A Midwife for the Soul

We are born. We live. We die.

At the age of 21 Anne Meredith was studying toward a degree in World Religions at Victoria University in Wellington and working at a spiritual healing centre in town, which complemented her field of study rather nicely.   

One day a man came in and asked whether they had the book ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.’  When Anne couldn’t find it on the shelves, the man said he would bring his own copy in for Anne to borrow, adding that it was requisite reading for someone in her field of study.

Once the book had been left in her care, Anne took it home and lapped it all up, finding herself in possession of a newfound understanding of the central tenet of Buddhist philosophy; the impermanence of all things.

Anne recounts a Buddhist parable, which describes this:

“A woman whose baby has died goes to Buddha and says ‘I will do anything if you will just bring my baby back to life’. Buddha replies ‘okay, bring me some mustard seeds from another home, but they must come from a home that has not experienced death’. The woman visits home after home but of course does not find a household untouched by death. Through this process woman reaches enlightenment, and her own understanding of the impermanence of everything”. 

Not long after reading this book, Anne’s grandmother died.  Anne drew upon those themes of impermanence in the speech she gave for her grandmother at her funeral.  Following the ceremony the funeral director approached to congratulate Anne on her speech, noting that she would make a great funeral director.

A seed was planted for Anne that day, and Anne has lived ever since in the knowledge that she would one day work in the field of death and dying.

So while Anne went on to teach for the next twenty or so years and absolutely “loved it”, her interest in death and in dying, has endured.  Throughout that time she has been involved with the organisations, ‘National Association for Loss and Grief’ and ‘Growing through Grief’ and has continued to be drawn to learning and talking about what she describes as “the biggest thing we will experience in life.”

It was while living and working with her family in Samoa from 2015 to 2019 that Anne realised that if there was ever a time to make the change it would be on their return to New Zealand. Going on that initial seed planted by the funeral director so many years ago Anne approached the local funeral directors, but there weren’t any opportunities going, which led to her discovery of this whole other, as yet untapped (here in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa at least), area of death care.

Death Doula [deth doo-luh]

Noun. The word comes from the Greek ‘doulē’ meaning ‘female servant/slave’. Also known as a soul midwife or end of life doula, the support this person offers often focuses on the emotional, psychological and spiritual side of dying, as well as the more practical things.

Since returning to Aotearoa from Samoa in 2019 Anne has been working as a support worker, hospice volunteer, funeral celebrant  and building the foundations for her business ‘Three Seeds’ in which she offers her services as an end of life doula and deathcare advocate.  She is involved with a couple of national projects relating to deathcare and provides free community workshops on a variety of topics. She also led a fundraising campaign to provide a Cuddle Cot for our community, which is a cooling system for a baby that has died, allowing the family to spend some precious time with their child before saying goodbye.

Anne sees a big part of her role as empowering people to reclaim death care for themselves.  She’s happy to be able to help people understand the range of options that actually exist in death care, and provides a supportive space in which people can ask all the questions they like, and can help with advance care planning. The best time for people to talk about death, Anne says, is when we are well.

“Practically there’s a lot to know about dying and things can get complicated. People often don’t know their options”. Anne is pro-choice. “Some people want the funeral directors to do everything”, and Anne says, we are lucky to have Funeral Directors who can provide that.

Others however, would rather do things themselves, or varying degrees of the process. Anne says that funeral poverty is a significant social issue of our times and she is glad that she can provide people with information about alternative ways of approaching deathcare, which can alleviate those huge costs commonly associated with it.

Ownership and environmental aspects are other factors in more and more people wanting to explore alternative pathways, “People are wanting more natural death care these days, and it’s easy to do that actually”.

Anne sells techni-ice, and has a mini freezer, which families can hire, which offers an alternative to embalming. She gives workshops on its use and is always happy to discuss this in the chats that she offers from her new Three Seeds premises.

After those initial chats or one of the various workshops that she offers to our community, Anne can walk alongside people and their whānau for parts of, or for the whole journey.

Annie loves her work because she sees it as such an important time of life and calls letting your people know what your death wishes are “a real gift of love”.  Things can get really tricky when people don’t know what you want and Anne suggests that we all have a folder called ‘When I Die’ left somewhere that someone close to us knows about.  

