Small town, no longer home

Small town, no longer home

It’s been nearly 20 years since I left that town with no desire to return.  Last week opportunity, nostalgia and curiosity more than anything else led me back.  Without realising it at the time, the short visit managed to slay a demon of sorts for me as well. Upon reflection I think part of this is because my sense of ‘belonging’ has been well and truly established somewhere else.

When many of us think back to ‘how things once were’ we think of the freedom, innocence and outdoor adventures of living in a small country town.  In this respect this town had the goods and was a great place to be a kid.  We could explore our surroundings without limits.  It was safe.  But as much as we reflect in nostalgia for how great it was, I also remember the hurry to get out.


Wyndham (population 505) is one of those towns.  It’s the type of town where everyone knows everyone.  Gossip is rife, but by well meaning, salt of the earth people.  It’s conservative Southland.  Little diversity, just white working class New Zealanders going about their life in an unassuming but flavourless way.  The only claim to fame that I can think of for the town is that according to her autobiography, Janet Frame once lived there.

We drive down every street in town (trust me, this didn’t take as long as you’re imagining), most are named after people and places of the Crimean war.  There was no body around.   No kids biking, or even at the playground. I don’t know anyone who lives there any more either.


I was surprised how many heritage buildings there were for what had always been a small rural town.  That wasn’t something I noticed as a kid.  I was happy to see a handful of houses being restored, like ‘the Doctors house’ and noticed the Catholic church is now a private residence.   There has always been the odd empty shop on the main street, but I was astounded with how many more had joined them – and how many had been demolished.  Another telltale sign that things are quiet is seeing corrugated iron boarding up windows or rotten boards on a main street.  Like in movies.  The post office still grand, still the light pink it has been as long as I’ve known it – has missed out on the lick of paint that would have made it a landmark to be proud of.  I marveled at the main town intersection – which anywhere else would be a roundabout… here… a hodge podge of streets meeting.

I wander down some roads and reserves and reminisce about where I tried my first cigarette (which fortunately was a bad experience), saw a stash of playboys hidden in a bush, by who knows, and learnt how to start fires with dried grass and twigs.  I gazed over the fence which we used to go through to get to our swimming spot in the Mataura river.  The smell of that river has stayed with me.  I wonder how we were allowed to swim there unsupervised…  I’m struggling to remember if it’s always looked this vast.


Finally the high school beckons…   I was astounded at how small some of the buildings looked.  At least 25% smaller than I remember.  Though in essence it looks the same.  Native wood, formica and industrial metal lends itself to a timelessness.  Of all of the buildings, it’s the school hall that conjures up the most memories.  I re-imprint the school emblem above the stage. Integrity.  The rows of stacked wooden bench seats are still there.

I think about how many people like myself are holding their breath in assembly and class so they aren’t noticed.  How many hover at the back so they might get through another day without dying more on the inside.  Surprised at the memories that flood back.  Some good… more bad.  Everything looks more overgrown on the steps outside the hall.  Did it always look like this?  So sad?  I look at the grass field.  It’s massive compared to many schools now and I vaguely remember we had the biggest field per capita.  But it was never big enough to hide on.

Which brings me to wanting to tell you this, if you’re wishing away each day like I did.  You will get through this.  I got through it.  Each day drags; hell a lunchtime can feel never-ending.  Another year will pass, then another.  Then one day it’ll be over.  You wont need to endure it to get your education, placate your parents with your attendance and get your ticket the hell out of there.  Start again.  I wish I’d known how small that school was, how small that town was so that I might have been able to understand that it didn’t define me.  It’s not my home any more.  Who you are at school doesn’t have to be who you are when you leave.  Create a new life.  As many times as you want.  Don’t like your job change it.  Don’t like your town change it.  Move.  It’s up to you.  Breathe.  Dream and Go.  Get the heck out of there, this doesn’t have to be your home.  It’s not mine any more.

In writing this I am conscious of not wanting to offend those who live in or do love Wyndham.  I know there will be many.  The opinions are my own and share how I feel about a town that was once my world. 



Ka mua, ka muri

Should we feel guilty for the actions of our ancestors?  Is it time for us to put aside the wrong-doings of the past? What would that look like? and furthermore, why aren’t we taught our own history?

There was an unmissable synergy between two events I attended this weekend, held as part of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival.  The first was “Flowing water: A story of the Waikato river” which was written by Witi Ihimaera and composer Janet Jennings.  The Maori accounts had been devised by local historian Tom Roa who also facilitated a talk I attended, by historian and writer Vincent O’Malley about his book “The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000” (2016).

The Battle of Rangiriri in Flowing Water.

