Well its not a New Project , but a Lovely Story !
Only those that have lived in Wellington can understand this full Affair !
Rachel Buchanan writes from Melbourne on her long-distance relationship with the city of her dreams.
A mistake was made somewhere in the early 1970s. At the time when my mum and dad should have relocated from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand, they shifted to New Plymouth, a provincial city half way up that country's North Island. Then, in the early 1980s, another, bigger mistake occurred.
This time, mum and dad shifted their family down the island, as far inland as you can go, to the town of Masterton, capital of Wairarapa and home to the annual Golden Shears shearing competition.
As well as the shearing (which residents were reminded of by the pair of gigantic clippers that towered over the town's one roundabout), Masterton also had a deer park, a lake at which people could hire giant plastic tractors that they paddled with foot pedals, one video games parlour and two enormous undulating water slides. That was it.
Like many other teenagers who lived in the Wairarapa, I found alcohol to be a diverting hobby.
Some people imagine they have ended up in the wrong family. The family was debatable but I knew for sure I was in the wrong place. I belonged in Wellington.
When I was small and my family went to Wellington to visit dad's parents or mum's sister, I pretended that this hilly harbour city was my home. I was free to dodge between the busy peoples' legs on Lambton Quay, get lost on Cuba Street among the fishmongers and pastry shops, or stare at the old bearded men who slept on park benches in the tiny scrubby park by Manners Mall.
If I lived in Wellington, I could go to Kirks (Kirkaldie and Stains department store) and listen to the yellow canaries sing in their golden cages whenever I wanted.
If I lived in Wellington, I could ride on the trolley buses all day, watching the blue and yellow sparks fly off the overhead wires that criss-crossed the sky over Lambton Quay, Willis Street, Courtenay Place, Karori Road.
If I lived in Wellington I would be able to go and see every single rugby international at Athletic Park. I would sit between my grandmother and my grandfather in the best seats in the stadium, down low and close to the centre kick-off line and at half-time I would get a deep-fried battered sausage on a stick, dipped in tomato sauce.
My grandma was the secretary of the Wellington Rugby Football Union.
As a consequence, she was in the know about everything and every one. One of her contacts was Ivan Vodanovich, a former All Black player and coach who owned a men's suit shop on the corner of Featherstone and Hunter streets. Ivan was handsome and elegant, a figure from a storybook in his beautifully cut tweed overcoat and trousers. His black hair was thick and tame, slicked back from his face.
AdvertisementAdvertisementIvan had seats close to my grandparents at Athletic Park. If I lived in Wellington, I could see Ivan all the time.
When I became a teenager and was living in Masterton, my yearning intensified. Wellington was only an hour and a half away by train. It stung me to know that my Wellington life, the city life I so wanted, was being lived out by my cousin Jane, who was the same age as me.
She went to St Mary's and after school she used to walk into town with her friends and buy a croissant with jam from the French bakery. You could not buy anything like that in Masterton.
As soon as I was old enough (17), I set about fixing my parents' mistakes. I applied for law and journalism. Even if I didn't get into either I was still shifting to Wellington, the capital city, the place where I should have been all along.
That summer I worked three jobs to achieve my aim: I picked fruit, I was a nurse's aide in an old peoples' home and a cleaner at the Masterton hospital. At the hospital I had to go round the wards and collect test-tubes full of blood, urine and faeces. I also collected bacteria that had been grown in petrie dishes by the people in the lab. Some of these things would go in the autoclave, a heavy steriliser that I opened and closed by turning a silver steering wheel. The rest of the stuff I cleaned with a bottle brush and soapy water.
One day I wanted a break, so I decided to donate some blood. I was looking forward to the fortifying shot of brandy all donors received but I fainted instead. All I got was a cup of tea and a biscuit, a shrewsberry with raspberry jam in the middle.
The cleaning was disgusting work but the extra danger money made it worthwhile. By the end of February I had saved something like $2000, an enormous sum for the time.
