To contemplate how far modern practices have come in the last 150 years – yet how
essentially our needs as a community have remained unchanged – look no further than Twentymans Funeral Services in Grahamstown, Thames.
Twentymans is the oldest surviving funeral home in New Zealand, of which owner and Managing Director Adrian Catran is extremely proud.
A descendant of tin miners from Cornwall, Adrian has his own long association with Grahamstown. It follows the arrival of the six Catran brothers from the small town of Ludvgan in Cornwall, England, to seek gold in the newly established township on ‘the Thames’.
Living a few streets from where Adrian now lives and runs his funeral directing business, the brothers feature in the occasional newspaper report of the time for their noisy shenanigans after evenings in the town’s busy hotels.
Men had arrived in their thousands in the months following the Thames goldfield proclamation on 1 August 1867.
It was a life where hardship and opportunity were encountered in equal measure and miners were no pushovers. They suffered miserable conditions in the cold, muddy hills that had been stripped of their magnificent cloak of kauri forest and they endured it with patronage at one of the numerous hotels that sprang up.
The realisation of riches in the Coromandel had a huge impact not only on the landscape and Maori population, but on Auckland, which was in the throes of a depression at the time.
This was one of the richest goldfields ever discovered. But in the hillsides rising as a backdrop to the Firth, it was hard quartz rock that held the precious metal in its embrace and it required heavy machinery rather than pick and shovel to release it.
Within a few short years the haphazard miner’s shacks were replaced with Victorian houses built of kauri, and companies had overtaken the small mining claims.
Mills were constructed with giant metal ‘stampers’ to crush the ore, working day and night with no respect for the sabbath. Laws were swiftly enacted to try to safeguard the population from the most dangerous of the practices, such as the risk of being crushed to death by a stray giant boulder that had been blasted from the hills above the town.
This was clearly a land of opportunity for an established undertaker.
By 1868, William Twentyman had set up his building contracting and undertaking business in Owen St, Grahamstown. He hired horse and carriage from Mr White on Pollen St - whose stables were situated on the corner of Kirkwood and Cochrane Streets - for deliveries to the cemetery.
Shortland Cemetery is where William and his wife Mary Jane Twentyman were buried; Mary having died on 1 May 1888 aged 42, followed by her husband William less than five months later, aged 47.
The business carried on under the management of their sons Robert and William and the sawmilling and building department of Twentymans closed down only in 1976. Twentymans stayed in the Twentyman family until the early 1990s, and Adrian kept the Twentymans’ name when he bought it in 1993.
Adrian renovated the home on Pollen St that serves as family meeting room and casket room for Twentymans, so that families have somewhere homely and comfortable to meet and discuss their needs for funerals.
The tastefully decorated historic Thames home is the shopfront of the business, while the rear of the building houses a mortuary where the dead are cared for; housed, embalmed, dressed and made up prior to their funeral and burial or cremation.
And this is where the historical merges with the 21st Century, for Twentymans is not only the oldest surviving funeral home in New Zealand, but among its most innovative.
The business has chapels in Whitianga, Paeroa and Whangamata and many are surprised to realise what other facilities lie behind the seemingly unchanged cottage on Pollen St Thames. At the rear of the building is an office for staff, a roomy secure garage for the numerous Twentymans vehicles, an award-winning eco-chapel, with seating for 200 and provision for another 60-80 outside.
From its audio and video booth, friends and family worldwide can view the funeral service taking place by accessing a password-controlled live stream on the Twentymans’ website www.twentymans.co.nz.
Across the road from the chapel on the service lane off Queen St, the former Judd’s Foundry – where huge lighthouses and other Industrial machinery were built - has been restored by Adrian with the aim of housing a small cremator to serve the Coromandel Peninsula community.
Currently families must drive to Hamilton or Auckland to see their loved ones cremated, which means that funerals held on the east coast of the Coromandel must be conducted
earlier in the day and the families face a lengthy journey on one of the most emotional days of their lives.
Twentymans’ chose to apply for a Certificate of Compliance to establish a cremator that would sit inside this restored warehouse building on its large commercial site.
It cost Adrian $40,000 to successfully achieve a Certificate of Compliance – disappointing particularly when a planning consultant engaged by TCDC had given it the go-ahead initially.
Adrian wants the crematorium to cater to human as well as pet cremations, and anticipates just 170 cremations per year would be performed, amounting to 21 working days of operation.
“There is a need for a cremator here. This is not about a big money spinner – I won’t see any return on the costs of this in my lifetime – but for families that wish to have their loved ones cremated close to home, it’s a loss,” he says.
In New Zealand, more than 60 per cent of families now choose cremation after someone has died. “For us, that figure is 70 per cent,” says Adrian. This is still well below Japan, where cremation occurs after 99 per cent of deaths.
He is buoyed by comments on the Twentymans facebook page following his decision to appeal, such as: “I hope that you succeed in providing that extra level of care for the Thames community!”, “I certainly hope people will watch it and trust that Twentymans have the town’s best interests at heart - Go Adrian!” and “There would be less smoke and pollution from the crematorium than Judds Foundry on the original site of the proposed crematorium in the era!”.
Preparing the deceased for burial is always going to be a community need. There are numerous options being trialled worldwide, though each has its critics. Resomation - in which a deceased is treated with heat, chemicals and water before being cremulated into ashes; composting - in a ‘pod’ with compost material added until compost is formed months later; and freezing the body before reducing to ashes.
