Over the summer two people important in my life have been farewelled.  One I have known for just a few years but his influence on me has been significant in who I have become during my years in Te Tai Tokerau Northland.  The other I’ve known always.  One is our kaumatua Hiwi Tauroa, the other is my uncle Keith McPhail.

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Keith was the last of his generation, so it was pretty momentous for my cousins and me. The reflection I included in the service related to that but I realised it didn’t just apply to us.  It’s something that relates to any of us with the passing of people who have been part of our history.  So here’s some of what I said:

End of the chapter in that, while we had Keith, we had a connection that went way back in our own experience.  Yarns with Keith were a chance to talk about people and places that have been our lives.  We’re going to miss that a lot, and that’s a bit of an understatement.

Heritage: you could say that’s what Keith represents.  He has us thinking about what we’ve had handed down, in family, genetic or otherwise, or through friendship however recent.  The cloud of witnesses of those who have died are like the ancestors, the tūpuna, who keep us company on the side-lines especially at times when we need a booster shot of something. Something like the persistence and fortitude Nicki talked about.  If they could do it, I can do it…  Or just a reminder of who we are, the values we carry, the commitments we hold to.

I recall so many conversations with Keith about people, his parents – our grandparents that we never knew – about others in the family and the local district, about politicians.  Now they were some discussions – “putting the world to rights”.  I reckon he found people really interesting.  People and relationships: that’s what matters most.  Practical Christianity is what appealed to Keith.  The practice of it.  The ordinary life lived well with those we live among.

What I then continued to say talks about our district, so I’ll also share it with you:

An ordinary life that you may be interested to know played a part in something of extra-ordinary significance.  Some may remember Keith being taken to an event at the University of Canterbury a few years back to do with radar and involving a visiting overseas academic keen to meet Keith.

Keith served in the War in radar work with the central base on Norfolk Island and one of the five stations in New Zealand, Whangaroa in Northland.  In late March 1945 a very striking increase in radio noise was noted at Norfolk and it only occurred around sunrise and sunset. New Zealand physicist Elizabeth Alexander recognised the significance of this and arranged for it to be monitored within an hour of sunrise and sunset at the radar stations.  It was proving difficult to get definitive results but the commanding officer at Whangaroa found a way to increase the sensitivity of the instruments with the result that this station was first to get a clear indication of the solar based noise, as opposed to regular radio noise. I’d heard about it from the current resident of Radar Hill [Fred Barnes] and mentioned it to Keith.  He said, “yes, I was doing that.  We would observe and record each time it happened.”  Very matter of fact about something that was a significant discovery in the science of radio astronomy, and in the development of space communications and of our understanding of the universe.

But then, our ordinary lives are always extra-ordinary in their way.  That’s what we’re gathering up today: 97 years of one person’s experience – how amazing this life is that we live.

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Hiwi is remembered, among many other things, for his contribution to education – matauranga.  He was a big part of my education too. It started in Methven when I was doing te reo by Correspondence, looking for times to use the reo without getting the dirty looks I’d get if I did so at church.  Times like a Rotary Conference coming to town.  They wanted prayers to start on Sunday so I fronted up and found this famous man sitting in the front row.  More nervous even than usual I proceeded and, when I came to close with the grace, looking out and saying it from memory in te reo, I saw a beaming smile on Matua Hiwi’s face.  The pronunciation would have been terrible – I hadn’t yet come under the tutelage of Whangaroa – but what encouragement he gave me.  You might imagine my delight – and trepidation – when I saw Hiwi and Pat in church at Kaeo in February 2004 when I came to “preach to the call” (and be voted on).  I knew at once that my words to end would not be the ones in the script.  They would be those same words of blessing – the grace we now regularly say together on Sundays.

Hiwi, Tarzan, Uru: they have been my Kaumatua mentors.  There is a sense that Hiwi’s passing is another end of chapter for me.  Perhaps also for others here in the parish.  Who would I have been without them?  I hate to think!

Rangimarie Peace Shalom, Robyn

January 2019