Karanga from the horizon: Te Nia Matthews

Ko Maunga Pohatu te maunga
Ko Ohinehamataroa te awa
Ko Te Waiiti te marae
Ko Ngāi Tūhoe te iwi
Ko Ngāti Kurī te hapū
Ko Te Nia Matthews tōku ingoa

I was born in Titahi Bay, Wellington. My parents were quite young at the time — dad was about 18. Getting around with a kid is tough in itself, but doing it without a car or a lot of financial stability made it harder for them. One of the good things about this town is that it is so small and because we had enough whānau around us, things weren’t so bad. It still wasn’t the ideal timing or circumstance for them to have children, but they did the best they could. 


By the time I was four, my brother Troy came around. He was very opposite to me, very cheeky and somehow always able to pull it off. When I was about eight, he was just turning five and about to start school. I remember telling my primary school teacher, ‘my brother’s starting soon, my brother’s starting soon!’ I was very excited. Then one day before he’d started, my mum, a few of my cousins and I had gone to the local pool. Some of Troy’s best friend whānau were there just randomly — we hadn’t planned that but while we were all at the pool, there was an accident and he passed away. Experiencing that kind of loss at seven years old was hard, I didn’t understand why, it just hurt. Even now it’s still raw — the memory of me telling my teacher about him, I was so looking forward to having my brother with me. People I consider as some of my closest friends, my boys, they don’t know about this. It just hasn’t been something we’ve talked about; I’ve always just kept it close. I carry a photo of him in my wallet.


My childhood after that was pretty turbulent, his passing set the tone for the following years. My parents’ relationship was never that great to start with but after that, it put a lot of strain on them and eventually dad packed up and left back to where we’re originally from in Ruatāhuna. When you’re a kid that’s just lost your brother, and then your dad leaves too, it really hurts. There’s all these feelings of rejection, confusion, hurt and anger, and you don’t know what to do with them. As I got older, I began to understand why he left, but back then, it didn’t make any sense.  My dad and I still aren’t that close — last time I saw him we had a bit of an argument. It’s a work in progress.


I wouldn’t blame anyone who goes through any kind of tribulation if they wanted to pack it in and call it quits. Tragedy’s hard; it hurts. But it hurts everyone that's affected so much more if you decide to go through it alone. Growing up without a father figure, I tried to find one anywhere I could and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. I was lucky enough to have found a positive father figure who could show me what it meant to be a man, to hold mana tāne. For me, mana tāne means holding yourself accountable and holding yourself well. Mana doesn’t have to be something that’s aggressive; it can be kind, it can be vulnerable. The thing that gets me is that my ideas on it and on what it means to be a man could’ve been totally different if I'd had negative examples instead. Good role models — they make all the difference in the world.


My mum inspires me. After everything happened, she was still there keeping on, keeping on. For a long time I don’t think she was in the best of places, but when I went back over to Aussie to visit her recently, she’d never seemed happier.


I reckon dogs have such a keen sense of character. When I was down south with my partner on her parents’ farm, they had this one working dog named Rock who apparently is a bit tough to warm up to because of the past trauma he’s been through. Me and Rock hit it off straight away though, which was cool. I’m still trying to get him to Wellies for an early retirement.


Our people have always been the motivating factor for me. Life is not fair unfortunately and we always seem to get the short end of the stick but whenever we’re faced with a struggle either collectively or individually, it always pushes me to keep fighting the good fight.


I don’t really know where I’m going to be honest, but I don't think that space of uncertainty is a bad thing. I know that whatever it is, it’ll be quite community-based and oriented. Issues that affect Māori are so important to me and we need more people in the community that are prepared to do the hard mahi; to make a meaningful difference in those darker spaces. 

Stoked to be able to say I graduated with my degree last year. There was the option to graduate early so a few friends and I jumped in and got to graduate at the Māori grad, Toiahurewa for Vic Uni. It was an amazing day and yeah I cried multiple times; so many people had supported, encouraged and helped me get there and despite all the challenges, we'd made it. 


My kui started this kōhanga reo in Titahi Bay during the 80s. Having someone who’s championed the reo and made such a big impact in seeing the reo nurtured within each new generation is so inspiring. I hope I can make as much of a difference as she has in her life. 


I know it’s difficult to show your own sense of vulnerability but I promise you, it does makes you stronger. Vulnerability keeps you human and allows you to always have empathy for others which is something we can always do with.

Thank you to all those who helped raise me.

Nei rā te mihi, 
Te Nia


Follow Te Nia on insta: @goodolnia