The Name of the Rose

THE NAME OF THE ROSE - Briar Grace-Smith Maori woman playwright




I read for myself every night.  Like I can't go to sleep without reading.  In a sense reading is a necessary extra task that always ends my day.  For me it's a kind of homework which is weird when you think about it because I work at home anyway!  I read non-fiction purely for research.  Although I might be interested in the topic I wouldn't choose to go to bed with a book of facts - give me a great story anytime.  For me reading is part of the mental and physical training I have to make myself do to keep in shape and stay fit to be a writer.  Like any Premier grade rugby or league player who wants to stay on top of their game I often have to rack up the mileage after everyone else has packed up and gone home from practice.  Night after night I pound the pages all by myself picking up and experiencing through the process of reading and reading and more reading new words and ways with words.


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I've no routine.  What I like to do is begin work when my kids have gone to school.  But sometimes this doesn't happen so I have to start later in the day.  I tend to distract myself and muck around a bit.  Get on the e-mail that sort of thing.  I don't know when I am going to solve that one and be more disciplined.  But eventually I do give myself a whack and knuckle down.  This means I find myself working late at night or in the very early hours of the morning.


I think it's important to go to the gym but even though I do quite a hard physical workout what I really enjoy is listening to my friend who comes with me. For a writer this non-stop monologue is tough training too but it's more of a mental as opposed to physical workout.  I have to practice really intensive active listening on my visits to the gym and this constant awareness of others always helps me to keep my observational skills and ideas sharp. 


However when I do eventually get locked into writing at home I sometimes have to kick myself and leave off for a while to take a break and go for a walk.  It's hard to remember not to thrash yourself about too much.  I'm really pleased when I am organised enough to pace myself a bit because when I come back to the desk after some time out I always feel refreshed and able to focus and concentrate that much better.







I think to learn how to write you need to do two things.  First write yourself and then read what someone else has already written.

Actually that's what I love about reading books.  You feel a presence which might be the writer's but that's all.  It's as if someone invisible is sitting on your shoulder directing your thoughts.  





Patricia Grace was the first Maori woman writer I read.  When I was about 12 years old I read her book Mutuwhenua.  Then when I finished it I sat down and read it again.  Mutuwhenua is a love story and had a huge impact on me.  I identified with the character in the book even though she was older.  She was talking about things I already knew.  In a way this character and her struggle with identity was able to validate my own experience because when you are mixed with a Maori Mum and a Pakeha Dad like me as a young person you always want to understand where do I fit in? 

Mutuwhenua made such an impression because for the first time I could see a Maori world which validated and affirmed a place for people just like me.   


Patricia Grace is inspirational in other ways too. She was a teacher and mother of a large family who still managed to be a writer as well.  I've got three kids to worry about and that's tough enough.  To create the volume and quality of work that she has over the years her motivation must have been huge.  I try to remember this when I'm feeling tired and short on ideas.


What attracts me about Patricia Grace's writing is the evocative quality of her language. On the back of her novel Potiki, Arapera Blank describes her writing as poignant and throat aching as the loss of a loved one. I think that sums it up.


I uncoiled a length of line and threw it out over a sea of polished dark. It was a waiting, watching dark, a watching, waiting dark. It would have been so easy to have closed the eyes and been enfolded there. But the shore is a nothing place. A neutrality too salt for growth, a watchers place. So this watcher waited there, not knowing at first that the silver, the speck, dotted on the eye and traversing the sky would come, not from the sky itself but from the depths. Because suddenly the kahawai leapt from a flat, waiting sea, arcing momentarily against the wall of sky.


An extract from ‘Potiki', Pg 174-175. Chapter 28, ‘The Stories' Penguin Books 1986.


I love to be able to laugh.  Patricia Grace's work is often very funny.  She has a sharp take on the way people of all ages, think. My son connects in a big way to the narrative of the young boy in the short story Beans.


We've got a book in our library at school and in it there's a poem about bells and the poem says ‘joyous'. The joyous ringing of bells or something like that. Well ‘joyous' is the word I think of when I smell the pigs. Joyous. A joyous big stink of pigs. It's really great.


An extract from ‘Beans' - ‘The Dream Sleepers and Other Stories' Longman Paul publishers 1980.


As a writer Patricia listens very carefully to what is being said and what is not being said.  She presents her characters with these distinctive voices that allow them to reveal themselves.  When you are reading Patricia's work you think well where is the artist then? And of course the artist is nowhere to be seen.   


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Maurice Gee creates a strong sense of place in his work.

His visual descriptions are so distinct that you are willingly led through Wellington's seedier back streets, past the bustling University Campus and up into the yards of Kelburn, breathing in the smells and taking in the sights. And you think to yourself, that's just how it is.


He's got a good take on people, their human strengths and frailties. Reading him is like looking at a whole row of houses from the inside out.  What Gee is able to do is to tell you what is really going on behind the sagging clotheslines and neat picket fences.


The yard had clouds pressing down on it. Ponder, in her office felt their weight. She looked up through the ceiling, through the roof; she combed her orange hair with her fingertips. Then she coughed and rolled phlegm on her tongue and spat it neatly onto a paper tissue.


Crime Story - Pg. 171, Chapter 11, Penguin Books 1994


What I like about Maurice Gee is that his work has this sort of gritty realism which is sometimes almost sinister.  Crime Story was a Maurice Gee work I loved.  He rips his characters open and exposes them to the elements.  As his audience we are vicariously party to what is going on inside and we are shocked if not disgusted by what we see because a lot of what Gee reveals in this particular novel sure ain't pretty.


Her name was Mrs Ulla Peet, which was German he supposed, a name like a joke. It shouldn't worry anyone if she died. He hoped she would because she's seen his face. So had the girl. If this was a movie he'd go after the girl.


Crime Story - Pg 80, Chapter 5, Penguin Books, 1994.


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I love the Native American writer Sherman Alexie.  His sense of humour and the ironic moment are unique.  His story The Approximate Size of My Favourite Tumour is about this guy who has terminal cancer.  All he can do at this stage of the disease is make jokes about his illness.  I think Alexie demonstrates a very indigenous way of dealing with pain and certain aspects of death.  In the story however the black humour it gets to a point where his wife leaves him because she's so hurt by his inability to be serious.


"Well I told her the doctor showed me my x-rays and my favourite tumour was just about the size of a baseball, shaped like one, too. Even had stitch marks."

"You're full of shit"

"No really. I told her to call me babe Ruth. Or Roger Maris. Maybe even Hank Aaron ‘cause there must have been about 755 damn tumours inside me. Then I told her I was going to Cooperstown and sit right down in the lobby of the Hall of Fame. Make myself a new exhibit, you know? Pin my X-rays to my chest and point out the tumours..."


