The Journey Home

Part 16: The End is The Beginning

The only constant in life is change

After 47 years in Australia, we arrived home to New Zealand in April 2018 and soon after landed in Palmerston North. After a few months working in Helen's studio, mum and I opened our own art space, Studio 201 at the Square Edge Arts Centre. We loved it so much, we ran workshops, showcased my paintings and opened during the first Manawatu Arts Trail. It was the best studio I have ever had. We found ourselves a job, managing Palmy 31, but what I really wanted to do was to study at Massey University, the Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts.

I read a book recently Huia Come Home by Jay Ruka. In this book, the author discusses the history of Aotearoa, the importance of Māori worldview and the purpose of God for the people and the land. Jay uses the metaphor of the huia, once a highly prized indigenous bird, but now extinct, to symbolise the loss of value for Māori. He encourages a fresh perspective of New Zealand's history, inspiring an appreciation for Māori worldview and hope for the future by recovering treasures once thought to be extinct.

This story of my journey home, finding my family and a place in New Zealand, is a story of reconciliation that could have only been made possible by divine grace. I am a tale of two cultures. I feel I am one of the hui birds come home. Resurrected from extinction and now on a path for finding true identity and exploring the inheritance (knowledge) of my Māori heritage. As I come to understand this history, culture and inheritance, it will strengthen who I am as a person and an artist.

  Coming Home  acrylic on linen, 154 x 76cm

Coming Home acrylic on linen, 154 x 76cm

To pursue the studies, sacrifices had to be made. With a heavy heart we packed up our amazing studio gallery and for now, closed the door on Studio 201. Running Palmy 31 and beginning cultural studies will keep me busy enough.

So I am now enrolled in the Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts and the course starts tomorrow. The beginning of a new chapter, new season. My first subjects are Socialising in Te Reo, Traditional Māori Visual Art and Studio 1A. I am a little terrified, as I don't know anything and I will be learning to speak Māori through my Australian accent! But I am determined to bring my voice to this conversation and express through my art, the beauty of a fusion of pākeha and Māori influences. This is the story of Aotearoa and this is my story.

This will be my last post for a while, as I delve into the world of study. If you have been following my journey, I thank you for joining my story. I started out with an idea to write a few blog posts about finding my family, but the adventure has been so amazing, there were so many great stories to share, that I had to keep writing. I'll post again after my first semester, or first year, depending on how it goes! I know this knowledge will have a great impact on my art and my life. I don't know where the journey will take me next, but I am happy to just head down the road.

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I already have an exhibition booked in May at the Square Edge Arts Centre, so if you are near Palmy, come and join us for the celebration, I'm sure I will have new paintings to show and more stories to tell. You can find out more info from my website and I highly recommend reading Jay's book, you can find yourself a copy HERE

All the best to you, Cheers Froyle

Part 15: Palmy 31

We arrived in Palmerston North ready for our new adventure, but not really knowing how that was going to unfold or how long we would stay. Mum and I spent the first three months sharing a room at Baxters, a student accommodation / hostel. We were very happy with the simple living and I went off to the studio each day, while mum amused herself. 

Then Russell, the manager of the hostel informed us that their other accommodation place across town was in need of a manager and he thought we would be perfect for the job. How funny, I hadn't had a real job since my first born son and he is now 28. I have always pursued my art, (inbetween raising four kids), selling paintings, running workshops and mounting exhibitions. To apply for the role, I would need to google tips for writing a great CV and what the heck is a cover sheet?!

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So armed with my newly written CV and years of life experience, I applied for the managerial role. My son Chaylon had previously teased me that I was unemployable, because I didn't like 9 - 5 and I had to be the boss! Well, this job was perfect then, as the onsite manager for an 84 room student accommodation. I talked my way into the position and it was an immediate start.

When we went to look at the facility, I think Maz (my boss), thought we were joking when we said that we couldn't live with the current colour scheme! It was of course first on our agenda, right along with mum's cleaning frenzy. It took three months to turn the facility around. We cleaned it up, gave it a make over and moved out the unsavoury tenants. It was quite a mission, such a huge exhausting task and mum almost quit!

