[M. C. Escher: Self-portrait]


This is an anthology of autobiographical and biographical writing contributed by students in Stage 2/3 Life Writing at Massey University's Albany Campus (Auckland, New Zealand).

Each piece of work is copyright to its respective author, but I'm sure they would welcome any constructive feedback or suggestions you have.

There's a "comments" section at the foot of every page.






Print Anthologies:



Aroha Te Whata (2013)

[Primo Levi: Shema]

Journal Entries

[Marcel Proust (1900)]

3rd-4th March: If This is a Man by Primo Levi and Marcel Proust’s Swann’s WayFirst Impressions

During my earliest reading of If This is a Man I was struck (as I always am by stories that emerge from the tragic events of the Holocaust) by how severely the victims suffered, not to mention the callous brutality of the perpetrators. Levi suggests the need for a new language; one that can adequately express what the prisoners in Auschwitz felt. For example, the difference between my, “I’m cold” that prompts me to reach for a sweater, versus the bitter cold that Levi must have felt in the snow and wind of the concentration camp. I found his theory concerning the limitations of language to carry with it profound merit. It demonstrates the role that individual perception plays in distorting how we relate to the stories of others and shows that our own world view or bias can re-shape them.

This, I feel, is a major limitation of life writing or, for that matter, writing and communication in general. Certainly such painful memories cannot be fully understood by someone like me who can barely attempt to imagine such suffering. However these limitations do not take away my ability to feel empathy or appreciate the lessons offered.

Swann’s Way by Proust seems by contrast to concern itself with far more trivial matters. In class today this reading received what was, in my opinion, a rather unwarranted negative review. I just found it to be so beautiful that I was compelled to put up my hand in defence of poor old Marcel.

His story had value, not because of its deep compelling stimulus, but because it was so sublimely simple. The image of a paper flower that reveals itself in a bowl of water is a powerful metaphor for how memory can bloom with even the smallest provocation. Essentially the story hinges on a single moment, on a mouthful of tea and cake. Proust’s memory of Combray is reawakened in this moment, “the whole of Combray and its surrounding, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea” (51). I enjoy how Proust describes the moment of bliss and, “exquisite pleasure” that occurs prior to the unveiling of memory. I hope to continue following this line of enquiry. What is it about savouring the present moment that is so important to preserving memory?

[Virginia Woolf (1937)]

10th-11th March: A Sketch of the past by Virginia Woolf – First Impressions

First and foremost, Woolf demonstrates her understanding that time and memories are inextricably linked. She cites the “unhappy case” of Lady Strachey who put off writing her memoirs until she was too old to remember them and the recollections of her long life were ironically short.

Like Proust, Woolf acknowledges the role that moments of rapture and ecstasy have in preserving memory. The highly sensual memories of her childhood are heightened in colour and sound and according to her these memories can be more real and vibrant than the present, which is so often lived unconsciously in what she refers to as ‘non-being’. The exceptional, whether these are life changing events, or simple moments of rapture, are what find their way into life writing. These memories are etched so vividly in our minds that remembering them is like living them over again and again.

The down side is of course realising later how much we add to these memories over time, often unable to tell the memory apart from the embellishments we have added. I love how Woolf colours her memories; “semi-transparent…showing the light through, but not giving a clear outline” (74). She recognises that memories are only an impression of the actual event. Perhaps what matters more is what we have been able to learn from them; both about ourselves and others.

The most powerful thing that I have learnt from reading this extract is the healing quality that life writing has in providing catharsis. Woolf does not conceal that, “many of these moments [bring] with them a peculiar horror and physical collapse” (81) and she openly shares her own painful memories of shame and sexual abuse. Putting pen to paper helps to make sense of past hurts and can take away the pain of memory. I am reminded of Primo Levi; there has to be an outlet for that kind of suffering, that abundance of grief, some way to purge the poison of it. Life Writing facilitates this process and edifies others at the same time.

17 March 2013 – General Musings

What makes a story great is the way it is able to capture and remake the raw material that life offers and its ability to connect to genuine feeling. No matter how far one ventures into fiction, into fantasy, there are visible real world connections to be made. No author can escape it; the world we inhabit and the influences that shape us will find a way of weaving into the fabric of our stories. Life writing merely cuts out the middle man and discourages the takeover of artistic license and imaginative flourish. Not to say that works of fiction are necessarily devoid of truth, they will often find it by a different road. It seems to me that life writing has the harder road, being confined by challenges unique to its form:

Memory can be altered, eroded by time, blurred

People’s lives can be painful; they may not want to remember

People lie about their lives sometimes unintentionally

Historical documents can appear impersonal and even contradict the memories of those involved.

[Anne Sexton (1928-1974)]

2nd April: Anne Sexton’s poem For My Lover Returning to His Wife

Today I read two very different accounts of this poem from an anonymous online source. One approach resembled my own and its analysis of the poem focuses on the roles of husband, wife and mistress. The narrative voice of the poem is from the perspective of the mistress and compares the reliable and solid figure of the wife with the fleeting and temporary presence of the mistress, “As for me, I am a watercolour. I wash off.” In this approach the Author Anne Sexton has a measure of distance from her writing. Rather than concern myself with how much is in fact autobiographical, I allow the characters to remain characters and understand the themes of the poem via that proxy.

The other approach is vastly different and draws on Sexton’s personal life to inform the meaning of the poem. In their opinion the poem is heavily influenced by Sexton’s own battle with depression, her relationship with her psychiatrist and her feminist sentiments. The writer insists that like the mistress in the poem Anne believes herself to be as insubstantial as a watercolour. In my opinion this is a bit of a stretch. But the opposing point of view certainly raises an interesting question; when fact and fiction collide how much should we allow the authors personal background to influence our reading of the text?

During his visit I discovered that the writer CK Stead had a fascinating way of dealing with this issue. He informed his audience that the poem would come in three parts. A third would be events from his real life; a third would be completely fictional and a third would come from the life of the poet Catullus, who functions also as a kind of alter ego for Stead. Ultimately the audience can never really be certain about what’s true and this offers the author a measure of protection. Not only does this distance allow the author some privacy but it also permits the reader to bring their own unique outlook and derive their own meaning alongside that which is expressed by the author.

8th -14th March: Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way and Virginia Woolf’s A Sketch of the pastFinal Thoughts

Today I went for a walk along the beach with my aunt and mother and there was a moment amid the catching up and general conversation that I looked out at the ocean and the sun bleeding through the heavens as it departed for the day with its spectacular display and froze. Like Virginia Woolf I was startled by the sudden shock of the moment. It was as though for a moment in time I became one with what I was seeing; I could peek out into the vastness of the universe and found myself staring back. It will be that beauty and that feeling that I will remember and even now I am at a loss as to what it was we were talking about at the time.

Both Woolf and Proust use life writing as a mirror through which they can see themselves more clearly and during the short amount of time I have been writing for the workshops I too can bear witness to its effectiveness in this role. I adore Proust’s observation, “that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself” (48) and Woolf declares beautifully, “we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself” (81).

Works Cited

Levi, Primo. If This is a Man and The Truce. Trans. Stuart Woolf. London: Abacus, 1971. 126-36

Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way. 1913. Trans. C. K. Scott-Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983. 48-51.

Sexton Anne. The Complete Poems. London: Faber, 1981. 188-89.

Woolf, Virginia. ‘A Sketch of the Past.’ Moments of Being. Ed Jeanne Schulkind. London: Grafton Books / Harper Collins, 1989. 72-83.

- Aroha Te Whata


Sue Wilson (2013)

[Oakley Hospital]

Childhood Lost:
Poem no. iv

Oakley Hospital
I had heard such terrible things
admission meant a bath by
brisk bulky nurses
scrubbing at my pain with actual brushes
trying to wash me away
tied up in bundle
in a white gown
thrown onto a bed like a
sack of spuds
how much will you give me for this sack of spuds
come on somebody make me an offer

The screaming bounced from wall to wall
as if they were playing catch
catch with their demons
no I don't want it
nor do I
the screaming continued both night and day

The room was cavernous
with floor to ceiling windows
a women's dormitory
with eyes gazing from every bed

You must be Alice
their eyes haunted me
twelve beds facing twelve beds
old and wrinkled faces
with childlike ribbons in their hair
lunatic smiles
endless laughter
and me
the only child
amongst these Queens of Diamonds
shine diamonds shine
but their shine had long been drugged out of them

I remember little I remained mute
I had no training for this
the queen in the bed next to the nurse
disturbed and dramatic
ran round and round
in and out of the toilet
mouth filled with tampons and water
a manifestation of distress not suicide
with all that glass in the windows
death could have been a doddle
the comfort of madness stirred all around me
they wanted to stroke me
a toy somewhere between a pet and a doll
someone was screaming like a wild thing
and thrown in a padded cell
for disturbing the Queens' quiet madness

It seemed like forever I lay in that room
banging my head against the walls
feeling nothing was abominable
seeing just white was worse
needing something sharp I needed to feel
however this rabbit hole had no exit
and here I had to stay

[Children in a Waiting Room (Ramadi, 2009)]

Childhood Lost:
Poem no. vii

I helped out in the psychopedic ward
where children less than perfect
were placed at birth
the older mongoloids frightened me
the littlest was a favourite
in a rickety pushchair
I walked him to the only shop
for miles around
chocolate for the nameless one
nothing for me
he slurped at his chocolate
and grinned from ear to ear
back in the ward
I washed him
changed him
and put down him in his cot to sleep
happy little man

my other treasure was Stephen
age seven
chattered away
talked about cowboys and things
things that his mother knew nothing about
doctors thought it better that way
he suffered from Spina Bifida
hydrocephalic as hell
his giant head was supported
by his tiny hands
in turn supported by elbows
on a large cushion
he assumed this position for much of the day
I liked him and told him funny stories
he laughed till his huge head ached
so I kissed him and left him to rest
with my hand on his head
I remember saying these words
when I grow up I want a little boy just like you

- Sue Wilson


Alex Duval (2013)

Tonight he is impeccable. Grey French cuffs visible the perfect half inch under a slim black jacket, oxfords well polished, he could now enjoy the comforting embrace of a skin of perfect fit. Carefully unbuttoning the waistcoat he made a final survey of the face in the mirror, a sallow hard face accentuated by his refusal to wear glasses. Combined with his combed black hair it gave him a severe countenance that pleased him immensely. A customary glance at his watch, it was time to be on his way; a long ordeal lay ahead, promises had been made so despite his lassitude his course was set.

