For the last 50 years, she has raised her whānau of five generations in her Kāinga Ora home in Mangere. 

Karameri with her husband Wilitangi and seven children moved to Auckland from one of the most remote islands of the Cook Islands, Pukapuka, in 1970. One of the first Cook Island families to immigrate to New Zealand, they first stayed with relatives in Onehunga before moving into their home in Mangere in 1972. At the time, the home was part of a new state housing development in the area.

Her daughter Pikura remembers the first few years they were in their home. Back in the 1970’s, she would pick mushrooms in the paddock with her siblings behind their house. Now that paddock is part of the main motorway.

"When we first moved here there was no carpet, it was bare floor. We had a couple of mattresses in our lounge - mum and dad at one end of the room and the rest of us at the other end. We all slept together in one room to keep warm as we moved in when it was winter.

"I remember when my parents first put in carpet. We thought we were so cool that we upgraded to carpet; we thought were moving up with the Joneses. When we had meals, we would go into the kitchen and put newspaper on the floor. We didn’t have a table back then, only a few plates and cups. We would sit on the floor on the newspaper and have our dinner. It wasn’t until later on that we were able to pick up some furniture. Although we didn’t have much, we thought we had everything."

Pikura says the home continues to be a central gathering place for her extended whānau. "We’re all in our own homes, but it’s not ‘home’ in the sense that we all grew up here - this house is our home. Our children and our grandchildren always come here."

"We surround mum. One of my sisters lives next door and another sister lives across the road. I live around the corner, one of my sons lives at the end of the street and next door to him is his father-in-law who is the leader of our community. I have one brother a few streets down, another brother not far from us in Mangere Bridge. God’s been good to us that we’re able to live near mum. We’re always there for her."

The family home sits almost in the middle junction of the neighbourhood, with the Mangere town centre only a few blocks away. It’s fitting for this proud Pukapukan and Mangere local that her home has been centre to the changes and growth of the surrounding neighbourhood over the years. It became the backdrop to the many changes happening within her own whānau.

"We’ve shared sad times here and also the good times. My eldest son passed away in 1979 from a hit and run incident and then a few weeks later our dad passed away. We’ve had many of our babies here. This home holds so many memories for us," Pikura says.

"Mum’s taken care of a lot of people in her lifetime. She has an open home policy. We’ve had many neighbours who’ve come and gone over the years; she remembers all of them. We had a beautiful Ethiopian family who used to live next door; she’s like a mama to them. They’re always inviting her to their home now that they’ve moved. It’s a tightknit neighbourhood."

Karameri and her whānau have been heavily involved in the Pukapukan community and wider local community for many years running community programmes at the Pukapukan community centre, as well as leaders at their local church.

"Mum used to sell donuts down at the [Mangere] markets for years. It was her way of giving back to the community. She’s also part of the women’s weaving group at our community centre. I work at the centre running a driver’s license programme and an elderly programme - we sing songs, we dance and we do exercise."

Turning 80 in November, Karameri looks forward to celebrating with her children, around 40 grandchildren, over 100 great grandchildren and 20 great great grandchildren. Impressively, she recites all their names every year in her Christmas speech.

"She’s very sharp and tries to be as independent as possible. I tried to get her to stay with me, but she doesn’t want to leave. She knows every nook and cranny of her home. She doesn’t like us holding her hand in public – she doesn’t want to look old. We’ve tried getting her one of those cool mobility scooters that you can fold up and put in the boot, she goes ‘eh you can ride on it’," Pikura jokes.

"Going through life, it wasn’t always easy, but we know we always had mum and our family home to go back to."

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Page updated: 25 May 2022