Like many priests in Aotearoa–New Zealand I attended the national gathering in Blenheim in April. I haven’t got that much staying power nowadays so I could attend only parts of it but I made it to the speaker’s address each morning and his discussion group in the afternoon.
Better brains than mine have written them up in these pages, but I felt they were very good. I didn’t want to miss the whole event because it was about priesthood and it was in my home town of Blenheim.
This of course placed me in the South Island so with two good friends from Napier we set off to the see this part of the country as soon as the course was complete. I spent two days in Christchurch with my brother and then the three of us took off in my little car to see the far south of our country.
The first stop was St Margaret’s College at Otago University. What an eye opener for my friends. There was a 50-year age gap between us and the students but we were welcomed as if we belonged there. We had an excellent time in the city and lived as the students live. I really think my friends were sad to leave. There’s much more to being a student than the odd bit that hits the news. The university has a real magnetism for me and I try to get there at least twice a year.
About two hours south of Dunedin, after turning off at Balclutha, you end up in the Catlins. It’s a forgotten world—a world of its own. We stayed in a home that was advertised in a small book called the ‘Parish to Parish’. It lists all the Catholic bed and breakfasts and you could tour the country using only that book if you wanted to.
In the middle of the Catlins at a town called Owaka we were greeted by a South African woman with a tale to tell. She and her husband, a professional man I gather, followed their daughter here after she married a rugby supporter and farmer from eastern Southland. They bought a home in Owaka and settled down. One can’t imagine a bigger move but they did it and they loved it. The husband died a couple of years ago. She is a skilled secretary and treasurer so she is in great demand with local clubs. One of her clubs is the senior citizens and this group were off the next day to Dunedin for lunch. This seemed like an extraordinary journey for a meal but I’ve no doubt that it was enjoyed and that they’ll be planning the next one very soon.
By our standards, Owaka is a remote place but, as we were to find out along the way, every little town contains a little and priceless museum. They are never much to look at from the outside but once inside you discover the secrets of the ancestors who made life there possible.
Every place shows itself to you if you stay still for a little while. The university with its thousands of young people, the small town of Owaka in the Catlins, each has a treasure to show you as you pass through, provided you’re prepared to watch and wait a little while.