My childhood days at the Himatangi farm would’ve been amongst the best in my life. New Zealand’s lush dairy country was home to “The Farm” or the residence of my maternal great grandparents Alexander and Ada Tatana, better known to me as Koro Farmer and Nana Merlin. It was a place of many great memories, a place of happy childhood times and also a battleground for family to sort their issues.
Legend has it that the place was born when my great grandparents wished for a farming empire in an area dominated by the agricultural industry. They faced many challenges, including the acquisition of land, the purchase and maintenance of farm animals and the cultural challenge of being Māori farmers in a white New Zealander area. Eventually, the farm that was their profit and their business would become a traditional Māori reservation (papakainga) with an established wharekai (dining room), wharemoe (sleeping quarters), chapel, residential blocks, toilet and shower block and the family urupa (cemetery).
The Hautonga Reservation had been born, and it’s primary purpose was to serve as a place of history, legacy and rest for all descendants of Alexander and Ada Tatana. It worked like a traditional Māori marae (meeting grounds), but the rules weren’t as enforced strictly and the government didn’t consider the land as such. Still, you got growled at if you didn’t take your shoes off entering indoors and unless you were willing to pick up a potato peeler or dishcloth, you were told to f**k off outside!
The greatest times of the farm were the Christmas days, when a great deal of the family would gather for Christmas Day lunch, just like they used to do when my mother was a kid. A traditional Hangi (Māori earth oven) was made, with pork, chicken, roasted pumpkin, potatoes, peas, mutton, stuffing and bread all cooked in the ground on hot rocks.
My great grandfather would supervise and bark orders – he was the mastermind of the whole Hangi process. A quick word of advice too: If you ever try a Hangi, only have it if it’s from the ground. The ones from the stovetop cookers just aren’t the same
We weren’t allowed to open our Christmas presents till after lunch and that’s a tradition we still have in our own household. We also had the desserts table full of Pavlova, chocolate, biscuits, trifle and other sweet treats. My great aunt Ralphie was always the first one to the desserts table. Then all the kids would gather at the bottom of the Christmas tree and one of my uncles or aunts would distribute all the presents to the eager children.
When the kids happily slept like babies that night, all the adults would gather on the back decking, known as the Drinkers Corner and drink the night away, on the only section of the reservation you’re allowed to drink alcohol.
The vast fields allowed for plenty of endless hours in the sun. We played cricket, where uncle Tony always insisted he was never out. We played rugby in the paddocks, climbed trees, rode on Koro Farmer’s pick up trucks as he moved across his property, pruning trees and mowing grass. If we were really good, Uncle Doug took us down to the local pool at Oroua Downs primary school- it was the very same primary school many in the family had attended as young ones
The family cemetery, known as Oranga Ake, or Destiny, lays on a hill overlooking the property and main road, a couple of miles from the property itself. My great uncle Joe, Koro Farmer, Great Aunty Ralphie, and my dear mother are all interred here, along with a couple of family pets from over the years. It’s a peaceful place surrounded by chrysanthemums.
Hautonga was a lovely place to spend parts of my childhood. Stuffing my face with biscuits, jumping all over the mattresses in the sleeping quarters and making tree forts with my cousins. I could tell you stories about the place all day. It’s a shame it will never be at its potential ever again, but I will always love and cherish the fact I got to experience it and treasure the memories it gave me.