There was a red train that went from Masterton to Wellington. I caught it. My destination was Weir House, an orange-roofed hall of residence run by Victoria University. I had got in to the journalism diploma at Wellington Polytech and I had a room at Weir House.
Weir House is on Gladstone Terrace, the stop before the top of Wellington's famous cable car that runs between the quay and the botanical gardens. The south-facing rooms on the top floor had awesome views.
My friend Kate and I used to lift up the big sash window and sit on the wide ledge watching the wind blow the weather over the harbour. On the occasional sunny day, the harbour glittered a most terrifying hard blue and the two wee islands - Matiu- Sommes and Mokopuna - turned a rigid green-black.
Mostly the harbour was a softer grey, blue or green enclosed by the sheltering hills of Tinokori, Kau Kau, Mount Victoria and the more distant Tararua and Orongorongo ranges. Palmer and Pencarrow heads guard the entrance, ushering the Cook Strait ferries in and out.
I have never lost my pleasure in the harbour and the hills and the wooden Victorian houses that are stacked all over them.
Between the harbour and the hills is the city centre, a pleasingly compact collection of three main roads joined by humble Willis, home of the unsurpassable Unity Books and bisected by interesting avenues such as Vivian Street, the location of the capital's minute red-light district.
There is the conservative Lambton Quay (the site for Kirks, a jewel of a department store, where the canaries still sing), unconventional Cuba (see the permanently malfunctioning bucket fountain in Cuba Mall) and booze-central Courtenay Place, where revellers like to check the functioning of their internal organs with a ride on the groaning reverse bungy machine.
Around the city centre are the inner suburbs. Like relatives gathered at a successful extended family do, they have diverse characters, some more appealing than others.
Aro Valley is alternative, Kelburn is posh, Mount Victoria is steep, Newtown is multicultural, Brooklyn is steeper than Mount Vic and very-self aware, Thorndon is historic.
I am wedded to this place but it is a long-distance relationship. I did my year and a bit at polytech and more than a decade later spent six months in Wellington studying creative writing with poet Bill Manhire but aside from that, Wellington and I live apart.
Our contact is fleeting, restricted to holiday visits, mostly in January, mostly during the few weeks where the city gets the great percentage of its generous annual rainfall. My passion for this place is bigger than the weather. Mostly.
The reason I visit Wellington so often is that my parents and half my seven siblings live there.
My parents moved to Wellington six years after I left home. My younger brothers and sisters had the city childhood I dreamed of. Well, that's life.
At least now my children can experience the volcanic extremes of the home town that has never actually been home for me. There's been some bad times. One January we were evacuated from my parents' hillside house after torrential rain caused a landslide.
Tonnes of dirt and stones poured into their laundry and the neighbours' gold Rolls-Royce, housed in a palatial garage directly above the back bedroom, threatened to follow.
There have been many more good times. January 2005, for example, was uncharacteristically warm.
Granted, there were a couple of earthquakes but aside from that sunny day followed sunny day in a pattern that resembled a regular southern hemisphere summer.
Wellington is so lovely on a sunny day. A few minutes walk from the Embassy Theatre - the cinema that Wellington resident Peter Jackson did up for his film premieres - is Oriental Parade.
Next to the glass ship that is the Freiberg pool, a new city beach has been created using golden sand taken (stolen, my mother says) from some little hippy peninsula down south. Farewell Spit I think it was.
The day we visited, blue water lapped at the sand.
Children clambered all over the spider-web tower in the new playground. Swimmers showered off the salt in the new wood and stone toilet and shower block, a structure so sleek, well-made and beautiful that I could hardly believe it was a public utility. Out to sea, the Oriental Bay fountain shot seawater skyward.
The fountain is a gorgeous folly illuminated pinkblue- red-yellow at night as the water battles, valiantly, to stay upright against a bracing southerly gale. When the wind gets up in Melbourne, I can feel the rush of Wellington on my face.