Knight, Laura Alicia Interview

Good afternoon. Today is Friday 18th December 2020. I am Lyn Sturm and I’m about to interview Laura Knight. Laura grew up in Nūhaka as a child, and then she moved on to different things. Now I’ll hand it over to Laura to tell us her story.

I was born in 1932. My mother was Rangi Williams and my father was Arapiu Te Kauru Campbell. And I suppose I was an unwanted child, the product of the shearing sheds in those times. My father was a shearer … gun shearer, and he was young and fancy free, and he had a car; lots of money from shearing. And my mother was a fleece-o, and that’s what they do in shearing sheds; I mean they work so hard. And the fleece-os are young and that sort of thing, and he looked like a good catch for my mother so she made sure … well, she got pregnant.

Now what happened to me – I was supposed to be adopted because Dad was fancy free, of course, and didn’t want to be tied down. And of course I was a girl baby, so I was handed over to his brother, Edward Barton Campbell, his big brother. And his fiancée was Laura Paku; and they thought it was okay, I suppose. The problem was Ned, or Edward, developed tuberculosis, and while he was born in about 1900, he died in 1935 so I would’ve been about … going on three. So back I went to Mother, who parked me with … brought me to the valley. Actually, when she got pregnant she came to the Nūhaka valley, stopped at old Grandpa and Grandma’s house and said, “I’m pregnant to your son.” But I had to go to Hastings ‘cause I was a breach birth. And then I was given to Aunty Laura, and Ned passed away in 1935 with tuberculosis; in those days tuberculosis took a lot of our people.

Okay – oh, so I was given back to Grandpa and Grandma. Of course my mother had got pregnant a year later to [with] Rose, my sister, and she was already with Grandpa and Grandma. So there we were with Grandpa and Grandmother, and along came Tui and Anna … four girls, and Dad still wasn’t convinced. So [chuckle] we were all brought up with the old Grandmas and Grandpas who lived not far from one another in the valley; like, you know, that’s what they did with their young people when their children or grandchildren had children – they would just nurse them along, feed them and whatever, and we would be roaming around from Grandma to Grandma; you’d always be fed. And that’s how we grew up until Burton came along five years after me … or was it six years? Mmm. And Dad was so pleased to have a boy child … “My son and heir”; I can still remember him saying, “Oh, this is my son and heir.” [Chuckle] And he sort of settled down.

The next one who came along a year later, sort of, was Mary; and off she went to Tolaga Bay to the other old people to be brought up. Yep – and we roamed around the Nannys and that, getting bigger and bigger. And after Mary there was another boy, Larry … Lance … and he had Father’s name, Arapiu … yep. And he finally realised he had to you know, build a house of their own instead of living with Grandma and Grandpa.

We had the most wonderful Grandmother and Grandpa, and all the old people there – who would they be? Oh, their children, and her sisters – they were all there with all of us children, just roaming around and going to school when we were five.

What school did you go to?

Nūhaka Native School. Yep. That’s where we went. I suppose we got on a school bus at that time. I was six … no five … when I went to school with Nanny Hera, and then she passed away so back I went home to Grandpa and Grandma. Yep. So what else? Oh – we were sent away to Mangatuna, [Gisborne] to live with other relatives; just for three months or so while they built a house, a little cottage, for us to live in so we wouldn’t have to live with Grandpa and Grandma; because we had two boys at that time, and Dad was quite proud of himself, I suppose. And then we lived in our little cottage; not for too long, I think I was ten when we lived in the cottage. And by the time I was eleven Mother was pregnant again. And Dad had to take over the farm, because his younger brother who was running the farm docked [decked] his grandfather, and Dad had to jump the fence – we were standing at the fence – and Dad had to jump the fence, run across the paddock and stop the fight. So Dad was told to take over the farm, and that’s what he did; of course he was a workaholic.

Where was the farm?

There were paddocks … well, we lived on a whole lot of flats in the valley, but we also had a farm, sixty-something acres on the hill. And Dad had to clean it up because it was full of fern and blackberry, and he had to fence it. And in those days he worked with a slasher, and your body, and fire; and then he built a fence all around it … ‘bout sixty-six acres it was. And we were the kids, running from home to … ooh … all along the ridge. It was called Tohutohu Ridge. We’d go up the hill and go along the ridge to take his lunch, and to go and play over in the hills; and you know, help him by … “Get me this”, “get me that”, “get me water”, “get the tools.” Stuff like that. And those were good days, and we were catching little lizards and things and all that, you know, getting used to …

[Speaking together] Geckos?

… yeah, geckos and all those things, playing up there. So those were very good memories.

When did you live next door to my Grandparents, Cyril and Mabel Sturm?

