Kia maumahara tātau

The Anzac service at Rongomaraeroa marae (pic: Rongomaraeroa marae)

The Anzac service at Rongomaraeroa marae (pic: Rongomaraeroa marae)

When a whole community turns up to support an event you know it is a big deal. Pōrangahau’s population at the last census count was just 195 but approximately 300 people turned up to our Anzac Dawn Service.

The morning started with a brisk march from the Pōrangahau war memorial hall down to the church cemetery and our cenotaph. We were led by the Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles, and as we got closer the sound of karanga echoed eerily of lives lost, of a new day, of a day commemorating those who served from our small community.

Remembering those who served (pic: Rongomaraeroa marae)

Remembering those who served (pic: Rongomaraeroa marae)

It was a time of beauty as well. I te ata hāpara (at dawn) Pōrangahau was shrouded in mist. Whānau marched on to our memorial hall and onwards to our urupā, Kaiwhitikitiki. With karakia we entered, laid our wreaths and moved about to mihi to all our tīpuna. A pōwhiri followed on our marae, Rongomaraeroa. A table stood proudly on the mahau filled with whānau photographs and taonga and our wharekai was beautifully decorated with poppies made by the kura. Waiata welcomed all our whānau and guests for parakuihi (breakfast) and we settled in to hear four local families share their First World War stories.

This is the first time I’ve known an Anzac service to come to the marae – and what a privilege it was to be there.

Kia maumahara tātau – lest we forget.

The Dawn Parade

Cyril Wilton, at his sister's place in Tawa during the Second World War, left; and in London, 1944, right (Images: Private collection, Caren Wilton)

Cyril Wilton, at his sister's place in Tawa during the Second World War, left; and in London, 1944, right (Images: Private collection, Caren Wilton)

The Anzac Day I remember as a child growing up in 1960s and ‘70s Masterton involved my father getting up very early, rustling through the house in the dark to head out to the Dawn Parade. He would come back later, in his suit and tie – unusual for him, a motor trimmer – wearing a red poppy on his lapel and smelling of what I thought was aftershave, but was probably alcohol.

He was a Second World War veteran, a bomber pilot over Germany in the last 18 months or so of the war, probably trained to fly after the huge losses among New Zealanders in the RAF depleted their ranks. He was old for a pilot, born in 1913, just before the First World War. Fifty by the time I was born, he was 20 years older than my mother.

I sometimes went with my father selling Anzac poppies – red cones then, not the flat, black-centred circles they later became – door to door. We lived near the railway station, in a street of tidy, modest 1920s houses surrounded by streets of down-at-heel wooden villas with unkempt gardens, some of them converted into businesses: hairdressers, mechanics’ workshops, welders. We would walk around these streets, my father knocking on the doors and handing over the poppies, me carrying the bag into which people dropped their coins.

I never went to the Dawn Parade. It was a thing for men, for the men who hung out at the Soldiers’ Club. There were men’s worlds and women’s worlds – my mother and her friends, who stayed home with children and did housework and went to each other’s houses for coffee and talking, seemed to have little to do with my father’s life, his workplace with its big roller doors and its enticing, intoxicating smells of glue and paint, its oddly blind-looking cars with their headlights and windows masked with newspaper, its men in overalls, its tearoom with its long wooden benches and – oh joy! – crate of bottles of WACO soft drinks. Work was a men’s world, as were many of the other worlds my father inhabited – Rotary, the Savage Club, the Soldiers’ Club (for many years, I assumed that this was a casual term for the RSA, but Masterton’s beautiful 1918 clubhouse really was called the Soldiers’ Club), the Anzac celebrations. Women and children were only occasionally permitted in these male enclaves.

More than 40 years later, I’ve still never been to a Dawn Parade, though I’ve thought about it, mainly as a way of connecting with my father (now long dead), trying in a small way to share some of what he experienced. Numbers of people at Anzac celebrations have boomed in recent years, as the number of actual veterans has dwindled, and no doubt this year’s celebrations, the 100-year anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, will be huge. New Zealanders have begun wanting to remember.

My father, I think, wanted to forget. I never heard him mention the war. But every year, he quietly got up in the dark and went to the Dawn Parade.

