For some strange reason, a few years ago, my first born son, Jordan, decided to buy rental units in New Zealand. He wasn’t living there and he grew up in Australia, but he knew our cultural history and decided it was a great place to own units. Especially as the property market in Australia was far too expensive and he really had no desire to live there again. At that time, Jordan worked as a performer for Disney, on one of the huge cruise lines, so purchasing an investment property, while working on a ship in the middle of the ocean heading towards the Caribbean, really was all about the figures.
He found his first one in Wairoa. Small town New Zealand, but positively geared and good for rental. Anyway, while mum and I were still travelling around on our research expedition in NZ, Jordan messaged to say he needed help in sorting out the unit. It needed a tidy up, in-between tenants. So we decided to head off on a road trip south, sort the property and check out some places along the way. I’m an artist, I paint beautiful contemporary paintings, and I am always looking for places to sell or exhibit. So I mapped out a trek that included places of interest for future reference and off we went.
We were all set, bags packed, cleaning gear sorted, mattresses to sleep on, food to eat, sleeping bags and blankets and a toasted sandwich maker. We were prepared for whatever lay ahead of us. Then Jordan tells us that we can’t enter his property for another five days, because of some technicality with the tenant, and he wanted us to abort the mission.
Not being people that easily give up, we decided to make a detour instead, and headed off to Palmerston North, where my new friend Helen lives. We had met at the Hui, I had asked her about one of the old photos on the marae walls and we started talking about the art. I wanted to know what the symbols of the artwork meant and what were the stories they represented, so many questions! So I messaged her and we were then headed to Palmy!
Helen and her husband, Sal, have two beautiful children, Lauralee & Emanuel. Helen was studying the Masters of Māori Visual Arts at Massy University and she showed us the end of year exhibition, along with all the other cool arty things in town. Then Helen took us to her studio space and I fell in love! It is in the Square Edge Arts Centre, top floor. There is a cafe on the lower floor along with an arts supply store, it just couldn’t get any better! The view of the square out the window, was just amazing and Helen said she would share her space if I wanted to join her and return to Palmy. Is there really any question?
Mum was a hairdresser back in the day, so while we were at Helen’s house, Lauralee wanted her hair cut. Now when Nana (mum) cuts hair she usually uses a cup from the kitchen to put warm water in to wet the hair, so I just grabbed one, not giving it a second thought. Helen quietly took me aside and asked me to return the cup to the laundry when we were finished. 'That’s not what we do, we don’t mix the body with food and now that cup will become the hairdressing cup for the laundry', she patiently said. I felt so bad, I don’t know anything about Māori culture or custom and we were already doing the wrong thing 5 minutes there! But Helen was kind and reassuring and after I apologised 200 times, she simply said, 'I know you don’t know, but if you come back I’ll teach you’.
This statement resonated with me, ‘If you come back, I’ll teach you’. Later that night I was showing Helen the Karakia album and asking her to translate some of the Māori statements. I want to know what they are saying, I want to learn this language, again she said to me, ‘If you come back, I’ll teach you’. So there was nothing else to discuss, I was moving to NZ, to Palmerston North for cultural education, now I just needed to tell my family!