Ah … Cyril lived in the block … we had the block between Mangaone Road and River Road, and on our side of the River Road was the block that Cyril and Mabel – we always called her Mrs Sturm, I didn’t know her name was Mabel – and Les and little Billy, Aunty Audrey … yep. I don’t think I knew … I knew Dick was there, but you know they’d gone off to work. And who else was there? Maybe someone else, but they were much older and so off they’d go to work, somewhere else. But Les milked the cows with Cyril … with his father. Little Billy was little Billy. Well he came later of course; he was much younger than we were. So he was Audrey’s boy. Yep – I think she joined the Forces somewhere – I think. Did she? I thought she joined the Forces or … before she had little Billy.

That was Aunty Mersel.

Mmm. I always thought she did, I don’t know why. Because the Americans came through here; they went to Mahia, and were going up and down here and taking the girls to the pubs and things like that, in those days.

Is that when they were drilling out at Mahia?

No, the American soldiers; the American soldiers came over here to practise and they were going back and forth. And my mother used to be saying, “Oh, look at those women going …” blah, blah. Yeah; chucking off, because all the young girls were going with the American soldiers to the pub down Mōrere. Yeah, so I think that was that time during the war, so I don’t know how long [old] I would be. Anyway … Cyril lived … I think his block was about three and a half acres. It’s that block on the corner, and they had fruit trees; it was full of fruit trees. He had the same apples as Grandpa. Grandpa had a huge orchard; he had a lot of apple trees that were red. When they were ripe they were just red – they weren’t spotty or had lines in them like Delicious and that, and had other colours – no, they were just red; red apples with a very sharp taste, firm apples. Yes, because we used to climb up those trees and Grandpa would be waving his stick and that, and we’d run for it. And Sturm had those apples in the front. And Les was the one who milked those cows. And while Cyril owned that block, he also used our family block next to him, which is about … oh, that’ll be about three acres … it’s next to him on that corner. Have you been to his corner block?

I know where you mean.

Where the Osgoods are, right? Well he had quite a few cows, and then he’d take them up the hill next to us where Dad was working. Just further over was another sixty-six acre block that belonged to our family, and that’s the one that Cyril and them put their cows on as well, since Cyril was there; he always used that block because our other family – we called him [?Te Kauru Potupotu?] … Te Kauru Hohepa – he lived in Nūhaka. He was a Mormon and he didn’t milk cows, so that block was vacant; so Cyril used that block. Okay … yep. So we never spoke to them; I mean we didn’t sort of … Dad might’ve, or the grown ups might’ve, but as kids we went to the Native School and natives did not talk to the kids at the public school. Well, we didn’t.

Did you get the strap for speaking Māori?

We had two cousins – they were little toughies, and they didn’t speak very much English. And they were the ones who went off to the get the strap while we quietly didn’t talk at all. Yep. We did speak a bit of Māori, but we knew we were too scared to speak. So I suppose I was a dummy in the class, because you were scared of what you said and you always were quiet and that sort of thing.

Do you think you [would’ve] had a different attitude to education if you’d been at a different sort of school?

A different sort of school …

That [Where] you weren’t afraid to speak Māori?

Well that wasn’t the case in those days, so you had to go with that. That was the law, and I suppose I was one of those kids who didn’t speak at all; but some children … I think the Mormon kids were the most friendliest kids out. They went to that church, and they were taught in the American way how to get on and all that sort of thing and talk to everybody and everyone. And they were the nicest kids ever, you know, while we kids, we could get snappy and grumpy and have fighting and all that sort of thing. Yeah – that was the difference in those days. The Mormon children, girls especially … we got on … they were so nice.

That’s awesome to know.

Mmm. Because they were brought up strictly. My mother had problems I think, because she got pregnant probably nearly every year, she had a mantra. Mmm.

How old was she when she first got pregnant?

She would be about twenty, mmm. And I suppose she was young, and she was out working, and she got pregnant. Yeah … well, she would go back to Hastings, where my dad did his shearing contracts, with Laura Paku; and her mother was living next door. So I think she pursued my father when I look back; she pursued my father because he was a workaholic and he made lots of money, and he always seemed to have a new car; but then he drank as well, so … yep. And when he got the farm, he worked [it] himself, and we were about eleven, twelve – we had to go and take over the farm and milk the cows, yeah.

By hand, or did you have the machines?

By hand … milked by hand.

How many?

Well, maybe we could milk about three each … three fours [are] twelve … we started off with twelve maybe, and got more. Dad wasn’t one to sit back, and he was buying cows when he could, and that; and of course he bought sheep to put on those paddocks that he cleaned. And we were learning to ride a horse by twelve, and we had to go up the back every weekend to look at the cows and things, and keep a check on them and report back if they died – stuff like that.

We were little … all the kids in Nūhaka milked cows. We had a factory, a cheese factory; export to England – dear old England – exporting cheese. So every kid milked cows. That’s our history, yeah. Some didn’t, but most did. And of course you had to work, because you had to earn your money to go to the pictures every week – that was our highlight. We had a picture hall; well, the Mormons brought it in, you know.

