|Catherine Mair - Poet
|I was born in the old Kauri homestead, on what was then a dairy farm in Katikati. The night I was born was a typical August night, cold and blustery and Dad was assigned the task of keeping the house warm for I was delivered at home by a mid-wife, Nurse Hatch. More moderate natured uncle, Arthur Spedding would probably have suggested that Dad need not have produced the furnace which he did in the interests of keeping the house 'warm' for me, but he was out at a military ball.
Although I was brought up in Tauranga we were regular holidayers at the farm. My grandparents must have been very loving and patient because I was a haram-scarem leader of a bunch of siblings. I led my little sisters into all sorts of potentially disastrous adventures. I'll never forget the look on Granny's face when we appeared in her spotless kitchen drenched to the bone and festooned with duck weed. The enormity of what might have happened overwhelmed Granny and she burst into tears. "Molly's little girls!' she wailed.
...who drove their herd over the Kaimais in the early thirties to settle on the farm in Station Road where I was born.
they endued the old kauri home
the mighty fire
through all our growing years
the white gate swung open
she always wore
his nose was big:
the Christmas trees
the only time I saw her distraught
their home was a lagoon of blue
in all respects my Grandparents passed away together
|A very early memory is of meeting Dad at the railway station where he leapt off the train as it drew into the platform. He was in his airforce blues, carrying a big kit-sack. We must have missed Dad a lot during the 14 months he was stationed in Fiji leaving Mum at home with three pre-school daughters.|
'don't look at me!'
that if one tear
marching down the carpet
|When I was seven we moved to a citrus orchard at Greerton and this was probably where LIFE really began for me. FREEDOM! We had the countryside to roam. We had trees galore to find birds' nests in. We had marvellous places in which to build huts. Lacking a son at that stage (although Bill was born when I as seven), old enough to teach to shoot and to take rabbit shooting and hunting I became his protege. My upbringing was probably a little unconventional. I loved it. The sense of adventure. The yarns.|
I should have been a son you know
|I blame Dad for my later development as a poet and a writer. Dad was such a vivid storyteller that he scared me sleepless with stories of Dracula and we had some hilarious evenings around the table when, totally involved in the yarn he was telling, my sister was unconsciously imitating his every expression and move. When we laughed at her she joined in the laughter totally unaware of the reason for our mirth. This story makes her wild. I can't imagine anyone telling the Jabberwocky as well as Dad.
When I was twelve we moved back into Tauranga where I completed my standard six year before moving onto Tauranga (Boys) College. Tauranga College was then a very large co-ed school.
|I enjoyed my years at college. Loved the sport and felt privileged to be in the top stream class. Although I wasn't musical I love music. Once again I think it was the influence of my grandparents and listening to the music in their home which must have created this interest. Dad's mother may have been the one who focussed my interest in art. She exhibited paintings and both she and her sisters in Australia were accomplished painters.
Anyway I loved art lessons and won the 5th Form art prize. While sitting in the picture theatre one night we were looking over the shoulder of a man at half-time and my friend said 'Look Cath, there's your painting in the paper!' And sure enough it was. On the front page of the Herald. I think in this rather rambling account that I have missed telling you what a great joy reading was to my family. It was always an EVENT when mum came home with the new library books or when the school journals appeared. On the mornings I was meant to practise the piano I much preferred to stay in bed reading. At Christmastime the most enjoyed gift we got would be, apart from that exotic, thin-skinned orange, a thick comic book. We'd read our own and then wait impatiently to read each others.
Life was colourful. We made our own fun. I had a little book in which I kept an account of all sorts of plans and strategies, for being the oldest, I was the LEADER.
|My teenage years were probably relatively conventional. Studies, sport and dates. Yes, of course BOYS!
The boy in the third form, who so charmingly invited me, very formally, to have lunch at his place. When I arrived in my best gear his mother was nowhere to be seen and nor was lunch. Luckily he didn't have quite the courage to press home his plan. When mum saw his mother in town she thanked her for inviting me to lunch whereupon the denouement occurred. I had (even as the innocent, but highly embarrassed party) some explaining to do.
Then there was Bobby. All freckles and red hair. Years later, spotting me on the sideline Bobby came running off the rugby field during the big match between Ardmore and Auckland Teachers Colleges to say hello.
But THE ONE, was the boy I fell for in the 6th form. His father had a brand new DUCK-EGG-BLUE Super Snipe and he used to let 16 year old Peter drive from Omanawa to Maungatapu to pick me up for dances and parties. One night after Peter had been helping with the haymaking he'd stuck a pitchfork through his left foot. On the way home he said his foot was so sore that while he worked the accelerator I'd have to work the clutch. I don't know how he managed from Maungatapu to Omanawa.