First he had to meet a man. It was dark outside, daylight saving had ended and the nights had since grown cold and a brisk chill wind was gathering. From a lined waistcoat pocket he produces a thin silver case; a cigarette soon lit, its warmth and calm begin to envelope him, his resolve steadying. On reaching the bottom of the steep driveway he turns to glance back towards the house. It is not an attractive home in the architectural vein, a construct of the late seventies like most of the homes surrounding it, yet it sits with a certain dignified air upon its hill. Warm yellow light emanates from the living room on the second storey, where his parents will be watching television while enjoying bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, unaware of his departure. A more comfortable place to weather this night couldn’t have been wished for and he was sorry to be leaving it behind.

That wasn’t to suggest he didn’t enjoy these evenings. On many nights he could be found walking this same path, a route that would normally lead him well past the bus stop and through the local reserve. When dressed warmly and on the move he had always appreciated the time to organise his thoughts and on this night apart from the few cars that passed he was a solitary figure. The only sounds above the ever present drone of cars in the distance were the neighbourhoods abundant trees being shaken by the wind and the rhythmic sound of his cleats tapping on the footpath; a perfect night to be left to oneself. As he walked he drew from his cigarette in time with the violent gusts, making sure it wouldn’t extinguish, its tip flaring briefly a vivid orange. He followed the walkway, serpentine down through the valley bottom, the path following a storm water canal, its far bank lined with willows. In this dark and frigid place he stopped; contemplating returning home, he was still unsure of why he should vacillate on such a trivial matter but today his mood had been foul. However promises had been made and the bus stop now lay only a short distance; he hoped it would be empty.

As he rejoins the road and walks the hill up towards the stop, he can already hear raucous laughter ahead. Feeling his fingers begin to burn, he flicks the butt onto the street and glances up at the shelter ahead. Defined under the sickly yellow light of a street lamp are the silhouettes of three sitting figures; his unease grew. When he draws near the shelter’s glass wall, their voices lower and he gives its contents a furtive examination; three young men, relaxed and at ease. He can hear hip- hop being played from an undersized speaker, the music sounding sharp and distorted, the base causing the speaker to crackle rhythmically. In appearance the young men are nothing like him; in contrast to his thin face and fine features, the young men all possess round simple faces festooned with poorly trimmed attempts at beards. Similarly their stout bodies, clad in loose un-ironed shirts and blue jeans stand in marked contrast to his slender six foot one frame, a slightness accentuated by his close fitting suit. After completing his appraisal he decides to remain standing outside as he knows their kind well. Simple young men, boisterous, gregarious, and inane; the best he can wish for is to be ignored. As his hand begins its search for another cigarette his hopes are promptly dashed.

“You going to town bro?” all three are now looking in his direction.

“No just Takapuna” he knows the question he is about to be asked, the fine case suddenly a great weight in his hand.

“Got some smokes bro?” A different voice this time, a voice sounding as equally uncouth as the first; Doltish laughter follows from his companions.

This was one of the very few times he regretted his habit. Why should he provide a cigarette to any one of them let alone all three? They were nothing to him; if they could all quietly expire where they sit he would be quite content; it would be no great loss. There were however three of them and it is never advisable to start an evening with an altercation. He approaches the opening into the shelter and slides from his case three cigarettes; a small price to purchase safety and perhaps with luck isolation. He loathes them as he holds forward his toll; his misgiving justified as three greedy hands in cheap shirt sleeves quickly snatch their prize. He turns and leaves, returning to stand close beside the shelter.

“Thanks bro” more laughter, then quiet as they enjoy their spoils.

His watch now shows eight o’clock; the bus is only five minutes distant and from his rendezvous still no word. A few cars pass by, bored looking drivers probably on their way home. He envies them. The three boys in the shelter continue talking loquaciously, every sentence punctuated repeatedly with ‘bro’. He shouldn’t have given them the cigarettes; he’s the victim of rapine, but was there really violence involved, was there really even the threat of violence, the three hardy appear bellicose. He knows he is merely the victim of a timorous nature; a steadier man would have denied them. He’s reaching for a cigarette to alleviate his gloom when his pocket vibrates. Upon checking his phone there is a message from Daniel ‘Be there in two’. So will the bus he fears.

“So where you going bro, going somewhere flash ay” A question asked in a heavy Afrikaans accent. The cigarettes hadn’t even bought him quiet; such a waste.

“Taka” he replies languidly. “Just Taka”

“Don’t sound too excited there, you should come in here bro. We’re all going to Taka, lots of girls there, ay?” The three of them laugh. “Cities too expensive, full of pricks, ay, we’re all gonna find ourselves some girls; lots of girls in Taka.” More laughter follows.

He doesn’t reply although he thinks he may have misjudged them, they seem rather harmless, simple, but harmless.

“What bar you going to anyway bro?” asks the young man with the Afrikaans accent. “You gonna find yourself a girl? Dressed to impress ay, you should work from a magazine bro, get lots of free stuff” the others laugh and voice their approval. “We’re all going to Toto’s, lots of hot girls at Toto’s, you should come bro, we’ll hook you up, find you a nice girl.”

“Not tonight thanks, maybe another time” he replies, still hoping that they will soon lose interest in him.

“You don’t want a girl bro?” asks a different voice.

“Don’t see the point on a night like this; vows made in storms...” he replies gesturing at the trees across the road being whipped by the wind.

To his relief no more questions are asked, the three boys not proving to be as totally unreceptive as feared. Leaning back against the shelter’s glass wall he contemplates giving Henry a call. He would have been quite content to have been left in the family home on this evening. Videogames and solitude were far preferable to this; whatever ‘this’ was. What did he want from the evening? He didn’t want a girl, of that he was now certain, and he was wary of those who had requested his company. He should have stayed at home; there was nothing this night could tempt him with. As he debates abandoning the endeavour entirely, a black car pulls up across from the stop, an immaculate old BMW sedan. He watches as from the passenger door steps a besuited young man who hurriedly makes his way across the road towards the stop.

“Alex, bus been yet?” he looks rushed, and is still adjusting buttons and pockets on his jacket. Daniel is thoroughly handsome with a very likable trustworthy face and he carries himself in that confident manner which suggests he is fully aware of his charms.

“No, just in time” Alex replies, again checking his watch, the evening’s course now determined.

“Been waiting long?”

“No not really. Busy week?” the palaver now unavoidable.

“No just Uni, assignments due soon; you?” Dan asks with his ever easy smile

“Work; just work”

A lie of convenience as in truth he had no job, and even less desire to discuss his current circumstances. A week prior he had been dismissed and he still wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that. He had loathed his lowly position but had never been inclined to assert himself in any more strenuous way. Even a mundane job had at very least given him some vindication for getting up most mornings. As for the finances, a welfare benefit would go a long way towards covering his necessary expenses; it is money that at least deserves to be squandered. If the state is prepared to fiscally support his faineancy it deserves it; he will endeavour to make sure every cent to the last is squandered.

He hears the familiar low whine of an approaching bus, the long silences as it changes gear as it begins its climb up the road. The other young men in the shelter have heard it too and are jostling to stand beside the curb. On seeing the bus cresting the final rise his reverie dissipates. Looking to Dan he sees that he is still oblivious to the incoming bus, all his attention given to his phone. The bus pulls into the stop, bringing with it the familiar smell of diesel, warm yellow light emanating from its almost vacant interior, it looks inviting. The three young men are quickly onboard, joking amongst themselves as they pay the driver before predictably heading for the back of the bus.

Tapping Dan on the shoulder he boards the bus, “Two to Taka please”, handing the driver a twenty dollar note. The driver, old and overweight, looks irritated as he works out the change. Alex can’t help but wonder if it’s personal. The bus is only lightly loaded and he takes a seat around the middle with Dan taking the seat in front. Moments later there is a hiss of compressed air from the doors, the engine revs rise and they are on their way.

“So, how did you and Henry become chummy anyhow?” Dan has turned in his seat, his phone momentarily forgotten.

“You invited him to come along to your nineteenth; I ended up chatting to him in one of the bars along the Viaduct”

He omits the specifics of how they met although he is fairly certain that details of the meeting will be investigated in due course. Looking through his reflection in the bus’s large window he sees more homes similar to his own, lights on behind curtains and not a person in sight; suburbia, warm quiet, and inoffensive. He also sees the bright rectangle of light reflected from Dan’s phone and is reminded to check his own. One message from Henry, he’ll be in Taka in fifteen minutes.

“Who else was there, anyone I know?” asks Dan abruptly, the question coming across as rather comical.

”Who do you know?” he replies, at odds with the breadth of the question.

“Was there that girl, Sarah, tall brunette, has a little Asian friend?” Dan further elaborates.

He pauses a few seconds, “Yes, I think so, pretty thing, studies coms at AUT?”

