She must be all of 16 or 17, and she’s standing up at the road-side, thumb out. It is the very late 60s, and is what is sometimes described as the naive era of New Zealand history. The British Empire is all but collapsing, the post-War boom is about to grind to a sudden halt, and the social consensus has yet to be seriously challenged by minorities like Feminists and Maori. It is, in it’s way, a halcyon day.

A car stops, the driver doubtless male and wondering how he can help an young lady such as herself. She wanders over to the door, asks for a lift out to Waihi Beach. When the driver agrees, out of the bushes charge my uncles and their friends, all of them piling into the car for the trip. What is today the oldest trick in the book was then a brand new one.

I imagine the scene like something out of the Monkees. It’s always been sold to me in floral colours and great larks, kids on adventures getting the heck out of dodge. It evokes New Zealand summers, all sunburn and Tip-Tip icecream. Holden EH and longboards. Safer days gone by.

Another tale is she and her brothers building a raft. They use it to punt from Te Aroha, down the Thames all and the way to the Gulf of Hauraki, playing Hucklebury Finn on what could only be a summer holiday. My grandparents were doubtless glad to have the time to themselves, and they’re collected safe and sound in due course.

There is something of the perpetual innocence of youth in these stories. They are young, bright, capable. A unit.

But something changes in the tone of the tales, and there is a gap I’ve never been able to fill. From here, in these sunlit moments, the family splits. Whether it is because of unhappiness I can’t tell. The most simple explanation is that the older boys just came to the age when they knew they should leave home, and did so. If this is the case then the tales they tell of a joyous childhood are, like my grandfather’s story, a glimpse of what we all experience as children, before realisation of a uglier world of adult responsibility precipitates.

My suspicion though is that the new world of the social changes the 1960s and 70s levelled on New Zealand were also in play. As much as ‘the War’ permanently changed the expectations of that generation, the Baby Boomers experienced a particular upheaval. But without romanticising what occurred I cannot be sure.

What I am certain of is the permanent departure of the two older brothers from Te Aroha, in scattered stories. I know the oldest left, and found his way out of New Zealand entirely. By the 197os his adventures have taken him out into the desert mining towns of Western Australia, an eon distant from the lush temperate rainforests of the Eastern Waikato.  There he stays, his ambition too little to take him further. The next brother’s tale is a, fortunately for this history, little more exotic.

At first he lives in Te Aroha, but he is infected with the same strand of wanderlust that effects all Tibbys. From there he tells the tale of seeking something deeper in life. And it begins a long journey the likes of which should, with due respect, be the subject of another night.

My mother? She follows in her brothers’ wake, leaving behind the small town and ending up in Auckland.

In recalling these tales, what always strikes me is the manner in which they resemble the patterns of my own life, and those of my own brothers. The blazing light of small-town summers. The bumpy, corruption of youth during the metamorphosis to full adulthood. The fracturing of the family unit. The scattering. And, finally, the profile and trails we each left as we parted.

It is a strange, strange world that three generations should follow such similar paths.

F,FLP

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