Excerpt from ‘The Approximate Size of My Favourite Tumour' - pg 157 - Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven - Vintage Books 1997.


I think Alexie is very brave.  He's uncompromisingly political and out there with the way he feels about the conditions of his people.  Alexie's characters could be considered quite controversial.  He reverses the whiteman/redman power play and puts people in uncomfortable situations where the Indians are winning if you know what I mean. The fistfights are for real. The Native Americans in Alexie's stories have the same values and sense of the comic that Maori do.  When I read Alexie I laugh out loud.  I relate easily to the concerns he describes and see that the plight of his characters and possibly those of mine are such that if we don't laugh at what they are up against we'd only end up crying.  For me Alexie always humorously turns the tables on the old order and for once imagines a wild Wild West where the Indians ride off into the sunset and the cowboys get their beans.


"In fact" I said. Looking at the Trooper's badge. "I might just send a letter to your commanding officer. I'll just write that Washington State Patrolman D. Nolan, badge number 13746, was polite, courteous and above all, legal as an eagle".

Norma laughed out loud now.

"Listen" the Trooper said. "I can just take you both in right now. For reckless driving, resisting arrest, threatening an officer with physical violence" "If you do," Norma said and jumped into the fun, "I'll just tell everyone how respectful you were of our Native traditions, how much you understood about the social conditions that lead to the criminal acts of so many Indians. I'll say you were sympathetic, concerned and intelligent".

"Fucking Indians" the Trooper said as he threw the sandwich bag of pennies back into our car...


Excerpt from ‘The Approximate Size of My Favourite Tumour' - pg. 166 - Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven - Vintage Books 1997.


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Toni Morrison is a black American woman writer who I have admired for a long time. 

What I enjoy about her is the ability she has to manipulate reality.  She redefines the boundaries between the ordinary and the extraordinary by fusing these experiences with an imaginative appreciation of the spiritual and even the magical.  In her book Tar Baby a woman is walking through a market and buys some eggs.  Morrison describes this interaction in such a way that this most basic of events becomes otherworldly.  As a reader you find yourself hooked into an image which combines the domestic and the mundane with this rich language and suddenly you are transported far far away to some other place when even boring old grocery shopping becomes the lavish and indulgent pastime of an exotic princess.


She strolled along the aisle, eggs on high, to the cashier, who tried to tell her that eggs were sold by  the dozen or half dozen-not one or two or three or four-but she had to look up into those eyes to beautiful for lashes to say it. She swallowed and was about to try again when the woman reached into the pocket of her yellow dress and put a ten-louis piece on the counter and walked away, away, gold tracking the floor and leaving them all behind.'


Excerpt from pgs 45-46 Chapter 2, ‘Tar Baby' - Plume/Penguin 1982


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I read heaps of Maori mythology too. I get lots of inspiration from these sources maybe because I'm Maori but mostly because I find myself connecting with the personalities and events they describe.  Take our famous Moteatea for instance.  It's not just the powerful language in these old poetic forms that are inspirational it's their drama as well.  Sometimes the sweep of it is Shakespearian.  Huge, elemental, dynamic.  Moteatea are not just weepy songs of love and loss they're stories complete with characters acting out a role in a drama.



‘Twas a longing look from Te Titaha

That entered my being

And caused a violent turmoil to surge forth

Like unto the canoe-wrecking current at the headland

Of Wairoa in the north.'


An excerpt from the translation of a song of love, composed by Pakiri (Nga Puhi).


Nga Moteatea, Part 2, p.117 - A.T Ngata and P Te Hurinui. Polynesian Society Inc. Wellington. 1961.


I love this formal and rhetorical style of language.  Even in translation the verse is monumental.  If I can get a character of mine to speak with this passion and insight and my audiences believe them then as a writer I'll be happy.  Maori are still comfortable when we hear formal language being used.  This because the rhetorical style is still culturally relevant for us and has a recognised place among the ordinary and the everyday.  It's ironic when you think how Maori men can be rarring at the rugby one moment and step forward so poetically on to the paepae the next.  It's almost as if they have two voices or two different identities the character you see all depends upon which stage they are performing at the time.  


Sometimes when I am thinking about the great stories I encounter when reading Moteatea I ask myself how can I make this drama more contemporary and try that number.  When I wrote Flat Out Brown it seemed to me that over time many of our myths had been sanitised and cleaned up a bit.  One of the things that interested me was to what extent does the narrative that we can access today tell the story as it was really meant to be.  Maori myths have been filtered through 150 years of Christianity and other imposed cultural perspectives.  When this began to happen the female characters in our stories started to loose their voices and it seemed to me that at that point we ended up hearing only about the exploits and interests of men.  Traditionally in Maori myths our women were fiercely independent with minds of their own. The Maori women of our myth tradition were out there. Revisiting and rewriting their stories became for me a way of reclaiming the full dimension of their character.


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Flat Out Brown is a contemporary version of an old story.  Basically a woman runs away from her husband with a lover and eventually her and her boyfriend end up at Pukerua Bay on the Kapiti Coast and are turned into a couple of rocks by the rejected husband.  When I was young I was told this story but important bits of the narrative were missing here and there.  So I used to look at the rock that was once a woman and wonder about what became of her.  This speculation became quite a thing for me.  I used to feel very sad when I was around that point so when I came to be working on an idea for Flat Out Brown exploring a resolution to this legend was a central inspiration for my play.  I was interested in the possibility of radical transformation where an individual experiences a physical release by change of substance.  When I began to re-tell the story of the woman trapped in the rock and recast it in the contemporary the ancient wisdom embedded in the myths became apparent and were made fresh for me again. 

Although the events that take place within a traditional myth drama might be set, the implications of this action always change particularly in relation to the concerns of each new generation that encounters them.  As a writer I see part of my job as being to present a possible resolution to a reading of these old dramas.  To my mind this resolution is never a fixed and permanent end it is more a conclusion which sits there and lets you think about it for a moment and then when you least expect it disappears and is gone.   

In Flat Out Brown a young woman called Niwa who is a street kid hears the legend of the woman trapped in the rock and makes up her mind to try and find a way to release the spirit.  In the first version of the play Niwa carries quite a lot of anger with her so she decides to take direct personal action and blows the rock up by jamming a couple of sticks of dynamite underneath it.  I thought that this is what a volatile character like Niwa would do.  She is completely reactive and doesn't have that experience or knowledge of the Maori world that would allow her to investigate less confrontational options.

However after the draft was workshopped in the theatre I was aware that the journey Niwa goes through during the course of the drama leads her to point where she has discovered new strengths and emotional resources within herself.  Instead of using violent and explosive means to split the rock and set the woman free she chooses instead her own karakia and spiritual powers to achieve the same ends.

