Keri Hulme tells her story

Written By Lingkar Dunia on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | 9:44 PM

The lagoon, the bluff -- the story of us all

There’s a bluff at the south end of this place. It looms. It’s iconic. It just is.

A glacier pushed it out here, plus ten thousand years ago, and every year since, it has been eroded, nibbled by the sea round its toes, enduring landslides and waterfalls from the top. But it endures. It has variant bush on it, but it doesn’t seem to like gorse or truly foreign stuff on it. And there are some very precious rare wee plants it shelters (won’t even tell you where they are).

It is called Te Kohuamaru.

There have been mutilations of its name, and I willingly acknowledge that earlier people could’ve meant something different (if, indeed, they called it that) but for me, it is Te Kohu a Maru – Maru’s Mist. (Maru is that extremely interesting character, of whom we all need to learn more about.)

A lot of mornings, you look to the bluff, and there is this mist – makes sense: it is quite high –
but sometimes, when there is a full moon, there is also a mist webbing, clinging, all round the bluff.

Not anywhere else.

There is a photograph, of a couple of late Victorian gents, hats on, sticks in hand, halted by the bluff –
I don’t have it to hand immediately – a lot of my library has gone over the hill – but I even seen it on teatowels … nobody likes images on teatowels but – I am hoping – these ones were for framing –

South end of Ōkarito is the Bluff – and the north end is that wonderfully changeful edgy great water mass – ta-ra! The Lagoon! Biggest salt-water lagoon on the West Coast. Home to kōtuku! O, actually not: kōtuku breed up an arm of the Waitangi-taona, frequently feed here in the Ōkarito lagoon (and areas at the 3-mile and 7-mile) and there is always one over-wintering here – but that’s it –
between those pou, I have lived for nearly forty years …

So: now I have to leave Big O.

I neither have money or resources to continue to live in a remote area.

And the place has changed so much! So dramatically!

We have people who fly in, planes, helicopters, to their very ugly mcmansions.
About o, so few times a year, baby –

This used to be called the *settlement* of Ōkarito. It has been a sort of village. When I came here, v. early 1970s, and won a Crown Land Ballot, it was with the expectation
I would contribute to the place.

There were nine people living here then – a family of six (who left within two years) an alcoholic who whittled himself off, after a year, and me.

So, I did. I built my home, loved the place and the birds, and the other people who came and – truly, deeply enjoyed the fishing/baiting myself! And knowing one of my great-great-grandmothers came from this area, felt thoroughly at home.

Little by little a lot has been eroded: most of the places (can’t call them homes) have been holiday places, in an area where very few people take holidays. So the people who fly in doubtless have their contacts and their local enjoyments – BUT

Local people must live in a local place. Must caretake that place. Must caretake each other.
What happens to a place, when – as it is happening now – many of the people are exiting? And the original commitment to conservation/preservation of the truly original inhabitants (Ōkarito brown kiwi? Our rather especial mudfish? Our fernbirds? Our tui with their own lingo?) and the truly loving people of this place – go – away?

Because I can no longer afford to live in Big O – because in the Aotearoa I live in now – living in a truly especial place is made impossible because of local body rate demands (which have absolutely NO effective returns to me in the most part) and because the general tenor of this place has changed to being a nasty mcmansion village – I’ll exit very soon.

And I’ll look to the bluff – see the two people I love in their beautifully, sensitively refurbished and newly rebuilt home – and think, Yeah, the – place still attracts the people –


I am sure a person will want to buy – whatever my home is, whatever my place is –

Then again: the bluff was actually the site of at least two rūnaka.

When Kāi Tahu moved south, several high ranking people came to Ōkarito to learn stuff.

They learned it on the bluff.

One of my long-ago neighbours built up there.

While he was digging foundations, he dug a small nasty mere, and hei.

When I heard he was keeping both, I suggested he didn’t.

When I heard that he’d chainsawed into his breastbone, accidentally, I strongly suggested he give them to the Hokitika museum.

They reside there now. He died years ago.

I’d really urge all of us – who come to the Coast – to visit the Hokitika Museum. Look at those wee relics from the bluff.

And then – same place – go visit the Hokitika Whitebait Exhibition – beautifully curated, and the First Time In The World There Has been A Whitebait Exhibition. You’ll see me there – and maybe many of your olds

catch you next time, this side or that side of the hill –

Reproduced from Te Karaka with the kind permission of Keri Hulme


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