Sunday, October 11, 2015

Some things never change

My first home - Huirau Road
At the beginning of the year, I visited the place where I was born (well, the place I first lived in after being born at the hospital – the usual location for entering this world in our modern society). My first home was a white house at the corner of Huirau Rd, just south of Turua on the Hauraki Plains. Fifty years later, the area hadn’t changed a bit in any substantial way from when I lived there, apart from some fresh paint on some of the houses, and one or two newer ones down the road. Even the old, small dairy factory across the road – abandoned even when we lived there in the mid-1960s – still sported a turquoise green door (ok, fresher paint) that always remained in my memory from that time. My father actually worked as a dairy chemist at the big, new, massive Kerepehi factory some kilometres away.

My reason for going this year was to visit the Dalmatian farmer across the road and down the way from our old place – whose youngest son had been my first friend. I visited with my friend, and we chatted over lunch with him, his Dad, and middle brother, who now ran the family dairy farm. It was oddly reassuring, that even within our radically transformed dairy industry, some things have never changed. That a family business is still in the family, and that the Dalmatian farmer, at 92, was still gardening and growing grapes at the back of his house, even if wasn’t working the farm any more.

And after all these years, I learnt that he had actually worked in a bitumen mine back in then Yugoslavia (now Croatia) – he’d never wanted to be a farmer. It was family machinations here in New Zealand that led to him becoming a dairy farmer on Huirau Rd shortly before my parents moved there in 1962. In their European tradition, family land was family land – you wouldn’t sell the family farm just to buy a bigger and better one. You’d keep the land in the family, to pass to future generations. He was keeping this tradition alive, even for his family land back ‘home’: when he and his youngest son (my friend), visited Croatia a couple of years ago, he sorted out the titles for four blocks of land to retain there – one for each of his sons living in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This was the second 92-year old European I had spoken to within a couple of weeks whose ‘tradition’ was to keep family land in the family, rather than trade up for a bigger dairy farm. The other had come from Austria – and had farmed in the Karaka area of south Auckland – though he had to sell up when he stopped dairying, as no one in the family wanted to keep it.

Nothing may have changed at Huirau Rd, but down the way, the old Kerepehi site reflects the new world: a Chinese company has bought the property to make ice-cream for export back to the Chinese market. It signals some of the ironies of life: that while “some things never change”, “the times are [still] a changin’ ”.

It may mean nothing to you, but that little place on Huirau Rd is where I was born, and deep in my psyche, the Hauraki Plains is ‘home’.

Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu
Although it is small, it is precious

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