As a character Te Aniwaniwa or Niwa, for short, is no one woman in particular.  Although she is a number of people in the same body essentially her character is based on a young Maori woman I was talking to in an inner city hotel late one night.  I thought you're pretty young to be in a place like this what are you doing here?  This girl I was watching had left school really young but she was sharp, intelligent, quick off the mark with everything going for her but there she was alone with no whanau support.  Young people like this have the potential to be anything they want but without guidance and positive role models they have an equal ability to end up anti social, unpredictable and dangerous.  Good or bad they make this decision for themselves.  The choice is negotiable.  Unfortunately one way is just as possible as the other. 


Culture: You're staunch Aniwaniwa. You'll be kei te pai. You could go back to school.


Niwa: They didn't like me there.


Culture: Only because you're too clever for them.


Niwa: I didn't fit in. It was like watching a pack of goldfish swimming round and round in a bowel. No matter how close you put your face up to the glass they just don't see you. Just keep swimming round, eyes bulging, mouths flapping.


Culture: You could come back with me. Back to the Papakainga.


Niwa: Your papkainga. Not mine.


Culture: It could be yours Niwa.


Niwa: They'll probably speak Maori to me all the time. Shame.


Excerpt from ‘Flat Out Brown'.Draft 3, Act two, scene one.Pg 33/34

Premiere Taki Rua theatre 1996.   - - - - - - - - - -





Before being a writer I wove for quite a long time.  Although I've retained the methods in my head I've lost my touch a bit. That feeling in my fingers isn't there anymore.  If I were to pick up flax and attempt to weave a kete now I'd find it hard to get back into the swing of things.  It's not like riding a bike.  To pick up the tension again I would need to make a heap of kete before I could do one that made me satisfied.  I'm out of practice that's all.  I still enjoy the experience of weaving and it gives me a buzz but these days I would never be happy enough with what I wove to feel comfortable about giving the object away.  Even so just recapturing the emotion and tactile quality of working with flax would be a pleasure. 


What I really love about weaving is the process. As a weaver you tend to work alongside others.  You sit there on the floor surrounded by a group of close friends listening to and laughing at the stories they tell.  Everyone has a good go.  Just like weaving itself the interaction is continuous. 


However when I am sitting alone at the my desk staring at the computer screen working on a story or a play all by myself I still feel some sense of interaction.  The difference is that the dialogue, which goes on, is entirely internal.  The people I talk to when I am writing exist only inside my head.  They are my characters and they respond when I ask them to and don't answer me back not like the other weavers might.   For a writer like me the concentrated quality of the social interaction I experienced while weaving was just great - it's like unlimited picture research on tap. 


I would say that the separate strands of harakeke that make up a weaving are like the structure of a play.  The individual voices of the characters and their concerns like the various strips of flax each have a different quality or colour.  The artist whether they are a weaver or a writer or both has to first decide when to introduce a particular strand, or bring an old one back or when to let one go all together.  For a writer to sustain tension they must be like a weaver and know not only when to tie a character down but know how this character really works often from the inside out.



I guess having Kui here really helped. She must be an awesome weaver.



She doesn't even have to use her hands.



But that's not possible. (Pause) Is it?



She weaves stories.


Excerpt from Purapuawhetu. Pg 75 - Act Two Scene three ‘Drowning' Huia Publishers 1999.


When I am weaving the outcome is usually predetermined.  While making the work I have a physical memory that instantly orientates me so I know where I am and where I am going.  The possible directions of the pattern have already been resolved so I can anticipate well in advance which strands of what colour is meant to where.  Writing is different of course.  Although like weaving I might start off with a pattern or plan when I am telling a story often I end up in a completely different place to where I first thought.  If I get stuck I just turn around and go somewhere else.  As a writer I find myself doing all kinds of unexpected problem solving.  This can happen in weaving too but it's usually because you have made a mistake.  In writing there really aren't any mistakes just another draft!


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I use photographs as visual resources a lot.  Often I get this picture in my head of the character I am working on and I try to find an image that might match it.  I like using Ans Westra's book of mostly black and white images from the 60's called Maori.  I ask myself questions about these photographs and see what they can tell me about the characters and situations in which they are involved. 


As a playwright, you must also be skilled at listening. Because I write dialogue I am interested in not only what people say but also to how they say and why.  When I listen carefully to what people are saying I'm sometimes able to understand the motivations and intentions hidden in what those same people are not saying.  I think my ears have tuned themselves in to the quality or tone of words themselves which lets me read what words feel as opposed to just hearing what the words might actually mean. 


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Let me tell you about this Aggie Rose. She didn't get close to nobody. The tighter Hohepa held onto her the emptier he felt and the more he wanted. Like a bottle of good gin it can make you cry but you still gotta finish the bugger off. (She takes a long swig from the flask) Aggie's family had no money and no land.


Excerpt from Purapurawhetu. Pg. 67. Act two, scene two - ‘Velvet Curtains'. Huia Publishers 1999.


As a character I like Aggie Rose.  She was tough, but she also enjoyed a good laugh. In her youth she had been a great dancer with a sense of glamour and style, just like the stars in the Hollywood movies.


                                    Hohepa Kopu the morning star your beauty has me spell bound I would like to weave it into a blanket so whenever I felt the sunset too diluted or the sea too grey, I could wrap myself up and let the very richness of you sink into my pores.


                           Aggie Rose

That's what you get when you're around to many people with the same smile. You long for a bit of pepper on your chops.


Excerpt from Purapurawhetu. Pg. 51. Act one, scene three - ‘The Quiet Young Chief'. Huia Publishers 1999.



When a tragic event overtakes her life and suddenly Aggie Rose becomes very, very old.  Her stepson murders her only child.  However it is not this event which transforms her. For the first time in her life Aggie Rose trusts the people around her and she gives this trust to her husband Hohepa completely. When he refuses to allow the information surrounding Bubba's death to be made public, it destroys her. When Aggie Rose goes, the whanau are led to believe the she left Hohepa and took the child with her. The death of the child is never revealed. Aggie Rose is forced to let the child go without any acknowledgement or a proper tangi. It is this unrequited grief which consumes Aggie Rose and eats her up.


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In my work I do tend to have a lot of these very strong and stroppy older women characters who command respect and carry a lot of authority.  They don't mince words and shoot straight from the hip. In Purapurawhetu the Motunui Aunties are one of these intimidating female forces to be reckoned with. In fact their prowess has become legend in the small town of Te Kupenga.. 



Hardly anybody here's ever seen the Motunui Aunties. There are just these rumours.



