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Heretaunga Marae Waakainga

Harris, Wakiterangi (Waa)  interview

Knowledge Bank - Hawke's Bay digital archives trust

Today is the 12th of May, 2017. I’m interviewing Waa [Wakiterangi] Harris of Pakipaki about her family. Waa, would you like to tell us something about the history of your family please?

Yes, I’m Waa Harris. I live at Pakipaki. Pakipaki is short for the name Pakipaki-a-Hinetemoa, and I’ve lived there all my life. I come from a matriarchal family; all the women are all the bosses, which goes back generations, and we keep that going today. I’m one of eight children; I’m the third youngest, and thankfully … my oldest sister, Lily, is eighty-four, and my youngest is my brother, Piri, he’s sixty-three … and we’re all still alive. And for us, in our family my grandmother on my father’s side died at thirty-seven; my father died at fifty-five; his brother fifty-two; his sister at forty-seven; so they’re not a family of living that long, and so we’ve gone right past their dates of living and we are very blessed … long may it last.

And my mother was called Taha. She came from a family of nine brothers and sisters and two half-brothers and sisters. My father came from a family of six – him [he] and his sister, Aunty Jessie; [there] were four sisters and four others were half-brothers and sisters.

My grandfather came from Ngāi Tahu, from a place called Waiwera at [?Aukaho?], and our marae down there is Ōnuku, and we still affiliate to that place … we still have land there. And he also affiliated to Porirua with Ngāti Toa. And my father’s mother, she came from here, but her great-grandfather came from Ngāti Porou. My family really … well, my mother’s side of the family, my great-grandmother, we all come from a line of whalers and sealers of the East Coast. We have aboriginal blood in us. Our ancestor was born on Phillip Island off the coast of Tasmania – Udu – so we go right back to 1774 there – we have our whakapapa to that.

But I’m quite blessed by living here in Pakipaki, because my brothers and sisters all live around me. We all live here, and my cousins – there’s my parents’ sisters, nieces and nephews – they all live here. So, we are quite blessed that we all live together.


At times of trouble or anything, next door is my sister, and over the next house is my brother.

The big house?


When I went and knocked on the door, a young boy came to the door. He said, “I don’t know where she lives.”

[Chuckle] It would be one of the little ones … yeah. But we are quite blessed that we are so closely related. And the thing is, is that I was raised here. I went to Pakipaki School, and then straight to Hastings Girls’ High School. Hastings Girls’ High had been open … the new one down Pakowhai Road … had only been open two years when I went there – 1957 is when I went there.

But I had a wonderful childhood, because we were all family. And we could walk into anyone’s home in Pakipaki have something to eat, and we could sleep the night no questions asked, and we all did that and my son whose now fifty-two and lives in Brisbane – he had a wonderful childhood. He keeps telling me the only thing he regrets is that his children – they were born and raised in Australia – never had the same childhood that he had. It was the freedom of an extended family, and that came to the fore when my daughter at nine – this is 1981 – she was diagnosed with cancer, and she was nine. And because I had two other children home, I didn’t have to worry about them … being in the hospital … because everybody fed them. I didn’t have to worry about them. My housework was done, the washing was done. I would come back late at night from the hospital and everything was done because of the closeness of the family that I had around me. And even now our children follow the same trends – well now it’s … different now, it’s all on Facebook or … you know on the phone – they just ask for something and everybody just comes in, “I’ll do that; I’ll do that.” You know, so I have had a very blessed childhood.

I mean I remember … I was born on ANZAC Day. I hated it. I really, really hated ANZAC Day, because everybody … there was [were] no shops open. We had two shops here in Pakipaki. I mean no one opened ANZAC Day – it was holier than holy. And I would get five shillings, and there was nowhere I could spend it. And even now I say to people, “I hated my birthday because I had to go with Mum and Dad wherever there was a [an] ANZAC service, sit there all day with them, you know,” and I said, “I just hated it”. And even now I keep telling people – they said, “Oh yeah, she hates her birthday”. And I said, “One good thing, I give you all a holiday.” But we had two shops here.

