Why I Travelled Eight Hours in a Car to See a Lady I Don’t Know

‘These are no ordinary waters
We are not ordinary beneficiaries.
We are kaitiaki in the truest sense.
We are tangata whenua.
Anything that upsets these waters or interferes with their flow should never be permitted.’

Ron Wihongi, Ngawha Kaitiaki (1924–2016)

My flatmate gave me a strange look as I opened the car door.

‘Why are you going there again?’

To be honest, I didn’t really know how to answer. Why I was driving all the way to Kaikohe. An eight-hour-long car ride crawling through traffic on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon was the last thing I wanted to do.

But I knew I needed to go.

Earlier this year, I tried to find Ngāwhā locals when I went to visit the hot springs. I needed to talk to them about the Ngāwhā prison. Get their perspective.

The nice man behind the counter wasn’t a local. He pointed me in the direction of a Māori lady bathing in the water.

‘She looks like a local, talk to her.’

‘Um, that’s my mum,’ I told him.

He grinned sheepishly and then shrugged his shoulders.

‘Sorry.’

I trawled through books and websites, trying to ‘research’. All I knew was that a prison was built in Ngāwhā, tangata whenua protested and a taniwha was somewhere in the middle. But I felt like I hit a brick wall every time I tried to ‘research’.

And then I had a breakthrough. Don’t ask me how it happened, but it did. I found a name and number online.

‘Hello?’ A lady answered.

‘Kia ora! Can I speak to Riana Wihongi please?’

There was a long pause.

‘Riana passed away.’

I felt terrible and apologised profusely. I told her that I didn’t know Riana and had never met her. I was writing a book based on the events that happened in Ngāwhā, and I wanted to hear someone’s perspective on it. Someone preferably from Ngāwhā. 

‘Well, I’m one of Riana’s friends and one of the protestors.’ Her name was Toi Maihi.

‘Come over to my house,’ she adds as if she lives just up the road.

But I lived in Tauranga and Kaikohe’s a bit of a drive away (eight hours!). I suggested I come and visit her in December sometime.

She agreed, but before we hung up, she clears her throat.

‘Before Riana died, she told me someone needed to write a book about this. I’m so glad you called.’

I went back to my computer, but my fingers couldn’t type anything. Something kept nagging at me. And I have learnt from past experiences, when you get that strong feeling you need to do something, you do it. Don’t ask, just do it.   

I pulled up into her home in Kaikohe two days later. A small woman with white hair opened the door. She’s tinier than I expected. Just as nice on the phone. She ushered me in and told me to take a seat.

She pushed a scrapbook in my hands. Toi had kept every newspaper clipping and photos of everything to do with the Ngāwhā prison. Before it was built, during and after. She even scribbled notes that were weaved throughout the scrapbook.

‘Who’s that?’ I asked, pointing to an elderly man holding a tokotoko. He’s wearing sunglasses, and there are two police officers walking alongside him.

‘I can’t remember his name,’ she says. ‘But he’s blind. One of the elders that were arrested for protesting.’

Arrested. I take another look at the photo and see the elderly man’s hands behind his back. I suddenly feel really sad.

I find out later Toi suffered a stroke earlier this year. She can’t remember names or faces any more. She even forgets words.

The closer I look at her, the more I see sadness all over her face. There’s anger. Hurt. A lot of pain. I wonder if it’s all from the Ngāwhā prison being built.    

‘We fought for four years,’ she said. ‘Four years.’

For hours she talked. I listened.

I learnt more about what really happened. What online news articles could never tell me.

I leant that Toi, with many other Ngāwhā locals, fought for years to stop the Government spending $100 million on a prison in Ngāwhā. Court battles, trips around the country to other iwi asking for help, multiple hīkoi, hui, court battles and protests.

I learnt about the people behind the protests. The faces behind the names. Many whom have passed away, during and after the protests.

I learnt more about the why. The spiritual aspect. That the healing and sacred waters of Ngāwhā are under the prison. That in the battle of Ōhaeawai, the Māori brought the wounded Pākehā soldiers down there to bathe so they would heal quickly. And how that water still heals the people of Ngāwhā today.

I learnt that Ngāti Hine offered a place for the Government to build a prison, but it was declined.

I learnt that Northland MP John Carter said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ when kuia and elderly were arrested outside the prison site for protesting.

