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  • Writer's pictureZarahn Southon


I've been trying to write for days but hardly much comes out cos I'm lost for words really. Uncle lost his battle and we lost the greatest uncle. He was the Fonz in our whanau. All of us kids wanted to be just like our Uncle Craig T Southon. He was the youngest of all nine siblings.

Our whānau at Tokaanu marae circa 1970's, uncle Craig kneeling in the front row with the animal t-shirt

The last time I saw my uncle was at Tokaanu Marae, Tūrangi. And he was really bubbly and upbeat, told me he had just stopped by the old farm in Kuratau and had a sleep in the fields, feeling rejuvenated by the whenua.

He got his cancer diagnosis five years ago, with only months to live, they started him on a trial drug that gave him more time to spend and enjoy with the love of his life Aunty Sally.

Craig Vita Taikiteuru Southon was the jet-setting uncle, a rangatira in shearing gangs around the globe, cutting his teeth growing up on his parent's farm in Kuratau, Turangi. We were intrigued by his stories, his grainy kodaks of life abroad, beaming with pride at the Cadillac he once owned in Canada. He had fond childhood memories of climbing through the window of the wharepuni at Tokaanu marae, the old kuia tutting at him, and all the stories from when they were kids growing up in Tūrangi. A mean hunter, he and dad used to shear, hay bale, farm fencing, and drink with my mum's dad Keith Bennett nō Ngāti Hinemihi, Taumarunui. That's how Dad, through Keith, met mum at the pātaka bar in Tokaanu. And the rest is history really.

From Left Aunty Rose, Uncle Mike and Uncle Craig

I always remember when I was a kid Uncle flying into town, we'd pick him up from the airport, mum would have a boil-up ready, and he'd have nothing but the shirt on his back and his shearing gear rolled up in a paru towel. He'd keep his sheers on the washing machine in the wash house.

We'd walk down to the fish shop, me proud as walking alongside my uncle, he'd buy a huge bag of muscles and he'd sit there shelling them on the front porch. He'd teach me to shell. Eating them listening intently to me all the while one ear trained on a crackly transistor radio broadcasting the horse races.

The thing is while he was a rolling stone, he'd always take the time out to listen to us kids, you could talk for hours into the night, his mind was sharp, and we could always pick up stuff we'd talked about years before. As a kid, he was picked up for having an exceptional talent for maths, but poppa didn't want to send his boy off to Saint Stephens or any other school like his elder siblings. So uncle along with Dad and Uncle Mike the youngest kids stayed on the farm. Their aunties called them the three little pigs.

The three little pigs, from left Michael, Craig (centre) and my father Hugh Rongomainohorangi

In the late '90s Uncle Craig returned to Tūrangi especially to look after Nanan in her final years, and worked as an accountant for a bit, when Nan passed he was off on the road again.

Despite his terminal cancer diagnosis, the trial drug gave him five years with the love of his life Sally, they met shearing and lived in Perth. He was whāngai to Aunty Sally's children, our cousins, our whanau, our iwi.

He still did shearing until the end and even took the time in his final years to write a book about his life and travels. Uncle died watching rugby with a cuppa tea in his hand.

Moe mai rā e te rangatira, ki te tama o Ngāti Tūwharetoa i Kurauia, e tū mai rā. ka tū te maunga, ka heke iho ngā roimata i ngā kapua pōuri, e takoto, e takoto, raro iho te papatahi o te mama, maranga rā, maranga rā ake nei ki te ao ki runga, ka kite anō au i a koe, māu ō tātou tūpuna e tū mai, i a koe e haere atu ana e tatari ana ratou ko Kurauia rātou ko Kataraina Pikiao Ko Rahera Kahuhiapō ko Paekitawhiti ō tātou puhi nō Ngāti kurauia nō Ngāti Pūkenga hoki, he raina heke ahu pēnei mai te iho mai ko Pūhaorangi.

Moe mai rā e te rangatira

Note: Originally posted to Facebook and edited for my blog

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