Sarah reports on a lesbian adventure. In comparison with the better known Otago rail trail, this ride is more challenging: while mostly downhill, some of it is quite steep – both up- and down-hill – and falls are part of the territory. It was lots of fun, but it was a lot more than a ride round city streets.
Six women set out for an intrepid cycling adventure in April. The mission: to cycle the Alps to Ocean cycle way starting at Tasman Point (near Mount Cook/Aoraki) to Oamaru (300kms).
It started with an email in November from Ali Watersong seeking women to cycle with. “Well why not?” I thought. (I hadn’t been on a bike for 20 years and am adverse to hard physical exercise.) I consulted a work colleague who had done some distance cycling and she agreed – not in the realm of impossibility.
Decision made! Then I was on my bike. I took this biking very seriously. Out there after work and in the weekends, breaking in my bike bum and leg muscles. Finally the time came and it was all on. It was totally awesome. Fantastic company, incredible scenery, physically challenging at times but totally do-able. We biked about four hours a day over 6 days with a back up van for the busy on road bits or if we needed a day off. Ali booked accommodation ahead: a mix of holiday homes and motor camps. We had a night each cooking and shared petrol and van costs. This kept the cost very reasonable.
So if I can do it, you can. I am encouraging those of you who shirk from such physical challenges to get on your bike.
There are some amazing bike tracks around the country. I was surprised at how off road the track was for scenery not otherwise accessible by car. Biking is a great way to holiday and see the country. Grab your friends and go for it.
Waiora Pene Hare has whakapapa through her dad to Te Rarawa from the Hokianga, and through her mum to Ngāti Whatua and Ngai Wai, around the area of Marsden Point.
Her parents met in Auckland. “Dad did a boilermakers apprenticeship; he and mum moved to Whangarei in their early married life. I grew with five brothers; mum and dad’s first child died at five weeks old so I’m number three. There’s one older than me and four brothers behind me.” She is pictured front left with her mum Jane, and from back left, Will, Kelly, Spence, Carlton, Rodney and dad Bert.
Although Waiora grew up in a no-exit country road on the southern edge of Whangarei, she has a strong connection to her father’s turangawaewae at Mitimiti. “We’d go there every year; mum was very frugal so we could go on holiday as a family for three weeks over Christmas.”
“We’d drive past the end of West Coast Road, the council’s gravel road on the north shore of the Hokianga. Then it’s 2km off road up the beach (above) – there are three creek beds to cross, one of which is quite hazardous in the wet on an incoming tide.”
“Mitimiti was about relaxing, drinking water from a special puna (spring), food from the whenua, fish from the river and the ocean.” Waiora developed a fondness for smoked tuna (eel) which the family caught from Ngapuna creek (below) on their land.
“On the last day of the holiday, Dad would throw everything into the fry pan for the last breakfast, because there was no electricity and no way of preserving anything. That was the only cooking I saw him do.” Waiora still goes back to Mitimiti in the end of year holidays.
It wasn’t until Waiora was a teenager that she had to do particular things because she was a girl. “My dad was the provider, he worked five days as a boilermaker, and on the veggie garden in the weekend. Mum was always there when we got home from school and work. They had definite gender roles – dad never cooked anything” and her mum did the flowers in the garden.
“In my teenage years, we did chores for my father’s aunty, picking up her bread and groceries. As the boys got older they mowed her lawns, but when I put my hand up to do that, it was ‘No, boys do that, you do the dishes, help her with the housework and ironing’. It was my first inkling that there was something different about boys’ and girls’ roles.”
Waiora’s mother died in 2001, and her dad started watching cooking programmes on TV and “made the most amazing meals”.
In Waiora’s childhood, “Mum and Dad had Readers Digest condensed books and magazines, atlases, and fairy stories – lots of reading material.” She thought her future “would be like my mum and dad – I’d grow up and have kids. The influence of fairy tales and books was that there’d be a handsome prince on a white horse, and you’d live in a castle or a cute cottage with a picket fence. There were no non-heterosexual relationship models.”
