Roy Nathan knocks on the door of a Katikati olive farm, sweating so much he looks like he has just stepped out of the sea.

Everyone's talking about how hot it is in the Bay, even though it's March.

It's sticky and humid. Some are calling it a heatwave. People have given up trying to style their hair. The shops are running out of fans.

No one's sleeping.

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But that's not why Roy is sweating.

He's "terrified", "anxious".

Forty now, he's suffered social anxiety since he was 30.

It's not like he is going to meet a stranger.

Roy Nathan outside the Katikati home of Bert and Jeanetta van Heuckelum. Photo/Jaden McLeod
Roy Nathan outside the Katikati home of Bert and Jeanetta van Heuckelum. Photo/Jaden McLeod

He's known olive farmers Bert and Jeanetta van Heuckelum since he was a kid.

He was mates with Bert's oldest son.

They were in wrestling tournaments together at primary school.

He remembers Bert and Jeanetta driving them to Coromandel. Roy was car sick. Bert had to stop the car. Jeanetta - Netty - looked after him, clearing up his vomit, making sure he was okay. He remembers how she looked after him. He was only 9.

But when he grew up, he killed her.

Now he is knocking on her husband's door.

He's not here to ask for forgiveness.

TEN YEARS EARLIER - Sunday September 28, 2008

Bert and Netty van Heuckelum with their olive press in 2007, two years before the accident that killed Netty. Photo/File
Bert and Netty van Heuckelum with their olive press in 2007, two years before the accident that killed Netty. Photo/File

It's 10 years since Netty and Roy crashed into each other early one Sunday morning on State Highway Two.

Netty was driving towards Tauranga to her job as a nurse at Tauranga Hospital
Roy was driving towards Katikati, to his home.

Outside Apata coolstores, at 6.19am, Roy's car crossed the centre line into the path of Netty.

Roy got out and walked away from his car.

Netty died instantly.

Roy was blind drunk.

Roy's story:

Roy Nathan went out on Saturday night in the Mount with friends from the Navy. It was a big night.

The Warriors were in the semifinals. The bar closed at midnight, but the mates carried on drinking.

Roy had come prepared to party.

He had packed a bag and planned to stay over with friends. But when everyone parted ways in the early hours, he didn't go to his mates but instead made a decision to drive 30 minutes home to Katikati.

Over the years he's thought so much about that decision.

It is a decision which has destroyed so many lives, but it was based on him feeling "lazy".

"There wasn't any deliberating. It was at the time just because I wanted to go home to sleep in my own bed.

"I thought I was fine."

He wasn't.

A blood sample revealed excess blood alcohol of 163 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood - just over twice the then adult limit of 80mg.

Roy can't even remember leaving Mount Maunganui.

He can't remember driving home.

He doesn't remember the impact because he was asleep, he says.

When his car came to a stop, and he woke, he didn't even realise he had hit anyone.

"I didn't have my glasses on, and I couldn't see. To this day I don't know what happened to my glasses. My car windscreen was shattered, and I couldn't see out of it, and my vision was blurred anyway."

He smelt smoke and could hear a car horn going off.

When the ambulance arrived, Roy was able to walk to it. He was taken to Tauranga Hospital, along the route Netty had been travelling to work.

His mother arrived at the hospital.

He didn't understand the way she looked at him.

"My injuries were fairly minor, a punctured lung, a couple of broken ribs...I didn't even know there was another person in the accident, so I remember thinking, why does she have that look on her face."

She bent down and told him he had crashed into another vehicle. She whispered in his ear, "she's dead".

Roy's body went into shock, convulsing on the bed. He fell unconscious.

Waking up there was worse to come. He found out the woman he had killed was Netty, the mother of his school friend.

"It was heartwrenching. A mother. Someone who cared and nurtured people. Someone who had cared for me."

Bert's story:

Bert and Netty had the same routine every Sunday.

She would get up for the early shift in Tauranga Hospital's ward 4B, orthopaedics.

"She looked after people with broken bones, some from accidents, some from surgery, and some drunk...she cared for them all the same."

In a week's time she was going to start on the maternity ward.

"The kids joked about that saying 'oh mum have you got something to tell us', and she would joke back, 'I am finished with that, I am waiting for grandkids please'."

The couple's four adult children had been staying at the family home for the past two weeks.

Each Sunday Netty would call Bert when she arrived at the hospital to make sure he was up to go to the Sunday markets where they sold their olive oils.

"It was unusual she didn't call, but I thought there must be traffic on the road.

He set off at 7.30am.

"Sure enough, when I came over the top of the hill near Apata I saw flashing lights, so I thought, oh here we go, another accident, this is what must be causing delays."

Bert pulled up to the police cordon where he could make out the wreckage of a car...horrified to see the last digits of Netty's plate, 888. The policeman who came to Bert's window was a local.

