Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Where You From?

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  • Russell Brown,

    When a place makes the news, especially in tragedy, whatever degree of “fromness” we have for it resonates. Even if our memories of it are painful or conflicted, we feel it.

    I've been asking myself why, despite having largely grown up in Christchurch, I haven't felt that way. It's not that I don't feel terrible about what's happened, but I feel bad for the people I know and love there -- and even for people I don't know -- more than I feel a personal connection. I suspect it's partly because the then-developing northwestern suburbs where I grew up aren't the parts ripped to pieces by the earthquake.

    OTOH, James Milne (aka Lawrence Arabia) asked me about contributing to an oral history of 1980s Christchurch that he wants to compile, and I really got some flow on thinking about that. The handful of independent years I spent in Christchurch are still alive to me: those were good times. But most of the people I knew then -- including the love of my life -- are with me now in Auckland.

    Oddly enough, I glanced at my Wikipedia article this morning. It's been ages since anyone thought I was from Timaru ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    An interesting question, and it highlights the fluidity of the word "home". It took me less than a year of living in Wellington before I was no longer "from" Christchurch. In some contexts, when people ask where I'm from I'll presume that they've noticed my vestigial accent, so I'll say "London" (despite having no conscious memories of my time living there). When I was travelling a lot for work I used to say that "home is where the cellphone charger is", and it was true in a sense: if I said "I'm heading home now" I meant that I was going back to my hotel.

    But I'm still surprised by the number of people who ask towards the end of the year "Are you going home for Christmas?", I tend to answer "yes, I'm going home to my apartment in Willis St". I could understand it from young people who have only just moved out of the family home, but isn't there something sad when supposedly independent adults don't consider the place that they live to be home?

    Of course, I know it's different for me: I was born somewhere different from where I grew up, we had no extended family there, my parents have moved out of the house I grew up in (into two completely different suburbs that I never knew well) and I was never exactly the type to get parochial about a sports team. But it still seems odd to say that you're "going home" rather than "going to visit the family".

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    it highlights the fluidity of the word "home"

    I have lived in places that were never home - not cities, but individual houses. I'd probably been at uni a couple of years before I was living somewhere that felt like home, and then I would "go home" (meaning not so much Timaru, but my mother's house) and then come home (return to my flat in Chch).

    I have a theory that'll never be more than that, that our weakest or most resisted "fromness" is for the place where we spent our teenage years.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4371 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn,

    Mind you, half of Wellington’s from Christchurch anyway

    Taking the place of the Wellingtonians who now live in Auckland, I suspect - me being one of them. We are legion!

    Yes, the Christchurch thing....I have minor dealings with a firm down there who seem to have disappeared into the liquefaction. My first thought after the nasty quake was "Hope they're OK" and subsequently I heard that yes, they were OK, the staff was all back at work, but payments that were promised weeks ago haven't eventuated, and I can't bring myself to inquire further. Doesn't seem kind or right, somehow.

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    I've spent 8 of my 28 years in Auckland, on and off, but somehow I'm still "from" Wellington if anyone asks. This despite the alienation I increasingly feel when I go back "home", with a) having no family living there anymore (they're mostly in Christchurch or Australia, the more fool them), b) the hyperspace bypass which has appeared through my once-favourite part of town and c) buses in Manners Mall!!!! I mean, srsly, wtf?

    In some contexts, when people ask where I'm from I'll presume that they've noticed my vestigial accent, so I'll say "London" (despite having no conscious memories of my time living there).

    Despite having lived in this country my whole life, my accent is often mistaken - by NZers and otherwise - for English, or perhaps South African. Perhaps that's another reason for being "from" Wellington - when asked where I'm from (or more insidiously, where I'm originally from), it's easier to reply "Wellington" than get all defensive.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 801 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    I think home may depend on just how much you have invested in it, not money but things like time, family history and landscape
    Maybe if you have lived in a place long enough you start to have similar feelings to those that Maori have for their turanga waiwai
    Certainly I, who am the most unemotional of men, definitely have been known to get a misty eye when I see the rolling downs of home after a break away

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 545 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I have a theory that'll never be more than that, that our weakest or most resisted "fromness" is for the place where we spent our teenage years.

    Interesting: I can relate to that myself, but for some it seems to be the other way around. For some people, the networks and rituals of high school seem to define the rest of their lives, and they're amazed that none of my Facebook friends are old high school buddies ("but, but... isn't that what Facebook's for?"). For others it's university, since that's often a place of self-definition, but I guess that for me, a lot of my interests, tastes and persona were fixed after university, when I moved to Wellington and took up my first job.

    In many ways, I'd love it if people asked "where are you going to?" rather than "where are you from?", since someone's future seems much more important to me than their past. But it's hard to ask that without sounding like a new-ager or some sort of NLP creep, and besides, it's part of my own sense of self that I don't know where I'm going to.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Tom Beard,

    In some contexts, when people ask where I’m from I’ll presume that they’ve noticed my vestigial accent, so I’ll say “London” (despite having no conscious memories of my time living there).

