A feeling that you belong somewhere makes a big difference to how you walk in the world. This sense of place can be varied but connects for me to the Māori concept of tūrangawaewae – the place where you stand, where your roots are, the place that empowers you.
I’ve lived in London and Wellington but my home, my tūrangawaewae, is Auckland. I miss Wellington, especially when I visit. I miss catching the cable car to work and the coffee at Astoria, where I was a regular. I miss the kind of people I met there, people who knew what it was like to be a new stranger in town and who took pains to welcome you in. But when I visit, I don’t feel that same connection that I do up here. Not to all of Auckland, but Central and West Auckland is where I grew up. It’s where I raise my children. The sight of Rangitoto across the water centres me. Looking at the cityscape coming into town via the Rosebank causeway makes me happy in a way that even the terrible traffic can’t quite diminish. The people and community in Grey Lynn feels familiar and safe.
Familiarity plays a part in this connectedness but I think it’s even more than that. I feel connected to the North in a way that I don’t feel down in the South Island. My ancestors landed in Waipu in 1857 and in Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) in 1842. When I travelled to Scotland and the North of England it felt like home. There’s even something about the Waikato (where both my parents grew up) that I connect to. I love the South Island – it is incredibly picturesque and interesting – but it has never had that ‘home’ feel.
Likewise, where I live now is taking me longer to get a deep connection to. Not my actual house, I feel rooted here in a way I haven’t in other places I’ve lived, but to the community. My kids don’t go to school here (they stayed at their old schools in central Auckland) and even then they’re only here half the time, spending the rest of the time at their Dad’s (leaving them with even less of a connection). The park is just along the main road from here as is the supermarket. I was trying to figure out why it was taking me so long to feel a connection here when Grey Lynn had always felt like home and then I realised – I don’t walk the streets here. Okay… Didn’t sound how I intended. I meant that when I was in Grey Lynn we walked to the local parks. I had a dog and we walked everywhere and explored every street. I used to be a jogger and went for runs, exploring the local area.
My feet touched the earth.
They don’t here. We don’t walk around this area in the same way and I think we are poorer for it.
I grew up in Herne Bay before it was fancy. When I go back there the people are different, and the shops are completely changed, but I can see the trees in people’s yards that I climbed. I can point out every house I went into to play when I was at primary. I walked home from school every day and still remember the cool feel of the metal as I ran my hand along the railing of someone’s house before it suddenly fell with a clang onto the steps. I froze as a very angry woman came out yelling. My friend took off on her bike leaving me with the only option of gasping out ‘sorry!’ and haring off after the BMX as fast as my bare feet could carry me. That’s a connection. That’s a sense of place. Not even the invasion of the gentry and gourmet delis can take my Herne Bay, my Ponsonby away.
I’ve always taken centre stage so to speak in many places I’ve worked at. Something to do with confidence and a loyalty to where I am. But I am fortunate to teach at the school I went to as a teenager. Even though the buildings have changed drastically and my place in the environment there is different, I feel connected in a way that I am not sure I would at other schools. I think my son, who also goes to my school, feels that a little too – when he was smaller he would come and hang out in holidays or weekends while I worked, and climb the lundia shelves to hide rubber bands at the top. He’d play with his little brother under the seats in the school hall when they were waiting for me during show rehearsals. These are the same seats he now sits on in assemblies. I’m convinced this has added to his surprising confidence and centredness at a school at which, when he started this year, he knew only four other students.
When I worked at the Waitangi Tribunal, one of the most valuable parts of the research process into land claims was to visit the land. I remember my first ever site visit, to Takahue in Muriwhenua. Standing there, it all made so much more sense to me. It wasn’t that I felt connected to the land, but I saw how the local people were connected to it. How they walked in it. How it embraced them like a mantle. Being on marae or at a hui and hearing people give their pepeha, making links to the people and the land that connect and nourish them, reinforced to me how important the knowledge of your tūrangawaewae is.
We all get lost sometimes. But when we have the place that grounds us, that empowers us, it’s easier to get found.
I’d love to hear what places are special to you, where you feel most empowered and grounded. Let me know in the comments 🙂