Six sisters. Must be well into their seventies by now. Descendents of the great ancestress Hineora. She was Kai Tangata you know.



What's Kai Tangata?



(Looking at Ramari) She ate human flesh! What about the head shrinking. Tell us about that.



It has been said that a few early colonists were shipped off to the mother country after visiting the ladies of Motunui.



No wonder Mata's scared!



 (Sighs) They're all vegetarian these days.


Excerpt from Purapurawhetu. Pg. 92 Act three, scene two - Bubba. Huia Publishers 1999.


In fact not long ago a group of very staunch Maori women came up to me and said that they had been to see the play. When they got back to their office these women discovered that they had earned themselves the nickname the Motunui Aunties mostly because they wouldn't tolerate fools and put the shits up everyone from time to time.  The success of characters like the Motunui Aunties remind me very much of the importance of the relationship I have not only with the story I am telling but with the audience to whom that story is being told.  Getting this balance right is one of the great challenges for a playwright. While as the playwright I might believe that my audience is relating to the attractive young rangatahi in the show all the time the characters most people identify with are the grumpy old women.  As a writer that's part of the unpredictable nature of a play but whichever the audience's inclination it's a one horse race really.  I always know who is going to be the winner in the end.


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In the beginning I write to please myself.  I have to be happy with what I am doing. For me, thinking about a ‘physical' audience can create pressure that doesn't sit well with creativity. I do hope Maori people understand and appreciate my message and that because the themes I use are universal a wider audience will also connect.  As a writer I try as much as possible to use a broad range of characters to explore the situations I provide for them.  I hope this diversity of perspectives assists my audience in seeing different points of view and enables them to reach conclusions other than the ones they are used to. In this way I would like my audience to feel that they can connect imaginatively with different people and age groups as well by simply allowing themselves to engage with the drama. 


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I work a lot with other people's stories and the way that they tell them.  I watch how they present themselves and listen hard to the characters as they are introduced to me. 

But while my characters might be inspired by someone I've met or know, they grow and change, taking on other traits until eventually they find their own life. My characters are composites, aspects of other people stuck together to make a new person. My friends and whanau may see glimpses of themselves in my work, something to laugh or worry about, but I'd never want a resemblance to be too on the nose.





Uncle Walter the character in Nga Pou Wahine

is an old retired pig hunter come bushman stuck in the suburbs.  Personally I've never been pig hunting and I never want to. I hate the thought of the little piggy getting killed.   The only reason I was able to write a character like Uncle Walt was because I spent ages listening to the hunting stories my brother told about being out in the bush with all his dogs going after blood and the smell of a boar.  Once my brother thought he recognised himself in the character of Uncle Walt and he asked me was it him.  I said, "You're not sitting in a chair, getting fat, watching the T.V all day are you? And he said, " Is that what you think is going to happen to me?" He was really horrified.  In my extended family there are many more people going about their business doing and saying interesting things.  In this sense I am never without a model of some sort when trying to construct or invent new characters of my own.







In the play Purapurawhetu I remember talking to the director about a problem I was having with the middle section.  At that stage the work had a major turning point, as a climax it was all right but it wasn't great.  If you were sitting in the audience you might be thinking, "Oh that was quite a nice little thing", but not much else.  I knew that as a resolved drama the play wasn't really happening so I said to the director, "The work is not quite there is it?" and she said, "Nope it's not quite there".  So I said, "well what needs to happen?" and the director said, "Just bring on the Gods".  And I thought, "Bring on the Gods? yeah right, kia ora". 


But then what I did was to take her suggestion absolutely literally.  In Purapurawhetu  all the way through the play the old man Hohepa had been calling to the Gods appealing to them to help him.  So what I decided to do at this point in the play was to allow the Gods to actually fill him up and inspire him.  I gave the character of old Hohepa the largeness, stature and grandeur of the Gods themselves.  When this happened I knew that we were on to it.



And Tama Nui Te Ra roared, hear them and my rays will give you the strength to stand like the totara. Tangaroa smiled, licked my feet with a teal tongue and became clear. I saw a beautiful child. Tawhiri picked him up gently and placed him in my arms. He stands with us now.


Excerpt from Purapurawhetu. Pg 106. Act three. Scene two - Bubba. Huia Publishers 1999.


In Purapurawhetu when Hohepa is portrayed as a young man he is very loving and indulgent toward his children.  Hohepa and his behaviour are based on my observations of a lot of older Maori men of an elder generation.  I included this soft and tender element in the character of Hohepa because at the time I was writing the play there were a number of high profile cases in the media where Maori men were seen to be abusing our children.  I wanted to balance this negative image with a much more positive view.





(Hohepa leans over the baby). Tena koe Bubba. My Bubba. (He takes the baby from Aggie Rose) Look at him Aggie. He's so handsome and calm like the sea on a day with no breeze.



(Tickling Bubba) Our bubba. Cheeky, smiling. Bubba.



With hair as black as coal and skin as shiny as a basted pie...


Purapurawhetu.Pg.95 Act three. Scene Two - Bubba.


But tragically by the end of the play the mature Hohepa is seen as man who has both loved and lost far too much.







As a Maori writer you can feel very alone and it's easy to lose heart. When I see how other writers are dealing with similar issues their efforts always give me the confidence and courage to keep on going.  No matter what. 


When I think especially of being a Maori writer for the stage I am reminded of the startling achievements of all those who have been before.  Ground breaking groups including Maori Theatre Trust, Te Ika a Maui Players and Maranga Mai really did prepare the way for a generation of new writers like me. Theatre by some of these earlier groups was often used as a political voice, a way to address issues of urgent concern to Maori people. Concepts such as land and identity are an inherent part of Maori theatre, however the messages now are less ‘stated', more sub-textural, evolving from the characters themselves. We have the freedom now to tell a good yarn and to use the stage as a way of exploring our culture, our history and our realities, in new and exciting ways.  I think we owe this to the efforts of the early practitioners of Maori theatre who seized the possibilities inherent in the European art form and reinvented them so that making and producing drama became a meaningful indigenous cultural institution.


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Someone who has been a real mentor for me was Bob Wiki.  He died of cancer a few years back but to this day I still miss him.  Bob was the self appointed, self styled kaumatua of the Wellington Maori theatre scene.  He was definitely a hard case but a strength for someone like me who was just starting out.


Bob would fool everyone.   One evening we'd been out together at the Bruce Mason Playwrights Award in this quite swish place downtown.  I had asked him to come and tautoko me at this reception and he was there twirling around on this swivel chair doing fancy pirouettes.  When I came into the room Bob says to me, "You're bloody late," and he glides across the floor on this wheelie chair like some ballet dancer.  All these straight laced members of the establishment just stood there watching this performance and they cracked up and laughed. Bob had this incredible way of warming people.