But our marae over here … over at Houngarea … the thing was, we had a lot of activities on their marae. The marae was our hub. We would have dances every weekend, and as children we were all taken to the dances. You know, we all learned to dance and you know … the [?] Jack and Gay Gordons and all those sort of things. And that stemmed to the school, because the Bridge Pa children came to Pakipaki School. We would alternate between having fancy dress balls in Bridge Pa, and then the next year we’d have a fancy dress ball in Pakipaki. But the closeness between Pakipaki and Bridge Pa – we were very close. But I think – my niece now is sixty-three – she is the last now of that generation that went to school at Pakipaki with Bridge Pa people. Then they went all to Bridge Pa. They built the school and they went back there.

So my children and grandchildren, they all say – I mean to us, all of us – “God, you know everyone!” But it’s because of our association that … one is from school, from maraes and church, you know. Because when we had huis and that, children went. And we were very sporty – all the maraes were very sporty – we never had TVs and all those sort of things. And we would have inter-marae competitions on the Sunday. We’d play tennis; we’d play hockey … hockey was our thing. We travelled to Wairoa … everywhere, playing hockey. And our hockey team here in Pakipaki was called YMP; Bridge Pa was called Matariki, Omahu was Huia, Te Hauke was Kahurānaki. You know, we all had our … and only Bridge Pa and really Kahurānaki still have that connection where they play their sport now on Saturdays. The ones around here in Pakipaki – they play for other teams, but it was very … we were very sporting. We’d play, and it was worse than the [an] All Black game, you know … inter-marae thing was …

They were very proud of playing to the death …

Oh, and it was. I mean it was. I remember when Hawke’s Bay Maori team played our Pakipaki team. They wanted a game you know, before they played a big match. And they came, and we had the football field down the Harrison Lane, and our boys thrashed them. And they couldn’t get over it. Because I mean our boys, it was “We’re gonna do them! We’re gonna …” even if they walked off there with broken legs and limbs and … they were going to beat them, and they did. [Chuckles] And – I mean they lived on that story for years and years.

But because we never had really the transport that people have, everything revolved around the marae. We had a swimming hole in the creek – well that’s when the creeks were clean. And over the railway line, well it was all swamp. It was all swamp, and at night in the summertime you couldn’t sleep because of the frogs. The frogs were loud! You know, I mean to say it’s those sort of things now … I think back, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right – the frogs’. I mean but we had something to do – we would go eeling; we would go crayfishing – there was nothing that we couldn’t do. We just walked the hills, just to go for a walk, and the thing is, is that we would watch what we called the ‘hoity-toity’ lot. They would have their hunts with the dog kennels down where Pekapeka swamp [was] and they would have the hunt. We would sit up on Pekapeka hill and watch them at Horonui Station and Awanui Station, you know going to the hunts, you know, with their dogs and all that, and we’d watch them. You know, all those sort[s] of things, but we had something to do. There was always … you know, and we would have shanghai fights. I mean – today you know, OSH [Occupational Safety & Health] would kill us! Bows and arrows …

It’s a wonder we didn’t kill one another …

I know!

 these shanghais especially.

I know. And our father would come back and we’d hear him roar because we’d cut his tongue off his boats to [chuckle] make the shanghais.

Hoping he wouldn’t notice.

[Chuckle]  wouldn’t notice.

And we were self-sufficient. We grew our own food; we had our own sheep; we had our own cows; we made our own butter. It was me and my cousin Moana’s job to make the butter. You know, we’d separate the milk and the cream but we shared with everybody. Those who never had cows would come and get the milk and the cream, and we didn’t charge – nobody charged, [it] was about sharing.

And I remember on the Sundays really, in the summertime, all my aunties and uncles and parents – they’d get together and they’d play cards … 500. They’d play 500 and Euchre. And all us kids’d be outside playing while they were inside playing cards. You know, something like that, but it was a get-together.