One morning, around 2am, I awoke to the sound of rushing water. One of the main water pipes in the boiler room had burst and it had flooded the TV room, kitchen and dinning. We had only been onsite two weeks, so not only did we not have a clue who to call, we didn't even know where to turn off the water mains. The burst pipe had also saturated the electrical panel in the boiler room, so we had no electricity, no water and OMG no internet for three days! There was almost a riot, and this was only averted by the free pizza party.

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Now six months on we have the place running like a well oiled machine. Everyday there is something new to deal with and we have been on such a steep learning curve, so much procedure, so many people. At age 75, mum has found herself in a new job as the assistant manager and when she is too bossy, I like to remind her, who the actual boss is! My favourite line is, 'I'll get my assistant onto that!". She is everybody's Nana and it is so cute to hear a group of young people heading off to uni calling out, 'bye Nana'. Although she is not such a sweet old lady when someone has made a mess and not cleaned it up. She hunts them down, like Sherlock, she has to know 'who did it'.

There was a young man one night caught climbing over the fence. He had lost his swipe key and as he balanced tiltering on the top of the fence, Nana gave him a serve, standing in her Nana nightie yelling, 'What do you think you are doing?' A frightful experience indeed! There was another young man who obviously had been first time out of home. He was using the biggest, sharpest kitchen knife to cut onions in the brand new non stick fry pan. Nana caught him and almost threw him into the fry pan! Then there was the poor young man who had put so much washing into one machine, the agitator couldn't move and the powder was sitting on top of the clothes. Nana caught him and after she scolded him, she gave him $2 to use a second machine. I thought I may have to start a therapy group for all the young men that got told off by Nana. 

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It is now the beginning of the new academic year and we have our biggest intake of students. The university is a 5 minute walk, so it is a great place to live while studying there. Our vision is to create a peaceful and secure accommodation, a community. One that is clean, friendly and safe. I know when my kids left home, I wanted them to live somewhere safe, so here we are providing that for other people's little treasures. We still find ourselves in the people business. Not quite the same as sending out scarfs and Colours of Hope ministry, but definitely still showing kindness, love and extending grace. 

It has been a sharp learning curve to be faced with people that lie, cheat and take advantage of kindness. They quickly reveal themselves, the ones who aren't what they projected themselves to be when they were applying for accommodation. It is a challenge to not get cynical about the disappointment of humanity, it is a challenge to keep believing the best about people when they stab you in the back. But I feel both mum and I are made for this role. We see the humour in everything, if it's not fun, we don't want to play! And we genuinely want these young ones to succeed in life.

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We have made ourselves at home now. When we were at the exhibition opening at Whangnui, we realised how much we are enjoying what we are doing. We kind of fell into the job, then we ran like crazy to keep up, now we have it sorted and we realised that we are well suited for this role, we could be in Palmy for some time! The facility has become our own art gallery, as we have hung beautiful original paintings on the walls and covered the couches with art cushions. Running Palmy 31 enables me to do the thing I really want to do the most, and that is a Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts at Massey University.

Part 13: The Exhibition

We arrived in Palmy on the 5th April 2017 with two suitcases. We didn't really know how it would go or how long we would stay. I had only just met Helen, when she invited me to share her studio space and I really didn't know if the idea would even work. It was cold and mum grizzled a lot about the weather. She said she was only going to stay a few months, to get me settled, then she was going to head up north where it is warmer.

But after a few months, we had decided that we loved Palmy! The art space was working out extremely well, so I booked two exhibitions, one in January 2018 and one for May 2018. That would give me enough time to develop a collection of paintings in response to my journey home.

The exhibition at Space Studio Gallery came around pretty quick. Mum had decided to stay and the months just zoomed by. Our new studio space was perfect for running workshops and show casing my paintings, and the Manawatu Arts Trail was very successful.

Friday 13th January was the opening night for my Journey Home exhibition. We didn't really expect too much of a crowd as we didn't really know many people, but we had a couple of beautiful friends who joined us and the collection looked fantastic on the white walls.

 Space Studio Gallery

Space Studio Gallery

The highlight of the night was meeting Moana Henry. I have had trouble with my name all my life. I was teased at school endlessly, nobody can get it right on the phone and people have even thought that it was my surname. So when someone asked me where it came from? or what it meant? I answered that my mum was drunk at the time! Mum hated me saying this, as she had named me after a women she had met. She was a nurse in Auckland, a twin and someone mum had admired.

