Hamilton Gardens

December 29, 2017 at 09_21PM

I went to Hamilton Gardens today with a friend. Met her for coffee then we had a wander round the gardens. My son took visitors from the UK there on Christmas Eve. We also took two lots of visitors, one from overseas, the other from Te Wai Pounamu there in the last month.

I run through the gardens regularly as part of my training route early morning or evenings.

I believe that Hamilton Gardens are the jewel in the crown of Kirikiriroa Hamilton and they are what draws people to Hamilton. For the visitor, there doesn’t appear, on the surface, to be much else. And, let’s face it, it hasn’t had a good press over the years and so is struggling to get over that.

I love Kirikiriroa, don’t get me wrong. Whilst we didn’t choose Kirikiriroa specifically when we moved here from the UK 10 years ago, (it was where the job was that my husband secured) we have made it our home and we are happy here. We love how the centre has developed to become a more cosmopolitan, modern place which is buzzing with people. We have enjoyed, though we certainly haven’t been as often as we wanted to, the exhibitions at the museum. When our children were younger, the libraries were a haven. We have explored the outskirts; places such as Pukemokemoke, Taitua Arboretum, the Sculpture Park at Tauwhare have been and still are, regular haunts. The river footpath is another treasure and one that we are lucky enough to be able to use often as we live in Hamilton East. We can walk into town in 25 minutes and enjoy the changing mood of the river depending on the season, the weather, the time of day.

December 29, 2017 at 01_41PM

So, back to the Gardens. As my friend and I walked through today we watched the children running their hands through the fountains, splashing in the pool at the American Modernist Garden. We watched people bending to savour the scents of the flowers, marvelling at the bees and butterflies as they flitted from flower to flower, listening to the cicadas. We witnessed families feeding the ducks, picnicking in the different open spaces and enjoying time together as a family. We saw people working out the time from the sundial, finding where their birthdays were and where the shadow would be. We saw people sitting on the benches, sheltering from the sun, enjoying the space, meeting friends and family.

We wondered how many of these people were visitors to the Gardens and how many were locals making the most of their space during the holidays. When we first arrived in Kirikiriroa 10 years ago, it was a sweltering hot January. We had no transport, so we had to walk everywhere. (We did start to use the bus service after a couple of weeks but we actually arrived on Auckland Anniversary weekend and there was no bus service that weekend!) We discovered Hamilton Gardens in full bloom and fell in love at first sight. Shall I tell you why? First of all, (not the most important factor, but significant) for a family that arrived with very little cash until we could set up bank accounts etc, it was free. There were open spaces for our boys (8 and 12yrs old) to run around. The themed gardens were fascinating (still are), and the afore-mentioned pool in the American Modernist Garden provided a perfect place to cool off. There was so much to explore, we could get to the river, we could find shade, we could picnic. It became our special place.

Since then we have taken every person who has visited us to Hamilton Gardens. They have all been amazed at how beautiful it is and how different it is to other gardens around the world. We have loved how it has developed and not stood still.

Would we have taken them there if we had had to pay $10 per adult to go? I know that the Council proposal is only to charge for the special gardens and not the open spaces or the river sections. But how many visitors wander into the themed gardens as part of their visit, just because they can? In doing so they expose their kids to different cultures, different experiences that have an impact on their learning and their understanding. I have heard kids asking their parents why there are some plants in some gardens and not in others, or why they are laid out differently.

So, rather than moan about the proposal to charge, and enter into the discussion about how much the Gardens are worth, or whether there should be a ‘locals’ rate, or how much setting up the payment system might cost, we have a suggestion. If we believe that the Gardens ARE a ‘pull card’ for Hamilton, rather than charge for them, (which may stop people visiting, anyway) why don’t we capitalise on the attraction by enhancing the experience? What if there is a way of making extra cash to support the Gardens without charging an entry fee which is more likely to deter people from coming than encourage them. If we had had to pay $10 per person over the last 10 years for the people we have brought to the gardens, we would not have come.

One thing that we have always considered to be a weakness of the Gardens is the paucity of refreshments available. Until recently, the cafe was not great. It has improved massively over the last couple of years but is still often under pressure especially in busy times. We heard kids today saying they were thirsty, hot, hungry. What if, we could build on the themes in the gardens to offer refreshments that matched? Afternoon tea and scones in the English Country Garden, fresh cool Lassi or Kulfi in the Indian Char Bagh Garden, Chai in the Chinese Scholars Garden, home made lemonade or iced tea in the American Modernist Garden, Gelato in the Italian Renaissance Garden…… Once people are in the gardens, they get thirsty, they would buy an ice-cream or a drink if there was one on hand. I am aware that many people don’t bother going to the cafe once they have come out of the gardens because of the wait time, so they go home or to another place in the area instead.

Yes, we considered the rubbish that may be strewn, and the space that a permanent structure would take up, that might detract from the attraction of the gardens. But how about committing to recycling and sustainability and not using plastic packaging and providing sufficient receptacles for recycling paper packaging? Handbarrows could be wheeled into the spaces as needed in busy times so a permanent structure is not necessary. They could be designed so that they matched the culture of the gardens, after all, all the countries associated with the themed gardens have street food and drink.

We know that there is far more to a plan like this than meets the eye, lots of factors that we are not even aware of. But surely it is worth considering more creative options….?

We had another idea about involving the local schools to support the Gardens too, so that kids who grow up here have some ownership and pride in a space which is theirs… I’ll save that for another day!

December 29, 2017 at 09_17PM

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Welcome to a bi-cultural Aotearoa!

