Over the Christmas holiday break, the Dahlia family visited New Zealand. During our visit, we went out to the small town I grew up in to see my grandmother who still lives there. The week before we arrived had been difficult for her, as her best friend of over seventy years had died – they’d moved into an elderly care facility together only six months before – so my ninety year old grandmother was finding life a little tough.
We took her for a visit out to Kariotahi beach, only to find that the beach had changed in subtle ways. When I was a teen, it was a rough place where cars came to die, and people drove around recklessly. I used to ride my horse at the far end of the beach, away from the drunken locals lighting fires (not always wood fires – often cars and other rubbish). Oh, and fireworks! Since then, the beach has gone through a gentrification process – at least compared to the rough old days. You need a permit to drive on the beach now, and incredibly, there were actual cops present to check permits. Amazing.
Some things don’t change though… A group of teens walked past our group, and one yelled out, “Carry some of this shit, au!”
The Dahlia kids found the black iron sand interesting – it sparkles like glitter thanks to the iron in it, and it’s magnetic. It’s also really hot underfoot. Kid2 was most annoyed that he was missing out on riding a motorbike on the beach because we didn’t still live in the town nearby. I left the day after my last high school examination, and only the presence of my grandmother will pull me back to the town. My mother’s family have been in that town for many generations, and I could write long essays on my difficult relationship with the place. My father is an immigrant, so I ended up being awkwardly both ‘new to town’ and ‘related to half the town’s long term families’. Throw in the ‘I taught your aunty’ from the teachers at school, and way gossip clings to a family for generations, and this small town was a claustrophobic place for me. Years after leaving, my best friend from high school and I worked out that we were fifth cousins. So – kid2 – not a chance! There are places in Australia, like Fraser Island, where you can drive on the beach, and they come without the weight of my teenage years.
The kids enjoyed the beach, running down to the sea to test the temperature, and dodging the vehicles racing up and down, while my grandmother sat quietly on a log near the car and breathed in the ocean air. Gran isn’t very mobile anymore, although she maintains she’s doing a lot better than the others in her care home. She’s been teaching the staff about her priorities, famously scolding them for interrupting her sport watching.
“Mrs O, it’ll be time for dinner soon.”
“Okay. I’m watching the All Blacks.”
Ten minutes later…
“Mrs O, it’s dinner time now.”
“I can’t. The rugby is still on.”
Twenty minutes later…
“Mrs O, you are missing dinner. You need to come now.”
“No. The rugby is on.”
Ten minutes later.
“Mrs O. I’ve brought your dinner on a tray for you.”
After the beach, we went back into town for lunch at the Kentish Hotel. This old establishment has dominated the end of the main street for over a century. Yet, as a teen, I never went inside – there was a shooting in the bar in the eighties, and going there was banned by my mother. As a teen, I was mildly curious, but not brave enough to try and sneak in. Since I left town, the Kentish Hotel has been renovated and improved. Now it has a light airy feel and a nice lunch menu. One of the staff even gave the Dahlia kids a tour of the whole building, including the steps underneath the veranda which apparently lead to a jail.
The food was lovely – typical pub fare, done well – and the beer menu had plenty of interesting craft beer choices. Time have changed the little town I grew up in!