Monday, 17 September 2012

Time To Leave ...

mawhera te awa, today I am sharing it with her

Every Monday just before 11am, she arrived at our office to do her two hour stint on the reception desk. She and her walking frame shuffled slowly up the ramp, her husband walking close behind to catch her if she stumbled. Then she'd wait, slightly impatiently, while he picked up the doormat, because she was unable to step onto it, and hold the door open for her. She always came in the door with a cheerful smile, "hi Iri, how are you, have we been busy today?" She settled down behind the desk, her husband bringing her a glass of water, "I'm alright now, you can go", she'd say to him. sometimes giving instructions about jobs she wanted him to do. Then he would go and sometimes I would be in a hurry with things I wanted to do so I would just leave. Other times I might hang about a bit and we'd chat.

She told me the story of her awesomely brave daughter who brought joy to people around her, yet had the bad luck to be stuck with a mental illness which made her own life a struggle and an endurance. This very grown-up, adult woman decided her quality of life was so badly stunted by the unasked-for illness that she wanted to leave. And, of course, our laws don't allow for us to receive assistance to complete our lives by our own decision. Even if we have a terminal illness we are expected to suffer every painful ragged raspy breath until our bodies finally give it up. If we have a non-terminal illness then our only respite might be when we can close our eyes and sleep. And wake up the next morning to continue life in a body that cannot respond to the commands our brain wants to give. Like get up, brush your teeth perhaps. Or a brain that doesn't work properly and spirals us down into the depths of despair, or up into irresponsible highs, or maybe we are tortured by mad, bad voices.

All this is apparently supposed to be character-building. Morality even. To what end, I ask? To be inspirational for some other healthy sod reading ridiculous inspirational emails or blogs, then going forth into our days to smell the roses? Really? Or to inspire some other struggling soul into carrying on her/his uphill struggle? I'm dammed if I can work it out.

Yes, I know there are people who, given a choice are happy to continue with life, no matter what brickbats are thrown at them. I applaud them, I really do. But it is about choice. It all hangs on that. It is about us all being considered as adults, able to make decisions about our own bodies, our own lives.

So, one day when in her twenties, and after a lot of very considered thought (and I think there had been at least a couple of previous attempts), the awesomely brave daughter wrote a long and beautiful letter to her family outlining what she was doing and why, "don't grieve for me" and walked out, into the Pacific Ocean.

I think this daughter must have been very like her mother. Pragmatic, down to earth and so very, very brave. Of course the mother grieved for the daughter, but she understood the decision. And respected it. This mother, this strong woman who relieves me in the office every Monday, has Multiple Sclerosis. Her father also had Multiple Sclerosis so she watched him die, watched him choke on his food, watched him struggle to breathe, watched him die in pain. And she made her decision. That when life became too onerous, too futile, when nothing would help anymore, then she would refuse further intervention. Right now, today, as I type, this is what she is doing.

She has refused any medication, she has refused a further surgery. She just wants to come back here, to the wee geriatric hospital in our town, to die. They are trying to do that for her, this morning. I am hoping she is on her way up here now.

It should be easier for her. At the moment of her choosing she ought to be able to finish it. Right then.

We don't get to choose to be born into this life. I think the least we can have is the choice to leave it, with dignity, if we want to. We do this for our pets. Why not people? If we have made a considered decision it should be respected.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


It is like this ...

you can take the girl out of Blackball
but you can never take Blackball out of the girl

it is my soul...

When I last returned

we crossed the upthrust mountains/the spine/the backbone
of the South Island - Te Waipounamu!

climbing uphill the coolgreybluebraided rivers flowing east
rolling down goldentussockclad mountains towards the Pacific Ocean ...

then/ drive through the small township of Arthurs Pass/ time
for a pit stop/ maybe lunch/ visit cheeky weka at the lookout/ don't feed them/
driving over the brandnew viaduct/

and then driving down this lushgreenbushclad leftside of the mountains
past sparklingbeerbrowm Taramakau tumbling westwards down the mountainside
to the Tasman Sea...

Ko Mawhera te Awa

The Grey River/Mawhera is about one hundred and twenty kilometres (seventy five miles) long. The Māori name for both the river and for the pa at the rivermouth was Mawhera, however in 1846 Charles Heaphy renamed it the Grey River, honouring the new Governor, Sir George Grey; the town of Greymouth now stands on the site of the old pa. In the following year (1846) the explorer Thomas Brunner "discovered" coal on the banks of the river, a few miles from the mouth, which later became the Brunner Coal Mine.

Twenty-nine kilometres (about eighteen miles from Greymouth) upriver to get to Blackball. We used to drive up to Ngahere, then turn left to get to the Blackball Bridge, a road rail bridge originally built for getting coal wagons across the river. Back in the day the bridge was opened by the then Prime Minister Richard (Dick) Seddon in 1903. If you could still drive over the bridge like we used to, you would do so and find the historic coalmining town of Blackball which sits on a terrace above the Mawhera/Grey River. Between the river and the town is/was a smaller bridge crossing the golden beerbrown Blackball Creek where George Cundy once discovered gold in 1864.

When we lived in Blackball there was still an old gold dredge on the creek and shingle tailings over which grew blackberry vines. My father would drive us down with buckets which we would fill with blackberries for making Blackberry Jam.

The town of Blackball was first begun around 1865 as a goldmining settlement. In fact, the one hundredth anniversary of the town was celebrated while we were living there. However, there was better gold to be found a few miles upriver at Moonlight. It was the opening of the coalmine in 1893 which saw the town grow and at its peak in 1928 there were 1200 people living there.