“Sounds like her. I think I’m going to ask her out”

‘Ask her out’; what he intends is nothing of the sort. He wants to take her home and fuck her, nothing more. As of late it has become rather a habit of his. It’s difficult to imagine that he had once possessed a girlfriend of three years. “Think she’ll go for you?”

Dan’s face lights up with a quick smile, “Of course”.

The rest of the journey passes quickly. He amuses himself listening to the young men at the back of the bus discussing the night’s potential conquests. At least they are honest about their intentions he supposes; unlike Daniel. He still can’t form a coherent opinion of him; he had changed so much from the boy he had known at high school. He was still as convivial as ever, yet a vicious streak had taken root since his break up six months prior. He had accepted the breakup like a stoic, but now seemed to partake in few pastimes beyond venery. Worse still, his constant successes had lead to him realising that he was in possession of extremely good looks and an affable demeanour. These attributes had allowed him to become ever more particular in his choice of company and he hadn’t many friends left.

With the bus approaching Takapuna, Dan again turns in his seat, the same question still obviously on his mind.“So you and Henry, your friends now? When did you catch up with him last?”

He decides to humour him otherwise Dan will keep asking all night. “I met him in a bar on Hobson Street, a few weeks back; he ended up buying me dinner.”

Dan is taken aback and looks lost for words. “Are you...” he looks uneasy.

“What, am I what?” He’s enjoying his friends obvious discomfort, it’s is not often he possess the upper hand.

“But you hooked up with..., what was her name, only a while back didn’t you? Someone told me you did,’re fucking with me aren’t you?”

“Am I what? Anyway that’s how I met Henry. Happy?”

He was getting a strange pleasure watching Dan so taken aback. He would see how long he could play this one out; it should be good for a few laughs at his expense.

“Look Alex, are you serious, you and Henry? I don’t care or anything. My brother went to school with him you know, he’s a smart guy. Did you really go out for dinner with him?”

He hesitates, not sure if he should push the joke further. “Yeah, he took me and a few others out for dinner for his birthday, I went with Liz, didn’t realise she had such penchant for violence though, kept hitting me and stealing my food. Capricious little thing”

“Fuck you”, replies Dan. “Liz thinks you’re a right Charlie Ronce as well. Said you cut and run on her last week. She liked you you know, she was pretty pissed, you can’t just keep playing with people; they’ll get the wrong idea.”

He decides to change the subject. “Well such is life. Anyhow Henry should be in Taka waiting for us by now.” Being reminded of Liz is the last thing he wanted tonight. He recalled being so certain he wanted her that evening a week prior. With a head clouded by drink and courage braced, he had waited till she was heading outside the bar to have a smoke before putting his arm around her slim waist and pushing her against the wall. She had squealed and struggled briefly before giving in and returning the kiss, putting her arms around his waist and pulling him in closer as she did so. When they had heard voices approaching they had quickly broken apart, and she had giggled and made great play of looking nonchalant while fumbling for a cigarette. He had been ready to lead her home that night, he had wanted her so desperately, but then over the evening’s course his courage had simply fallen away. While buying drinks he could see her talking to all these assertive young people, with their easy smiles and confident manners, and he knew he couldn’t compete. They made it all look so effortless. From the three beastly young men at the back of the bus, through to the charming Daniel, and even Henry, they all had a certain joie de vivre, an attractiveness that he couldn’t emulate. While he knew that woman were interested in him, if only because of characteristic high state of dress and groom, he was too fragile and taciturn to ever be a ladies’ man. Truth was that she was as happy chatting with any of the other young men in the bar as she was him, what could he offer that they couldn’t, a discourse on Dostoevsky?

“Our stop”, interrupts Dan, a buzzer sounding, the bus already downshifting as it approaches the stop.

On stepping off the bus, he is hit by the evening’s chill, his breath fogging. He can only pity the young women whom must spend such nights milling about in skirts and heels. Not that there are many about to be seen, Takapuna is quiet and the distant din of it bars can only be heard over the ever present drone of boyracer’s loud exhausts and rising winds. He checks his phone and sees one message from Henry ‘Waiting in the car park across the road from stop. Mine is Audi. Make sure your shoes are clean. Hope you don’t mind a squeeze’. He wonders who else is in the car; Henry is popular.

After crossing the street with Dan he sees a large black Audi sedan in a dark corner of the car park, a group of figures surrounding it with little orange lights dancing about their heads. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the silver case, flicking it open he offers a cigarette to Dan, who quickly accepts, before taking one for himself; he sees he’s almost out. As they approach the group he can make out Henry’s figure, tall and well built, and the slender figure of a woman wearing a long coat. It’s the third figure that spooks him, a figure that is noticeably shorter than the other two, he feels the bile rising in his throat; Henry has brought Liz.

“Hurry up you two”, yells Henry in his commanding voice. “It’s fucking freezing out here.”

He should have stayed at home. He’s not sure how he can deal with her in the close confines of a car, he had assumed their paths may cross over the evening, but he planned to evade her to the best of his considerable ability. Now there would be nowhere to run. Still she must have known he was coming, so maybe she doesn’t harbour any resent, he had never seen a spiteful side to her character. Yet as they approach the group he does his best to avoid her gaze, she looks skittish and keeps twisting strands of her long dark hair round her fingers.

“Alex, Dan, this is Holly”, says Henry gesturing at the tall long haired blond in the rather handsome tan coat. Like Henry she looks to be in her late twenties, and he recalls hearing her name mentioned in a few stories. Sweeping his arm Henry continues, “And Holly this dapper young man here is Alex, who I picked up in a bar, and this here is Daniel, who I have know a good while longer”.

With introductions made, the group’s falls into small talk as cigarettes are finished. Maybe things would turn out; everybody seemed to be on good terms and Liz had even taken a place beside him. Perhaps there was no harm done. Henry is in fine form, his loquacious manner keeping the girls amused, and Dan seems to be enthralled with Holly. Watching them it reminds him of a student chatting up a teacher, with Holly appearing so elegantly composed in contrast to Dan’s optimistic advances. He notices Henry leaving the group to stand looking at a car.

“Alex come here look at this” gesturing at the car in front. “Do you know what this is?”

Henry knows full well what car it is. German cars are a fondness of his, as evident by his spending of what must have been a year’s salary on an Audi. “Alpina B3 from the look of it.”

Henry doesn’t reply, a look of consternation coming over his soft featured face. Putting his hands behind his back he turn around pretends to examine the car more closely. After a long thirty seconds he turns back. “So Alex, none of my business you’ll understand, but you and the lovely Liz, you having a fight over something? You wouldn’t know it but she’s pretty pissed, heard her talking to Holly earlier” Henry pauses to think before continuing, “Do you like her?”

“Holly? She seems nice, a rather lovely creature, old friend?”

“Liz. She liked you you know, she’s a nice girl; you could do worse. Hell if I were that way inclined I’d bed her”

“And you were so inclined you’re free to have her. Nothing to do with me, not even sure if she’s what I wanted”

For the first time he can recall Henry looks angry if only momentarily. “For fucks sake, what do you want? We bought you along to cheer you up so what’s the matter with you? You’re being...what’s a word you’d like...supercilious. Make up with her and take her home, try to get her into bed; it would do you the world of good. Just chin up, tonight’ll be fun; I’ll ply you with alcohol and might even attempt another pass if I find you alone” Henry winks and begins walking back towards the group.

It’s warm inside the Audi which still posses the harsh chemical smell of a new car. Once he has checked that everyone has their seatbelts on Henry turns the key and the car rumbles into life with a baritone growl. Ever the showman he can’t resist redlining the engine while leaving the car par and young men walking nearby turn and cheer. Soon they’re on the motorway approaching the Harbour Bridge; there’s no going back now.

- Alex Duval


Gillian Gilbride (2012)

[Air Hostess]

Fear and Flying

‘Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. The captain has asked that everyone remain seated for the duration of the flight. This is due to the severe turbulence we are experiencing.’

The purser followed her announcement by adding that there would also be no meal service. This was a first. The captain-to-cabin conference call chimed in the cabin. This was another first. Sitting alone by the third right aircraft door, I picked up the interphone.

The captain’s voice boomed down the line. He told us we were indeed flying through a bad storm and that none of us crew were to leave our jump seats for the entire flight. Once he had gained our acknowledgement, he clicked off. The interphones in the cabin all followed. I needed both my hands to secure the door three interphone back in its place - my hands had begun to shake.

We were flying from Male to Colombo, a flight of less than two hours. I had been cabin crew for less than two months.

The jump seat of the third right door faces the aft of the plane and is in direct view of the passengers sitting in the rear of economy. It was a night flight and fortunately for me many of the passengers were drifting off to sleep. Others had become engrossed in the entertainment system and seemed largely un-phased by both the purser’s PA and the turbulence.

Sitting alone by the aircraft door, the words bad and severe were ballooning in my head. The purser had used the word severe and the captain, bad. Which was it? What was the difference?

My hands were now sweaty and clammy. With every shake of the plane, I gripped my fingers tighter underneath the jump seat. I checked and re-checked my seatbelt. There were four buckles to go in. Had they all gone in right? The more fanatically I gripped the seat, the more unsettled I became. How could this small retractable chair with its plastic covering, which was pealing in some sections, protect me from gravity and force? I looked down into the dark cabin, the exit pathways illuminated by floor lighting and ceiling markers. Here were all these human bodies, muscle and matter strapped into seats speeding into a storm at thirty thousand feet.

The safety equipment and the aircraft interior began to look flimsy and futile. I thought that we should all be sitting in individual, indestructible steel pods, or not flying at all.

I started to think of my own mortality and what it might feel like to die? What would it feel like to have the plane smash into the ground, and my body smashed and exploded into pieces? What would that feel like?

