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Derna Heather - Autobiography


“I am grateful to God for giving me the strength to write this real life story and for refreshing my mind to those days, forty five years ago.”

“To him is the Glory.”

I was born on the 30th of April 1944 at Waipiro Bay Maternity Hospital. I am the 7th child in our family of ten, eight boys and two girls.

My Husband Joe and I have four children and seven grandchildren. Before I go any further, other stories and enlightenments may evolve.

The year is 1957; the month is September or October. Dressed in our school uniforms and finishing off our breakfast which was often porridge with sugar and boiled cows milk mum reminds us that it is nearly time for us to leave home for school. We, been my three younger brothers Mahiti, George and Kaura, myself and our cousin Kate. We have to leave home no later than seven; any later then chances are we will miss the school bus. We attend Taperenui A Whatonga primary school in Rangitukia and Kate, Tikitiki Primary. The youngest Mahiti about six years old and the eldest myself thirteen.

Wintry conditions were still lingering in the air but it was a reasonably fine morning so we did not take our raincoats. Our one-hour trek to catch the bus will be a bit lighter without the coats. Unknown to us that a major storm was brewing up in the distant and this storm would eventually have a great impact on Kate and I by afternoon, through the night and most of the next day.

Having no radio at the time, we had no way of knowing the unforeseeable weather conditions, except to say that if it had rained that morning or threatened to our mother would of said “Stay home, no school today” words we like to hear so we can stay home and play cards. Games such as patu ihu, sweep, snap etc. Patu ihu is a very humorous card game. The winner after much debate gets to hit all the losers on the nose with some cards.

The Maraehara river flood very quickly as it’s fed by many streams way up the valley as far back to the Rau Kumara Ranges I am told. The trek (wae wae express) to catch the bus is an arduous one, monotonous at times and very tiring more so for the younger ones. I can remember when I was about six years old there were times I would sit on the road and cry and brother Rua would piggy back me. When our dad was still alive we had an ample supply of tamed horse that our older brothers and sister Mary rode to school. I must add they did not have a school bus then. I have been told stories of some of their horses and their individual characters to name a few Mere Pongo Pongo, Taringa, Sugar, Trigger etc. Hopefully we will get to read stories about some of those horses and their temperaments. During this time, that I am writing about, I can only remember two one been brother Johns that he needs to take him up the hill to work and the other our big draught horse ‘Nugget’ and! he’s just not suitable or safe for children to ride on.

I can tell you a story about Nugget; he was mainly used to pull the plough and odd times as a packhorse. Well I don’t know whether he did not like a girl handling him (because that was the first time I remembered catching him) or he did not want to do any work, but anyway mum said to me “This is a lovely day to go to Waitaiko to get some fruit (apricot, pears etc.) Some for us to eat and some I will preserve.” Mum asked me if I could catch Nugget, “I will try!” I replied. I did catch him, brought him home and we put the pack saddle on him then we hooked the big sacks, one on each side of the saddle, so we were all ready go and all excited. We always look forward to these once a year trips to Waitaiko. We are supposingly going to walk, just take our time because we’ve got all day. I just happened to turn and my back facing Nugget then came a big thump on my back and down I went to the ground. With his big hoof he had clobbered me, mum then helped me up took a look at my back! and remarked “Tino pahore ana to tuara I te hoiho nei” Nugget had scraped my back excessively. Mum said that is not a good sign and that we would not go now and to let Nugget go. After that incident, I kept my distance from that horse.

