I did not procure a bus by unfair means or advantage; there is no need for head shaking or mutters of ‘POOR Peter’. 

Oh yes, maybe I did say with pitiful tone that I’m nearly 67 and who knows how much time I have left. I may have slipped in – not a devious slip just, a regular pointing out kind of a slip – I may have pointed out that I have always wanted a bus, that it is my dream to load up all the whanau and sail away, well chug away, well slow shuffle away, hugging the inside white line ‘cause I don’t want to slip over the edge with my big rear end. 

The point is that Peter hardly sighed at all, or maybe he is so kind and wants me to be happy in life’s final trimester that he keeps his sighs to an inward minimum. Whatever the case we now have a bus … just a regular bus. Some people want buses with kitchens and closets. Not me. I just wanted a bus with seats and a space for a bed and that’s what I have. And yes, maybe the space for the bed is quite cosy and maybe Peter must foetal in to fit, but is that such a price to pay for love? Surely not. 

And when I drove that dear bus across the bumpy culvert and took my squealing grandies for a ride around the basin paddock, those excited fighting for airtime jabberings were worth all the gold in China and I bet there is a lot of gold in China.

As I write I am about to drive to Martinborough. I don’t need to pack much; I won’t be staying. But the three hour journey will be an emotional one sending me back thirty years. 

I joined the Department of Social Welfare as it was then in 1988 and I was assigned to the Waipukurau office. There I stayed for the next 15 years under the supervision and support of Mark Corkran and Bob Bishop. Two deeply good men. My belief then and now is that change for families is built on the back of relationships, and building relationships takes trust, time, love, belief, boundaries, practical support, creativity and kindness … buckets of kindness. 

For 15 years both Mark and Bob protected me from the departmental machine and made many of my sometimes seemingly crazy ideas possible. For 15 years I had the privilege of really working alongside families, the privilege of being let inside extraordinary stories and being there as brave, battered souls clawed their way through generations of abuse and neglect and found their way to gentler ground. 

All that changed in 2003. 

Both men had left and I worked under an ever-changing line up of supervisors. The last straw of many last straws was when I was told I couldn’t visit the Terrace School, to just wander about for half an hour, spending some time in play and hugs, then to return to my desk to send quick scribbled letters to the kids on my case load, letters covered with stickers and filled with lollipops. It’s fun to get mail. 

I left. I slunk away with my heart down and all stuffing knocked well and truly out.

Fifteen years on and I’m off to meet up with one of my precious darlings. In 1989 she was a little four-year-old girl who desperately wanted her mother to love her. I tried so hard to be the fairy godmother who could grant that wish, but I knew I had failed with a call from the school one Thursday afternoon. 

Now six years old, her mother had just rung to tell the school not to bother sending her home. She wasn’t wanted. I picked her up and took her back to the farm, found a tree and sat with her trying to find the words but really there are no words to soften such abandonment. 

For the next six years she struggled to make sense of her loss and with the support and love of her foster family she was finally, at the age of twelve, able to return to her family, to her grandparents. 

Today the Women’s Day will take up her story. A story of courage and resilience. A story that takes this extraordinary young woman, this loving mother, this kindergarten trained, Master of Social Work inspiration into the next phase of her life. 

She wants to be a social worker. If she chooses the department, Oranga Tamariki, I hope they are ready for her. That the changes to a more compassionate way of working are real and will support not only her, but all of the overworked, stressed, passionate frontliners who are out there trying to make a difference. 

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