In her early 20s, Waiora’s nursing diploma included a placement in the Whangarei Women’s Refuge. “I’d never heard of it before and didn’t know what it was. When I heard why women were there, I just couldn’t believe it – I couldn’t understand that men could do that.”
“It wasn’t my experience with my mum and dad or my brothers; I hadn’t seen it my whānau or neighbourhood. I feel very fortunate to be brought up in the whānau I was, nurturing, very routine, very good for kids.”
“Then I met my daughter’s father – he hit me for the first time after 18 months, when I was breastfeeding her. She fell from my arms onto the wooden floor and I got a hell of a shock. She was crying but okay. I left the house with her, went to the police station, he was arrested and I picked up my belongings and went home to Whangarei and never looked back.”
“I now know how unusual that was, to leave at the first hit. One thing I had going for me was a family background where our parents never assaulted each other or us. I also had somewhere to go, where they would want me when I told them what had happened. I also had money and a credit card. I hired a rental van to get the baby and the furniture home to Whangarei from Rotorua, and put it on the card.”
Working in Women’s Refuge #1
“After a few months of living with mum and dad, I saw an ad in the paper saying Women’s Refuge wanted volunteers. I did their course, then worked in the playroom with the children and cleaning the residential home. You’d be paid for 40 hours but there was a lot of after-hours and weekend work.”
“Refuge had a parallel development policy where Māori women worked with Māori, and Pākehā with non-Māori; Māori women started their own whare in Whangarei around that time. After a few years I became the regional representative for Tai Tokerau, about 14 refuges.”
Waiora first heard the word ‘lesbian’ when she was 11. One year at Mitimiti, she made friends with a girl the same age from a visiting family, who stayed with them in Whangarei for a week. “We were playing with the neighbourhood kids, and one of the older boys said ‘You two are lesbians’. I thought nothing of it – just another word for friend, so I told dad that ‘Me and Teresa are lesbians’. There was this silence.”
“Dad never smacked me, but it was that silence I recognised when I’d done something wrong. He asked where I’d heard that and neither he nor mum said anything more about it. I had a sick feeling in my stomach that it wasn’t a good thing to be.”
“I didn’t know of any takatāpui in our whānau, although I’m sure there must have been. In hindsight, on the road we grew up on there were a brother and sister who were gay and lesbian, and another gay boy. At primary school an effeminate gay boy got called a sissy. We knew there was something different going on.”
When she started working at the refuge, “there were lesbians everywhere and I met one of my whanaunga who was a gay woman.”
“She was younger, with a sharp mind, gorgeous looking, strong and assertive. I was very attracted to that and admired her. We began a relationship as wāhine takatāpui. Once my parents knew I had chosen to live with and love a woman, and supported my choice, I was invincible!”
“We parted after four years – it was very painful but I went on to have relationships with other women. The feel of women, the understanding, the smell of women – what I like are wāhine. I admire many men, but the heart-to-heart relationships I want to have are with women.”
When asked what label she prefers, Waiora says: “Even now lesbian is not a word I’m comfortable with – I say takatāpui. When I sing in GALS (the Auckland Gay and Lesbian Singers) and wear the GALS t-shirt, I’m gay or lesbian.”
Waiora didn’t like the name she’d been given by her parents – “it didn’t feel like me”. A few years after coming out, she took a Te Pumaomao decolonisation workshop with Takawai Murphy and his Pākehā wife Chris. “He invites people of all ethnicities to take on a Māori name for the duration of the workshop.” Two years later when she did a second workshop, “I decided to keep that name and to change my name by deed poll.”
She chose wai ora “because it connected me with the spring at Mitimiti, and for all its Catholic associations”. She also chose a new surname, after her father’s great-grandfather, “a luminary ancestor for my father”, and also because of the politics of communication in her work. “The person receiving my letter or email couldn’t see that I was a wahine Māori. With that name I was claiming a Māori identity.”
