Monday, 13 July 2015

Learnt by Heart

I remember. Through a gate, down a path to a door I will never forget.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Just down the road and around a corner from where I live, is a memorial stone (called 'Rongo') to honour the memory of two lots of Maori prisoners who in the late 1800's were taken from their home in Taranaki and brought to Otago where they were forced to work on such schemes as the Andersons Bay over-bridge-road and stone walls in Dunedin's botanical gardens. 

Close to this memorial stone is a door leading to a cave that is believed to be where some of the prisoners were held. (There is however some debate between local historians about whether this cave was actually used for this purpose or not).

Whatever the facts about the small door and cave, the fact that Maori were taken away from their homes and made prisoner, simply for guarding their land, is a blight on New Zealand's history. It should not have happened.

It is good to remember and to respect the memories that Taranaki people have of their family members being torn from them. Many of these Maori prisoners died far away from their home and whanau. There are regular pilgrimages made from whanau in Taranaki to visit this memorial.

In small hollows and clefts in these cliffs near to where Rongo memorial stone stands, doves and pigeons have made their homes. This is particularly poignant because white (albatross) feathers are an important symbol for the followers of Te Whiti, Taranaki prophet, priest and peace-maker. I have seen visitors to the stone wearing white feathers in their hair. 

Part of the inscriptions on the stone, mention birds of peace. 

roosting pigeon on cliff-face above Rongo ...

At the foot of Rongo, I spotted these black toadstools. For me right then, they seemed to symbolise the black mark; dark memory; that surrounds this memorial. 


The Maori name for these little birds is tauhou, which means 'stranger' or 'new arrival'. They introduced themselves in the 1800's (around the time the Europeans were also 'introducing themselves' to this land).

They have become my favourite birds this winter.  Flocks of them arrive to feed on the sugar water I put out for them each day, and then leave as suddenly as they arrived.

I enjoy their friendly, chatty zooming in and out. Someone I was speaking to over the weekend, who also feeds silvereyes at his property, said that their bouncy nature and the habit the flock has of suddenly 'exploding' away from the bird table, reminds him of popcorn popping. 

Along the road a bit from the stone memorial, Rongo, is the Anderson Bay inlet's bird-roost. When I took this photo, black-backed gulls, red-billed gulls (currently low in numbers and described as 'nationally vulnerable') pied stilts and cormorants, were making good use of the custom-built roost.


At the time I took these photos I did note that these were two disconsolate-looking drakes, rather than the chummy duck-and-drake pair more commonly seen. I wondered if they were widowers taking shelter from duck-shooter guns. (The photo was taken in May; duck-shooting season in New Zealand ... )

The poem below by Walter de la Mare was a favourite of mine when I was small. It was a poem my whole class learnt by heart when I was six years old. We'd all sit on the mat and chant it in our sing-song-y voices. I loved it for its rhythm and its mystery then, and I still do now.

Some One

'Some one came knocking
At my wee, small door,
Some one came knocking,
I'm sure, sure, sure.
I listened, I opened,
I looked from left to right,
But nought there was a stirring
In the still, dark night;
Only the busy beetle
Tap-tap-tapping in the wall,
Only from the forest
The screech owl's call,
Only the cricket whistling
While the dewdrops fall,
So I know not who came knocking
At all, at all, at all.'

Walter de la Mare

PS Unbeknown to me, a friend of mine also had the Taranaki episode (also known as Parihaka) on her mind after attending a Tim Finn (NZ music artist) concert in London. This alerted me to the Tim Finn song 'Parihaka'. Look it up! (Unfortunately I couldn't get the link to work here). 


Avus said...

We Europeans have a good deal to be ashamed of, Kay. The treatment of indigenous peoples in the USA, Australia and New Zealand was, and in some cases still is, scandalous.

From afar, I feel that NZ has come out of this best - the Maori now seem to be better integrated there than in other countries. Maybe.............?

Kay Cooke said...

Avus - We are getting there! Thanks for your insightful and sensitive comments; they are appreciated.

Di said...

I remember finding that memorial years ago, when I was living on the Peninsula, and being so impressed it was there. So much had been done to hide those stories. Thanks for the link. I love that song, so very much and seeing him perform live ... pure gold.

Kay Cooke said...

Di - I love that that memorial is there. It's important.
I regret missing out on Tim Finn when he was in Dunedin last year. However, we got to see Don McGlashan last weekend (or maybe the weekend before?) and it was gold too! We are so lucky with these kiwi musicians of merit.

Clocking Out

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