Rural towns and numbers

Ōhura: a quiet township in 2011 (image: Waikato Times)

Ōhura: a quiet township in 2011 (image: Waikato Times)

Updating Te Ara’s regional entries can be a sobering exercise when one’s gaze is fixed on rural New Zealand. In contrast to the inexorable population increase of the big cities and some other main centres, many rural towns are losing people year in, year out.

Urbanisation is not a new trend – more New Zealanders have been urban dwellers from the early 20th century. The rural population has hovered around 500,000 ever since. For the most part though, rural towns held their own until the late 1960s when, in the wake of Britain joining the European Economic Community, agricultural prices stagnated and trading conditions became unfavourable. Young rural people flocked to the cities for work and remained there. Rural life got even tougher in the 1980s after the government removed farm subsidies.

Te Ara’s entry on the King Country region exemplifies these macro-trends. The area’s population peaked in 1961 and has fallen ever since. The new 2013 population figures we’ve added to the entry show a continuation of this trend – the region lost 33% of its population between 1961 and 2013. The populations of Taumarunui and Te Kūiti have fallen, while Ōtorohanga, which is much closer to a big city (Hamilton), has remained stagnant since the 1980s. Places off the beaten track and historically reliant on one industry, like the old mining town of Ōhura, are extreme examples – its 2013 population was 129, an 80% drop from 1961.

It would be interesting to hear from people who make their lives in these places. It’s easy to allow a sense of doom and gloom to permeate when looking at numbers alone, but situations are always nuanced. Award-winning photographer Tony Carter visited Ōhura time and time again in the last two years to photograph its people. He recognised that life was hard and but noted that ‘most people [were] proud of who they are. I felt the people there were quite creative in their own way and happy with their own company’.

In search of the Great Southern Cheese Roll

A cheese roll in a Middlemarch café – not quite the real thing

A cheese roll in a Middlemarch café – not quite the real thing

Having grown up down south, it took me a long time to realise that other parts of New Zealand don’t know what cheese rolls are, which is so very, very sad. There have been at least two, possibly three, conversations during morning tea at Te Ara where the few of us who grew up south of the Waitaki (or at least went to university there) have tried to explain the delights of cheese rolls to those unfortunates who have never tasted them. The others haven’t seemed convinced by our passion, and unfortunately we never managed to provide any for tasting purposes, although we threatened to, which might explain why they’re still not mentioned in Te Ara.

If you too have no idea what I am talking about, then let me explain. Cheese rolls are made from thin white bread, which is spread with a mix of tasty cheese, Maggi onion mix and evaporated milk, then rolled up, spread with butter and grilled. Well, that’s my memory of them – there are a few alternatives out there, which include an actual onion or mustard and vinegar rather than the Maggi. (You can watch a video here on how to make them if you’re interested.)

When I was growing up in Dunedin you could still buy them from a tea shop, or the department store tearooms or the school tuck shop, and they were a cheap, warm and filling food. They also came frozen in large plastic bags, usually as part of a fundraising exercise. If you grew up in a health-conscious household like I did, eating brown bread, margarine and trim milk, cheese rolls were not only cheap, warm and filling, but also quite possibly the food the devil supped on in hell, and therefore totally irresistible.

Recently I have run into ‘cheese rolls’ again – but cheese rolls that have had a makeover. One time was when I stopped at a café in Middlemarch last winter (I know, cafés, Middlemarch – the Otago Central Rail Trail has really transformed some bits of rural Otago) and was presented with a very large wholemeal bread version (pictured above). It tasted great – but was not a cheese roll as we knew it.

The second time was more recently, at Arthur’s, a café on Cuba St in Wellington which serves ‘Dunedin cheese rolls’. I was there with two other former Dunedinites, so of course we had to try them. Sadly neither were these the cheese rolls of memory, although they looked similar. In this case the filling had become more sophisticated – like a gruyere fondue mix – and it was served with chutney! While we ate them all (in seconds), we all agreed that, once again, they were not the cheese rolls of old.

A cheese roll with chutney (whatever next?) at Arthur's in Wellington

A cheese roll with chutney (whatever next?) at Arthur's in Wellington

However, all is not lost – recently a plate of authentic cheese rolls was circulating at our Ministry, courtesy of the lovely Ashley, and a shared lunch that got cancelled. A good southern lass, Ashley made her cheese rolls as mother made them (well, not my mother), and I ate mine far too fast to photograph it.