Through her role as a death doula and a deathcare advocate, Anne Meredith offers seeds of kindness, compassion and support before death, during and after death. And just as times of wellness are the best time for considering our own death, we think that this is a great time to have someone like Anne offering this service in our community. 

Anne regularly holds free community workshops and has a sliding scale of rates for her services. You can set up a time to have a chat with Anne on 021 299 5774 or get in touch through her Facebook page @threeseeds.info   

This story was brought to you by the good people at Tāiki e! who are leading local celebrations of Global Entrepreneurship Week next week.  They aim to connect the diverse parts of our local entrepreneurial ecosystem, and inspire our community to embrace entrepreneurship as a tool for community transformation and long term impact, which Anne Meredith is certainly doing with Three Seeds.

Story by Sarah Cleave

NOise VACANCY 2021

The idea for Noise Vacancy came into being in 2020 over the course of an evening in which a group of friends, Nikki O’Connor, Lina Marsh, Katy Wallace and myself had come together to discuss an event in which for local artists to show their stuff, potentially as a part of the upcoming Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

Over the course of the evening the topic of vacant buildings in our inner city came to the fore and the concept of NOise VACANCY was born.

Last year’s NOise VACANCY was a grand experiment. We initially envisaged a walking tour winding through the streets, an otherworldly coming alive of disused spaces strung across the city. However the months passed and landlords were not exactly jumping at the opportunity to have a group of artists bring their unused buildings to life for a night.

The answers we received were always the same, “it’s about to be leased” or “awaiting earthquake strengthening” or in most cases no reply at all. Many of the buildings we enquired about in those first few months still stand in the same state today. Empty.

There were two wonderful people who had a different answer for us however and so it was that Patrick McHugh and Jill Tomlinson handed us over the keys and told us to ‘go to town’ in their two level Lowe Street building. 

A couple of months later they were amongst the most excited audience members as a night of magic and mystery unfolded for both those who participated and attended. Hundreds of people explored, discovered, pondered and puzzled alongside each other, with much excited chatter about how they had never experienced anything like it – at least not in Gisborne.

This year’s event was no different.  Another landlord stood apart from the rest with Tony Robinson opening the doors to the Public Trust building on Childers Road for a bunch of artists to explore and occupy for a few days during Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival. Despite the Covid restrictions meaning that the audience had to book into specific time slots the air of discovery and excitement remained.

The brief to the artists is to respond to the space and its history using sound.  By its very nature art will also reflect the socio-political contexts of its time and some of our current issues were certainly in evidence in this year’s works.  

Curator Nikki O’Connor is always interested to see how the artists and sound makers connect to the kaupapa, and how they incorporate sound, “As they spend more time with the space and it’s stories it’s fascinating to watch the ideas take shape. The range of creative disciplines and approaches adds to the surreal dreamland feeling of the night”. 

As the original tenants of the building, the Public Trust Organisation gave some artists the nudge to explore notions of trust, the housing crisis was given a few strong nods and Wendy Kirkwood’s vintage clothing store ‘Unfinished Business’ and the Family Planning Association also inspired installation and performance. Other pieces responded directly to the space in experiential forms such as dance, chanting and spoken word.

As the audience meandered around the two storeys of the building in the changing light, projections spoke into various corners including the street outside and the yard out back. A few hardy performers kept going for the entirety of the experience – no less than 4 and a half hours – while others popped up during each session. 

One of the things about the altered reality of an experience like this – both immersive and sometimes interactive – means that the lines between art and real life can become blurred. And so an empty paper cup set upon a window sill might be picked up and turned over for clues as to its purpose, and a couple passionately kissing on a corner may be unflinchingly observed as a courageous piece of performance art (in a small town such as this), until it becomes clear that actually, the performance is just about to begin…

It was great to have a few more young people involved this year with a stairwell installation speaking directly to the regenerative power of rangatahi.  12 year old artist, Wolfe Jackson says he felt really lucky to be a part of NOise VACANCY, “It was really cool and inspiring being around so many other different artists.  It was my first exhibition and I was a bit nervous that my art would be just seen as kid’s drawings, but the feedback from people was surprisingly good so that was a relief.  It was a great night, a bit tiring but so worth it in the end”.

One of this year’s curator’s Katy Wallace loves the way in which “NOise VACANCY gives local creatives the chance to push their practices in different ways and to work with or alongside each other. It is a refreshing challenge to any creative practice considering sound, installation, and performance in one package”.

