So where was I? Oh yes. We had just finished living at the quarry, and then we were moving.
Do you know anyone who has lived on a farm? Yes? How about someone who lived on a farm, but in a bus? Yes? Ok, well then do you know anybody who lived on a farm, in a bus, with circus performers? No? Well let me tell you the next part of this story so that you can finally say that you do in fact know someone who lived on a farm, in a bus, with circus performers.
I don’t know why we moved from the quarry I really don’t remember. I wonder who initiated the move?
My mother? Did she get tired of pulling her kids down from precarious cliff faces? Was the dust getting to her?
Or was it my father? Did he grow bored of living in that quarry? Was it too unoriginal? Did he want a more curious address?
Well for whatever the reason was, all I know is that the next chapter of our life was… interesting.
There was once a man named Harold, who owned a farm in Whangarei, and he must have been a social kind of guy, or maybe just a kind hearted kind of guy, but nonetheless, he offered his farm land to many people, the orphans of society who had found no other place to feel at home, and somehow the wind blew us in the direction of that farm and so our environment went from being one that looked not unlike the surface of the moon, to this big beautiful farm.
My mother was pregnant. Again. With a girl. Again.
Her name would be Aliyah, with no middle name. She would grow up to be a strikingly beautiful woman. Probably the most beautiful of all us girls. But for now, she was just a little peanut inside a little belly and we were living in this new adventure.
How we came to possess such a big bus I do not know, but the next memory I have is being set up on a hill, with one very large bus and the two caravans we must have hauled out of that damn quarry. Our neighbors were Lisa and Carlos. Who had their own three boys and their own big bus.
Oh, and they were Circus performers.
At 7 years old, the fact that I lived on a farm, in a bus, with circus folk was not at all remarkable. When school friends stared bug eyed at me asking with skepticism ‘So, you live..in a bus. On a farm’ I would just shrug my shoulders. My name had been Baby, I had been carried to my mother in a cardboard box, I had lived on the moon. This was no stranger, or no more normal than anything else I had known. This was just my life, but their curiosity amused me.
I enjoyed my life there on the farm. Harold had farm animals, but his sheep, they were not just sheep. They were his pets, and as he would walk to and fro over the farmland, all those sheep would follow behind him baaing away, faithful little sheep to their kind-hearted shepherd.
Carlos and Lisa shared their little plot of land with two wee Shetland ponies. One was named Star, one was named twinkle. They were retired circus ponies, and Nelly loved Twinkle the most. At 5 years old, Nelly was the perfect size to ride twinkle, and so she would, but that is not the only thing she enjoyed riding all over that farm.
There is this photograph, which I hope we haven’t lost over the years and it is of Nelly, with a white-blonde mullet, clutching fiercely to Moses-Kelly, one of the circus kids who was only 6 years old at the time, and there Nelly was, on the back of a little Yamaha dirt bike going flat tack along the ridge of one of the hills. Whose hair was longer? I cant remember, but there they were in this photograph, hair trailing in the wind behind them, barefooted and carefree. Gypsie love. Consumated with a motorbike ride where they left the buses and the caravans behind them in a blur, just happy to be together, and to have matching mullets, and to be going really, really fast.
When dad got bored from living on a regular bus, a bus that looked like every other bus that every other gypsie had ever lived on, he cut the very back of it off, and modernized it by building a huge wooden box on the end of it, an additional living space, which made our home look, not quite like a bus, and not quite like a box, but something in-between.
But we moved on from that farm eventually.
Again, I am not sure why, maybe it was because Nelly set one of the caravans on fire. But in any case, we moved out our box/bus spaceship and moved into.. a regular house.
Friends of ours had taken a 3-month holiday in the States and needed house sitters and I’m sure we all nearly dislocated our shoulders from shooting our arms up so quick in keen self-nomination for the role.
So we lived in that house for 3 months, and then mum had the baby.