 Me, Moana & Mum

Me, Moana & Mum

Moana had come to the exhibition opening because of my name, she wanted to see who this Froyle was. It turns out that Moana knows my name sake Froyle, she calls her Aunty. Moana knows her whole family and her family are from Whanganui. My name sake Froyle is now 72, a significant Maori woman, who Moana said carries a strong presence.

It was quite an amazing evening, mum got to say, 'I told you so!' and the encounter gave significance to my name, further affirming my identity. I thought it was pretty extrodinary that the first exhibition for my Journey Home collection, was in the home town of my name sake, and I didn't even know!

Part 12: The Journey Home Collection

On the 5th April 2017, mum and I returned home to New Zealand after 47 years in Australia, carrying two suitcases each. We were picked up at the airport by our beautiful friends Dean & Treena, who leant us their spare car and waved us goodbye as we headed to Palmy.

We checked into Baxters, a student accommodation facility where mum & I shared a double room for three months. Each day I went to Helen's studio, researched and painted in response to the experience of my journey home. For me, painting is necessary as breathing to process the seasons of life.

The Square Edge Arts Centre was so very arty! Every floor housed studios for dancers, musicians, singers and visual artists. It was like something out of an American movie. Every art supply need was met from the Ochre art store so conveniently placed downstairs and the Cafe Royale served the best beef pies I have ever eaten.

During the first few months, while I was researching the history of Māori art, I spent a lot of time using the wifi in the cafe. This gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of the local people and make a few new friends. The experience was everything I had hoped for.

Across the Waters & Where the Sea Meets the Sky are two of my first paintings of my new collection. I was researching the ancestors journey across the waters from their original homeland. They set out on their waka, being guided by the stars, in search of new land and a new life. It would have taken such courage and strength, to launch out with their families into the unknown. This is how I feel, having packed up all that I had and leaving all that I knew behind, to venture home to a land I know nothing about. It is both exciting and scary, but I feel compelled to take the journey.

  Across the Waters  mixed media on linen, 61 x 61cm

Across the Waters mixed media on linen, 61 x 61cm

  Where the Sea Meets the Sky  acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Where the Sea Meets the Sky acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Tangata Whenua is one of the first Māori words & concepts I understood in my journey home - 'People of the Land'. Of course it means different things in different context, but for my understanding it means the connection Māori have for their land & nation, the earth itself, the ancestors that have passed through the veil and the family present now. It is more than just living on a patch of ground in a house, it is what it means to belong - to a people, to a place.

  Tangata Whenua 1  mixed media on linen, 61 x 61cm

Tangata Whenua 1 mixed media on linen, 61 x 61cm

  Tangata Whenua 2  acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Tangata Whenua 2 acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

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After a few months sharing the art space with Helen, it became apparent that I needed to find my own studio. I tend to expand to my parameter, so to keep growing I needed more space. Just at the right time, a studio space right next door to Helen became available and mum and I launched Studio 201. We ran workshops & classes, joined the Arts Trail and I continued with my collection.

  Inheritance 1  acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Inheritance 1 acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

  Inheritance 2  acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Inheritance 2 acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

I have always favoured the colours red, black and white. In the way I dress and how I decorate my house. I never really thought much about it and my family always teased me about my obsession with these colours. Recently I started to research Māori art history and found to my surprise that red, black and white are traditional colours for Māori. Is this a coincidence? or does DNA play a significant part in who we are? Is there such a thing as cultural DNA? These paintings are an expression of who I am. The colour red deeply moves me and as I allow myself the freedom to be me, my paintings become an inheritance of all I am yet to understand.

  Here I Am  acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Here I Am acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Identity is such a complicated matter, because it involves the big questions of life, Why am I here? Where did I come from? Who am I? We have become who we are through both nature (our DNA makeup) and nurture (the way we are raised).

For me, the huia feather represents my own non-existence. My birth mother (pakeha) did not tell anyone that I was born, and still to this day, will not let her family know that I exist. Why is that? Is it because of the social pressure of status, unwed pregnancy, mixed race baby? Why am I still a secret?

When Governor Grey visited New Zealand in 1901, a Māori women took the tail feather of the huia bird from her hair and placed it into the hatband on the Duke's head. Upon returning to London, this stunning looking representation of social status became a fashion icon that helped to hunt the native bird to extinction. Everybody wants social acceptance. But here I am, grateful for my life and the treasure I have found in my Māori heritage.

