Anahera Gildea

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The Queen’s Chain

My mother was born in the summer of ’53, as the Queen took her first steps on our soil. Nan cursed and swore cos she never got to see nothin’ – not even from the hospital where the patients crowded at the windows to watch the Laudalette pass by. But she named her daughter Elizabeth anyway; they all did.

That’s how the women do it in our line – I got my name, Te Ao Haere, cos I was born straight into the ’75 land march, well, close as intention can get you. My mother liked to think she supported her people with each push and each bear-down that forced me out.

As soon as she was allowed, she squashed the whole world down into a single vinyl suitcase and slid us both into the car like she was trying to get us back in the womb.

‘Back to the land!’ she shouted. ‘Back to our roots!’ And she left, swearing at the city behind us.

Our house was built in the fifties by my grandfather before the rest of the street got built up round it. The land came through from Nan, from the Raukawa whānau. It started where my feet hit the curb and finished up at the creek down the back. On the day my mother and I arrived to move in, the lawn was newly mowed and there were rough broom marks on the path from the wire gate to the doorsteps. Blades of grass blew onto and off the concrete as we walked towards Nan at the door. Overgrown shrubs and foreign grasses ate away at the foot of every wall and crawled up the back fence.

When I was old enough to keep my gumboots on, it got to be my job to help her drag the weeds to the pile down the back. She would talk to me about each of the flowers as we passed like they were her other children. There was red roses and hot-pink dahlias, jonquils and tulips, lilies and irises, and falling-over ranunculuses. She reckoned the smell of a flower in the last minutes of its life was the best, most amazing thing.

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