Driving through canyons of concrete and kilometres of road works, I am relying on my GPS to take me to a large Maori family at Redbank Plains, to film their beloved daughter and sister who died quickly and tragically of an undiagnosed tumour in her chest. She was 37, she had only been in Australia for five weeks, and she was the mother of three delightful children.
As I turn the final corner, a white ute drives past me slowly, the driver locking eyes with mine. Justify your existence is written in heavy old English font. I pull my wheel to the right and park on the footpath, adding to the automobile count.
I am greeted by her older sister Danielle, who has been living in Australia for the past 25 years. She has lived here so long she has forgotten her Maori language; in fact later she admits she never understood it.
It only takes one generation to wipe out a culture.
Danielle is totally Aussie to the point she has changed her Maori name Danille, to Danielle. There’s a difference and her husband points this out later to family. He’s an intelligent, well spoken and widely travelled business man. “I sold my corporation and now I am in the position of having too much spare time and drinking too much.” We both laugh softly at the prospect, to some that would be a dream, but he is a thinker, a planner, living with an over-active mind. He sooths this twice a week by babysitting his grandson, with long strolls around the park in a fancy pram. He loves it but he’s bored silly. He needs to get back to work.
The cardboard sign taped to the fridge placed in the double garage read: NO SMOKING IN THE SHED! and various mobs of family wander to stand in the long driveway and puff away their grief. There’s no alcohol but cigarette packets lay everywhere. An aunty hacks away with a cough so bad I want to slap her on the back to help. Family groups return back to work after a visit. “Better get back to it, keep it all going.” ‘Yes sister, keep it all going, eh!”
I had little idea of the culture of mourning until I quickly googled this morning, but at least I am aware that a bowl of water is placed at the door, and it’s expected of me to wash my hands and face each time I enter and depart the room of Jaquie. I watch the little children plunge their hands in and wash, giggling and happy to be among other children. Finally a mum comes out and scolds them. ‘That’s enough now, eh! Enough now, eh!”
Fresh ferns are strung along the door lintel, acting as an entrance to the other world. It’s beautiful to see.
The children kick a large soft ball around to each other, absorbed in a new game. Platters of food are placed carefully under a new white marquee: ham, salads, watermelon and breads. Tables and chairs are set up; they are catering for a crowd of 50 people who ebb and flow, cars constantly coming and going. A couple struggles in with 4 bags of ice for the large eskies, and cans of lemonade. Later, two men bring in cartons of steaks, and slabs of beer. ‘This isn’t going in the fridge, eh”.
It’s my job today to set up a Skype connection to distant family in New Zealand, who have hired out the local hall (marae) to watch the ceremonies on a large projected screen. They are also catering for a crowd of 50 friends and family. It’s taken me a week to try to set this connection up, I’ve done as much as I can by installing new drivers, defragging and buying a new HD webcam, but it’s their connection I have no control over. The Skype stutters and jerks annoyingly. It’s the best we can do; we are all doing what we can.
Family members drift off to eat, sitting in the back garden’s darkness with another feast of food. Soon, a husband’s emotional farewell. I’ll film it, sitting in the corner before realising to my horror I had left my shoes on. As soon as there’s a break in the proceedings, I’ll dash out and remove the offending footwear, but for now, I continue to film and archive a families loss.