Ōpahi and its bright stars
Jackie Liggins and Annie McMillan
Read by Jackie at the funeral of John Timmins 1950–2012
I would like to share something of John Timmins’ beloved Ōpahi.
At the entrance to Mahurangi Harbour, only a conversation away from Auckland, Ōpahi is a small bay of about 30 houses. Like a natural amphitheatre, its sides are cloaked with native bush—kauri, tōtara, kahikatea, tānekaha. At dusk and dawn the bay fills with birdsong. Tūi, and pīwakawaka dart across your path and kererū swan-dive in the skies above.
Driving down into the bay is like stepping back in time, little has changed over the years. It is still a place where neighbours gather on the beach on New Year’s Eve, to hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne around the bonfire. A place where the night sky tumbles with bright stars.
The Timmins’ home rests on the water’s edge. Sitting in their lounge is like being on the water. Here the activities of the bay unfold, boats launched, swimmers playing out on the summer pontoon, people fishing off the rocks or ambling along the shoreline and around the point. And always the ever-changing picture of the tideline as it moves in and out over the sands of the bay.
Initially bought as a family bach, after John’s brain injury Ōpahi became his sanctuary. A beautiful place of peace and quiet where the day is paced by the shifting tides. A retreat from the busyness of the city that could be so overwhelming. A place of community and a place where John could enjoy his passion for the natural environment. This included the prolific potager garden designed by John and Julie not long after their arrival—raspberries on the fence, grapes over the arbour, a jungle of artichokes, beds of seasonal veg and fruit trees. At times John’s fatigue would see the garden grow a bit wild but then he’d get the bit between his teeth and we’d find him in the garden utterly exhausted, long after common sense should have had him stop. As people passed to and from the beach, this garden was the setting for many conversations.
John often found social events exhausting but perhaps to his detriment this rarely stopped him. I remember sometimes being allowed to join the irregular meetings of the self-styled ‘Ōpahi Bay Preservation Committee’. John and my dad, Mont Liggins, convened these over a glass of port on many a Sunday morning. These two erudite men would solve the problems of the world and more particularly plan the next steps in caring for their little piece of paradise—the protection of the waterways, the preservation of the bush and the birds, the reserve areas and beachfront erosion were all topics for discussion, and for action.
In recent years, with my dad gone, John continued to advise Annie and I over a cappuccino or glass of good red wine. He generously shared his expansive knowledge on so many things, political, philosophical and practical, often filtered through his unique sense of humour. We are richer for having known him.
May you be at peace John. We will miss you.