  Silver Rose 2  acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Silver Rose 2 acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

  Silver Rose 1  acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

Silver Rose 1 acrylic on linen, 61 x 61cm

The Silver Rose paintings are an expression of my dual identity. The silver fern is an international symbol of New Zealand, while the English are known for their roses. Being both English and Māori descent, I am a silver rose.

When I first met my brother Brownie, he embraced me into the family, reciting our whakapapa and blessing me with the Lord’s prayer in Te Reo. He gave me the pendant from around his neck (the shape is in the painting), a koru design that he had carved from a mother of pearl shell, and I felt such an incredible sense of belonging.

When we first arrived in Palmy, I had booked an exhibition at The Space Studio Gallery, so on Friday night the 13th January we opened the first exhibition of my new collection and it was quite a remarkable evening.

Part 11: Life Is A Painting

Picasso said, 'Every painting is a self portrait', and for my own life, this is quite true. I have been painting and exhibiting for over twenty years. I am a prolific artist, some would say obsessed! Currently I am painting mostly abstract works, I believe the non-representational format allows for greater personal interpretation, both for myself as the artist and the viewer.

I have explored most mediums, starting with pastels and learning drawing skills. I then moved onto watercolours and acrylic paints. I spent a long season experimenting with mixed media works, including the process of image transfers and acrylic skins, but ultimately my heart belongs to abstract expressionism, especially large paintings of saturated colour and texture.

 Soundscape Exhibition

Soundscape Exhibition

Some people have asked me through the years, why do I paint? My answer is simple, it is how I process life. I began painting after my first husband died. It was my way of dealing with the grief and loss. It started out like any other morning. I had headed off to get some groceries and Neil was looking after the two boys, Jordan & Chaylon. He needed to dig a ditch in the front yard, to sort out some drainage issue and from what I can piece together, it was a rather sudden asthma attack.

Neil was a chronic asthmatic, but he wasn't sick at the time. Perhaps it was the strenuous digging or something in the air, but he felt the attack coming on and dialled for the ambulance. We lived on a long road, the same one that his brother's family lived on and the ambulance got confused with the similar surname. After finding they had the wrong house, the ambulance arrived to find Neil had collapsed on the kitchen floor.

 Neil with Chaylon & Jordan

Neil with Chaylon & Jordan

I arrived home, groceries in hand, to find the ambulance blocking my drive way. This didn't immediately concern me, as the neighbour was old and often called for medical assistance, but as I entered my kitchen, I found them working on Neil. They put him on a stretcher and carried him off to the ambulance and headed for the hospital. It felt like one of those tv shows, where you are watching someone else's life. It didn't seem possible, it just didn't seem real.

When I arrived at the hospital, they ushered me into a side room and told me that they couldn't save my husband, the doctor could not resuscitate him and he had died. I wanted to vomit on the spot, the news devastated my whole world. We had only been married a couple of years, I had two small boys at home, how could I possibly go on?

But we are resilient creatures, we do find the strength to keep going. This was helped by the two little faces that looked for breakfast each morning and beautiful sister's in law who helped me pick up the pieces. This was 25 years ago, it seems like a life time ago, but the memory of this day is as vivid as though it was yesterday.

Painting helped me to process my emotions, they were pretty ugly to begin with, but after a few years the sheer passion of creating became as necessary as breathing. I then needed to learn more skills, so I took my boys and went to Sydney to the School of Creative Arts, but that is another story!

I still continue to paint, each season of life well documented through colour and texture. My instagram feed reads like a visual diary, recording paintings through the years. Once I was settled in Palmy it didn't take me long to develop a series of paintings in response to my journey home.

Part 10: Strong Women In This Family

It took 3 months to sort my life in Australia, to sell my stuff and pack up everything, to head back to New Zealand. During that time, Malta decided she wanted to head back to Australia, to where her sisters were, because she was missing them so much. Although this was sad for me, as I was heading back to New Zealand, I understood her desire to be with her family.

So before I headed back to New Zealand, I decided to visit Malta in Sydney and meet two more sisters. It sounds simple enough, but this was a truly terrifying venture. 'The women are strong in our family', Malta had told me. She is definitely the soft one and I am gratful I met her first!

