Friday, 4 August 2017

Astride a Fierce Wind



Eight years after I successfully self-published The Madonna in the Suitcase I was extremely fortunate to have another book launch.  Nearly three months ago Makaro Press published my memoir Astride a Fierce Wind.

I'd like to share Paddy Richardson's words at that amazing launch on 17 May 2017, attended by more than 120 people.  It was an enriching feeling to be surrounded by so many well-wishers, people who have meant a lot to Bart and me during our life in Dunedin for the past 57 years.  It was special that Mary McCallum from Makaro Press in Wellington could be with us, and special too that Lesley Marshall from Editline  in Whangarei was part of the celebration in Dunedin.  Lesley became my mentor when I was awarded an NZSA mentorship.  I am grateful to both Paddy and Lesley for stirring me along on the writing track.

Launch of Huberta Hellendoorn’s Memoir, Astride a Fierce Wind.

A while ago after reading a memoir I’d very much enjoyed about a New Zealand immigrant, I asked Huberta, why don’t you write your own memoir?

There was horror in her voice. Who would want to read it? I haven’t done anything. I’m not important.

The answer to her first comment is very obvious in the number of people who have come to support Huberta in the launch of this memoir and, also, in those who were entranced as Huberta read from it in the Atheneum.

But – I haven’t done anything?

Years ago I taught a communications paper at the University of Otago and a woman, quite a lot older than the 20-year olds mainly in the class, and most definitely quieter, stood to give her oral presentation which was one of the assessments. She spoke of her daughter, Miriam, of her uniqueness and creativity, and of Miriam’s Down syndrome condition which Huberta and Bart had made sure would not prevent her from having a rich and fulfilling life. I thought, this woman has a story.

Later, after she told me she wanted to write but could never go to a creative writing class - I could never read out my work to other people - Huberta became my one and only private writing student. I discovered she had other stories; wonderful stories which, as she began to write, came almost in a torrent. Stories from a childhood in Holland: decorating the bread swan with fluffy chickens for the Palm Sunday parade, the honour of the responsibility of becoming her Oma’s bonnet bearer – which meant biking through the village carrying a cleaned, pressed and starched bonnet to her Oma for her to wear for church every Sunday.

And then there were the stories of the child who lived through a war, sheltering in the darkness of a cellar while bombs fell on the village with their neighbour, a young husband and father, going outside to ensure his sisters were safe. Stories, also, of fleeing the village with her family, her baby sister in a pram, amongst the long line of neighbours and friends who were now refugees and the fear, the hunger and the uncertainty which remained, even after the war ended. In all of the stories there was a wonderful humour and the sense of an unquenchable personality.

I understood that I wasn’t the only girl to begin a normal life again when the war ended. Following the liberation of Holland the three real Dutch princesses returned to their home country after having lived in Canada during the war years and they spoke a few words on Dutch radio: ‘We’re so glad to be back in Holland again. We missed you all and have looked forward to our return.’ Ans and I sat on the floor in her house, glued to the old-fashioned radio, listening with awe to the young royals.

We went up to the attic, took an old blanket and made holes in it. We tucked the blanket over the seat and armrests of an upside-down chair. Wrapped in an orange flag, Ans whispered, ‘I’ll be Princess Beatrix and you can be Princess Irene.’

Children of the Netherlands, we are so happy to be back in our country.’ Ans's voice wavered with importance. ‘We enjoyed living in Canada – it’s such a beautiful country with its mountains and lakes. We had our own swimming pool. There’s so much snow in winter. And we rode with the Mounties. But it’s good to be back in Holland. Flying to Holland from Canada I asked a hundred times: Are we over Holland yet?’

Princess Huub chipped in: ‘It’s so nice to be back. Our grandmother will soon open Parliament and we will wear crowns and sit in our golden coach.’

After a while we forgot that we were speaking to the nation. ‘I’ll wear the golden crown and you can have the silver one,’ said Princess Beatrix.

No, I want the gold,’ Irene replied. ‘You’ll be queen one day and then you’ll have plenty of time to wear gold crowns.’

Just wait until I’m queen! I’ll do everything I like and marry the best-looking prince. And then you’ll have to do everything I tell you to.’

Later, in her adolescence, she took music lessons with a rather attractive young man – I don’t think Huberta’s mind was entirely on the hymns her father wanted her to learn to play in his church. She had found out about ‘types’- but, is he my type? she wondered to her friends. And then she found her ‘type’ and married Bart and they made together the courageous decision to change their life path, to leave behind all that was familiar and to make a home on the other side of the world.

Then came the loneliness and losses of immigration, the waiting for letters from home but also the excitement and challenge of this new place of bush and harbour and hills. While they found support within the Dutch community here Huberta was also looking beyond that community for new friends, new ways of living; Huberta did not want to be bound by the strictures of routine- her washing out on the line, her baking completed at the same time each day.

And, after those early days of immigration, come the stories of becoming a mother – first to her own unique and special Miriam and then – well, she had twins – of course Huberta had twins! - this woman never does things by halves. Nurturing and loving the children alongside Bart and, as a family, they explored this new world they had come to – the beaches, the hills, packing up a picnic hamper on a winter morning and driving to Naseby to ice skate. Then, in her middle years, Huberta returned to education, juggling completing a degree with a job. And then, as if all that was not enough, she became a writer – a published writer.

With all of these challenges and triumphs and joys, Huberta has combated the kind of health issues both for herself and her family that would annihilate a less vigorous spirit. This is what makes this book – beautifully, lyrically written in Huberta’s distinctive voice – a book which not only portrays the story of one woman but tells also a universal story of the resoluteness of human life-force.

Huberta’s story cuts away the superfluous – the dross – to gently remind the reader of what really is most important in our short lives; love, friends and family. This wonderful memoir celebrates the ability of the fundamental spirit to stand steadfast during the winds of adversity and change and to seek and embrace the joy and the goodness of the every day.

Paddy Richardson


17 May 2017

Mary McCallum speaking at the launch.

Christopher Moore writes in the Listener (8 July 2017)
'In Astride a Fierce Wind Huberta Hellendoorn gathers together the threads of a life that has taken her from the reassuring familiarity of a small Dutch town to the challenges of a new beginning in Dunedin.  It's a richly Proustian voyage in which, to quote Proust himself, memory suddenly reveals itself.  There have been similar books but rarely ones written with such a vivid sense of time, place and people.  Hellendoorn's solid Dutch pragmatism and lack of cloying sentiment are tempered by a deep awareness of the human experience. ...  But it's the fierce sense of belonging to a place, to a family and to an individual and collective past that makes her book so memorable.'

Lesley Marshall, Huberta Hellendoorn, Paddy Richardson, Mary McCallum

Saturday, 20 June 2015

A New Year

Oh, yes, the title below says it all: this has certainly been a catching up.  I wrote the following just over two years ago and forgot to send this blog.  To keep the record straight, I will now post it.  A new blog will start soon - a new beginning. Swept  ahead by a fierce wind which will mean a whole new story.   In the meantime there have been even more huge changes, especially for our special daughter who now is in special care at the Marne Street Hospital in Andersons Bay, Dunedin.

CATCHING UP - written 20 June 2015

It seems a long time since I wrote a blog.  So much has happened during the past year.  We've experienced many good things but also have dealt with difficult situations.  As most people do!  I am grateful that my mental energy to write has come back after having experienced two shifts in one year plus learning to cope with a different and challenging life situation in our family.   But ... I must admit, the past few years have been full of hurdles and I had to accept that I didn't cope as well as I had expected (and did at previous stressful times).  Sometimes it's hard to live up to our own expectations, let alone those of others.  It is also hard to learn to say 'no' a bit more.  I remember longing to find time to go back to my writing again but whatever it says about me, I just couldn't manage apart from the occasional poem. But now I'm beginning to feel on the right path, having nearly finished the first draft of my memoir.  Several friends who are writing experts read my novel. Their comment: you certainly can write but this book should be written as a memoir. 

We shifted to our apartment on a snowy day in at the end of May 2014, again with the amazing help of Douglas, Victoria and Matt.  A few days earlier we attended the official opening of the main building in this Summerset at Bishopscourt Retirement Village.  It was a lovely ceremony made especially so by the delightful contribution of the Balmacewan Intermediate's school choir and its Kapa Haka group with Sue Methan as conductor and Susan Frame as pianist.
We are happy here.  It's warm, comfortable and it is especially good for Bart as there are many in-house activities he can attend.

View from our living room.

Miriam has settled well in her new home in Bay View Road.  It is always a pleasure to visit her there, to meet up again with the staff and share laughs with Miriam's flatmates.  The house has a wonderful atmosphere, thanks to the dedication of Nylla and her colleagues.

In the meantime Dunedin had a once-in-a-hundred year flood and the house where Miriam lives was badly affected, the water inside reaching 30 cm and outside 40 cm.  Nylla and the other staff were super human beings shifting the other residents out of the house in record time while still managing to get the most necessary items.  The flood was really bad. We as parents had to clean out Miriam's room (other parents were busy too) putting all her bedding, furniture and other precious things into the skip.  Everything was soaking wet.  Thank goodness that Housing New Zealand has started work on the interior.  In the meantime all six residents are now staying in the McGlynn Centre in Mornington.  We are so grateful that they could stay together during the next months until they can move back to Bay View Road again.