Once you know what really happened here in the Waikato, what do you do?  Should we feel guilty for the actions of our ancestors?  In his book, Vincent O’Malley was careful to tell the story and allow the reader to make up their own mind; and likewise in “Flowing Water” we are told of the toil, losses and hardship on both sides.  As much as the Maori lost their land, the settlers offered a fresh start in a new country were often given unworkable land – with speculators profiting as a result.  History does repeat.  However, the truth remains that the Pakeha government, militia and settlers invaded the Waikato with the intention of taking land and sovereignty from the Maori.  Tom Roa shared a feeling the Maori held, which was of surprise and hurt at how events unfolded – “I thought we were friends.  I fed you.  Where did your anger come from?”  But is it fair for ancestors to feel that guilt?  No, I don’t think it is.

The first book in over 100 years to tell the story of the Waikato.

Does progress mean putting aside the wrong-doings of the past to move on as one people?  No.  Understanding the facts of what happened and being free from blame, anger, guilt and defensiveness allows a level of progress where we might look at the harm of colonisation to Maori and where changes should be made to remedy that.  It involves recreating a more fair political, social, economic and environmental system.  We seem to be stuck in the cycle of continually relegating all progress to the Waitangi tribunal or to the Ministry of Maori development, instead of making it an issue for all New Zealanders to address.  We all need to be part of that process, which is why reluctance to make the Great War for New Zealand, a part of the school curriculum needs to change in the first instance.  If anything can give us hope it is that the rangatahi, the young people want to know the truth.  The best example of this is the advocacy done by Otorohanga school pupils to commemorate the Land Wars.  They had been surprised at their lack of knowledge of the Battle of Orakau – a short drive from their homes.  It seems we’ve accepted the Russian revolution and American civil war as taking precedence in our education.

Vincent considered himself an unlikely candidate to write a book on the New Zealand wars but chose to after becoming aware of the stories through working on treaty claims.  He believed the stories needed to be told outside of the court room.  Witi wanted to tell the story of our people – those that lived alongside the Waikato river and in doing so the story of all New Zealanders.  Their work offers us the opportunity to face the past and it’s from here we can walk backwards to the future – ka mua, ka muri.  

Rangiriri Pa has underdone “restoration” and signage – acknowledging the battle of 1863.

I believe strongly in change starting within oneself, so I’ve made it a resolution of sorts to teach myself about Waikato history – and the damage of colonisation.  I have also enrolled in a Te Reo course, we are the kaitiaki of the language – without us it will die.  I’m hoping I will build enough confidence and ability to be able to pass on this taonga to my daughter – and use Maori words and terms as part of daily conversations.  I’ll be supporting events commemorating the wars – from Rangiriri to Orakau and understand the main commemoration will occur in 2020.  I will support and advocate for our history to be part of the NZ school curriculum as there is power in knowledge.  Finally – and in many respects the most difficult at a individual level, I intend to find how I as a relatively privileged, skilled person can help to unwrap the oppressive, unfair systems which I believe continue to see Maori over-represented in the worst of statistics.  It’s the least I can do.

This post is really an exploration of thoughts – and I don’t profess to be an expert or knowledgeable, so would love to know your thoughts, to help me understand better.

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Witi Ihimaera’s gift to the Waikato

Listen now.  In this podcast I’m joined by acclaimed New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera who tells us about “Flowing Water” a story written to honour the lifeblood that is the Waikato River.  The theatrical performance is happening as part of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival next weekend.  You can get your tickets here.   


I also tell you why Two Birds Eatery (my new show sponsor) is so awesome and share events happening in the Tron this week.

Music on today’s show is from 100% Waikato bands Katchafire, Cheshire Grimm, Rubita, The Recently Deceived and Louder Louder.  

Kitsch: Why I can’t do minimalism.


I blame my love of kitsch for my inability to be a Minimalist.  The concept of being a Minimalist is bang on… I understand the benefit of keeping things simple, keeping the feng shui moving around the house and feeling more liberated with less stuff – but it’s just not for me.

Sometimes I call myself a vintage collector, sometimes a hunter gatherer and sometimes a hoarder.  Either way – if this beautiful stuff didn’t make me happy I  might have been  the type of person who could thrive with bare minimal possessions… I could live in a house that looked like everyone else’s and was easy to clean… but I choose to surround myself with beautiful stuff.

Beautiful might be a stretch…  You see, I have a thing for kitsch.

Kitsch is defined as “art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way”.


I should be ashamed of it – the tackiness of it.  But I’m not.  Part of me is proud of saving this stuff (that has stood the test of time) from landfill.  Part of me is proud of having a unique home that was sourced for next to no money from opshops.  Most of our decor is 1950s-1970’s so there’s stories with pretty much everything we have.  Not even just our stories but other people’s stories – passed on at garage sales; markets or through nostalgia for a common item. I should be ashamed of spending our little disposable income on stuff… but I’m not.


