George's Story
The blood from her bleeding nose had got down her leg I dont understand it!

Sometimes Mum would get Dad to beat us, but he’d give us less of a beating. I always wondered why he didn’t intervene when she was beating us because sometimes he was there and he saw it. I once asked him and he said he couldn’t intervene. I said, “What do you mean? You’re supposed to be a man.” He was a fighter, one of the best fighters in town. He said he was scared that when he went away our mother would do us some real damage.

He didn’t spare himself where my eldest sister was concerned though. He used every opportunity to demean her, verbally and with severe beatings with sticks and jug cords. Everybody had to watch. I remember her bleeding around the face after he and Mum had both hit her. One of Dad’s favourites was stripping her naked. One day they did it when she was having her period, and blood was running down her leg. I couldn’t understand how the blood from her bleeding nose had got down her leg. I think my parents would be jailed today for what they used to do.

I think that if my parents hadn’t been under so much stress they would have made a good couple because my Mum really did love my Dad, and he really did love her.

There was stress because they had married each other. Mum came from some sort of royal blueblood Maori line, so to marry a white man, one of the subjugators who had stripped their family of land, was a slap in the face to her own people. And Dad was under pressure from his family because he had married a Maori girl who had already had a daughter by another man.

Mum was also under a lot of stress because my father was a contract fisherman. He was away for a week or two at a time and sometimes he came home with no money, as he only got a percentage of the catch – not a wage. My father was a drinker and sometimes he’d come home depressed about the catch and end up drinking any money that was left. He was a womaniser too and sometimes Mum would find out his boat had landed, and she’d catch him in the pub with some foreign woman in his lap.

My mother also had demons from her childhood. Her father had been a very violent man and the story we heard was that her mother had been killed by him, beaten to death during pregnancy. I suppose a shadow fell over my mother because she was the baby who was born just before her mother died. That’s what she carried round with her, and I suppose that affected her behaviour as an adult. It was the trickle-down effect that goes through generations.

My mother joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was about eight, so she also had the struggle of conforming to a new code of behaviour and criticism from her family for having changed from the Church of England.

Religion gave her a sense of certainty and hope. One of the scriptures the Jehovah’s Witnesses quote is from Revelations – that God will wipe out every tear and death will be no more. You are told you won’t have any memories of the past and you will be able to construct a good life for yourself.

After my mother turned to religion, I decided to throw myself into it too. It was the only form of sanity I could apprehend at that time, and I took comfort that good things were supposed to happen if you believed – it gave me hope that I wouldn’t go completely mad at home.

When I started reading the Bible and saw Mum’s behaviour didn’t square with the principles in the scriptures, I thought that either she’d got it wrong or she was just completely mad. I read Germaine Greer, RD Laing and other psychosocial texts – trying to work out why my mother was the way she was. I started thanking her for the hidings – “Thank you for doing that, Mum. I see what I have done is wrong” – and the hidings started to diminish.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses wrote articles about good families and the role of parents, so Mum started trying to have discussions about things. But by then I didn’t want her asking me things. I’d just make something up, deliberately using terminology that would flummox her. By then I had developed into a very plausible liar.

My parents never had an input into our education. They had no education themselves. My father had left school at 12 or 13 to go out to work. But he was an armchair scholar. He had an enquiring mind and he loved reading – but he always read in the bedroom, not in front of us.

Although I was bright I didn’t like school, as a lot of boys don’t. You had violence at home and violence at school – the strap, the cane and humiliation. In those days local Maori kids got a lot of humiliation from teachers, but I escaped that because I could pass off as a European as I was so light-skinned.

One of the reasons I didn’t perform well at school was because the religion taught us that the Armageddon, the end of the world, was coming. So you didn’t have to worry about things like education. Everything was going to be wiped clean and we were going to live in a paradise on earth. People wanted to know, “When is it coming?” And we were told the end of this whole wicked world would be in 1975. People made huge decisions based on this – gave up their careers, sold their houses and donated their money to the organisation.