The Sociology of A Place To Call Home Part 3
by Sandshoe (Honshades)
The house we bought at the end of the month after we arrived in New Zealand was a weatherboard bungalow on a hillside. The hill fell away beneath it to a steep incline to the street. The partly dugout basement was dirt. The back of the bungalow sat snug at ground level. The front was supported by high stilts
boxed in by vertical sheeting painted an olive green. The sheeting had seen better days in places. The main bedroom protruded on the left hand side of the bungalow past a front door that was inaccessible from its verandah. That section of the verandah had been turned into a sleep-out boxed in with fibro walls.
The style of the front wall and windows of the main bedroom was oriel and projected further ahead of a line of sight along the edge of a front verandah. The right hand front of the property
featured another oriel wall and its windows set in low overlook onto the verandah right hand ‘corner’ and a set of concrete ‘front’ steps seen better days.
The result was eccentric. The frontage of the bungalow was full frontal onto its street and the oriel window and ‘front’ steps faced a street on the right hand side of the property. The bungalow featured forward with its promnent main bedroom and towards the corner of the property as well. The build was on a corner of a road intersection.
Each of the roads was a hill so the fall of the roads below was dramatic.
The base of the ‘front’ concrete steps was a small distance from the side boundary line and elevation fall to the street pavement below it. The fronage and verandah was provided no privacy. Further up the hill there was a gate between the side of the bungalow and the start of a paling fence that followed the entire boundary line to the back fence.
The front verandah at the top of the steps merged with a side verandah to an entrance door into a living room.
The bungalow was a prominent monolith prone to mould with
scraps of iron lace between verandah posts and no railing on the verandah
Two men with a small excavator removed an amount of dirt from the back yard sufficient to create a flat front yard behind a log retaining wall. We planted grass seed. Every few minutes I ran down a central hallway and yelled out the high-in-the-sky window of the sleep-out scarecrowing away birds after seed.
The distance from our new housing to inner city Auckland was a stretch by car or by bus. My husband’s employment was based in the inner city. We settled in a fashion into 9 to 5. Up to now we had never been 9 to 5, but neither was I as isolated.
I attached in the early days to the literature of New Zealand writers. In the State library later I found descriptions of traditional Maori tribal history and musical instruments drawn in beautiful detail. I early learned not to enquire of newly met acquaintances about Maori culture by way of making
conversation. I was frequently met with suspicion and paranoia embroidered with criticism of Australian racism. A newly met and dearly loved neighbour who herself was Maori snapped when I asked what traditional food Maoris eat “The same as everybody else.”
New Zealand’s education system that separated children from Primary School school for two years preparatory to High School made for different and entire sets of uniforms for two years during which a child might have a growth spurt and require another. The older three children … the younger two under school age … were at the same school in Australia in class rooms in a continuous sequence. The third oldest was now at a Primary School and the two girls at Intermediate in a different direction. With small resources educating five children so we stayed on the right side of our legal obligations … and the children had been out of school with us travelling for an extended time before we left Australia … their schooling took on a nightmare-ish quality I likely derived out of culture shock and alienation.
In the early days one of the children placed a homework
exercise in front of me they had copied from a blackboard. I read that Australian convicts when they were freed were “quite well looked after”, provisioned as they set out yet struggled to manage their selections and their crops failed. Reason was they were from the city and did not know anything about farming. I am unsure the descriptors I wrote in a especially worded kindly I thought note to the teacher about the conditions leading to overcrowded jails and boating convicts to Australia would stand up to my scrutiny now. The detail of the treatise is neither here nor there. If ever I made a victim of a child I did the unsuspecting student who carried the note to school to give to the teacher. My daughter was called out of the classroom and stood to be told to give her a mother a message. The message was verbal. Her teacher as long her mother did not tell her teacher how to run the teacher’s classroom would not tell her mother how to run her house. No
child or adult without the mindset could imagine it to make it up. Somewhere at this point although I had not fully arrived, I began to consider the children could sink or swim.
The third youngest never brought home homework from Primary School. The parent-teacher interview at the end of the first term was a shocker. The teacher brimmed with indignation when I enquired why my son had no homework, perhaps it was school policy. He frothed that it was there if he wanted to take it. He set a box out with exercises in it without fail for the children to select homework. He never he stated with an air of rancour directed at my son takes any. I blurted that if he wanted homework done, I had never heard anything as ridiculous and that he give it to the child. The next idiocy I learned from my son at Primary School. The children took turn about to help the teacher in the early morning as road crossing monitor. He rose at the crack of dawn excited and scrubbed up to have his turn for a week. The following week was the same. The next week began the same pattern. I asked him why someone else was not monitor. It transpired no-one else wanted to and as he liked doing it he volunteered. I silently considered day in and out over my dead body.
Smaller issues than the care of the children and their education were starting to break me.