"He told me Netty had died. I was numb. I asked if I could go to her. They wrenched the passenger door open and I sat beside her for a while. But she was gone."

The Katikati policeman drove Bert home to the olive farm where he had to break the news to the four children that their mother was dead.

"It was the hardest thing I have done in my life, and it is still the hardest thing. For me to lose my wife that is one thing, but for the kids to lose their mother, no one can replace a mother."

The family found out the driver was Roy, their family friend.

They learned he was drunk. The family refused restorative justice.

"I said no, I am not ready to forgive."

THE PUNISHMENT - "a lesson no one should have to learn"

In January 2009 following the accident Roy pleaded guilty to driving with excess alcohol causing death.

In March he was sentenced to 18 months' prison and disqualified from driving for two years.

The sentencing judge said it was a lesson "no one should have to learn".

In court, a distraught Bert struggled to contain his emotions as he read his victim statement about the loss of his wife of 33 years, his best friend, the mother of his children.

"When will people get the message not to drink and drive?''

He spoke directly to Roy, who turned to face him squarely, and said,

"I hope this never happens to you."

Roy spent just nine months in prison.

With the maximum penalty for the charge five years, he knows in one sense his sentence is lenient.

The sentence does not end on leaving prison. He could not return to his distinguished career in the Navy.

"Everything that I was before was gone. It was a dark place. I don't say that for people to feel sorry for me. I feel the guilt of what I did."

He does not forgive himself. But he wants to keep proving himself.

"I made a terrible decision 10 years ago. I don't ask for forgiveness for that.

"If I were Bert and his family, I would not forgive me. But I am motivated to make good choices, and if I can, to help others make them."

He is now a youth worker, helping at-risk rangatahi or recidivist youth offenders in the community.

Once happy family. Netty Van Heuckelum (left) and family. Photo/ SUPPLIED
Once happy family. Netty Van Heuckelum (left) and family. Photo/ SUPPLIED

For years Bert raged. In grief. In anger.

He lobbied politicians about the road. He spoke out about drunk driving. He said cars should be confiscated, sentences should be manslaughter. He wanted a referendum on drink driving.

A Blue Light anti-drink drive presentation in 2013 united him with Roy on stage when the pair told their story to local school children.

Bert van Heuckelum and Roy Nathan appeared at a Blue Light talk on drink driving. Photo/File
Bert van Heuckelum and Roy Nathan appeared at a Blue Light talk on drink driving. Photo/File

Bert did it, not for Roy, but because he wanted people to get the message about drink driving.

They sat side by side. But they didn't look at each other.

They still live in the same town.

They have never really talked. Or looked into each other's eyes.

Until now.

BERT AND NETTY

Bert and Netty van Heuckelum with their olive press in 2007, two years before the accident that killed Netty. Photo/File
Bert and Netty van Heuckelum with their olive press in 2007, two years before the accident that killed Netty. Photo/File

Bert and Netty were married for 33 years, lovers for 40 years, but had known each other "since our memories began".

Their mothers knew each other. When they were babies, they were weighed side by side in the hospital.

They went to school together in Holland. Bert first saw Netty following her dad's tractor around.

"She wore blue overalls, I saw her then, and thought, 'that's the one'."

Married, they emigrated to New Zealand. They were hard workers. They grew kiwifruit before switching to their passion, the olive orchard.

They planted their first trees in 2000. They used to work from 7am to midnight in busy times.

When not working in the orchard, Bert would sell oils at local markets. Netty was a nurse and busy mother of four.

Just before she died, they were starting to reap the rewards,

"We had a plan. She wanted to go on a cruise to Alaska. We thought we would do this for a few more years - the kids are all grown up - and then we would retire, travel, grow old together.

"You know those old people in their 80s in the olive oil advert on TV, that was how I saw me and Netty, growing old together."

But they didn't

BERT AND ROY

Bert van Heuckelum shows Roy Nathan around his olive orchard. Photo/Jaden McLeod
Bert van Heuckelum shows Roy Nathan around his olive orchard. Photo/Jaden McLeod

Bert opens the door to welcome in Roy.

Roy takes off his shoes. Bert has just vacuumed. Netty always used to nag him to do it.

"Once she came in from the hospital and said, why haven't you vacuumed, and I said, 'oh, I have been outside', and she said, 'oh, have you been outside all summer?'"

Roy laughs.

Roy plays nervously with his cellphone. He only got one for the first time in September.

"Well, that is a story too," laughs Bert.

None of the children live at home anymore. Bert lives alone. Apart from a chicken and his field of alpacas.

There are towers of Lee Child books on the floor.

On the coffee table, a book on plants and medicines next to the philosophy of Engels.

On the bookshelf there are children's books, nursing textbooks, and a tiled plaque with cursive writing saying "Life is a journey, not a destination".