    I lived there for five years and I still like to think that in some small way I'm a Londoner. Perhaps that's because there was a sense of achievement, of having got the hang of the place, when I first was able to think of myself as belonging there.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Interesting: I can relate to that myself, but for some it seems to be the other way around. For some people, the networks and rituals of high school seem to define the rest of their lives

    Ah, that's true, I just don't know any of those people. (None of my Facebook friends etc - I no longer communicate with anyone I went to high school with.) Perhaps that sense of belonging needs a sense of identity to go with it, a sense that "I know who I am now".

    This is awfully philosophical. I'd just noticed lots of people from Welly and Auckland grieving over the Dux.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4371 posts Report Reply

  • Karen Crisp, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I lived there for five years and I still like to think that in some small way I’m a Londoner. Perhaps that’s because there was a sense of achievement, of having got the hang of the place, when I first was able to think of myself as belonging there.

    I feel the same Russel. I arrived in London early 1991 and was miserable at first -wondered why I'd swapped a warehouse with views of Rangitoto for a grim squat in Peckham- but I decided that I wouldn't leave the damn city until I loved it. Moved back to Auckland in 1999. Part Londoner too.

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 28 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Emma, I love this question. I love asking it, and I love talking about it. Mainly because the answers are so variable, and so are the reasons for giving those answers. For tangata whenua, the question is always "Where do you stay?" to define where you live, and where you live, of course, is very much less important than where your people are from. I have always - apart from being at boarding school in Wellington, and spending a sparse 4 years in the UK and Switzerland - been from Auckland, and my family has always been, well at least for the last 160 years, from Auckland. So nowhere has ever been home except here. I, too, Raymond, see home as being about

    how much you have invested in it, not money but things like time, family history and landscape

    Auckland is my land, my whenua, my turangawaewae. All of it. I will never be from anywhere else. (Houses, as you say, Emma, are a different matter altogether. The house I am most attached to is in Takapuna - it's where I was raised, but I haven't lived there for 30 years, and my parents sold it over 27 years ago. I have great envy of people whose parents still live in the "family home". )

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    When people ask “Where’re you from?” I answer, “The South.” For me, that encompasses
    1:my actual current home in South Westland;
    2: my turangawaewae, at Colac Bay, Karitane & Moeraki, and
    3: where some my family have their homes, especially my mother’s home in Oamaru, which has been the family home for well over a century.

    It doesnt actually include CHCH – where I was born, schooled & lived for the 1st 23 years of my life, and where there are whanau still living- and that is quite deliberate. The CHCH I knew has been gone for quite some time – not just since
    Sept 4/2010 & Feb 22nd…

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Savidge,

    I tend to feel some pangs of grief and regret when I'm asked where I'm from. I moved around often growing up and have been quite nomadic as an adult. My family are spread around NZ as are my friends and in essence I feel I have no 'home'.

    Born Wgtn - stayed 4 yrs.
    Moved to Akld - stayed 10 years
    Moved to In'gill - stayed 3 years
    Moved to Q'town/Fiordland - stayed 4 years
    Moved to Gisborne - stayed 18 months
    Roamed overseas - away for 7 years
    Back to Q'town - 3 years
    Moved to Wgtn - here for 8 years

    I have strong emotional connections with landscapes I've lived in (especially Central Otago and Fiordland) but there is no real sense of home there. Moving often disconnected me from school friends, travelling companions etc and now I have only one friend I've stayed consistently close to for more than a decade.

    I can't deny I feel like a stranger in my own land at times as well. NZ doesn't represent my political/philosophical bent very well but I have to live somewhere and I appreciate how lucky I am to be here.

    Somewhere near Wellington… • Since Nov 2006 • 319 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to Raymond A Francis,

    I think home may depend on just how much you have invested in it, not money but things like time, family history and landscape

    Exactly, and the flip side of that explains I don't build those "home" connections so easily. I have moved around a fair amount, so haven't always spent a lot of time in any one place; I don't have much of a feeling for family history or even of "family" at all (since I don't know anyone I'm related to); and the environments I most connect with are built ones rather than "land". I can understand it when people like you, Jackie and Michael King talk of "a spiritual connection to the land" in the way that Maori do, but I will never feel that.

    That's partly because I think that "spiritual" is a meaningless word, but mostly because my connection to a place is based more upon people and their stories than the land itself, and the networks of people and their stories spread across the globe from city to city, rather than being exclusively grounded. And the land? 95% of the land that I spend my time on has been reclaimed, asphalted, excavated and/or built on, and if anything it's the stories of those interventions that interest me rather than anything about the land itself.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Home" is a funny word, for us it's often meant where we were not -when we lived in the US "home" meant NZ (but not really any particular part of it), even after 20 years, just after we moved back "home" it swung around to mean the US (and Berkeley/Oakland in particular - "home" was never Texas) - these days it's not so sure, maybe "Dunedin"

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2186 posts Report Reply

  • caycos,

    It all depends on the phrasing of the question - I was born in Lower Hutt, 'grew up' in Hamilton, now live in Wellington and my family moved back down South (Timaru...) after I moved out of home to go to uni in Hamilton.

    But if the question is 'where are you from' I'd probably say Wellington.

