Topic: Pride by Karen Peterson Butterworth

Topic type:

Pride by Karen Peterson Butterworth was an entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

We sit at long trestle tables contemplating an appetising breakfast which we hardly notice. For this is the moment when we must turn to our neighbours and korero. We are students of Te Reo Maori attending a total immersion hui: and since prayers last night, we have been under a rahui on speaking English.

I gather my courage and turn to my neighbour, a young man with short springy hair, and ask him, "No hea koe?" Where are you from?

The fear leaves his eyes. "No te wahi tino ataahua rawa atu huri noa o te ao, e kui," he says, "From the most beautiful place in the world, old lady."

"Ae!" I say. "Matauri Bay." It is not a question.

"Ae," he answers.

 

My mind goes back to the 1950s. Bess and I are students from Otago, hitchhiking on Highway I north of Auckland, with Cape Reinga as our goal. Lifts have been sparse. We have been hefting our packs for two hours through bush and seen no sign of human life.

We hear a car. Soon we can see it is a rusty old taxi full of young Maori men. It stops.

We lower our thumbs. "Sorry," we say, "we can't afford taxis."

"Kei te pai," says the driver. "That’s okay. Hop in. We'll take you for nothing."

We hesitate. We are hot and bone tired, but these men are wild haired and scruffily dressed, and there are four of them. I look at Bess, who’s nearly six feet and has a brown belt in judo. She shrugs. “Might as well.”

We don’t ask where they are going, we have become so grateful for short lifts, including one where we sat between sacks of basic slag and got it in our hair and clothes. As long as they take us a few more miles we’ll be happy.

We squeeze ourselves in, and the taxi rattles off. Suddenly it turns into a side road. We ask them to let us out but they laugh and keep driving. For half an hour we wind uphill on a narrow gravel road, our protests ignored. Bess and I grow more fearful with every mile that the main road recedes, and try hard not to show it. At the crest of a ridge they stop the car.

"Get out," they say and we do, knees wobbling. "Now look down there." Down there is a porcelain bowl full of prussian blue dye, its far edge set with floating gems of islands.

"What do you think?" they ask.

"It's the most beautiful place in the world," breathes Bess, and they beam.

"You thought we were going to rape you," states one, and we all laugh, Bess and I the loudest.

"We couldn't let you go on north without seeing our place," explains the driver. "Are you fullas in a hurry?"

We aren't. So they drive us down to the beach, where they pluck sweet corn and watermelons from behind the row of shacks. They take us into one of them, light up a driftwood fire under an iron stove, and start cooking the corn and some smoked fish.

The shack is squeaky clean inside, its wooden floor, bench and table scrubbed almost white, smelling of Jeyes Fluid like our mums’ kitchens. They unpack some Maori bread from the car’s boot and we eat with relish, our appetites honed by walking and sea air.

All the people from their kainga have gone to town to find work, they tell us. But they come back whenever they can, to cultivate the land and gather sea food. They were coming here anyway when they saw us.  

 

While I fish for more words to tell him my story, my breakfast companion at the immersion hui asks, "No hea koe?"

"No te wahi tino ataahua rawa atu tuarua, huri noa o te ao, I say.” From the second most beautiful place in the world. “No taku turangawaewae, no Papatowai kei te tino tonga o Te Wai Pounaumu,” I add. From the standing place of my feet, from Papatowai in the far south of the South Island.

As we tuck into our paua fritters and paraoa, I fancy my neighbour bears a close resemblance to our taxi driver of six decades ago. Our eyes meet and without the need for words, we share the tang, the roar and the dazzle of our mutual ocean, Te Moana Nui o Kiwa.

  

Notes:

1.     I have changed Bess’s name, as we are out of touch and I cannot check this story against her memory of it.

2.     I have never been back to Matauri Bay, but I saw it on television when the bombed Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was being towed to its final resting place among the Cavalli Islands. The sea was an opaque, glowing turquoise that day. And it was still the most beautiful place in the world. My birthplace, Papatowai, could only come a close second for sheer beauty.

 ----

This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/GL2C-7JPL

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion