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Cowley’s joy: ‘My heart is full’

Several hundred people, including more than 140 school children, turned out for the blessing of the Featherston playground that now bears author Joy Cowley’s name.

The blessing on Friday morning included an emotional speech from Cowley.

It was also something of a farewell for the celebrated children’s author who will soon leave the town she has called home for the past 20 years.

“My heart is full. I don’t have words big enough to tell you how I feel,” Cowley told the crowd.

“I am so grateful to Matua Wiremu for the beautiful blessing that wraps us in a cloak of feeling. It was beautiful.”

Cowley said she will leave a part of herself in the town.

“Within me there has always been a child, and that child has never aged. And I believe now that child is in this playground. And what a good place for
a child to be,” she said.

“So, when the old woman has gone, the child will remain here in Featherston children’s playground.”

Cowley said the feet of the children of tangata whenua from generations past would have blessed the land the playground is now on.

“There is something very profound about that. Something that moves the heart, because we’ve got the past, the present, and the future all
together,” she said.

“It’s very special.”

The Featherston Community Board recommended the local playground be named after Cowley to acknowledge her substantial contribution to literature, especially children’s literature, in the town and across the region.

South Wairarapa District Council accepted the recommendation at a meeting in September.

Cowley is also the patron of Featherston Booktown, an annual festival of arts and letters in the town attended by thousands.

Peter Biggs, the chair of the organisation’s board of trustees, spoke at the gathering and shared several stories about Cowley.

“Not just the person called Joy, but the feeling of joy. Because Joy is a name, it’s a noun, and it’s an emotion,” he said.

“All of these are contained in this wonderful person – Joy Cowley.”

Biggs described and honoured Cowley’s contribution to readers.

“Thank you, Joy, over your lifetime of writing and also while you are living in this community, for giving us the gift of numerous lives. Joy has given this to children and adults of all ages through her many books.

“And thank you, Joy, for being an indefatigable champion of books, reading, writing, story making, and storytelling.”

He described Cowley as unpretentious and unassuming despite her many accomplishments.

“Thank you for totally being just who you are. A wonderful host, a wonderful cook, happy to drink a glass or two or more of wine and have a long chat.

The crowd of more than 220 included children from South Featherston, Featherston, and St Theresa’s schools. The blessing was conducted by Matua Wiremu Dawson.

Schoolchildren sang waiata at the start of the ceremony and finished it with a haka.

South Wairarapa mayor Martin Connelly, Wairarapa MP Mike Butterick, and Wairarapa-based MP Kieran McAnulty also attended.

Cowley’s awards include the New Zealand Commemoration Medal, an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Massey University, and winning book of the year at the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards three times.

In 2018 she was made a member of the Order of New Zealand and in 2020 she received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Award, limited to 20 living people.

The author expects to leave Featherston for Dunedin later this month

– NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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