One of the highlights for curator Lina Marsh was working with a great team of wahine who were open to giving anything a go. This included launching NOise VACANCY 2021 online during lockdown. “Neither of us really knew what we were doing and it made it hard to communicate online as opposed to in person, but we embraced the opportunity and created a kookie zoom recording announcing our aims for this year’s performance. NOise VACANCY definitely pushes you out of your comfort zones”. 

NOise VACANCY provides a fantastic opportunity to show what local creatives are capable of, for our community to experience something out of the ordinary, and it also achieves the original intent of bringing energy to spaces which had been previously forgotten. 

In a happy epilogue to NOise VACANCY episode one, 64 Lowe Street is currently occupied by a bunch of creatives and the record store Spellbound Wax, all of whom are overjoyed to have an affordable and inspiring space, which they otherwise might not have, if it were not for the NOise VACANCY experience. 

If you were at NOise VACANCY we’d love to hear what you thought! Let us know in the comments below or drop a line to noisevacancy@gmail.com or @noisevancy on Instagram.

The Housing Crisis & The Growing Divide

Image by Sarah Cleave

We have a housing crisis, it’s more problematic than you might think, and unless we have the maturity to make some sacrifices today we are sacrificing our future generations.

A Housing Crisis

The average house price in Aotearoa is more than $900,000, we have a shortfall of more than 100,000 dwellings, all urban housing markets are considered severely unaffordable by international standards, 500,000 Kiwis are in overcrowded housing situations, 300,000 households are on accommodation supplements, Māori home ownership sits at just over 30%, less than 50% of people in our largest city (Auckland) own their own homes, and 1 in 100 people — that’s 50,000 people — are living in ‘severe housing deprivation’ (sleeping on the streets or in cars, in emergency housing, temporarily staying at a relatives or friends, etc).

Our housing situation is driving inequality and it’s dangerous. The Fall of Rome, the French Revolution, the Arab Spring and Brexit, were all driven in part by inequality. Inequality is a key contributor to crime, violence, abuse in its many forms, and mental illness. It destroys social cohesion by eroding the bonds that make us feel like we’re all in the same boat.

As it stands, the current housing system is growing the divide, creating conditions where those who own homes are witnessing their wealth grow — without having to exert any effort, and in many cases faster than their incomes ever will — while those who do not, watch the prospect of obtaining one become more and more prohibitive. Some people will choose to take on large and unprecedented sums of debt; many more will acknowledge that homeownership is out of their reach. At the same time, a growing number of hard-working people in this country are in unsuitable living situations, staying in cars, sheds, garages and overcrowded houses.

Every week an article is written examining the various drivers of expensive housing in New Zealand: lack of supply, easy access to finance, low interest rates, investors, speculators, red tape, restrictive building codes and council rules, material costs and so on. And every other week an article is written with solutions to these issues: a tax, a change in regulation or policy, a homeownership scheme or a building programme.

Why is it that despite our best efforts — that is, knowing the problems, having the technical expertise needed to address them, and making efforts to do so — the trajectory for quality affordable housing is only getting worse? Could it be that we are not addressing the heart of the problem?

I believe it is timely to reexamine and update our values and beliefs that lie at the heart of both the issues and the solutions to our housing crisis.

We are all in the same boat

We do not get to choose the circumstances into which we are born. We don’t choose our race, our gender or our economic position, and yet these circumstances have far reaching implications on our lives. We need to design our housing system so that every member of society, no matter who they are or where they are born, has equitable access to good quality affordable housing, along with fundamentals such as quality education, healthcare, and food, in order to lay the foundations for a strong future society. Our current system perpetuates unaffordable housing as the status quo, and isn’t good for the millions of individuals who are not in homes which they own or have unprecedented amounts of debt in their names.

We have to be fair

An expensive house or no house isn’t much of a choice. Why should future homebuyers, who are entitled to the basic human right of adequate shelter, be forced to pay ever higher prices for property that hasn’t necessarily had any real value (such as habitable space) added to it? Is it fair that those who have been on the receiving end of property sales have accumulated large sums of money at the expense of buyers? If large sums of money have found their way into the hands of current and previous property owners without any real value being added, wouldn’t it be only fair to look at how that money could be redirected and redistributed towards things that add real value to our society? Given our current state of crisis, we could begin by looking at how such money could be directed towards solutions to the housing crisis.