We all used to play 500, and cards; stand around a piano, or someone would have a guitar …

That’s right.

… have a band and a drum and a saxophone …

That’s right. And that was our entertainment. Everybody played 500 … played cards, and we would have competitions over at the marae, raising funds for something or other, and we’d play Euchre and you know, all that sort of thing. And I mean we played Memory and, you know … I mean even with my kids, we all played cards. Well now, our great-granddaughter – she’s into playing string games, and because it’s so good now getting on to the computer, it shows you how to … some lines we don’t know. She just hops on there, learns all new actions.

But kids … when your kids come to visit you theyre like this, [demonstrates] aren’t they?


The cellphone or …

I mean that’s not me – I’m not that, but I mean to say … but that’s what we did. I mean it’s just how really, we have changed. I mean, when I was first married – I was married at the Mormon Chapel in Hastings there. They pulled it down but they’ve built the new one down there. We were married in 1964, yeah. And the thing is, is that all of those sort[s] of things that we used to do, you know – the families would come and everybody would bring a plate you know. Everybody knew those sort[s] of things, and that’s gone now. And when people say to me, “Oh, you know, that’s the time …” and I says, “Does that make our world better?” You know – does that make our world better? I mean to say, the way really, I hear children talking now to their parents and grandparents … I may have thought it, but I would never have said it to my parents and my grandparents. I would never have done it.

When they said no, they meant no.

That’s right, yeah. And another thing we used to do here was Guy Fawkes, up at the big hill at Pekapeka … up there where the cemetery … on the other hill. We would take at least two weeks to build a bonfire, and out comes all the tyres. [Chuckle] I mean today now, oh, you couldn’t do that. But the tyres and everything would go, and everybody would come, you know, it was a social event. And it just shows – I mean, it’s November 5th. Now you do that on November 5th – it’s dry here. But I mean November 5th in the fifties and sixties – it was thought winter. It was still wet, you know – you had to sort of put something in there to make the fire go. I remember we used to go and hunt around in my grand-uncle’s wardrobe to do the guy, and he would come and want to know where was cardigan. And his cardigan was on the guy. [Chuckles] You know? But I mean we had fun, and it never cost us anything.

When you were at High School, how long did you stay?

I was there for three terms and a half. Yeah, because I got a job … I got a job and so I left.

Where was that job?

It was at Amner’s Lime Works … ‘cause it saved me having to find a way to get to work, otherwise I would’ve had to bike. I mean there was no transport. When my dad came back and he says, “Oh, I was talking to Latham Amner.” “Oh yes?” “Well, he wants an office girl.” I went “Oh yeah?” You know, I liked school … I enjoyed school. And he says, “That’s a good job for you.” He said, ” You can just walk to work.” “Oh, okay.” I went up there; it wasn’t sort of like an interview because Latham and Gordon knew my Dad, and my … you know, and the grandparents and all … that was good enough for them. [Chuckle] And because I did typing and all that. That was all that was required of me. So I worked there for four years, ‘til I got married.

[Speaking together] I knew Latham …

And Marge, and … yeah. I went to his funeral. And Gordon, I went to Gordon’s funeral. Knew the kids there.

But I mean to say, it was a good job because I could really do what I liked, [chuckle] you know … [as] long as I was there to answer the phone and do all that, and when the trucks came in I just got out the weighbridge and weighed all the trucks and … no, it was a very good job – it was the perfect job and because they closed down over Christmas for two weeks – well … [chuckles] even better.

And so then you got married?

Then I got married, and then I went to live out at Otane.

Where did your husband come from?

