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Rosemary Hullen, the Mayor of Parker Street

Moving from the country into the suburbs of Gisborne was a big change for Tania Herniman and her partner Derek. Luckily she found herself living next door to a couple who make it part of their life’s work to connect the local community.

Tania

I feel like I’ve won the lotto to have Rosemary and Wayne as neighbours. They’re the sort of people that would give you the shirt off their backs. They are so loving and so caring. I’ve had some really really bad days and there’s always been a time I can just go over or Rosemary will say, ‘Hi, how are you, my neighbour?’ and straight away it’s like, boom, she knows something’s wrong with me. And all I get is this big cuddle – no judgement, just listening ears, you know.

Prior to moving to Gisborne, Derek and I were country bumpkins. We were working and living in the kiwi fruit orchards, but when PSA (bacteria that can kill kiwifruit vines) came along we decided to buy our first house so that we always had somewhere to live and for our mokopuna [grandchildren] to visit. We chose this place in a cul-de-sac because my grandson, Kaedince, is autistic and he’s a runner, an escape artist, and I wanted him to be safe.

Rosemary, Tania, and Wayne in garage with a drag car

For a good month or so, we wouldn’t even open our windows – that’s how intimidated we were of being in town. Rosemary and Wayne really made us feel welcome and safe. Shortly after we moved in, Rosemary came over with a gift and said, ‘We welcome you to the street, you’re here as part of our whānau and we’re here if ever you need anything.’ How wonderful is that? Then she introduced me to all the neighbours, pointing to all the houses, telling me who lived there, what their jobs are – she knows all of this! Then later, to ensure we really did know our neighbours properly, instead of just a hello or a wave, she organised a street party and everyone brought some kai from home. That was really, really nice.

Afterwards she was saying that her biggest moemoeā (dream) is to ask the council to block off the street and hire a bouncy castle – she’s the kind of person who follows through with her dreams. There are times when we consider whether we should downsize, but then I’m thinking, ‘What if my next neighbours aren’t as nice?’ People who live down this street, and especially Rosemary and Wayne, are the reasons I can see us living here until we die.

Rosemary Hullen

Tania is a lovely neighbour. We wanted her to feel welcome so not long after she moved in we arranged a street party. Everyone was happy to meet everybody else, that’s the beauty of it. We put all the tables and chairs out in the middle of the street, all the neighbours brought kai and we said a korero to welcome people who had just got back from Australia and say goodbye to the neighbours who were leaving. I’m the policeman in our street, I’ve even told the real policeman that. They call me the mayor of Parker Street now.

Rosemary, Tania, and vintage car

We actually cover nine streets around us, similar to what we do here, as part of an outreach through the church. I just naturally look out for my community, it’s called a spirit of discernment. Lots of people have that even if they don’t know it. It’s a gift and I make sure I use it. We’ve got 13 boys in our street now, between the ages of nine and 13, so my dream is to get permission from the council to close off our street and put on a carnival. It’s been a three-year dream and we’re hoping for it to take off this year, just our street and all their families. We’ll probably be about 150 people – that’s big enough for us.

You need to look after your neighbours. We have an elderly neighbour over the road, Frances, she’s in her late 80s, and trusts me with her key so I can keep an eye on her. Another elderly man, Brian, is in his late 70s, and one time I hadn’t seen him for three days so I had to break into his house. He was dehydrated and laid up in bed so we had to get an ambulance for him. No one had really been in his house for 27 years – he wasn’t allowed out of hospital until it was cleaned up.

I’m full Māori and Wayne is of German descent. I’m learning te reo from Tania, she’s almost fluent and she’s very knowledgeable. She’s got mana. Her adult sons are great too, they come and give Wayne a hand when he’s working on the car. We feel very blessed with the community feel of our street