|I met my future husband on a boat. I was aware of 'the boy next door' but as I was still at school and very involved with 6th form studies etc our paths didn't cross immediately. However one day I rowed out to Dad's launch unaware that the boy next door was on board. When he appeared on deck my embarrassment was sufficient to make me crash into the side of the launch. I felt very foolish indeed. A number of teasing incidents occurred and I remember complaining to my mother that Selwyn looked like a parson (a man of the cloth) but was a most annoying tease. When we began dating more of Mum's words spring to mind. Now, she warned me, don't lead Selwyn up the garden path, he's not one of your school boyfriends! And so after several hiccups Selwyn and I were married in the lovely homestead garden in Katikati. Granny played the wedding march on the piano and we left for our honeymoon from the homestead where I was born twenty years before.|
your name is carved
|We were to move to Auckland. What I had loved about living at Rothesay Bay was the proximity to the beach which we made daily use of. The kids loved it. Boats continued to play a major part in our lives. Over the succeeding years we explored the Hauraki Gulf. The magic story of the hermit who lived on one of the islands. Climbing the steep track to explore his deserted shack. Imagining the life he must have led in this lonely, spartan existence. His reputation for taking pot shots at intruders on 'his' island. His friendly approach once when we landed. Our gift to him of a couple of bottles of beer. We'd usually go on these trips in the Hauraki Gulf accompanied by friends. Each family in their own small runabout, and with children and babies aboard. Our four children have vivid memories of these relatively carefree, adventurous days.|
Wasps and birds picnic
sucking and pecking
attuned to the dizzy cicada whirr.
is a description that hovers
sense of peace I feel
once again I walk beside you.
If I am lean and perfumed
you must know that you
depth and stillness.
into your deep water
They do not disturb a
|Always somewhere in the back of my mind there was a desire to express myself. From school days my art teacher had been keen for me to pursue art but I had decided to go to Ardmore Teachers College.
When I became increasingly housebound with a young family frustration at the lack of opportunity to express myself creatively began to manifest itself. Once or twice I was asked why I wasn't exhibiting my painting but as I only had a few, and no more time to create fresh work, I shelved this ambition. I think if I'd had good daycare facilities as they do now I might have been able to allow myself a bit of time. I very quickly became pretty cynical about tea-parties and many of the shallow value systems operating around me. I became very depressed.
The saviour for me was the move from Auckland's North Shore to the place of my birth - Katikati.
We came home to Katikati in 1972. We loaded our belongings onto a few trailers and came down to the milker's cottage. It felt like heaven. Life was about to begin again.
It wasn't easy though. I'd never milked a cow in my life. Selwyn had been bought up on a farm in the Waikato but hadn't had anything to do with farming for about twenty years. We were as green as the grass we were trying to grow.
let's buzz off
|Our farming years were probably the standout years of my life in many ways. HERE WAS LIFE! Each day was significant. The sun, rain, wind, all the variables that weather and season could dish up had a distinct and meaningful impact. The futility of much that is city life was simply blown away.|
|Late afternoon in August
As the last of the sunlight
Across the chill sky
|I think I always needed this sort of hands on relationship with nature. Even shocking four year old Katie by arriving at the back door after a harrowing spring milking, with a liquid, green adornment, streaming down my face and shoulders didn't put me off. I'll never forget those crisp frosty mornings - the old tractor puffing away, the cows lusting after their hay or silage.|
along with the heavy black and white cows
in his sun-tanned, plaster-wrapped hand
in his ragged milking shirt
what could we stand it in?
then we milked our cows
|The cold was memorable too. I remember trying to defrost in the bath after a freezing morning and Selwyn bringing me a cup of coffee laced with brandy to help my circulation.
It was this passionate feeling for the simple, REAL blood and guts world that permeated my early writing. Haiku 'happened' to me. I had just begun writing poetry when someone suggested that my affinity to nature might predispose me to writing haiku. HAIKU??? I hadn't a clue what haiku was. I thought it was a Maori word and upon revealing my ignorance was sent the first notes about haiku.
even at sixty
From 1989 my haiku and poems began to appear in the New Zealand Poetry Society's publications. Since then I have been published in countries as diverse as Romania and USA, Croatia and Canada, Great Britain and Australia, in so many different small press publications that I've lost count. I've also been fortunate enough to have my work recognised with various awards. Recently I've enjoyed success in writing linked verse with Patricia Prime, an Auckland poet. Short, short story writing has become increasingly absorbing with work appearing in several anthologies and magazines.
The University of Waikato (Editor Terry Locke) has produced two very attractive anthologies of recent New Zealand poetry for younger readers, secondary school level, and I am proud to be included in both Jewels in the Water, and Doors.
Writing means a lot to me and when I hear that someone has particularly enjoyed a piece I've written it gives me a buzz. I've been asked to quote some of my favourite pieces but I am going to leave that open because I have so many I love and I don't want to narrow the field, but if you take a walk around Katikati's Haiku Pathway you can read some examples there.
As for the future, it's anybody's guess isn't it, but I can say that if I had to have an affliction I'm glad it is Parkinson's because I don't believe it will impair my creative ability, even though it's an energy draining malady.
I'll admit to being parochial, in that to me New Zealand is without peer. I love it, and think it is the most beautiful country in the world. While we are fortunate enough to share this lovely place we need to ensure that we don't make a mess of things by being greedy or small minded. Ultimately it's up to all of us.
soul sings waiata
Photographs courtesy of Cath and Selwyn Mair.