Modern cremation techniques ensure there is no residue or odours, and the cremator is a unit about the size of the modern residential laundry.
“We will stand by our customers and our commitment to keeping local businesses employed with our service,” says Adrian. “Many people don’t want to discuss the disposal of their body when they die, hence cremation or burial are the principle options and have been for decades. There is a need for a cremator here. This is not about a big money spinner – I won’t see any return on the costs of this in my lifetime – but we are doing this for families that wish to have their loved ones cremated close to home.”
Dave Rastovich returned to his birthplace in New Zealand’s largest city to complete an epic 350km lone paddle on a surfboard. Dave is among those raising awareness of the plight of the world’s rarest dolphin. Alison Smith was on the beach at Piha to greet him.
Near Port Waikato just south of Auckland, David Rastovich had been paddling in no wind for four hours, an exhausting mechanical movement toward journey’s end, when the sound of short, delicate breathing woke him from the trance of monotony.
A pod of eight Maui dolphins – a seventh of the planet’s remaining population – had appeared at his side. As if keeping vigil over this lone human in an increasingly treacherous stretch of ocean, for 35 minutes they rode the bow of Rastovich’s board, darting off to play in nearby waves before returning to him.
He later said: “These dolphins are so amazing. They take short, delicate little breaths and they’re really fun. I’ve paddled alongside Blue Whales, and they’ll breathe and let off great clouds of water into the sky. They’re so different to the big whales. They’re cute, and so gentle.”
As Dave approached Manukau Harbour off the coast of Auckland, unruly 6-8ft waves crashed toward him from north and south in raw, chaotic power. “I’ve surfed some big waves but you really appreciate just how powerful this coast is,” he recalled. “hese dolphins were like little seeds squeezed out of your hand, going off to surf the waves and then coming straight back over to me.
“It was incredible that this creature that has been so harmed by us still had the trust to be by me. I just feel so privileged to have met these dolphins, and the first thing that came to my mind was apologies. I said, ‘I’m so sorry, you have lost your families, your aunties and uncles’. Here I was with eight of them – a seventh of their entire population – and yet they were still somehow so trusting of a human that they came up and surfed with me.”
As quickly as they came, the world’s smallest, rarest dolphin then disappeared. “This was their zone. It was chaotic out there, and that was where they turned back. The waters on this coast are the equivalent of any Tahitian or Hawaiian water, and these dolphins should be left alone to it. To be there with them was easily one of the most amazing days of my life.”
Unlike previous paddles undertaken in waters off America, Dave wanted no-one alongside him in the treacherous coast and completed much of the journey alone.
In the safe harbours of coastal communities along the way, however, he was joined by surfers, children and supporters mobilising action against an expected application to the New Zealand Government for the annual dredging of 50 million tonnes of sand for iron ore.
Little is known about the cumulative effect of this dredging but it’s certain that with the top 10m layer of the seabed being effectively vacuumed up, nothing will be left alive. The entire west coast from Wanganui to Cape Reinga is under either a prospecting or exploration permit for iron sand. This happens to be a stretch of coast that’s home to the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin – the Maui’s Dolphin, or Popoto.
With fewer than 15 breeding females, Maui dolphins are among the rarest and most endangered of all mammals.
Researchers claim fishing has progressively decimated numbers from around 1800 individuals in the 1970s to just 50, and the death of more than one individual every 10-23 years will have devastating consequences for the entire population.
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation estimate there are just 55 Maui dolphins over the age of one. Explains WWF Marine Advocate Milena Palka: “Maui's are in perilous waters; the number one threat to their survival is fishing with gillnets and trawling but now sandmining poses a new, looming threat on the horizon. We can’t lose a single one in the next 10 to 23 years. We need a unanimous message from the people that these dolphins are Taonga (treasures), they are important to them, they deserve to be here, and we must all act now to save them.”
The plight of this playful little dolphin has brought together people of all backgrounds and talents to oppose the mining of black sand on the west coast. The people all share a connection to the coast and a sense that allowing minimal economic benefit to drive a unique species of marine mammal to extinction would bring shame to New Zealand.
Among those supporting efforts to save the Maui dolphin is Jean-Michel Cousteau, whose Facebook page states: “New Zealand has one final chance to put this right. But it needs to act now and remove gillnets and trawl nets from the dolphins’ habitat immediately. Failure to do so means that New Zealand is wilfully allowing this unique cetacean species to become extinct. Such an act will not only damage the reputation of New Zealand’s fishing industry forever but destroy the country’s environmental reputation.”
Freesurfer David Rastovich is using his surfing profile, passion for environmental causes and oceanic skills to help this species balanced on the knife-edge of survival.
On the black sands of Piha, a crowd of 200 or so people were scanning the horizon for the lone surfer. As he appeared around Nun Rock, the deep whirring sound of a Maori traditional instrument and Maori call brought him to shore. The crowd whooped and cheered as Rasta landed and took a momentary pause with hand on his heart before speaking.
“This is very humbling for me. It’s a beautiful culture you belong to. Thank you for your warm aroha and hospitality. No-one on this trip wants seabed mining on this coast: farmers, fishermen, grommies, surfers – we want some sort of action. We’ve put faith in Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) to urge everyone to join their email list so you can oppose seabed mining when it comes up, but you have to make a lot of noise. The world is watching New Zealand right now.” - as published in the Tropicsurf Annual 2015.
If you're spending a lot of your day in bare feet, then chances are you have found the kind of balance that Hook & Arrow writer Alison Smith has found in life.