Waitaiko is about three kilometres up and beside the Maraehara River. It was once the lovely home of our papa Renata Ngata (brother of Ta Apirana Ngata) and nanny Matengaro. I do not remember them but brother June told me they were such a lovely papa and nanny who made regular visits to our home and our family likewise visited them too. When they were still alive they did invite us to help ourselves to the fruits of their orchards. School, yes monotonous at times, five days a week to and fro. It became like a repeated poem for me, for as we set off across the paddock, down to the river, across the river, over the fence, up the hill, through the bush, up the hill again and so on until we reach the bus stop. “Where is the school bus?” “Did we miss it?” as we sometimes did. “No” not that day “There it comes”. Now we would have to put up with the bullies at school. Yes, we had them in our school days too. We were never keen on going to school, well, not me anyway. It was not so! much for the lessons, although I was not a bright spark, but indeed grateful for all that I learnt at Taperenui A Whatonga. The long trek was enough to put me off going to school, worse in the winter. The heavy frosty mornings were terrible; after awhile our feet would be so numb that the pain would just go away. We had socks and shoes but we had to wait till we got to the bus stop and then put them on. The bullies, yes, well brother Douglas had moved on to Papakura High School in Auckland during his time with us at primary we had no worries for he was the strongest boy. No one would dare pick on us; just a stern word from him and the bullies would back off. Now we were left to our own defence more often compromising with them to save our skins. Though I must say Kaura and cousin Wi Manuel were of help sometimes. As for George, he was a placid boy, sickly at times. Whatever child ailment was around then, he would cop it. I can remember when he got the mumps. He was so miserab! le and trying his best to put up with the pain. Mum wrapped his head and jaws up in a woollen scarf and sat him on a chair just to the side of the kitchen wood stove to keep him warm. With comforting words she said to him “Don’t cry, if you cry it will get worse, soon the pain will go away and you will be better.” This story should really be left to my brother to write just in case my recollection of it may slightly err! George was not only afflicted with child ailments he was afflicted with spiritual ones too. He was about 9 years old at the time. One day the bus stopped to pick up some children, as they hopped on a big cat hopped on too. We tried to shoo it out but it refused to go ducking here and there, under the seats. The bus driver, having a schedule to adhere to and with us children, a cat is a cat, what does it matter so the bus driver, drove off. But all the time, that cat was on a mission and an awful one at that. It made it’s way to where George was sitting and sat! under his chair. When we returned home after school he was not feeling well at all. The next day his condition got worse, he had lost his appetite completely and bringing up what little food he had in his tummy. He was very skinny boy after a few days with nothing to eat you can just imagine the effects it had to his body. Mum was very concerned. It did not help with the doctor and the hospital so far away. It came to the stage where Georges health had really deteriorated. Then this thought came to Mum that it could very well be a spiritual illness so she immediately phoned little Nan and told her. Our little Nan (who is mums mother) is gifted from God in the spiritual realms of discernment and healing, received the answer that it was a curse and the owner to convey it (the curse) used the cat. Our dear little Nan prayed for George over the telephone and the curse was immediately cast out of him and complete healing was given to him promptly requesting for food, food he got a! nd ate like a horse!!

