Over the Edge of the World

By Holm, Antoinette | Hecate, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Over the Edge of the World


Holm, Antoinette, Hecate


I have a story to tell . . .

My mother, Anne, is about to return to her country of birth for the first time in forty years. She has been married for longer than she was single, and has lived in New Zealand since she was eight. It has never been safe for her to return before, and it probably isn't now. But times have changed, and she is going. And so too is my sister, Sophie, who is currently doing her OE (overseas experience). Sophie has been in Britain and Europe since April, I do not know if she will be back. Although, it will not be back to my place. You see I live in Australia. Anne and Sophie have arranged to meet. The mid-way point - the point of departure, is flow the destination.

Anne arrived in New Zealand in 1953 as an eight year old, with her mother - May, father - Harold and two sisters, Janice and Ada. They were accompanied by May's parents Amelia and Jacob, and their other daughter, Dorothy. Anne tells a story about the time before, in preparation for leaving. On the back of the toilet door was a map. A world map. I tried to find where we were going . . . New Zealand was not there . . . It was off the bottom of the map! So as an eight year old child my mother set out for, not only the bottom of the world, but over the edge - beyond the boundaries of the "known world". To a certain extent New Zealand is still off the bottom of the map for my mother - New Zealandness just out of reach.

I am the fourth in a line of migrant women, we come from different places and settled in different worlds. I am a New Zealand Australian; a dual citizen, a composite woman. I am a Pakeha New Zealander, fifth generation on one side; a forth generation Danish migrant on another. And on the inside I am second generation migrant . . . from?

Family-trees drawn for school, encouraged us - children, to gather our ethnicities and exuberantly chant our cultural backgrounds. It was known all the while that some were worth more than others. I am part Danish, Jersey Islander, Jewish so it was rumoured, and . . . English so . . . , my mother told us to say.

After twenty-one years of living on one side of the Tasman - New Zealand, I now live on the other, in Australia. My family all live in New Zealand, aside from my sister that is. We are separated by two hours in time, seven days mail delivery and 90 cents a minute off-peak international telephone rates. My phone bill is high, my letter writing infrequent, my desire for mail extreme. We are worlds away.

There are a number of tales that map the epic journey from there to here, from them to us, from past to present. My mother speaks of the green apples eaten on the roughest part of the sea journey between New Zealand and Australia, speaks of her fascination with the old, dirty and slow New Zealand trains with open carriages so different from the ones she was used to. (In hindsight it confirms the distance between there and here, then and now.) She says, we all say, they left for political reasons, they didn't like what was going on. The stories are vivid and retold, remade and repeated.

Her family was divided upon arrival. Amelia, Jacob, May and her children were left in Wellington whilst Harold and Dorothy searched the country for work. They eventually found employment, in two separate rural towns, one in the centre of the North Island, the other on the west coast. Jacob, Amelia and Dorothy went east to New Plymouth, and Harold, May, Janice, Ada and Anne went to Te Awamutu. But this was not the end, there were moves in and away, the family coming together and falling apart. My mother is puzzled that having come all that way May would (could) be separated from her parents and sister. For Harold it is another story. Harold had been a commercial artist but in New Zealand they didn't know what one was, and he spent the majority of his time employed as a shop assistant - or at least this is how I remember him. There were other jobs, but . . .

Grandma used to bottle fruit, apples, feijoas, peaches. …

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