Willie | Tolaga Bay, Gisborne

“My life in general has been one of many different hats I’ve had to wear. Some of them have been good. Some of them have been a journey, on the other side of a controversial lifestyle I’ve had. But being home has really opened my eyes to lifestyles, whānau, being part of a community.

Coming home at this age, it’s an eye-opener for me because I know a lot of young whānau, who have grown up. Life at home here, I’ve found it’s not fast. So, if you’re in a hurry to do anything, coming from a city or urban-style life, you have to understand that things don’t happen as quickly as you’d expect them. Even I’ve found it frustrating at times, because out there in the big cities, you’re used to keeping time. You’ve got to do appointments on time. You’ve got to be here at a certain time. You put a lot of self-expectation on yourself, and for me, I was a person that if I had 110 things to do in a day, I had to do 111. My self-expectancy was very, very high, and it’s taught me a lot coming back home here, that hey, if I’ve got three things I’ve got to do today, even if I just get the bed made, I can do the washing tomorrow. Don’t stress too much because there’s another day tomorrow. I have to learn to step back and just take it for what it is. It’s cool, because you still get things achieved and accomplished. But learning that has been a big accomplishment. Something new to me because I lived overseas for a lot of my years. When I was 16 I went over to Australia. At 17 I lived in America for seven-and-a-half years, and I drove trucks there. I lived in Philadelphia. I have a son over there, who’s about 39 now, but we just started to make contact over the last five years, and so I have another family here. There’s been a bit of up and down in that. I’ve lost a son. I was blessed with four more. My daughter’s the oldest, but most of them are grown up now and they live in Australia with their mum, who’s from the coast. She’s another Coastie from Waipiro Bay.

As far as work goes, I’m a beneficiary. I have no shame in that. It’s just how it is. I’m just in the process of starting up my own little business venture thing and it’s one foot in front of the other. Things don’t happen overnight, so I’ve just come out of a hui at the moment, from starting the paperwork process, in order to get a grant to get me going. I’ve been offered a little bit of mahi around here, which I’m really appreciative of, because around here there’s not a lot to do. You’re either up in the forestry, driving a logging truck, shearing sheep, or working on a farm. So, your options are limited, unless you venture into the city. But then again, if you’re fortunate enough to get a job in town, a lot of the jobs there are seasonal. So, for me, I’d rather be home-grown back here and give back to our people. I’m not going to make a million dollars in one week, but just keeping myself busy helps me, because I’m a diabetic, and from where I am, to where I was, I’ve come a long way. Keeping active was one of the most important things. Changing my eating habits. It’s something that I let get me down, and prohibit me mentally from thinking, ‘I can’t do that, because I’ve got this’. It just makes you think, am I determined to push the boundary? I believe you can do it if you put your mind to it.

I’ve been a gang member since 17. Or even earlier. Earlier days from that, right up till now with a New Zealand gang, Black Power. I got right to the top of it, president of various clubs I was involved with. It brought lots of controversy. It brought lots of other different things like jail. Yes, I’ve done quite a bit of jail time. My first ever sentence was eight years straight up for something that today, I do regret, but in saying that, I can’t change yesterday. I can only move forward. These days, I’m pretty immaculate as far as the Black Power goes. I just do meetings around the country, and yes, they involve the Mongrel Mob. They involve the Head Hunters. They involve lots of different factions of gangs. But more what we discuss is about moving forward, about business ideas, how we can improve our rangatahi. I’ve been involved with that as a youngster till now, so I’m passionate about the rangatahi. I worked a little bit with the Māori wardens down in Palmerston North. I spent 22 years down there, and my main focus was about working with the youth. Being a troubled youth myself and being in the system for so many years. I went to a place where there was nobody there for me, and nobody was there to offer any advice or assistance. Coming through that, it’s a big one for me, and I hold that dear to my heart. I’m really passionate about the young ones and seeing the direction that a lot of them are going. Back then, I was fortunate to travel the world, but when I came back I found myself back in that circle again, and I say that with passion, because those were my family back then. I was a street kid back then. I went out there in the big wide world by myself, from this little town where I thought that nobody loved me, nobody cared for me. So the only ones that I looked to were the guys that pulled me off the street, and they were gang members. It was tough love, but it was real love. I remember waking up one morning and these guys telling me get at the table, boy and have a feed. Little did I know, I’ll be paying for that feed for 40-odd years, but I have no regrets. I’ve earned my stripes. 

I don’t have much to do with the everyday gang affiliation now. I just came back from a 65th birthday, and there’s always a plane ticket waiting for me to fly, whether it’s Auckland, Christchurch, New Plymouth, and it’s not only that, it’s the mana you hold within those clubs. These guys are presidents now, been there awhile, but back in the day we were all soldiers at one stage. We were all little shit-kickers. But it was different in those days. It was hard. It was real hard. These days, I don’t have anything against gangs. My main focus now is on my own life, my children’s life, how they come up. I’ve been fortunate that I have two boys in Australia. One’s playing AFL, for Brisbane Lions. He’s my second youngest. He’s 18. He’s been in there two-and-a-half years now. So I’m proud of his accomplishments. My two other boys played rugby and league for the Manawatū. Represented Manawatū right through to their late teens. Now they have little families of their own but they’re still involved in the sport. I love sport myself. I played all my rugby league in Wellington in those days, and that was tough. The cousins from here were all playing too. It’s a big thing. I did have an education, but I never saw it through. I regret it in a lot of ways. I was sent to boarding school, Te Aute, but I had other ideas about life. 

So get an education, and respect those that are around you. Respect the elders. When you get a chance at marae’s, sit there and listen to some of the korero, the stories that are told, I do that with a couple of uncles here. I spend a lot of time with them, helping them, sharing with them, and they really enhance a lot of our young people. They bring back a lot of young memories that we had, and also family values and education and respect. It’s all about caring for one another. You’ve got to care for one another, because what you put in, is what you’re going to get out. There’s no two ways about that. You treat people with respect, you’re going to get respect back. You treat them like crap, that’s what you’re going to get. That’s my message to the young ones, get a good education, and look after one another. Treat one another with respect.”

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