I learnt about the travesty and injustice my people faced trying to protect our taonga and sacred land.

Toi walked me to my car and gave me a hug. It was a longer hug than a usual hug.

I went back to my car and broke down in tears. And then my car broke down, and I cried even more because my car was getting towed away, and I was stranded in Kaikohe with no idea how to get back to Tauranga (but that’s another story for another day).

But I’m so glad I made the drive to Kaikohe.

My previous ‘research’ was no substitute for the raw emotion I felt from meeting Toi.

It’s a story of heartache and oppression and injustice, but it’s also a story of hope and inspiration.

For like Toi Maihi said, ‘We will not let them trample on our mana.’ A story that I hope will inspire other tangata whenua to continue fighting. Because truthfully, the battle is only lost when we stop trying.


Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a journalist who previously worked for Fairfax Media and has had stories published in Huia Short Stories. She speaks fluent Mandarin from serving a volunteer mission in Hong Kong. Shilo is delighted to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.

The Three Ed’s and a Bit of CD

Editing, editing, editing. The three ed’s and a bit of character development. You see a month or so ago, I had finally finished the manuscript of my YA fiction novel. The elation that I felt at that time, it was real. There I was, staring at that beautiful final sentence couched in clouds of a splendent white page.  It was fantastical. It was fabulous. For a week or so.

Then it wore off.

Like most writers who are just starting out, I mistakenly believed that finishing a novel is the hardest thing in life. Bashing out those thousands of words day after day. Surely there’s nothing harder than that. All I knew was that I had finally joined the league of ‘extraordinary writers’ who’ve finished a BOOK. My ego swelling to hot-air balloon proportions. The Māori J K Rowling of Aotearoa here I come. After a week or so floating around in ‘I’m-a-famous-writer-already land’, I decided to start editing my ‘amazing’ novel.

‘Editing is hard work! It literally takes longer than writing the words in the first place.’

So, I began by rereading each sentence line by line and fixing grammatical errors. I also did some more character development and finessed the storyline. It was at this point that I realised how much more work this novel needed. It had seemed so good when I was bashing out words on a keyboard, but now I knew I was staring at just the beginning – the trainer-wheels stage – of a truly imaginative and enjoyable book for young adults. During this time, I also learnt something else. Editing is hard work! It literally takes longer than writing the words in the first place. To top things off, editing can sometimes make the writing even worse than it was in the first place.

In my opinion, there’s a fine line between editing and DESTROYING the work.

In the space of a couple of weeks, I edited the first two chapters and emailed them to my Te Papa Tupu mentor. Simon is a freelance editor and an excellent one at that. He knows how to take an average manuscript (unlike mine obvs) and somehow magically turn it into an enjoyable book with interesting characters and a storyline readers will love. Even so, it was a hard pill to swallow receiving his feedback with the central theme being – shock horror – that the characters in the story are too perfect.Too perfect? Too perfect! But they are perfect! ‘But why?’ I ask. ‘Why can’t the characters be perfect?’ Of course, Simon had a ready-made answer.

‘Perfect characters are boring. Imagine a perfect character.’

I screw my face up in disgust. You know the ones, the beautiful princess in the castle or the stunning model with the to-die-for wardrobe and wealthy parents. A photo of Kate Middleton taken just after she had given birth where she looked like she had played a gentle round of golf, done some yoga and then meditated instead of had a baby. Too perfect. Okay, point taken Simon the Wise. I don’t want my characters to be like that. But then, what do I want them to be like?

In search of devious ideas, I turn to those people around me (my whānau) who due to whakapapa have to pretend (sometimes unconvincingly) to care about my book and my questions. I start with my sister and the Studio Ghibli movie My Neighbour Totoro. ‘What do you think about perfect characters? Do you think Totoro (a furry, cute, giant forest spirit) has flaws?’ She suggests that Totoro doesn’t feature enough in the movie to really have flaws. I tell her about my predicament, the perfectness of the Patupaiarehe people in my novel. She reiterates Simon’s conviction about the annoyingness of perfect characters and begins to conjure up her own ideas of how the Patupaiarehe could become more three dimensional. ‘What if they are shy? What if they hide in the forest and don’t want to come out? They could be scared, terrified of the main evil guy.’ I love her ideas, and I gleefully realise something. Corrupting characters is actually quite fun.

The whānau that corrupts imaginary thought forms together stays together.