But what Bob also did for me was tireless promotion of Maori plays.  When the question was how do you effectively market a Maori play to Maori the answer is personally - face to face.  That's how you effectively market a Maori play.  When most of us receive a flyer advertising a play it tends to get bundled up with all the other junk mail that is stuck in the letter box.  It becomes just another unsolicited panui which is lost among all the other bits of coloured paper flogging bargains at The Warehouse or this weeks items on special down at the supermarket. 


Bob had different ideas about what do with advertising flyers.  He wouldn't waste them by posting them in neighbourhood letter boxes.  Oh no.  What he would do was when the play was on tour he would go on ahead of us into the local T.A.B or the pub and talk to anyone he found there.  As you might expect these people weren't really part of the usual crowd you'd normally see in the theatre but Bob would tell them all about the play and what we were doing.  In the end he would persuade the bookies and the punters and the patrons of the tavern to come along to the theatre and check out the action themselves.  Bob would create these wonderful new audiences for my work.  Suddenly we would find the tiny local theatre packed with people for whom sitting through a play was a completely fresh experience.  It was awesome.  On those nights I remember the performance always rocked.


For Bob finding an audience was never a problem.  To him there was no difference between the theatre and the racetrack.  He didn't separate experience into that which is kind of arty or elitist and that which is not.  He made no distinction between going to a play or going to the races or going down the pub for a beer.  For him everything was part of the same great drama and he talked inspirationally about it all.  At the theatre you'd hear his stories about the horse racing and at the horse racing you'd hear his stories about the theatre.  Whatever your gallop, for Bob Wiki the chances of a picking the big one were absolutely equal to him.


- - - - - - - -




My ideas are inspired by the mundane and the everyday transformed simply by use of language.  To do this I've had to work hard at just being aware and looking at objects and situations carefully and closely.  Often when I am writing, word associations simply appear so that when I am thinking about the quality of something specific like fish eyes I am reminded instantly of a related idea such as wobbling transparent jelly. 



My images are very graphic and visual and although their content might seem ordinary and unspectacular they have their own poetry.  What I try to do with my language is create a sense of being imaginatively transported where the familiar and the domestic are represented in such a manner that you are willingly uplifted and carried away simply by the possibilities of the words.


They started in the corners of his eyes and filled them up, but there they stayed, trapped between blinking lids. Wobbling like transparent jelly but refusing to roll down his face. Rongomai wished he could cry, it wasn't right that he had to stay all fishy eyed like that.


Excerpt from Rongomai Does Dallas Pg.95. Penguin 25 New Fiction. 1998


Dallas is a guy who doesn't believe that he is worthy of beauty so he refuses to look at or engage with beautiful things including the woman he loves.  Although Rongomai herself loves him Dallas can't bring himself to believe it, so he opts out and jumps in the car and takes off. 


There are things in life so beautiful that you block out their colours. Seeing them will only make you want to soak in their beauty and that surely is asking too much. Dallas did not look at the sunset drenched hills and houses as he drove out of Porirua. As he travelled North, he kept his eyes focused steadily on the motorway, disregarding the sea glowing gold and green...'


Excerpt from Rongomai Does Dallas. Pg. 98. Penguin 25 New Fiction 1998.


There is a counterpoint working here in the internal life of a character like Dallas where even if he feels inadequate and unable to recognise the good ironically he can actually see it all and he responds intensely to the beauty which is about to overwhelm him. 


Often my character's ability to believe in themselves is dependent on the audience's willingness to believe in them too.  This I think is the trick when I am writing for plays - constantly negotiating what the characters believe - rightly or wrongly - and what you want your audience to believe.


With a character like Dallas he's a kind of guy that most people would look at once and think you're an arsehole mate.


He stood leaning sideways on the bar sucking lazily on a DB export. He wore a moko..if you could call it that. The lines were blurred and careless, and she was sure there would've been no aroha exchanged in the giving or receiving of it's angry stamp....(continues) here was a bad brother from way back and if Rongomai didn't divert from the main track she was looking at a head on collision with the arsehole.


Excerpt from Rongomai Does Dallas. Pg. 92. Penguin 25 New Fiction 1998.



But the great thing about writing is that I am able to go beneath the exterior of the person and reveal the inner workings of them.  I can show my audience that whatever this guy might look like on the surface Dallas has really endured a terrible journey.  The audience sees him working through his personal horror by being an intimate party to his feelings and thoughts so by the end of the story they're totally on his side and want him to get the girl.


His words were air, slowly leaking out of a tire, over the days and months they came. Ever so slowly. At first he spoke about loss. The loss began when he was born with two inches of bone missing from his right leg. This was followed closely by a missing mother.


Excerpt from Rongomai Does Dallas. Pg. 93. Penguin 25 New Fiction 1998.


When Dallas finally ups and leaves the situation feels either very sad or very happy.  What ever the reader decides I wanted the resolution of the story to have some kind of emotional impact, but for me it was important that the end had to be kept uncompromising and real.  Rongomai Does Dallas is actually a love story, a Mills and Boon with moko.


- - - - - - - - -




When I was a child my Father who was a Pakeha once took me out fishing on the Whangaruru Harbour.  To take my mind of the seasickness and the fish that were flapping around in the bottom of the boat making me a bit hysterical my Father told me a story of ancestor who had long red hair.  She was stolen and taken across the sea by some marauding invaders.  In order to prevent her mana from being diminished by effects of such an outrageous crime she cut off her hair and cast it into the waves so that her power might float away and be thus returned to her own people.


To this day I'm unclear as to whether or not my Dad made the whole thing up but no one in the family is absolutely sure if the story actually existed before he decided to tell his version of it.  What is for sure is that the concept of a red haired woman who selflessly gave it all away for the greater good was a wonderful motivation for a story or a play.  So my Father's myth stayed with me for years until when writing Nga Pou Wahine I fleshed the story out, gave the woman concerned a background and invented a believable whakapapa for her because no one else could provide one for me.  I just loved this opportunity to subvert the myth tradition where I found myself having to create my own myth to explain another myth.


In Nga Pou Wahine the red haired woman who first appeared in my Father's story is called Waiora.  I gave her this name because of the spring in which she is found as a baby.  The child is discovered playing happily in the water covered in a rare red powder.  For this reason the people who adopt her think that Waiora has been gifted to them by the fairy folk or Turehu. 




...but Waiora didn't belong to them she was a gift from the Turehu, the fairy people. She was found in a spring, riding high on a fountain and covered in kokowai..'


Excerpt from scene 3 ‘Whakapapa' - pg. 25. ‘Nga Pou Wahine'. Huia Publishers 1997.


