. Here I feel like I belong somewhere. Helping out where you can in the community, it gives you a sense of identity – it definitely feels like I’ve put down some roots here. That, and having a place to share with my friends, that’s what feels good about it.
When I first moved in I started thinking about a name for the place. I already had half a dozen camel paintings and a few other bits and pieces – there’s a beautiful watercolour in the other room with camels in it that my great-grandmother painted about 1900. Granddad was in Egypt in both wars and he brought a lot of camel stuff back too. Then the council came along and put two humps in the street. The street, by the way, is called Burke Street, and Burke and Wills used camels in their 1860 exploration of Australia. I guess it just sort of came together – Camel Cottage. People seem to give me camel stuff all the time now. The place is full of it. They’re interesting creatures really, survivors. They can live on practically nothing, which I suppose to a certain extent is me also. I’m into recycling in a big way – try to be kind to Mother Earth. I grow my own vegetables organically, the way I want them. To me it feels like there’s a sense of purpose in it all. Other people have helped me; I try to do the same in return. Yeah, it’s more than just a house here, you’d have to say it’s my existence really. I sort of feel blessed having this place and being a Kiwi too – we’re pretty lucky. Couldn’t ask for better. Not really.
Moving our business from the corner of Hereford Street and Oxford Terrace in 1997 was a bit scary. Rents were going up because of the new bars that were being built all along the Strip. We finally shifted around the corner into Hereford Street and it felt like a huge move. Of course in the end it all worked fine, and one of the nicest things was we still had our neighbours. Felicity Plummer had started the Monkey Bar across the road about four years before and we’d become friends. It became our little place.
The thing I like about the Monkey Bar is that you’re not on show. It’s wonderfully intimate and when you’re sitting in there looking out, people on the street can’t see you unless they come right up. Compared to the Strip, where you are very much on view, it’s nice and quiet – private – which is exactly what I want. Some nights it gets a bit rowdy and so we toddle off home, but usually it’s quite secluded and intimate. You can relax and have a glass of wine or whatever with a few friends, and it’s just gorgeous. Exactly what you’d want from your local.
And now we’ve shifted there’s an added advantage, I can sit there and look straight across to our own window – think about how it’s looking and watch who’s going in and out. Oh right, there’s that person, haven’t seen them for ages, and you can run across the road and have a chat or whatever. Just leave your glass of wine on the table – ‘I’ll be back in five minutes’ – and it’s never a problem. That’s the sort of place it is. Special.
Jack was my first love and my last love. When I meet him he was eighteen and I was five years younger. He came to work with my father. At first he went into the mills, then after a while they put him in the bush. He was a chopper, a good one. Dad used to take him all around the North Island and he won a lot of cups and stuff.
Jack and I had a thing for each other. He used to come every Friday night and we’d sneak off to the pictures or go dancing. It went on for a good couple of years, and I loved it. Then one Friday night he came to pick me up and Dad caught us - he saw Jack kissing me, and that was it. He said,‘I think the world of you, Jack, I’d do anything for you, but this is my daughter and she’s too young for you. Five years is too big a difference and that’s an end of it.’ And so Jack, the gentleman that he was, left and went off to the army.
He was twenty-one then – somewhere I still have the papers. Dad and I went to see him off at Papakura Barracks the day he went to Malaya. I was very upset – devastated really. I was like that for quite a while. Actually it got so bad at one point I tried to end my life, but of course he never knew about that. He kept writing and sending me things for a long time. Then, finally, I met my husband and that all stopped.
Five years later, when Jack got back from the army, he came looking for me. He found out then I was married and that was hard for him. He put up a bit of an argument, but when he saw it was no good he left and I didn’t see him again for twenty-eight years. I never thought I’d see him again, ever.
It happened at a birthday, a twenty-first, in Hamilton. My brother had wanted me to come down, and when I got there, there was Jack. It happened all over again like magic. I’d had those few years with him before he went into the army, and then I got another fifteenyears all this time later.
My husband had passed away in 1984 from a heart attack. He was an only child and our son did not want me to change my name. Jack and I talked about this and he agreed. He used to say it was only a piece of paper anyway. He knew how I loved him. I’ve had two good men in my life and it’s been a shock to lose them both. Good years. My daughter said to me that her dad dying was my chance to have fifteen years with Jack. They were both special.
Jack’s sickness had started even before I came to be with him in Christchurch. Towards the end there he always used to tell me how he wanted to be buried out at Kaiapoi, in the Returned Servicemen’s part of the cemetery. We used to go out there sometimes to visit different friends, and that’s how I knew it was special to him – that he’d be among his friends in a place he wouldn’t be forgotten. He was a man who liked to be recognised, and I know that he’ll be honoured there. It’s true, if you ever go out there you can see it’s a happy place to be. Like if things get blown around on a windy day, you don’t go looking for who it belongs to, you just put it on the nearest grave. That’s the sort of place it is, a kind place where I can think of him as happy. Where his fishing mates can drop in to see him on their way to the river, and where he’s surrounded by people like himself – people who deserve to be honoured.
Things have come a long way. A real long way. Being gay was not talked about when I was a teenager – certainly it wasn’t talked about by my parents or the community I grew up in. It was so different from the way things are now. I mean you’d never have seen a gay character on TV in those days, they just weren’t there. Now every second show might have one or two. They’re portrayed as part of life – which we are. Children grow up with them, they have gay friends at school, it’s just part of life. Like being left-handed or right-handed. My brother is left-handed, and as far as I’m aware he never chose to be like that. If he did, please tell me the day and the time he decided to be left-handed. People don’t choose to be gay, nor to be ridiculed or beaten up. Nobody chooses to be treated badly, but there’s still a lot of that negative stuff happening.
