All of my life I have had a fascination of trains, I guess mainly because my father was a train engineer in his younger days, and also that he took us on many train journeys as we were growing up. Although I was born in the suburb of Frankton, just out of Queenstown, in the lakes district of the South Island of New Zealand, I had only spent my first three years there, before the family moved to Australia.
My father is was born and brought up in Port Lincoln, in South Australia, which is where we settled after the move from New Zealand, while my mothers parents are from the Cook Islands and Chatham Island in the South Pacific.
This is how I came about having two middle names, Kyle and Rua, which is a Cook Island Maori name. My father had chosen my first name of Hunter, which I was later very thankful for, and I often would not put down my middle names, and I asked my parents not to either, when I was registered to attend school.
I already have a light tanned skin, which was enough for alot of my fellow primary students to call me a half-cast Aboriginal, which I didn’t bother to correct them, and I just ignored their taunting of me.
Although I didn’t remember the first train rides that I ever took, because I was only three years old, my parents informed me that we had taken all of the major train trips that were available in New Zealand, including the ‘Southerner’ from Christ Church to Invercargill, which no longer operates.
According to my parents, we did the whole train journey during my father’s annual holidays, starting with a road coach journey from Queenstown down to Invercargill, before boarding the train that goes to Christ Church. From there we took the tourist railway journey over the mountains to Greymouth.
After another road coach journey back to Christ Church, we boarded the train bound for Picton on the far north coast of the South Island. From there we enjoyed the overnight ferry to Wellington on the south coast of the North Island, before boarding the train bound for Auckland.
With overnight stops at each junction of the journey, it was a six-day journey in total, and apparently, I was amazed at all the sights, as shown by the photographs taken with my eye wide in wonder and amazement.
During my primary school days, from the age of eight, my parents took me, on four of Australia’s Great Train journey’s during the winter holidays, firstly the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Perth, and in the second year, from Adelaide to Sydney.
On the third year, we took the Great Southerner, from Adelaide to Brisbane, and the following year, we did the journey on the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin, along with my 7-month old baby brother – Fraser
In my first year of middle school, with Fraser now over 1 ½ years old, my parents announced that we would be going to New Zealand for our annual holidays, and we would be doing three of the train journeys, as we had done when I was a toddler. For the first time, I would have my own passport, which states that I was born Frankton, in New Zealand.
We would fly to Auckland, and from there we would spend a few days before boarding the Northern Explorer for the 11 ½-hour journey south to Wellington, were we would spend two days, before boarding the Inter Islander ferry to Picton, which is a three ½-hour journey.
After a one-day stopover in Picton, we boarded the Coastal Pacific, for the 5 ½-hour journey down to Christ Church, and we spent two days looking around there before boarding the tourist railway train through the mountains to Greymouth on the west coast, which is a five-hour journey.
After a day of looking around that area, we flew back to Auckland and from there back to Adelaide, and I was surprised at how well Fraser behaved for most of the journey, with the train trips often rocking him to sleep, with Mum singing that famous and well-known song Train Whistle Blowing, sung by the Seekers.
I have a number of train whistles from our Australian train journey’s, that I would add to the song, which often made Fraser smile broadly, as he nodded off to sleep, and I would watch him sleep as I listened to Mum sing with her beautiful Pacific Islander voice.
I was now attending a Lutheran based College also located in Port Lincoln, and while attending the public Primary School, I really only had two friends, while at my new school I have many friends, and I was doing much better with all of my general subjects, as well as the additional classes in Arts, Music, Sports and Languages.
I quickly found that I was interested in Cricket during the summer months and Hockey during the winter months, with swimming as well, and I seemed to do well in languages as well, as I was learning the Japanese language, and with music, I was learning to play the Piano and Trumpet, which I was later to regret learning.
For Christmas that year, I received a full size Keyboard, so that I can keep up with practicing the piano, and currently I am renting a trumpet from the school to keep up with learning that instrument. Dad was now spending a lot of time away from home, as he is now a freight train engineer.
He is often driving freight north from Port Augusta to Darwin, often away from six days at a time, with only three days rest before he is off again on another trip and apart from attending school, sports events and homework, I often had to mind Fraser, while Mum caught up on some sleep or some housework.
In my third year of middle school at Navigator College, I was encouraged to some more difficult pieces; this included the Last Post and Reveille. In April, I ended up being the bugler for the Anzac Day Service at the school, which was just before the first term holidays, which was more important to me, because I am part New Zealander as well as Australian.
Mum attended the service, with Fraser sleeping in her arms, and when I played the trumpet, I saw that Fraser woke up and smiled, no doubt, because he has heard me playing at home, when I am practising, as he often watches me, as I play and claps his tiny hands.
Apart from the additional Japanese that I was learning at school, Mum has been teaching me the Maori language, and when Dad is away at work, we would talk entirely in Maori, and even Frazer began to pick up the odd word or two, which we both encouraged.
Mum also taught me alot of the Cook Island Maori, which is very simular to New Zealand Maori, but a slightly different dialect. “Mum, where does your family come from exactly?” I asked one day as I arrived home from school.
“Sit down son and I will tell you all about our family paradise,” Mum replied in Cook Island Maori, as she quickly checked on sleeping Fraser, before sitting beside me. Staying in her home language, she told me all about the island known as Tekopua, which is a long narrow island, that is just 2250 metres long, and 380 metres wide, with just three houses on the island.
The main house at the south end belongs to my grandmother, who is the matriarch of the family, while Mum’s sister and her family live in one of the other houses, in the centre of the island, and the last house at the north end is the home of her brother and family. The island is one of sixteen small islands and the large island of Tautu, together they are known as the Aitutaki Islands, with the main village named Arutanga, which are located 260 kilometres due north of the main Cook Island of Rarotonga, which is where the capital is located, along with the main airport.
