The Our Voices – Horowhenua exhibition currently on display at Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-pō, Levin, during March uncovers the personal voice of twenty women living in the Horowhenua.
Led by the social impact initiative Shepherdess, the project set out to create an opportunity for women across the Horowhenua District to tell their stories, through portraiture and the written word, and exhibit these within the community.
The Project Manager is Kristy McGregor, a former Federated Farmers policy advisor. She says, “The exhibition gives the voices of twenty women, of all different ages and walks of life, an opportunity to shine and share what is important to them, the trials they have been through and where they have found hope and fulfilment. Each story is unique, but they are all connected by a common thread – finding a sense of belonging in the Horowhenua.”
As part of the twelve-month project, several writing workshops were held. “They were evenings of camaraderie and exploration of the written word,” says Kristy. “For most of the women it was a very new experience to put their stories on paper and have them read by a general audience. We wanted the women to feel empowered and have their voices heard.”
“Our writer, Carly Thomas, worked with each of the women over a few months to put their experiences on paper. Women were asked to give some insight into what has led them to where they are today. Our photographer, Helen Lea Wall, then went around the district to capture each woman in a place that was meaningful to them and their story.”
“The result is an exhibition that has a huge amount of heart. It’s women’s stories, in their own words. We were really conscious of capturing the diverse range of people that live here. Our youngest participant is twenty-three and our oldest is eighty-seven.”
Kristy hopes that this exhibition will be the start of a much bigger project to uncover stories of people living in provincial New Zealand. “We are now looking to take the project to other rural communities so that their voices can be heard too.”
Shepherdess is a social impact initiative focused on sharing the stories of vibrant rural communities across New Zealand and connecting people through storytelling, events, and community building. It also publishes a quarterly magazine of the same name. The Our Voices – Horowhenua project is supported by Creative New Zealand and the Horowhenua District Council through the Creative Communities Scheme.
Amey’s story: At home with the spirit of her grandfather
Amey Bell-Booth, 42
Rangitāne o Wairau, Waikawa Beach & Tokomaru
My connection to the Horowhenua goes back further than I can recall. Flicking through the well-kept notebooks from my grandparents’ bach at Waikawa Beach, I feel and understand their deep connection to this landscape, and I see where my love of it began – as a bare-bottomed babe making mud pies on the banks of Waikawa River.
Every summer holiday was spent there – paddling, rowing, swimming or just bobbing up and down in the waves. We would go berry picking at the local market garden, Brown Acres, and ride the neighbour’s horses. Looking back, I realise how much I took it for granted.
For many years I was passing through, living in Palmerston North or Wellington, following the Tararua Ranges between home and the places I studied and worked. But one day I stopped at the bach and I stayed, living there for two and a half years. My dog, Frida, and I would roam the beach every day. Standing at the shore, I would follow the ridgeline of the ranges and marvel at the place I had found myself in.
On a clear day, I could see Ruapehu to the north and Kāpiti Island to the south. My Grandad’s spirit is in both those places, but also there at Waikawa as well. He used to point out, and greet, each of the native bird species like they were old friends. I could paint there for hours, days – undistracted, isolated and content. But it’s not just the landscape that draws me in, the towns and the people – they hold onto their places, their stories and their artefacts – and they are willing to share them. They are honest with no false pretences.
My home is now in Tokomaru. I paint with the Tararua Ranges as the view through my window. Every day, I walk Frida along a road that leads up into the hills. As I walk back down, I see the most spectacular view over the plains of Horowhenua.
On a clear day I can again see Kāpiti and Ruapehu and I feel that same sense of marvel. My heart stretches from one to the other. I think Grandad is happy I’m here, too.