“Oh, it’s you and your camera,” said the woman helping the tamariki from Waima and Omanaia schools paint the Taheke bus shelter. Years before I’d photographed her at a pig hunt and she’d asked if I was an undercover cop. We laughed about how unlikely that was.

First day out on my bike with my new camera slung over my shoulder I happen upon the painting of the bus shelter down at the gravel pit.

When we first came north to live I was lost. Only way to find out where I was — set off into this unfamiliar world and look at it through a lens. And start talking to people.

“Are you having a happy day?” I ask one of the children painting.

“This is the happiest day of my life.” she whispers back.

For as long as I could remember my children had talked about my photography —

“Do you ever think about changing to digital?” Thomas might say.

“No,” I’d reply, “I don’t.”

“Do you think the time will come when you give up film, and use a digital camera instead?” Joe suggested.

“No, I don’t.” I said.

“Do you think you will ever change your mind?” Zoe asked, adding, “I think you might love digital.”

“I wouldn’t, and I wont.” I replied.

Until I did.

Thomas came north for a visit last year. At lunch he excused himself from the table saying he had left something in his car, wouldn’t be a minute. There was a pause in the conversation, the spring sky was high and vast that afternoon, the Scarlet O’Hara bougainvillea was about to bloom around the veranda posts, its petals the same colour as the kitchen door. The wondrous Mrs McGinty into her second year since flowering was starting to drop her pups —

“They root up in no time, take some,” I would say to everyone who came by.

“They will take over the world if you are not careful,” said a neighbour.

“I only grow natives,” said another.

When Thomas returned he put a parcel in front of me. My hands shook and I took a long time unwrapping, with my breath held and made a guess at what it might be. And yes, a digital camera. A beauty. I was converted in five minutes.

“You rolled over pretty quick,” said Joe.

“Ewww, Mort’s gone digital,” said Zoe.

I try not to leave home without it.

I photographed Waitangi on Waitangi day. My friend Mim suggested a few of us go, it might be her last opportunity for, after decades living in Taheke she was leaving. Waitangi was one place, and one way to begin saying goodbuy.

We parked up on the hillside above Haruru falls and caught the free bus, packed with whanau, children, babies in pushchairs and a cheerful good natured driver who turned in his seat to talk. The bus rattled around on a rough back road above that notable, splendid place, a geography to take your breath away. We were quiet, solemn, in hats and sunglasses. Mim talking about how much Waitangi matters. Jack saying she had a lump in her throat the whole morning the size of a lemon and when the waka came on to the beach she wanted to cry. When the waka came on to the beach the back of my knees began to tingle and the tingling went down my legs till my feet felt embedded in the damp sand and I thought my camera and I might not move again. My new camera and I.

I try not to leave home without it.

Wandered around Horeke a few weeks ago as the sun began to set and Mick played pool with Jim at the pub. Wasn’t quick enough to photograph a boy riding his bike on to the wharf and missed the moment when he went up on one wheel, whooping with joy. Remembered my first time in Horeke over twenty years ago — photographed dozens of big grey crown pumpkins stored on top of an old concrete water tank. The tank is still there, the row of small whare built on stilts above the water still there.

Mick and Jim played three games of pool. Mick was a bit rusty he told me, lost them all.

“Jim’s a better player.” he said, then suggested another game.

“Oh, don’t you know when you’re beaten.” replied Jim.

The sun set. Take photographs, I tell myself every day. Another way of seeing this world.

#Hokianga #Taheke #Horekepub #Waitangi