Children of missing freedom camper help recover father's body from Takaka River

The body of James Rano Dick, known as Hemi, was found in the Takaka River.

The body of James Rano Dick, known as Hemi, was found in the Takaka River.

The shocked and grieving family and friends of the missing freedom camper believed to have drowned in the Takaka river describe him as a "humble" and "open-hearted" steward of the land with huge love of music.

The body of James Rano Dick, known locally as Hemi, was recovered by the police dive squad on Tuesday afternoon. 

Hemi was found about 120 metres down the Takaka River from where he was last seen last Wednesday.

Jaqui Lang, the aunt of Hemi's eldest son and daughter, has started up a Givealittle page to help his children bring their father's body home to Dargaville.

She said they were both in their early 20s and had flown down to Nelson on Monday to help with the search.

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"As far as I know they were there when they pulled his body out," Lang said. "I think it hit them quite hard."

Hemi was a good dad and his kids "loved him to pieces," Lang said. 

Hemi was well-known for his incredibly long dreadlocks.

Hemi was well-known for his incredibly long dreadlocks.

"He was a humble man. You would always see him walking around singing a tune and strumming on his guitar." 

Hemi always travelled back to Dargaville around Christmas time to be with family and his children.

"The whole family is already feeling that loss now. He will be missed this Christmas a lot."

The semi-permanent camp on the banks of the Takaka River where James Rano Dick, known as Hemi, lived.

The semi-permanent camp on the banks of the Takaka River where James Rano Dick, known as Hemi, lived.

Hemi was originally from Dargaville, but spent time living in the Nelson area.

The 45-year-old went missing after he was last seen crossing the river nearly a week ago in waist-deep water by the crusher plant below the rapids in Takaka River. 

His friends reported him missing last Thursday afternoon. He was wearing only khaki cargo pants when he disappeared. His body has been taken to Nelson.

Hemi was described as an open-hearted and humble steward of the land.

Hemi was described as an open-hearted and humble steward of the land.

He had moved to Golden Bay earlier this year where he lived in a tent at the Takaka River with a permanent group of freedom campers, who call themselves the River Tribe.

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Its occupants are part of a grassroots revolution who claim to have chosen it as a way of life.

Some have said they felt pushed to live this way because of an unjust social system, for others it was a philosophical desire to connect with nature. 

Lang said his children went down to visit his camp and took videos as a remembrance of their father.

"I think they were pretty humbled by how beautiful it was at the river, and they said they could understand why he stayed down there.".​

Jake Graffy, fellow occupant at the camp, said Hemi was an open-hearted man, and he lived for what he believed in.

"Like a guardian of the land and river — he was a gate-keeper and steward. He had a troubled life in some ways and had fallen victim to the pressures of a toxic society. At the river he could heal and be among a tribe of people and be himself without judgment."

Graffy said the River Tribe had been celebrating and paying tribute to Hemi all night with tears, laughter, stories and lots of music — as he would have wanted.

"[There's] waves of realisation rocking people but a big coming together and binding of the tribe."

Another River Tribe member, Possum Chris, said he would deeply miss their "lion-hearted" brother.

"And I will strive for freedom even more now in his name."

His friend Peter Carlton was the last person to see Hemi cross the river on Wednesday afternoon.

Carlton said Hemi was a very talented musician who would busk on the streets in Takaka to large crowds. He was also friendly and approachable.

Kelly Mcintosh, who lives in Australia, is the mother of Hemi's two youngest children. They were flying to New Zealand to be with him.

On the Facebook page Takaka Noticeboard Uncensored, Mcintosh wrote: "would just like to thank the town of Takaka for ur support and effort in finding Hemi , biggest thanxxx to the search and rescue team for our return of our loved one. [sic]"

She would not comment on what the police told her but said they were, "awaiting post mortem at this stage". 

The death has been referred to the coroner.

To help Hemi's children bring him home to Dargaville, you can visit the Givealittle page here.



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