Topic: Waipiro Ruatoria, Summer 1975 by Peter Francis O’Halloran

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Waipiro Ruatoria, Summer 1975 is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry by Peter Francis O’Halloran

My new father-in-law had recently been appointed as the bank manager at Ruatoria on theNorth Island’s East coast, and we were visiting for our summer holidays. On New Year’s weekend the four of us took their caravan to my in-laws’ favourite fishing spot on a Maori family’s run-down farm in Waipiro Bay.

The elderly couple who owned the farm had apparently adopted four little kids, who shyly watched our every move.

After a few days, curiosity overcame their shyness and they invited me to join them riding one of the three farm hacks, bareback, across the farm. I pointed out that the only thing I knew about horse riding was from watching cowboy movies.

Giggling they assured me, “Hey, pakeha, it’s as easy as riding a bike.”

I vividly remember climbing on and grasping the horse’s reins in one hand, just like in the movies. Without warning Tahi, the eldest boy, let out a war whoop and whacked my horse’s behind with a stick. The three horses charged across the farm, with the four Maori kids, riding two per horse, racing alongside, yelling and whooping like Red Indians, while I, both arms clutched around my horse’s neck, screamed in terror as we galloped through trees and across streams, and jumped over fallen logs. Somehow I eventually dragged my sweating steed to a halt.  The four kids leapt off and rolled on the ground, laughing so hard they had tears in their eyes.

“Hey, pakeha, you ride just like Roy Rogers.  Perhaps tomorrow we should go crayfishing. Maybe you’ll be better at that than you are at horse riding!”

The next morning the kids were waiting to take us to their favourite cray-fishing spot, so I collected my snorkel, fins and face mask.  They escorted us around the bay to a rocky reef stretching out from the beach and pointed out a calm patch of water, ringed with kelp-covered rocks.

I first offered my diving gear to the kids, but they were too scared.

“No,” they said, “there are taniwha* hiding in the kelp. Sometimes they eat little kids.”

I donned my gear and swam down a metre or two into the gloomy kelp where, to my astonishment, I saw huge numbers of lovely fat crayfish stacked row upon row as if on a supermarket shelf.

I grabbed one in each hand, returned to the surface and passed them to the waiting kids.  After four dives they told me, “Stop, stop, that’s the quota. No one’s allowed to take more than eight, except for a hangi or tangi.”

That summer was the best holiday my wife and I ever had, and our first beautiful baby daughter arrived exactly nine months later.

“Hey, Auntie,” I asked, “what’s the meaning of this word whakatoihara?”

“That’s racism,” she replied. “It means you don’t like people who are different from yourselves.”

“Ooh, you mean, like we don’t like the pakeha, ‘cos they’re untrustworthy and stole our whenua*, our kai* and our mana*, plus they have lots of money, flash cars and wear funny clothes?”

Yeah, Holy Moly, look at the bank manager’s daughter and her husband staying in their caravan and fishing on our farmland.  His flash clothes look like he should be in Monaco; you know, that flash place where Grace Kelly lives, not here at Waipiro bay. Yeah, and from the way they never stop touching each other, when they think no one can see them, she’ll soon be having lots of mokopuna.”*

Auntie Rima laughed at me and said, “Tahi, you’re primo.”

 

“I’m twelve years old, my name is Tahi and I live in Waipiro Bay with my mum’s Auntie Rima, which I think means she was the fifth child to be born in her family, and my Uncle Tipene.  Auntie Rima’s is the best farm in Waipiro bay andWaipiroBayis the best place on earth to live.

“I have two brothers: Rua, who’s ten and Toru, who’s nine, and a sister called Aroha who’s eight, but our teacher calls her Lovey, so that’s what everyone thinks her name is.

“My mum’s gone to live inAuckland, so she can see my dad, ‘cos he lives in a place calledMountEden. I don’t know why he doesn’t stay with mum, ‘cos she says she loves him, no matter what.