It is not just the (strange) southern people who have worked on Te Ara who have this obsession – Labour MP Clare Curran wrote an Ode to the Cheese Roll; the Riverton Art Centre produced an exhibition, Toasting the Cheese Roll; Southland radio hosts James and Rachel wrote a song about them; at one time Lynda Topp had 6 dozen in the freezer; and Professor Helen Leach, along with researcher Raelene Inglis, even published an article on them, ‘Toasted cheese rolls – a regional specialty in New Zealand’.

I’m not sure what it says about our nation, if anything, when one of the few regional food specialities we seem to have is white bread & cheese (dressed pies arguably being another), but perhaps if the Mainland ever secedes from the rest of the country they could include the cheese roll as part of their flag – an image of melted cheese flapping in a southerly has a certain mad logic to it.

Babies on a plane

Aeroplane café, Mangaweka (click for image credit)

Aeroplane café, Mangaweka (click for image credit)

There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror – Orson Welles

Those of you who read my last blog know that I am off to a wedding in Ireland in May.

Getting over there should be relatively straightforward. Just twenty-odd hours in a plane. Eating tiny reheated meals, sleeping, not sleeping, worrying about deep vein thrombosis or terrorists, reading, watching back-to-back-to-back movies. No big deal, right?

Normally. However, this time my baby daughter is coming with us. By the time we take off, she will be 13 months old. Too old to sleep most of the way. Too young to be glued to the television. In other words, trouble.

Don’t get me wrong. My daughter is a happy and laid-back wee thing (most of the time). Nevertheless, I am petrified she is going to end up being the demon child everyone on the plane wants to throw out the emergency exit. You know the one that kicks the back of your chair, clambers over seats, wanders aimlessly down the aisle, screams for hours on end or tries to get into the pilot’s cabin.

I can’t claim the moral high ground either. I normally dread sitting next to small children on long-haul flights. However, this time I’m legally obliged to. I can still remember one particularly horrific flight to London, listening to the banshee wail of a baby in an adjacent row. On and off for 12 hours. The tiny tot eventually fell asleep somewhere above Kazakhstan. At the time, I had harboured thoughts of duct-taping its lips together. Now, with a child of my own, I look back at that baby’s milk-splattered, hollow-eyed parents with a mixture of admiration, pity and dread. Mostly dread. Oh God, that could be me soon.

I am not alone, it seems. Over 70% of travellers surveyed by a British travel website in 2014 wanted to see child-free areas introduced on aircraft, while another 30% said they would pay extra to be on a flight without children. Parents have hit back at the cynics, arguing that an ‘aircraft is not the opera’ and that passengers have unrealistic expectations about children and noise levels.

Hoping to avoid the indignation of fellow passengers, I dipped into Te Ara in search of clues to this parenting conundrum. Specifically, what parenting practice would best deal with a restless baby trapped 30,000 feet in the air? Stick with the traditional authoritarian approach and rule with an iron hand? Lock her in the overhead compartment the minute she starts crying? Perhaps not. Instead of physical restraint, maybe I could try a more permissive style, guiding rather than ordering if you will – even if this means walking her round the plane several hundred times. Perhaps it is better to cut off any tantrums at the pass and try ‘helicopter parenting’ for the duration of the flight – hovering around my little princess, attending to all her needs and wants. Does sound exhausting though.

The journey could be worse though. The longest continuous stretch we are in the air for is 14 hours. Imagine being on a canoe from Polynesia in the 1300s. How many tired and grumpy parents were tempted to use their children as shark bait during the perilous journey to Aotearoa? Fast forward to the 19th century, and the ships carrying British emigrants from the UK to New Zealand still took up to 120 days. Given our current budget, we may well have found ourselves in steerage – the 19th-century equivalent to economy class. Food was terrible and conditions cramped. Just like Qantas. Many passengers suffered terrible seasickness and disease spread quickly. A noisy child would have been the least of their worries.

What do other people think? Are there any brave (or foolhardy) souls out there who have travelled long distances with their children and survived? If so, share your story (and helpful hints) below. I would really appreciate it.