An extraordinary life of labour

July 21st, 2022

Piripi (Phil) has spent his working life building New Zealand’s vital infrastructure.

“I’d still be working today if it wasn’t for this,” he says, tapping his chest. But now Phil has to be careful because of his breathlessness and falls.

Phil is a Hospice patient, living in Tawa and supported by the Porirua community team and the health equity team.

“My whānau is from the East Coast. I grew up in a place called Anaura Bay. Between Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru Bay you take a turnoff and go right to the beach.” Phil is now the oldest of his family of 25 brothers and sisters.

He began work as part of a Māori Affairs work programme.

“I got sent down to Christchurch and I was doing carpentry and brick laying. Then I came back here because a lot of us did (training) courses. I went on to work for NZ Electricity.”

What followed was a life of physical labour, working on projects like building the towers from Haywards Hill to Wilton Substation.

His work crew laid the electricity lines from Picton to Otorohanga Bay. He also worked on major electricity projects around Twizel and Benmore.

It was physical work and always outside. “In Mossburn and Twizel we worked in a lot of snow. We didn’t worry about it, you just keep working.”

The Hospice’s Māori Liaison, Ropata, keeps in regular contact with Phil. He took him to see his old work mates in Lower Hutt and they travelled together on Transmission Gully.

“It’s awesome,” says Phil.