 'Abide', mixed media collage

'Abide', mixed media collage

Eileen was hesitant about meeting, which posed a problem as Malta was living with her, and Waimarie was even more scarier than Eileen. With serious trepidation, I booked my flight and hoped that Malta could sweet talk the girls.

When we arrived at Eileen's house, she was very hospitable and some of my fear dissipated, it wasn't going to be so bad. It was her birthday, so I had arrived with one of my beautiful paintings. It was one with great meaning and depth, which Eileen appreciated immensely and we discussed the beauty of the painting and the symbolism of it's meaning.

Eileen's apartment was near a shopping centre, so Malta and I headed off for dinner and margaritas (half a one for Malta, what a light weight!). To spend time with her was so easy, we get on so well, as if we had known each other forever. It really is an amazing thing.

The next day Malta & I went to visit Waimarie, she would be at a school fete with her kids and we could find them all there. It was a hot Sydney day and meeting for the first time was tense. I know it must be strange to meet a complete stranger, being told she is your sister, but the fact that these beautiful women were even willing to meet, really meant so much to me. 

 Malta, me, Waimarie & the girls

Malta, me, Waimarie & the girls

After the fete while Malta slept on the couch, Waimarie shared some of her stories from her childhood, it was such an incredible privilege to hear personal accounts about a father I will never know. Then this cute little face climbed up onto the couch and said, 'Aunty, how come I haven't seen you before?'. 

I had never considered myself to be an aunty. Quintin had died such a long time ago, and Michael, the one brother I have, has children, but I don't know them. Now this little face was wanting to know why I was her aunty. I explained a simple child friendly version of my story to Peaches, enough to appease her and off she went to play with something far more exciting!

 Malta, Eileen & me

Malta, Eileen & me

When I met Eileen's sons, (they are much older), after I got through the 'where did you come from' questions, we discussed the really important issues of life. Like what is the best Sci fi Tv series, (of course this goes without saying!). 

It meant so much to me that Eileen & Waimarie would share their hearts, allow me to hear their stories and to be welcomed into their families. I see myself reflected in both of these beautiful women, their strength, their determination and their love for their families, I am so deeply proud and honoured to call them my sisters.

 Michael, Quintin & me

Michael, Quintin & me

The first time I heard the words 'Aunty Froyle', was via fb messenger from a beautiful young lady eager to find out where that name had come from. My brother Michael had named her Huria Froyle Mclaren-Davies and she had tracked me down on facebook.

Mum had adopted Michael when he was fifteen months old. A beautiful Māori baby, Michael grew up with Quintin and I, a few years after mum & dad divorced, he followed dad back to New Zealand. Michael wanted to find his own people, he needed to understand his own identity.

 Michael & Me

Michael & Me

He had a turbulent life and we lost contact for a long time. I had only seen him briefly through the years and then one day out of the blue was a message for Aunty Froyle. My niece had made contact, so I made a plan and with the company of my amazing friends Alison & Dez, we headed to Picton to be reunited with my long lost brother. It was a beautiful reunion, there were hugs and tears, as I met my niece and caught up with Michael. He talked about finding whakapapa and what it had meant to him. This had been three years ago, and perhaps this experience had been the trigger to set Alison on her course to find my family? I am so glad that we did, I love that I have met so many of my siblings. 

I know now where I come from and who I am connected to, who my family is and this has given me such a greater sense of self. I have lost a lot through my life, but it has all contributed to who I am now and finding my sisters has been a great treasure.

Part 9: So Many Siblings

On the way back to Australia, we decided to go via Melbourne and visit the kids. I had received a message via fb, 'Hi I am one of your brothers, my name is Josè...' such a simple statement, but so profound. I had already decided that if any of my siblings wanted to meet me, I would definitely find a way to make that happen, so Josè was the first brother in Australia to reach out.

It's a strange feeling knowing that you are connected, but not knowing that person. We have the same father, different mothers, but that makes us family. Even though I really wanted to meet, it was still a terrifying thought. What would he be like? What if he hated me? I needed back up for this quest, so I asked my kids if they wanted to come along.

Chaylon (my second son), answered with a definite and positive yes. Jordan (the first born), was more hesitant, he thought it was all a bit weird, but not willing to be outdone by his brother, he decided he was coming, and my daughter (the baby of the family), was in, if everyone else was going. So the fearless team of me, mum, Jordan, Chaylon, Shaleel & Whitney (Chaylon's girlfriend), where all set to meet my new found brother, Josè.