What sort of movies were they?

Oh – cowboys and Indians mostly; and some funny little movies, you know – they were very good movies, cowboys and Indians and stuff.

Can you remember how much it cost you to go to the movies?

Maybe sixpence, I think … round about. Yeah.

Your parents – were they able to give you pocketmoney?

Oh yes – we worked our little butts off, us kids, you know, at home; there was always stuff to do on the farm, and gardens; and we worked hard to get that money. We had to go to the pictures, so we didn’t mind.

How many children did you end up with in your family?

Well, twelve … thirteen children; my mother had thirteen children, yep. But Dad had twelve. Yes. And one year mother was … maybe she was a bit naughty or something. Yes; so she had a daughter, but she was raised with us. Yeah. I think there was maybe … things developed, yep. I was fourteen at the time.

What did you do when you left school?

Oh, left school … I went nursing. I was seventeen and a half by March. I went to the Wairoa Hospital, and I loved it. You worked six days a week and had one day off. Well you developed friends, and I loved sport. And yep, I was there nine months towards the end of the year. And there was a rodeo on in Napier, and two of my friends were going and I wanted to go, and the Matron in charge didn’t want me to go. I must have been stubborn or something, so she said, “You pack your bags if you go”, so I sort of felt that was a threat, because I loved it and I worked my little butt off nursing because it was so interesting, and there was so much to learn in nursing. And I felt that she could’ve been a bit more subtle … whatever, when I look back; because she just said, “Well you can pack your bags if you go. If you go, you can pack your bags.” So I went and packed my bags, and never went back.

So I worked down at the pub, waitressing; we had dining. That’s the Mōrere pub. Yep. Oh, that’s when I discovered boys, I suppose. Well actually, I discovered boys when I went to [had] a year away in Hastings High School. I don’t know why mother sent me to Aunty Laura for that year … mmm. And I came back and went nursing; and then gave that up and worked in the hotel, waitressing. And anyway, that was about … I was getting on in years … mmm.

And I never got serious with any person, male person, ‘cause I wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill. So one day, I think I asked my sister, because we’d get girls coming in from Australia; they work in different hotels and move along to see the country, and that’s how they got around. So they talk about it, and I thought, ‘Well, I want to see what’s going on there’; asked my sister, and she didn’t want to leave. She had a job down in the Nūhaka shop. So I got on the bus – I think I had an argument with another girl and I got the sack. And I got on the bus and went to Gisborne; I thought, ‘I’ll go there, that’s over the hill’. They were talking about driving to Rotorua, and I thought, ‘Ooh, that’s where they’ve got boiling mud pools and geysers, hot water; and I want to see all that.’ So they said, “Go and book into the hotel, and get on the bus tomorrow.” So away I went to Rotorua; and walked across a street and booked in there. And they didn’t have a waitress, so I said, “I’m a waitress”. Away I went and worked, and there were so many jobs there; so many tourists came in. And that hotel … it was an old hotel, and it was the first time I ever saw cockroaches; cockroaches in that place; it was so old, and that was amazing – I never ever saw those cockroaches before.

So I went somewhere else to work, and who should come and live there but Jack Crombie. Yeah, Jack Crombie. And Mrs Crombie – she must’ve recognised me – she says, “Have you rung your mother and told your mother where you are, your parents? They’re worried about you. You go and ring them.” And I thought, ‘Oh, okay, okay.’ So next day she said again – she was bossy. [Chuckle] She was very bossy; she said, “Now, have you rung them? You go and and ring them at once.” So I had to ring them and tell them where I was, and they were very happy to see I was working. She thought I looked good waitressing; she wasn’t on my table, but she was there. So I suppose that they were glad to know that I was there, and that I was working, and looked healthy. I wasn’t pregnant or anything. I loved sports so I got in with the Rotorua people … yep.

Anyway, I was there for a few years – couple of years, three years – and I met Patrick, and I got pregnant, yeah, [with] my son. So we had Henry; and we needed a house because there weren’t many houses around; and lucky [luckily] they had sections for sale, and … oh, we had to go to the Māori Land Court to buy that section because they gave you the loan. And then they said, “Keep depositing and we’ll build your house when you get enough deposit.” On and on ‘til Beazley came along – it’s a construction company – and you didn’t need a deposit. So we built a house, and … what happened? Ohh, it gets boring …

It’s really fascinating!

Yeah, well – we worked our little butts off, because you’re stuck with payments for your house; and wages weren’t that much in those days.

Was that back in the sixties?

Sixties … no, the fifties. What happened? Oh, my son was born in ‘55, actually. I went nursing in the fifties, and those things all happened a year … ‘51, ‘52, working in hotels and going to Rotorua, and then getting married. ‘55 I was pregnant – well he was born January ‘55. Yes, so you had to work your butt off again to get a house, and that’s what we did.

How long did you live in Rotorua?