I am going back to my main story. Mum is telling us to hurry up or will we will miss the bus. I grabbed our brown leather school bag that we all share. Within, were four lunches neatly wrapped in brown paper, mum also made some for Kate. Carrying our lunch bag was more or less my responsibility been the eldest. I did not mind and besides I set a faster pace than they did. As I set off I hear mum’s voice calling out to the boys “Kia tere ka mau koutou ia Kui Kui!” (Hurry up Kui Kui will catch up to you all!) Mum always called me by that name though I did not mind; until I got married then it was Derna. I asked her where did I get that name from. Mum said from our nanny kuia, grandmother who lovingly hand fed me from infancy. Cousin Kate is a younger sister to Wina, Crete, Watene (and more) she is staying after the recent school holidays due to the fact that I enjoyed her company so much that I asked mum to phone and ask Aunty Polly if Kate could stay on and go to her! school with us for we catch the same bus. Aunty Polly agreed. I was so elated; it was so nice to have another girl in our house the same age as me and with a humble disposition. Sad to say for my cousin that morning would be her last time at the Porahu. The day spent at school I should imagine would have been like any other school day but I am looking forward to home time when the bus comes from Tiki Tiki and Kate will be on it. 3.00pm and school is over, I noticed dark storm clouds way to the west and thunder could be heard in the distance, this made me very concerned. I started asking questions. Is it going to rain? How far away is the storm? Never mind, there was very little water in the river this morning; we will run as fast as our legs can take us. No way we’re going to spend the night at someone’s house. I must add even of today it has not changed. Rain, hail or storm we have to get back to the Porahu. The bus pulls up and we hastily file on. My first reaction was to s! can the bus for Kate and to my astonishment she was nowhere to be found. She had been left behind, “She missed the bus!” were the replies to my asking. Oh gosh, I thought, poor Kate, she has to walk all that way home from Tiki Tiki and it’s going to rain. As soon as the bus pulled up at Maraehara we rushed out, by now it had started to rain. “Kia Tere!” (Hurry Up!) I said to my brothers, “Hurry back home before the river floods! I’ll stay here and wait for Kate” I watched my brothers as they ran across the paddock. I was concerned for Mahiti, it’s a big ask for a 6 year old to run all that way home. Meanwhile, alone I wait for Kate in the pouring rain. At times wishing I had gone home with my brothers. After waiting for sometime I began to feel the cold and for some unknown reason I decided to walk back to Rangitukia. In my mind I was sure she was coming, as I began to walk my body started to warm up until I could not feel the cold anymore. I met up with Kate on the road betwe! en Patuwai’s and Waikari’s home’s talking to a girl on a bicycle in the rain. I gave Kate a quick talking to then we hurriedly headed for Porahu. By the time we reached the Maraehara stockyards it was dark and the rain continued to pelt down. We checked the stream below the stockyard on approaching it’s roaring noise tells us it’s flooded; we retreated and went pass the woolshed. “Shall we sleep in there?” I asked myself. It did not take me long to make up my mind, no not under any circumstances. Too many kehua (ghost stories). We carried on walking to one of the houses at Maraehara. On passing the Mahiti and Karuwai buildings again I said to myself “No way are we going to sleep in there either!” because the previous winter, I think it was, we stayed there with mum and we all had a terrible experience one night and vowed never to sleep there again. The lady who lived in the house we were heading for was a lovely kind- hearted lady. Her husband was all right but he had a very b! ad temper (I choose not to mention their names). It did not take me long to realise that they were having a domestic dispute as he was yelling and carrying on at his poor wife so much so they did not hear our knocks on their door and unaware of our plight. I said to Kate “Never mind, we’ll go back to Porahu. The smell of cooked food at the house we just visited has made me hungry!” possibly Kate too. This had made me more determined to get back home whatever it takes. So it’s down to the stream for the second time. I said to Kate “Come on, we will cross on the floodgate” well we did manage to cross over but with some difficulty. Winds had now become gale force blowing against us from the north, rain still pelting down as we trudged to Porahu. Time wise between 8-9pm. It was very dark; the odd flash of lightening would light up the ground ahead of us. We were hardly talking to one another partly because I was annoyed with Kate for getting us into the situation that we were in. ! We took the ‘through the bush route’ (off course) when we finally got to the top of the hill. We could hardly stay on our feet because the wind was blowing so strong up there, but from there it was very comforting for us just to see the coleman lamp alit from our house.

I began to shout as loud as I could “Come on Kate, you shout too!” I said because the more noise we make the better chance we’d have of them hearing us. But the gale force winds blowing against us blew our calls in the opposite direction, though we did not realise it at that time. Excited, hungry and a bit delirious after all the yelling we made our way down the hill slipping, sliding and falling over at times. We arrived at titoki tree just across the river from the stockyard. Expecting to hear someone on the other side yelling to us but there was no one. I yelled across the river but got no reply. Meanwhile the Maraehara River is just there in front of us and it’s banks over flowing. In the dark we could hear sounds of big rocks and trees been shunted along in the roaring noise. It was so frightening!!! Kate and I started shouting again with what strength we had left but the roaring river and probably the rain on our iron roof house drowned out our weak voices. Th! en the reality of it set in. I started to feel very cold, sadness came upon me and I seemed to forget about Kate and retreated into the hollow of a titoki tree. A hollow that one would never venture into as it’s a likely home for wetas and centipedes but I was desperate for shelter and could not stop shaking. As I crouch in that hollow my mind was spoken to that I was going to die, tears came down my eyes like the rain pouring down and then my mind and heart was spoken to again by a loving being totally different from the other. It said pray and ask God to help you. Obeying, I did “God, please help me!” Instantly warmth flowed into every part of my body. No more tears and strength was given to me. I came out of the hollow and looked for Kate who was close by, perhaps praying too. I did not share my awesome experience with her nor did she share anything with me. We walked a little way into the manukas near the flooded river with urges telling me to swim across, but then an anot! her awesome experience came upon me again saying to break some manuka branches lay them down on the ground and you two go to sleep so I obeyed. Having laid the manuka branches down I said to Kate lets go to sleep. She went off to sleep before me as I could hear her snoring. (She was quite plumpy just slightly over weight for a girl of her age). Suddenly I was woken from my sleep with urges again to swim across the flooded river. I tried to wake Kate up to tell her that we would try to swim across, but I could not wake her up, so I laid down and went to sleep.

