Growing up in Wairoa: A snapshot


I met a couple of kids on the banks of the Wairoa and we got talking. I’d stopped to ask them where the best spots to swim were and they waved their arms wide and told me anywhere along here was good.

“Except shit-log,” one of the boys clarified, and they all agreed, pointing to a partially submerged tree trunk in the middle of the river that looked perfect for jumping off.

I thought of the friendly lady at the information centre who’d given me a map and showed me the Wairoa cycle route that takes in the lighthouse, the museum and the art gallery. She hadn’t mentioned shit-log.

“Why’s it called that?” I asked.

The boys hooted. “Because it’s covered in bird-shit!”

We got chatting, and they asked me about my bike. I proudly showed them how Invincible Silver folds in half and then quarters. They indulged me with some “foos!” and “faas!,” then pointed to the two bikes lying rusty on the grass and boasted they were 60 years old.

It was hard to compete with that.

Under the shade of the trees, and because I missed my kids, I asked them about life in Wairoa. One of the boys – the one with the big personality that you can just imagine a casting agent plucking out of thin air and turning into a movie star – told me how everyone knows everyone in Wairoa. “If anyone new moves to town, we all know about it,” he said with his shoulders back, chin up, arms folded over a broad, 11-year old chest. I had visions of him as the local sheriff, interrogating outsiders.

They talked about swimming and fishing and one of them mentioned “molotovs.”

 “Bombs?” I said, trying not to sound like a 40-year old mother of three kids roughly the same age.

“Nah! Not actual bombs,” said the sheriff. “Just a rag covered in petrol inside a bottle that goes boom! when you light it.”

“We don’t throw them at houses,” said the younger one defensively. “We just throw them on the ground and light up the pavement.”

“Ahh,” I said, not at all relieved.

“We tried to borrow a boat along there just before,” said the sheriff. “But we got caught.” He kicked the ground and sniffed. “Snot even a real boat. Just some planks of wood tied to some plastic barrels.”

The boys cracked up, and I thought of that word they use around here, “harty.” More of a meal than an adjective. Filling and nutritious, warming to the stomach.

The tall one, reserved but no less plucky, asked if I was a photographer.

I shook my head and said no, that I was a writer.

I regretted saying it straight away. They wanted to know the names of the books I’ve written, and when I said I hadn’t actually written any books, they looked at me as though I’d just said I had a PlayStation and then opened the box to reveal no PlayStation.

“Well, what do you write about, then?”

Three sets of eyes staring. Three sets of ears waiting.

I could feel my feet making contact with the pedals, resistance and potential underfoot. Why is it the simple questions are always the hardest to answer?

I shrugged and said honestly: “I don’t really know.”

But in my head I was thinking, maybe I’ll write about you.