Next, I ask my mum (Mumma J). Mumma J loves Star Trek so I suggest that the Patupaiarehe might be a more ‘spiritually advanced’ race than humanity and therefore imperfection may not be as necessary. Now one thing about my mum, she doesn’t need any excuses to talk Trek. She launches into a detailed commentary of various characters on the Starship Enterprise and how they too possess their own imperfections. We return back to the task at hand. Corrupting the Patupaiarehe.

‘What if they are arrogant because they think they are better than humans?’ suggests Mumma J. I take this idea and run with it. ‘The Patupaiarehe could believe they are superior over humans and therefore always choose to put the forest and the animals first … which could lead to them risking the life of Pakū (a human boy) to protect themselves.’

I am mulling over these suggestions in my head when I receive an email from Simon. It reads, ‘Ngaro is a bit too healthy. Maybe he was tortured or is held by cruel bonds that are magically tied to be as painful as possible. This means Pakū will have to rescue him as well.’ To which I respond, ‘He should be broken both physically and mentally so Pakū has to help piece him back together … ooooooohhhhhh. This is good!’ This is so juicy. Together Simon and I have just mentally and physically harmed the imaginary thought-form named Ngaro in this book, allowing Pakū to further develop as a character.

My eyes glimmer lightly as I imagine having this much power in the real world. Mwahahaha.

But what this blog really highlights is the unexpected tedium of editing, challenges of character development and power of collective brainstorming to solve all problems. Which leads me into the single-handed best thing about being part of Te Papa Tupu: your mentor. Someone who gives a fuck about your book other than the ones that literally birthed you or are forced to care due to whānau/societal expectations.

Because to be honest, no one really gives a fuck about my book or your book or anyone else’s book as much as I do/the writer does.

Unless perhaps, you are Māori J K Rowling of Aotearoa. So, to have someone – an editor no less – who is giving their time to me and the book I wrote? Straight privilege.

Thanks, Te Papa Tupu.


Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.

I Have Always Been a Bookworm

When I was a child, my mother worried that I didn’t get out and spend enough time with friends, but who needs friends when you have books?

I’m joking! I’m joking. I have many wonderful friends.

But I also have many wonderful books.

I spent a lot of my childhood embedded in pages. Mum didn’t need to worry; the books were taking very good care of me, leading me on all kinds of adventures through this world and countless others.

We come from a long line of avid readers, so the whole bookworm thing wasn’t really a surprise. However, my choice in books was a puzzle my mother could never solve. Our extensive, extended family library was mostly composed of science fiction and fantasy, and while those are genres I adore, it’s horror that really captured me.

It still does.

I love that breathless sensation you get when you think something bad is going to happen. The way the skin at the back of your neck tingles and your shoulders shrug into your ears as if you can save yourself – save the characters in the book – with that movement. The way your feet lift off the floor, subconsciously tucking underneath you because who knows what’s hiding in that space beneath your seat. As if these little movements will protect you from killer or monster, from the unknown, the unknowable.

The way that even after you’ve finished the book you might hear something, and it triggers that gasp, that inhalation, that rush of adrenaline you need to get the hell out of there and somewhere safe.

Oh yeah, I love horror.

So, it’s no surprise that I love to write things that creep people out. The vast majority of my short fiction has elements of horror woven in. Which brings me to Butcherbird because it was the first time I set out to do this in a longer format.

You see, I’d been writing a lot of romance and the need to creep someone out was overwhelming, an itch that needed to be scratched; I needed horror. Not the B grade slasher film type (not that there is anything wrong with that. I love a good B grade slasher). I’m more into the subtle chills, the rising levels of discomfort and fear than I am blood and gore. I want the creepiness that lingers, the one that’s kind of familiar and could be waiting for you around the next corner, in the next person you meet. The one that follows you home (the creepiness, not the person, though that’s creepy too).

‘I want the creepiness that lingers, the one that’s kind of familiar and could be waiting for you around the next corner, in the next person you meet.’

I had this idea, and it hit me in the way the best ideas do, which is to say while I wasn’t looking for it at all. (I was actually playing Minecraft with the kids. Seriously, ideas can come from anywhere.) I was walking through a wheat field, water up to my knees, and it took me back to all the games we’d played in the rushes of the swamp on my grandparents’ farm. Birds swooping overhead, the sun blocked out suddenly by clouds, the drop in temperature that follows.