This is how mum has a baby. She goes to her room. And comes out with a baby. As someone else may go into a room with laundry, and come out with neatly folded piles of clothes. This is how my mother does labor. You never hear a thing, you would never know there was a baby coming, with no more than a cup of tea to ease the pain, my mother faces up to the task of giving birth like she does every other task and burden in her life: with silent strength and bravery.
So now there was mum, dad and the 4 girls. Nelly, Teraza, Aliyah and me. But we had to move, because the Torvicks had come home and needed their house back.
Dad decided it was time to return to The House, so we journey 70ks back west and rolled up our long driveway to see our beloved white house and walked through our front door and down the hall, and turned into the lounge room to discover that our tenants had ripped up some floor boards, ripped off some of the panels in the ceiling, and had been growing dope.
In our living room.
Aside from the remnants of the dope factory, there were also hundreds and millions and billions of fleas. Everywhere.
Well we couldn’t live there now could we?
So where could we go?
In 1903, at the top of Te Kopuru hill, a hospital was built to treat the accident victims from Te Kopuru, Aratapu and Tatarariki with Te Kopuru being the site of choice, rather than Dargaville because the mill towns had a larger population.
In 1959, fire destroyed the Te Kopuru hospital block and it made for some sensational reading in the local papers when it was discovered that heroic nurses battled against choking smoke and flames to rescue aged patients and carry them to safety. But the hospital carried on until 1971, when the last of the maternity services were finally moved to the new hospital in Dargaville, and the hospital doors were shut for good.
And so the hospital remained. Empty.
How convenient. An abandoned hospital lay only minutes up the road.
So we moved in.
And so began another era of my life that would be a little bit backwards and inside out.
Most children are born in a hospital, and live in a house. But I was born in a house, and now lived in a hospital…
We chose the old staff quarters, which were directly connected to a hospital ward.
Huge, heavy old wooden doors separated our ‘lounge room’ to a long corridor, with hospital rooms off either side. At night it was the spookiest place imaginable, and not just because I was a 7-year-old kid with a wild imagination. 20 years on it still spooks me.
I remember that old ward had a chill to it that felt more than just the winters cold. If you opened those big old heavy wooden doors, and stood on the other side, peering down into the empty space, you would feel this heaviness approach you, and settle silently on your chest. Breathing became labored and despite that icy, frosty chill, your skin would begin to prickle with sweat. If you should be brave enough to walk down, down, down that long cold corridor, you would find rooms still littered with the equipment from a hospital nearly 90 years old. Some rooms just had old beds and chairs and cupboards, sitting under decades of dust and neglect, but others were left just as they would have been the day they were last used. Cots with sheets and blankets for the new baby, still made up, only ruffled slightly as if someone had just picked up her baby for nursing.
These were the rooms that really got under your skin. They had a presence to them. They looked as though people had up and left very suddenly, with no time to gather up even a wrap for the baby.
I only ever went down to those rooms 2 or 3 times, and certainly only ever went down there alone once, and never again would I do that. Like I said, there seemed to be a heaviness there, something you can’t see, but something that settles upon you like dew, and to be perfectly honest, it scared the living daylights out of me. Even typing about it now is causing goose bumps to creep their way up the back of my spine.
Behind our house we had what seemed to be old miscellaneous rooms… kitchens perhaps, that were generally just dark and we only ever used that space to keep our pet lamb, which we called Salam, who perished after mum fed it goats milk.
But to the left of our ‘house’ was a building whose bricks had tumbled and crumbled slowly under the burden of time and from the outside looked plain and unremarkable.
This was the old morgue.
We weren’t the only ones who had seen the abandoned hospital as a viable living arrangement. It was a huge hospital, spread out over a very large piece of land. We shared this hospital home with half a dozen Maori families and a typical day for us girls looked something like this: 12 kids, 10 dark, and 2 white (Nelly and I) running barefoot from building to building with no sense of time or structure but for the hunger in our stomachs which suggested it was lunch time, or dinner time.