No pain, no gain

It is not possible for the average house to be both unaffordable and affordable at the same time. In order to move towards affordability, we’re going to have to give up our expensive housing. This will mean a sacrifice for some individuals who, relatively speaking, have more than others.

It is not easy to give up something that we enjoy, even when we know the outcome of giving it up is better for us. Whether it’s giving up or reducing smoking, alcohol, or sugary drinks for a healthier lifestyle, or forgoing a social outing or sports activity to spend more time with the kids, all of these require some sort of sacrifice on one level in order to achieve a greater objective. The same is true when it comes to expensive housing. We will need to find and develop the strength within ourselves to overcome our self-interest for the benefit of all.

The media

The tone of the conversation about housing and especially housing as ‘an investment’ needs to change, and our media industry needs to lead this charge. We need to critically examine whether it’s appropriate to talk about rising house prices as if it’s a good thing, when in reality, rising house prices also plays out as rising inequality, crime, mental illness and violence. Newspaper stories with headlines “Major urban centres continue to show strong gains” and “Cheaper suburbs leap ahead” could accurately be rewritten to headline “Major urban centres witness inequality and child poverty grow” and “Rents increase for already struggling families in cheaper suburbs”. Just substitute any reference to ‘rising house prices’ with ‘rising inequality’ and you have a fuller picture of what is going on.

Some hard choices 

We have some choices to make. We can allow our house prices to rise. We can watch as our homeless population grows, more people sleep in cars, and the prospect of home ownership slip away from more Maori and Pasifika families. We can build taller fences and put up barbed wire to keep thieves out as we further isolate ourselves from ‘the other’ — people in different socio-economic circles than us. We can witness our society become more and more divided.

Or we can design our housing system to ensure that everyone, no matter who they are, has access to quality affordable homes, homes that they can own should they wish. We can make the price of property commensurate with the real value of property. We can stop concentrating wealth via property into the hands of a minority at the expense of the majority, and we can think about how wealth that has been obtained without creating any real value can be redistributed in a sensible fashion.

Redesigning the housing system to be more fair and equitable means we are going to have to make some changes in our thoughts, attitudes, policies and practices. We are going to have to give up a system that is helping an increasingly small segment of society get ahead economically for one that is more holistic and considers the wellbeing of all over the wellbeing of only some. It may be hard in the short term but a more equitable society, a society where we all feel more connected and safer, one in which all human potential is given the chance to develop, is surely a society that we’d rather live in.

Be sure however, that if we fail to make the necessary sacrifices soon, it is our future generations that we are sacrificing.

Hear4U Here For Us

Hear4U is a movement which brings friends, families, and strangers together to support each other in speaking up about men’s mental health and suicide here in the Tairāwhiti. 

July 2019 saw a loss that rocked our local forestry community. Krissy Mackintosh remembers her partner coming home early that day with the news that a fellow forestry family had lost their 21 year old son Toby to suicide; she recalls a community in shock. 

Krissy had recently discovered her love of making art from dried flora. At a friend’s request she gathered up all of the flowers that had been sent to the Fraser family following their son’s death, dried them, worked them into three heart-shaped wreaths and gave them back to Toby’s family.  

In that act of not giving up on those masses of flowers, and instead extending their ability to keep on giving and sharing their message of love and hope, Krissy found the seed for an idea, which was to become the Hear4U movement. 

Listening to the outpourings of shock and grief that followed, Krissy recognised herself in so many of the stories about Toby as ‘so outgoing, ‘the happy one’, loads of friends, the last person anyone thought this would happen to…’

Having been in that space multiple times herself, and having survived it; hearing the words, which would supposedly explain it all – the language of depression and anxiety – Krissy began to think more and more about the importance of destigmatising mental health and getting people talking about the stuff that she knew so intimately is a very normal part of life for many of us. 

Having lost ten of her own male friends to suicide Krissy decided that the best way to move forward was to “get guys out there, talking about this stuff”.  Thinking about the things that have lifted her own spirits at times throughout her own life, like art, exercise and music, she set about creating projects and events to bring people together to understand men’s mental health and suicide prevention better, through listening and learning from each other’s stories and experiences.

