Catherine Mair - Poet
I was born in the old Kauri homestead, on what was then a dairy farm in Katikati. The night I was born was a typical August night, cold and blustery and Dad was assigned the task of keeping the house warm for I was delivered at home by a mid-wife, Nurse Hatch. More moderate natured uncle, Arthur Spedding would probably have suggested that Dad need not have produced the furnace which he did in the interests of keeping the house 'warm' for me, but he was out at a military ball.

Although I was brought up in Tauranga we were regular holidayers at the farm. My grandparents must have been very loving and patient because I was a haram-scarem leader of a bunch of siblings. I led my little sisters into all sorts of potentially disastrous adventures. I'll never forget the look on Granny's face when we appeared in her spotless kitchen drenched to the bone and festooned with duck weed. The enormity of what might have happened overwhelmed Granny and she burst into tears. "Molly's little girls!' she wailed.

Grandparents Spedding
...who drove their herd over the Kaimais in the early thirties to settle on the farm in Station Road where I was born.

they endued the old kauri home
where I was born
with an atmosphere
of gold and frankincense and myrrh

the mighty fire
stoked enthusiatically by dad
that august night
when I was born
symbolised the years
of courage warmth and love
which they inspired

through all our growing years
everytime without a miss
when we chugged up
they walked together
down the lawn
between the vivid flower beds
to greet us by the picket fence

the white gate swung open
and their smiles
and loving arms
enveloped us

she always wore
a lace-collared
soft blue dress
of some sort of silky stuff
and her brooch
sparkled at her throat

his nose was big:
it was his nose that caught her eye
when they were young
in church one day
'a nose as big as that
must belong
to a man of character!' she said

the Christmas trees
they decorated for us,
a Christmas fairy
on the very, very top,
seemed enormous
giants of the forest
-awesome magical wonderful
and they always praised
our plasticine elephants!

the only time I saw her distraught
was when, for the third time,
we dripped and dribbled in
saturated, weed-covered
from 'accidental' dips in drains;
they endured our childish pranks:
decayed rabbit skin on a stick
that we had 'shot'
and the mighty draught-horse 'ponies'
that we bailed up

their home was a lagoon of blue
(Granny's special colour)
complementally earthy, garden-hued

in all respects my Grandparents passed away together
he simply had his funeral
three long weeks later

A very early memory is of meeting Dad at the railway station where he leapt off the train as it drew into the platform. He was in his airforce blues, carrying a big kit-sack. We must have missed Dad a lot during the 14 months he was stationed in Fiji leaving Mum at home with three pre-school daughters.
One Farewell

'don't look at me!'


that if one tear
it would become a

marching down the carpet
to the departure

no goodbyes


When I was seven we moved to a citrus orchard at Greerton and this was probably where LIFE really began for me. FREEDOM! We had the countryside to roam. We had trees galore to find birds' nests in. We had marvellous places in which to build huts. Lacking a son at that stage (although Bill was born when I as seven), old enough to teach to shoot and to take rabbit shooting and hunting I became his protege. My upbringing was probably a little unconventional. I loved it. The sense of adventure. The yarns.

I should have been a son you know
a mate for my father
a hunting and fishing partner
instead I was a girl
('bloody hell...
you can't call her Bill!')
resigned and impatient
he taught me the skills
he wanted to teach his sons.
I learnt to stalk and shoot
I went a trip I'll never forget
into the hills back of Matata
we camped in Jack Hastie's shanty,
hermit-papered with pages from the weekly.
Dad discouraged the fleas with DDT
saddling the horses in the early dawn
he showed me tracks
of hind and fawn.
we boiled the billy
in the deep shelter of a gully
crouching beside him in the scrub
small, silent,
expectant...shh, shh...BOOM!!!
the .303 roared
the hills were shattered
my ears burst
the stag dropped dead
...deathly silence...
my hero, my dad slew him with one shot
packing the warm venison
onto the horses
riding back in the dusk
lean back riding downhill
forward going up,
these were some of my skills:
so for a spell
I was my dad's mate
his Bill

I blame Dad for my later development as a poet and a writer. Dad was such a vivid storyteller that he scared me sleepless with stories of Dracula and we had some hilarious evenings around the table when, totally involved in the yarn he was telling, my sister was unconsciously imitating his every expression and move. When we laughed at her she joined in the laughter totally unaware of the reason for our mirth. This story makes her wild. I can't imagine anyone telling the Jabberwocky as well as Dad.

When I was twelve we moved back into Tauranga where I completed my standard six year before moving onto Tauranga (Boys) College. Tauranga College was then a very large co-ed school.

I enjoyed my years at college. Loved the sport and felt privileged to be in the top stream class. Although I wasn't musical I love music. Once again I think it was the influence of my grandparents and listening to the music in their home which must have created this interest. Dad's mother may have been the one who focussed my interest in art. She exhibited paintings and both she and her sisters in Australia were accomplished painters.

