Papa Andrew's Appreciation
Papa Andrew recalls arriving from the Cook Islands in the late 1950s to work at the Kinleith paper mill when Tokoroa was barely a town.
“All I can remember when I arrived was a little Post Office … and that’s all … I helped build this town,” he says with a mischievous smile.
From a population of little more than a thousand at the start of the 1950s, Tokoroa had reached 10,000 by the end of the decade and would double again to 20,000 by the early 1970s.
Papa Andrew arrived in 1958. Born and raised on the island of Aitutaki, he was one of the first wave of Cook Islanders (mainly from Aitutaki) who would make Tokoroa their home, thanks to employment at the Kinleith Mill, a pulp and paper plant that is still one of the largest in New Zealand and remains in operation today.
Papa Andrew was prominent in helping set up the Pacific Islands Church, the Pacific Rugby League Club and the Cook Islands Society. But nothing gives him greater pride than seeing the emergence of
SWPICS (South Waikato Pacific Islands Community Services), Aere Tai’s Tokoroa Provider, which took over the Society’s premises where it is now based.
“Seeing the premises become a place for health and social services is the best thing that could have ever happened,” he says proudly.
“Over the years I’ve come to realise that going to church and being part of a sports club is not for everyone, but getting health and other social services is, especially for our community in Tokoroa.”
Now in retirement and married to Rouru, Papa Andrew is a client of SWPICS with Edna Simiona his Home-based Support Worker.
Edna says Papa Andrew, like many his age, has a growing list of health issues and her job is to support them.
In Making Our Place, a book by Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, a chapter features Cook Islands Identity in Tokoroa, stating the Cook Islands’ biggest impact in New Zealand has been in Tokoroa, where it has comprised of up to 15% of the town’s total population of 13,000.
Other Pacific peoples have made Tokoroa their home, too. Past residents include a number of sporting stars, including All Black legend Keven Mealamu.
Papa Andrew says while he and other pioneers are long past their physical peak, he’s proud the SWPICS team are so active in keeping him and other elderly people active.
“We’ve got a men’s group now to make sure that we’re keeping active. They take us to the park and to the community pools (for low-impact exercises). There’s a women’s group, too, but what I’ve noticed is they’re stronger than us,” he says with a smile.
After working at Kinleith for almost half a century, Papa Andrew retired in 2005. He still lives in the same house he purchased and moved into when he arrived.
While he misses the camaraderie gained alongside the predominantly Pacific and Maori fellow workers, he says those days are long gone. He’s just glad to have his wife, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and SWPICS with him to make his days in retirement happy ones.
“I take my hat off to SWPICS … if I had one.”
This interview was recorded with Papa Andrew in May 2015, who sadly passed away in November 2015. The story has been published with the permission of Papa Andrew's loving family.
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