He came from Te Hauke. His father came from Dannevirke. He was a Harris, he came from Dannevirke and his grandfather … but they all came from Motukaraka – it’s at Hokianga, up north – that’s where the Harrises come from. There’s five million of them, I think. [Chuckle] But yes, and that’s where they originally came from, but they came down this … the brothers, there was a huge family … to find work you know. One of the brothers went to Taranaki and he’s my grandfather – he came down this way to Dannevirke. He married one of the Paewais and so they sort of just lived there. And his father came from Dannevirke up here for work at the Tomoana Freezing Works at that time, and met his mother here. His mother was from Te Hauke.

What was your husband’s first name?

Hemi. We have two grandsons – he’s Hemi 1, and I’ve got another grandson – he’s Hemi 2, and the grandson in Australia is Hemi 3. So we talk in numbers. [Chuckle] When people ring and they say, “Can I talk to Hemi?” I said, “Which one do you want?”

I had three children … Glen, Eval and Janet. Eval died in 1986. Because of the adriamycin drug she had when she had her cancer, it gave her myopathy … weakened her heart, so we went over to Harefield and had a heart transplant. She died.

Oh dear.

Yeah, she died out there. But she was dying anyway, so that was just an option that we took. And I mean we don’t regret not doing that. I mean the people of Hawke’s Bay were very, very generous in raising the money, ‘cause the Lions club raised the money for her, to get us over there. And … yeah. So now I have just the two children. Glen lives in Brisbane, he’s been there thirty years, and Janet lives up in Whangarei.

And children … they ..?

I have five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. My eldest is Samantha … Sam … she lives with me; and Hemi 2; and Maia. Maia lives in Whangarei with her mother. She’s still a child, whereas Sam and Hemi are adults. And Sam has two children, Te Raukura and Te Waieres. And my grandson Hemi 2, he has two children; Manaki and Jean Louis. And my son, Glen in Australia, has two children; Tiana and Hemi 3, and they have no grandchildren – no.

And do you ever go over to see them?

Oh yes – we’re going over because my son is getting married on 7th of October, and they met over there and she’s from Waipuk. [Waipukurau]


And they’re getting married in Brisbane?

And they’re getting married on the Gold Coast. I said to them, “Come back and get married”. They says, “No, it wouldn’t be our wedding, you’ll take over.” [Laughter] And I says, “Oh! Mmm … okay.” He said, “No – we’ll organise it ourselves, you just come over.” So we’re all going over there. Her parents are from here so we’re all going over there … the uncles and aunties; Hera’s coming; we’re all going over there. He lives in Brisbane but he’s having it on the Gold Coast.

So she’s got two children herself, and they’re adults … Dylan and Tyler. So their children are going to be the best men and bridesmaids or whatever. They said it was no big thing, they’re getting married in the park, but he said it’s not like in New Zealand where you can just go down and get married in a park – you’ve got to pay them. [Chuckle]

Yes, oh, that’s right.

He said, “You could go in there and not tell them”, but he said, “they’ll find out and they’ll come and … ask for the money.” So he said, “We’ve paid it”, so I said, “well okay”.

So you’ve probably had some community involvement too?

Yes, I have.

Just various things. I noticed the celebration you had here in Pakipaki …

Oh, the centennial, yes.

That must’ve been a grand celebration?

It was. Well I … all my old photos here, I’ve said to my daughter … ‘cause she said to me, “Mum, what’s going to happen to your photos when you cark it?” Her exact words. And I said, “Well your can have them.” She said, “If you haven’t named them I’m throwing them out.” So I’ve done most of them. I’ve done that. But I’m now telling the great-granddaughter who they are, because her mind is better than anybody’s as far as remembering. And … that’s right.

And the thing is … well, because of my daughter, you know. I mean, she was well looked after in the hospital. I mean she was five years in and out of the place, so we more or less owned the place. But from that came, you know – I’m a life member at the Cancer Society of Hawke’s Bay. I retired in 2014. I was a foundation member along with James’ [Morgan] wife, Leith, for the Child Cancer in Hawke’s Bay. And I’m still at the Hospice. I’ve been at the Hospice now twenty-four years. So, I had a meeting there on last Thursday.