I started to formulate my resignation. This had all been a great mistake. How could I have put my fragile life in this dangerous combustible contraption? I imagined myself at the hotel, asking the purser and captain if I could have a quiet word, and then simply telling them I would not be getting back on the plane. I would stay in Colombo and organise a boat back. Yes, I would just have to do that. What could they say really? Surely lots of people must have gone through the training and then changed their minds? There was that girl Jane. She resigned after her first flight - six weeks of intensive training, a flight to Osaka; then back home to Australia and a desk job. Yes, I assured myself, I could do that too.

The passengers directly in front of me were thankfully asleep with their legs outstretched and their eye shades on. I envied their indifference. We were in the same vessel, the same storm, so why were my toes electrified, my eyes strained and theirs not? I wondered if they perhaps were afraid but just didn’t show it.

It didn’t help that I was sitting backwards. Every time the plane dropped in altitude I’d hold my breath until we jolted again and levelled out. Those drops felt heavy and long but they probably weren’t even a second. How cruel fear can be? It manipulates time in such a way so that just at the precise moment where we want time to move quickly, it slows right down and forces us to experience every millisecond and each sensation.

I thought of how frightening it was to drop for just a second. But what if that drop was extended to ten seconds, or more? I wondered if I would I cope.

Mini Mouse

I remembered back to my pet mouse Mini. She was the first pet I had chosen and bought myself. She was pretty and slim, not like those scary lab rats with red eyes. She had a black and white coat and when I touched her head, her fur felt soft and springy. Sometimes I would stroke her back and watch her little organs pulsating in her belly. But I couldn’t hold her. I was afraid to touch her feet and tail. I was afraid that the tail might move on my hand, or that the feet might have fingernails. I felt immensely bad about my aversion to her, but that scaly texture and fleshy colour, I couldn’t do it. So Mini lived in a cage at my friend’s house with her pet mouse.

On one of my visits as my friend welcomed me in, I noticed her face was different. It seemed contorted to convey guilt or an apology. She announced to me that Mini had died. ‘It was the cat.’ Before I could picture the carnage, she elaborated explaining that the cat hadn’t got Mini; Mini was running loose when she saw the cat. She saw the cat, froze and died.

My friend retrieved a small box from the other room, and lying on a bed of tissues was the mouse. It was still intact and stiff in its stride. It had died mid-action. The feet spanned out like thin small fingers reaching. I quickly looked away and my friend put the lid back on the box.

‘We’ll have a funeral for her,’ my friend proposed and we set about to find a good spot in the garden. ‘Make sure you dig deep,’ her mother called out from the kitchen, ‘so the dogs don’t get it.’

Poor Mini was lowered into the earth and covered up with soil. We chose some flowers and pressed them into the burial mound.

This was the first time I realised it was possible to die from fear. Not to die from the physical inflictions of the threating situation, but to simply die from the sheer terror that those possibilities might actualise. It dawned on me that the fear that precedes those terrifying life or death situations can be more deadly than the life or death situation itself.

I’ve worried since whether the same might be true for humans. Perhaps my fear in a threatening situation could be so great that I wouldn’t even need to wait for the lion to sink its teeth into me, or for my body to smash into the ground; the sheer sight of the lion, or the plummet from the sky would be enough.

We touched down safely into Colombo and I put on my best flight attendant smile. I apologised about the lack of service and humoured the passengers as they disembarked, ‘Was a bit bumpy wasn’t it?’

In Colombo we drank margaritas at the pool, visited temples in Kandy, dined with the flight deck and fed bunches of small bananas to pushy elephants. The crew were nonchalant about the turbulence, ‘Was great to not do a service!’

So when it was time to head back to Dubai, the events of the previous sector had sunk somewhat in their significance and I got back on the plane.

To Fly or Not to Fly?

My flatmate in Dubai was also cabin crew, and had grown up on a farm in Australia. She told me that when she was out in the garden, she would watch the aeroplanes cross the sky above her, and knew then that she wanted to fly. Unlike my flatmate, I had no such childhood dream propelling me to Dubai. My curiosity in flying had stemmed purely from dissatisfaction with my current job. And it took some time for the notion of me flying to move from the realm of the ridiculous to the realm of my reality.

I remember exercising my confusion one weekend by circling the Mall of the Emirates. My friends were talking to me from the other end of the line; from the other end of the world. As I listened, I passed by the indoor ski-field where giddy tourists in red and blue bobbed down the slopes. I walked alongside women in abayas and men in dish dashes. There were women in saris, men in jandals, and large Arab families followed by Filipino nannies manoeuvring prams overloaded with shopping bags. The chaotic mall arena was a smorgasbord of different cultures winding their way around me. My friends passed the phone between them and each in their own way encouraged me to give flying a go. I looked at the people around me, and listened to my friends on the phone. What I had thought was too big, too intangible and too outlandish shrunk in the solace of that phone call. The idea of travelling the world and experiencing new cultures became tangible and linear. It was not some farfetched notion to be shafted for the future, it was already in motion, already mapped out; all I needed to do was just keep moving forward.

Elimination Day

In a few short weeks I was at the airline open day. I arrived there early in the morning, stiff in my business attire and stood around for half an hour shuffling my papers and fidgeting with my hair. Eighty other interviewees filled the airline’s training lobby and the discernible ‘sizing up’ of one another began. We were directed into a large auditorium and had our height measured by the stage. The hands that could not reach the marked line on the wall were handed a folded slip of paper. The zealous ones who jumped to reach the marked line also received a slip of paper. The women who wore pants and the women who wore their hair down all received slips of paper.

Speeches were given and a video was shown. Formations of glamorous flight attendants swooped across the screen. Synchronised in stride with their white scarves billowing, they spread out like the wings of an aircraft and wheeled their suitcases across departure halls, hotel lobbies and airfields across the globe.

After the video, a few of the interviewees asked a question or two. Then there was a break for tea and coffee and mingling outside. A man in a white dish dash circled around. He carried a clipboard, made notes and smiled politely. ‘It’s like an American Idol elimination!’ one of the girls whispered to me.

The afternoon was filled by group discussions, problem-solving exercises, psychological tests, knowledge tests and English tests; more folded slips of paper and more tears.

At the end of the elimination, eighty interviewees had been whittled down to just four. None of us had received folded slips of paper to saying we hadn’t made it through.

Taking Off

My new life took off and I was carried along by the momentum of it all. I moved into an apartment on the 44th floor of a building on Dubai’s famous Sheikh Zayed Road. I began six weeks of intensive training and suddenly began talking a new lingo of First Aid terminology, country airport codes and aircraft configurations. I learnt to fight fires, restrain passengers and at night I memorised safety drills and the bases of liqueurs. In the space of a few weeks I had a new circle of friends from countries I’d hardly heard of, like Bulgaria, Bolivia and Ghana, and was travelling to distant places like Casablanca and Frankfurt.

When I saw my reflection in hotel mirrors and airport sliding doors, I was sometimes startled by the person looking back at me. I had morphed into one of those women I had seen in that video during the open day. I wore a uniform and wheeled around a cabin bag. Each day I wore my hair in a bun. I would twist my ponytail over a donut and secure it with a hairnet, red scrunchy and hairspray. I wore lipstick to match the red trim on my skirt. I wore stockings, a name badge and a hat; and the hat had to sit, slightly tilted forward with the white sash, neatly drawn across. I began to fret about laddering my stockings, chipping my nails and talking with lipstick on my teeth. I watched my posture and learnt to fake a smile.

But despite appearances, my early days of flying presented me with many challenging situations. I’d had all the training and passed all the tests, but I still doubted whether I would really be able to cope. Long days of flying were followed by bouts of insomnia, jet lag and fatigue. I freaked out when passengers fainted, became irate or said they were sick. And there were still those times during turbulence, where I would be mid-cabin, mid-service, even mid-sentence, and swearing to myself I would resign.

Galley Ghosts

When the aircraft entered the darkened half of the hemisphere crew would often congregate in the galleys. These night flights had all the makings of a campsite. The cabin would be quiet and the passengers all asleep…nothing but the hum of the aircraft engine. Upturned empty carts and containers would be cushioned with spare pillows to form little seats. We would sit close to each other caving our bodies around hot drinks. The galley chillers made us shiver, but so did the fatigue.

Blue toned cabin lights would spread an eerie sphere around us; the pitch black night looking in through small cabin windows like a grimacing guest. We’d stockpile sugary food to help keep us awake and then lean forward to listen and share stories.

There were many circulating ghost stories, apparent haunted crew bunks, haunted hotels and haunted aircraft. There was an infamous story of a crew member who found an elderly female passenger in the crew rest area looking white and pale. The crew member asked for her name and, on finding the last name in the passenger list, approached the woman’s husband who was sitting in the cabin. She said something to the effect of ‘your wife is in the crew rest area and looks unwell,’ to which he is said to have replied ‘my wife is dead, and in a coffin in the cargo.’

Stories like this were especially spooky when, as so often happened at the story’s climax, a call bell would chime from the silence of the cabin and we’d all jump, each reluctant to be the one to go check.

There were a number of stories like this one; where a body being carried in the cargo below would account for an apparition of the deceased in the cabin above. These stories may have been variations of just one original story which, through being retold so often, had multiplied into many. And, that original story may not have even been true. But that did not stop me from considering, on a number of occasions as I lay in the dark crew bunks, that the curtains were being moved by someone, and that the aircraft we were on was that plane.

I entertained many doubts and fears in my early flying days, until something happened on-board that put everything back into perspective; something great.

