When I was 5 Dad took me to play rugby league with the Otahuhu Rugby League Club. Dad’s mate would come around some weekends and they would drink beer on the front steps of our house while us kids played bullrush. Kurt Sorenson was one of those kids. He was bloody hard to tackle too.
I remember the first game I played was at Cornwall Park and we lost 36 nil. I remember Dad saying ‘Did the other team score 12 tries against you?’ Tries were only worth 3 points back in the olden days.
That was when Dad and Mr Sorenson decided it was time for the kids to practice tackling while they looked on and drank beer in the sun.
Anyway, rugby league was pretty much in it’s infancy back then, and so was South Auckland really. At some stage it was decided to set up some new clubs and Dad was one of those who got the Mangere East club going. He was on the founding committee and I was a foundation player. I had a pennant that hung in my bedroom for years that said 1963 Foundation Year. I lost it of course.
The football club soon became Dad’s other passion and he spent a lot of time coaching teams and giving his time to advance rugby league as a wholesome game for kids to learn.
Dad coached some great players, some legends in fact. He was instrumental in starting up the now national rugby league tournament that runs throughout the school holidays and he took the first ever schoolboy rugby league team on a tour of Aussie. He set up sister club status for Mangere East and Ryde Eastwood in Syndey and helped establish the first links to New Zealand players entering the Sydney competition.
He even brought in one of the first illegal pokie machines. If my memory serves me correctly he even got convicted for that.
All the time Dad was building up the rugby league club he had 6 growing sons and a daughter.
7 kids might seem a lot today, but in the 60’s it wasn’t too rare. Dad always joked that he had 6 sons to carry his coffin and his daughter would support his wife at his funeral.
That’s exactly what happened.
Dad worked as a freezing worker as a meat packer in the B Packing Room at Hellaby’s. Short back and no sides and on strike every Christmas.
He worked hard, starting at 4 am in the killing season, and he came home absolutely tired. He had a good woman looking after the kids and her name was Mum.
From an early age the Stewart kids were taught how to behave in public and soon learned that Dad had many eyes out there keeping watch on his kids and making sure none of them went off the rails.
We didn’t go to people’s places to play, we had a big section and we played together. We stayed at our grandparents places or at our cousins places in the school holidays. Everything was family orientated.
On Sunday’s our grandparents would come and get us and take us to Cockle Bay for a swim and then we’d come home after and Mum would feed us up on Pipi fritters.
We grew up like that. A big family, but close. As we grew the family got bigger. As teenagers our friends were encouraged into the wider family, calling Mum Ma or Mrs S and Dad was Mr Stewart. Dad would round us all up at Christmas and we’d take taxis up to the Cossie Club to get drunk and then taxi it home again where he’d make sure we all were safe.
Then the sons got wives and children and they were all welcomed into the tribe, and slowly it got bigger and bigger and Mum and Dad started organising big family get togethers at Buckland Road. Dad built a swimming pool and spent untold hours looking after it, but he never once went in it. It was for the kids and their friends.
As Mum and Dad got older the family gatherings started shifting to other people places to give them a break, they were getting a lot older now.
And they kept getting older, and the family kept getting bigger and it was all good
Then Dad got sick and he died.
We kept the family gatherings going, and they kept getting bigger.
Then Mum got sick and she died.
And the family gatherings kept going and the family kept getting bigger.
And everytime we get together there are new babies and new wives and husbands and the family keeps getting bigger.
And now the 6 sons and the daughter are getting older.
And they sit and their children bring them the grandchildren. And the aunties and uncles meet the cousins and the nieces and nephews all go and play down the back and are just about at the age where they will need to be watched in case they are smoking dope and sly grogging.
This weekend Mangere East Rugby League Club celebrated it’s 50th jubliee probably at the clubrooms in Mangere.
The Ngati Stewart all got together this weekend at Andrew and Lisa’s place in Waiuku.
In our own way we celebrated something special and unique about each one of us, the bond we have that is our birthright and is ours for ever, even after we have gone.
I don’t know much about why a man is born, or why a man dies, but I know why he lives and that is to do something to give his life meaning.
Today, in Waiuku, we celebrated that.