The familiar can still surprise

BASTION POINT: We came to it from the other direction. Not from the water, but the back end. Past all the weatherboard state houses with the extraordinary views.
BASTION POINT: We came to it from the other direction. Not from the water, but the back end. Past all the weatherboard state houses with the extraordinary views.

You can think you know a thing. Inside and out. Like the back of your hand.

It's funny how you don't. Not really. Not ever.

When we were just two we lovingly fed each other scorched almonds and dried apricots on its grassy banks. We were married on the beach below: looking across to Rangitoto; captured for posterity in the photo albums of Japanese tourists.

Marae at Bastion Point.
Marae at Bastion Point.

As four, we've taken up greasy parcels of fish and chips and hotdogs on sticks and battered oysters, and washed it all down with the longest drinks in town. Spearmint, of course.

And then, tummies groaning, chased each other around and around the formal, sunken gardens, the soupy

water features, the mausoleum honouring Mickey Savage.

I had studied its history, too, in fourth form social studies. How the land had belonged to Ngati Whatua, but most of it was bought or taken by the Crown for defence purposes.

How when it was no longer needed they turned it into a reserve. How in 1976 the Government announced it would be sold to the highest corporate bidder. How for 507 days activists occupied it until they were forcibly removed by 800 police and the army. And how in the 1980s the land was finally returned.

Sorry, said the Government.

So I thought I knew Bastion Point. This piece of land. This piece of my home town. But on a blustery night at the end of last year, I discovered that I didn't. Not really.

We came to it from the other direction. Not from the water, but the back end. Past all the weatherboard state

houses with the extraordinary views. 

And I felt a thrill to find that not all of Auckland's sea vistas have been bought up by the loaded. We parked the car and hurried to the marae along with the other parents.

Anxious to see our children, who had spent the day there and would stay for the next two nights, living and breathing tikanga Maori.

A newsletter had come home outlining the protocol, how you could not come onto the marae until you had been formally welcomed, about the karanga and the waiata and the hongi.

I have been on plenty of marae, sat through countless powhiri, but when the first wavering little girl's voice cried out and the boys with their skinny legs and tongues poking out performed a fierce haka, I felt overwhelmed.

I cannot pretend that they represented a wide cross-section of society. It is a decile 10 school. There is a large and strong bilingual unit, but its general roll is primarily Pakeha.

How lucky they are, though, I thought, to be armed at such a young age with this extra layer of understanding of where we are from and what we are about.

With Rangitoto slumbering at our rear, we watched them retell the legends of Maui Tikitiki-a-Taranga.

To some fresh and fruity reggae they re-enacted Parihaka and its story of non-violent resistance. They knew so little, these eight- and nine-year-olds, but I wondered if maybe they understood more than any of us.

All that term my son had been working on his te reo. Coming home to make lists of the Maori words he knew. What a waste of time, someone had snorted.

If you're going to learn another language it should be useful. But I've found any knowledge of a language second to your own is useful. Through learning French, I developed a greater understanding of

how English works.

My smattering of Maori and German sheds a light on how their cultures work.

I returned the next day. The children looked exhausted, as did the teachers and the handful of parents who had stayed the night. There were complaints of thin mattresses and cries in the dark.

I have slept on marae and I did not envy them their night of communal living.

I was there to help in the kitchen. I know any marae worth its salt puts on an almighty spread in the whare

kai, but this was the first time I'd helped to produce one.

It was a relentless beast. Dinner already on the go before the children had even been given morning tea. Vast vats of mince to stir, sackfuls of onions to chop, and whole pounds of butter to go into the roux for the lasagne.

Puddings steamed in great empty peach tins. And when the hordes descended, we manned the food stations. Only two pieces of home baking each. At least one piece of fruit ("Just bite the brown bit off

the banana").

We came back to this piece of land over summer. To eat Burger Fuel and do roly-polies down the hill. And I felt both comfort and hope that a living, breathing marae sat behind us.

Sunday Star Times