Recollections 2017

Christmas at Opoutere

18 September 2017

Michael and I served together for many years on the Frank Sargeson Trust. We had both known, and revered, Frank, whose biography Michael had written. Michael and I also had a connection with the eastern Coromandel; He and Maria had a home at Oputere, Gillian and I had a holiday house at Hahei, further up the coast

Just before Christmas 2003, it was arranged for Gillian and I to take Maria's mother down to Opoutere, where Mrs Jungowska was to spend Christmas with Michael and Maria. Our car, crammed with Christmas presents and food, got to Opoutere by mid-morning. I also had in the car a copy of Michael's Penguin History of New Zealand, which had been published a few months earlier. I wanted him to inscribe it for me.

Mrs Jungowska, the food and all the Christmas presents were unloaded at the bottom of Michael and Maria's driveway. We carried everything up the steps and into the house, then settled down for coffee and cakes before resuming our drive to Hahei. As always, there was laughter and story-telling over the refreshments, so we stayed for some time. Gillian and I then wished the others a happy Christmas and New Year, and prepared to leave. It was then that I remembered Michael's book, which was still in the car. Relieved that I hadn't forgotten it, I raced back to get the book. Cheerfully, Michael inscribed it. For Graeme & Gillie, and in celebration of friendship. Love and best wishes, Michael. December 2003. We then said our farewells and drove away.

That was the last time we ever saw Michael and Maria. A few weeks later, in March 2004, they both died in their car, which crashed while being driven from Opoutere to Auckland.

Graeme Lay