It was the glare of daylight through the manuka trees and the chirping of the birds that woke me up. “Get up Kate! It’s morning and it’s stopped raining” No sooner, we were both shouting and mum and brother John heard our calls. Mum said, “Don’t say that’s Kui Kui and Kate. They thought we had stayed the night at one of our relation’s house.

Telephone, we did have. 10K was our number. If my memory is right, the telephone line was brought down by the wind (which did happen at times). Well they all came down to the river only to find out that we had spent the night sleeping there. Shouting above the roar of the river. John advised us to back track to Maraehara then on to Puke Waihi’s swing bridge and come through Taiapa Aronga, “There is no way my horse can cross this river! I’ll go and catch my horse and I’ll come and meet you and you can pick up my opossum traps at Puke’s.” Then mum called out “You tell Kate it’s better for her to go back to her home. I will phone her mum (Aunty Polly) and explain everything to her.” As we backtracked we were sad, she did not want to go back to her place and I did not want her to go. No sooner had we gotten to Puke Waihi’s swing bridge I spotted grand uncle Frank Manuel’s taxi. He had come to bring Aunty Polly and to take Kate home. Aunty Polly, I love but I thought she! dealt very harshly to Kate considering the ordeal she had just been through. I am on my own now feeling very sorry for my cousin, but none the less looking forward to the comforts of my home and family. As I approached the swing bridge I recall the lectures that was told to us in the past. We were never to play on it or to go anywhere near it as it was unsafe. Some parts of it had no side planks probably rotted and fallen away and when one reaches near the middle it swayed dangerously. We were told only in emergency situations could we cross it but with care. When it swayed I stopped and tried my best not to look down at the roaring Maraehara River below but look I did thinking to myself you crazy river, you caused all this! Eventually the swaying stopped and I proceeded on to the other side. I called into Puke’s for the traps. Papa Puke looking old and frailed with hair white as snow, answered my knock. As he greeted me he looked at me with concerning eyes. I guess it was be! cause of my wet and muddy clothes. He humbly (as he always is) said “Me noho no koe ki konei kia heke ra te waipuke ka hoki ai koe ki te kaenga” (You stay here until the flood subsides and then go back home) as he had reminded me that the Manga Rangiora stream was flooded too.

