My happy place: Headland on Waiheke Island

By Bronwyn Sell

Alyx Duncan, film-maker and choreographer.

Alyx Duncan's parents Lee and Jia on the steps of The Red House. Photo / Supplied
Alyx Duncan's parents Lee and Jia on the steps of The Red House. Photo / Supplied

My happy place is a little headland on Waiheke Island, where I grew up in a red house.

We lived on a boat around the Bay of Islands until I started crawling. We sailed into Putiki Bay and thought it would be a pretty good place to live. My father dropped anchor and said, "Well, this is it."

The thing I really love about the place is its sense of community. I grew up among families from all over the world - from Canada, from Japan, from Germany, from Wales. All of us kids are now sprinkled across the world again, seeking our fortunes in various places, but the older generation are still there. It gives me strength and stability - having this little place where people know me, having this strong identity with a tiny island.

Since I was about four we've lived in the red house. It's nestled in the bush with the sea below it and it's layered full of all the detritus of our history and our lives there. Both my parents are hoarders so all the traces of my childhood remain.

Four years ago, my father broke the news to me that he and my stepmother were going to pack up and sell the house and move away. In that moment I thought: "Oh my goodness, what will it be like to not have that physical presence of our home?"

I felt I wanted to document it, so I starting making a short documentary in which The Red House was the central character. My starting question was: What is home? Is it the place you come from, or is it what you carry inside you wherever you go?

But my camera became increasingly drawn to the humans, to how ordinary people move in an environment in which they feel natural. In the end my parents didn't end up moving and I decided to pursue it as a work of fiction in which my parents play the main characters. This became the film The Red House, set on a tiny island that could be any small hometown.

I live in Auckland now, and visiting the headland is like coming home. There's something about the beauty of that place that it's always going to have that fairy-tale quality.

It's such a joy in the summer to sit there with the cicadas and wallow in the water. It just feels like a release to be able to leave the fast-paced world and slow down and appreciate the small things of life.

* Alyx Duncan's film The Red House is part of the Auckland Film Festival, on until August 5. It screens at SkyCity Theatre on July 29 at 1pm, and at Rialto Newmarket on August 2 at 1.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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