Anyway I loved art lessons and won the 5th Form art prize. While sitting in the picture theatre one night we were looking over the shoulder of a man at half-time and my friend said 'Look Cath, there's your painting in the paper!' And sure enough it was. On the front page of the Herald. I think in this rather rambling account that I have missed telling you what a great joy reading was to my family. It was always an EVENT when mum came home with the new library books or when the school journals appeared. On the mornings I was meant to practise the piano I much preferred to stay in bed reading. At Christmastime the most enjoyed gift we got would be, apart from that exotic, thin-skinned orange, a thick comic book. We'd read our own and then wait impatiently to read each others.

Life was colourful. We made our own fun. I had a little book in which I kept an account of all sorts of plans and strategies, for being the oldest, I was the LEADER.

My teenage years were probably relatively conventional. Studies, sport and dates. Yes, of course BOYS!

The boy in the third form, who so charmingly invited me, very formally, to have lunch at his place. When I arrived in my best gear his mother was nowhere to be seen and nor was lunch. Luckily he didn't have quite the courage to press home his plan. When mum saw his mother in town she thanked her for inviting me to lunch whereupon the denouement occurred. I had (even as the innocent, but highly embarrassed party) some explaining to do.

Then there was Bobby. All freckles and red hair. Years later, spotting me on the sideline Bobby came running off the rugby field during the big match between Ardmore and Auckland Teachers Colleges to say hello.

But THE ONE, was the boy I fell for in the 6th form. His father had a brand new DUCK-EGG-BLUE Super Snipe and he used to let 16 year old Peter drive from Omanawa to Maungatapu to pick me up for dances and parties. One night after Peter had been helping with the haymaking he'd stuck a pitchfork through his left foot. On the way home he said his foot was so sore that while he worked the accelerator I'd have to work the clutch. I don't know how he managed from Maungatapu to Omanawa.

I met my future husband on a boat. I was aware of 'the boy next door' but as I was still at school and very involved with 6th form studies etc our paths didn't cross immediately. However one day I rowed out to Dad's launch unaware that the boy next door was on board. When he appeared on deck my embarrassment was sufficient to make me crash into the side of the launch. I felt very foolish indeed. A number of teasing incidents occurred and I remember complaining to my mother that Selwyn looked like a parson (a man of the cloth) but was a most annoying tease. When we began dating more of Mum's words spring to mind. Now, she warned me, don't lead Selwyn up the garden path, he's not one of your school boyfriends! And so after several hiccups Selwyn and I were married in the lovely homestead garden in Katikati. Granny played the wedding march on the piano and we left for our honeymoon from the homestead where I was born twenty years before.

your name is carved
on the searing sun
hides in the secret shadows
of the moon
falling stars shine
in my eyes
the breathless air quivers with happiness
rain drenching us
doesn't dampen joy
by one raindrop
sunshine breaking through
a weeping sky
remains unnoticed
for we are intrinsically warm
our natural electricity
flashes brilliance
at the sombre sky
your name is carved
on my tender heart
by a master carver
and I star gaze
in captivated

We were to move to Auckland. What I had loved about living at Rothesay Bay was the proximity to the beach which we made daily use of. The kids loved it. Boats continued to play a major part in our lives. Over the succeeding years we explored the Hauraki Gulf. The magic story of the hermit who lived on one of the islands. Climbing the steep track to explore his deserted shack. Imagining the life he must have led in this lonely, spartan existence. His reputation for taking pot shots at intruders on 'his' island. His friendly approach once when we landed. Our gift to him of a couple of bottles of beer. We'd usually go on these trips in the Hauraki Gulf accompanied by friends. Each family in their own small runabout, and with children and babies aboard. Our four children have vivid memories of these relatively carefree, adventurous days.

Wasps and birds picnic
beneath the pear tree

sucking and pecking
at a heaping mat of windfalls

attuned to the dizzy cicada whirr.
They say 'you're the dizzy limit'

is a description that hovers
somewhere between exasperation

and admiration
some way to explain that

sense of peace I feel
against all odds when

once again I walk beside you.
If I am a pine needle

If I am lean and perfumed
If I am a swimmer then

you must know that you
are a pool of amazing

depth and stillness.
I can drop pebbles rocks

into your deep water
and the ripples spread

They do not disturb a
millimetre below the surface

Always somewhere in the back of my mind there was a desire to express myself. From school days my art teacher had been keen for me to pursue art but I had decided to go to Ardmore Teachers College.

When I became increasingly housebound with a young family frustration at the lack of opportunity to express myself creatively began to manifest itself. Once or twice I was asked why I wasn't exhibiting my painting but as I only had a few, and no more time to create fresh work, I shelved this ambition. I think if I'd had good daycare facilities as they do now I might have been able to allow myself a bit of time. I very quickly became pretty cynical about tea-parties and many of the shallow value systems operating around me. I became very depressed.

The saviour for me was the move from Auckland's North Shore to the place of my birth - Katikati.

We came home to Katikati in 1972. We loaded our belongings onto a few trailers and came down to the milker's cottage. It felt like heaven. Life was about to begin again.