Here are some photos of Miriam's birthday last year, I had just delivered a gluten free cake for the CLC group.   Later, at McGlynn I took a photo of the group and their supervisor for that afternoon, Jenny.
Miriam at CLC

Miriam's birthday 2014, ltr Vicky, Jenny, Miriam, Bart, Karen and Stephen.

Jenny and Miriam

The Dunedin Community Learning Centre is now in its second year of independent functioning.  So much is done there, so much given in terms of support to ensure that our children are well-looked after and cared for.  They now have a website: www.Dunedin  Each time I visit I'm impressed by the enthusiasm and professionalism of Trudy Scott and her staff as they keep their clients occupied in a meaningful way.  TOP MARKS!

Monday, 10 February 2014

New Horizon

St Clair beach

The last blog showed photos of the Blackhead quarry with its horizons of mountains of quarry dust.

 I took this photo last week when we had a rare blue Dunedin day, an occasion to celebrate by going to the beach during this strange summer with its grey days of constant rain and snappy winds.  Bart and I enjoyed our coffee at the St Clair Cafe after I'd had my first swim of the year in the St Clair Hot Saltwater Pool.
This photo reminds me of the last few months, the waves and waves of possessions coming from all directions as we packed up our beloved home of forty years.  The banana boxes so lovingly packed with books and 'precious ornaments from living room' by Hilary Mills, Maggie Peake and Rona Chave.  I listened to them as they packed, I felt helpless but they knew exactly what to do.  Then there were Gary Dent who took trailers full away and Mick and Mary Strack coming over to help, all so willingly and lovingly supporting us in what they knew was a major event for our family.

 The next stage of packing was expertly done by our delightful young neighbour, Victoria Martin, no holds barred, she went full steam ahead, reminding me what still needed to be sorted and when that was done she made sure that each room was left in a clean state.  We were so grateful, again and again and especially for the amazing support we had from our front neighbour, Douglas Clark who expertly advised us how to deal with an overstocked tool-laden garage with lots of other 'things', taking trailer-loads to the dump, together with Victoria carting masses of banana boxes on his trailer to our unit at Summerset, storing them in the garage and in the house, advising us on hundreds of things and inviting us impromptu to a home-cooked roast dinner with all the trimmings.  Those roast potatoes, wow!  What a treat it was, and it was repeated again the next night when he suggested we'd come and help him eat the left-overs of the night before.  Some left-overs!!!!  Delicious and oh so welcome.  That last night as we sat in the house which we extensively renovated in the early seventies, we could look for the last time at the place where we lived, loved and learned for the past forty years and it felt good!  It gave us a buoy to hold on to during the next days when we were lovingly invited to stay with Trudy and Gary Dent while in the daytime we sorted and cleaned and tidied, again with impromptu help of Fiona Stirling and Tess Gilfedder.

 With all this love shown to us, and Kate Strack's delightful email saying: 'you can take the Hellendoorns out of Opoho but you can't take Opoho out of the Hellendoorns' - how lucky we have been to have had those years in this suburb.

 Admittedly, after the shift my horizon has been like the photo above - just a little bit above the railing, lots of flotsam (kelp in the photo) below, sometimes feeling a bit barred by lack of storage space but hey, we did it!  We've had our first Christmas here, Miriam and Ray came and we had a simple but lovely Christmas dinner.

What a treasure - a Hardanger Xmas cloth made by my sister Eef.

 Two days before Christmas Bart lifted a 30 kg piece of metal in the process of cleaning, wanting to leave the outside of the old house in respectable order for the arrival of the new owners. The result was that he had six very painful weeks with a pinched nerve, which now only is beginning to get back to normal.  It made for a complete rest as every movement was agony.

 And now I end with a photo I took from our living room here at Summerset. A totally different horizon now but at least it is a colourful one.

Summer 2014

Sunday, 17 November 2013


Ploughing on ...

We visited Miriam yesterday.  She is looking so good, full of beans, chatting away.  She'd spell the words we didn't understand, and if we still didn't get the meaning she'd write them down in the side column of her Word Find book.  She is resource full as ever.  The staff at the McGlynn Home have adjusted fantastically to giving Miriam an interesting gluten free diet. 

