Whanganui is the river that winds from Mount Tongariro in the Central North Island of New Zealand through valleys and Whanganui National Park to the wild west coast. My mother’s family belongs to the town of Whanganui where the river meets the sea. My Aunt Olive, Uncle Peter and my grandmother still lived in Whanganui throughout my childhood. I remember my Grandmother’s room full of treasures she had gathered over the years. She told me many stories of the settlers, including my ancestors, who had built this once prosperous river town and their relationships with the local iwi.
This song celebrates my grandmother’s strength through all the difficult times in her life.
Last time I talked to the old one, she was stooped and almost gone
Knuckles big as marbles but her eyes still shone
Said she was tired of living now, no reason left to stay
But she hadn’t counted up all the love in our hearts, or thought what we might say
Once she said there was a stream that danced over rocks down the mountain
It turned and it sparkled and it gleamed – carved out a name in the valley it was forming
And the settlers in the old river town, their hammers ringing in the sun
All the laughing girls and boys – there was plenty and hope for everyone
Last time I saw the album, all the old familiars came back
The man whose firm fell over – she heard he’d dropped in his tracks
The winking boy in the photograph duelled in Spitfires in the War
She listened every night to the 9 o’clock news and for Bluebirds over Dover.
And the river made rapids and pools, deep in a fold in the ranges
Picking up creeks and trees that fell in when storms blew wild in the heart of her island
Last time I went to the old river town the family stood about
Mum read stones in the churchyard and spoke the words aloud
And the river took a dignified curve to a groyne where it met the tumbling sea
There are bone white logs where we played in the sand, where my uncle made billy tea