    I was overseas during the February earthquake, and everyone who found out I was a kiwi expressed concern and asked if people I knew were ok. Not being from Chch was irrelevant to them - Christchurch *was* New Zealand at that point in time.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2009 • 28 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    I've lived in Dunedin, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Palmerston North, and back to Wellington, in that order. I can safely conclude that I'll be in Welly for the long haul.

    Dunedin - still have many family members down there, and going back there for university was good while it lasted, with such a high concentration of brains. Not all that many jobs though, unless you're with the university itself or Cadbury or the agri-sector.

    Wellington - grew up in Karori during most of my school years. Moved back in 2002 and haven't looked back since. It's likely the concentration of intellect that draws me to the place.

    Christchurch - Dad was laid off in a bank merger, and transferred south to take up a job in the health sector. Easily the least satisfactory of my teenage experience - sent to a very prestigious 'Merchant & Ivory' college which turned out to more like Kath & Kim High. And that didn't include the skinhead element.

    Palmerston North - Dad took up a job at Massey, moving north with him. Having finished varsity, this was a mere transit lounge for me before moving back to Wellington.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4403 posts Report Reply

  • Daniel,

    Having lived in the same house in Auckland for the first 20 years of my life, until I moved to Canada 18 months ago, the question of where "home" is never really occurred to me. The first time I really even thought about this was last week, when I signed a guestbook as being from Victoria, BC.

    I still don't think it's home yet though.

    Melbourne • Since Jul 2009 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    The house I am most attached to is in Takapuna - it's where I was raised, but I haven't lived there for 30 years, and my parents sold it over 27 years ago. I have great envy of people whose parents still live in the "family home"

    I know someone who bought the house they grew up in -- after it had been out of the family for quite some time. It's a great house, and I can completely see why it begged to be not just revisited but reclaimed.

    (I don't know if I could reinhabit my own childhood homes, although I know I am always looking for places that remind me of the best parts of them...)

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1427 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to James Butler,

    my accent is often mistaken - by NZers and otherwise - for English, or perhaps South African. Perhaps that's another reason for being "from" Wellington - when asked where I'm from (or more insidiously, where I'm originally from), it's easier to reply "Wellington" than get all defensive.

    When asked where I'm from, I normally reply (in my best public school queens english) 'Auckland'. Normally kills the conversation stone dead for a second or ten while they try to work out a polite way of framing their next, obvious, question.

    My wife, (who is also English) generally does it in a cut-glass home counties accent, which is even more effective at causing a taken-aback, mouth-flappy face.

    I'd love it if people asked "where are you going to?" rather than "where are you from?", since someone's future seems much more important to me than their past. But it's hard to ask that without sounding like a new-ager or some sort of NLP creep, and besides, it's part of my own sense of self that I don't know where I'm going to.

    It's not where you're from, man, it's where you're at.

    Groovy.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    We could band together and commonly commiserate about being from Hokitika, or Masterton, or Oamaru – unless you were the guy from Auckland we were making fun of.

    I was that guy from Auckland. Skipped the halls, and made common cause with other refugees from the North Island, and none of us could believe how lucky we were to be being paid (the full student whack + accommodation allowance usually reserved for those 20+) to live and study in such a cool, student-friendly, affordable, flat, groovy city. Even in winter when there was ice on the inside of the windows, and you could cut the smog with a knife, I loved Chch.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1427 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    I don't know if I could reinhabit my own childhood homes

    We had to think about this recently, because the first question with the estate was, did any of the children want to buy Mum's house. We moved around a lot when I was little, so that was my first home. I lived there from when I was six until I left for uni at nearly-eighteen.

    But it wouldn't have been right, all other considerations aside. It was Mum's house, and if it's not going to have Mum in it, I don't want to see it any more.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4371 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    I was born in Islington. We moved north 51(!!!) years ago. It took aeons to not feel a Cantabrian. One rugby match in 1960 returns. Canterbury v Auckland. An Auck was taking a conversion. Just at the point of the kick I screamed - as loud as a 9 year old could scream - "MISS". Well. Did I know that wasn't from Auckland after that! Clipped ear, absolutely shamed. My father disowned me even though a true Cantabrian worse than me too! What could I do? I thought all Cantabs didn't want Auckland to win! I was doing my bit.

    Yesterday my youngest had to get a new Birth Certificate. To "enhance" the security of receipt the Behind the Counter Girl asked her where her father was born. "Timaru? Pukekohe? Christchurch?" Sadly she did not know.

    But she and her sisters "know" where home is. It is Pinehaven in the house their father built. I wonder now how long before they too shift their personal "home". It took me yonks to "leave" Pukekohe.

    It's all about roots. Some let them grow deep, others skim along the surface and others sit in the V twixt branch and trunk getting a sore arse!

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1502 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    "Home" becomes more specific depending how close you are to it. If I was in Andromeda, I expect I'd say "The Milky Way".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    An equally important question: "when are you from?", not literally but figuratively. A lot of my friends would be from the sixties or seventies, even if they weren't born then. Family First followers would say "the 1950s". Me? I'd like to think I'm somewhen between 1890s Paris and early '60s New York.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

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