Easily my favourite piece of Harrison family history concerns my paternal great-grandfather. He was a French merchant seaman whose sea-faring began when press-ganged off a Normandy beach as a youth, into the French Navy. Arrived at the Port of Auckland, he met and fell in love with an Irish lass, my paternal great-grandmother. Outward bound, to avoid detection he waited until his ship was abeam of Tiri Tiri Island at night. He slipped over the side; swam to Tiri; and in turn to the mainland. He settled with his bride on the banks of the Kaipara Harbour. His handy swimming prowess was legendary, until gangrene late in life saw the removal of both his legs just below the knee.
When I look at a city-scape, I don’t think about the architectural era of the buildings or grandiose design. My inquiry rests upon the question of “who built this place?” Or, more accurately, where did the slaves, vulnerable workers, migrant labourers, or indentured labour come from? My interest in migration accompanies me on all my travels – I’m always searching for clues left by migrant workers in the local cuisine, fashion, arts, and politics.