Do you know Kay Cooper?

Yeah I know Kay.

She’s my wife.

Yeah, I know. I know Kay.

It’s interesting isn’t it how all our paths cross?


Now after you were married and children, did you go back to work?

Well I only went back to Wattie’s. I mean, every woman went to Wattie’s at night when the husbands were home.

I know.

I would go … when Hemi came back from work, I would go to Wattie’s at six at night to ten or eleven at night – well, you know … all depend on when they wanted you. But I mean, in the season, well they just wanted … And that’s how all the women in Hastings had that extra bit of money to buy new curtains, to buy … you know, a holiday. That was Wattie’s – Wattie’s did that. And there’s not a family in Hastings that hasn’t worked at Wattie’s. Everybody worked. Yes, so that was the only place I worked. I only worked there, but I was a full-time housewife. My son now at fifty-two, always thanks me because in the winter time I would be home; the fire would be going; I’d have hot milo or soup or whatever, and I was home, whereas the majority of the other children, their parents were working.

And then, I mean other parents – they knew I was home if their children got sick at school … “Would you mind having them for the day?” And I would, but my children weren’t denied anything … financially. I mean, we didn’t have the flashest car or anything like that – I mean our old car, it got us to town and back, to the doctor and back, and that’s all we needed.

We used to go to town on my father’s truck, you know, you could sit on the back then. And when we’d tell him to let us off at de Pelichet McLeod … [chuckles] you know where de Pelichet McLeod was? And he would be deaf. He would go right down … no, he would let us out off outside the State Picture Theatre, and every man and his dog was down there [?] … [Chuckles] Oh, it was funny, you know.

It didn’t matter …

It didn’t matter.

 long as they had wheels.

Yeah. And I mean another big event in our lives, you know, was when we got new clothes and new shoes, was the Show. I mean even if our shoes were killing us, we wore them. [Chuckle] But that was when we got new clothes and new shoes, was the Show.

We’d always meet all the uncles and aunties and cousins at a certain tree …

Well it was like us … when we went, our uncle,… my Nanny Keti was our grand-uncle. We called him Nanny. He would put a big stick on our car with a piece of cloth or something, to find our car otherwise we would get lost. We wouldn’t know … because he always said, “if you get lost go back to the car.” So when we walked in we would look at a tree, you know, to say where the car was. Or we would be in the line to get the water … the hot water for the cup of tea. I mean it was a whole day event. But I remember as a small child, my dad always used to say, “Remember the merry-go-round. ” There was one merry-go-round had a bike on it – a little pushbike. I mean I was only about five or six, and we would make for that and I would sit on it practically most of the day. You would’ve have to drag me off this little bike. [Chuckle] But I mean to say – those sorts of things – they were special.

Your husband didn’t have a long life, did he?

No, he’s still alive. Yeah – oh hell, yeah, he’s still alive. Well …

Oh, I must have mistaken something else you were saying earlier. What age is he, Waa?

He’s seventy… oh, his birthday’s on Monday. Oh goodness … seventy-two. He’ll be seventy-three … yeah. He’s doing very well. He’s been at Wattie’s now forever, but he was at Tomoana until it closed. But apart from that he would go shearing. I mean he went shearing in Australia, shearing down south, shearing everywhere else, you know, but that was what he liked doing, was shearing. But when my daughter got sick, oh, he thought he’d better be home with me to look after the other kids, so he got a job at Tomoana and they were very good to us. I mean when we went to England, I mean Lord Vestey gave us a flat over there for nothing, and his staff over there meet us at the airport. Yeah, he gave us a car, and they picked us up at Gatwick. They took us to the flat, gave the key of the car to this Maori from Pakipaki, and says, “Here you are – go for it.” [Chuckle]

But it just shows what they thought of him.