‘55, then we got a house in maybe ‘57 or ‘8, or something. And my father and mother used to visit, and he was growing trees on our section … quarter of an acre section. And then he came over in ‘60; he was not well. He was working, because in ‘54 Aunty Winnie …

Actually, in ‘47 I was still at home, and Aunty Winnie lived on the top three and a half acres next to us. And it’s all tūpuna whenua; it’s all Māori land, and that land … I suppose that’s what I’m on now. It’s about the land, and from Sturm’s to Mangaone Road – he’s on the Nūhaka Valley Road, the River Road, and we’re on the Mangaone. And we had that … our tūpuna got that land for us, between there. The problem happened when a marae came on there, on three and a half acres there. That was one grandmother, the sister of my grandfather, who was the caretaker of that land – she gave it to the marae. Mmm. So my father and Aunty Winnie had the next property. And they started moving out; people started moving out at that point. That was a time when they all moved to the cities to take their children … all those children, they had to get a better life and they could get lots of jobs in Napier and Hastings. And Aunty Winnie wanted to do that, yep; she couldn’t make enough money milking her cows, so away they went to Napier.

And my dad knew that because he worked our farm, that wasn’t making much money either. So he bought a giant disc machine and went giant discing to get the money to buy Aunty Winnie out … the three and a half [acres] next door, and twenty-two acres in the back hill next to where Cyril … yep. And that’s what he was doing while we were buying our house and living in it and that. But I think it took its toll, because by sixty he had an operation … cancer of the stomach. They opened him up and closed him, and gave him six months; and he was only fifty-five then. Yep.

And while we were sort of living there and working, and just paying for that, he asked Patrick … he asked me, actually. I said, “No Dad, we’ve got bills to pay; we’ve just got this house and that, it’s got to be paid for.” So he asked my husband, and my husband said, “Oh yes”; he was so overwhelmed that he should be asked, ‘cause he wasn’t a farmer, so he said, “Yes, I will.” So we had to go with that, and … oh, well I used to come home; I came home twice in the six months he had left. I brought the two children, got on a bus and came through the Waikaremoana road … rough road; and he was all right – very delicate, very fragile – but he was still playing and talking to the kids and you know, surviving. And then I went home again, [to] make sure Patrick was doing what he was doing; then I came back again in his last week, and he looked like a Belsen Camp survivor. He was just skin and bone, ‘cause his stomach stopped taking food. Yep, so he was really starving; even the water, the fluids, he couldn’t keep down. So I think he had … yes, there was a little bit of fisticuffs with the two children, last two children; and something happened there which I hope to find out with my youngest brother who was only about eight … yep, eight years old.

And the next day he asked to go to the hospital to get painkillers, I think it would be, and we took him to the hospital; sent the kids to school, went to the hospital, and then at the end of the day we had to come and get the kids back again and put them to bed. And the next day my mother put me on the bus to go back to Rotorua. I don’t know why she did that; I was just doing what I had to do, what I was told. By the time I got to Rotorua, Patrick said, “Oh, your father’s passed away.” So we had to come back again. So we buried him … took him to the wharenui, buried him there. And … oh, he had the truck, and we went back with my mother, and went home and packed our gear and put the house for rent – that could pay the mortgage – and came back to Nūhaka.

But my mother didn’t want us there. She had already wanted Burton, my brother Burton, there. Mmm … so there were some funny things going on. Yep – so we were on the farm only a year.

How old were you then?

Oh, thirty – I’d just gone thirty, yeah; in June, while we were here on the farm. And we knew she didn’t want us there by the end of the year, so we went to work picking fruit in the summer, and Burton came in with his girlfriend who was pregnant – oh, they had a child. So I thought, ‘Well, that’s all right’. Yes, so we go and pick fruit and go to Napier for three months … we were three months there, working, and Pat’s brother-in-law came down and offered him a job in Matamata. So we packed up and went there. I was a machinist, and he was a cutter, he learned cutting … clothing; clothing factory. That was in the sixties; ‘62 we worked the farm, and ‘63 we were away to Matamata. By ‘70 we’d pretty well come right, you know, got a car – oh no, that’s right, we’d swapped the truck for a car. And I couldn’t see myself living in Matamata when we had a house in Rotorua, so we came back to Rotorua. Mmm.

In the 1970s we went back to Rotorua, yep; and there was a lot going on. So we settled in Rotorua because he was more or less raised there, and the kids went to school. Henry went to Te Aute College and then joined the Navy, and went off on those tours; then he got itchy feet and wanted to go off to England. So off he went, yeah – five years in the Navy; resigned, and off he went.

