Authors: Des Hunt
My mother walked out on Dad and me soon after I started school. At the time, she told Dad she just couldn’t stand living in Hauruanui any longer; she wanted a place where there were shops and cinemas and cafés and mobile phones, and all the other things that Hauruanui didn’t have. She said she was sick of living miles away from anywhere. It was only later that Dad found out that there was another reason for leaving: within a week she was back living with an old boyfriend in Wellington.
Dad says I’ve seen her a couple of times since, but I don’t remember. She quickly married the old boyfriend, which suited Dad and me fine. It meant we could get on with living our lives the way we wanted—two males enjoying their isolation without the interference of others. We could go fishing when we wanted; shoot possums or rabbits if we wished; surf the swells in Whale Pot Bay; mess around with motors until midnight; anything we liked, because there was nobody to tell us otherwise. We didn’t want anything different. Well, I knew
didn’t. And that’s the way I figured Dad thought also—up until one Friday evening soon after my thirteenth birthday.
We were sitting in front of television enjoying a meal of spaghetti and eggs on toast when Dad turned the sound down and said there was something we had to discuss. This wasn’t unusual, as we often had discussions about what we should do at the weekends: which vehicle we’d work
on, where we’d go fishing, or some other important thing like that. But this discussion was to be different, vastly different. This discussion had the potential to change the direction of our lives.
‘We’ve got some visitors arriving tomorrow morning,’ he said, staring at the television.
‘Oh yeah?’ I said. ‘Who?’
‘An old friend. A woman I met again at Queen’s Birthday weekend. Back at the reunion.’ Still he wouldn’t look at me. ‘She’s staying for a couple of days or so,’ he added.
That made me sit up. ‘Why?’ I asked, the beginnings of a whine in my voice.
‘Because I asked her.’ He turned to me. ‘Do you have a problem with that?’
I didn’t reply. Instead, I thought back to when he’d gone up to Napier for a school reunion. I’d had to stay at the pub with Wally. I’d been pleased when Dad had returned, seemingly no different to when he’d left. Now I knew I’d been wrong: he was different. He’d met a woman—one who was now going to stay in our house.
‘There’s an eleven-year-old daughter as well.’
This was getting worse. ‘Anybody else?’ I asked, rudely.
‘No, Jake. That’s the lot.’
‘Where are they going to sleep?’ We had only three bedrooms: two singles and Dad’s double.
He gave me a stupid grin. ‘We’ll all fit in somehow.’
That’s when I realized that this woman was more than just a friend from the past—things were happening in the present. Things that could mess up my life.
That night I thought about the effect that the visitors might have. The way I saw it, this visit was a trial to see if the woman and the girl liked the place. If they did, then I suspected the stay would become a much longer one—one that could last forever.
However, the more I thought about it, the less concerned I became, because there was no way that they would like Hauruanui. They were city people from Palmerston North, which meant they’d never met the wilds of Wairarapa before. They were in for a real shock.
As I drifted into that state which is half-awake and half-asleep, I made up a story about their journey the next morning. It was more wishful thinking than dreaming, but it made me feel a whole lot better.
In my story they began by taking the coast road off State Highway 2 near Eketahuna, which is the right thing to do because that’s the best way to get to Hauruanui. I imagined that, like many New Zealanders, they saw Eketahuna as one of the least exciting places on the planet. But for us that’s not so: Eketahuna has shops, not many, but infinitely more than we have. However, the woman and the girl in my dream resisted the temptation to buy sheep dip and cattle drench, and instead drove right on through.
After a few kilometres of good road, they reached a sign which said:
Extreme Care Needed.
Road Unsuitable for Caravans.
This sign usually keeps away all except the most adventurous tourists, but it didn’t keep away my dream visitors. They drove on, spending the next hour on a narrow, gravel road before reaching a sign that said
It’s meant to read
but possum shooters keep using it for target practice.
Around the corner they found a short patch of seal alongside the school, which, after pulling over, they studied with growing apprehension.
‘What sort of school has only one classroom and a toilet?’ moaned the girl.
‘Hauruanui, by the looks of it,’ replied the mother, looking glum. Then she put on a brighter face. ‘But don’t worry, I’m sure the number of students is small and you’ll get more attention from the teacher than in Palmerston North.’ She paused and pointed to the house next to the school. ‘See! The teacher lives alongside. He’ll always be there to help you.’
‘Yeah, right!’ said the girl. She swivelled around to see what was on the other side of the road, and was surprised to see a big sign repeating the words she’d just uttered:
Welcome to Hauruanui
—the centre of civilization
as we know it.
Then under that:
The girl giggled. ‘More likely the teacher spends all his time in there,’ she said, pointing to the pub sporting the sign.
‘Hey, they might serve coffee?’ said the mother. ‘I could do with a break. Alan said his place was quite a way past the hotel.’
They got out of the car and walked across to the old wooden building. After passing through a deserted lounge, they located the bar behind a pair of swinging doors. The place stank of stale beer from the night before. There was nobody either in front of, or behind, the bar, but a notice beside a button said
Ring for service,
which is what the woman did.
Nothing happened. So she rang again. And again. And again.
‘All right, all right,’ yelled a voice from out the back. ‘Have a bit of patience. There’s no need to rush things around here.’
A while later Wally appeared, wiping his hands on his shirt. Wally is the owner, the barman, the bouncer and the caretaker; in fact everything except the cook, the cleaner and the waitress, which are the jobs that his wife, Molly, does. Wally and Molly are both in their sixties and make up the entire staff of the Hauruanui Hotel.
