Growing up in Waiouru

Waiouru’s an Army town, plain and simple and perched on the plateau beneath the volcanic mountain Ruapehu, just off the side of the often-closed-due-to-wild-weather Desert Road. Growing up in Waiouru meant you didn’t go anywhere much after school except round to your mate’s place. When your home was Waiouru all your friends lived there too. Everyone had back yards and the land around was open and wide. As long as you stayed away from the designated Army shooting areas you could roam barefoot for miles.

That was summer. Winter, we put on shoes and stayed closer to home, where the chippy in the kitchen was always on. At night the thermometer in the hall gave up caring where the mercury should be and hunkered down like the rest of us in that thin-walled house of bare wooden floors. When the wind blew in off that mountain and dropped the temperature real low, we’d fight over who got Zeb the dog for the night. Poor Zeb would look from one of us whistling, finger-clicking kids to another, overwhelmed by the sudden enthusiasm for his company.

It was one Sunday just before lunch when we heard it. Shots went off all the time from up the gun range, but this time people came running. Craig had found his dad’s gun, aimed it out the window and shot his younger brother walking by. Who knew it was loaded? Mum told us to stay there and took off in a hurry. Then came the ambulance to take Craig’s brother away. After, we sat still round the table while Mum rescued the roast lamb, drained the ruined cabbage, made the gravy. She carved the meat and then she was crying. No-one could think of anything to say.

Claire Orchard

Claire Orchard lives in Wellington, where she divides her time more or less evenly between writing and working at a local primary school. In 2013 this ratio will shift dramatically when she begins an MA in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University.

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