Taku haerenga- My Journey


Taku haerenga- My Journey

My parents, on their wedding day

For we Māori, whakapapa is everything. It defines us and tells us who we are. It connects us to time and place. We look into the swirling mists of things yet to come with our eyes upon what has passed. We stand on the shoulders of our tupuna, uplifted by them so we can stare over the parapet of the present into the future.

On the top row of the bookshelf in my lounge is an old photograph, framed in white and sitting on a small wooden easel. It is a portrait of my mother and father on their wedding day. Both are smiling at the camera.  My father, smooth and sophisticated in a double-breasted suit and Brylcreemed centre-parted hair, is channelling his inner Clark Gable. Beside him, my mother floats ethereally in a gauzy, glowing froth of white, lace and elbow-length gloves. My father’s grin is broad, confident and compelling; my mother’s smile is a little quieter, with that curious lopsidedness she would display throughout the rest of her life. Both appear happy with their decision to face the future together. My father has made his way south from the Hokianga Harbour in Northland to Tapanui in Southland, via World War II and a new career in the New Zealand Forest Service. He has met my mother at a dance in Invercargill. She, in her early thirties, in a society where it is normal and expected to be married and pregnant by 22, believing spinsterhood is all that lies before her, has been swept off her feet by his good looks and charm.

Each time I study that photograph, it reminds me of the journeys all my tupuna (ancestors) have made. It reminds me that I am a singular individual alive in the present but composed of so many elements of the past. I am the sum of the individual parts of my ancestors, and that I draw upon all that wisdom woven into me.

My mother was born in Invercargill, at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. My father, on the other hand, was born in the far North of New Zealand, in the Hokianga Harbour. People often ask me how two people from totally different ends of the country ever got together. And yet they did. As they were meant to do.

They brought me into being in the Maniototo area of Central Otago, where my father worked for the New Zealand Forest service. I was born and raised for my formative years in the gentle company of the trees which surrounded our home. Trees have always been places of peace and rest for me, and when the world is weighing heavily upon me, inevitably I find myself going and sitting in the forest.

After a time, our family moved to Canterbury, where I went through school and university and teachers training college, before embarking upon a thirty curious year career as a secondary school teacher. As my degree was in foreign languages and literature, I began as a French, English and German teacher. However, by the end of my time as a teacher, I was teaching photography and IT. One of the things I have always loved about photography is that it engages both sides of the brain; it is, after all, a technology applied artistically.

My mother, who was devout Christian, and a very talented writer, always felt that I should be either a priest or a writer (or preferably both!). I loved writing, and often as a child, I would amuse myself by writing short stories. I never saw myself as a novelist, possibly because the thought of committing myself to a 500-thousand word story seemed onerous. Anyway, it always seemed to me that the novelist had it easy and was in no way constrained by any need to be intense and multilayered in the way they used language. After all, without any word limits, they could always add another chapter. I much preferred the stricture and intensity of the short story, where every word had to be considered and applied carefully. I loved the idea that you could weave levels and layers of understanding into a single phrase or sentence. It never occurred to me to write poetry.

My father not at all religious; however, his spirituality was rooted firmly in nature and his understanding of it. From an early age, he would take me with him on work trips into the forest and mountains, and he embedded to a deep love of the natural world within me. He also taught me much about surviving in the wilderness and learning to be self-reliant. He taught me to face problems headon and never to give up. His greatest gift to me, however, was photography. While my mother had a deep love for words, my father encouraged my ability to see and express that visual understanding of the world. Being Māori, and brought up in a Maori community, he taught me the Māori worldview without ever consciously telling it like that. His generation had been taught that to get on in the world, they would have to forgo their Maori heritage and embrace the European one. From him, I learned to see that all the elements of nature were intertwined and that they were all sentient living beings. In many ways, trees have always seemed to me to be my wise elder brothers and sisters.

My photographic career probably started around the age of thirty, when I found myself being called upon to develop national curricula for New Zealand secondary schools. Around 1990, I find myself working more and more as a professional photographer, albeit on a part-time basis, learning all aspects of the trade from shooting the football teams to fine studio portraiture. When my first marriage came to an end in 2006, I left teaching, a career with little left to offer me, and took those skills with me on a scary journey out into the big wide world to see if I could survive on my own.

For a long time, words and pictures existed in separate spaces; there was one or the other but never both at the same time. I was a photographer and visual artist, or I was a writer but never both. Indeed never a poet. Poetry is, after all, the most intense of all the written art forms, and requires the ability to focus very closely.

Then in 2020, during our Level Four lockdown, I found my inner poet on the first morning. Words would come each day, and I would assemble them into a short poem using my mobile phone to do the writing. I would match them with a picture from the archive I had built up over two years of living here in Fiordland, and then publish them to social media. It seemed an excellent way to support my extensive community, here in New Zealand and other parts of the world.

A mantra has begun to come to me this year. Words and pictures. Pictures and words. It is a way to weave together the gifts given to me by my ancestors through both parents.

If you are interested, you can read about my book here.

Tony Bridge

December 2020

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Pepeha

Tihei mauri ora

Ko IO te matua

Ko Tangaroa raua ko Tāwhirimātea raua ko Tāne Mahuta ngā atua

Ko te tiirairaka me te kahu me te tohora ngā kaitiaki

I te taha o toku papa

Ko Pukerangatira ki Tauwhare te maunga

Ko Hokianga te moana

 Ko Punehu te awa

Ko Matawhaorua te waka

Ko Waiparera te marae

Ko Te Rarawa te iwi

Ko Tahaawai te hapu

Ko Paiaha te whānau

I te taha o toku mama

Ko Takitimu te maunga

Ko Awarua te moana

Ko Ōreti te awa

Ko Endeavour te waka

Ko Ngāti Wikitoria te iwi

Ko Groves te hapu

Ko Fox te whānau

Ko Tony Bridge toku ingoa

He tu poto tēnei

Ki te whakautu

Nga mihi kua mihia.

Tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna koutou katoa.

Ki ngā aihua maha

Haere, haere, haere.

Who I am

Behold my right to speak

IO is the  Creator

Tangaroa, Tāwhirimātea and Tāne Mahuta are my gods

The fantail, hawk and albatross are my guides

On my father’s side

Pukerangatira to Tauwhare is the mountain

Hokianga is the ocean

Punehu is the river

Matawhaorua is the canoe

Waiparera is my marae

Te Rarawa is my  tribe

Tahaawai is my hapu

Paiha is my family

On my mother’s side

Takitimu is my mountain

Awarua is the water

Ōreti is my river

Endeavour is my canoe

Victorian settlers is my tribe

Groves is my sub-tribe

Fox is my family

I am Tony Bridge

I stand for a short time

To speak to you

My respects to those who have spoken

Greetings, greetings to you, greetings to all of you

To those who have gone before

Welcome, welcome, welcome.