While I got into new things, it was getting interesting; tourism, and we learnt Māori haka and poi and stuff, and we were doing concerts just about every night … concerts every night and all sorts of things there was, going. Yes, and my young son was raised on that, concerts, and karate and all that sort of thing. Yeah. And their fishing – they had fishing and hunting every weekend. Yeah, so we joined the Rotorua people … the friends; and they’ve got these lakes and they’d take their children out … the young ones, especially the boys … during fishing season. Off they go and camp weekends, and they’ve got to get up and catch their own breakfast, ‘cause they’re not getting anything unless they go and survive, and catch their own breakfast. And so they go and fish. And then they come home and they cook all that fish; the women are cooking bread at the camp, and they slice the fish open and barbecue it, and have a great old time with those kids. So those were good things going on. Yep. And I was involved with haka. I was nurse aiding at the Rotorua Hospital.

And a concert tour … oh! That was ‘78! They had the … not the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games in Canada. And they wanted a team to go over so we went, took our team over. We had to stay there a month, and that was interesting.

So what did your team do?

We did concerts, you know – you have a programme; it’s a half hour programme. For the tourists in Rotorua we do an hour programme, and you do all the different items, short poi, short single, double single, long poi, four poi – you know, you learn all that; and action songs and songs and stuff like that – bang, bang, bang, bang. And you wave them off after the concert and go home. That was a busy time because I went to work morning, came home and my son and I were, he went to his little concert, they had a little group going at that marae and we went off to the big hall doing our lot, for tourists, yep. So off I went to Canada with the group. Yep.

How long were you away – a month, was it?

Yeah, pretty well a month. Yep. Because we had to go before the actual Games and do … what they do in Canada; go to different Canadian places and put a programme on. We had a half hour programme for that, yep. Came back, and went on and on. My other son had come back from England and settled in Australia with his girlfriend; and my son, who was – my golly, he was eighteen by then – he went over for a holiday with my other son. And he rang back and he said, “Oh Ma, I’m not coming home – I’ve got a job.” Oh, he said it was exciting there, so I think I got itchy feet too; because Pat and I were going over to visit for the next two years in the seventies, ‘79 and ‘80. And it was amazing; you know, going to the city, and big tall buildings – bang, bang – everything speeding around. So I thought, ‘Ooh, what are we going to do? I don’t want to be sitting in Rotorua. All they do is work, work, work, and on the weekends it’s drink, drink, drink … drink, drink, drink, beer. Mmm, right. I thought that was so boring, so I went over [in] 1980, and stayed there and I wasn’t coming home.

I told Patrick, “I’m not coming home”. And I was sort of going to the hospital, volunteering and stuff; and getting a flat to bring my two sons in so that we could get together and look to the future, and start something new. Mmm. Anyway, by the time we rang Patrick for a happy birthday, he said, “No – you come and get me; come and get me.” So I came over and picked him up and off we went back.

And then my daughter-in-law had a grandson; she got pregnant and had a grandson, and there we go, that’s why we went there; because all my friends were having grandchildren, and when she had one … well, that was it. Then she had another one ‘bout eighteen months later. So we had that time bringing those kids [grandkids] up. It was amazing. I’d go to work – I’d get a week [weekly] ticket, but on the weekends there was nothing to do with that whole week ticket, so I’d grab the kids – they’re free on the trains, buses and ferries – and off we’d go everywhere round the city, and across on the ferries. And they’d say, “Oh, we want to go there.” And we’d say, “Oh, right then, we’ll try that ferry; see if it goes there.” You know, there’s a …

What city is this?

Where they have those wheels and things. [Sydney] It had closed down, [Luna Park] but I wasn’t telling them that. I thought, ‘We’ll try this ferry and see if it goes over there.’ So we were doing all that stuff, and they were growing up, you know. So that was our thing … we grew up with our kids, [grandkids] and they grew up to teenagers.

Oh – I think Patrick developed sugar diabetes. Of course with his life drinking, when you look back you think, ‘So many of us have diabetes, and why?’ Especially men that we knew; and yes, they were drinking all weekend – they’d drink, drink, drink, drink, and it’s full of sugar and all those chemicals; and that was Patrick. Yep, diabetic.

Anyway, it was so interesting over there because I started working with, you know, refugees, in a clothing factory. Refugees … and you listened to their lives, and you know, how they got there; and it was so interesting. And they talk to you because that’s how they practise their English. “Will you talk to me?” “You talk-a me.” And then they talk, talk, talk; and you correct their English. And they want to talk all the time; that’s how they learn quicker. That sort of thing – that was interesting.