Yeah. But the thing was, we weren’t going to get in the car with him … “I’m not getting in the car with you.” It was all the you know, the traffic … thought, ‘No!’ So we used the underground, but it was only when we had to go to the hospital – their fare was an hour’s drive from where we were. And ‘cause we had to plot our course to get there and plot it on the way back. Because we’d plot our course, and it wasn’t on the map that it was a one way street, and we’d go, “Ooh – it’s a one-way street!” [Chuckle] And we’d lose it. But no, they were very good to us. And when she died over there they came and they looked after us. But I had friends over there that were from Paki … from Hastings. Did you know Jack Brooker? Everybody knew Jack Brooker. He really just did odd j… but he used to work at Farm Products down at Stortford Lodge for a long time. But he used to live down Railway Road, just as you … Murdoch Road, there was those houses – there was Murdoch Road and Railway Road. His mother-in-law she was Harold Wall’s mum. That was her house. They all had all those houses [speaking together] 

All built by the Walls, that’s right.

… but Jack was the third house along. Well his parents lived at Pakipaki just over the railway line not far from Mum and Dad, and Jack and my mum-in-law went to school at Pakipaki. Jack’s daughter Lorna, and I went to school together and she lived in – well she still lives in Croydon. And so as soon as my daughter died, … well she came and got us, her and her husband. ‘Cause we went to her wedding; she got married here. And she looked after us. But no, I mean to say you really don’t know how kind people are ‘til it happens to you. You don’t know. And I always say that if my daughter [had] never got sick I would never have meet the wonderful people that I do know, that are friends now.

Yes, and they extend the hand of friendship without …

No, there’s nothing, there’s no ulterior motive; no nothing, you know. And they go “Oh!” and I says, “No, it’s because of my daughter”. I am so grateful to her because a lot of the people I know now – some of them [are] my best friends – are through her. Some of them are nurses, or the medical fraternity, or from the Cancer Society, you know, and all that. It was our connection.

And so here in Pakipaki you’re an active person?

Oh yes. I’m a trustee over here at Houngarea Marae, and I’m on the committee; and Mihiroa Marae I’m a trustee, and I’m a member down there, so yep. I was Chairman when my children were going to school in the eighties at Pakipaki School – well then it was School Committees. And then my daughter went to Central School so I was on that committee, and then when she went to Hastings Intermediate I was on that school committee, but that was when … the changeover to the Board of Trustees – it looked like too much work [chuckles] so we all resigned. [Chuckle] It was … oh, too much work. I mean to say, it’s amazing what … you know, from what your children do, the people that you meet.

I always loved becoming involved because you’re meeting …

Well, that’s right. And I mean to say – and that’s what I mean today. I mean the kids don’t go on school camps like we used to. We used to go up to Te Pohue there you know – no power! Long drops! And I was the only one out of the parents who knew how to cook on the coal range, [chuckle] you know. I mean it was just lamps. We had no power, no nothing, in the middle of nowhere. And you just had the possums at night on top of the roof, and half the kids were … [screech; chuckle] And it was so funny, you know, the long drops, ‘cause the kids hadn’t seen the long drops you know, and they would go, “Oh God, there’s a hole there!” [Laughter] “Don’t fall in …”

I was – whatever my children were in, I supported them. See now it’s our great-granddaughter … well, she lives over in Napier … she goes to Henry Hill School in Napier, and just on Wednesday was her first soiree out to the basketball courts. So my husband and I went over, and it’s amazing that people I knew … because it was only in the Napier schools, but people from Hastings … well, live in Hastings, work in Hastings but live in Napier … and they say, “What are you doing out?” [I] said, “Oh, my great-granddaughter’s in that team.” “Oh God – even the kids who live in Napier, their parents won’t come and see them.” I said, “well that’s not us,” I said, “because we watch her face when we arrive, and it just lights up.”

And to try and go to … ‘cause they all happened to be at …

We all did, and we only had one car and our son would be playing in Napier, our daughters would be playing over at Windsor Park, and you know. And so all us parents would go, “you take that one; and you take that one,” you know – that’s how we worked it – I mean we only had one car … everybody just had one car. But I think now … I mean the kids – there [is] a lot of things on kids today, except the expectations, probably.