St Elmo’s Fire in the Cockpit

During a night flight over Africa, I went up to visit the flight deck as I often did and on closing the door behind me, one of the pilots said, ‘This is your lucky day.’ He switched on the seatbelt sign and told me it was going to be bumpy. I strapped in tight. The silence of the night was quickly broken by a deep crackling, popping sound, like live wire. ‘There it is,’ said the first officer. The black sky flickered and a blue, plasma-like sphere encircled us. It was almost theatrical, like a spot light on a stage illuminating the activity we couldn’t see going on in the dark.

Electric blue veins scattered across the sky. Erratic thin fingers scrambled up the windshields trying to get in. I remember at first feeling frightened. But as I took in the magnitude of the light in front of me, I felt as if I was in the presence of some great universal phenomenon. I remember wishing it wouldn’t stop and trying to look everywhere at once so I could see it all.

‘It’s St Elmo’s fire,’ the first officer informed me. I touched the windshield next to me and streaks of light converged to my finger as though I was conducting this mighty electric force to me. I drew my hand back and the streaks dispersed. But the magic was only momentary. The spot-light dimmed and the sky reverted back to its black pitch.

The pilots told me how St Elmo’s fire is a unique weather phenomenon occurring in areas where there are many thunderstorms. Atmospheric particles rip and emit light when the charges of an object like a plane disrupt the charges of the air, and the result can be quite spectacular.

St Elmo is the patron saint for sailors and the saint’s fire has lit up ships’ masts throughout history . The phenomenon has both frightened and inspired people and references of the ‘fire’ have been made by Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin and Shakespeare.[1]

Sitting in that small dark cockpit, thousands of feet high in the sky and witnessing this ageless and awe-inspiring phenomenon, I felt a seismic shift in myself. I emerged from the cockpit, feeling lighter. I relayed the occurrence of St Elmo’s fire to the crew in the gallery, but my descriptions must have failed as they seemed only mildly interested.

Growing up in South Africa there were many awe-inspiring thunderstorms. As a child they would both scare and excite me. The thunder would rumble and erupt in such a frightful way that even the dogs would be disturbed. I would cling to my parents. Dad would tell us stories of lightning travelling down telephone lines, giving people electric shocks. I imagined burning ears, and quickly added ‘never answer the phone in a storm’, to my growing list of storm rules.

During one particular storm our house was pounded by hailstones as big as tennis balls. I remember watching them fall from the sky and plummet into the pool. Little jets of white spray hopped around in the waves.

In the calm that followed, my sister and I took two yellow buckets and ventured outside. Our garden had been transformed. White icy balls covered the lawn. I thought it looked like snow. The dogs sniffed at the ice as we filled up our buckets.

When I witnessed St Elmo’s fire that night, I felt like I’d had a front row seat at a show for the universe. And I was struck with those feelings of child-like awe. The world was magnificent again; so expansive, so mysterious, so forceful. Seeing the much bigger picture changed my outlook on everything.

Touching Down

In the months that followed I found my rhythm in my new role. I became in sync with the aircraft, the crew and the lifestyle. My training kicked in at the right times and I found I could be assertive when I needed to be. Odd whirring engine noises, clinks in the galley and flashing lights no longer alarmed me. I even found myself consoling passengers who were scared of flying! I would share with them an analogy my mum told me; that ‘turbulence is just like driving over the bumps on a road,’ and I assured them we had well-trained drivers in the front seat.

My time flying presented me with many more ‘St-Elmo’ moments. I got to see the Himalayas from the cockpit, went to the Eiffel Tower, Red Square, Tiananmen Square, and climbed the Great Wall. I soaked up the world and all its offerings. The more of the world I experienced, the more I expanded my own horizons. I worried less about my fears and more about making the most of each moment.

Flying was transformational for me in many ways but most monumental was how it helped me to expand my mind.

1. Information from "St Elmo’s Fire." Wikipedia (Retrieved 29 May 2012).


Shannon Whelan (2012)

[Albany Orientation (2009)]

University Life

2008 March: First Move

I am in the kitchen where beside me stands a lonely jug, a cold cup of half drunk murky black coffee, a carton of milk, and thankfully a jar of coffee (my saviour), my desktop computer and chair. I sit here with the echoes of the empty house around me, my computer my only companion. It feels weird to be in the house with nothing in it. I feel isolated and alone. I have been moving all week and I am tired, my bones ache. My eyes need matchsticks to hold them open. I have been here nearly all night. I am in the middle of moving house, well actually to be fair, I have moved house but am ‘in between’ houses right now. Not quite moved into one yet fully moved out of the other. In the corner sits my cleaning gear bucket, mop, Ajax, Janola and rags. I have employed my friend for $60 to come in and clean. I just can’t do it. Physically, mentally it is too much to think about on top of everything else I need to sort out. There is this assignment weighing heavy on my mind, it has to be done. Work nearly finished, only 20 hours this week. Crap hours means less pay, but the joy of not having to try and fit in extra hours a relief. I will worry about money another day. Focus, focus, focus... must get the assignment finished.

I sit and stare out the ranch slider to the right of me. I have a fantastic view, down the hill overlooking the top of other houses to the estuary. It is a view I have never tired of, have spent many times staring out at. I watch the water, the movement and the people. This is not a time for reflection, as much as I want to. I will miss this view, this house. This life I led here. I am sad, I am leaving this place where my dreams were shattered but also where I started my degree in a quest to start a new life and new direction. It’s a beginning as well as an end. Farewell house.

2009 April: An assignment

The night is dark and it’s raining. A steady constant beat to which my wipers flick, flack, flick, flack against. The kids won’t stop talking in the back seat, another great night for them at Brownies. I listen with half an ear, but I am only listening enough to be able to make the appropriate noises so they believe I am hearing them. My brain is engaged elsewhere working at breakneck speed running down the list of things I need to get done tonight.

Find something to eat, cook it, what can I cook? We need a proper meal. Can I do a proper meal? What’s in the cupboard? Need these kids fed and into bed. Washing to be put on. Can that wait until tomorrow? No. Do tonight, hang tomorrow. Assignment to be done. No putting that off. Have I got the right angle for this-have I done enough research? Tomorrow Uni-by 10am, assignment printed, hand it in. Class at 12. Have to get some shopping; can I do that before I pick up from school? Pak n Save would be cheaper, I’m in Albany. It’s going to be a long night. Arggh I don’t want to write tonight. I have to. A constant monologue, it does not stop.

Pulling up to the factory, I can see Ian is still hard at it. As much as I like the man, it means a chat before I can open the door into our place. Sometimes it’s painful having to walk past him working to get inside our door. The kids bustle out. “Grab the bags,” I call out to them before they hit the door. With a look of disdain, their shoulders drop and back they come to the car, moaning all the way.

“We’re tired, do we have to?”


Past the fish tank down the hall and into the lounge, Ian not ‘have a chat’ tonight, thank god. The carpet looks dark and I realise there is something wrong. There is water ankle deep in the kitchen slash laundry slash storage room. I throw my bags down on the couch, “FUCK IT,” and collapse on the chair in tears. I can’t do this, not tonight, please god not tonight. It’s already 8pm. I have two kids to feed, myself to feed and an assignment due at 10am tomorrow morning.

My big girl gives me a hug “It’s ok mum, it’s only water.”

The child in me hits out, “No, no it’s not Caitlin. I have to feed you guys, I have to clean this up, and I have an assignment due. I’m shattered.” Inside my heart tears at her look of hurt, she was just trying to console me.

Pull yourself together Shan, get it together, sitting here acting like an adolescent ain’t going to fix this.

“Sorry Caitlin, I’m tired, I shouldn’t yell, you girls need to have something to eat and lend a hand cleaning up.” The girls nod in agreement and we set to. It takes 3 hours to fix this mess. The girls get towels for me, and move stuff I hand them. I spend the evening moving furniture and boxes, mopping up the water that doesn’t seem to want to go. Finally I send them to bed and I finish up around 11pm. I flop onto the couch, I haven’t eaten. My laptop sits accusingly by my side and reluctantly I open it up and get to work. At 4am, I finish, shoulders knotted, I stand up and stretch my back which creaks and clicks back into place. My eyes nearly closed I head off to bed.

2009 October: Pregnancy

The pregnancy test reads positive. CRAP CRAP CRAP. What the hell am I going to do? This is not on my plan. How the hell, what the hell, how the hell....??? Hormones working wonderfully, I cry.

Its financial suicide for me, I’m already struggling, no longer working at all. I’m relying on allowances to survive. I have no parents or family nearby, no money, and it is not in my plan, it is not meant to be. I’m on my own, I don’t know if I can do this, I’m a jumble of emotion and scared. I’m on my own with this.

I think about how I’m going to cope next year. 2010. I had planned on doing 6 papers 2010, another 6 2011 to graduate April 2012. Not going to happen now. Dates confirm baby is due right on exam time in 2010. I have to plan for this, how am I going to get through? Late nights, feeding baby. By myself. Can I do this? I CAN. I’m strong, everyone says so. I will manage, I always do. My internal dialogue runs continuously day and night, keeping me up while I try and remain focused on passing my papers. I discuss it with friends, they all say, “Take a break.” But I know-I just know if I take a break from Uni I will not go back. I will not continue it will take too long. I will continue. I will just have to extend it out that little bit further. I will not take a break. I will work through on a slightly different schedule. Am I a sucker for punishment?

2010 March: Kids

“Mum, can you help out at the school on Friday?” Oh god. What now?

“What is it love?”

“It’s the parent fun day”

“What time Friday does it start?”

“9.30” Oh hell, I am in class at 9.30. Why does it always have to be Friday?

“Honey, I’m so sorry, I can’t. I’m at Uni on Friday’s” I hate having to say this to my daughter. Her face was full of sunshine, and with my words it has filled with sorrow. My heart breaks, just a little. But I can’t see how I can do it. “What time does it finish?” Is there a compromise I can make here?