Then I did a little course at the TAFE [Technical & Further Education] College, St George, and we had to sit through an Aboriginal film, ‘Women of the Sun’, in three series. And I couldn’t believe the behaviour, that their lives could be like that. So I talked to the teacher and she said, “Well you should find out more – they’ve just opened a [an] Aboriginal College in Redfern.” And because I had a part-Aboriginal grandfather, my mother’s father – she was a giveaway child; my mother was a giveaway child. Why? Oh! Nanny went with a person who came from Australia, a male, and he was part-Aboriginal … large, tall, and with the features. His papers … I took them to the college and they said, “Oh, you can stay for the two weeks.” We had two weeks, and so I stayed there for two weeks and I felt quite at home. I took the course – painting; learnt that sort of art. So I went to that school for two weeks, and at the end of it I said, “Oh, I love the painting”; so I said, “Can I stay?” And they said, “Sure”, ‘cause they knew the family … Williams family. They said, “Oh we know that family”, and told me the history. And I said, “Well how did he get to New Zealand?” “Oh, that’s okay – they took them everywhere, all over the world. They had no say; they had to go there ‘cause they had to go on a farm and work.” And so I stayed there for three years, and at the end of three years they sent us to university, and there was about – oh, I was going on sixty … yep, from fifty to sixty. There were three of us; two other Aboriginal ladies going on sixty.

So we all went. We thought it was a big joke – “oh yeah, what will we do with a degree?” And we went there, “Oh yes, sit a test.” “All right”; we sat a test. “Okay. You passed the test, so you come next year.” We had our papers published in the papers. So we went to uni, and we did our Bachelors; different places. Esme did hers in … that’s Esme up there … Sociology. I did Politics and Journalism, and – where’s the other photo? There’s three of us somewhere. Neryl de Rome – she did Writing; she wanted to write her history so she did Writing … whatever. But after the Bachelors Esme wanted to do Honours; so I said, “Oh, all right, I’ll do Honours.” I had nothing else to do, so she and I did Honours; sort of a thesis.

So what was yours on?

What was mine on? [Chuckle] ‘Colonialism, Capitalism and Christianism’. Well it was a political one about … it was about Aboriginal Terra Nullius. [Nobody’s Land] Well, it took a hundred years for the government to make the Protection policy – 1780 to 1880. They suddenly realised that the Aboriginal people were being wiped out because of the Terra Nullius theory that they weren’t there. So if they were on your land you could get rid of them very quickly. They disappeared. And disease of course, was a huge area where they disappeared, and that’s because of that Terra Nullius policy.

It wasn’t well received because … well the markers gave me 75, two of them; but the other one gave me 60. And they were saying, “Well why didn’t you write about the good stuff?” Yeah, well … It was because I wrote fully on the destruction, and I didn’t know what the good stuff was, the good policies; well, I suppose the Protection policy was a good policy. Mmm.

There were a lot of things that I wrote about; that’s why I did Journalism and Political Theory. Yep. Journalism taught me to speak to people. I was so scared of people, but once you started … and we had a good teacher, a journalism teacher, teaching us to interview people, and interview other reporters … journalists. And she said, “You go and get this wire thing there, you plug it in your recorder, and you plug that to the phone. I didn’t tell you that, either”, she’d say. So that’s how you caught people out, because those journalists, they were so … they knew; ‘cause I would say, “I’m a student in Journalism”, and they’d give you the run around, and the question you asked them went around the bush. And you recorded and you were listening, and you thought, ‘My God, they’re cheeky!’ And then I finally knew how to get around it, ‘cause – bang, straight in. Yeah. So those were the things – I stayed there nine years; I finished with a Masters.

So you have a Masters degree?


You’re just amazing!

Well, I learned so much. It was a learning phase in my life.

Other things happened of course – oh, I was smoking; I went there, I was a smoker, and I could hardly get up the stairs at times. And my daughter-in-law and son went to a hypnotist. “Oh, we’ve finished smoking.” So I thought I’d better go. And I went to the hypnotist and you relaxed; and she talks, and talks, and talks, and talks. You could hear her, and you knew she was going on and on and on and on. And then I got up at the end of it – I said, “Oh, thank goodness – I could do with a smoke.” So I paid her and off I went; got in the car, picked up my cigarettes as I usually do with a habit, and looked at them and put them back in the bag. Just like that. Okay? Wow. I didn’t touch them again and I didn’t want to smoke. I mean I tried to smoke – finish lots of times, but I never could. But that – I looked at it and put it in the bag. But, as time went on I went on a downer; Nicotine withdrawal the clinic called it. “Would you like some pills … medication?” “Oh no.” And at St George Hospital they had meditation. They had meditation classes, so I went up there. Mmm.

That work?

He’d gone to England; got all these … he was a cancer surgeon, a teacher, a lecturer; all sorts of degrees he had in medicine. And his policy was that you created your illness and you’ve got to create your cure. And he taught meditation. And blow me days – the first time I went up there and we were chanting, suddenly I had a flashback; I was way back in Grandpa … in the old marae; the old, old marae with all those old people from Tūhoe, and they were chanting, and they were whaikōrero, [ceremonial speech] and all that sort of thing. And I suddenly came to and I thought, ‘My God!’ So I thought, ‘I’m going to stick to this mediation group.’

