Friday, May 7, 2010

Remembering Waihau Bay

When I was six years old, our small town was flooded. Flood waters went right through houses and shops, and retreated leaving chaos and a stinking layer of mud in their wake.

It must have been a nightmarish experience for the adults, but for a small child the outcome was delightful. The school had been flooded, and schoolchildren were given an unexpected holiday. To keep them out of the way while the massive clean-up was going on, many parents sent their children to friends or relations out of town. And I was lucky enough to be sent to the tiny seaside settlement of Waihau Bay.

Waihau Bay can be found towards the eastern side of the map on this page, a little to the east of Raukokore. You'll need to magnify the map, though—it really is a tiny place. There was a vague connection, involving one or two layers of in-lawness, between my family and the people who owned Waihau Bay's general store, and they good-naturedly took in several children during the clean-up.

Looking back, it feels as if we were there for months, but it can only have been a few weeks at most. It's hard to be sure exactly how long it was—while my visual memories of this time are outlined with startling clarity, that doesn't extend to having any real sense of the passing of time.

Every day seemed to be brilliantly fine, and we spent all day every day out-of-doors, paddling, clambering over the rocks, exploring rock pools, gathering shellfish, and having impromptu barbecues. I've a feeling that some of these images became conflated with my later reading of "Famous Five" books (helped by the fact that I had my dog with me, and he was called Timmy), but those weeks nevertheless remain golden in my memory.

That's no doubt why, when I was choosing a setting for one of my future books, Waihau Bay came to mind. It will be a fictionalised version, given a different name; I don't feel I have the right to send my invented characters to where they'd be usurping the place of real, well-documented people. But it will be informed by that special place with its golden memories.

I haven't been there in years, but I recently saw Taika Waititi's new movie, "Boy", which is set in Waihau Bay. I found the film itself engaging and often moving, and it was a delight to see the Bay again.

I have six or seven books in various stages of planning, including at least two that follow secondary characters. One of these will be set in my fictionalised Waihau Bay. I look forward to finding out just what happens there (although I do have a fair idea, characters have a way of following their own paths, and it's generally best to let them). Now all I have to do is finish my work-in-progress, and the two or three that will come after it in this sequence of stories. And then, I think, I had better plan a visit to the real Waihau Bay.

1 comment:

  1. It was probably three weeks. I recall that flood a little better than you because I'm a year older. My experience was different because out on the farm, up on a hill, we weren't flooded at all. School was closed for all of though (yay!) and we took in a couple of town kids for the duration while their parents cleaned up. I remember they were with us for three weeks. Then, I think, the school was ready, though there were still signs of the flood around for years afterwards.

    There was also one death. A baby in a portable cot was put up on a shelf out of the way of the flood and tipped out when everyone was (understandably) otherwise occupied. The baby drowned.