I couldn’t go back to Australia without meeting Brownie. If I couldn’t meet Dalbert, I just had to meet Brownie, but he was proving difficult to find. Malta sent messages and phone calls, but he wasn’t responding. Finally she sent a cousin around to bang on his door and get him to call her back. We organised to visit and headed to his house. I had my beautiful friends Dean & Treena along for the ride, I couldn’t have done it without my support crew. They have been part of the journey from the beginning and they were invested in the outcome.
I was really nervous and we all stood behind Malta, but when Brownie opened the door, he greeted us with hugs and a warm welcome. It was a little overwhelming, how could he be so embracing? I was expecting to have to prove myself, maybe pull out my birth certificate, how could he just believe me and accept me so easily?
Brownie talked about the family, our heritage, where we come from, right back before the canoes landed. He knew the whakapapa (genealogy) and it was incredible listening to him talk about ancestors and land and the history of our people. Then he pulled out his guitar and began to play. First of all rock, then blues and finally he sung over us the Lord’s prayer in Maori. It was an incredibly moving experience. He kept calling me 'sis' and holding my hand. I finally belonged somewhere, I was part of this story and I have a history and a heritage. I felt that Brownie received me into the family and blessed me. When we left and I got back into the car, I just wanted to cry.
The next time I went to New Zealand, Dean and Treena and I, went and picked up Brownie and he took us to Dalbert’s grave. Sacred ground, where our ancestors are buried, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, all laid to rest on beautiful ground, overlooking rolling hills. I stood at the foot of my father’s grave, with my brother and wondered at the amazing circumstances that had led to that moment. I never thought I would be doing such a thing. I didn’t think we would ever find my point of origin, my history or my family and it has changed everything.
What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to be Māori? I have never considered myself indigenous, I have always lived in Australia and I have no connection with aboriginal people. I have always felt that Australia was not my land, not my culture. I knew I was born in New Zealand and had Māori blood, but I didn't have a place of origin, I didn't belong anywhere because I didn't know who I was. When I didn't know, it didn't matter, but now that I do know, it does matter.
Now I feel like the ground after the Kaikoura earthquake in NZ. The shake was so bad that the earth split open and the ground both rose and fell, meters in height and depth. Some places are now impassible and unchangeable. This is how my heart feels. Everything has changed for me and I can’t go back to the way it was, I can only go forward, to the journey along the new ground.
But what does that look like? How can anything remain the same? Where will this new journey lead?