We had a [an] Ashram in Sydney, so I went there. By the time a year went past, you know, you go there and you have a conference and you sing and chant and all that sort of thing, when the moon is full at certain times. At the end of the year they were all going off to India, so off I went and stayed in a [an] Ashram in Mumbai. That was amazing … mmm. They open you up. Mmm. And you certainly know what that doctor was talking about. Yep. And it was full of people [from] all over the world, they all come there; and you all do duties, and builders come and build more houses for the people who come. And all experts – gardens and things; they grow all these kind[s] of food – a hundred acres full of garden; all kinds of fruit, and different kinds of that fruit … mangoes, several kinds; and roses gardens. You know, that’s all it was; and all we did was do certain amount of work per day. And then of course you have lots of chanting, and a bit of work – it’s not hard work; and lectures and stuff. So I went back; so that’s what I did when I was in Australia.

You had an amazing time in Australia.

Oh, that was an amazing time, and Australia’s so beautiful – the colour; the colour and the contrast. Each state is different. It’s all different, and it’s an amazing place really; this is green, green, green. In Australia you’re learning stuff; here, I suppose you’re learning stuff, but you’re … nature is certainly with you and kind and that; Australia’s nature is full of contrast and difference. Mmm.

So … oh, my husband had a stroke. Yes – his doctor gave him full instructions: take your medication; go and play golf, you love golf; don’t drink – just maybe occasionally, but don’t drink. And of course he goes to golf and they’re all drinking, so … we had a good word. Had a stroke and sort of … mmm. I don’t think he recovered. Mmm. Passed away in … what wqas it? Oh, ‘07 … June ‘07. So I thought, ‘Well, what’ll I do now?’ And I thought, ‘I’d better take his ashes home; I can’t keep them there or bury them there.’ So I brought them home.

And I struck a war zone here. Our land was a war zone. The daughter that my mother had, not to my father but to an uncle down the road, in 1947 – well their kids had grown up. Mmm, so that’s where we are right now. I’m home since ‘07 and it’s been a war zone. And I’ve learnt a lot about the New Zealand style, New Zealand living, and so that’s why I’m doing my whakapapa. [Ancestry or genealogy]

Is that to trace your piece of land, and ownership of your land?

Well, that daughter … see my mother had thirty-five years on the farm, and that daughter grew up – Maxine. And I don’t know why she … she wanted to take over the land – that three and a half acres special – and my father made sure to get it. Didn’t matter about his health, he had to buy that back because it’s special, from tūpuna. We’ve got a history on that particular three and a half; and he got it back.

But when Maxine and her husband and family … I think my mother had been talking to them, “Go and get that land.” They bought the homestead and they went there, and they wanted that land next door. And they weren’t going to have it – not while I was around, anyway. Oh, he was very violent, one son; he would kick us off. And because I’d arrived back – and we’ve got camellia trees up there a hundred years old – that’s from old Grandpa; the Grandpa who lived there planted those camellias. There’s a huge white camellia, the old kind – it’s so perfect. And I used to pick branches of them and take them to my flat in Wairoa – I lived in Wairoa – you know, because I loved flowers, you know, for Patrick and my daughter-in-law, ‘cause she contracted cancer and died. He died in ‘07 and she died in ‘08, February, that’ll be eight months after him. So, that’s what I needed those flowers for. Mmm.

And while he was being violent … “Get out of here! F-off!” Blah, blah, blah – “I’ll rip that [?] out” and that; jumped in front of my car and that, ripped the thing out of my hand – I’m trying to open this wire gate, and he rips it out. All of a sudden I had to start thinking, and I remembered Aunty Winnie, she had that place; and she caught this man walking home in the morning, and she told my mother off. I was fourteen years old. “Rangi, you put a stop to it!” And my mother used to get nasty and tell her to shut up; and swearing and cursing her. And … oh! All of a sudden my dad came home from work on the horse; and Aunty Winnie caught him, “You put a stop to that man in the morning – early in the morning, walking the paddocks – put a stop to him, Sam.” [Chuckle] She’s got that high voice. And my mother used to call her ‘the peacock’ …”There goes the peacock”, you know, that sort of thing. And my father just rode past; he didn’t want to interfere with these women growling.

My mother denied it of course, but she got pregnant that year, and Maxine was born. She made Maxine, the baby, sleep with Tui – that’s another sister. And she said, “Watch the baby in case it gets a fit”, and Tui didn’t know what she was talking about. And one night the baby got a fit and it wouldn’t stop, and Tui had to call Mother. And there was some screaming going on and it woke me up; and I walked out and there was Mother running past me screaming her head off. And I walked into the room and Dad was holding the baby. See, uncle has got epilepsy, and when he was younger than my dad – my dad was his brother’s cousin, you know, they were … when we developed our relationships, our best friend with [was] our cousin, and you kept together and looked after one another. And they looked after their little brother because he had epilepsy, he would just drop with a fit or something. And the baby was having a fit and my Dad knew how to calm it down because he’d done that for his cousin – that naughty cousin that had been sneaking my mother. And he really knew what happened; I think that hurt him. Yep – that hurt him really badly, and he didn’t want Maxine in the family. Because she came to live with me for two years while I lived in Rotorua, and she was sent to College. So that sort of thing happened.

