It's been heartbreaking to watch the tragic events in New Plymouth. Last Wednesday, Spotswood College pupils Stephen Lewis Kahukaka-Gedye, 17, and Joao Felipe Martins De Melo, 17, of Brazil fell off Paritutu Rock during a rock climbing expedition. Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre instructor Bryce John Jourdain, 42, of New Plymouth jumped in to try and save them and all are now presumed drowned.
The event has affected me on a personal level. Memories came flooding back of my time in New Plymouth. In 1986, I spent a year doing a Maori trade training scheme, with a group of about 40 Maori from around the country. We all lived at Rangiatea Maori Hostel, which was located right next to Spotswood College, (it is now a campus for Te Wananga o Aotearoa).
Back then, we would make our way down to Back Beach near Paritutu Rock most weekends and go swimming. When I first saw the beach I thought it was beautiful with its black sand, littered with drift wood, the massive surf and of course Paritutu Rock - standing there as if it was a guardian of the beach. At the time we were unaware of the beach's notorious reputation for strong rips, which had claimed a number of unsuspecting swimmers.
Even when a number of my mates were caught in a rip, it didn't concern us, one of us would simply swim out, grab them and swim them (against the rip) back to shore. It all changed for me one day when one of my mates got into trouble. I swam out, he grabbed my foot and I swam him back into shore. The effort had taken a toll on me and I was tired, but I got him back. As I stood there spent, I looked back out to sea to see another mate in trouble. I asked him if he needed help and he responded "yes". Although exhausted, I swam out to him and repeated the same exercise but this time I didn't have the energy to get him back to shore. Luckily my mate let go of my foot and a couple of our other friends came and helped us.
The moment shocked me and it was the last time I swam there. However, on the following weekend one of the boys was caught in a rip and swept out to sea, despite the vain attempts from the rest of the group to rescue him.
It was several days before Tangaroa (Maori god of the sea) returned our friend's body to us. Obviously after this, the beach lost its appeal and instead of Paritutu looking like a guardian it became this dark menacing figure, there to remind us of what had happened.
So at this time, it's about taking care of those most affected by the tragic incident and remembering the three people who have perhaps taken the final journey.
To those three, I say; Haere, e nga hoa haere. Haere ki nga tipuna kua roro ki te po. Ki te po uriuri, te po tangotango, te po hekeheke (Go, friends go. Go to the ancestors who have gone to the night. The dark night, the dense night, the bottomless night).