I visited Aramoana yesterday, down here on the Otago coast, first I walked out along the Mole, it’s a 1200metre seawall/breakwater that bolts in a straight line right out into the Pacific. It says its closed but it isn’t, the sign says it’s dangerous, likewise, it wasn’t.
It was beautiful out there, across the heads was the Royal Albatross Centre, I assume it’s the bird that’s Royal rather than the centre. The water was turquoise and white caps kept pace with me as I strolled out with my hands firmly in my coat pocket. I’d been told I might see an albatross but I didn’t, there were terns and gulls and a solitary seal sleeping off a hangover.
To the north were other headlands and inlets that make this coastline much more populated than would at first appear. The settlements of Karitane, Warrington and Waitati, the latter is where I’ve been staying for the week. There was a brief shower or two and a rainbow appeared then disappeared and then later as I drove back towards Dunedin another came out in full technicolour. Walking back towards my car there is a white sand beach to either side backed by dunes and on the right steep cliffs beyond the dunes, on the left the harbour entrance.
I knew there was a memorial for the tragedy that occurred back in 1990 but unlike the signage for the Mole closure that wasn’t, there was no sign for it. I found the memorial in a hollow at the end of the village. We were living in London when it happened and I’d forgotten there were four children killed that day, two aged 11 and two aged 6, the latter if they’d lived would only be 33. At the base of the memorial there were a couple of soggy soft toys, a porcelain angel figurine and some plastic flowers.
Out beside the small car park there is an enormous boulder, placed there just two years ago on the 25th anniversary, with the inscription “Near this spot, on Tuesday 13th November 1990, 13 residents died, when a local resident went berserk with a rifle”. The rock and plaque were donated by a man with the same surname as one of the six-year-olds – I doubt that’s a coincidence.
The village appeared closed. There were no friendly waves from the few pedestrians, no nods of acknowledgement. There’s another road that goes one way down the back of the village, I didn’t take it, I felt like I’d done enough prying, even though I hadn’t meant to. In this age of private grief that always becomes public and even 27 years later, I felt I’d seen enough, overstayed my welcome, I got out of there.