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Memorial trail tribute to old friend




thumbnail 07 MF-Mikespath1-279Walkers, runners and ramblers alike have discovered a new nature trail over lockdown which leads the wanderer away from the bustle of a busy major road, through serene vegetation steeped with birdsong, before emerging at Mangawhai’s peaceful estuary.

Situated on the stretch of land known as Rakaunui Art Village, along Molesworth Drive, the recently opened Mike Keating Memorial Trail links the main street to the water-side Kainui Street Reserve, off Pearson Street.

Believing Mangawhai Village had a lack of good walks, creators of the trail – two of Rakaunui’s long-time residents – architect Malcolm Halley and artist Pauline Mann, working alongside Kaipara District Council (KDC) and Mangawhai Tracks Charitable Trust, decided to make a connecting track to the estuary through the wilds at the end of their property. The couple have dedicated the trail to co-owner and long-time close friend, Mike Keating, whose passing in 2013 ‘abruptly inconvenienced his latest plan to create a hobbit village’ where the trail now lies. Malcolm says the construction of the track has intrigued people passing by.

“Some folks here in Mangawhai have been wondering about the wild acreage along Molesworth and the trail that has recently opened across that land, as well as just who Michael Keating might have been…”

A former banker-turned-gardener and gifted (albeit self-effacing) illustrator and calligrapher, Mike, along with Pauline and Malcolm, became Mangawhai locals in the 1980s after first meeting in 1979 after Mike returned from an epic world adventure and Malcolm ‘fell out of the Coromandel ranges and into the urban community of Epsom’.

The trio all lived in a big old villa with twenty others for an adventurous period but after starting a family, 'felt the pull of the countryside', and the three friends along with Malcolm’s sister and husband and two others, eventually landed in east Kaipara.

Converging on the property in buses, house trucks and ‘in Mike’s case, a ramped up, arty garden shed’, the small group were amused to discover they had colloquially become known as ‘the hippies behind the pines’.

“We were rumoured to be part of a collective of young folks on the dole, who had formed a giant co-operative to buy up land all over Northland, with lashings of drugs and husband-swapping,” Malcolm says. “We found this very hilarious, quite creative and indeed not a bad idea… but as it transpired we discovered the latter two activities were happening all over town…”

As long-time friends sharing many years living close to another, Malcolm has many anecdotes about Mike which illustrate his unconventional character including the creation of an alter-ego ‘Jimmy O’Gory’ (who even had an email address) and Jimmy’s cousin ‘Rory O’Gory’.

“His house was utilitarian, truly a house of ideas on how to build a home without debt, reusing material otherwise considered waste made from recycled and retrieved fragments sometimes from the tip… I still remember him leaning out the window to turn the tap which connected his hose to a sprinkler on the roof, to improve the TV reception via watering the old antennae… he was a deep thinker and abhorred consumerism,” he says. “Mike was also always rigorous with figures – his inner banker remained to the end – so when he told me it cost $4300, I believed him.”

thumbnail 07 MF-Mikestrail5-912A keen gardener, Mike maintained and mowed lawns for many properties in the area. However as his friend and long-time employer/collaborator Gael McConachy observed, ‘it didn’t seem to matter whatever list you gave Mike of the projects that needed doing, he just did what he felt like’.

“He was lucky to have such tolerant and forbearing friends,” Malcolm says jokingly. “We were just as lucky to have him, a staunch friend. We miss him keenly.”

Malcolm says he feels his friend would approve of the public wandering through his favourite part of Rakaunui, ‘where his ideas for future projects always ran at full throttle’.

“Our small fragment of the art village is located within the wider Mangawhai Village, which in turn is fitted into the surrounding hinterland, and so on, like nested Russian dolls,” he says. “Mike always got that everything was interconnected. Several friends have asked who is the man they can discern standing on the track. We think we know. As a geographer and traveller, Mike was always the first to tune in to new arrivals, to make them welcome. If you haven’t walked the trail yet, please do – Mike is always happy to see new travellers.”

Once rumoured to be ‘the hippies behind the pines’ after their arrival in Mangawhai, co-creators of Mangawhai’s art village, Malcolm Halley and Pauline Mann with daughter (and Mike’s goddaughter) Helena at the beginning of the nature trail dedicated to their good friend. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“We were just as lucky to have him, a staunch friend. We miss him keenly.”

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