As you can see – one of my kitsch collections is shell art.  Everyone seemed to make random little shell objects back in the day including most tourist shops…  My particular favourite in that image is the mermaid.

Shells aren’t the only kitsch thing I love though…


Queen Elizabeth II; Ballerinas (Carlotta Edwards); Ducks/Swans (Vernon Ward) and Religious icons were all really popular in the 1950’s.  So there’s lots of those sprinkled around our house.  The vintage ballerina alarm clock was my Great-Grandmother ‘s so it’s extra special.  Ella’s not allowed to touch it.

There’s a religious corner – and a “bad taste” (often considered racist) shelf -with my favourite pieces of German Pottery (not kitsch – but of the era).  That’s only a smidgy part of that collection – I’m fond of Black African lady ornaments – one of my ‘prized possessions’ is a lamp that one of my Teacup customers tipped me off about after she saw it at Restore (Bryant Road).  Speaking of “racist” memorabilia.  Native Affairs shared this article earlier in the week.  “Aboriginalia and the politics of kitsch”.  It was interesting – but hasn’t made me hide the pieces I have.



You guessed it, the kitsch spills outside.  I took these to show Ian Duggan who wrote this article about gnomes in New Zealand gardens… Well worth a read.  The one at the front (who is missing his fishing line) was James’s Grandmother’s and the one with the watering can was my Nana’s (we brought it up in our luggage from Dunedin after finding it lonely in the yard after her house was sold).  Needless to say – the dump has given us even more friends.

So – kitsch.  It’s the reason I can’t do minimalism.   I would love to see your kitschy items!! Please feel free to share your photos and stories with me.


Hamilton: City of the (not too distant) Future

Taking the train from Britomart, Auckland to Hamilton city – I didn’t really know what to expect.  Friends who had visited a decade prior advised me to avoid what was arguably the most boring city in the world.  But, since it was on the main trunk line south and coincided with one of my favourite indie bands being in town I decided to risk a night… how bad could it be?

Ref: Hamiltron comix blogspot

Unlike expensive and logistically nightmarish transfers I’ve had in other cities – the fact that you walk out of Hamilton central’s underground station and on to Victoria street where most of the accommodation choices are meant it was off to a good start.  My hotel was literally across the road; in the centre of town with a river view.  Win.

After offloading my pack, I asked the reception where I should go to begin to explore the city.  She sent me to the Waikato Museum, to catch the free walking tour bus which runs Friday – Sunday.  I’ve got to admit – walking from hotel to the Museum, wasn’t particularly spectacular.  Apart from some obviously new developments – it looked like any other city I’ve been to, though there were some nice heritage buildings – freshly painted and flower baskets hanging from awnings above trendy cafes and bars.  (I was also pretty excited to see the Riff Raff statue, but since I was running late I decided to come back later).

The walking tour – was surprisingly good.  It was free so I couldn’t complain, but the friendly host – an Hambassador, I think she was – took a group of us, along the river – pointing out where a new pedestrian bridge was being constructed next year to reach Memorial Park in the East.  We wandered through the new Ferrybank arts precinct, which ran along the river and up to Victoria street – I was mesmerised by street performers and thought how lucky Hamiltonians were to have two theatres in one area.  A larger one called “the Founders” being finished soon and the Meteor theatre, which had been refurbished and was thriving for community performances.  She pointed out the Waikato Brewery building which had been converted into trendy eateries, St Pauls cathedral and parks of interest like the Band Rotunda – which thousands flock to for free jazz sessions every Sunday afternoon!

At this point I opted to hire a bicycle from the Ferrybank info centre and joined the daily cycle tour from the city to the Hamilton gardens through Hamilton East.  Our guide was busy telling stories of the cities past on our way along the river – with a few loops to capture buildings of interest like Euphrasie house – which apparently came really close to being demolished.  It was also really interesting to check out Beale Cottage – the oldest house in Hamilton, and Greenslade.  Apparently the council decided to focus on restoration and preservation of houses of note in the city.  The Hamilton gardens is world famous and did not disappoint.  I was blown away  – and could easily have spent a lot more time there had it not been for being distracted by the food trucks that set up at the gardens from Friday to Sunday nights.  I was grateful for the free wi-fi because I wasn’t sure if my memory card was going to hold all of the photos I was taking.

Dropping the bike off back in the city,  I wandered along the path back up to the hotel to change for the gig.  I’ve travelled enough by myself to not care about being by myself at something like this but found the people so friendly and unpretentious that I made a heap of new friends.  As soon as people hear you are from out of town they become animated in the “things you need to check out” including beer recommendations – they’re proud of locally crafted brews here. Apparently the underground music scene is really big here too – and they tell me they have a couple of central city festivals a year – so I’ll be back.