Jo Higgins-Ware and Renee Grant were an integral part of the establishment of Hear4U, which set about creating events to raise funds, and support established foundations, programmes, and charities that were already championing the cause. Connection, healing and education are at the heart of everything Hear4U does, and of course as the name of the movement suggests, the importance of letting people know you are always here to listen.

“Are you okay? Do you want to talk? Do you know how much I love you? Want to catch up? What’s up bro? You seem distracted.. You don’t seem yourself lately..”

The Hear4U team encourages us to keep asking the kinds of questions that let friends and family know that we are listening “Are you okay? Do you want to talk? Do you know how much I love you? Want to catch up? What’s up bro? You seem distracted.. You don’t seem yourself lately..”

The first event was the Hear4U Exhibition and Auction, in which men modelled dried floral wreaths and an auction raised over $53K for the Movember appeal. To date, this is the highest amount raised for a foundation in Australasia. The donation helped fund ‘Headstart’, an educational programme that teaches men from all walks of life the importance of understanding mental health, wellbeing, and suicide prevention throughout the country.

Since then a Hear4U Trailer built by Toby Fraser’s best mate Griffin Law, which went to Speedway events all around the country advocating for men to speak up on suicide prevention during Mental Health Awareness Week last year. The Good Blokes Xmas Appeal brought together photography and art with local builder Steven Huzzy modelling floral wreaths, another event which achieved some epic raising of funds as well as awareness.

Just recently 140 people ran the Taupo Marathon for Hear4U. Almost everyone in the team had lost someone to suicide. Many had lost multiple people, across generations, and most of them male.  

Krissy was recognised for her contribution to men’s health in the community at this year’s Eastland Forestry Awards, receiving ‘The Good Deed Award’.  It’s not an easy space to work in, but it’s clear from the richness of relationships that have formed amongst the Hear4U team, which continues to learn from each other, advocate for and work with over 100 men and their families, from all walks of life, that Hear4U is making a difference here in the Tairāwhiti.

The group are in the early stages of becoming a registered charity and developing a new website, which will allow them to continue raising awareness, sharing stories and promoting their events and projects as well as enable people to support the cause.  Krissy has also embarked on a book about Hear4U. 

If you want to know more or to join the movement, you can follow #Hear4U on Facebook or contact Krissy Mackintosh at ahear4ustory@gmail.com.

The New Adventures of MUSE

MUSE was formed back in 2002 by a group of women wanting to create a safe and nurturing environment for women to make music, perform, and encourage other women to make music too.

The story goes that Irene Pender (who now lives in Derry, Ireland) was sick of being drowned out by loud guy bands. As time went on MUSE came to be a musicians’ network for singers wanting to find accompanists, songwriters who needed singers, for women wanting to collaborate musically in general. Over the years it has been a safe space in which to experiment, to get experience performing and in which to enjoy the ‘womentorship’ of the MUSE Matriarchs.

Many of those original members are still here in Gisborne teaching and performing. One of the MUSE Matriarchs, Tanya Mitcalfe reflects that things have changed since then; it’s much more common to see a female musician performing on stage these days. But she is still a strong believer in creating safe supportive spaces in which for women to perform and have a go.

Many young women have been mentored through MUSE over the years and the Collective are proud of the recent success of two of their protégés, Jasmin Taare and Amy Maynard, who recently won the group section of Five Minutes of Fame on Māori Television.

MUSE hasn’t always strictly stuck to music, with comedy, poetry and satire providing some memorable moments over the years. Who remembers the ‘DIY Plastic Surgery’ performance in which Keren Rickard a.k.a. Professor Parsnips decked Tanya Mitcalfe out in cling wrap, painted her with Twink and used a vacuum cleaner to suck out her ‘undesirable’ attributes?

After a few years hiatus, MUSE is back and Smash Palace is hosting the Collective’s return tomorrow evening Friday August 6, 7pm. You’ll be able to catch up on what various MUSE members have been up to lately, (including Jasmine Taare!) and hear from some new members too, in a diverse celebration of women’s music.

As any musician is well aware, the audience has a huge role to play when it comes to performance and MUSE events are no exception – everyone is warmly welcome!

MUSE is always keen for new members, and as one of the most recent recruits Wendy Wallace attests, it is an awesome opportunity to work and collaborate with like-minded women to celebrate diversity, passion and prowess!

If you’re interested in finding out more head to the MUSE Facebook page.