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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 8 (November 1, 1938)

Dream Places

page 29

Dream Places

I believe with the Maori that when we drift into dreamland the spirit leaves the body for a space and meets in its floating the spirits of other dreamers, and beholds those vanished faces “lost in death's dateless night.” Very seldom is there perfectly dreamless slumber. The day's work and the day's news often carry on in their own way in one's sub-conscious mind. But more often still the mind is in the past, in the old scenes, and with the men and women who are a memory of the past in one's waking hours.

The old places come before one more; one does not dream of future surroundings—at any rate to me it is always the past that is “apparelled in celestial light”; the future is a dim mystery impenetrable. The past is best.

I would not see the future, if I could. Old friends—old enemies, too—old sweethearts, the old dream faces appear in their several environments. But most of all I think the faces of my father and mother. If ever I prayed to any God it would be to them.

The old farm scenes, the good land on which I was reared, the horses I rode in my boyhood, the old roads and tracks, the creeks and pools, the big-trees, the farmhouse, the old-fashioned buildings that are really much better than those of to-day. The blockhouse that stood near our farm—I can remember being taken into it when I was three years old (date fixed by a frontier murder and Maori raid scare that are historical); the tall windmills that were the Waikato settlers' flour-mills; the old-fashioned flail and the tarpaulin threshing floor, the first bush journeys, and the first pigeon shooting climb up Pirongia Mountain, all bush and gully and cascading streams. Such scenes are revived with all “the glory and the freshness” of early years' impressions. There are other hallowed places. There are scenes that I saw when they lay perfectly unspoiled, sanctuaries of peace, slumbering in their gauzy mists—Waikare-iti, Okataina, lakes of the woods. I shall not row across their shining waters with my companions again.

The glamour of the days when exploration of many such quiet places was a kind of adventure will not return.

The Old Farmstead.

The first home I knew, the first trees and flowers, were on the soil that had only ten years before been a battlefield. That is my favourite sleep-time roving ground. The farm lay with a gentle tilt to the north and the quarter of greatest sunshine. There were Maori-planted peach-groves and cherry groves, and big almond trees with flat stones at their feet where Maori children before us had cracked the stone fruit.

There were tongues of raupo and flax swamp thrust into the land from the broad belt of forest that covered the main swamp on the north—rich pasture land now, with scarcely a white pine or a rimu left. A small swampy stream flowed through the deep valley on the west of the knoll on which our home stood. It was a wonderful play-water for small boys. Harry, the North of Ireland man who worked on the farm, made a toy water-wheel for me; it clacked merrily at a tiny water-fall. Lower down there had been a small Maori flour-mill, in the wheat-growing days before the War. The old mill-dam, fed by the little creek and large springs, was now used for watering the farmer's cattle and sheep.

Where the stream crooked its way past a large grove of acacia trees, and a peach grove, there was wild mint growing and there were wild straw-berries under the peach trees, and the ruins of Maori houses, relics of the peaceful missionary days when there were several villages of Ngati-Raukawa here. The settler's wife sometimes walked down here with the children in the lovely weather when the winds were awhile at rest. She gathered the mint that grew in the clear water where the stream, only a few feet wide, rippled over a mossy log. We shook down ripe peaches—the size, the colour, the fragrance, the honeyed taste of those peaches!—and hunted for the small, tartly sweet wild strawberries.

The songs and hymns my mother loved to sing in those happy dream-days seemed to mingle with the small voice of the streamlet as it tumbled over the old fallen tree. She sang “Buy a Besom,” and “Rosalie the Prairie Flower”; she sang:—

By cool Slloam's shady rill
How fair the lily grows;
How 3weet the breath beneath the bill
Of Sharon's dewy rose.

Those fields have long gone to strangers, who do not know the place traditions and associations that became a part of my being. Most of the old groves have been felled; the waterways have dwindled. But the magic murmur of that little creek under the flax bushes and the peach trees and acacias page 30 blends still in dear memory with the sweetest songs ever sung.

On the Waitemata Shore.

There was a scene of later days, the pretty Maori village of Orakei, on the sandy incurve of Okahu Bay, the home of good old Paul Tuhaere and his Ngati-Whatua tribe. Saturdays or Sundays often found me rowing or sailing down there, a relief from the hot town. Portly, tattooed, sideboard-whiskered Tuhaere was one of my mentors in matters Maori—stories and waiatas, place-names and their traditions.