When I was writing Nga Pou Wahine I started to wonder about the colour red and what it means to Maori.  What came to mind first was red as the colour of blood but then I was suddenly reminded of the kokowai, which is an ochre weavers use to dye muka. Kokowai was also mixed with fat and used by men especially as a make-up to decorate and beautify themselves.  One way that Kokowai was traditionally collected was by dipping a fern frond into a spring and waiting for the pigment swirling around in the water to attach itself to the leaves.  It is a bit like fishing for colour or something illusive and precious and this idea became a huge inspiration for the play. 



‘...inside me is this spring. It's bubbles surge and pop against the inside of my skin. Through my hair the kokowai sparkles, it sparkles with life and with mana...'


Excerpt from scene 8- pg. 41. Kimihia - Nga Pou Wahine


Then I began to think about a male character called Takimoana who uses the captured red earth to make himself fearsome and attractive.  Takimoana makes himself both compelling and repelling at the same time.  That's the other dimension to the colour red.  Red also represents the potential for violence that is deep within us all where something so beautiful has the ability to be both abusive and cruel.



‘...he was as handsome as they come but he was also very vain. He would cover himself in kokowai from his topknot to his toes. All red, like Tu Matauenga...


*Tu Matauenga is the God of War.


Excerpt from scene 7, The Lure, pg. 37- ‘Nga Pou Wahine'


However the main character in Nga Pou Wahine is a young woman called Kura.  She's a descendant of Waiora the red haired woman born of the patupaiarehe, who trusted, was deceived and was then violently assaulted by Takimoana the duplicitous wearer of the red earth.  These events though played out in myth impact on Kura who generations later attempts to reconcile the consequences of actions completely outside her understanding and control.


 -- - - - - - - - -




Ideas are often sparked by people I meet or situations I find myself in just as part of my everyday life.  In Fish Skin Suit, Moses Brown the Maori Elvis impersonator was inspired by this character I met once at the Paekakariki pub.  This guy mixed a fake Southern accent with Maori.  It was incredible.  He was 100% pure Elvis.  The first thing I did when I went home that night was to sit down and write a short story because I didn't want to forget the idea. 


What fascinated me about the Maori Elvis was the way that he presented himself.  I couldn't get over what it was that was making him behave in a particular way.  Long after his act was over and he was off the stage he kept speaking to me as if he really was Elvis.  For the rest of the evening he insisted on calling me "Little Lady". I kept asking myself why does this Maori want to be Elvis?  I think he really wanted to be Elvis because he liked the attention.  It must have been hard for him to have to shed the glittery suit and go back to his day job.

The character of Moses Brown developed as a result of thinking about my experience at the Paekakariki pub except in my story the little boy and sister explain the appearance of the want-to-be-Elvis character by imagining that he is the incarnation of a local myth.  The children invent a story about a mortal man who was loved by a female taniwha.  The taniwha, in order to keep her human lover at her side in the sea makes him a beautiful suit out of fish skin but as ordinary people are always inclined to do, he is drawn to the land and eventually returns there.  But the taniwha who stays in the waters around an island off the beach where the children live pines for her man in the fish skin suit and so she searches and searches for him hoping that one day he will go back to her.  So while the two children are making up their story of the taniwha and her boyfriend in the fish skin, Moses Brown the Elvis impersonator suddenly materialises before their eyes in a shining gold lame suit. 



(CLEARS HIS THROAT) There once was a taniwha called Hine Tai and she lived on the island.

RATA stands up and dances around.


And she fell crazy in love with a fish-man. A part man part fish man and she loved him so much she had to have him. (BEAT) And she sewed him a whole entire suit out of fish skins. But then he swum away. And Hinetai went mental because she missed him so..


(INTERRUPTS) Queen Nan says the fish         must..for the fish to..

HEREMAIA stares out to sea in amazement.



Okay the fish promises to obey orders from now on. Queen Nan? Queen Nan?

RATA follows HEREMAIA'S gaze out to sea. MOSES walks out of the water in his orange Elvis suit and boots. Water drips off him. His guitar, microphone and small suitcase lie on the shore. 


Excerpt from ‘Fishskin Suit'. Produced by Kahukura productions. Premiere TV3 2001.


It is not clear where Moses Brown comes from but in the minds of the children he has stepped straight out of their story.  They think that the mad guy dressed like Elvis is the Fish Man that the taniwha is looking for. 


MOSES opens his eyes and stares at the fish on his plate.



(TO MERE) You wouldn't have any peanut butter and banana sandwiches now would you?

MERE smiles and goes to the kitchen.  MOSES looks at NAN, she's fallen asleep.  MOSES pushes his fish into a vase on the table, it's tail sticks out.


In the bedroom, HEREMAIA turns away from MOSES to face RATA. She's staring with concern at the fish in the jar.




I knew he wouldn't eat that fish.  He's scared it might be his tenth cousin.


Excerpt from Fishskin Suit. Produced by Kahukura Productions. Premiere TV3 2001.

Moses Brown talks and wriggles all the time. He really doesn't make any sense and to me he something of a lost soul.  He is crazy enough to have escaped from a psychiatric hospital but he is oddly coherent like the Maori character in Came a Hot Friday where Billy T James played this lunatic running around in a sombrero and a cowboy suit. 



I'm sorry for being mean to you Fishman.

MOSES reaches around with his hand and places it on HEREMAIA'S and gently pats it.



The road of life twists so sharply that sometimes we all go flying off course.

Excerpt from Fish Skin Suit. Produced by Kahukura Productions. Premiere TV3 2001.


Moses is very good at giving advice to people.  He offers these affecting little homilies which a character like Mere finds inspirational.  She has been going through a bit of a personal crisis and loss of direction.  She has given her life over to her family, which is fine, but she has suddenly discovered that she hasn't anything left for herself.  She is in a state where she is unhappy and but doesn't know why.  When Moses looks her in the eye and says, "I miss Memphis so much", she thinks he is just kidding. When he asks her "What ails you, Mere?"  Mere claims that there is nothing wrong with her and Moses replies by saying, "That's not what your eyes are saying".  She denies this and Moses goes on to say that her eyes tell him that,


Here is a woman who did so much for others she's forgotten her spirit - left it behind somewhere.  Find your voice and sing to your spirit.  Sings out your dreams, your desires, your pain bring it back home.  It's the only way you can be whole again"


Excerpt from Fishskin Suit. Produced by Kahukura Productions. Premiere TV3 2001.


Mere gets so drawn to Moses words that she finds herself kissing him.  He begins to believe that she wants to go back to Memphis with him but of course Mere doesn't really mean it when she responds passionately to Moses and his illogical intentions.