The Principal at the High School when the two girls moved on
from Intermediate … and by then I was a single parent and had moved with the children to a rental housing …I first spoke to when he telephoned me at my, by then, workplace. He was almost incoherent. The second girl I realised as he described what the matter was had pulled a variation of a prank she accomplished in her early years at Primary School when she persuaded a set of twins to dress in the other’s clothes and sit in the other’s place in their classroom. That had been a source of mirth. Not this time that she had dressed two girls external to the school in purloined school uniforms to smuggle them onto the school grounds. The garbled description I was provided was the Principal looked out a window and saw a scene inspired by its circulating to other students that a lark was in the air, whereupon they rushed to surround the two girls and a crowd gathered and more, laughing and chattering. The Principal must have seen it as a class action style gathering against him potential, a riot in the grounds and ran downstairs and out onto the grounds … beyond my understanding … at the group that melted. My daughter had turned to see him charging at her and turned on her heel in terror at the sight of him bearing down on her and ran. By some means he knew she was the ring leader or assumed so. She did not stop. When I identified out of his garble she had left the school grounds I asked the Principal
where did she go did he know and he so enraged could still barely speak how enraged was he. He was not the least concerned where she went to. I quietly excused myself from the phone, left my workplace as a result to set out to find her. I found her at home where she bolted. Her description of him running at her was fearsome.
She left school shortly after. For some reason a number of male police called at the house and she was home. She had allowed them entry that they requested. She phoned me at work, described what happened. She had not been arrested, but was worrying the police would return and she would be. The situation she briefly described sounded as worrying. I left work and went home. She had been accused of stealing. A parcel of underwear I had bought the day before for myself with her help was lying on a bed still with labels attached. One of the
policemen had opened it and took out the garments. Each was held up towards her in succession and the items handed each to the next. She was goaded that to effect she had stolen them. She said they were her mother’s and she and I had gone shopping the day before. The goading was protracted and the handling …and what sounded like fondling … of the underwear. She was threatened their return to arrest her and they left. The station desk clerk saw me come in his station’s door no mistaking that I was lit-fused. I asked to see who was in charge. I delivered my story of what I had been told happened and my expectations in one managed breath and left to go home to my daughter.
Meanwhile … still back in the house on the hill as a complete family unit as we were when we arrived in New Zealand …. my other half came home with Prime Minister”Piggy” Muldoon’s classic he heard recited in his staff room that the numbers of Kiwis leaving New Zealand to live in Australia effectively raised the IQ of both countries. I said no statesman would say it. Not only did he, but years later I reflected on it reading a
nineteenth century paper on immigration to New Zealand. Its rationale considering policy approach to ‘imbeciles’ as immigrants, say the offspring of immigrants, was the country’s intelligence would fall whereas the level of the intelligence of the country migrated from would rise. Takeaway thought: beware emigration agents from other countries bearing boatloads of ‘imbeciles’.
One of the children sat down and cried … and we all cried … that a child had asked her at school why pigeons flew upside down over Australia and that the answer was it’s not worth shitting on. My overall impression was Australian were disliked. The notion Australians and Kiwis jibe at each other in characteristic displays of good-natured rivalry took a back seat.
One thing was for sure. I wondered what manipulations to the detriment of the population of New Zealand were puppeteered out of sight by powerful interests on both sides of the Ditch as I learned the Tasman Sea was referred to. We watched closely the television coverage of the New Zealand general election held in 1984 when PM Muldoon’s National Party lost and a Labour Party win made David Lange PM. In Australia the previous year we had watched as closely the defeat of the Malcolm Fraser led Liberal Party by the Bob Hawke phenomenon and Labor Party. The campaigns looked identical we thought, sounds, colours, style of speechs, slogans, huzzahs.
I was becoming kiwi-ised for all the stress. Aspects of the features of New Zealand and its people were permeating my awareness of where I was living. I thought them charming and even entrancing. I thought in it I picked up on short-sighted intransigence on the part of Australian Government to co-operate with a scheme the New Zealand Government advanced to boost tourism through-flow to Australia from Asia. My now late brother who was a public relations consultant based in Sydney and formerly finance journalist visited me briefly by coincidence. He declared he was on holiday. One day before he left to return to Australia he attended meetings in Auckland and pleased with the outcome he shared a detail of a projected
reorganisation of a major New Zealand industry that was an icon. My take on it was of far reaching change to the look of the brand. I guessed at rather than knew the intimate detail, but I felt a searing pang of disillusion that was loyal to New Zealand. I had long established a belief in conservative change that was incremental if change was progressive and requisite. I saw the population of New Zealand and the country as too small and vulnerable to withstand catastrophic identity change as large as the one I thought I foresaw by instinct.
The social human animal absorbs the elements of its environment by powerful instincts when it is blind. A newly orchestrated and large scale drama was unfolding around me I knew only from its consequences of lived experience.
We speak next of melting pots and sequence that may seem like string. We touch on Rogernomics.
to be continued…
Christina Binning Wilson