It wasn't easy though. I'd never milked a cow in my life. Selwyn had been bought up on a farm in the Waikato but hadn't had anything to do with farming for about twenty years. We were as green as the grass we were trying to grow.


let's buzz off
let's cruise, Cath
let's make a dash for it
let's cut loose for the day
just go away and leave it all behind us...
the tennis
the financial menace
the family
the constant worry
the whole bloody lot of it
...Shit. Let's Cruise!
wind rushing through our hair
the car stereo blare
leaning back...body slack
empty as a pumpkin shell
filling with a tide of favourite music
...saturating in sound;
changing landscapes whizzing by
...that was Papamoa stretched full length
and Te Puke's Maori fortifications
ancient against the sky. drizzle-drenched;
swishing to the Central Plateau
...native bush bowing out
to pine plantations
with more financial clout;
discarded fences lying desolate the lakes are sulky, grey
the pines, needle brooding mystery;
a tall, fair tourist strolling by,
beard and hair blowing free...
a momentary wish that it was me.
oh, Aotearoa - I Love You!
...on to Rotorua.
the controversial smell
that we know so well...
Hell's Gate (Tikitere) and all.
Rotorua...plenty of leg showing
stepping up her allure
for Tourists by the bus-load...
a dear whore, our Rotorua.
Maori voices with their special intonation
and 'risque-joke' laughter
from factory windows
as I park, waiting;
the Lakeland Queen,
fake paddle-steamer
(well, anyway, assisted by a motor)
fronting dear old Mokoia;
one duck scampering off with the goods
while others give chase like Mafia hoods;
the Lakeland Queen has got up steam
... a girl casts off... paddles churn:
another load of tourists
take a turn around the lake;
was that Atiria, long hair, windblown
in the stern of the Lakeland Queen...
no, it was just imagination
playing tricks with distance.
Haere Ra

Our farming years were probably the standout years of my life in many ways. HERE WAS LIFE! Each day was significant. The sun, rain, wind, all the variables that weather and season could dish up had a distinct and meaningful impact. The futility of much that is city life was simply blown away.
Late afternoon in August

As the last of the sunlight
lingered in the blue winter valleys,
we knifed out hay
onto a fresh break of grass,
unsettling the evening
as we hunted the fussy hedgerows
for the lost calf

Across the chill sky
only a heron barked

I think I always needed this sort of hands on relationship with nature. Even shocking four year old Katie by arriving at the back door after a harrowing spring milking, with a liquid, green adornment, streaming down my face and shoulders didn't put me off. I'll never forget those crisp frosty mornings - the old tractor puffing away, the cows lusting after their hay or silage.

along with the heavy black and white cows
he brought me the pink fragility of a briar rose

in his sun-tanned, plaster-wrapped hand
he held it to me

in his ragged milking shirt
his gift was sweeter
than a dressed-up, expensive gift
selected by a secretary
presented pompously
over wine, orchids and caviar
we stood together enjoying the simple, dainty beauty

what could we stand it in?
what container small enough?
amongst the rubbish and stuff
a sample bottle sufficed

then we milked our cows

The cold was memorable too. I remember trying to defrost in the bath after a freezing morning and Selwyn bringing me a cup of coffee laced with brandy to help my circulation.

It was this passionate feeling for the simple, REAL blood and guts world that permeated my early writing. Haiku 'happened' to me. I had just begun writing poetry when someone suggested that my affinity to nature might predispose me to writing haiku. HAIKU??? I hadn't a clue what haiku was. I thought it was a Maori word and upon revealing my ignorance was sent the first notes about haiku.

even at sixty
his back a Michelangelo

From 1989 my haiku and poems began to appear in the New Zealand Poetry Society's publications. Since then I have been published in countries as diverse as Romania and USA, Croatia and Canada, Great Britain and Australia, in so many different small press publications that I've lost count. I've also been fortunate enough to have my work recognised with various awards. Recently I've enjoyed success in writing linked verse with Patricia Prime, an Auckland poet. Short, short story writing has become increasingly absorbing with work appearing in several anthologies and magazines.

The University of Waikato (Editor Terry Locke) has produced two very attractive anthologies of recent New Zealand poetry for younger readers, secondary school level, and I am proud to be included in both Jewels in the Water, and Doors.

Writing means a lot to me and when I hear that someone has particularly enjoyed a piece I've written it gives me a buzz. I've been asked to quote some of my favourite pieces but I am going to leave that open because I have so many I love and I don't want to narrow the field, but if you take a walk around Katikati's Haiku Pathway you can read some examples there.

As for the future, it's anybody's guess isn't it, but I can say that if I had to have an affliction I'm glad it is Parkinson's because I don't believe it will impair my creative ability, even though it's an energy draining malady.

I'll admit to being parochial, in that to me New Zealand is without peer. I love it, and think it is the most beautiful country in the world. While we are fortunate enough to share this lovely place we need to ensure that we don't make a mess of things by being greedy or small minded. Ultimately it's up to all of us.

To Nika

soul sings waiata
there's a tangi in my eyes
thank you for giving
thanks for communicating
gifting Aroha to me

Photographs courtesy of Cath and Selwyn Mair.