Authors: Alan Duff
Alan Duff was born in Rotorua in 1950. He has published
six previous novels (
Once Were Warriors, One Night Out
What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
Both Sides of
Jake's Long Shadow
), a novella (
) and three non-fiction works (
Maori: The Crisis and the
Challenge, Out of the Mist and Steam
Alan Duff's Maori
Once Were Warriors
won the PEN Best First Book
Award for Fiction. This and
What Becomes of the Broken
were made into internationally acclaimed films for
which he wrote the original screenplays. He works as a full-time
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ISBN 978 1869792152
National Library of New Zealand Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Duff, Alan, 1950-
Dreamboat Dad / Alan Duff.
ISBN: 978 1869792152
A VINTAGE BOOK
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First published 2008
© 2008 Alan Duff
The moral rights of the author have been asserted
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
Richard Wright's poem 'Between the World and Me' on page 251–2, and the extract on page 238,
are reproduced with the kind permission of the Estate of Richard Wright, by special arrangement
with Julia Wright. Abel Meeropol's poem 'Strange Fruit', on pages 125 and 130, is reproduced with
the kind permission of J Albert & Son.
Text design: Elin Bruhn Termannsen
Cover illustration: Diving for Pennies, Whaka, Rotorua, 40456: 2007.98.15, Rotorua Museum of
Art and History, Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa
Cover design: Matthew Trbuhovic
In celebration of my African son, Makhosonke Ntokozo Zulu,
1982–2008, who showed us what determination is.
This one is for Harriet Allan, my editor, friend and harshest
critic, to let readers know the line is often blurred between writer
and editor. So, with my huge thanks.
Thanks to Claire Gummer, with her sharp eye and great
To my father Gowan for giving his children a love of the
My two youngest kids, Virginia and Rosy, who never get
To David Moore and Bruce Plested, two friends who
The people of Whaka whom I grew up with and will always
Every African American whose sufferings gifted the world with
musical genius and a whole lot more besides.
IT TOOK A FEW TIMES
and a few years before it registered what had been
said about my mother, that she was a slut and why did I think my name
was Yank, surely I would've figured that out? But I hadn't given it much
thought, hearing comment of my mother's lowly status to do with sex and
somehow linked to the only name I knew and liked.
A kid doesn't think about his name he just is it, like Chud, Hopscotch,
Lulu, Beebop, Manu, Kaipara, Heretini, Ngawai. They're just names
At the time of this revelation I'm a ten-year-old boy called Yank — so
what? Is Boyman both a boy and a man? Honeygirl, is she a girl made
from honey? My mother calls my best mate Boyboy, does that make him
twins? We call him Chud, from the chewing gum we call chuddy. They're
all just names. Except when I hear Chud's name, it's like a bell chiming
confirmation he's a brother.
My surname is Takahe, it's official on the school roll. A wonder Henry
allowed me to use his name, unless it saved embarrassment with my sisters
being his daughters. My siblings are true Takahes, the name of a native
bird and a man whose house I live in but who doesn't like me, even
though I have a secret liking for him. Sometimes.
Until I was five and started school, I thought he was my real father
who just happened not to like me. Even though my big sister had told me
early I wasn't his son. A little kid believes what he wants to believe. How
could he be my sister's father and not mine, when we shared the same
Henry hardly said a word to me, not good morning, not have
something to eat, not anything — if you don't count grunts and him
using sign language. I never saw his teeth revealed to me in a smile. Not
once. I still would have died of joy if he had dropped all that and become
Mum promised she'd explain:
when you're old enough.
When five is
already too old not to know the reason why. I mean, kids hurt more
because they lack understanding.
Ten years on this earth before my selective ears will let the word take
on meaning. The way the person's mouth forms is enough. Sl-ut. When
no mother is supposed to be one of those. Till I woke up I truly believed
Mum was Mary, the Holy Mother statue at the Catholic Church up the
road. Not Lena, her real name. Not the statue. But the real Mary the
statue was modelled on.
