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thumbnailIt has been a rite of pas­sage for young New Zeal­anders, liv­ing in a small island nation at the bot­tom of the world, to travel over­seas. It is my exper­i­ence that wherever you travel over­seas, you will find a Kiwi. This is quite remark­able as, like our feathered emblem, we are a rare breed with num­bers insuf­fi­cient to fill a third-tier city in China or an LA suburb.

For some, the time abroad will be short and they will return and put down roots in their coun­try of birth. If they have a fam­ily, their chil­dren will be influ­enced by the same phys­ic­al envir­on­ment and cul­ture. How­ever, for those who don’t return, their lives and those of their chil­dren will be shaped by oth­er forces. With today’s mod­ern air travel Europe is just 24 hours away, but in the past, when trav­el­ling to the ‘Old World’ involved a six-week boat trip, many young Kiwis left their coun­try nev­er to return. A case in point is Kath­er­ine Mans­field, who left Wel­ling­ton at the age of 19. She spent the last years of her life in the south of France writ­ing about her girl­hood in Thorndon: “Now — now I want to write recol­lec­tions of my own coun­try. Yes, I want to write about my own coun­try till I simply exhaust my store.”

Last month, Kirsty Gunn, anoth­er Kiwi writer liv­ing abroad, vis­ited Wel­ling­ton to pro­mote her latest book. Five years earli­er she had lived for six months as a writ­ing fel­low in the his­tor­ic Ran­dell Cot­tage loc­ated in St Mary Street in Thorndon, close to Kath­er­ine Mansfield’s child­hood house in Tinakori Road. This inner-city sub­urb is where Gunn was born and grew up, and so, sur­roun­ded by the famil­i­ar land­scape of her girl­hood, she wrote her mem­oir Thorndon — Wel­ling­ton and Home: My Kath­er­ine Mans­field Pro­ject. It is a power­ful reflec­tion on the strong influ­ence our early exper­i­ences and places have in the form­ing of iden­tity. We all need to feel we belong some­where, and for Gunn, Thorndon is her tūrangawae­wae, the place to which she feels espe­cially connected.

Kirsty’s rela­tion­ship to Thorndon and that of 11 oth­er prom­in­ent artists who lived there as well — Jane Cam­pi­on, Douglas Lil­burn and Frances Hodgkins, among oth­ers, and, of course, Kath­er­ine Mans­field — are recog­nised in a recently opened trib­ute in Thorndon vil­lage. Spaced along the foot­path are pav­ing stones inscribed with a quote from each artist. Kirsty Gunn’s is in front of the Gen­er­al Store facing the zig­zag­ging foot­paths that climb up to the Botan­ic­al Gar­dens and says, “Here, amongst these streets and hills is my own play­ing out of the cycle of leave-tak­ing and return… a place half-remembered, half-real, half-fantasy, half-fact, remembered and a dream.”

There are around a mil­lion Kiwis out­side this coun­try. To quote Dr Seuss again, “You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes, You can steer your­self, Any dir­ec­tion you choose.” How­ever, that being said, no mat­ter where Kiwis roam there is a part of them, that, impar­ted by the unique­ness of the edu­ca­tion we all receive, our cul­ture and our dis­pos­i­tions, binds us to our anti­podean corner of the world.

Carol Craymer

Carol has an MA in English from the University of Canterbury and has been principal of Queen Margaret college since 2004. Prior to moving to Wellington, she was assistant principal at Orewa college and deputy principal at Takapuna Grammar. However, Carol is not all about 'dotting the is' and crossing the t's'. She has also worked for Radio New Zealand as an announcer, acted in England in a theatre troupe touring schools and raised two daughters.