When I was 14 I lived with my mother on Young Street in the suburb of Claudelands, Hamilton. A ghost also lived there. He was a middle-aged man, dressed in labourers’ clothes with rolled up shirt-sleeves, tucked-in baggy trousers and boots. He carried a shovel and was a bit dishevelled and dusty and see-through, with no face, just a head and some dirty grey hair.
I was the only person in the house who saw him and I did so pretty regularly. It was always the same. The ghost would appear for a few seconds, walking towards me, holding his shovel upright. He was innocuous, not explicitly friendly, just there. I never felt threatened or scared or like he wanted anything from me.
My mother said I went into a kind of small staring trance when I saw him and she could always tell when it was happening. She did not doubt my experience was real but felt a bit worried and wanted to check things out. She asked a friend/kuia to come over and help.
This woman arrived with others. My memory of them is definite but distant. I do not really know the sequence of events or pragmatic aspects of their visit but they must have performed a takahi whare. In my mind I can see them walking through the rooms of the house, saying karakia (although I cannot hear it).
Map depicting the location of Waikato tribes during period 1820 - 1863. Drawn by Pei Te Hurinui possibly for a proposed Centennial Historical Atlas. Image from the National Library of NZ.
While the house was being cleansed I stood in the backyard. In the left-hand corner was the incinerator we used to burn household rubbish (this was a pretty common thing at the time and I’d lived in other places with them). IT was unlit but rising upwards from the chimney were some twisting turning creatures. They curled and spiralled around each other in a strong, definite way, heading skywards. Lone eyes appeared occasionally amongst the ebb and flow and were the only recognisably human bits.
These things were different to the old man and I hadn’t seen them before. I do remember feeling quite nonplussed about it though and was happy to share the experience with everyone else. I was the only one who'd see them.
After some time thinking, the kuia explained that they were likely Māori casualties from the land wars. Our house was on Ngāti Wairere land, part of the 1,202,172 acres belonging to Waikato-Tainui, confiscated by Governor Grey. She said the fighters' spirits needed to be released and now it had been done.
1912 A and P show at Claudelands Showgrounds, Image from Hamilton Libraries.
The appearance of these creatures was unexpected. We thought we were dealing just with an old man ghost. I think though he got caught up in the cleansing because I never saw him again. I hope he went somewhere nice.
Years later I did some research and figured out he could have been one of the labourers who helped build the big, fancy Claudelands showgrounds and racetrack in the 1880s. There’d been workers’ cottages and perhaps his was where our house had been.
I still wonder why he got stuck.