“There’s a shared lunch, so about 1.30pm AND we get to go home straight after if our parents want to take us.” Double crap. “Every one’s mum is coming AND some Dad’s too”, she pauses for a breath; “You missed the last one.” Pleading now, using the guilt.

"Weeelllll. I will be finished by 12. How about I stop at the bakery, get us something yummy for lunch and do the lunch part with you?” A bakery lunch, we don’t do that often, will she take the compromise, or will I spend the day feeling guilty?

“Awesome! Can I have a chocolate donut?”

“Of course!” She’s taken the food, over me! Should I be pleased that she understands my dilemma? Should I be happy there aren’t tears and sulks that I can’t be there earlier or should I be sad that she will take food over mum?

2010 July: A 2 month old baby

I am on top of this, I am. Devyn is waking about three times a night, I think? I don’t even know anymore. I am a zombie my brain is not comprehend the time or day of the week. Another assignment is due. I sit up and write while Devyn sleeps, I don’t have to try wake up to get her at her 1am feed. Stay up till her 4am feed, go to sleep at 4.30am and get up at 7am. Easy right? Get this assignment done. Tomorrow I need to start on Creative Writing assignment two. I CAN DO THIS!

After settling Devyn back in bed I take a break. Its 2pm. I stand outside in the cold night air. My hands wrapped around my hot coffee I take a deep breath and enjoy the quiet, the peace. This is my time, a chance to think and focus.

Where will this take me, is this all worth it? Should I take a break? I’m nearly half way through, nearly at the hump, once there it’s all downhill. End soon in sight. It still seems so so so far away. Can I make it? Should I give up?

2010 December: Sick

I have made it through this first year of baby and stayed doing my degree! Yah. I have been feeling down for months. I have had ongoing sinus issues with headaches and pain. I have been collapsing in a heap every time I do anything remotely energetic and oh so bloody tired.

Mum came up to stay in August. I had stupidly complained about my issues. “You’re always tired. I don’t understand why you’re always so tired.” “It’s not like you do anything.”

COUGH. YOU WHAT? Umm what is a baby, a 12 year old, a 10 year old and doing a degree??? WITH.NO.SUPPORT. Nothing? Whatever! Thanks for the support mum. I mean, REALLY?

Exams over, I have been feeling sufficiently sick for long enough to scrape the money together to get to the doctor. She decides to take tests and rings back in two days. “You’re run down. You have no iron, it is no wonder that you have been getting ill and feeling so tired.” Ahh, vindication! I’m actually ill, mum . The doctor carries’ on, oblivious to my internal ‘nah nah nah to you’ dance I have going on in my head directed at my mum. “You need iron tablets, antibiotics for your sinus’s,” and advises rest, help and time out. Ha. Ha. Ha.

“Family?” she asks.

“Mum lives a 7 hour drive away, Dad lives in Australia, there’s only me.” It’s me or no one.

2011 March: Money

It has been getting progressively harder to survive. Now not working and with no boarders, allowances cut. I’m struggling. Some weeks I can’t afford the petrol to get to Uni, but I have to. We just don’t go anywhere else if I need to drive there. My life has become take kids to school, go to Uni, come home. Stay home. No treats, not even a coffee at Uni.

Another bill arrives. I do something I have never done before in my life. I don’t open it and put it in the folder. Why open it and stress about something I cannot pay? Dumbarse. I can’t deal with this. I don’t even want to know anymore. I am stressing about money constantly, even my spiritual self, can no longer stay ‘positive’. It is dire.

An invite arrives by email. ‘Mums day out. A day of pampering. Massage, pedicure, manicure and lunch. Numbers limited’ Awesome. I could do with some of that and it’s free. Where is it? Oh great. Grafton Road. I don’t have enough gas or money to get there. Won’t be going then. Where a minute ago I was feeling UP because I had something neat to do I am now feeling down. Free and I can’t even go. THIS SUCKS!

Pania rings up. “What you doing this weekend?”

“Nothing” As if I could be doing anything. No gas, no money, no life.

“I’ll come up after rugby and stay. Do you want me to bring something for dinner?” Hell yeah, there’s no food here.

“That would be awesome!”

Pania arrives with bags. Lots of bags. I am embarrassed and relieved. She has bought takeaways. Luxury, I miss takeaways. She also has real food. Staples like bread and milk. Coffee. Life saver! Treats: packets of chips for the girls lunches, icecream. I haven’t had ice-cream in my freezer for months. Meat, oh my god, meat. I am so upset that my friend has had to do this, yet at the same time, I am greatly humbled and grateful having a friend who has seen my need. She has saved us for another week, maybe two if I can make this last. I have real life angels helping me.

2011 October: Another Assignment

“Can I come in?” Ren stands at the door.

“Of course, you want a coffee?”

“Yes, please.” Ren takes up her seat at my table, the same seat she sits in every time, and gets her bag out. “Assignment due?” she asks me.

Laughing, “Yup, how do you know?”

“Your house is very clean.”

My friends have cottoned on to my procrastination tool. I thought I had it hidden. Ren is correct. I do have an assignment due which means I clean before I can get anything done. I sit to write, look around and see the dirt that has accumulated. It mocks me, making the ability to concentrate on what needs to be done impossible. I cannot sit doing research, read or write while the floor needs vacuuming. Once done, I see the floor needs washing. While mopping that, I can see that the cupboards have hand prints on them, they must be cleaned too. Covered in Janola and grime I need to wash my hands.

Oh no! The bathroom’s dirty too. So, out comes bucket and rags. That done, I may as well check the other bathroom while I have the products out, sure enough, it needs doing too. Eventually the house is in order enough for me to sit and start. I look at the clock and it’s time to pick the kids up. It will have to be another late night. The assignment gets put away again until dinners done and everyone is in bed for the night.

2012 January: I have learnt

Close now to finishing, I think about what I have learnt. It isn’t all what I expected to learn. I didn’t realise I would change. I have grown these years, far beyond gaining a degree and practical knowledge. I have learnt more about myself. I didn’t expect that to happen at my age and no one told me that it would. I learnt that I have strong ethics and values, I mean I knew I had them, I just didn’t realise exactly what they were or how to describe them. I’ve learnt that I subscribe to the more romantic side of life.

I have learnt I am a divergent thinker. At my creative process paper I learnt that my procrastination is really incubation. Even while searching the house for things to clean, I am also in my head, writing, devising, and thinking. Making decisions about how and what I want to write. The cleaning is the end to this incubation period, the final decree as such, before the real writing is done.

I have learnt that I can push myself beyond the point of no return, remain smiling and get through. I have learnt how to say YES and also how to say NO. That I am important, what I choose to do is important and how to make time for me. I have learnt how to be true to myself.

I walk away from my degree with a change of perception. I look at life, ideas and things differently. The way in which I voice my opinions has also changed. They are more refined, more thoughtful and I hope, more coherent.

2012 May & June: Despite it all

I sit here, my last paper. My last ever! Or is it? I have already started looking at a post graduate diploma. Am I mad? I can look back on the last four and a half years with a sense of accomplishment. Despite the ups and downs I’ve experienced along with dealing with the kids and a baby I have done it! I have managed to get through. Well nearly!

I want to shout from the roof tops ‘I’m finished’. I am proud I’m here. That despite the naysayers I am at the end. I remember telling my mother I was going to University.

“Why?” “What will you be able to do?” I have many variations of the same conversation held over these 4 ½ years.

“Oh, well, you will never finish that!” In your face, mum, in your face! I have completed it. I have done it despite your put downs and snipes about doing this. You, the woman who is supposed to support my endeavours, encourage me to go forth and be all I can be. You have made me feel like I have done something wrong. All I have tried to do is be better. This is something you cannot take from me.

2012 June: The End

I am at the end of my journey. It has been a hard journey. I have struggled constantly to get the work done, to meet the deadlines, to study for exams while running the house and keeping it together- but I have done it. I have only ever asked for one extension this whole way!

I’ve juggled my life; my growing girls, and my now busy toddler. My marks have been on the whole pretty good, so I have been told. I still don’t believe that. I fell over in 2010 with the health issues and Devyn as a newborn. I passed 3 papers, failed one. Ok, I failed one. It’s been a hard year. No need to get upset, get up, sign up and re-sit it. I can pass it! Only a slight hiccup in my journey. I re-sat and passed with a B+.

I have argued and loved, lost and won. I have spent more time awake than asleep. I counted up once that I had slept on average four hours a night for nearly 30 days. I gave up counting after that. No wonder I wear black rings under my eyes like left over mascara from the night before.

There are papers that have frustrated me to hell and back. Managing information systems (MIS). Papers that I have loved. Language and communication (thank you Mary Salisbury), Professional and academic writing (my 1st A!!) and ones that have stretched me beyond my comfort zone. Creative Processes, which had me get up on stage and perform in front of people (OMG). I have struggled with my humanities papers: Creative writing, travel writing, writing for children. They stripped me of the notion that I could write, something I thought I could do, they made me doubt myself and my abilities, still, I managed to get through them.

Finally I arrive here. My last semester. My last paper. My last assignment. Life writing. I have had the best last semester. A great paper to finish on. Easy, friendly, no hard analysis of business or change implementation process. A chance to have a voice of my own. No exam, no stress, and the chance to work with happy people. It feels like a cheat. It’s not, but that’s the way it feels.

Working so hard, without a break from February 2011, through summer school to now, I’m at the end of the rollercoaster. It has been a gentle ride out the other side of my degree. Easing me back into a life that won’t revolve around University, assignments, exams and the stresses those brought with them. I’m going to miss it. Better get a job soon, won’t know what to do with myself. It has been a stress free semester. Thank god!