Blackball is most famous however for the "illegal" strike in 1908, (illegal because the Liberal Party led by "King Dick" Seddon had outlawed strikes), which became the subject matter for Eric Beardsley's novel Blackball 08 . The strike was in support of a half hour lunch break (crib time) which every other miner in the country was already getting. Ironically during the court case, the judge adjourned the court for an hour and a half lunch break each day.

The success of this collective action fired up the workers of New Zealand and the Red Feds were formed which, in time, developed into the Federation of Labour and the New Zealand Labour Party , and the Communist Party even moved their headquarters from Wellington (the capital city of Aotearoa/NZ) down to Blackball.

By we get to the nineteen sixties when my family were living in Blackball there was a population of only about four hundred people. Approximately eighty children attended the local primary school and they were divided between four teachers. I think my first teacher was the only woman in the town who was employed in paid work on her own account. This first teacher had been teaching this primer (new entrants) class for so many years that she had taught most of the kids' parents to read and write.

Other women involved in "earning a crust" were some wives working alongside their shopkeeper or publican husbands. Of course the Blackball and Roa coalmines were the main employers and women were not coalminers. Many of the women were involved in volunteer work and committees, really they were probably running the town..

which one is me?

I was just turning five and ready to start school when we first moved to Blackball from Taumaranui way up in the North Island. My father had been applying for jobs that were advertised in the Police Gazette (Mum really wanted to go to Christchurch) but missing out on them for one reason or another; after a while he just applied for any job that came up which was how he became the sole charge police officer in Blackball. His application was probably the only one.

It was a long journey in our big old Ford V8 car, my little sister got carsick (she never travelled well), and then we copped a stormy crossing over the Cook Strait on the inter-island ferry and my baby brother who had just turned one, was sick over his flash travelling outfit. In my memory we drove through sheets of rain all the way down the west side of the South Island and encountered frequent stoppages for road works through the Buller Gorge, which was at least a useful chance for one or both of our parents to haul us children out of the car for toilet breaks behind the ever present bush. One thing about the West Coast, there is never a shortage of handy trees.

Finally we arrived in Blackball. We had to stay at a local hotel while our house was still being cleaned and redecorated and the rats and mice eradicated. The house had been empty for about six months because the Blackball Police Station had been supposedly permanently closed, but the people of Blackball had been horrified at not having a policeman in their town and had protested so vociferously that the station was reopened. Which is where we came in ...

Monday, 10 September 2012

A Foursome

the back door and a large canvas by Philip Trusttum
Every Sunday morning I work (in a voluntary capacity) at the Arts In Oxford gallery, here in Oxford, North Canterbury. This exhibition space sits inside a just over two-year-old, purpose-built building @ 68 Main Street, Oxford.

This months exhibition at the Arts in Oxford gallery focuses on work from four prominent Canterbury and New Zealand artists. The "A Foursome" exhibition features new works from Philip Trusttum, Barry Cleavin, Denise Copland and Eion Stevens.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Don't Mimi in the Water

Sometime ago I read - in a book by a Maori writer - it may have been Patricia Grace but I am not quite sure now - anyway, as the text went, the writer and her whanau (family) were down at the beach fishing from the sea and there the children were taught to never mimi in the water but to go up the beach away from the tide and make a hole there. Which they did.

The sea and the rivers were/are the food cupboard for the kai moana (seafood) and not to be used as a toilet.

This was especially important in a land with virtually no mammals bar some island rats (and before colonisation these rats were clean enough to eat - there was no rubbish to contaminate the rats). Protein was fish, birds including seabirds, and seals. What happens to the water has an impact on us all - water is life.

So tonight I was watching a very well researched documentary on Maori TV about a river here in Aotearoa New Zealand which has had industrial waste and town sewage pumped into it every day for years. Aerial shots show this once proud river brown and murky, the filthy bloom spread out into the sea and past the reefs where the shellfish used to grow huge and feed the local population - now they can't eaten at all. Surfers and swimmers find themselves experiencing stomach illnesses. One woman described opening a shellfish only to find a brown slimey goo.

We (speaking generally), in the Western world, we wipe out our houses obsessively with expensive chemicals and we think ourselves clean while in fact we are living in the midst of filth. We flush our chemicals unthinkingly down our waterways, we eat the food produced on farms which leach artificial fertilisers and sprays onto the land and into our lakes, we allow factories to spew industrial waste into our rivers and ultimately all of this finds it's way into the seas.

We are using our entire environment as though it is one great big toilet.

What Fun to be a Kiwi

Oh, what fun to be a Kiwi in the Springtime,
With so much rain and snow enticing us out to play.
The winds keep throwing trees all over our powerlines,
At least we can rock and roll to the motion of the quakes!

so who needed Metallica after all

The Cantabrians have all learnt about Liquefaction.
The Southlanders got their flash stadium crushed under snow.
Scots Ferry, in the north, is flooded (yet again)
And no one wants to arrive in Wellington by plane.

unless you have a death wish, of course

Oh its such fun to be a Kiwi in New Zealand,
With my forsythia all covered up in snow.
Down at Cust, two cows got the shock of their short lifetimes,
When a hole opened up beneath them as they grazed!

NB: After liquefaction, when the water dries out
the earth shrinks back and holes form spontaneously

It's no wonder us Kiwis got to be so rugged,
so stoic and so staunch just like Sir Ed,
And it's no wonder so many like to go out yachting,
When the ocean's much less wavy than the land!

Now you can see why us Kiwis are so peaceloving,
We haven't time to develop all those weapons of war.
We are much too busy trying to fix our damaged buildings,
And patch our paddocks and the cracks in all our floors!

Arohanui. Pomarie.
A repost from the Multiply Site. This silly piece was first published  on the 22nd of September 2010, following the first big earthquakes in Canterbury when no one was killed and we all thought how lucky we were, and before the 22nd of February 2011 when our world really crashed down and one hundred and eighty-five people died.