Yes, and they’re buying their entertainment too; it’s not self-driven.

No. But I’m grateful that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren are outdoor kids, ‘cause we make them … “Go outside! Go outside and play. There’s a ball, go outside,” [chuckle] you know. “There’s a ball – go outside”, and we buy them tennis racquet[s] … “Go outside.” And they do. But I have a granddaughter who I’m afraid to say, no matter what she does she ends up with a broken leg, a broken arm … no matter what she does. And even the teachers know that. They go, “No you can’t do that”. [Chuckle] She’s a daredevil. I mean I could hear somebody go, “Who the hell’s on the roof?” Go outside – she’s on the roof, you know that sort of thing.

Does she take after you?

No, no, no – I don’t know who she takes … doesn’t take after me. [Chuckle] I stop and think now; before I used to.

Which church do you belong to here?

Well, now you belong to – if you live in Pakipaki, you belong to every church. You have a choice.

You’ve got one you’re rebuilding down there, too …

Well the thing is, is that, that’s how our parents brought us up. I mean to say – I told you I’ve got eight brothers and sisters – I’ve got one that’s a Presbyterian, two that are Anglicans, two that are Ratana – but it really doesn’t matter. And I mean Hirawera said the same: “Whatever’s going on that day, we’re all that”. And people really can’t understand that. When Max Mariu became the bishop … but when he was the priest here, he couldn’t get over it. And I said, “But that’s how it was.” I mean if anybody in the community was sick or anything we’d just go and get the priest. The priest never asked what religion you were – same as Wi [​Ueto​] the Anglican – he would be the same. I mean to say, when they had the ordinations for the Anglican bishops here, they always had them here. At the back would be the priest peeling the potatoes, and that’s just how it was.

That’s what it’s about, isn’t it?

Because the thing is, it’s about whanau, you know – I mean Hera’s my cousin. We were raised in the same house, and I mean to say if she needed anything … you know, the church needed anything … she would never hesitate to ring me up, and I would say, “Well, I’m not a Catholic,” but we don’t think like that.

When we came to get married, Reverend Button who was in Hastings where Kay and I were married, wouldn’t marry me until I was baptised in the English Church. [Chuckle]

I mean that came up; I mean it was very strong. I know when my cousin Mary – that’s Hera’s sister – got married in the Registry Office, and … no, the priest wouldn’t recognise her until he married them. And her husband was Presbyterian. [Chuckle] But there’s too much hang up now … we’ve got over that now. I mean, well the thing is you have a look – people don’t go to church any more … they don’t go to church any more. And it’s every church – I mean the ones that are packed are all these … “hallelujah”, and that Brian Tamaki … [Chuckle] I sit here and I watch it on TV, and I go, “You people..!”

And is Hemi going to retire?

Well every week he does. He says to me … he comes back, and if he’s had a bad day at work he’ll say to me, “Oh that’s it … that’s it.” [Chuckle] But his older brother retired three years ago, and he rings and asks, you know, for advice from the older brother and the brother would just say to him, “It sucks. Don’t you retire!” [Chuckles] I mean it’s nothing to do with financial and that, but he likes getting out of bed at a certain time; he gets dressed, goes to work and comes back.

And what does he do for relaxation?

He … relaxation. Well his grandchildren. They don’t run to me when they arrive and say, “Nana, Nana!” They just say “Hello, Nana”, and run to Papa, because Papa is the idol of their lives, because Papa does whatever they want. He gives them money, and they go to the Two Dollar Shop and come back with all this rubbish and junk. But their faces are all lit up, you know, because “Papa took us”. And I go, “What a lot of rubbish!” And he goes, “Be quiet, just be quiet.” [Chuckles]

So can you think of anything else, Waa?

No. Apart from … I had a very communal upbringing. Well, as Hera would’ve told you, she was whāngai’d, and so was I.