Oh, and Maxine grew up, and mother had thirty-five years to talk to her. As soon as my mother died in 1997, Maxine bought the homestead, and then she went to the Māori Land Court and she applied for succession … that she was Arapiu’s daughter … a family succession. But she didn’t tell the family. Yep – that sort of thing goes on.

Later on in 2000 when I finished university … did my last assignment … I sort of wondered, ‘What am I going to do now?’ And I asked the sisters that were in Queensland, “Shall we bring the family together? You know, it’s been thirty-five years since mother died, and we’ve heard nothing.” And they said, “Oh no, I don’t think our family will ever come together.” No, that’s not right; it’s ‘03 I came over and called a meeting. And it was a good meeting; the family came together and talked, and we said, “We’ll do our whānau trust”; that was ‘03. So ‘04 I came back again and we prepared the papers to go to the Māori Land Court to have a whānau trust. Yep. But Maxine was already on the land and wanting that particular property. So we did do the whānau trust; that’s when Patrick had that stroke.

Yeah … so here I am. All that problem made me remember things. And I started remembering and I told the girls and we had a meeting. And even Anna … Tui remembered about the baby; she had to sleep with that baby and it had a fit; and then Anna said, “Oh, Uncle [?] came to our house, sitting in our kitchen.” She was only a schoolgirl going to high school, and Mother said, “Go and tell him to go home”, and Anna said, “What do you want?” “Oh, I’ve just come to see if Mum’s all right” … because at that time she probably was pregnant I suppose, or something … whatever. And she said, “Well, she’s all right, so go home.” Anna was like that, she’s really bossy. And that sort of thing. They all started remembering, but they said, “Well, it’s a long time now, and Maxine was a lovely girl; she was a lovely girl. So here we are at the stage, we’re in a war zone really.

Are you wanting to get your husband’s ashes on that piece of land?

Well, while we know that Maxine does have rights because she was raised with us, but her family must understand that. Maxine passed away sort of, because she threatened to take that particular piece of land to the court, Māori Land Court, and then she suddenly had a collapse and died. That sort of thing happened. But her husband is so angry, and some of the kids are so angry, and that’s what they were doing – getting angry.

So I thought, ‘Well, it’s gone on long enough.’ I’ve been home since ‘07, and I put through a court case about whakapapa; and I gave the story about this male person and what they have got. They said, “Oh you’ve got to have a DNA” [test]. I said, “You don’t need a DNA; her family has epileptics, [epilepsy] and it passes into their grandchildren. Some have got it very bad, but they’ve got it; the same as the Meihana family – they have it. It’s structured through their family and it affects them. And it’s for the Judge to ask for a DNA, not us, but it has to go to the court so that the Judge can hear it and then decide. And while we don’t expect them to get off the land because they’ve been there so long, she was our sister. And we don’t mind talking – they won’t even talk. You know, we should be very open, because a lot of people have that problem, but talk about it. This is an enlightened time, so talk.” You know, so I put that in for court cases a month ago. Yeah. But it’ll go on next year, it’ll come next year before the Judge. So there are other things to be corrected as well.

So that’s why you’ve come home?

Yeah, I would say that … that’s why I came home. I suppose, what am I doing here? You know. I love Australia. I’m trying to do painting but … yeah. I bought the paints out for ages. I’ve just got to do one and then start. I’ve got to get rid of all this whakapapa before I can go and [play?], but I want to do it between the painting and the whakapapa, the recording and stuff like that; just do a little paint at a time. But I loved it in Australia – it’s a place where you want to record that colour; and they’re colours you would never see here. Amazing! And I would recommend all the young people if they don’t stay there – my kids love it there, my sons, you know. Yep.

Well Laura, is that it? There’s nothing else that you sort of want to share with us?

Yeah, that’s enough.

You’ve done wonderfully well …

Oh, really?

you have, amazingly well. What you’ve told us is just amazing, and it’s stuff that I appreciate is personal; and to share that with us – it’s really wonderful; it does give us an insight as to where society was, and where we are now.

Oh! You know, that was interesting to be able to talk about it; that’s a funny thing. I thought, ‘No, I’d rather write things’; I don’t like talking; talk, talk, talk – I don’t like talking.

But it worked today.

But I had to look at it, but you look at it in pictures, and the pictures come and then you’re putting the words to the pictures. Of course, they don’t all come in proper form, because you’re jumping here and jumping there. That’s interesting, very interesting.

So thank you very much on behalf of the Knowledge Bank, thank you, Laura.

I think I’ll thank you.

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Interviewer:  Lyn Sturm


  • Laura Alicia Knight

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