“We took the pakeha horse-riding. Ooh, it was choice! He made us laugh so much it hurt my sides. He’s the worst rider I ever saw. I don’t know how he stayed on without falling off. Maybe he put glue on his bum!

“The next day we took the pakeha and his wife to our koura* fishing hole, which we call a rua, he had real flash diving stuff, like big flippers, a pipe into his mouth he called a snore call, and a big piece of glass on his face so he could see underwater. He wore the smallest bathing suit I ever saw. I think it’s called a ‘bikini.’ I guess he’d been out in the sun for too long, ‘cos he looked like one of those redskins out of his cowboy movies.

“He caught so many koura I had to tell him to stop, before the taniwha punished us for being greedy.

“On Saturday my cousin Rose, who’s having her first mokopuna next month, was getting married, so I invited the pakeha and his wife to the wedding. They came and brought some sheets and towels for Rose and her new husband. The pakeha gave a speech saying ‘he thoughtWaipiroBaymust be the best place on earth to live.’

“Strangely, I really liked those pakeha fullas; they weren’t like I expected. I hope they’ll come and stay on Auntie’s farmland again. I told Auntie Rima, Hey, pakeha aren’t so different after all; really they’re just like us. Tahi, she said, you’re primo.”

 

 

Ruatoria, Summer, 1988:

“Hey, mum,” I asked. “What’s the meaning of racial prejudice?”

“It means you don’t like people who are different from yourselves,” she replied.

“Like we don’t like Maoris, ‘cos they’re dole bludgers who bash their children, have Mohawk haircuts, weird tattoos, and belong to gangs that deal in drugs?”

Yeah, like, look at those scruffy-looking kids with snotty noses playing outside the church. Their parents look like they’re probably leaders of the Mongrel Mob, because their faces are covered in moko. Some have missing teeth and they’re smoking skinny cigarettes, drinking beer, and laughing and singing.

“Mum just laughed and said, Aroha, you’re priceless.”

 

 

“I’m twelve years old and my name is Aroha - I don’t like it! Mum says the reason I have a Maori name is because of where I began life.

“Mum and Dad have brought us to visit the East Coast, ‘cos Grandad and Nana used to live there before I was born. My little sister, brother and I wish we were back inChristchurch, ‘cos everyone here is brown and, like, they all look at us in a funny, scary kind of way.

“Today we are at something called a karakia* for the just rebuilt, beautiful Ruakokora church. Our family are the only white people here. We kid’s are really scared, but dad just said, ‘Harden up, that’s what Maori people must feel like when they come to the city to live amongst us pakeha.’

“Before the adults started drinking and singing a minister came and made long speeches in Maori, then all of the Maoris sang some beautiful songs that sounded like church hymns.

“Afterwards the old Maori men made long speeches in their own language. I don’t know what they said, but it made some of those scary-looking young men with tattoos cry like babies. Mum said that’s because they’d lived in the city so long, they couldn’t understand their own language any more and were ashamed they couldn’t reply. She said it was really touching.

“After the speeches, we were all allowed to party. Mum and Dad joined in the singing, while we joined the scary-looking Maori kids. Some of them called us white honkies and said, like, they were planning to eat us. We ran back to mum and dad terrified and crying, but they laughed at us and said, Well, we are white honkies. Anyway Maori are not allowed to eat people anymore, so you just tell them your dad’s friend is the big rangatira* who’ll punish them severely if they harm a hair on your heads.”

When we went back and told them that, they all laughed and said, Hey, pakeha, if you are friends of the rangatira, you’re hapu* and you’re our friends.

“Strangely I really liked those Maori kids. They weren’t like I expected and I’d like some of them to come and stay in our house next summer.

I told mum, Hey, Maoris aren’t so different after all; really, they’re just like us.

“Aroha, she said, you’re priceless.”

 

 

*NOTES

 

waipiro       bad water, i.e. alcohol

taniwha       sea monsters

hangi          feast

tangi           funeral

whenua      land

kai               food

mana          status, power or prestige

koura          crayfish

karakia       prayer, or prayers

rangatira     leader, chief

hapu           family, clan

 

 

 

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