A love letter to: Feilding

Miriama McDowell's heart belongs in the Manawatu.
Miriama McDowell's heart belongs in the Manawatu.

It was obvious that I would travel, I am told, even as a toddler. Apparently I would sit on the driveway and as the godwit masses flew overhead on their way to warmer climes, I would follow their arc across the sky, as if longing to join them. I left home when I was 16 to conquer the world. I've lived in Canada, Costa Rica and England, and visited many places in the Pacific, Latin America and Europe. But the place I want to write about is far less exotic. New Zealand's Most Beautiful Town (14 times award winner!), right smack in the heart of the Manawatu. I'm talking about Feilding.

I spent most of my childhood brought up by only my Dad. There were four kids, a dog, and various babysitters who got us through the day to day, but essentially it was my dad who brought us up. We all understood that in the school holidays, when Dad would do the six-hour drive to Feilding from Auckland, where we lived, that it was the start of his time out. He'd sometimes turn around and drive back the same night.

I was always happy to arrive at his eldest sister's house in Feilding. As we pulled into town, scratchy from our long drive, my dad would always pull over on East St, about half a kilometre from our destination and make us all brush our hair.

Suitably coiffed, we'd pull in to Aunty Joy's driveway.

We'd lived in nine houses in Auckland by the time I hit high school, but my Aunty Joy has lived in the same house since she got married in the early 60 s. At Aunty Joy's house nothing ever changes, and I like it that way.

We loved the Trade Aid shop where my aunty and uncle both volunteered. I was her sidekick on her Meals on Wheels deliveries too. My little sister used to join in with the Senior Aerobics sessions in the sunroom, and all four of us would tag along for her shifts at the Manchester House op shop.

When me, my twin brother and older sister hit our teens, our dad tried to stir our entrepreneurial instincts by giving us $100 to start a business. We couldn't wait to get to Feilding to buy all of the Adidas tracksuits from the 1970s and cart them back to Auckland to sell at the Recycle Boutique. We'd buy them for 50c and sell them for $25, so our profit margins were bloody good.

Feilding is flat, and the Orua river runs along its Eastern edge. I remember one summer we got dropped off near Kimbolton, about 10km upstream and floated on bits of polystyrene all the way back to Feilding. That river will always be one of the great adventures of my life.

Feilding is the place where I learned about routine, service to others, the freedom of small towns, the bitterness of winters and fierce love for cousins. Most of all Feilding is the place where my aunty lives, it's family. It's home.

Miriama McDowell is co-directing Massive Company's upcoming show The Island performing from 28 June - 1 July at Mangere Arts Centre before heading to Scotland.

- Weekend magazine

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