Tremain's Story
I shudder at what my sisters went through at the hands of our so-called uncles

My father would have been all right if they had left him alone and not tried to assimilate him. But in the 1950s the Government relocated rural Maori from their marae into state houses in town. My parents were shifted into a suburb in the heart of Tauranga. My father didn’t know how to live in a house. He spent most of his time in the bush – or in jail.

When he did work, he worked for the Ministry of Works as a roller driver on roads. Every payday he’d get drunk and bring home all his friends – a lot of strange men, just like in Once Were Warriors. I shudder at what my sisters went through at the hands of our so-called uncles. I know that some were sexually abused by them – just like the girl was in Once Were Warriors.

The Family Benefit was the only help my mother had. We went to school with flax sandals and had flax kete while everyone else had the little brown satchels and Roman sandals, and our lunch was wrapped in newspaper. I think “wow that’s neat” now, my Mum was such a good weaver. But back then it was a shameful thing. It was because when my father went to work, he’d disappear on pay day and then come back drunk with his mates.

My father came from a very distinguished tribe called Ngati Pukenga, who are famous in Maoridom for use of guerrilla tactics during inter-tribal warfare. All throughout his life he fronted up to people – you’re going to win or I’m going to win. For him there was no ref. He wasn’t going to stop because someone was knocked out, he’d keep going till they were damn near dead.

In the late sixties, if you walked into the pub and turned a glass upside down you were going to fight the person whose glass you turned down. If you turned a jug upside down you were going to fight the whole pub. My father would turn down jugs on every table he walked past. They called him ‘The Bantam’ because he was small, but he was famously hard to knock out.

Because of a wonderful social worker, a man called Keith, we found a chance of getting away from my father. Four of my sisters were taken away from Mum and Dad and put into foster care. And the two older than me got sent to a place in Hamilton called Dey Street – where the supposedly bad girls got sent, like borstal.

Later, my mother and my older sisters found an escape through the Labour Department, which paid the airfares and accommodation for people wanting to work for farmers who were growing tobacco around Motueka. They just took off one day. Keith must have known about it, but it was kept from my father. For my mother, it was the pond she could rest quietly in. She finally met another partner and enjoyed a normal, happy life.

When my mother first came down here, I was left up north with my two younger sisters. Then my father was sent to jail for six months, and we were left to fend for ourselves at home – trying to survive with no money, no power, no nothing. I’d go and steal Weetbix and milk from shops or from people’s houses while they were asleep. I was still at intermediate school. We were very superstitious, very scared. It was frightening to be left like that as kids. Where was anyone? Where were our neighbours? They did nothing.

After my father came out of jail, he was just the same as before. At 13 I’d had enough – and this time I thought, I’m going to get you before you get us... That’s what triggered me off, and I got up behind my father with a piece of four by two and whacked him round his head. And didn’t want to stop. I got to the point where you don’t care whether you live or die, you’re just going to do it. Everything went red in front of me. It’s like vertical blinds. You see the whole picture, but you can’t quite see the full picture. As your anger builds up, the slats start to close and everything turns red and the picture disappears. You are not in the real world. It’s red – violent – like a blood lust.

I’m not sure if it’s my Maori upbringing, but it’s feelings you imagine when you are in the full throes of a haka and you give it a million percent of who you are. It becomes a point of ecstasy really, where killing is just the honourable thing to do. It’s that old warrior mentality. Every Polynesian culture has it, but some have just adjusted a lot sooner.

I was dragged off my father by neighbours across the road. And then Keith sent me down here to join my mother. I did the last year of intermediate and then went to Motueka High School till the fourth form, and left at 15.

I had so much anger built up in me – I couldn’t just have a wash and wash it off. I did everything that was wrong just to stand out. I knew I was rebelling. I got sent to borstal for stealing.

After that, I learnt I was hard to knock out – like my father – and I started fighting policemen just to see if I could beat them. I have seven charges of police assault against me. I was sent to borstal again because I was too young to go to youth prison.

I got released from borstal in Invercargill, and that’s when I met my partner – I was 17 and she was 15. She was 16 when she had our eldest son, who is now 23, and we have four other children.