When I was young enough to believe in ghosts and God, I would
picture the Virgin Mary in my mind when thinking about my mother:
with a glow-ring round her head, a presence full of promise, not a lie to
her name, and really beautiful.
Mary, who kissed me not just goodnight but good morning and hello
during the day and just anytime. When she lifted me up I truly believed
I played with the glow-ring above her head, that it was shiny, sparkling
silver gold and was warm like a tricycle handlebar you've held on to a
I'd hear the word muttered over the years, from older kids, adults. But
it was like a fuzzy signal on our crackly old valve radio.
A slut can't be a wonderful mother. I find out it's a woman who sleeps
around, which means taking off her clothes and going at it with a man and
his stiff cock in her vagina. Going at what? Well, down there, what every
kid has growing but shocked awareness about.
When they're saying this about your mother you want to die, or kill,
or a hole to open in the steaming thermal ground and boil you and your
Yeah, didn't you know that, boy?
A slut? My mother?
Where your name came from. She did it with a Yank.
As bad as Chud's mother who's a pisshead and beats her kids up?
Just as bad. Some men would rather have a drunken missus like Shirl
Kohu than a slut.
I slunk around for a bit, thinking everyone had been laughing at me
all these years. Relieved when I found out only the nastier ones in our
little village called her that, those with long memories or their imitators.
But Mum was never Mother Mary again. Gone was her halo. Though I
still adored her.
SHORT OF MY MOTHER BEING
confirmed to be a lifetime slut, just about
nothing could ruin the joy of living here in Waiwera, Two Lakes. Not
in one of the world's — the
— most unique places. And we don't
have to have visited countless places to compare. We just know there is
only one village in the world sited on a thermally active area the way
ours is, the river and the bridge crossing it a big introductory part, our
thermal baths, the steaming landscape and fact we're the native people of
this country: Maori.
Our village is a one-off, which is why the tourists come from overseas
to gape in awe at our steaming, erupting, boiling acres, and experience
our Maori culture groups putting on our songs and dances in a highly
professional way. Pay a fee to our women guides to tour them over our
amazing landscape; guides who give a well-practised commentary on the
different thermal manifestations. Tell of victims over the years who have
fallen into pools and been boiled alive; inform of the tribal history and
how an eruption in 1886 of a mountain twenty-five miles away brought
the survivors to take up residence here, on the same fault line that the
huge Tarawera eruption broke through, completely destroyed what was
called the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Pink and White Terraces. A
lot of the houses here have framed pictures of paintings of those stunning
thermal creations created by nature and claimed by her too. What a waste.
Why would God destroy what people say only He could make?
On certain nights, when cloud has stolen the stars and ghosts are
on the loose, the thermal noising can sound like someone weeping, an
anguished soul crying out in pain as his flesh boils off his bones, crying out
for a second chance. You might be heading for a soak in one of our built
concrete bath tubs and get stopped in your tracks at a sound as if someone
is being throttled, a baby strangled to death, as thermal pressure forces a
way through a narrow gap. Can sound like a noisy whistle kettle too.
Or you'll hear one of the old people singing half-note waiata and
older kids tell you it's a death chant and listen out for the final death rattle.
You'll know when a final blast of rotten stinking air comes out of the
old person, and if you breathe it in you're either dead or you will catch a
All over are different coloured little lakes, cobalt blue, emerald green,
sulphur yellow, mud grey, crystal clear. I'm taking this from any of our
guides' spoken commentaries; every local kid knows them off by heart:
we mimic, make fun, add to them. And I've mentioned but a fraction of
what is on visual offer at Waiwera.
Now where would a slut fit in a place like this? They'd have booted
her out long ago. But as I adjust to the idea I get to thinking — hoping
more like it — one of those Yank tourists could be my father come back to
search for me. He could be any one of those I'd shown copycat contempt,
to impress the older boys. Could be rich, live in a huge mansion in —
where? California somewhere. New York. He could live anywhere in that
vast country . . . soon my atlas at school becomes a much studied work.