A beautiful war-canoe, the Tahere-tikitiki, lay under a long raupo-thatch shed. Paul and a crew of men and women now and again launched it and paddled up the shining Waitemata to pay a ceremonial call to a visiting warship; sometimes to race a naval cutter. The whares in the neat kainga were all of raupo or nikau thatch. Between them and on the flat in rear were the potato and kumara, maize and melon gardens. And now—the sorrow of it!

It must have been a mental carry-over from a newspaper topic of the day—the miserable condition of the remnant of Ngati-Whatua, crowded out by the pakeha. In my wairua's rovings one night a once-familiar figure landed before me out of a pale wisp of cloud as I sat on crumbling Whakatakataka Point, above Orakei Bay, looking out over the Waitemata.

“Oh, Paora,” I said, “I was just thinking of you and wondering what you would make of it all if you were to return to your beloved bay and the harbour where you so often steered your beautiful Tahere-tikitiki.”

“My boy, I often return here,” said Paora, as he sat down on the grass, and took his pipe and home-made twist torori out of his pocket, borrowed a match and lit up. Presently he continued: “I have watched over the place of my youth and my strength and my old age, ever since they laid my body down under the trees yonder in front of my house in Okahu kainga. And my thoughts are many, and sad and deep.

“Now I tell you. I was wandering about the Reinga a little while ago—or it may have been a long, long while ago, for we have no time in the Place of Shades—when I met my old cousin, Te Hira te Kawau—you remember Te Hira, who had more tattoo than I have, and a white moustache like an old colonel of the soldiers—and who should be with him but Te Kamera—my good old friend, Sir John Campbell, who once had a land-buying disagreement with Te Hira, but they are good friends now. Te Kamera said to me: ‘You are a matakite, Paul, I know; you are a seer, and you pierce through those mists of death that keep me bound, and you can see what is doing in the world of light we left so long ago. Now tell me, Paul, how fares it with my beloved old home?’

“‘Alas, my friend, Kamera,’ (Paul's shade continued ‘it is so changed that you might not be happy if you saw it now. True, it is a very great and wonderful city, with its amazing buildings and all manner of pakeha inventions. But the pakeha is a strange creature to-day. He calls my people dirty, although they bathe far more than he does wherever they can find sweet clean streams or bays. But when pakehas herd together in a city of splendid buildings they spoil everything about them. They have mutilated the hills, they have made our once lovely Waitemata a place of pollution. They have taken my beautiful bays and made them ugly, and they poison our food of the salt sea with their drainings. The pipi banks where my two wives and the other women once gathered food, the mussel rocks and the oyster reefs all about the shores are thick with the city's filth, and the horrible oil from ships, and the people are sickened to death if they draw their food from the sea grounds that were guaranteed to us by the Treaty of Waitangi. Of what use is that Treaty if our people in the land of light are afraid to eat the food that the gods gave them? And the pakehas who put a sewer across my front door are destroyers of beauty as well as of food. They have cut away nearly all the
(Photo., G. Stephenson.) Evening scene in the Waimana Gorge between Taneatua and Opotiki, North Island, New Zealand.

(Photo., G. Stephenson.)
Evening scene in the Waimana Gorge between Taneatua and Opotiki, North Island, New Zealand.

ancient groves of pohutukawa that adorned cliff and headland; they have cut away the capes of beauty and filled in the bays and have made straight and ugly lines where there were once curves of grace like the curves of moko on our Maori faces—and to what end? So that they may dash in their motor-cars along the roads like race tracks, all in a tremendous hurry to arrive somewhere or other—for what? Nobody knows—at any rate I do not.'

“All that” (Paul continued) “I told my friends in the spirit world, and they groaned over it; and Campbell groaned again and said some strange fierce words in his ancient Scotchman's tongue when I told him also that his old home-cliffs and trees that adorned Campbell Point had been chopped away and ruined because the pakeha rulers hate anything in the nature of graceful curves, as I said before. And the old man sorrowfully left his adze with which he had been working at his canoe as in the days of his youth at Waiomu, and he and Te Hira vanished from my sight.

* * *

“And now I must go. I shall return, Kawana. I cannot rest until my people—those who are left of them—obtain some land to cultivate for their living. I am shamed; Te Hira and I weep over it. Our people work for the Chinese—men, women and children toil in the cabbage gardens—our tribe who once owned all this land as far as you can see. They work for a taurekareka race. My shame! My grief!”

And so saying, the wise old chief of the Waitemata faded into a fog of powerful torori smoke and was gone.