I arranged with Josè to meet at a shopping centre, somewhere in the middle of where we were and where he was. We were to meet in the food court and while we were waiting, I decided to eat noodles. We were siting at the table looking around at every person who could be a possibility. Then mum says, 'that's him over there, he's heading our way'. I'm like, 'how do you know it's him', 'cause you walk like him', was her response. Seriously, I couldn't see it!

 Me & Jose

Me & Jose

But sure enough over he came, with his son and daughter. They all sit down, a little nervous and scared and I'm like, 'why am I the only one eating? Don't you guys want some food?'. Josè answered, very seriously, 'I can't eat all that stuff, I'm a vegetarian'. I looked over this māori boy and thought, there is no way he's a vegetarian. Anyway, Whitney pipes up, 'really? are you really a vegetarian?' and Josè shoots back real quick, 'What? You think I'm too fat to be a vegetarian?' and him and I burst out laughing! In fact we spent the next hour laughing, joking and hacking on everyone.

It was an amazing experience. Such a nice guy, such a beautiful family. All the kids met, shook hands awkwardly and made pleasantries, while Josè and I just cracked jokes and laughed.

Everybody responds differently when they find out their family has skeletons in the cupboard, especially when the skeleton wants to meet. Not everybody is so easy with the news and not everybody wants to know. For some, their lives are just too busy, or they have their own stuff going on and they just can't make room, but for others, it's no big deal at all. It was a pleasure to meet Josè and I hope we stay in contact. Now, on to tougher territory... the girls, this will take some courage!

Part 8: How Many Brothers?

It became quite clear to me that I would be moving back to New Zealand. It was all set in my mind, go home to Qld, Australia, sell whatever I could, pack up everything and head to Palmy! Mum had decided she wasn't being left behind, she was coming along for the adventure. Then just before we were to fly out, I received a message.

It was on a private, fb messenger, someone wanting to know about Helen Lynette Ludwig and her possible connection to this person's husband. Now I was the skeptical one with all the questions. Who wants to know? Why do you want to know? What's his name? Date of birth? I was being like XXX with all the defensive questions.

I had known that mum had a child when she was young, back in the day when it was scandalous to have a baby out of wedlock. Mum grew up on a farm in Kaikohe, with one older sister and two brothers. Her dad loved farm life, but her mum hated it and roamed around the country, staying away from home as much as possible. She took her eldest daughter with her on overseas trips, but mum was left at home with the boys. She was too boisterous for lady tea parties and too out spoken for fine society.

So on a day when her mother decided to grace the family with one of her visits home, mum being a developing teenager asked her mother, what was sex? Her mother hit her so hard across the face, that she fell to the floor, 'don't ever mention that again', was her only reply.

So mum's older brother decided it was his responsibility to teach his younger sister about the ways of the world. He enlisted the help of a willing friend, who educated the naive seventeen year old all about the birds and the bees. Then a few months later, when mum found out she was pregnant, her mother threw her out of the house, saying she had disgraced the family.

Her dad found a Catholic family who would take her, in exchange for house keeping duties and when it was time to deliver the baby, she would have no choice but to adopt the child out. Mum gave birth to a son on the 2nd December 1959 and the hospital called him John. She was not allowed to hold him, or even see him, the nurses snatched him away as soon as he was born. It was her one regret, that she couldn't hold him, just once.

So I knew of him as John Ludwig. Later in life mum tried to find him, going on the register and trying to track him down, but she had no success. Then on this night, just before we were to head back to Australia, the message came through, someone named Gavin Pope, who had been born John Ludwig was trying to find Helen Ludwig.

After many messages back and forth, confirming all possible information, I was sure, this was him, mum's first born son. He had found us through the same process that I had found my birth family and at the same time.

Clair (Gavin's wife), sent away for his pre-adoption birth certificate (just like Alison) and found mum's name. She Googled that and found mum & dad's wedding announcement in the Tokoroa Times. Then she searched and found my dad's death notice, which gave her the names of the surviving children, (just like we did!). Then she facebooked and found me (I'm pretty easy to find on Facebook).

