Capital Swim and Culture

View of Wellington from the balcony where I stayed
View of Wellington from the balcony where I stayed

It’s the annual swim meet between TAMS and Different Strokes (DSW).  I’ve got my friend Ros staying so we take a break from walking around Waiheke and fly to Wellington.  I’m staying with Rangimoana and Bill who live within walking distance of Freyberg Pool which juts out into the harbour from the trendy Oriental Parade.  It is here that we will race.  My hosts have a newly acquired pet called Caf – a long haired Chihuahua which Bill refers to as ‘Pussy Dog’. Also staying is a guy called Hans – an interesting Kiwi Bear who now lives in Berlin doing a drag act called Princez Hans.  As it’s Friday night it’s fish and chips for tea.  The shop has got the order wrong and there’s too much to eat.  Never mind, I’m supposed to ‘carb up’ for tomorrow.

Pussy Dog
Pussy Dog

Ros has friends to visit nearby and also wants to watch the swimming so I collect her in the morning and we walk to the pool, pausing to have coffee on the sea-front.  Once again, I’ve forgotten which events I’ve entered in this 33.3 metre pool and as we’ve got team relays which count towards the challenge cup, I think that 6 events might be too much.  What to scratch? The warm up decides it as I finish off with a long length of Butterfly, I think ‘Nah, not going to do the 133m Individual Medley.’

Freyberg Pool Oriental Bay
Freyberg Pool Oriental Bay

The next shock is that I’m in heat 4 of 4 for the 67m freestyle and heat one of the next event, 100m Backstroke.  All I have to do is change from lane 3 to land 2. I hold back on the freestyle but it’s still a struggle doing the backstroke. Kevin from my club and a few years younger just beats me by a second.  It’s his first race of the day. My family have also come to watch and cheer.  Cousin Marie and partner Anne then later my niece with her partner and 8 month son.  It’s quite an occasion and with only 42 competitors, it all goes very quickly.  There’s last minute reorganisation of the relays and I move from the Mixed Medley to the 4x67m freestyle relay plus the 15×33.3m relay which counts towards the Challenge Cup.  There are some very young, fast and beautiful guys from Australia who’ve flown in for this meet – they are mostly from a Melbourne gay club called the Glamourhead Sharks.  They actually win the relay but as it’s between Wellington and Auckland clubs, that doesn’t count.  The Wellington swimmers are younger and faster than us and we have to graciously admit defeat and in the process get to hug and kiss everyone.  There are no medals or age group categories, it’s just a fun swim, but I do take note of my times.

Wellington is experiencing a heat wave and the harbour is looking great. When it’s like this, Wellington harbour is one of the best and when it’s cold windy and wet, one of the worst.  I go off with friend and family to a harbour-side bar for a beer and a meal.  There’s a play on at the National Museum, Te Papa, and Anne has nipped out during the swimming to get tickets for us.  Helen Pearse-Otane’s play ‘The Ragged’ is the first of a quartet following the life of a family from the 1840 new British Colony at Port Nicholson, Wellington through the years and into the future.  This is the early days of the New Zealand Company, acting independently of the British Government and headed by the unscrupulous Edward Gibbon Wakefield.  An illiterate immigrant (Samuel) from Manchester, England, has paid for land.  When he rows out of the harbour to Te Miti on the south coast he finds that the local tribe has not sold it.  He decides to stay and is adopted by the chief.  There is a Pakeha (white man) slave who is trouble and following the murders of the chief’s sons and grandchildren, the slave is served up to the self-important dignitaries from the new settlement.  Samuel marries the chief’s daughter-in-law and thus a new family is begun and he has his land after all.  It’s a powerful piece of work, beautifully spoken in Maori and English.  Veteran director and actor Jim Moriarty has directed strongly and also plays the ailing Maori chief.  At the end, we are invited to comment on the experience.  After several enthusiastic replies, my friend Rangimoana, who works at the museum, gets up and does a long speech in Maori, congratulating and acknowledging each performer and their origins.  I get the gist and everyone is moved by his powerful oration.  We take Ros back with us for wine and talk, into the night.

Oriental Bay
Oriental Bay

Sunday is the day of the harbour swim, which also happens in Oriental Bay.  Some of my team-mates are doing this 3K event and I go down to see if I can spot any of them.  I arrive as the last few swimmers are emerging from the sea but I’ve missed most of it.  I do, however, manage to meet up with Coach Cynthia and others who have swum.  After the prize – giving we go to the same harbour-side bar for beer and food.  I’m off for the rest of the weekend to spend some time with my great nephew, George. Ros and I meet up on Monday in the departure lounge of Wellington Airport for our return flight to Auckland.

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