Oh, you were too?

Yes, I was. My mother’s sister and her husband at that time had been together for two years and they had no children. So when I was born – ‘cause I was the only one who was born in the hospital. All my brothers and sisters before me were born at home. I was born at Sister Bryan’s Maternity Home down Grays Road. She went there when … and took me; ran down the road with me.

Oh did she?

Yes. So I was brought up at Te Aute, where they had a farm as you go up the Te Aute hill … all that land. Whāngai is just another name for … well, adoption or … Well, the whāngai way of bringing people up is recognised now by the Maori Land Court and through the courts.

Yes, so you spent all your life with your ..?

Oh, no it was interchangeable. Because when my whāngai parents started having children, the second child – Fay was the older one; I was the oldest, then Fay, and the second child of theirs, Dixie – my mum went and got her.

Oh did she?

And that’s how it is.

And there was no ..?

No. And we all did that. And we still do that today. So [if] no one’s got any grandchildren and that, and you’re having say your third grandchild, they’ll just come along and say, “I’m taking that baby.” And it still happens today.

Oh, that’s amazing, isn’t it?

Yeah. But the thing is with us, we still raise within our family and we know where we fit. It’s just like my mother – Taha was the oldest of her eight brothers and sisters, yet all her brothers and sisters called her ‘Mother’. She was their mother, and even before she died, they still called her ‘Mother’. And people would say, “Why do they call her sister, ‘Mother?” And that’s just it … she was their mother. Yeah. And it’s all because if someone has no children, they have their right to go in there and say, “I’m taking that baby.” So if you’ve got no children, you have that right to go … and then I mean they can say “No, you can’t – get your own”, but they usually end up taking them. But they are raised within their own family. They know that, “I’m your mum and dad; but that’s still mum and dad over there.” And Hera was brought up like that, ‘cause her mother died – that was my dad’s sister, her mother.

Oh gosh – you’re quite close aren’t you?

Yeah. I call her my sister. And I mean that’s just how we are. But I must say that, you know … it sucks being the older people now left in the marae, because there was always someone else you could get to do all these things. Now they all come to you, “Oh Nan, you are the oldest”. “Oh, yeah.” [Chuckle] Before you could pile it on to someone else; now you have to front up, because you are.

We can learn a lot from one another, can’t we?

Oh yes. I mean now, how wonderful now that how we have our tūpāpaku – that’s our people who die – we’ve always have them at home. Now so many people are doing the same, and how healthy is that? I remember when my daughter died, Tasma was the teacher at Ward 5 at Hastings Hospital. Eval was the first dead person she had seen, and she was fifties? Sixties? Because they were never … they were never told that their grandparents had died – you know, they’d go up, and they’re just gone … they just disappeared. But there’s so many, and people now know there’s no taboo. They can do whatever they like, you know? And I mean it’s just like … now so many Maoris are getting cremated where as it was a no-no. But now it’s freedom of choice. I mean to say, when people now of your family die in Australia, to bring them home is horrendous – you know, lying down. I said to … my brother [has] been over forty-five years living in Perth, and he always says to me, “Don’t forget when I die you come and get me”, and I said, “Well if it ain’t paid for, I ain’t coming.” [Chuckle] And I said, “I’ll just put you in the oven, and put you in my bloody suitcase.” [Quiet chuckles] But I mean to say we talk about death like that, you know, because it is just part … another step. It’s another step of life.

Yes I’ve got a son who lives in Kalgoorlie.

Oh, Kalgoorlie … I know Kalgoorlie, I’ve been there. Well my husband, Hemi – I mean he went right in the middle of nowhere in Australia, and there’s always a Kiwi, there’s always a Kiwi. [Chuckle] He said, “No matter where you went there was a Kiwi there.”

Okay, well I think we’re probably just about got the story of your life, haven’t we?


Thank you, Waa, that’s really a neat family story.


Wakiterangi (Waa) Harris interview


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