I laugh to myself writing this, LIAR! I’m stressed right now - this last assignment, the bane of my final exit. So afraid that I will fail at the last hurdle, that I won’t complete it. I’m finally at the end of the road after what feels like forever. I have worked hard through everything that has gone on. Personal doubt that I could, doubts from others and through other issues. I am exhausted. Now this door closes and I am ready to start the next chapter of my life. I no longer can do it. I DID IT!


Thank you both Mary and Kelly for a fantastic semester and paper!

"What I heard was my whole self saying and singing what it knew: I can."

- Denise Levertov


Tayla Rea (2012)

[Old Church]

Beyond Words:
A biography of Caroline and John Nee


How do I begin to write about two incredible lives? I feel as though I need to write why I am doing this biography. I chose my grandmother, Caroline Nee, and grandfather, John Nee, because without their story, without their love for one another, I wouldn’t exist.

Sometimes in life it feels like real, honest-to-goodness love, doesn’t exist anymore. But it does. It exists in little things, in the little moments, like every time I go to my Papa’s house I am immediately given a cup of tea and the best biscuits, without even saying anything. It exists within a gaze, when I look at the wall in their house completely covered in photos of all of us. It exists.

The story is not always easy to piece together. When you come from a large family the logistics of doing a simple task becomes difficult. This is one of the joys of writing this biography for me. Finding out the stories, the memories, the different perspectives and how they all inter-connect is fascinating.

I remember when we did the journal exercise in class where we wrote “Today I feel…”, and then completed the sentence. I honestly thought ‘Well what relevance does that have to anything?’ But I suppose it has heaps of relevance. My writing is an extension of me, so how I feel is invariably going to be conveyed in the writing. Today I feel reflective. I feel like writing this assignment and not doing the others. I feel like being in bed instead of having to study and go to work.

Right before I left for a holiday to Canada in 2009 I went to my Nana and Papa’s house to drop off their new will. I remember saying to my Nana that it will be funny when I have children and there are even more people around the house. She said to me that she wouldn’t be here when that happened. A few weeks later when I was in Canada she passed away.

It’s a fact. One day I too won’t be here. I hope that maybe someone will keep this and know about my family and about my grandfather and grandmother. I want them to know this love story like I know it. I want them to understand the culture of my family and how it all began.


When Emma was 13, her mum passed on a vital piece of wisdom.

“When you grow up, it’s what’s in here that counts, not what’s out there,” said her mum.

Emma said that was how she knew that Nana played “hard-to-get” when she met Papa.

As the second oldest, Aunty Emma had a lot of responsibilities around looking after the children. Every night she had to bathe the children. First, she washed the boys and then the girls. Sometimes, she would get annoyed at the children because they were naughty and so she put soap in their eyes.

“Mum, Emma is putting soap in our eyes!” the children would say.

“No, I’m not! They are just playing up,” said Emma.

She always got away with it.

According to Aunty Emma, in Nana’s house, cleanliness was next to godliness. So Emma had to set the table every night and cut the bread along with other chores that had to be done daily.

Aunty Emma said it reminded her of a scene from Once Were Warriors. Sometimes she had to look after up to 16 kids when the adults went to the pub. Not just her brothers and sisters, but her cousins too. When they came back, they always had a party and in the morning it was Emma’s job to clean before the adults woke up.

She didn’t mind. Often she found coins while she was cleaning, coins that she kept for her pocket money. Sometimes she found wallets and handbags, one time she even found a pair of false teeth. They all knew they could rely on Emma to hold it for them.

Aunty Emma said that sometimes it was hard and very strict, but it was what you made of it. They were great parents.


Uncle Rob said that what he knows about how Nana and Papa met is limited. He said that they met through mutual friends.

Every week the children had to go to church. Always. There was no getting out of it.

“I would say to Nana, I’m going to church. But really I would go down Matipo road to the wharf and fish. I would go home exactly when Church finished and then ask if I could go fishing. Then I went and did something else and came home with the fish,” said Uncle Rob.

Uncle said he felt so much aroha from his aunties and uncles. They would call him “son” and make him feel special like that. The sense of family would be strong even in such a large family.

One story Uncle Rob told me was about his first job. He got his first job at Sparkle Drycleaners on Pitt Street in the city when he was about 12 years old. He had to press suits and help out my nana’s sister, Aunty Mene. He made about a dollar an hour but according to Uncle Rob this was quite a good wage at the time.

One of his jobs was to go around and get the orders for lunches, and then go get sandwiches and everything else for everyone. Aunty Mene would tell him to go upstairs and get the orders from the girls. Uncle Rob was only 12 and didn’t know why when he went to get the orders, the ladies would be in their pyjamas.

“They smelt beautiful. They were always very nice to me,” said Uncle Rob.

One day they offered me chocolate and things and after what seemed like 5 minutes aunty Mene came upstairs and took my hand and we left. It was after then that I knew. They were ladies of the night. I just wished I was older.

I learnt some things from my aunties and uncles. I learnt how to drink, smoke, and play poker and how to hide from your Nana. When she left the room they would fill up my glass and I would drink it all.


Uncle Alfred was adopted. When my Nana adopted him, she already had 3 children. She fought for him, and told her little sister that she was too young to have a child. So my Nana and Papa took him in. Uncle Alf didn’t know much about how Nana and Papa met.

“I don’t know much, they didn’t talk about it much. All I know is that they met in a pub, in the city. But they only passed each other briefly. This was the 1950’s and your Papa was a handsome young man,” said Uncle Alf.

Uncle Alf said that his street in Te Atatu was filled with mostly family. Everyone would feed everyone else’s kids. Sometimes it was like “Coronation Street” and everyone would gossip about each other.

One day at primary school, two kids were pushing and shoving each other so Alfred jumped in to stop the fighting. The teacher, Mr Patterson, thought that Alfred had started the fight. Mr Patterson picked Alfred up, and threw him out the window and into the garden outside.

Alfred ran up the road and told his mum. Caroline was in the shower, but quickly came out once she heard what the teacher had done. Without a bra or any underwear on underneath her dress, she quickly went to the school.

Nana was furious. Nana said she was the only one who was allowed to touch her kids. By the end of the meeting with the principal and the teacher, Mr Patterson had cried and apologised. Uncle Alf said Nan was always sticking up for her kids.

Nana and Papa had 8 kids all together. Nana was always looking after someone. That’s the way she grew up, she ran the family. Uncle Alf said that’s what he admired about his parents. They always provided and looked after everyone, even when there was only one wage in the family.

“If we didn’t have pakeha bread to take to school, Nana always made takakau bread. Shame, we didn’t want to go to school with takakau bread so we would eat it before we got to school,” said Uncle Alf.

Uncle Alf wasn’t allowed to finish high school because he had to go to work.

They called us “Fred Mc Murray and my 3 sons”. Do you know what that is Tayla? YouTube it. There were always 3 sons working with Papa at the Power Board but none of us were as good as Papa. We all worked at the Power Board. And your Papa was the best at cable jointing. He was always meticulous. He was so good that he had offers of work overseas but he never went, he was a true family man,” said Uncle Alf.

Journal two

When I was a child sometimes I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere. I went to my mum’s marae up north in the Hokianga, and I didn’t understand the Maori language. I went to a funeral, one of my dad’s relatives, and I didn’t understand the Samoan language. I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere except in my own family. But yet, I was ok with this.

Later on when I went to Samoa, I felt this connection to the place. I didn’t speak the language and I didn’t look like my family there, but I still felt like I was meant to be there. Growing up I always felt like I was more Maori than any other culture, but biologically I am more Samoan.

I have done a few of my interviews now. Some of them have been much easier than others. I guess that’s just the way that life is some of aunties and uncles were more open than others.

The more I write, the more I think that my intention for writing this piece is changing. From what I have found so far, many of my aunties and uncles don’t know much about how my Nana and Papa met. My story is still about my grandmother and grandfather, but it is also about the people that I interviewed, their children.

I love doing the interviews. There have been so many things I didn’t know that have been told to me already. It also makes me think about how lucky I have been in my life. I was never poor, not that they didn’t have what they needed, but I have just realised some of the privileges that I have become accustomed to.

I am very lucky to have such a close family. A very large and close family. I feel like I wouldn’t have this sense of family if it wasn’t for my grandparents.

I also feel like the more I learn about my Nana and Papa, the more I can see their behaviour in others. The constant cleaning, that reminds me of my Aunty Kath and my mum. The quiet intelligence of my papa reminds me of a few of my cousins. I even see within myself, the individuality of my grandfather, and the “tough love” values of my grandmother. This has been an assignment like no other.


From what uncle Vic knows Nana and Papa met because Papa worked at the Auckland Electric Power Board where Nana’s brothers and father worked. He was accepted by her family almost straight away. Nana’s brothers befriended my grandfather at a time when people weren’t very nice to Asian people, and my Papa, looked very Asian.

Uncle Vic said that papa was the best cable jointer in Auckland and he was “the shark.”

“What do you mean by “the shark”? I asked uncle.

“He was the “strongest fish”, the best at what he did, replied Uncle Victor. “He was smart, and only needed to be taught something once,” said uncle.

Something I wanted to know from my family was about my grandmother. I know her as I know her, only from my lifetime. My image of her is as she was after she was 60 years old and she had a few strokes so that is my vision of her. I asked Uncle what she was like.

“Nana was definitely the boss. Have you seen that movie, My big fat Greek wedding? In it the mother says something like, your father may be the head of the house, but I am the neck. And the neck can twist the head, any way she wants. To me that relates to Nana. She just had a way about her. She had the “eyes” that would force you to stop what you were doing straight away,” Uncle Vic said.

