In my novellas for Authors of Main Street, I write about small towns with a difference — those like the one I grew up in; the ones I’ve visited relatives and holidayed in; the one I live in now.
If you’ve read our last two box sets, you’ve travelled with me and my characters to the back of the Rangitikei country, where the community were putting on a Christmas fair, and to a growing beach resort, where the community got together for a beach treasure hunt. I know and love both those landscapes. My next story will be even closer to home, in a small commuter town on the far side of a high block of hills that most countries would call mountains. The town is fictional, but it’s based on my current home town.
Place is a huge part of what we are. The Māori people of New Zealand call themselves the Tangata Whenua — the people of the land. When they introduce themselves, they traditionally name three reference points to help listeners understand who they are and where they came from. Their waka — one of the canoes that tradition says carried their ancestors to New Zealand. Their mountain. Their river.
Mine would be something like this.
I am Jude Knight, Tangata Tiriti (a person who has a right to call myself a New Zealander because of the Treaty signed between the Crown and the Tangata Whenua in 1840).
My waka is a sailing ship that arrived in Nelson in 1858. My great-great grandfather had booked to go to Christchurch, some days further down the coast, but — as he said in his diary, which I have a transcript of — he couldn’t bear to get back aboard the ship, even for just a few more days.
One of my brothers-in-law had the opposite experience. He arrived in Australia intending to stay, was hit by a wall of heat, and got straight back on board the boat to continue to New Zealand. Where he met my husband’s sister, and the rest is history.
Pukemoumou is my mountain. It is part of the Remutakas, which towered over my childhood when I was growing up in the Hutt Valley. When we moved back to Upper Hutt, and then over the Remutakas to Featherston, the presence of the mountains was a great solace to my soul. I have deep roots in this landscape.
The Remutakas are challenging to drive over, though less so than when I was a child. My commute to my day job takes me underneath, in the second longest train tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere.
Te Awa Kairangi is my river. More commonly known as the Hutt River, it has brought me great joy and great sorrow. I have no memory of the incident in which I was washed downstream towards the rapids, floating happily on my back, my panicked mother floundering after me. I was perhaps nine months old, and even then was probably telling myself a story and oblivious to my surroundings.
I swam in that river, hiked beside it, learned camp cooking on its shores. Later, when we moved back to the upper valley, our walks beside the river were part of our daily routine.
In a land with heavy rainfall and precipitous terrain, rivers can rise in minutes, and the river has taken people and animals I know. In the 19th century, drowning was known as ‘the New Zealand death’. Bridges have changed the statistics, but we still need to treat our waters with respect.
Come with me into the Authors of Main Street boxed sets, to explore small town New Zealand. Our ways may be foreign to you; our landscapes beautiful but different. But we pride ourselves on our friendliness and hospitality.
Do join me.