‘What do you want?’ asked Wally.
‘I’d like a cappuccino,’ said the woman.
‘And I’ll have a frothy with chocolate,’ added the girl.
‘Can’t do!’ grunted Wally. ‘Only got instant and cocoa.’
Reluctantly, they agreed to that, and Wally went away. While they waited, they walked around studying the photos on the walls. Most were farming scenes, usually of huge mobs of sheep. There were a couple of the Hauruanui rodeo from 1952, and one of a yacht being wrecked on a rocky point. But the one that grabbed the girl’s attention
was a photo of two whales washed up on a small, sandy beach. The whales were huge. The label said:
Sperm whales stranded in Whale Pot Bay, 1983.
‘Big, aren’t they?’ said Wally, carrying in two cups. ‘One was fourteen, the other sixteen metres long.’
‘Did they die?’ asked the girl.
‘Yeah,’ said Wally. ‘They were too big to move back into the water. We shot them in the end.’
‘That’s horrible,’ cried the girl.
Wally shrugged. ‘Sometimes you have to do things like that.’ He put the cups down on a table. ‘Anyway, what brings you to Hauruanui?’
The woman answered. ‘We’re visiting Alan Wrightson. He owns a local service station.’
‘Ha!’ exploded Wally, making the girl jump. ‘Service station! Is that what he calls it?’
‘Do you know him?’ asked the woman.
‘Yeah,’ replied Wally. ‘Everyone knows everyone around here. You’ll find his “service station” further up the road. You can’t miss it.’ With that he moved away, mumbling to himself. ‘Service station,’ he repeated, shaking his head. ‘Dream on, lady, dream on.’
The woman and the girl looked at each other, wondering what was going on. What was wrong with owning a service station?
‘I suppose we’ll find out soon enough,’ said the woman, picking up her instant coffee. She took a mouthful and immediately spat it back into the cup. ‘Yuk!’ she spluttered. ‘It’s made with UHT milk.’
‘All we’ve got,’ yelled Wally from out the back. ‘There’re no milk deliveries around here.’
‘I’m not drinking that,’ whined the girl.
‘Please yourself,’ shouted Wally. ‘But it’ll still cost you five bucks, whether you drink it or not.’
The woman fished the coins out of her purse and slapped them on the table, before storming out of the pub with the girl trailing behind.
There were seven kilometres of dusty road before they reached the second part of Hauruanui. This is a T-junction with even fewer buildings than the first part. On one corner is the old general store that has been boarded-up for more than forty years, and on the other is our garage and workshop. I think our place looks great, but in my dream the girl and her mother saw it differently.
‘That can’t be the place,’ said the woman.
Her daughter scanned the scene, taking in the old petrol pumps and the greasy concrete. Behind, she saw a large corrugated-iron building on which you could almost read the words
‘It’s not the service station,’ she said hopefully, ‘it’s the garage.’
‘Yes,’ agreed the mother. ‘Let’s drive a little further.’
Two dusty kilometres later, they reached the coast and the end of the road.
Locals call it Hauruanui Beach and know it as one of the best surfing spots on the Wairarapa coast. But that’s not what my visitors saw: all they could see was the litter of driftwood, the huge waves crashing onto a pebbly beach, and the wide emptiness of the Pacific Ocean. Tears formed in their eyes as they gazed around the desolate spot.
Finally, the woman put their thoughts into words. ‘This place has to be the backside of the universe. Why on earth have we come here?’
‘Because you want to be with that man,’ replied the girl. ‘Don’t you?’
Instead of answering, her mother climbed out of the car and walked over to a sign that was half-covered by toetoe.
In case of strong earthquake,
go to high ground (35 metres)
or move inland 2 kilometres.
Do not return for at least 2 hours.
‘They have tsunami?’ asked the girl, incredulously.
‘Not very often, I imagine,’ replied the woman, trying to put on a brave face.
‘It only has to happen once,’ said the girl unhappily, ‘and you end up dead.’
They looked at each other for a while. Then, without a word, they returned to the car, and headed back the way they’d come.
As they approached the T-junction from the opposite direction, they stopped to look down on our property. With sinking hearts, they realized that this was their destination: now that they could see more of it, they liked it even less.
Behind the workshop are rows and rows of machinery. To us that stuff is valuable—it is our main source of income. However, they didn’t know that; all they saw were piles and piles of rubbish.
‘What’s with all that junk?’ the girl asked.
The mother shook her head slowly. None of this was anything like she’d imagined.
‘I don’t want to go there,’ whined the girl.
‘No, neither do I,’ agreed the woman. ‘I think we should go home.’
‘What about the man?’
There was a long silence before the woman answered. ‘Maybe he isn’t the right one for me, after all.’
Another long pause followed before she restarted the car. ‘Come on. Let’s go home.’
The girl leaned over and hugged her mother. ‘Yes, let’s.’
They took off much faster than before, covering the countryside with their dust, happy now that the decision had been made. Happy to be leaving Hauruanui forever.
At least that’s what happened in my dream. The reality turned out to be a whole lot different, and that was because I failed to mention that there is another side to Hauruanui—a side that is interesting and attractive to outsiders. For Hauruanui is also the home of a famous person: the megastar Milton Summer owns Hauruanui Station. And for the girl in particular, that was more than enough to make up for all the shortcomings our place might have.