Gordon and Helene Paterson spent their first few years as a young family with their children Ross and Robyn, on the campus of Michaelhouse, a renowned boys boarding school known for its sporting excellence, situated in the Kwa-Zulu Natal area outside Pietermaritzburg. From 1976-1988, Gordon was their prominent rugby coach and physical education and geography teacher while Helene was a tutor at Nottingham Road Primary School a few miles away.
In 1989, they left Michaelhouse and moved to Somerset West, a small town just outside of Cape Town with Ross aged three and Robyn aged eighteen months. Here, Gordon took a position as lecturer in the Department of Human Movement Studies at University of Stellenbosch and Helene worked as a tutor.
After visiting New Zealand in 1970 as a 17 year old Rotary exchange student, Gordon had dreamed of returning to the country that boasted the same passion for rugby as he had and yet held none of the civil unrest or danger that South Africa imposed upon it’s people in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
It was a time where Nelson Mandela was moving into power with the ANC and no-one was sure what change a black president would bring to a country already so fraught with racial tension. So in 1994, when Gordon was offered a job in New Zealand, they felt it was time to make the move.
Gordon and Helene Paterson immigrated to New Zealand in March 1994 with Ross, aged nine and Robyn, aged six. They moved to Hamilton, a city in the north island of New Zealand. Gordon took a position as a tutor in Sports Coaching at the Waikato Polytechnic before progressing to the Head of Department and then later, the Dean of Faculty, Business and Technology while Helene became an assessor with SPELD NZ, (Specific Learning Difficulties New Zealand).
New Zealand gave them everything they were after. Good schools, friendly citizens and their children were able to play outside safely. The differences were noticeable. Yet somehow, even as 25 years passed, it never quite became home even when they looked out their windows at the calm, quiet streets. Their jokes didn’t receive the amount of laughs from their kiwi friends or weren’t understood. The discipline of their children was criticised. They never cheered for the All Blacks.
Their children adapted and adopted thick kiwi accents but they never quite felt swept away with the rhythms of their new country, instead feeling always slightly out of step.
Yes, South Africa is dangerous, restless and broken but the country is theirs and they love it with a fierce patriotism in the way that your mother may not be perfect but she’s still your mother and only you are allowed to talk about her flaws but nobody else.
In 2015, Gordon retired from his job as the CEO of Physical Education New Zealand and now lives a life of leisure, playing tennis with his best friend Clive and trout fishing with his other best friend Mike and running his own International Education Consultancy Company called AdRem International. Helene continues to work with children with learning difficulties and goes to ballet twice a week and has the best legs of any sixty five year old out there.
They are excited to be immortalised in The South Afreakins, written and performed by their daughter Robyn although they can’t quite shake the feeling that they’re being made fun of.
Which they are, a little.
But in the nicest possible way.