by Helen Martin
Irene Hogan, well known in the district for her work with Mt Tabor Trust, where she was a founding member, and with the Helensville Birthing Unit, TARRA (Te Awaroa Residents and Ratepayers Association) and South Kaipara Youth (SkYouth), is retiring after a long career rich in community involvement and aroha.
Irene’s life has always been about the wellbeing of others. Born in Poverty Bay in 1947, she was one of nine children. Her desire to help others was embodied in her first step out into the world of work – in Wellington she trained as a nurse, then studied midwifery to prepare for VSA (Volunteer Service Abroad). Volunteering for two years as a midwife for the Orang Asli, the indigenous people of Malaysia followed. Irene has also delivered babies in Tonga and the Cook Islands, but most of her work has been in New Zealand. After gaining a post graduate qualification in community health she worked as a public health/district nurse in Taihape and Gisborne, then became the district nurse liaison between Auckland hospital and the extra mural hospital in Grafton. Meeting Lorraine, who had been a social worker/teacher in New Guinea, was the catalyst for a new direction. “We were both interested in mission in New Zealand, we wanted to work with people who needed support, so we studied at the Catholic lay training centre for a year in Ponsonby. While there we met Jean Vanier, who had founded the L’Arche community for intellectually handicapped adults in France, and the three of us got the idea of providing a home for people with intellectual disability who had nowhere to go. We started Mt Tabor by setting up a Trust and renting an old house in Williamson Ave in Grey Lynn.” Irene, Lorraine, co-founder John Hill and Lorraine’s future husband Michael Popple lived there with six intellectually disabled young people. As the project grew they rented more and more houses around Auckland and gained support from neighbours, social workers, students, other live-in people and eventually government schemes.
Mt Tabor’s philosophy, based on L’Arche, has been the glue holding the scheme together for over 40 years, aiming to create small, faith-based communities of friendship and mutuality between people of differing abilities. “Basically, we are all disabled, and we live together and learn from each other,” Irene explains. “We learn from living with people with an intellectual disability that the riches of intelligence and knowledge are no more valuable than the riches of the way you live as a person with less intellect. If you think you’re smarter than them, dream on.”
To support herself while living in Mt Tabor houses Irene went back to midwifery (it was not for many years that the government employed people to live-in and take responsibility for the houses). “The community was befriended by a mixture of people who kept us alive in all sorts of ways. It didn’t seem burdensome because we did it simply,” says Irene. “We had none of the rules and regulations there are now, we just lived together.” Typical of Irene, for a few years she also fostered a boy who had no home.
In the late 70s Irene became a passionate advocate of the home birth movement through meeting Joan Donley and Carolyn Young, and for the rest of her career has been part of it, with all the ups and downs that has entailed. Coming to live in Helensville when the Trust rented then bought places here gave Irene the chance to deliver babies at the Helensville Birthing Unit, which, thanks to the efforts of women like Alison McKenzie, Dianne Kidd and midwife Margaret Falconer, assisted by doctors Adrian Gane, John Nealey and others, was celebrated in the New Zealand Herald as the first of its kind in New Zealand, kept open when the maternity hospital was closed by the Waitemata Health Board.” The unit is world class,” says Irene. “With New Zealand midwifery the continuity of care model, where you know the person who is looking after you during your pregnancy, at the birth and afterwards, is the gold standard, it’s very precious, and we’re the envy of other countries.”
Irene has delivered too many babies to count and enjoys the fact that in Helensville she has for some time been delivering the babies of people she delivered years ago, but now she’s calling time on fulltime employment and looking forward to extricating herself from the commitment of always being on call. After a year as a locum midwife, she will completely retire in 2019. She wants time to do some work on the four-acre property she bought with Lorraine and Mike Popple in 2001 - a vegetable garden and a better chook house are in her sights- and she’s looking forward to spending more time with her large extended family.
Looking back on her life Irene has few regrets. “If all of us can connect with our neighbours Helensville can be a healthy community. The privilege of midwifery and Mt Tabor is that I’ve been part of people’s lives. Maybe because I don’t have a family of my own, it’s a gift to be able to share life with people on a very basic level. I want to keep my links with the Mt Tabor people I welcomed as friends in 1979 and be beside them in our old age.”