Belated Anzac Day celebration in France is a fine moment to reflect on real fabric of Kiwiland.

You know life can change for a few people to something unrecognisable. But I don't think the basics change, at least with most. And when you have as many downs as ups, you'd be a fool to have a short memory when the view is great. Because bad weather is always on its way.

I was feeling a bit nostalgic hanging out for a bit of music from back in the day, so it was Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, always Mahalia Jackson, a bit of Marty Robbins and Roy Orbison, all of it from the 60s and 70s. And it still pleases, still lifts.

But of course I'm talking to a very tiny minority here. And that's all right. Not a music lesson to follow. I heard Mahalia first as an 11-year-old and was utterly blown away. Stevie grabbed me at age 16, Ray at not much older. The two white guys seem to have been there as long, I'm not sure. I only know that the joy they have given me cannot be measured, as applies to most everyone of their favourite musicians.

Then I got sentimental for some music with a Maori flavour. So I YouTubed some of my Wahiao, Tuhourangi tribal waiata from competitions and it duly hit the spot. Not, I have to say, like the former mentioned. But on a different level, where memories mostly good come trickling in.


As a youngster with a swag of relations living in Whakarewarewa in Rotorua, I grew up penny-diving in the cold Puarenga Stream and warming up in the delicious warmth of our thermal baths. We had singing all around us and we in turn sang and learned to harmonise. The culture was strong then but not as strong as it is now with a revival evidently having taken place. Renaissance is completely the wrong word, as it has no intellectual element.

After our senior rugby games the Whaka clubrooms felt the best place in the world to be. Our women sang as much as the men and as the night wore on, a lot better. Individuals took solo turns and we basked in their reflected glory, like we do with our better sportspeople - because they're "ours".

Or what else are we on this earth for if not as social creatures nurturing each other? Your neighbour's girl's netball team championship win belongs to you as well. The prodigal son who comes home a doctor, a successful businessman, he's everyone's too.

The culture that does not respect women is the one that will always be lost in darkness.


So is the kid born with spina bifida, Down syndrome, mentally ill or backward. The troubled soul, the drunks, the criminally inclined, they're all part of the village. The tradespeople, factory workers, office workers, professionals, even the downright lazy.

Every mother and housewife holds the lot together and when she doesn't, as in isn't allowed to, you can be sure there is chaos, disorder and misery. The culture that does not respect women is the one that will always be lost in darkness.

The thermal baths at Whaka were an equaliser. I just read an article on why Icelanders are one of the happiest races on earth: their thermal baths, and virtually the entire population bathing together.

It's the sight of bodies in the raw, not out of glossy magazines or television or movies. This is real humanity and, according to the article, precisely why the notion of ideal image is stripped away - literally. An unspoken declaration of: Get your gear off, and lose that pretentious nonsense. That's how it was for us in Whaka. When we sang, other than the soloists, it was as one, often scores of us. Those memories are beautiful. But it's a generational thing and they don't do that anymore. Though I'm sure each generation comes up with something that holds the social fabric together.

On the weekends, while we soaked in a line-up of concrete baths, the women would wash clothes in a shallow dish pool alongside us, gossiping, laughing and sometimes breaking out in song. Bemused tourists must have thought this a chance moment. But it was no fluke; it's how Whaka village lived back then.

So here I am in France having had a late Anzac Day celebration with expat Kiwi and Aussie mates over lunch then golf, along with French mates who have come to respect this occasion. A long way from home but you carry it in your heart.

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