I took breakfast at a little cafe at Victoria on the River – just down from the hotel. Something I noticed was that the really cool things in this city are hidden.  You really have to ask someone, or pick up a map – but it lends itself to being part of the charm.  This city is so underrated that it’s cool.

After breakfast I wandered around the city to check out some of the Boon street and public art from a map and guide I was given at the gig last night. I was stoked to hear acoustic music coming from the stage when I got to Embassy Park.  With kids, families and older people sitting around enjoying the sun I could imagine it being a great place to live.  The coffee I had while I was people watching was one of the best I’ve had too.

With an hour left, I browsed the vintage and artisan craft shops tucked away in their laneways – I also managed to catch a weekly market in Garden Place – with even more entertainment happening on a stage.

By now – I’m starting to feel guttered that I didn’t plan longer here – I’ll have to hit up my friends who said it was dull.  With sadness, I walked back down to Hamilton central to get back on the train to head south.  Vowing to return one day soon.

(These things may or may not be happening at the moment, but will be soon…)

Rebuild the Founders Theatre

The Founders theatre was built to last 50 years and it did.  The sudden closure is a sad example of a lack of earlier action by the Hamilton City Council to keep it going until refurbishment/replacement could occur in a seamless fashion.   However, while we can play the blame game, because it makes for more interesting reading – I prefer to concentrate on “where to from here?”.  The HCC has initiated a period of consultation with the public and offered three options.  Restore, Rebuild or Demolish.

Founders theatre 1960s

My initial reaction to news of it’s closure; was to conserve the existing building.  I strongly believe that buildings help add character and tell a story in a city – except…. the Founders Theatre isn’t old enough…. or architecturally attractive enough to warrant this.  I couldn’t find a lot of support for the theatre being saved on heritage or nostalgia basis which led me to reconsider my initial position.

It always comes down to money.

The use of ratepayer (or taxpayer) money for the arts is a contentious issue, it probably always will be.  The cost of a complete rebuild is about $50 million dollars (or $69 per year for 20 years for ratepayers).  That is a heck of alot of money – especially when the median income in Hamilton is $27,000 a year.  I can understand why some people or parts of the community don’t think it’s appropriate to spend on non-essential services given our housing crisis and growing inequality are more pressing.  However, the Council has a role to play in ensuring they provide facilities congruent to what any other comparable city would have – this includes a suitable theatre.   This is why demolition isn’t an option to me.  While a restoration (which is still preferable to demolition with no replacement) is alot less at about $20 million dollars, I don’t think a refurbishment would cater for “future Hamilton”.  Effectively an “expensive” band-aid.  I think we need to start thinking bigger and more towards the future (100 years).  It’s cheaper to build it now than it will be in the future.  So if we can start from scratch – we can create a venue with thought given to the longer term.

It’s time to be excited about the future.


If we go down the path of a rebuild it does not have to be in the same location.  In my opinion, the best place without a doubt is for that rebuild to be at Ferrybank.  The Council (and therefore City) already owns the land between Victoria street and Gratham street. Currently on that site we have the Municipal pools and the Celebrating Age Centre (which I currently use for Ferrybank Market).  Building a multi-functional venue in a central location – with an overall aim to boosting tourism (by also being a River based Tourism hub for cycling, walking and water taxis) also creates wonderful opportunities to create a sense of community and vibrancy that is lacking in the city at the moment.  A rebuild here not only brings arts to the centre of our city (as it should be) but ties the Central City Transformation Plan and the River Plan more meaningfully than any other initiative I’ve seen so far.  This is something the future generation will thank us for doing.  Yes vision comes with cost…

The existing “plans” for Ferrybank aren’t particularly intriguing and I’m doubtful that developing for the sake of it would be beneficial for the city.  Despite how much I like Ferrybank and want to see the river utilised, I would not have voted for the Ferrybank development as proposed earlier this year.  A concrete anchor project would make it meaningful.

This argument hasn’t even touched on the most important aspect which is our wonderful arts community whose contribution to our city cannot be underestimated.  We MUST show support for the musical, theatrical, artistic and creative minds who offer so much of themselves to our city every day.  They create a city worth living in and a grass roots entry for the Waikato’s high calibre creative minds and young people.  Our future.

I’ve just submitted the online form to “Have my Say” in the future of the Founders theatre.  Consultations are open until June 30th so if you have an opinion please make sure it counts by submitting the form too.  I have put my hand up and am running for a seat in this year’s local body elections.  If elected in, despite my personal view (above) that we need to rebuild – I believe this decision is one that needs to be led by “the average Hamiltonian” and would vote according to the submissions received and public opinion.  It’s your city – you need to have your say.