Rangi Haraki wakes up at 4am every morning to walk his team of dogs. Retired from farming, his body clock is still set for work hours and he’s having to rehome his working dogs one by one. He says it’s been hard to let them go.
Ko Ngati Porou tona iwi. Ko Materoa raua ko Hauiti tona tupuna. Rangi grew up in Matawai. He worked on many farms, from Waikaremoana to Tokata and many places in between. He met his darling Kerry, a shearing rousey, at Bartletts. Two cultures perfectly collided and the result was a long and happy partnership of 50 years and 2 children.
Kerry grew up in an Irish Catholic community near Sydney. As Tauiwi immersing herself in te ao Māori Kerry says there were no real issues. Rangi’s whānau were welcoming, although he did get a bit of a ribbing about his new girlfriend down at the pa. Kerry is a vivacious 74 year old who speaks te reo, but she tells me she is still learning, she never stops learning.
Decolonisation is important to her. That includes decolonisation of land and language and she is currently learning Irish Gaelic, a language which was once almost extinct. There are parallels between cultures she says, both te reo and Irish Gaelic are having a resurgence through a concerted effort to preserve them.
Both cultures suffered the intergenerational trauma of colonisation and the more Kerry learns about her whakapapa the more similarity she finds. The English used the Irish as prototype for colonisation, she says. They took land, prohibited use of language, denied education, music and religion.
The Harakis invite us in for a mean boil up. The wood stove is warm with a homey hint of smokiness. The walls boast an eclectic collection of art alongside framed photos of tipuna and whānau. Kerry has picked fresh produce from her impressive vege garden, and it has to be said, it was the best cabbage I’ve ever eaten.
They live on a 84 Hectare block of land, near Ihungia station where they both once worked. The Haraki’s property, Mangara, is an oasis amongst the pine forests. They give us a tour of the old Ihungia Station and I sense the ghosts of a once thriving community. Ihungia sits at the edge of the Ihungia river beneath an old pa site, Titi o Kura, which is now called by a pākeha name, and given a forestry number. Even the names are colonised, swallowing the history of the land.
A dilapidated shearing shed and cook house stand against a backdrop of monotonous pine. It smothers the land as far as the eye can see. Once again I feel downhearted about the damage done by the forestry industry and the death of biodiversity. Kerry says, there’s a name for that sadness. It’s called ecological trauma and we are all feeling it.
There is a patch of remnant native forest on the couple’s land. It’s protected by a rahui and it is a haven for diverse species of native flora and fauna. Rangi and Kerry and other community members have planted some of their property with native seedlings to try and replicate natural native forest. The seedlings look like David against the Goliath of pine forestry.
Pine plantations began here in the ‘90s, with great sums being offered to landowners with promises of returns for the community, but quite the opposite happened. Ihungia station died almost overnight, and the people living here moved away. Ihungia school closed in 1996.
Rangi and Kerry were able to purchase part of Ihungia station when it was subdivided for sale. They are dedicated to restoring native biodiversity at their own expense, and are in the throes of removing giant eucalyptus trees to give the native undergrowth a chance to thrive. It also allows the sun to hit their new solar panels, as they work toward complete self sufficiency.
They hire a local arborist to take the eucalyptus trees down at their own cost, and it’s pricey, says Rangi, so they have to do it one tree at a time. And I thought that was profound, because that’s all any of us can do. Heal the whenua one tree at a time.
Come back and stay anytime, they said as they loaded us up with gifts of fresh produce and waved us off. Once again I was struck by the unbeatable generosity of spirit among the people of the East Coast, even when so much has been lost.
Story by Aimee Vickers Photos by Owen Vickers