Soon after the war, my intrepid mother Margot Wood (later Ross) set off on the long, dusty journey from Dunedin, in the south of New Zealand’s South Island, to the Hokianga, in the far north of the North Island, in her little Ford Anglia car. My father, Captain Win Wood, had died in Egypt, and medical student Janet Smith, daughter of Dr. Smith of Rawene, was then our boarder. She would prove a life-long friend to Margot and a second mother to me. We were both run-down and thin, so Janet recommended a holiday with her parents, George and Lucy Smith. George was the well-known Rawene-based doctor George Marshall McCall Smith (1882–1958), described by the poet A. R. D. Fairburn as “a cross between an Arab Chieftain and an Archbishop.” To a small child, he seemed almost as awe-inspiring as Tāne Mahuta, for he was a tall man-tree with fierce, penetrating blue eyes, big hooked nose, white eldritch locks, open-necked white shirt, loose flannel jacket and trousers, flapping oilskin coat, old grey felt hat with a sagging brim, Roman sandals, and curved Cherrywood pipe. He and Lucy immediately set about stuffing us with fresh eggs, cream, and butter. Alas, I’ve never looked back.
I remember waka racing on the harbour, and Māori children, blinded in a measles outbreak, singing in a choir. Rooms opening off the verandah were filled with flowers; sofas were strewn with books and journals; paintings by Olivia Spencer-Bowers and Eric Lee-Smith hung on the walls. We began to heal.