There was a large old pool, which was gated, and if you told me it had not been cleaned since the hospital closed in 1971, I would believe you. You have never seen so many shades of green as you saw it that pool water, and I truly believe that every frog in the north of New Zealand must have been bred in those murky waters. If you got close enough to the edge of the pool, the water could be seen to be pulsing and trembling, as if it were alive. Upon closer inspection you saw that the movement was caused by hundreds and thousands of tadpoles and frogs. It was an amphibian breeding ground such as you have never seen.
Then there was this old rooster on the old hospital grounds. We called it Rooster. It was the most pissed off rooster that ever strutted the face of the planet. It hated being a rooster, it hated living in an abandoned hospital, and it hated us kids. Yes, more than anything it hated us kids.
And so day in and day out, we would play a game with Rooster. If one were to see the rooster, you might be nominated to enter the duel of death. The aim of the game was for the nominated kid, to stand at a distance and put in a decent effort to piss that rooster off. One had to be on their toes however, as rooster would stand there…blood pressure rising, face going redder and redder and feathers rising more and more and you never knew when, you never knew the moment it would happen, but in the blink of an eye, in a moment known only to Rooster, he would launch at lightening speed and chase you like a cheetah on the heel of a zebra. We didn’t have a hope, we never did. He was faster than any of the kids in that block and we knew it, so the fun came in watching the nominated kid try to find higher ground, out of the reach of Roosters angry beak.
It was always hoped that the kid wouldn’t make it, that Rooster would win, and sometimes we got lucky, and enjoyed the site of some panicked child being forced to the ground and mercilessly attacked by the most pissed off rooster that ever strutted the face of the planet.
One time when we were tormenting Rooster, I was nominated kid, and Rooster turned and went for me at a moment in which I wasn’t prepared. I knew I was in trouble, there was no high ground, no tree to scramble up, no tank to scale. It was me, the rooster and about 10 acres of clear, flat land. Rooster had me in the bag and we both knew it. But then a van pulls up. I can’t remember who was behind the wheel, all I know is that the side door opens and I knew it was my only hope. I put my chin against my chest and ran for my very life. Rooster had had enough, and should he catch me, he would kill me. So I’m going at it, I can feel rooster on my heel, the wind from his beating wings breathing upon my calves and I think I dove, yes, I dove for the opening of that van and it’s all such a blur now, but I know that I had time to turn and close that door and less than one second later I hear rooster SMACK into the side of the closed van door.
I was safe.
I would live to see another day.
What happens next belongs to my family and I. Perhaps there will be hints made as to when and how we left that old abandoned hospital, and where we went from there, and how we got there. Did the adventure end with the house next to the morgue attached to a maternity ward? No. It continued and still continues today, but there are some things I want to keep special just for me, and just for my family.
So why did I tell this story?
I told this story because it is a story that has never been told. I have friends that have known me my whole life, and have never heard this story. It was begging to be told, and at the beginning of this journey, in light of the tremendous support and encouragement and love that you have all shown me, I felt that I wanted to share with you my deepest and most intriguing story as an offering of sorts, because if I can speak of this, my childhood, then I can speak of anything. And I want to tell you everything.
It was an unusual childhood, I know, but how do I feel about it?
Dear friends, I will speak later on the various heartbreaks that I endured, side by side with my sisters, that have left scars like canyons in my spirit, and left me with self esteem issues and daddy issues and just about any other issue you can swing a cat at, but for now I want to say that I honestly and truly adore the story I have just shared with you. It is remarkable, it is different, and never have I met anyone else that can lay claim to a story quite like mine. I didn’t grow up with a white picket fence. I never had a pet, I didn’t have a middle name and I was delivered to my mother in a box, but there is something beautiful here. I learnt early on that life is an adventure. It is a story and when I am old, and I have nothing left but my memories, I sure hope those memories are exciting and interesting enough to save me from senility that little while longer.