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  • Writer's pictureCJ Halbard

Family is a Tree Growing Through Time

My family has taken a hard strange road, and I love every one of them for it.

My family comes from in between places. We were forest cutters and policemen and gas station mechanics and midwives and teachers.

A long time ago, one branch were a Scots highland clan of sheep stealers who got kicked down to the lowlands. Another changed their name so many times you have to wonder what they were running from, or to.

My grandfather on one side was in the Italian theatre of World War 2. Shrapnel took his right arm off at the elbow. Came back and married his sweetheart in a New Zealand that didn’t want to talk about the war, not really, just wanted parades and late nights at the Returned Services Association pub. He loved bawdy jokes and betting on the ponies. Taught me how to cheat at poker.

My grandfather on the other side was an electrician who wired up the defence tunnels on Auckland’s North Head. He had a fat armchair and huge jar of blackball lollies that he used to get himself off the ciggies, and he would sit in that armchair in the front room of a house he’d lived in all his life on Walmsley Road in Otahuhu, by a long shelf with jars of shark embryos that terrified me as a six year old child. He said as little as possible. But would secretly go to the public library and check out books on physics and communism.

There are so many others, little rough twigs on the branches of a tree growing through time. A housemaid who got knocked up to a prominent Wellington citizen. Truck drivers moving stolen crates of lettuce up to market. Women who smoked and drank so much they lived an extra decade just because Death wouldn’t come near the smell.

Through it all there’s a strain that isn’t obvious on paper, doesn’t show up in the little genealogy documents that used to be kept in rolltop drawers but are now online. A simple fact that’s born in us but we hardly ever talked about.

Patterns of odd perception. Inner storms manifesting in antisocial behaviour. People who showed up to work and saw the day through with weird noise in their heads, chopping down a tree with a twenty foot saw or delivering babies in a lunchpail.

We were never artists - artists have time to contemplate. Not movers or shakers, or people in power. New Zealand has always had a half-hidden ruling class: in the 19th century there were less than a hundred people who owned all the farms and controlled the political appointments. Right through the 1980s the upper reaches of the civil service depended almost entirely on who your parents were and what UK university you got your first in.

That’s not us. Not one bit. We are underfoot, back stair, in the mud. Strange and mad and struggling. We dragged ourselves across nearly two centuries of just being who we are, a long path of accidents, anger, misfortune, madness, and simply moving forward.

We showed up and got the job done and bred just enough to keep the whole charade going. The middle finger to any romantic or aristocratic concept of how to navigate the dark weird waters of life here at the arse end of the southern ocean.

I love them for that. Every one of them. And here we are. These are the people of Tempest Bay, as I’m shaping it.

C J Halbard is the lead creator of Project Tempest, a growing story world of New Zealand folk horror and emotional climate change. Explore the town, listen to podcast conversations, and get the acclaimed novella 1862 free for a limited time by subscribing for updates.


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