Whānau, Whāngai…

Brother Jess standing, with (from left) Adrienne, Chris Ann, Charmaine, Deborah, Barbara

Charmaine’s journey….

I have been on a journey too, this month, but a very different one from Tanya’s.   I’ve just returned from a week  in Sydney and surrounds, spending time with my birth family.

Many of you will know that I have two families.  I grew up knowing I was adopted, and believing that I was a much loved and wanted child, with Grace and Laurence Pountney.  When I was in my 40s I learnt my birth parents, Pat and Brian Tapper, had married after the war and I had six full siblings- five sisters and a brother, living in Australia.  Mum Grace and I met them all in Sydney in 1986, and I have been to Sydney several times since as well as hosting many of them here in Aotearoa.

Both families  have given me much love and support over the years.  But I also acknowledge the grief and pain which is a part of every adoption story.

 For Pat Godman,  a 17-year-old whose great love Brian had gone off to the war and who had no way to support a baby, there was no choice, and she has lived with the grief of that all her life.

For my adopting mother Grace, she lived with the fear I would be taken off her again, because she had had that experience with the first baby she and Laurence adopted.

Both women lived with grief, and fear, and anger, which made it hard for them when they eventually met again in 1986.  Over the years, however, and thanks to the warmth of my siblings who welcomed Grace as well as me into their family, the tensions subsided.  Grace said to me the night before she died in 1997, “What a good thing you’ll have your family in Australia for when I’m gone.”

As for me,  I have had to learn a lot about my own relationship issues, separation anxiety, and the need to belong. …

My sister Adie had organised a Tapper family gathering, so it was a good opportunity for me to catch up with some of my extended family at a big Saturday lunch, as well as to stay in turn with some of my siblings in their very different parts of Sydney and its surrounds, and to visit my mum Pat, who now has advanced dementia and is in resthome care.

So I’ve spent time with Barbara and husband Barry on the North Shore, surrounded by her garden with water features, fruit, flowers and ferns, with Deborah and husband John in the Hunter Valley in their newly renovated home on their vineyard, with Chris Ann and husband Graham on their Colovale lifestyle block in the Southern Highlands, with Adie and Keith in their 8th floor central city Sydney apartment, and with brother Jess at the family gathering.  Always lovely to feel so welcome, and always sad to have so little shared history…

 About 70 Tapper family siblings, cousins, partners, children and grandchildren arrived to enjoy the social room, gardens and pool associated with Adie and Keith’s apartment building, with a delicious shared lunch (all my family  love food!), lots of catching up (likewise talk!) and an accompanying slide show bringing back memories of past reunions.

My visits to mum Pat in Sydney, who will be 95 next month,  were an emotional rollercoaster.  Good to see her so well-loved and cared for by my sisters and the staff of the Donald Coburn Dementia Unit, and maybe even vaguely knowing who we were, or at least feeling comfortable with us, and always enjoying her meals and snacks.  And, of course, deep sadness at her limited mobility, and her memory and speech limitations.  And for the inevitable loss of a second mother…


  1. Such a touching story Charmaine.

  2. Suzanne Menzies-Culling says

    Thanks so much for sharing this Charmaine.

  3. Adrienne Jill Tunnicliffe says

    It was lovely to have our brood complete again, even for such a short while. Amazing how the jigsaw puzzle of all our individual parts fits together and seems just right!

  4. Finding our sister Charmaine filled a hole that we all sensed was there in our lives, and it has been a great and joyful privilege getting to know her,Tanya and Grace over the last 33 years. We have been so fortunate that this adoption story had a happier ending than many.

  5. Thank you Charmaine for sharing your story. I too have two families. I didn’t know who I was or where I came from until I was in my 40s. Turned out I was one of 10 children, which was daunting to discover when I had grown up an only child. This experience of being adopted is an important part of everything that has made me who I am. I see how you look so like your siblings and remember what a thrill it is to see people who look like you.

  6. Barbara Ford says

    We are so lucky to have you Charmaine, fabulous to see you and be able to spend individual time together. in such a big family, it doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, it is precious. love you


  7. My half sister ( who lives in Melbourne – we met when I was 44 and she 32 and she and her kids have since become a big part of our family) said to me last weekend when she and I went to Timaru to support our sister’s art exhibition, what a big difference it makes now that her adoptive father has (this year) died…our families are amazing the way we all have to stretch to be and stay connected…all families!

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