 Gavin & Mum

Gavin & Mum

So here they were, reaching out. Gavin was terrified, scared for what he would find, acceptance or rejection? My response was, 'It's alright bro, I have been on both sides of this fence'. I know what it is to look for answers and I know what it feels like to be found!

A few days later we were siting at a restaurant talking, laughing and crying. It really was quite amazing to see how much like mum's side of the family he is, 'Sorry about it bro, but you have her nose!'. He even sounds like mum's brother (such a Ludwig, was all I could say). It was an amazing moment of reconnection as mother and son embraced, and I am so grateful it has happened for them both.

 Gavin & Me

Gavin & Me

It makes me wonder about what makes a family? For me, it is both blood and choice. Mum adopted me at 9 days old. We are not blood related, but we are so alike and she loves me like her own flesh. Now here is Gavin, mum’s first born son, my brother to my adopted mother and he calls me his ‘little sis’, we are family by choice. Gavin is eight years older than me, in fact we share the same birthday, the 2nd December. We are so grateful that he found us, and introduced us to his beautiful family. This amazing story of reconciliation, family and destiny, just keeps unfolding!

Part 7: Who Would Go to Palmy?

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 & her family

Helen & her family

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?

 The view from the studio

The view from the studio

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!

Part 6: What the Hui?

Three years before this journey began, a friend of mine in Australia gave me a CD. He said, ”You will like this, cause you are Māori!”. What does that even mean, to be Maori? I have no reference for the culture or understand the customs because I grew up with a pākeha family in Australia. I have no grid for being Maori, I am just me. There must be something in my DNA, nature rather than nurture, if I have any Māori sensibilities. 

The album, ‘Karakia’ by Cindy Ruakere, is a beautiful compilation of instrumental sounds, prophetic worship and Māori phrases. It moved me on such a deep level, I played it over and over in my studio while I was painting, for at least a year non-stop. There was something in the sound that resonated with me so deeply. There was something in the sound of the language that awoken something within me. I wanted to meet this amazing woman, so I asked Alison if she knew Cindy, she lived in Christchurch. But no, to my surprise, she didn’t, then I asked Treena, and yes, she knew Cindy. I am starting to see an incredible connection that surpasses logic. 

Treena and I met with Cindy and had an amazing conversation about family, heritage and the purpose of God. I just had to tell her that the sound of her album called me home, I had to let her know how deep the impact this album has been on my life and I shared with her the journey I was on discovering my true identity. Of course, now that we were friends, I followed Cindy’s Facebook posts and saw something about a Hui. What the heck is a hui? So I messaged Cindy, ‘I don’t want to sound stupid, but please help out an uneducated sister, what the heck is a hui?’ Remember, I have absolutely no grid for Māori culture. Cindy was very gracious and explained to me that a hui is a meeting, and this one was a Christian gathering on the Owae Marae, Waitara. This one was important and would be great for my cultural enquiry, so she invited us to attend.

Dean, Treena and I, filled up the car and headed to the Taranaki region. None of us had stayed on a marae before, apparently everyone sleeps on mattresses in the one big room. There are strict protocols for the first visit to a marae, although once you go through the ceremonial greeting and have been welcomed, you can return anytime as family. We arrived at the designated meeting place, way too early, we were all rather nervous and we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be late. Everyone gathered in the car park, as we must enter the marae as one group. We are invited and someone must answer the call with a response.

The Karanga (call out, summon) is an element of Maori cultural protocol. It is an exchange of calls that forms part of the powhiri, a Māori welcoming ceremony. It takes place as a visiting group moves onto the marae or into the formal meeting area. What a beautiful and moving experience. We were welcomed onto the marae through this passionate sound of welcome by these beautiful Māori women and then experienced the hongi (a traditional Māori greeting done by pressing one's nose and forehead (at the same time) to another person at an encounter (Wikipedia). The official greetings were in Te Reo Māori and then loosely translated and after all the official proceedings were done, there was time to connect with people and get out the mattresses!

The hui went from Friday night to Sunday afternoon and it deeply impacted me. I was so moved by the sound of the language and the sense of belonging. I have never experienced such a feeling of community. The speakers discussed the history and story of New Zealand, their passion for the reconciliation of Pākehā and Māori and the hope they have for God’s mission in Aotearoa. Friendships were forged and lives were transformed. I will be forever changed by this experience and it has left me with a deep longing to know and understand my culture. This where I met Helen…