The funny thing is my mum inherited those “eyes.” All of my aunties did. When I was a child I knew “the look” so very well. It’s that stare that compels you to behave, whether you want to or not.

Uncle Vic said that nana was caring, loving and kind as a mum.

“Poverty was around but we always had everything we needed. The best thing I ever got from my mum was a blanket from Farmers,” said Uncle Victor.

Uncle and I talked about culture. About how though we are both Maori and Samoan, we tend to identify more with our Maori heritage. Partly, this was because my grandfather’s family was mostly in Samoa, and partly this was just because the culture was more present.

“When Nana went to school, it was around the time when you weren’t allowed to speak Maori. If you did, you were beaten. In our house we never needed to speak Maori or Samoan, so most of us didn’t grow up bilingually,” said Uncle Vic.

“The love that they had for their children was grounded in them and passed on to my generation and the grandchildren. My parents were open-minded and I learnt from Papa that it was better to be a listener rather than a talker. Papa is a quietly intelligent man,” said Uncle Victor.


According to my mum, Nana and Papa both worked at Tattersfield. That’s how they met because they knew each other. Mum says Papa loved Nana a lot, even in the beginning. He drove all the way to Panguru in a taxi just to see her and ask for her hand in marriage. This was a 9 hour drive and would have cost him a lot of money.

Caroline was out when John had arrived to Panguru. But by the time she got back Caroline’s mum was laughing and talking with John. It was rare for this time for someone to be accepted straight away into a family, but my Papa was.

Mum said that Nana was one of the favourites of the old ladies in Panguru.

“Nana was the only one of her brothers and sisters born in a Nikau hut, with a mud floor,” said mum. “She grew up in a time when speaking Maori was not allowed at school, but she had to learn Latin because of her Catholic upbringing,” said mum.

Mum said one thing she noticed about Nana was that she was always doing something, cooking, cleaning, sewing or fixing something.

“Nana was pretty strict. But how else would you control so many kids? At church we had to look our best. White shirt, polished shoes and every night we would say the Rosary” said mum.

“Nana never ever swore. And even shut up would get you a smack,” said mum.

“That’s where you get it from,” I said.

“Get what?” said mum.

“Last week you growled me because I said the word “frickin” which is not even a swear word, you said I couldn’t say it because of my intention to use a swear word! You get it from Nana hahaha,” I said.

I asked mum if Nana and Papa ever held hands or anything like that. Mum said they held hands later on in life, but that their love was shown in other much deeper ways, not just with P.D.A. (Mum only knows what P.D.A means because I taught her!).


Uncle Bern didn’t know how Nana and Papa met. He told me a story about a day he spent with my Nana when he was around 7 or 8.

One day when he was in primary Nana took Bernard to town. To go on a bus was a big thing for him.

“I don’t think about my childhood often, but this memory sticks in my head. It was a big thing. I remember the Rendells next to the arcade and I remember this diner, which had this really nice smell. It wasn’t until years later that I realised the smell was just percolated coffee,” said Uncle Bern.

Uncle Bern remembers going to a Chinese restaurant off Pitt Street and having fried rice and omelette.

“I remember Nan sitting there and watching me after she had finished eating. I just ate and ate, I wanted to eat it all,” said uncle Bern.

One day Bernard played up outside of Rendells for a skateboard. To his surprise, Nana bought it for him. It was coloured with white wheels. But for three days it rained, and he couldn’t use his skateboard.

“Your Papa was not happy that Nan had spent some of their money on a skateboard but I looked after it for years until it fell to pieces,” said Uncle Bern.

He said that Nan was typical of the mothers of her generation in some ways. She was very much into discipline, but that’s just the way things were.

Just like all of his brothers, Bernard worked at the Power Board too. But he had a few years doing nothing before he started working, until Grandpa had enough, and got him a job at the Power Board. Uncle Bern said that one of the reasons why he did well in the Power Board was because there was so many of his family employed there and because of the expectation, was he going to be as good as his father?

“I suppose I have a lot to thank Papa for. I left school with no qualifications and he set me onto the path. I don’t know where I would have been without his influence,” said Uncle Bern.


Aunty Kath is the baby of the family, the youngest of her 8 siblings. Aunty didn’t know how Papa and Nana met. She remembers the story about Papa going all the way to the Hokianga in a taxi.

“It was papa Joseph Hauraki, who approved of Grandpa’s wedding proposal to Nan, because he knew how hard working he was and because he’d caught a cab all the way up north to propose. Plus he was impressed because Nan already had Aunty Leesh out of wedlock, but that didn’t put Grandpa off proposing,” said Aunty Kath.

“As a youngster up to 10yrs, I thought it was pretty cool having lots of extended whanau come and stay, guess it was a novelty. I remember always having to share a room, as there was not enough space in our house to have a room to myself. I also usually shared a bed with your mum. Living in a full household, meant little privacy and having to share limited space. It was not fun being the baby in a big family though, especially having four overprotective brothers. Being a lot younger than my siblings, having such a wide age gap, wasn't much fun because everyone had grown up, got on with their lives, and I was only just beginning,” said Aunty Kath.

I asked aunty Kath whether she affiliated more with the Maori or Samoan culture.

“I affiliate more with my Maori culture because of the way we were brought up. We saw more of Nan's family, spent a lot of time on marae for tangihanga, weddings, unveilings etc. Nan used her reo with us sometimes, usually to growl or discipline us. However, with Grandpa he did not use Samoan with us and we didn't learn much about fa'a Samoa, a part from having his family come stay sometimes, and us sending money over to the islands for some family affair,” said Aunty Kath.

During my interview I asked about how my Nana reacted to her husband, Willy, when she first met him. I am also the youngest, so I know what it is like to be treated as the baby girl.

“Nana already had her suspicions, she pretty much stared Uncle Willy down when she first met him at the Duke. This was when she came to visit you and mum, when you were first born. Uncle was the security guard on duty at the time. I remember Nana giving him those 'Nee-daggered-eyes' and we'd only just started dating. No one in the family knew except your mum and dad. So Nana's intuition told her, Uncle Willy was hanging around her baby girl. Once she'd met Uncle Willy, and we made our relationship official, she was actually really nice to him and pulled out all my baby photos and shamed me. As for Grandpa, he was silent for weeks. Took him a while to warm to Uncle Willy. It was not easy at all being the baby, in fact it sucked. But now we can laugh about it,” said Aunty Kath.


I saved my interview with my grandfather for last part of this biography because I feel like what my grandfather has to say is perhaps the most important and most truthful.

“Papa, do you remember how you met Nana?” I said.

He took a few moments to think about it.

“I met her in a factory where we were working. I was cheeky. I just went up to her and said ‘Can I take you to the pictures?’ She was shocked. But she said ok,” said Papa.

Papa said that this was around the time of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, and he remembered this because in the factory they were printing the Queen’s face on tin panels.

I asked Papa if Nana’s family liked him, he said they did, but didn’t elaborate much beyond this. Papas face changes as he talks about his wedding, and in his eyes I can see all of the joy and love from his past.

“I had to catch the train from Auckland up to Moerewa, and then catch a bus and the ferry from Rawene to get to Panguru. Before the wedding I had lots of luggage and a wedding cake and a birthday cake because it was my 21st birthday that weekend. Nana’s uncle Bill Leef had a truck that was used to deliver cream so I hopped on the back of that to get to Panguru,” said my papa.

He remembers talking to my nana’s mum about the wedding arrangement but sadly, she passed away after she gave birth to a still born baby.

“Nana’s mum passed, after she was told that she gave birth to a dead baby. I think it was the shock, the sadness,” says Papa.

I want to ask Papa more about what he loved about Nan, but I don’t want to stop him as he is opening up to me.

He said he was the first islander they had seen in Panguru. He met all of the old people, nana’s relatives, and they were protective of her.

“They said, you can marry her, but don’t take her to the islands,” said Papa.

This made me laugh. One story Papa tells me about is when he was working at the Auckland Electric Power board.

One day he was working in Newmarket with my Uncle Alf who had just left school and started working with him at the Power Board.

“There was a button and I said ‘don’t touch it.’ I went to do some work in the back and there was a huge bang. It was Alfred, he had touched the button. He was a skinny bugger then. All of the trucks turned up and said did you do something and I said ‘No, I was in the back,’” said Papa.

He worked there for around 37 years and would have stayed longer up until his retirement, but Nana got sick and had a stroke, so he had to stop working.

I want to know more, I want to know why he loved Nan, but I don’t press him for more. I know my Papa is a quiet man, and I am appreciative of all that he has told me.

In the years that I have lived, I have known Papa to be the strong one, the one who looked after Nana. I know now, that Nana was also strong, if not stronger than Papa. I can only tell part of their story. I know that it wasn’t always easy for them, that having so many children was hard but they did the best they could. Their values of family and their love and dedication have taught me so much. It goes beyond words.

  • Note: The eldest sibling, my Aunty Alicia, was not able to be contacted in time for this project as she is now living abroad.

Imagine them smile

A field of memories, presented on display
Overwhelmed with emotion, beyond yesterday
Imagine the laughter of the children playing
Running through fields soaked, it’s raining
Imagine their bright eyes, youthful smiles and then
Close your eyes draw a breath and start to

Your father or mother, even nanny or papa
With a smile on their face unmatched by another
Raising your hope that there is no pain
Know it in your heart, you will meet again
It’s their body that’s ended, their spirit is strong
It’s only through our lives, their memory lives on
Protected from feelings of abandonment or hate
Papa Hauraki showed them love and it’s never too late
To come back together, for stories and laughter
The hope of happiness is all they were after.