180_HCC_Citizenship_28Jul17.JPGTwo weeks ago my family and I became New Zealand citizens.  We came here 10 years ago this coming January from the UK. Why did we choose New Zealand over any other country? Partly because Nigel lived here 40 years ago when his parents emigrated from Scotland when he was 2 years old. He went to primary school here and his brother was born here.  Although they went back to Scotland when he was 8 years old, by that time his Aunties had come out and so we have some relatives here and a strong connection with the place.  Partly because it is an English speaking country so the boys and Nigel wouldn’t have to cope with learning a new language (our other option had been France). Partly because we are adventurers!

We came for a holiday in 2005 with our boys and we were struck by the beauty of the landscape, the open spaces, the lack of traffic on the roads…. Careful not to be swayed by the rose tinted glasses of being on holiday, we tried to look beyond the veneer as we travelled and considered whether NZ was a place we could live in.  As a traveller and a linguist, I am fascinated by language, culture, customs and people and how they interrelate.  I was fascinated by the fact that Aotearoa is a bicultural country with three official languages. Although I was struck early on by the lack of visibility of Te Reo; apart from a few signs at the airport saying Haere mai, Kia ora, Haere ra, images of the All Blacks performing the haka, Māori patterns and carved pou, there is little beyond that to indicate that the Māori language is living and breathing in all facets of the country .

Over the last ten years, I have learned a lot. I have made every effort to find out more about Māori tikanga (customs), and learn Te Reo Māori. It is hard. Not like any other language I have learned. Mainly because so many of the words have multiple meanings depending on the context. It is heavily nuanced and spiritual.  I think to learn it you really need to be immersed in the language and the people.  I am surprised as I learn about the pronunciation of the words, how badly the general populace articulates place names such as Taupō, and how they refuse to accept the Māori names of places they have long known in English such as Taranaki (Mount Egmont).  Places whose names were changed when Europeans came to Aotearoa and settled here.  This is because they have been mispronounced for so long that people believe that the way they were brought up pronouncing them is the correct way.  However, there is a growing awareness of the language and how words should be pronounced and I hear that on the radio, on TV and amongst my friends and colleagues.  I also know that many resist!

As an educator, I am encouraged to recognise diversity and respect the bi-cultural nature of Aotearoa.  For the last two years, I have been lucky enough to work for a company that values the language and the tikanga, celebrates what everyone brings to the table and promotes cultural responsiveness.  I am learning more language, developing a greater understanding of tikanga (though I have so much to learn) and  I am learning more about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and how it represents a partnership between Māori and Tou Iwi (other people).  A responsibility to recognise the values that all cultures bring to the rich tapestry of Aotearoa.  The articles are:

A1. Kāwanatanga
Honourable Governance: the right of the British to govern

A2. Rangatiratanga
Māori Retaining Agency, Voice, Choice
the right of hapū to retain sovereignty

A3. Ōritetanga
Equity: the guarantee that Māori would have the same rights as others

A4. Tikanga, Ahurea, Whakapono
Cultural & Spiritual Freedom: Māori customs shall be protected (the spoken promise)

Image of an original version of  Tiriti o Waitangi -it is an old, yellowed document with maori text By Archives New Zealand from New Zealand (Printed Sheet, Te Tiriti o Waitangi) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

So, back to our citizenship ceremony. This was our official welcome to the country we have chosen to call home.  We dressed in our best clothes – I got the boys “Robertson” ties to reflect their Scottish heritage (we thought about kilts but it was just too expensive!), took the day off work and school, planned a celebration (at the behest of friends – any excuse to party) and turned up at the Pavilion in Hamilton Gardens.

It was pleasant enough – 132 people representing 22 different nations, all seeking to become NZ citizens. We recited our affirmation of allegiance together and then one by one, family by family, received our certificates from the mayor and a Kowhai sapling to plant.Bright yellow flower formed like elongated bells

What was missing then?  Any indication that we were becoming citizens of a bicultural country.  Oh, apart from a bit of tokenism.

Neither the MC, nor the Mayor, nor the Member of Parliament who spoke to welcome us after we received our certificates of citizenship made any attempt to use any Reo Māori.  The Kaumatua seemed to have been ‘wheeled’ in to fulfil the niceties of the occasion but it was shallow and meaningless. How can officials of our bicultural country, a country which has at its basis a partnership, hold an important ceremony in which they fail to even use the most basic words of one of its official languages?  Our Member of Parliament even made reference to the diversity of the country and how all cultures were welcomed and recognised. He even urged those 22 different nationalities to hold on to their customs and languages, to keep our identities, hold on to our whakapapa (though he didn’t use that language). He went as far as stressing that our language is an essential part of who we are.  Yet he didn’t use Te Reo Māori, he didn’t even make reference to the Māori name of Hamilton, Kirikiriroa, as he welcomed us.

I left feeling a little empty and quite angry. Maybe I expected too much. From the land where the Haka is performed with such pride and gusto at every international rugby match, a visible and very physical representation of Māori-ness to the world.  I have grown used to Pōwhiri, to waiata, to karakia. To the warmth and richness of celebrations and welcomes in schools I have been a part of and that I have visited. I have been privileged to have been welcomed on to Marae as I have travelled the country, to have been welcomed into communities with warmth and friendship.  Our citizenship ceremony lacked that warmth, that true welcome, it lacked a bi-cultural depth.  It felt like it was a ceremony that goes through the motions – well oiled, smoothly executed. But it didn’t really seem like it was all about he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.  It was Hamilton’s opportunity to show how important it perceives Te Tiriti to be as a guiding document and a way of living in partnership. To exemplify what partnership is to 132 people who have chosen to live in a bicultural, multicultural country. I don’t feel that it did that.

However, we do feel that we belong…we have been welcomed by friends. colleagues and whānau ever since we arrived here 10 years ago, so maybe we should put the ‘official’ welcome in context.  This whakatauki talks of Turangawaewae, of belonging.

E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea

I will never be lost for I am a seed sown in the heavens