Aitutaki has a population of just under 2,000 people, within 18 square kilometres of land, while the family island is just under 267 acres in area, the family relies on fish and pearl fishing and weaving mats and baskets as their main source of income, and they grow their own fruit and vegetables.
I also learnt that apart from normal aircraft flights between Rarotonga and Tautu, there are also floating planes that can land just about anywhere within sheltered waters, which is a better way to get to the island home, as it is a ten-kilometre boat ride from the airport to the home island.
Mum retrieved some photographs that she has kept, and I was amazed at how beautiful it looked with the crystal clear waters, and lots of coconut palms everywhere, and in Cook Maori, I asked Mum when we would be able to go and see the family home and meet our other family,
Mum replied that she would discuss it with Dad when he returns, and just maybe we could go during the next winter holidays, in two months time, which I was excited to hear.
When Dad did arrive home after another trip north, this time only as far as Alice Springs, he announced that the family trip during the winter holidays could not go ahead, as he would be working over in the North West of Australia, and would be away for three weeks, and then home for just one week.
I was very disappointed with this news, even before Mum could put to Dad the idea of us going to the Cook Islands to visit Mum’s side of the family.
Therefore, I retreated to my bedroom to sulk about it, as well as doing my homework, although it was hard to concentrate with there being no family holiday to look forward too.
I wasn’t very hungry when it came to dinnertime, and Mum told Dad that she had to discuss something with him later. After dinner, I helped with the washing up, before having a shower and going to bed a little earlier than usual,, and I battled to get to sleep that night.
Thankfully, it was a Friday night so I had no school in the morning, but I did have a sports activity to go too, in the early afternoon.
When Mum woke me up, and told me that I have to get up and get ready for athletics, I told her that I was not feeling very well, and that I did not want to go. Reluctantly Mum let me stay in bed, and she telephoned my coach to let him know that I would not be attending athletics today.
The rest of the school term passed by quickly and quietly, with Mum taking us to Adelaide for the mid-year school holidays, were we visited the zoo, and went to the beach, and we stayed in a holiday home at Sellicks Beach. The holiday house is in the far southern suburbs of Adelaide, and Mum found very restful, especially when I would look after Fraser for a few hours.
I guess I didn’t mind since I had nothing else to do, apart from doing a lot of reading, and I spent some time on my own down at the beach for a few hours each day, since it is only 160 metres from the house.
Alternatively, I would go for a long bike ride, since I was able to bring my mountain bike with me for this holiday, and at first, I just stuck to the cycle path, or along the beach where the sand is hard.
As I started to explore some more, I headed inland from the creek, following the cycle path until I came to the end of houses on either side, and at eh junction I turned right down Country Road heading south. I planned to do a full loop of the area and hopefully, get back to the beach and the holiday home without getting lost.
As I passed what looked like farmland on both sides, I passed a shed that looks like it is used for the storage of hay bales, and not long after there was a high wall, and double gates, with a sign saying to stay out, as there are guard dogs.
The wall continued on, for a bit longer, and near the end was another set of double gates with the same warning sign. With some stunted pine trees and a farmhouse on the left, and some hills straight ahead, I was worried that there would not be any road heading back towards the beach, and I slowed down ad I thought about turning around and going back the way I came.
When I spotted a road to right close by, which read Gull View Road, I turned down it, as it was heading the right direction, and smiling I could feel the sea air hitting my face. I could see a bit of a hill ahead of me, with no sign of the coast yet, as I built up my speed to get up the hill, which was a long and gradual slope, so it took me a bit longer than I thought to get to the top.
When I did, I saw the St Vincent Gulf and I smiled, as I turned right again so I was heading north, and I soon recognised that I was on the right road that leads to the holiday home close by. Feeling a little tired but pleased at what I had achieved, I decided that for the rest of the holiday I would go for long bike rides each day.
Looking at the kitchen clock, I realised that I had only been gone for twenty minutes, which was not very long at all. Retrieving my laptop, I opened up Google Maps and remembering the names of the roads that I was on, I checked what the distance was for the whole trip, which ended up being just 5.4 kilometres.
“Did you have a nice ride dear?” Mum asked me when she walked into the living room, “Yes thanks, I just checked and I did a 5.4 kilometre ride, which included a hill that was very long with a gradual slope, which made it a challenge,” I replied, as Fraser came running in and jumped into my lap.
“Hello little man, did you have a good nap?” I asked him in Cook Maori, and he just nodded his head yes, and I guessed that he only understood only part of what I said. “You did wear your helmet and stuck to places where there are cycle paths or foot paths?” Mum asked me also in Cook Maori.
“Yes Mother, I wore my helmet, and I was on some remote roads, but I kept to the edge, but there was no traffic on them,” I replied this time in Japanese, just to confuse her.
“What was that? Japanese?” Mum asked me in English, and I smiled broadly, as I nodded my head yes. “My word you are doing very well, and so fluent too,” Mum responded. “It appears that I have a knack for languages, as well as two dialects of Maori from you,” I replied.
“Taku tama mahio,” (My clever son) Mum said in Maori, as she stood up and headed to the kitchen, and I just smiled, before tickling my brother on the bottom of his feet, which caused him to laugh loudly. Fraser tried to wriggle out of my hold to escape the tickling, so I carefully placed him on the floor before he raced to the kitchen to hide behind Mum, as he usually does.
Just a few hours after arriving home from our holiday, the house phone rang, and Mum answered it, “Yes he is here… oh ok. Hello, this is Elani Mitchell speaking,” I heard Mum say, and I stood up and headed over to the kitchen, as Mum listened to the caller speaking.
“Nice to meet you Sam, and yes Hunter has mentioned your son, Jacob as one of his closest friends at school to me,” Mum said.