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A DAY OF FAMILY HISTORY

“See that manuka tree over there?” My father-in-law pointed to a lonely manuka by a small stream cutting through a horse paddock. “That’s where a cart fell on Te Kooiti’s leg and broke it. He died three days later. As a child my grandmother used to sit me down by that tree and tell me that story over and over again. I used to think: Oh no, not the same story again! Now I understand.”

For years my father-in-law, Haare Williams, has told us about how he grew up with his grandparents in a raupo hut on the side of a hill by the Ohiwa Harbour. They were given a strip of land where Te Kooiti, the famous Maori chief, was mortally wounded to be the kaitiaki (caretakers) of this historic, some would say, sacred spot.

On Sunday we finally got to see the actual place. It was a special day – for me, my husband and my son. Actually I don’t think my son was too impressed traipsing through horse dung, gorse and swamp to see a hill and some bush! But when he’s older he’ll appreciate it – and the best thing is that it’s all on film. That’s right – the film crew were there to record Haare’s life as part of a documentary series of Maori men and women who have been pioneers in their field.

Things eventually got interesting for our eight-year-old when the film crew asked him to wade across the mud flats. What boy doesn’t like squishing his feet in thick black mud? He was re-enacting what Haare did each day at the same age – walking across the mud flats to school, about five miles away.

Nutrition wasn’t high on the agenda that day but history and culture was. The local people welcomed us onto their marae in the traditional way with singing, speeches and of course, a cup of tea and food. It’s a day I will always treasure.