As I get older I’ve found more courage to be me – be who I am. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I found the strength to say who I was. I tried hard to live like Mum and Dad, to be the way my brothers and aunts and uncles wanted me to be. Now I’m trying to please myself. Not just to please me, but to be me. I’m not going to conceal who I am any more. I don’t to want to hurt anyone in any way, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in hiding either.
You could call the Chameleon a nightclub. I think whether a place is gay or straight doesn’t really matter. They’re all the same to me, but this place is a gay area where I can more easily be me, whether I’ve got a partner or not. Here I can hold hands, have a hug, whatever. You couldn’t do that out on the street. A lot of gay people in Christchurch don’t feel they have that sort of liberty at the moment. But the Chameleon has a nice atmosphere and I love to dance. That’s where I really enjoy things – on the dance floor. I love expressing myself to music, interpreting the music. I think it’s where I’m able to be me most of all.
There are two parts to it. One is being brave enough to get into the water and the other is the way you feel when you come out of the water. Since I turned fifty I’ve done lots of things that I never did before. I got my driver’s licence when I was fifty-two, and it was so liberating. I went skydiving, which was something I’d always wanted to do but was afraid to do. I even got to the stage where I tried to do things that frightened me. I’d never been physically brave before, but I was discovering I could do these things. Then one day some friends said why don’t you come jetty jumping with us. When we got down there I looked at the drop – none of the other women would do it – and I thought, well, that’s enough for me, I just ran and jumped. I did it without thinking about it. After that I knew I could do it. You jump and the water closes over your head. You go down and it is a kind of release. That’s the effect it has on you – on me.
I just love it. Summer and winter, even when it’s freezing I jump and within ten seconds I can feel the fire right through me. And being there in the bay is so beautiful. Wildlife all around and the deep green water, it just feels so buoyant. I’ve always liked the water, but I didn’t have the passion for it that I have now. The sea is such a different element, it’s like another dimension, it washes everything off you and you can start again.
I work in a social service agency, and some of the things you see and hear are not that pleasant. After a really hard day I like to come home, get changed, go straight down to the jetty and jump off into deep water. Then I feel I can leave the day behind. It makes me feel strong – makes me feel I can face anything. Getting into the water like that is a way of getting back to me.
I’m a trained electrical engineer, but I also did a lot of social work with people in prisons, people off the street, just basically took them home to my place. If they wanted somewhere to go, my home became their home. I had a family – my own little family, my three children who are now grown-up – but I saw other people without families. I was brought up in the country where everybody was a mother or father to us. All my aunties and uncles were like mums and dads; all my cousins like brothers. Home was where people came to be together. We gathered to celebrate, eat, to have fun together. That’s how I was brought up. I’d like to see more of that in the city.
The people I work with seem to have two things that stand out, two things in particular they need. A good home environment with good mentors, that’s one. The other is a good place to work, to train, to learn, and that’s what the Wai-Ora Trust does.
I believe that everybody has great abilities. All they need is someone to affirm that, someone to give them the time and space to develop. If you do that, stand by people –support them – you start to see those gifts coming to the fore. You need to give people time to find a confidence in who they are and what they have. It requires a lot of time. It requires being able to put up with a lot of headaches too. Good quality time is what it boils down to. Seeing people as part of your larger family. I’ve been brought up traditional Maori and it’s a good way – good things. The dream is to multiply that and pass it on. I’ll tell you something too, it’s taught me heaps. You think about doing good for others, but then you think, wow, what has it done for me? It’s much more than you realise. So, instead of saying my place, I’d like to maybe say it’s our place. I’m just one of the people who happen to be a part of it.
We were born one day apart, right there, in the front bedroom. One born at ten to midnight, the other at ten past, so we have different birth dates. The second and third of January 1916.
Usually, with twins, you grow up and get married and that’s the parting, but we haven’t ever thought of getting married, we’ve been together all our lives. Undiscovered treasures. Back in 1948 some netball friends nicknamed us the Heavenly Twins. The name seemed to stick and they’ve called us that ever since. It’s how we are I suppose, never apart. We live together, worked together, played sport together – netball has been the big thing in our lives – and except for technical college we were always in the same classes at school together.
In a way it was a different world back then – families were tighter, or at least we were lucky enough to have a very close family. Our brother was into football and swimming, our two sisters were operatic singers and, as I said, we’ve been into netball all our lives, so we were a mixed lot. Cultural things and sporting things, but always very close. We’ve had a lovely life really. We don’t know what it’s like to be without family, not the way some people are. That must be very hard.
Sometimes you feel a change; that our generation seems to have moved on. I can remember someone saying once, ‘Oh, you’re still here,’ as though we shouldn’t be. But we’ve never been without family. We had thirty-seven of us this last Christmas – real family.
Ours has always been a home – lived in – not some sort of show house. Our parents encouraged us to bring our friends home and there must have been hundreds – sportspeople and so on – who stayed with us over the years. You wouldn’t think this place was eighty-eight years old, would you? Time’s gone on so quickly, but I guess home is where you make it and we’ve been here all our lives. Mum and Dad both died here, in the same front room we were born in. I think we’d both like to do the same. We’ve always said we’d leave in a box. Not that we’re in any rush. The place has been here now for eighty-eight years and we’d love to see it get to the century. Be quite nice to do the same ourselves.