Whānau wanted to know why she changed her name and accepted it, although Waiora imagines her mother “would have liked me to keep what they decided on”.
Working in Women’s Refuge #2
Waiora began counselling training in Auckland, and because she was travelling there so often, she decided to stay until the course ended.
“I took a break from refuge when I moved to Auckland, and decided to do something really easy. I worked in the deli at Nosh for nine months. It was hard physical work and I’m not very good at numbers. I had to learn about salamis, cheeses, and what wine goes with what.”
Waiora returned to refuge work and six years ago was offered a job at Te Whānau o Waipareira (TWoW); she’s now Family Violence Intervention Co-ordinator, on a contract with the Waitemata DHB.
TWoW doesn’t run a refuge or have a team of anti-violence workers; Waiora’s job is to co-ordinate training for TWoW social and community workers and health staff about family violence, screening women for partner violence, and what services to refer them to.
She ensures that violence is discussed when TWoW has stalls at health expos and community events such as Waitangi Day at Hoani Waititi Marae in West Auckland. She’s part of Waitakere Essential Violence Services, helps organise White Ribbon events, and keeps up with refuges, anti-violence services, women’s groups, Age Concern and marae in West and wider Auckland. “I always have a family violence and feminist hat on”.
She’s pictured with workmates Jana, left, Billie-jean, Audrey and Kata.
Waiora is out at work, and “wāhine takatāpui use our service. I find violence between takatāpui very painful, quite difficult to work with. My joy over the last six months has been in the work of Elizabeth Kerekere, two powerful booklets for whānau about takatāpui, destigmatising and providing solutions. I love what they say, the visibility they give for takatāpui coming into TWoW.”
“Te Whānau o Waipareira uses a whānau ora model – we’re not working with individuals, we’re working with the whānau. In Women’s Refuge we worked with the women and sometimes the kids; they go back into the relationship and the men hadn’t changed.”
“Part of the colonisation of our men is they’re copying the behaviour they’ve been brought up in. Those women and children still love them, and we have to work with them. If you’re in a position to provide a wero to them, you get them to consider the woman’s point of view.”
Waiora also does violence risk assessments with women. “I listen to them and ask them about their name, who gave it to them and ask them about intergenerational experiences. I use a genogram, a therapeutic tool about a family tree, working out where their experience of family violence came from, how many generations does it go back.”
“Their mum may not have named their dad or they may be whangai (fostered) out of the whānau – you can see the breaks in kaupapa Māori in their genogram and link that to legislative violations of the Treaty. It’s a beginning point for them to hook their reality into. Many women haven’t had those discussions before.”
“The one time I do use statistics is when people say men are abused too and women are equally violent. I acknowledge that men will be victims as well, but the number of women being killed, hospitalised and disabled by male partners and family members far outweighs the number of men.”
After 28 years of working in the field, she believes “there is more of a willingness to deal with family violence; people I meet for the first time are more positive about what I do. There’s still a lot of blaming of women who stay with violent men.”
She also believes there is little support for women who have alcohol, other drug or mental health issues and violent partners. “I’d certainly take mind-altering substance to cope in a situation of abuse. Where’s the political will to support those women? There’s a lot of talk on the surface but there’s a lack of money for services that are needed.”
Working in the area, “you can’t just start at eight and finish at five – the job takes over. I’m very passionate about it – it starts in our own backyard. I can challenge communities and not be silenced; I’m becoming more fearless as I get older.”
Waiora made t-shirts to sell in 2016 at the Takatāpui Hui, organised by the NZ AIDS Foundation; they said CAMP WHAEA (mother or aunty, pronounced like fire), in large print and underneath in smaller print – Bush whaea, Wild whaea and Hell whaea; “words that describe me and us”.
Four years ago she split up with a partner she was with for 14 years. “We’ve since become good friends and travelled together. It’s been good retrieving a friendship from a long relationship.”