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Region rallies for local photographer’s return

Wairarapa has warmly welcomed local photographer Geoff Walker and his Ugandan-Kiwi family to the region after a precarious few years sorting out travel logistics.

It’s a long-awaited homecoming for Masterton-born Walker, who made international headlines as the photographer at the scene of a local tragedy in 2012 in which 11 people died when a hot air balloon struck powerlines in Carterton.

After the harrowing experience, Walker left New Zealand for a holiday in Uganda later in 2012 and returned to the East African country several times over the next few years, with a trip in 2016 turning into a seven-year stint.

During this time, he engaged in a wide range of humanitarian work, met his now-partner Auma Mirriam, and is now the father to five-year-old twin boys named Opiyo and Ocen.

Walker began trying to organise the move back home in 2019 – in order to be able to receive his superannuation – but was stalled by the pandemic.

Now Walker, Mirriam, her two children Omara Eddie [16] and Atim Blessing [11], Opiyo, and Ocen have finally arrived in Masterton after years of trying to finalise the paperwork.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has been helping to get Walker and his family home, and she told the Times-Age it hasn’t been an easy journey.

“To bring a family of yourself plus five from Northern Uganda is not a simple enterprise,” Clark said.

“Everything he needed to do needed something else done first; he had to move in considered steps.”

Once everything had finally come together, Clark observed the “absolutely phenomenal” response from Wairarapa’s community, she said.

“The heartwarming thing is when people knew he was on his way back home, friends and the community rallied to support him on arrival.”

By way of example, Clark pointed to a local Facebook group called Doing a Good Deed Page – run by Masterton’s Elaine Leggott –that has made a concerted effort to support Walker and his family with the relocation and donations.

Clark said the way Wairarapa has taken the family to its heart “shows the best of New Zealand”.

“This is a time for a bit of stability in Masterton with the strong community support they’ve got,” she said.

“Friendship, kindness, and networks will be very important.”

Standing next to a barbeque newly donated by a local family, Walker said he is overwhelmed with the local support.

“People are just amazing,” Walker said.

“I was worried about coming home because, over there, the main way I was seeing New Zealand was through social media, where there is some pretty nasty stuff and it had me thinking, ‘Is this the right move for us?’

“But hitting the ground, it’s become obvious that’s not the reality.

“In reality, people have been incredibly kind.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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