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RITA MCDONALD: A KEEPER OF STORIES

Rita Macdonald is a local treasure; a custodian of treasures, a teller of tales; she is both a survivor and a saviour for others.  As she nears her seventieth birthday people often ask her when she is going to slow down.  But for Rita, bright blue eyes sparkling with the pleasure of it all, her playtime has just begun.

Seven years ago Rita retired from 19 years as the Health and Housing officer at Housing New Zealand.  Last weekend she opened her home and garden ‘Rita’s Rusty Rake’ to the public for the first of what she hopes will be many Sunday afternoons; afternoons in which she looks forward to sharing the fruits of her playtime with those who care to come by.

“Everything is very old” Rita warns her visitors upon entry.  As a lover of old things, I received this warning warmly, however describing just what awaits inside the gates of the Rusty Rake is not at all a straightforward affair.. 


To say it is filled with nostalgic objects or is an homage to the past suggests some kind of a museum display; staid, still and behind glass perhaps. No, that’s not it at all.  Rather I would describe it as a collection of treasures; artful assemblages in every nook and cranny of every room, every corner of the garden, that act as a series of prompts for memories and myriad stories; some of them Rita’s own, some passed on, and some imagined.

Rita grew up on Argyle Street, a street occupied entirely by Scots in the 1950’s. A rack of Tartan stands in the front hallway, her grandfather’s Highland Band hat sits atop a table and a photograph of the Gisborne Highland Pipe band circa 1975 adorns the wall. Her father stands in the middle row as the Band’s Pipe Major. Rita remembers him giving her his spats to clean, which she would scrub with sunlight soap and hot water before visiting Mrs Melville, a Sister at the Cook Hospital to ask for a little whitening to finish them off. 

When there was a wedding or some other celebration and her father wanted his pipes to sound even more sweetly, he would soak the pipes’ bag in a bath with golden syrup and wrap the reeds with strands of his daughters’ hair. 

Rita says she has always liked the old, faded and broken. “In rust I trust” she asserts, “because you can see it, it’s never hidden.” Over time she has collected and been given treasures to care for, friends asking ‘I don’t know what to do with mother’s cottons, are they any use to you?’ Rita with no other reply in her than “I will care for Mother’s cottons.” 

She has a simple appreciation for the work and care that went into making things before we started using machines for everything, and she extends that same philosophy to her own life and the objects in her care. She shows me her ‘engine room’, a sunny room to which she retires, when the events of the world become too much. Here she stitches wise and calming words that she might have heard or found in a book onto cloth with a needle and coloured thread. 

Rita nurtures her ageing chickens, Mrs White, Mrs Black and Mrs Fortesque Brown with cooked porridge every morning for breakfast and Chinese noodles on Friday nights. They roam resplendent amongst the garden, wild with rambling old roses, wandering nasturtiums, soft pink geraniums and cats. The vegetables valiantly hold onto their claim amongst the poppies and violets. A fairy house patiently awaits Rita’s attention after suffering some wind damage (or was it a particularly well-attended party?) and baskets of cacti drip from the trees. Vast fruit trees hold bucketloads of promise for the coming summer.

To my fresh eyes the garden is a magical wonderland, for Rita it is full of memories. Over the almost forty years she has been there, people have given her “this and that”, often when they’re about to move into a resthome, knowing that she will save a cherished plant passed down through the generations from the green waste pile.

Out the back of the garden is ‘Anne’s Room’, a garage converted to the little museum that her sister Anne had always dreamed of but didn’t live to see to fruition.  It houses a collection of all the dolls Rita ever wanted as a child, as well as all of those that have come since.

Not all of the stories I hear from Rita are happy ones, but as she explains it, Rita’s Rusty Rake is her response to the sadness she has experienced in her life.  Rita talks about angels, certain “wonderful people” that had faith in her abilities and opened doors for her at the times in her life when she needed it most.  In turn Rita put that faith to good use; stepping in and helping out where she could when the chips were down for others.


And now, Rita the Resident Scarecrow, as she refers to herself with her sparkling eyes, is opening the door on her home and garden, a bricolage of friendships and memories, stories connecting objects to place and time, a little bit higgledy, with the odd bit of rust, a place that she hopes “people will love to come”. I know that I will love to visit, time and again. Thank you Rita for having me.