Once I’d scrawled down that initial flash of imagery, I set to work expanding this idea for a book and decided to fill it with all the things I love, and to set it on a fictional version of my grandparents’ farm, the very same place I spent so many years playing out stories with my cousins as a child.

And I couldn’t bring them to life – this book is not those stories, it’s a thing of its own – but all my memories of the farm, all my love of tales about family and secrets, of rural New Zealand and that slow-build fear that tickles the back of the throat are in this book.

These things aren’t perfectly honed yet, but they’re getting there with the help of my mentor, Whiti Hereaka. She’s making me think harder about all the elements I put in from the smallest reference to a book or object up to much broader things such as character motivations. I’ve spent these past weeks researching and reading, and all this background work means I’m coming back to my book and finding new ways to breathe life into the story, to add touches to dialogue and setting, to ramp up the world building and make the whole thing shine more.

‘I’m coming back to my book and finding new ways to breathe life into the story.’

It’s been really enriching to be forced to sink into research, to be directed towards specific texts to grow from and to pick my own as well, and a real challenge being told not to work on the book itself for weeks. My fingers were itchy for the craft by the time I was allowed back to writing.

I’d been slacking a bit on my reading goals, and this has all been excellent incentive to drown myself in books again.

This bookworm has taken her reading game to a new level.


Cassie Hart (Kāi Tahu) is a writer of speculative fiction and lover of pizza, coffee and zombies (in no particular order). She’s had short stories published in several anthologies and been a finalist for both the Sir Julius Vogel and Australian Shadow awards.

Tracing a Writer’s Whakapapa

What I think about when I think about writing?

I think too much.

This came after reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Think about When I Think about Running. He took the title of his book from Raymond Carver’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.

Which led me to thinking about what influences writers.

When reading a particular writer whose works I enjoy, I like to know who they read, who has influenced them, who they admire, who inspires them. These paths broaden my own reading and influences. Often these paths lead back to the same  names. For example, two of my favourite authors are Toni Morrison and Mario Vargas Llosa, who both cite William Faulkner’s writing as an influence, and Faulkner has cited James Joyce.

I love Faulkner’s work, but I struggle with Joyce.

It is sort of like a writer’s whakapapa, tracing the roots of their writing.

My own writing seems so out of touch. There is no harmony; the words don’t match; the sentences are ambiguous; the plot is confusing; the characters are shallow. Why do I bother? I am feeling a bit of a fraud. It’s not easy. And I have to write a journal and expose my phoniness. It’s scary.

My son calls. ‘It’s just a story, Mum. Come for lunch.’

Back home, I sit at the computer and open my story. I am almost through another draft, changing from past to present tense. It seems to read better. It is time-consuming. I am also trying to find the answers to questions Reina has raised regarding the storyline and characters.

Question: What do my characters think about when they think about whānau?

Answer: …?

On Monday, I get an email from my five-year-old grandson in Invercargill: ‘Did you feel the earthquake, it was scary. Can you send my new fleece jacket before the summer weather.’

Novel excerpt: interaction between main character, Beth, and her father, Mikey, after period of estrangement.

‘I don’t suppose you’d be able to put in a word for him.’ They had the same eyes, father and son. Her eyes. ‘He’s had a bit of trouble, before he came down here. But you know him; he’s not a bad boy.’ Then added, ‘He’s whānau, Beth, talk to him.’

That was strange coming from him now.

‘He won’t be going home tonight. Court in the morning, and he may not get bail then either.’

‘Let him know I was here, that’s all.’

Despite the trouble MJ caused, Mikey loves him, wants to help, wants to be seen as a father. But she needs him too, she is the firstborn, she is the good guy, isn’t she?

‘You all right, Beth?’ He leans forward and his voice drops. ‘I mean, this Kevin. He been giving you a rough time?’

This time he is looking at her hard. What does he mean? Screwing around, giving her the bash? like MJ. And what was he going to do about it if she wasn’t all right. ‘I’m fine,’ she says.

‘Ria will want to see you. How long you down for?’ He leans back from the table.

‘I’ll call. Hard to plan anything at present with all the different shifts.’

Outside the café they stand with their hands in their pockets. She yields first, moves forward to kiss his cheek, misses and her lips met the collar of his fleece lined jacket. He settles a hand on her shoulder.

‘Whānau, Beth, remember. He’d like to see you.’

***