One day I might hear a voice call out, Mark? I've come to take you
What would I say? How would he know me, would my mother point
me out swimming in the river, bring him to me lolling about in one of
the hot pools? Would he recognise me instantly? Do I look like him? Is he
kind? Will he ever turn on me, let me down? Will he love me no matter
what I do?
Unlike my sisters' grandmother whose house I go past every day, to
her dirty look if she's outside on the veranda, in her vege garden. Old bat
never comes to our house because of me and she gives lollies and food
to my sisters, Mata and Wiki, and especially
my little Manu
grandson — right in front of me. Says hello, gives them a kiss, not one
word or treat my way. Just like her ignorant son. How will my father
make up for suffering that?
Takes a little while longer before everything falls into place:
a couple of years pass. It's like a series of curtains being pulled back —
if you are born of a mind to pull them open. Must be from my father to have
this curious mind wanting answers, even enlightenment. Not that I know of
the word then.
Old Merita, one of our oldest residents and respected villagers with time
for anyone. Not a kid in the village who hasn't taken a morning newspaper
up to her house up on the ridge, nor any who hasn't confided in her, or
With tattooed lips and chin etched and chiselled in the old way, Merita
yet has a keen interest in the wider, modern world. Older people say if she
had been a man she would be the chief of our village, maybe the whole
sub-tribe. Women have different rights and status to men, though in a
kids' world we seem about the same — if it wasn't for the sexual interest
boys spill over with and girls don't.
the newspapers, morning and evening editions; wants to
discuss what she's read. Kids don't get most things, but I have an ear for
words as I do music, how they're both like dough you can shape in your
hands. Early on I made the discovery of letting go with music and, funny
thing, it was by watching Henry sing, how he just gets glazed eyes and
launches his voice. Same way I learned to dive off the bridge top rail —
just let go. I'm one of the best dancers in the village too, age regardless.
So while not understanding most of what she's saying, I do learn
things. When I was little she'd take me up and let me run fingers in her
chin tattoo done in the old style and she'd say, feels like a corn cob, eh?
Sometimes she'd be cuddling me pretending to be passive then suddenly
break out with a scary noise. Give a cackling laugh and her thermal-bath
warm eyes and say, orrr, you're a scaredy-cat.
Her view looks down on the main tourist area. House has a dirt floor
that's warm from the thermal underneath. Like every house the furnishings
are basic. Framed photographs adorn every Waiwera house wall, as do
prints of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, and some of her father, King
George. British royalty doesn't mean the same to us kids. Though at the
picture theatres we have to stand up for
God Save the Queen
or get chucked
out, or get a whack from an usher's torch.
Merita sweeps her dirt floor with a manuka broom, can break off a
bit from a tree right out her back door when the old switch wears out.
Her husband died before he could install a proper wooden floor, but he
lives on in her memory as a good husband and good father to their eleven
children, all but two moved to other towns at her encouragement. Same
as she encourages me: move away when you're old enough, learn how
beautiful the wider world and yet how lovely this place too. Open your
mind up, closed if you stay here.
She tells me, I miss the old times, Yank. Everyone knew their place.
We had order, a structure in which our society and culture was strong.
Sure, we had the tourists to help give us a living. Our male elders who only
thought they ran the place when, behind the scenes, it has always been us
women. But we held together. I worry it won't hold for much longer, not
unless we have strong leadership like Henry. You won't understand me
saying this, not now, but you will.
. . . What you here for this time, boy? Your mother? Well, for starters,
don't be listening to this nonsense your mother is that word. She's not.
Just some people are cruel because that's how they are. Because we're in a
village and all related doesn't mean we're pure as milk and sweet as honey.
Your mother is a good woman and you make sure you always respect her.
She's the one going to give you strength.