What: Rita’s Rusty Rake is a cottage garden and collectables for viewing 

Where & When: 18 Clifford Street, Sunday afternoons, 2pm- 5pm. 

Cost: $5 per person or $15 per family. Proceeds go towards Rita’s homeless & prescriptions funds for local people. 

Words & photographs by Sarah Cleave.

THE WORKSHOP – Amy Moore

Amy Moore is happily ensconced in her new creative space, which she describes as her ‘saving grace’.

Two years ago with her partner at her side Amy Moore embarked on the scariest thing she’d ever done… going on reality (not really reality) TV for 3 months. She knew that it would either make her or break her, and as it so happened, it did both.

Amy talks about how it broke her physically and even more so mentally, getting inside her head and breeding fear. She began to fear other peoples’ opinions, public gatherings, social media.. she didn’t leave her own home for about 6 weeks after getting back, her ‘own personal lockdown’.

After time though and with a little help from her friends, she made her way back to a place where she found enough belief in herself to do something different with her life; something meaningful that brought her enjoyment. 

Being creative has always been a part of Amy’s life and finding a physical space in which to do that was, as she describes it, her ‘saving grace’.

Claiming the front of a commercial property occupied by her partner Stu and her Dad, a few walls were removed, a splash of colour added – mustard of course – and The WorkShop was born.  Although it was pretty much ready to roll earlier this year, lockdown proved in some ways a blessing, giving Amy time to psych herself into actually physically opening the doors to the public.

The WorkShop’s shelves are filled with stylish crafts, good smells and vintage finds..

Since opening those doors a few months ago now, the Workshop has blossomed and morphed as any truly creative space does.  The beautiful little shop with its hint of tasteful Indonesian tattoo parlour, filled with stylish crafts, good smells and vintage finds, was turned into a workshop space over the school holidays, where participating kids turned their hands to weaving. Next on the shapeshifting agenda is an indoor winter market for local artisans in the adjoining shed, which is taking place this Saturday 25 July, from 11am – 4pm. 

Amy is clear that the WorkShop is not only a creative space for herself, but for others as well. A place to pick up a handmade gift or vintage treasure, a place to sit and flick through books to derive a little inspiration for your home or a place to just pop in for a cuppa and to soak up a little inspiration for you too to do more of the things that you love.

Don’t miss the opportunity to tap into a whole lot of local craftiness and some much-needed mid-winter colour and inspiration – The Workshop, 73 Carnarvon Street, next to Bollywood.

WHO IS DREAMSPACE?

Anna Devcich poses the question ‘Who is Dreamspace?’

He is Peter Harris,
He is Philosophy,
He is Beauty, Truth, Love and Freedom.
He is Ferrocement, DreamHavens,
He is Blank Canvases, Freshly Painted Artworks,
He is Books and Bookshelves made from Free Wood.
He is Driftwood from Town Beach and Intricate, Fantastical Carvings,
He is the Roof that Houses the Unhousable:
Peter Harris’ Creative Brain.

 Yes, Dreamspace Workshop and Gallery sprouted up on the outskirts of Gisborne CBD in 2016, a huge building that surely would fit all of Peter Harris’ creations, with room for other artistic souls? It turns out that his creative brain has infinite permutations, nigh on impossible to be accommodated under one tangible roof.

During the ensuing three years, Peter has magnetised an eclectic collection of people, who have recently helped to rejig, declutter, and de-dust the Dreamspace premises, to create a little space for themselves to showcase their creations alongside Peter’s. He is over the Moon, so to speak.

The result of this intertwining of creative people under the Dreamspace Roof, is the upcoming Dreamspace Bazaar (or is it Bizarre? …both.) It will share the magic of co-creation with any adventurous spirit who dares to step foot over the threshold!

So go on, be daring, and visit Dreamspace on the 6th of July, to be delighted by the creativity, the workmanship, the colour, the music, the friendliness, the…bizarre that is Dreamspace!

Story by Anna Devcich.

Photos by Tom Teutenberg.

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