Tremain's Story
My grandfather was a very violent man he beat the living daylights out of my father and his siblings

Apart from Patrick and his sister, we were all cousins in our street and no one was going to say anything to my father. Nobody put their hand up to say “it’s not okay, you are killing your family”. We felt that nobody cared. There was no Women’s Refuge then. The police came, and he told them “you come on to my property and I’m going to kill you”. And they wouldn’t. We did see social workers – and it was because of one of them that we were finally able to get away.

My parents were both born on the dirt floors of their tribal whare. My father was born in 1925 and my mother was a year younger. They met at a rugby game at a little place called Te Poi, at the base of the Kaimai Hills on the Waikato side. My mother was a person of nobility, from Te Arawa. She was what they call a puhi, the special one of their tribe. My father was playing this rugby game and she was with her old kuia. He smiled, she smiled, and next minute they were both smiling. He was 16, and she was 15.

My mother’s parents had died when she was 12. She and her younger brother and sister all got whangai-ed out to different family members. She didn’t see her sister for another 40 years, and she didn’t see her brother again because he died of hepatitis after being made to dive in a culvert to get contaminated seafood when he was 14.

So my mother was always dragged around, and when my father came along she had an opportunity to feel a bit of freedom and she went for it. She was pregnant when my father took her away from her tribe back to his tribe.

My father’s father was the role model for how he acted. My grandfather was a very violent man. He beat the living daylights out of my father and his siblings. He was a rich man. He grew big market gardens and sold watermelons at racing tracks all around the Bay of Plenty.

He was very spiteful to my father and mother. Their first child was a girl who was a blue baby with the hole in the heart. One day, after working in the fields all day for my grandfather, my mother said to him, “I need some money to go get some nappies or some milk for my baby”. He told her, “Don’t you come around here asking for money”. So my father, who was his oldest son and carried the mana, drove my grandfather’s brand new truck into the river – to defy him. They never got back together after that falling out. My parents just went and they lived in the bush, and they had a child just about every year.

I am one of 13 children, and if you include whangai (adopted children) I am one of 17. So there were 14 ahead of me, counting them. My parents were in their forties when they had me.

I have two brothers – one older and one younger. My parents had seven girls before my older brother was born, so my brother was the apple of my father’s eye. He was the person who got handed down all the mana and the land.

My younger brother was the baby of the family, and everyone would pull together to honour him and make sure he got everything he wanted, because he was the baby.

If you were in the middle you got nothing. That’s what happened to me. My father used to say to me “you are nothing, you get nothing”. If I went ahead to make a name for myself or do something for myself, it was always “why are you trying to beat your brother?” If I was too selfish, it was “why don’t you share with your younger brother?” I could never be me.

This feeling of not being accepted was made worse by the fact that when I was three years old, my father left me outside a shop in Ponsonby and never came back for me. I got put into the Star of the Sea convent and I stayed there for five years – so I know how to say my Hail Marys. If you were naughty you used to go up in front of a man – I called him God – a bishop or something. My mother was Catholic but she became a Mormon, and my father was a Mormon. Finally they found out who my family were. My older brother hadn’t wanted to leave me, and I think it was through him that I got found eventually.

It’s hard for me to explain but my father lived in another world, a Maori world where ghosts were very real. He was one of the only people who could claim heritage to being a pure-blooded Maori. He was at home in the bush, in the swamp.He lived that old Maori way. He never went to school, and he only spoke pidgin English.

He would be considered a rare treasure now because he knew everything. He’d take me right across the Kaimai Ranges, eeling in different holes that had been there for hundreds of years. He knew the hand clasps when you were climbing up cliffs, where to build shelter, where to find the certain tree to light your fire in. He knew this all through the old chants. And when he got drunk he would sit at our kitchen table, and for hours on end he would recite all these Maori chants.

The only time I saw him happy was when my little brother and I found him in the kitchen early one morning in one of his chanting trances. Unfortunately for us he came out of the trance and beat me and my brother up. He made my brother dance and drink a flagon of port till he was drunk. He was eight and I was ten. I was sitting down on the floor, not allowed to move.