Kate asked me about New Zealand literature, and that’s a bit of a stretch for me because I’m barely a tadpole in the huge pond of opinion about that subject. I’ve asked around about the best literature and poems, and I’ll come back with answers over time. Meanwhile, walking today, thinking thoughts about writing and publishing in the back of my mind, and reflecting on New Zealand’s literary cannon, I noticed a blackbird scuffling under a rose bush. Both strangers in a strange land, and now perfectly at home.

In the 1950’s my grandparents went back to Denmark. I guess it was the trophy triumphant tour – post war Denmark would have been rather different than it is today. Just getting there was an expedition, and I can imagine the letters each way, organising the meetings, and the joys and sadnesses of people reuniting and later, parting for the last time.

When my grandfather left Denmark he hid a potato or two in his hat band, and carried them back to New Zealand. These are unusual potatoes – smaller than the typical spud, golden yellow in colour, best boiled and served with butter and freshly ground black pepper – just delicious. Over the years they have been carefully nurtured and shared amongst the family – preserving the culture, of little inheritance of Denmark, the place we called home, even though it never was, in any sense.

And so I can understand why the settlers, coming from the UK to New Zealand in the mid 1800s, brought with them the memories from home – the fragrance of roses, the song of blackbirds; the civilising influence of the familiar or cherished in the strange, new world. Just off the Terrace is a small garden with some roses – already having lost their leaves and blossoms. The roses are known as Harris Roses, carried by Sophia Harris, a passenger on the ‘Bolton’, one of the first ships arriving here in Wellington, in 1840. Sophia carried the rose in a potato, the rose survived the voyage, and although there were no flowers present today, I did see them flowering back in summer.

I can’t see roses or blackbirds or myself out of the context of being foreign, although in reality we were all started our lives here. If you go back far enough, everyone in New Zealand is of migrant stock. Our ancestors all arrived from somewhere else. And yet we’re all making our home here. And so, as for the literary explorations, my first offering is from Dave Dobbyn, a poet musician who wrote and performed the music for the most New Zealand of New Zealand movies, Footrot Flats. More recently, Dave penned and performed welcome home.

tonight I am feeling for you
under the state of a strange land
you have sacrificed much to be here
‘there but for grace…’ as I offer my hand
welcome home, i bid you welcome, i bid you welcome
welcome home from the bottom of my heart
out here on the edge
the empire is fading by the day
and the world is so weary in war
maybe we’ll find that new way

so welcome home, see i made a space for you now
welcome home from the bottom of our heart
welcome home from the bottom of our hearts
keep it coming now – keep it coming now
you’ll find most of us here with our hearts wide open
keep it coming now – keep on coming now
keep it coming now – keep on coming now

there’s a woman with her hands trembling – haere mai
and she sings with a mountain’s memory – haere mai

there’s a cloud the full length of these isles
just playing chase with the sun
and it’s black and it’s white and it’s wild
all the colours are one

image from http://www.davedobbyn.co.nzso welcome home, i bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
welcome home from the bottom of our hearts
welcome home, see i made a space for you now
welcome home from the bottom of our hearts
from the bottom of our hearts

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Clicking on the image will play a clip (windows media player required) of the video from Welcome Home by Dave Dobbyn. Dave also writes text. Lyrics and media from davedobbyn.co.nz.

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