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May 2009

Mori Pickering – living connection to Methodism’s past

By Donald Phillipps

I vividly recall my first meeting with Mori Pickering who celebrated her 100th birthday last month.

I was conducting a wedding of a young Fijian couple. There weren't too many guests to sing the hymns they had chosen but from the congregation there rose a voice of memorable quality.

The friendship that began on that occasion was celebrated, along with many other friendships, by a large group of Mori’s family and friends at the Tamatea meeting house at Otakou, on the Otago Peninsula.

It was Mori's voice that attracted the attention of AJ Seamer in the mid-1930s, This led to her becoming a key member of the Waiata Maori Choir that travelled around New Zealand, across the Tasman to Australia, and then, in 1938, to England.

Mori can still vividly recall the day the choir went to Buckingham Palace and entertained King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. It was her voice and her membership of that choir that led Princess Te Puea to present her with a kiwi feather korowai (cloak), which she used to wear on great occasions.

At her 100th birthday celebration Napi Waaka recalled some of the songs she sang then, and he made particular reference to the fact that she was a soloist in the choir – the other being the late Inia Te Wiata.

Mori was from an old Otakou family. Her Ellison forbears were of Taranaki origin, David (Rawiri) Ellison having moved south in the mid-19th century. He married into the Karetai family, so Mori was linked to the leading whanau, including the Taiaroa connection.

After her education, the long-standing relationship between Otago and Te Haahi Weteriana led to her selection for training in the Deaconess Order at Christchurch in 1931.

Former deaconess Mori Pickering celebrated her 100th birthday in April.

In1932 she was sent to Taranaki, and from her base at New Plymouth she travelled from Rahotu to Urenui, by bicycle, for four years, visiting the various Weteriana families on the way. In 1935 she moved to the Kaipara where she spent a year. She then went to the Waikato Heads, by which time she and the choir had begun their travels.

In 1939 Mori finished her deaconess service and trained for nursing. She went to Thames Hospital but when her mother died in 1941 the call of the family was strong, and she returned home to her roots at Otakou.

She then sought employment, and at different times worked for the Otakou Fisheries and for Briscoes. As a single woman she had opportunities for travel and it was on one such journey to Fiji that she met George Pickering, of Fijian and Tongan descent. They were married in 1964.

Both were committed to the welfare of their people. Mori became a Maori welfare officer – one of the early such appointments in the South Island. George spent 40 years encouraging young people from the South Pacific who were living in Dunedin. For some years they led classes in Maori and Polynesian culture at Queen's High School.

When I was responsible for Dunedin South Methodism around 1995 they regularly attended the Hillside Road church. They were strong supporters of the Maori Memorial Methodist Church at Otakou, and were active leaders on the marae at a time when there was a dearth of younger Maori leaders.

George died a few years ago and Mori lived with her daughter Talei until quite recently. She keeps excellent health, which she attributes to a good diet.

It was a joy to see her pleasure in the festivities surrounding her birthday, and it was a privilege, along with Napi Waaka and Terry Ryan, to offer her the greetings of the Church. Mori is a remarkable link with the past. There is no-one now alive who was in the ministry of the Church when she began as a deaconess in 1932, more than 75 years ago.