Free range parenting

19:03, Nov 05 2012
this way of life
FREE RANGE: The book follows on from an award-winning documentary about the family.

The seven Ottley-Karena children don't hear the word 'careful'. Their parents believe it will make them overly-cautious.

"I really want my children to make up their own minds about what is dangerous, based on their experiences," sayd mum Colleen. "We give them plenty of opportunity to test their limits and we give them guidance."

The free-range family were the subject of an award-winning documentary, This Way of Life, in 2009. The film-makers have followed up the documentary with a book, of the same name.

The following extract follows 12-year-old Wellie as he navigates Berlin on his own, during a trip to the Berlin Film Festival.


Extract from This Way of Life by Sumner Burstyn. Published by HarperCollins New Zealand


Wellie is very excited. He doesn't care that it is minus 2 degrees outside or that his New Zealand jacket is not very warm. He doesn't care that all the footpaths are compacted with weeks of ice because the city has run out of money to clear them. And he is not worried he can't speak German.

'I'll be OK, Mum,' he says, and off he goes into the cold, snowy city in the early afternoon. At first Wellie is a bit disorientated. He stands outside the hotel and looks right and left. Their hotel is on a small side street and is brand new - in the foyer instead of a fire it has a huge screen with the image of a fire playing on it. Wellie goes left.

At the first corner he can see multi-storey department stores as well as some frankfurter stands. He has a few euros in his pocket so he heads to a stand. The guy selling the frankfurters is wearing a long djellaba, a North African garment which is like a gown, and he has piled a big jacket over the top. Wellie can see he is wearing lots of jumpers

Wellie looks at the pictures of hot dogs with different kinds of sauces. He asks in English for the one with the most mustard on it. The guy shakes his head but also smiles at him. Wellie pats his tummy and points at the one piled with mustard. The man understands and gives him extra mustard. When Wellie holds out his coins the man chooses the correct money and closes Wellie's hand over the rest. 'Keep safe,' the man says in halting English.

Wellie says the frankfurter is the best hot dog he has ever had. It will be easy to remember the frankfurter stand on his way back. Further on, he cups his hands to the window of a place that looks like a café. The woman inside is wearing a large chequered apron. She smiles at Wellie and beckons for him to come in. But he keeps walking, carefully stepping around the ice humps and piles of dirty snow, checking off the buildings and the people.

On one corner a family is huddled against the cold weather - there is a mum and three kids. They have blankets instead of coats. It is the first time Wellie has seen homeless people. He wants to stop and talk but knows they won't be able to communicate. He raises his hand and smiles. The kids wave back at him. He checks his watch; 20 minutes is almost up.

As he rounds a corner he sees a strange thing - a building that has obviously been a very big church, except it is all tumbled down. The upper parts are jagged spires of broken bricks. A large black bird is flying through the empty windows. Wellie has found the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The church was bombed during the Second World
War and the German people decided not to fix it. Instead it is a daily reminder of the destruction and futility of war.
An old man in a tattered uniform is leaning up against one wall of the church. Wellie stops and points to the broken building. The man nods and starts to explain it to him in German. Wellie shakes his head.

'Can you speak English?' The man speaks perfect English. He tells Wellie he was in the war and he pulls up his trouser to show his metal leg. Wellie asks him if it hurt and the man shakes his head. 'I don't remember.'

It was time to turn around. On the way back Wellie stops in front of the café again. He peers in; the woman is right at the back so he pushes open the door. He asks if they will be open tomorrow. The woman smiles at him. She doesn't speak English so another woman answers for her. 'Yes, dear,' she says. 'You can come back tomorrow.'

It only takes Wellie 15 minutes to get back to the hotel. He didn't get lost and he has spoken to three different people. The church became his best landmark. Wellie says his first day in a really big city has been
a very exciting adventure.

'I thought snow was always white. I didn't know it could be black and dirty and full of rubbish. And at first I kept expecting to get to the edge of town and see the paddocks and trees, but after a while I realised that
would never happen.'

At the end of the day Wellie is quite tired. He goes to bed early and sleeps for 12 hours straight.