Sprigs of bound lavender hang upside everywhere. The children's old teddies perch on the back of the sofas.

On the chair in the corner, there are piles of alpaca wool and a spinning wheel.

The two men look at the family photos on the wall.

On one wall is a portrait of Netty with paintings with childlike writing: "I love you, Oma".

"That's from the grandkids. She never got to meet any of them, but we make sure they know about her."

Roy asks how many grandchildren there are.

"Seven," says Bert, "I never remember how old they all are, or their birthdays, that's something she would have done."

Roy wipes his face, from sweat, and some tears.

"Let's go outside to cool off," suggests Bert.

There is no breeze.

The outdoor furniture is dusty and ripped.

There's rust on the barbecue. The garden is covered in weeds.

The men talk about land boundaries, hectares, plants.

Roy says Bert should get on top of the nightshade.

Bert van Heuckelum has planted a rose garden for his wife Netty. Photo/Jaden McLeod
Bert van Heuckelum has planted a rose garden for his wife Netty. Photo/Jaden McLeod

Bert points to a pop of colour, a rose garden.

"She always went on that she wanted a rose garden, but I never got round to it when she was alive, but now I have. "

"There's a song in that," says Roy.

They laugh.

Bert takes Roy through the orchard.

It is flanked by a hedge of sage.

"Netty believed in the power of plants. Sage takes away bad things, spirits. It brings you good fortune."

He breaks a leaf off and gives it to Roy.

There's the heady scent of lavender.

"It is healing. I used it to take the sting out of mosquitoes but Netty says it does so much more than that. We made oils from it."

They walk through the olive trees, through the olive branches.

Bert in front, Roy behind.

"We were going to do this for a while longer, then give up."

Roy nods.

DRINK DRIVING

Bert van Heuckelum places his wife's favourite flowers, roses, on her Katikati grave. Photo/Jaden McLeod
Bert van Heuckelum places his wife's favourite flowers, roses, on her Katikati grave. Photo/Jaden McLeod

Bert thinks there should be more preventative measures for drink driving.

"I used to think that bigger sentences would work but that is just the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We need a fence at the top."

He thinks cars should be confiscated from any drunk driver,

"The prospect of killing oneself or someone else doesn't seem to stop people. If it hurts them in the pocket, maybe they will think twice about getting in a car after a drink."

Roy thinks there should be zero alcohol levels because any alcohol in the system not only impairs driving but even the decision to drive.

"Even after a few drinks, people have a false sense that things will be okay, it's still our culture, that it's sweet as.

"But it's not sweet as for Bert and family and for all those other families out there whose loved ones don't come home."

Roy thinks targeting messages at youth is the answer, with emphasis on the impact of drink driving on people's lives.

"For any big change, it takes three generations; if we can change the minds of our young people, we can change people's perspectives."

He would never have worked with youth he says if it hadn't been for the accident.

"It put me on this path. I share my story with some of them who need hard-hitting reality.

"It is not a story I am proud of, but I want people to hear it."

FORGIVENESS

Bert van Heuckelum looks through family photos with Roy Nathan. Photo/Jaden McLeod
Bert van Heuckelum looks through family photos with Roy Nathan. Photo/Jaden McLeod

Bert gets iced water from the fridge.

Roy sits on Netty's rocking chair in the front room.

He talks slowly and quietly. About guilt. Remorse.

"I think about Netty all the time, not all the time in my head, but in my heart."

Bert silently spins alpaca wool on the spinning as Roy rocks back and forth.

Outside it is the end of the day, but still unbearably hot.

Roy says since he became a parent, his actions are even harder to live with.

"I not only left Bert without his partner, his soulmate, but Netty's children without a mother. Grandchildren who never knew their grandmother.

"I have moved an important person from the whakapapa. That branch can never be regrafted."

As Bert silently spins the wool, Roy speaks softly, as though to himself,

"I am sorry. I am sorry for all families who have suffered because of drink driving. I am sorry for my actions. I am eternally sorry."

Bert stops spinning.

Bert says, "Netty was a tough woman, but she cared a hell of a lot about people...she wouldn't want you to destroy your life....she wouldn't want me to live with hate."

Bert accompanies Roy to the door.

Roy is on his way home to his family.

Bert is going to visit Netty in the Katikati Cemetery.

"What you did was a bad decision...I know that now. You didn't do it on purpose; you made a bad decision. A terrible decision."

They look into each other's eyes.

Bert puts his arms around Roy. The two men embrace.

Roy didn't come here for forgiveness.

Bert isn't going to say the words.

Netty isn't coming home.

On the wall, a photo of Netty, known as 'Oma', the grandmother who the grandchildren have never met. Photo / Jaden McLeod
On the wall, a photo of Netty, known as 'Oma', the grandmother who the grandchildren have never met. Photo / Jaden McLeod

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