Moses' wish to return to Memphis is insane on another level too.  Memphis was one of the ancient capitals of the early Egyptian Kings and in the Old Testament the biblical Moses was empowered by God to deliver the people out of the land of Egypt from bondage to freedom.  It would be total madness to propose the journey in reverse where the direction was a return to not an exodus from slavery.  In this way the character of Moses Brown represents a kind of subversive prophetic type.  Where the more usual manifestations of these people describe the individuals concerned as forces for good and agents of social change Moses Brown is a disturbing inverse of the historical model.   


In Fish Skin Suit Moses Brown represents one of those fringe personalities tolerated and accepted by most Maori communities but what distinguishes Moses from the ordinary run of local eccentrics is his Tennessee accent and acoustic guitar.  Eventually however, Moses Brown takes on board the story that the children tell him and when he does his world starts to collapse and spin on its head.  The young boy urges him to go back to where he came from, go back to the sea and so in the end Moses does.  The last image you see of him is Moses swimming out toward the island resolutely looking at his compass.



And everyday the wind blew in our hair and the tides pushed at our feet until finally my family 3 turned back to five...

MERE stares out the island, the sea is still. TOA looks over at her, MERE looks at him for a moment, smiles slightly, then starts laughing. HEREMAIA looks out to sea.


Far out in the ocean, the sea is flat... then MOSES pops out of the water and produces the compass. He looks into its face and around him, judging direction, then dives back down into the depths again, swimming like a fishman.


Excerpt from Fishskin Suit, Kahukura Production. Premiere TV3 2001.



I think the conclusion of this story is interesting because it is one of those moments where I want my audience to consider for themselves what is really ‘real'.  Was Moses Brown a lunatic or was he the Fish Man - in the end the boundaries between both positions are supposed to be blurred or that's that what I hope happens.


- - - - - - - - - -







Usually my characters are all larger than life.  When I'm writing plays the personalities are exaggerated because this makes them a bit more dramatic.  I have to be able to work all the angles with my characters so that they have dimension and depth.  To do this I create a complete history for each person.  I begin right at the start of their lives and work my way through where they were born, how they grew up and what happened to them as adults.  By the time I get to end of their back story I should be able to put myself in that character's place and know exactly how they will react.


The idea for Haruru Mai  actually began with me reflecting on images I saw in a Massey University library book.  I remember seeing these photographs of young men who had been killed in war and I thought to myself I want to know more about them.  I wondered what had actually happened to these unsung heroes and I began thinking that whatever their stories were they certainly deserved to be told.  Exploring this need to create histories for these anonymous dead soldiers became a small but significant motivation in the work that eventually became my play Haruru Mai.


In Haruru Mai the action is set in no place and every place.  The characters in this particular drama live in Maoriland if you like.  Where the audience might think that they recognise a specific place, from a Maori point of view the work tries to move culturally into another gear.  This shift leaves some of the old tribal boundaries behind in order to investigate the qualities of a more universal Maori experience whose dimensions are not defined by any sort of traditional geography.  When Haruru Mai existed only in my head Pukerata became the settlement in the Far North which contained my Uncle's house.  Although I knew somewhere like it Pukerata was a fictional place entirely.  In my imagination Pukerata was fairly inland with some quite good pasture all around and a in the background.  You won't find Pukerata on any map but in real life the brooding mountain that dominates the place was a genuine feature of my childhood memory and naturally became an important point of reference in the play.  The mountain at Pukerata is mischievous and interferes with the television reception.  It is immovable and solid and symbolises the clash of cultures as Maori have had to deal with the encroachment of a world beyond what it is that they already know.


Haruru Mai uses the stories of the unidentified dead soldiers as just a starting point for a drama in which five different characters are forced to confront the impact that World War II has had on each  of them.  The various perspectives are summarised in argument between Pearl who as a young woman was betrothed to one of the men who went off to fight.  He didn't really want to marry her and so Pearl feels ripped off for being pushed into a relationship over which she little or no choice.  Pearl also thinks that the Maori war effort was a total waste of time.  Over and over again she argues that Maori troops made the supreme sacrifice for absolutely nothing.



They were forgotten by the Pakeha soon as they stepped off the boat. Sent out on public work schemes, treated like children. Still having to hold out their hands for every damn penny! Nothing changed Silas, nothing at all.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - Draft 4, scene 4, pg. 28. ‘Roses'.

Premiere NZ international Arts Festival March 2000.


Her position is contrasted with that of Silas who signed up himself and went overseas and to fight.  Silas has to believe that the war was worth it despite the terrible price exacted.  Silas is obliged to accept the myth, which says that being involved in the war was ultimately good for Maori people.  He has to think that it was the efforts of soldiers like him which have enabled Maori to regard ourselves as equal to the Pakeha. However Silas sees what the cost of the war has been and becomes disenchanted and bitter.


There is also a character called Paloma whose Father was killed in the war.  Paloma's view of what happened is very romanticised and is one in which she places emphasis on the heroic ability of Maori to serve not only with distinction but to also discharge ourselves with battle glory and honour. 

He left this world a hero. I've got the official notice pinned up on the wall at home. (BEAT) He died saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. He died for King and country.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - Draft 4, scene 4, pg. 27 ‘Roses'.

Premiere NZ International Festival of the Arts.


Paloma justifies Maori involvement in the war by reminding the others of the fact that the,


The Nazis were about to conquer Europe...remember what they did to the Jews.  They used their fat for soap and ground their bones for fertiliser.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - draft 4, scene 4, pg 27, ‘Roses'.

Premiere NZ International Festival of the Arts


However the character of young Taku has a way of annoying people because he sees truth quite quickly.  Taku thinks about what Paloma has said and responds saying,'s just that I don't think our fullas should've gone over. (BEAT) Not our war.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - Draft 4, scene 4, pg. 27. ‘Roses'. Premiere NZ international Arts Festival March 2000.


Silas on the other hand still believes that Maori involvement was justified.  He argues that,


It was our war, just like the education is our education, the Queen is our Queen and their God is ours.  If we want to move ahead we can't pick and choose what part of their culture we take on.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai -Draft 4, scene 4, pg. 27. ‘Roses'. Premiere NZ international Arts Festival March 2000.


Pearl breaks in and cuts Silas off saying,


If our people had any idea of the toll that the war would take on them, there's no way in hell they would have let them go.  The boys were used - put in the front line to cop the frigging lot.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - scene 4, pg. 27. ‘Roses'. Premiere NZ international Arts Festival March 2000.


But Silas continues,


We can't afford to think of the cost now.  It was about an outcome, which became a giant step towards equality.  I have earned my right to live peacefully, to come home and never be challenged about any of this.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - scene 4, pg. 28 ‘Roses'. Premiere NZ international Arts Festival March 2000.