She'll come home for a meal next week.  That will be the last time for her to be in this house and it will be hard for her to accept this.  As hard as it is for all of us, slowly detaching ourselves from 'possessions', and I mean possessions not in a valuable way but of having been attached to them: some bits of simple furniture, e.g. a shelving unit with plate glass shelves and rimu surrounds holding a selection of vases on the top shelf and all sorts of things on the other shelves, cook books on the bottom one.  A garden table with four chairs.  We know they'll go to good homes.  And then there are the plants in the garden, the abundance of roses right now, so glorious.  The peony rose in flower for the first time, oh, how poignant to pick a huge bunch realising that for me the picking is not only its first but also its last time.  Our wonderful Freyberg apples, a tree planted the same year as I was born.

But we have many things to be grateful for and I will be glad when those intense waves of sadness of leaving behind 53 years in this lovely suburb will be replaced by hopefully happy and new experiences when we move into our unit at Summerset Bishopscourt. 

A few weeks ago Bart had to make concrete and needed to get sharp sand at the quarry down the road from us.
Blackhead Quarry Logan Park.
The new Dunedin Stadium in the background.

  We drove up the hill and as I got out of the car I was amazed to see the end result of the variety of the processes after the initial drilling and blasting of rocks out of the steep rock face.  After blasting, the rocks are transported to different crushers and finally are sorted into different stages of crushed material.

 While there I felt as if I was in a hot and windy alien world. I took some photos and added them to this blog as the processed 'heaps' reminded me of what we're doing right now.   We did cut our tie with this house when it was sold, gradually we cut deeper and deeper with giving away some of our possessions to different organisations, or throwing away things we thought might come in handy one day.  We even had a garage sale.  And now there's going to be the final cut very soon, the house full of bags and boxes selected to go with us.  Bart complains I've taken too many books.  He's right.

 Life has taught me enough lessons to know that not everything will go smoothly but I know too that there will be strength to cope when the rocks are a bit rough or uneven. 
Is this Dunedin or Mars?

Friday, 11 October 2013


It's only one story

I ended my last blog with a photo of the sign that said that our house was for sale.
Craig Palmer, of Metro Dunedin, asked me if I would write something about my experiences of having lived in our house for nearly 40 years.  And so I did and have decided to blog this little story.  Craig sold the house within a week!  He fulfilled his promise to make the sale as painless as possible and I can thoroughly recommend him.
Kowhai in full bloom, October 2013

In 1966 we bought our first house.  A rambling roughcast house which needed a lot of renovations.  We were not daunted.  We were young.  The main attraction of this house was its quarter-acre garden.  We wanted a garden where our Down syndrome daughter Miriam and our twin sons Foster and Ray could play and run around to their hearts content.  This garden became an adventure place for our children, initially playing in sandpits, using the swing in the huge chestnut tree, then moving on to climbing trees, running around chasing each other, always having friends around.

Photo on right was taken in December 1966
 Unfortunately, Doodle, our black, shiny 'sheep dog' was hit by a car.  She loved to chase cars and people on bikes, perhaps training for the sheep that might eventually wander into our street!  At that time we had a white kitten. Doodle's favourite pastime was to pick up the kitten, run to the bottom of the section with the kitten in her mouth, run back and deposit the poor wee thing in the dust under the house.  Whatever we did, she had to follow her hunting instinct.  The kitten survived!

We did extensive work to improve the inside of the house, taking out walls and chimneys to create an open living space.  The garden stayed the same, an open place to use trikes and play soccer and other ball games.  Our whippets, Dody and Muffin joined in the fun. 

Miriam with dogs and Ray and Foster on trikes
In 1973 we decided to have a two-storied house built on our back section and it was a special moment when in September 1974 we moved into our new sunny house.
Foster, Ray and Bart creating a new path alongside our old house (1975)
Bart built retaining walls, for us a priority to keep our house safe.  Later, surrounded by bags of cement, sand and a pile of grey uneven shaped rocks we created rock walls close to the house.  Water and a fine mixture of cement and sand bonded the stones together.  I remember thinking: these walls won't move once the mixture between the rocks has dried.

We created a garden where we could rest and relax between bouts of work, either indoors or outdoors.  Using Kokonga stones Bart made a terrace.  We planted shrubs and trees and flowers that gave an intensity of colours.  There was no organised colour scheme but the texture of the plants created their own images.  I planted a climbing rata against a bank, thinking of the day when I would see its red fluffy flowers amidst the dark glossy leaves.  Near the letterbox we planted a kowhai.  A hamamelis found a place in a corner where it displayed its yellow tendrils in the middle of winter, just before the first spring flowers shot through the winter earth.  I knew that whenever I planted a tree or shrub, a small part of myself secured a stronger hold on living in this new land.