I gratefully declined his offer after telling him that brother John was coming to meet me. He handed me the traps and I think a slice of bread too as he bid me Haere Ra, Goodbye. I don’t think I ever saw Papa Puke again after that. Papa Puke was living alone at that time. He and his late wife dear nanny Koneke had some (whangai) feeding children who had all grown up and gone to work, most of them to the cities as some of my older brothers and sister. Cousin Sarah Manuel was one of their whangai, she use to come and visit us at Porahu looking very smart on her horse. Sarah and my late sister Mary were good friends. Taiapa Aronga is a country that I have to pave my way through. Back in those days it was densely cladded with bushy manuka trees, wild cows would venture down into them at times, possibly wild pigs as well no roads at all maybe the odd rough track, the remains of an old scary house and some ghost stories. Those were all brought to my mind by an evil source! to make me scared but nothing but confidence overwhelms me now. I know in myself that God had saved me from last nights ordeal and that he will see me home safely. I am also reminded of my mother’s prayers, as every night before she goes to sleep she would have a time of prayer. This I took note of as we slept in the same bedroom. Not long after I departed from Papa Puke’s place storm clouds gathered again accompanied by more thunder and lightening. I paved my way through the manukas making a lot of noise that should there be any wild beasts near by the noise would scare them away. I did walk into that scary remains of an old, old house. Not long after passing that I could hear the noise from the flooded Manga Rangiora stream. With no floodgate to cross over on, I had to find a safe place to swim across. I spotted a fair size wood embedded in the bank on the other side that I could grab hold of. I threw the opossum traps safely on the other side, then the school bag that was ! a bit heavy. For it contained about 3lbs of butter and a bushel of staples that I had picked up at our store depot near the swing bridge. Mum had phoned the Waiapu Farmers for the stores. I gave the bag a good swing before flinging it across the stream making sure it did not fall into the torrent and be swept away knowing that mum would not be able to buy us another for they were expensive in those days also John needed the staples. With the bag safely on the other side then it was my turn. I did not hesitate to swim across but boy that current was so strong. I managed to grab the wood on the other side but the force of the current on my body was too strong that the wood broke. To my left was a clump of ’toe toe’ so I grabbed that and it probably saved me from being swept into the roaring Maraehara River. I scrambled up the bank took a quick look at my ’toe toe’ cut fingers, collected my items and set off again wondering why John had not showed up yet. I came to Ma Kawa Kawa; ! it too was bank to bank. I flung my items to the other side and then crossed over on the floodgate with ease. I am home at last for I had arrived at Te Waerenga site of our vegetable garden. It was still raining but not so heavy. I came up the rise and saw mum and my brothers on the veranda. Tears of joy overcame me as I quickened my pace. My first step onto our veranda echoed a tremendous clap of thunder. Mum embraces me with tears, of gratefulness, gratefulness to God for bringing me home safely. Mum points to Taiapa Tariana (name of a hill paddock) “Ra ke a John kare no kia mou tana hoiho mataku hoki te hoiho I te whaititiri” (There is John trying to catch his horse, it’s bolting around because of the thunder). “John John, come home, never mind I’m home now!” We would shout. He soon heard us and came home. Mum had all the essentials ready for me. Change of clothes warming in front of the sitting room fireplace, hot drink etc. She helped me to remove my wet clothes and comme! nt “Titiro to kiri ko blue ke te makariri!” (Look at your skin; it has turned blue from the cold!). Mum took the bag into the kitchen, opened it up and said “Ko ki ke te pata I te tepara!” (The butter is full of staples!) “Mum, I had to fling the bag across two streams!” I replied. It was not long before the cards came out with laughs and debates. The thoughts of that terrible ordeal were pushed aside. The smell of bread, baking in the oven soon wafted through the house. The storm soon blew itself out and within days the river subsided and mum said to me “You take me to the place where you and Kate slept.” We waded across the river, past the titoki tree into some manuka trees. “That is where we slept mum.” There laid our manuka bed upon it was my crumpled handkerchief that I unknowingly left behind. Mum then looked at the flood mark, the mark that shows how high the water rose during the flood, she commented on how close the place where we slept was to the flood mark, she said! “tera korua I riro I te waipuke kare korua e mohio, I te moe ke hoki korua” (the flood could have swept you two away and you would of not known because you two were asleep).

God had answered our prayers and his angels had protected us.

God is in control of Nature and Nature is subjected to him.

I am so grateful to God for our mother for her love and her prayers. Our family had been protected from many near tragedies also been there for us from the beginning till God called her home in 1993.

Scripture: Romans Chapter 8/Verse 28

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Just a year ago 2001, Joe and I walked down to the Maraehara River to swim and bathe. This was directly opposite where Kate and I had slept. It was a lovely summer afternoon. The warm crystal clear waters of the river glistened in the late afternoon sun. The sound of the waters trickling over the rapids just a little further down stream was so serene. I thought to myself how comforting this river is this afternoon suddenly my thoughts reverted to 1957. I looked over to the Titoki tree that in it’s hollow my saviour comforted me but sadly it’s there no more. I then looked to the right to where Kate and I slept. I held back my tears because Joe would of enquired as to why I was weeping. One day soon, I will pay these spots a special visit to say thankyou again to God for all he did for Kate and I 45 years ago.

A God inspired poem.

Flow On River Flow

I Wonder If You know

You Once Became A Barrier

From The Comforts Of My Home

A Barrier That Made Me

Really Came To Know

My Creator, Your Creator

For His Glory Alone



Scripture: Ecclesiastes Chapter 7/Verse 14







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