Pearl retorts,


I remember the day they came home.  What a welcome.  I can still see my own kuia doing the karanga but out of that troop of laughing boys that left, just five stepped off the bus that day.  And that's when it hit us, the cheering and the singing stopped.  All you could hear was the drum of a hundred different tears falling for a hundred different reasons.  Our sons, fathers, lovers - our future leaders all lost.  It was like a kick to the gut and twenty years later we're still gasping for breath.  We couldn't even let that river of tears flow across their graves to farewell them properly.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - scene 4, pg 28 ‘Roses'. Premiere NZ International Festival of the Arts, March 2000.


In Haruru Mai the issue is fundamentally about whether or not Maori involvement in the War was justified.  In Pearl's mind as a Mother she can see what damage it has done to a generation of young people like Taku who have had to grow up in a world without strong male figures and role models.


So Silas the control freak takes the Fatherless Taku in.  Taku is such a softy but in the past he has committed a couple of unforgivable acts.  Though he has really tried to turn his life around no one can believe he has changed.  As Taku struggles to convince them, Silas who supposedly treats Taku like a son manipulates the situation to his advantage.  Poor Taku believes that Silas really does care for him but Silas has another agenda entirely.  He interested only in laying the ghost of a man that he killed in anger years before.  Silas sees the likeness that Taku bears to the man he murdered during the war as being an expedient way of atoning for his crime. 

Silas simply uses Taku's willingness to be adopted as a self-seeking means to an end.  At the finish of the play Silas doesn't regard Taku as being worth that much.  In Haruru Mai there are a lot of sly and devious manipulations going on.


Ironically Silas thinks that he is quite noble and cut above everybody else.  He is another of my composite characters who was made up of lots of people but initially inspired by an Uncle of mine.  This relative was hugely charismatic and lived in an enormous house with verandas that ran right around the building.  My Uncle's home was always filled with people who didn't have a place to go and sometimes I used to stay with him too.  I used to think that a number of the people who lived with my Uncle took unfair advantage of him and exploited his generosity to the max.  My Uncle also collected antiques.  When he was a much younger man he travelled extensively and had brought together in one room these amazing objects that he had found in different places all over the world.  When he went to India my Uncle returned with a tiger skin rug complete with head.  I know that it is not really P.C but when I was a kid I used to love playing on it.   


Actually I often imagined my Uncle as some kind Maori James Bond - well dressed, immaculately mannered, smooth, charming and with a wicked sense of humour.  Some of these qualities I transferred to the character of Silas but this is where the resemblance to my Uncle stops.  Silas is a fiction but when I was creating him it helped me to have a very clear visual picture of the person I had in mind especially when I was trying to write dialogue for them.


Why does the magic potion always come to an end just when you're enjoying it the most? Still, all is not lost. The fun may well continue for I see her light shining beyond the mighty macrocarpas. A beacon of hope set like a gem into the rough earth between the old pa site and the jailhouse. Oh my love, let me sleep in your arms tonight. I'll travel a hundred pot holes to be by your side. My one, my only true love. (BEAT)The Pukerata tavern.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - Scene 0ne, pg 1, - Magic Potion. Premiere International Festival of the Arts 2001.



The character in Haruru Mai of which I am most fond has to be Taku.  I felt huge sympathy with this character as I could see what he had been like before and how he had changed and how vulnerable he really was inside.  All I wanted the audience to see of Taku was a picture of him wanting and trying to do good.  Taku represents all the lost young men who despite the battering and bruising they go through eventually begin to find themselves only to discover that there is in fact such a thing as hope.  A big and  inspirational hope. 


When writing the character of Taku I thought about those Maori men who take responsibility for repairing themselves.  I like the fact that he is not another Jake Heke.  Taku and the way he is learning to approach life are an alternative to the effects of domestic violence. 

I know what you all think of me but I've changed. I..I stuffed up badly man. Lost the people I love and that's gotta be the worst thing that can happen to anyone. (BEAT) That's the last time man, the last time.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - Draft 4, Scene Four, pg 23, - Roses. Premiere NZ international Arts Festival March 2000.



Like Silas, Taku is something of a soul in torment.  Taku has a woman who's left him called Fern.  I imagined her as a bit of a hippy.  Fern is a Pakeha and she is a timid gentle kind of person who lived with Taku and their new baby in a caravan.  But one night Taku rights himself off with booze and gives Fern a hiding so she takes the baby and runs away.  Fern's family hears about what Taku has done and some of her male relatives set him up and give him a beating to within an inch of his life.  Taku is left for dead.  Silas sees him lying in a ditch and thinks that he is an old sheep carcass but Taku is rescued and Silas takes him home.  Part of the deal is that by restoring Taku to health Silas cynically hopes to salve his own conscience.  So Taku is given a second chance by Silas and he therefore attempts to persuade Fern and the baby back to him by writing a letter.


Dearest Fern he begins.  Taku is learning to read and write properly for the first time and he carries a dictionary with him everywhere.  He's quite a clever guy is Taku. 


Dearest Fern.  I hope this letter finds you and Albert in good health.  (Shit) I hope you don't mind me writing but I found a piece of paper with your parents' address on it so I reckon that is where you are.  Oh man - look Fern, I wanted to say I'm sorry for hurting you.  If it makes you feel better, things got real bad for me after you left, real bad.  Hell of a bad, in fact I nearly perished.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - draft 4, scene 4, pg 31 - Roses Premiere NZ international Arts Festival March 2000.


Taku's dialogue is quite weird because he comes out with these formal words which he mixes into slang type colloquial sentences.


Fern believe me when I say I am sorry.  Times were hard eh - no money, nothing but I know that it's just a bullshit excuse.  Anyway I've met this fulla and I'm going to stay cool with him.  I'm the caretaker - yeah the caretaker of his property but I also cook and look after things.  He says that if you want you and the baby can come back and stay with us.  It's beautiful here Fern, like living inside one of those Monet paintings and you know before that I used to live inside that fulla Goya's paintings and it wasn't that nice.  Kinda hell in fact.  To be concise I miss you.  You and baby.  You're the only ones I ever loved and you were probably the only ones who ever loved me.  I just didn't believe it.  The thing that keeps me going is thinking that you might come back.  I don't want to be in this life without you.  I will die without you.

Yours sincerely,


Warm regards,



Taku, Taku, Taku.


Excerpt from Haruru Mai - draft 4, scene 4, pgs 31-32 - Roses. Premiere New Zealand International Festival of the Arts 2000.


Taku is trying really, really hard to be redeemed and save himself.