The countdown to leaving has started.  I'm dreading having to say goodbye to our special suburb where we've lived for more than 50 years.  As I move from room to room - sorting, tidying, cleaning - I think of the good times we've had in this wonderful part of Dunedin, the many friends we've made, the old-fashioned caring attitude of people around us.  The changes we've observed in half a century.

And now our apple tree is in flower again.  The beginning of a new cycle, new growth.  I am sure the new owners will enjoy its beautiful apples.  Our Dutch habit of often eating appelmoes (apple sauce)  will have to be modified.  But ... there's always the fantastic Farmer's Market!
Apple tree in 1981


Wednesday, 4 September 2013


This is the last spring we celebrate in this house.  More to follow in my next blog.  Yesterday  I took a photo of our yellow plum tree.  It's a bit like a Christmas card with its radiant display of white, green and red.  In late afternoon I sat on the balcony and absorbed the bridal beauty of this gorgeous tree with the rata and red camellia in the foreground.

Plum tree, native rata tree and camellia bush.
 During the past week our family has been absorbing memories.  Memories of being together as a family with Foster and Frances arriving from Thames in the North Island to take part in the 50-year celebration of the Survey School at the University of Otago.  Foster and I enjoyed being part of Basil Jones' party at The Link on Friday night, a special occasion for both of us.  For Foster it was good to meet up with his 1984 entrance class mates, and for me to see so many students I met during the nearly quarter of a century working at the Survey School.  It was delightful to catch up (and recognise!) people I knew as young students and to be recognised as well.  A warm and sincere time.

 Foster and Frances enjoyed the special Survey School celebration dinner at the Toitu Museum on Saturday night.  This is such a lovely photo of them, dressed up to party.

Foster and Frances ready to celebrate.
 Earlier in the week we had another special memory occasion when two couples visited us, all connected through the School of Surveying.  Ever since I retired we've stayed in touch with Allan Blaikie (Acting Head for several years) and his wife, Mary.  They moved to Rangiora and we have lovely memories of staying with them and being totally spoiled.  We spend a lot of time going back to the old days.  The other special couple to visit us came from Auckland.  As always, so lovely to see them too and to bring back the old days but also focussing on the moment.  Sylvia and Norman Sloper are in the same position as we are: moving house.  Norman's first wife, Pat, was my colleague at Survey School.  She died tragically in a car accident.  Sylvia's husband, Gus, died several years ago and now it is wonderful to see how Norman and Sylvia have found happiness together.  Our children have known these couples for many years and it was a special treat for them to meet up with both couples.

ltr: Mary, Sylvia, Norman, Allan, Ray, Bart, Foster and Frances
 I end this blog with the Metro For Sale sign in our drive.  The start of ending forty years of living in our 'brown' house with its glorious views and more than fifty years in this wonderful suburb.  Howie, the photographer, came on Tuesday afternoon and I saw myself as a 'snow plough', removing unnecessary items before the photos for the internet were taken.  But, he made a beautiful job of those photos as he managed to get my 'certain hill' (a previous blog) in many of them.

Monday, 12 August 2013


 It's an unsettling time, clearing and sorting Miriam's bedroom, her Scotch Chest, her large cupboard which holds photo albums as well as boxes with old photos.  And then there are the coats we have gathered over so many years.  Some quite worn, but oh so comfortable.  I ask myself, how many coats does an old woman need?

 No delicate branch acrobatics for me either while I'm trying to balance my time, appointments, working on Tipping the Balance, a novel for young adults.  It's good to be back 'inside' that historical novel again. 

During day time the kereru is busy in the tree outside my study.  It's wonderful to see the huge bird, trying to balance itself on fragile branches.  The flowers aren't out yet and I hope our neighbour won't cut down this safe haven for birds.
How I love watching this gorgeous creature with its proud chest and delicate colouring.


 At night I look out of my window and see the new moon.  It moves so fast within my dark window, 'sailing' from the upper right hand corner to the middle left.  It inspired me to write this simple poem.

Closer to the moon

The new moon hangs outside my window.
A bleached pumpkin,
peeled, cut, sliced,
processed into soup or stew,
added to an avocado salad.

Do astronauts think of white pumpkin soup
while occupying orbits?

Do they think of wives in kitchens on earth,
taking kids to school,
putting pumpkin pie in lunch boxes?

I wonder whether thoughts of fear and failure still circle them
while being closer to the moon?
Are there racing thoughts of urgent bills to be paid,
of fragile relationships that need mending?

Perhaps they too dream of pumpkins growing
while staying on the ground.

HH 2013