NORM Namana knows two things in life to be true: a man can change his own destiny, but no man can look after Norm’s shed.
“It’s up to you to change your life yourself,” says the 72-year-old, who celebrated 20 years working at Turanga Health in June 2023.
Norm, Ngāti Kahungunu, is Turanga Health’s lead in event resource and facilities maintenance. Central to that is his oversight of a meticulously organised storage shed filled with vital Turanga Health collateral.
He has an eye for perfection, says Turanga Health chief executive Reweti Ropiha. “It’s one of his attributes. Everything in that shed is on shelves and there’s lists.”
Norm’s shed is a lesson in indoor organisation. From tent pegs to tarpaulins, speakers to spare batteries, the resource shed is regulated and well run. As a result, there’s nothing that the sheriff of the shed hates more than someone meddling with his systems.
“When I’m not here people come and help themselves and they don’t bring things back. If they do return things, they don’t put it back in the right place.”
Norm’s life hasn’t always been this well ordered. His childhood in Wairarapa was fraught with instability as he bounced between foster homes and care and protection residences. He experienced violence and a disconnection from culture and whakapapa. Later, as well as working in shearing gangs and freezing works, he transitioned into gang life in Wellington. But that was a lifetime ago, and from here onwards Norm’s story speaks to his resilience and redemption.
In the early 90’s Norm got into a car and drove to Gisborne to get away from it all. With Wairarapa and Wellington in his rear-view mirror, he unshackled himself from his past. “As I was driving up, I pushed it all behind me. I decided I wasn’t carrying it with me.”
Norm strongly believes that any man can determine his own destiny. He made that car trip to better his life and to ensure his children didn’t grow up like he did. “It’s up to you to change yourself.”
In Gisborne, Norm was working in a poultry processing factory lopping heads and feet off chickens when a friend took him to the Men’s Health Programme at a fledgling Turanga Health. He loved working out at the gym and not long after Norm asked Reweti for a job.
“I was quite rapt when he said I could start here. My first job was helping with farm work at Whareongaonga.” He still remembers the delight of staff when he revealed that he could shear sheep.
Reweti says in the early days Norm was a perfect fit to help with the Men’s Health Programme. “I saw that he was someone who could connect with tāne so we rolled the dice and gave him an opportunity.”
These days, as well as managing and maintaining resources, Norm helps stand up infrastructure for Kaumātua Days and other whānau health events hosted by Turanga Health. He knows the best layout for every marae and prefers getting ready the day before. He also mows lawns. Hundreds of kilometres of lawns. Even at the weekend, Norm will be somewhere on his “Cadillac” mowing grass.
Reweti reckons Norm is one of those men that talks through his actions and not through his words. “He has a heart of gold and if you needed the singlet off his back, he’d give it to you.”
Norm is father to seven children, grandfather to 11, and great-grandfather to two. He loves nothing more than a meal of pork chops, fried onions, and cabbage, and can sometimes be found fishing or watching rugby league.
Over the past few years, he’s grown more interested in his whakapapa and discovered that his grandmother was from the East Coast and other whānau hail from Mahia. “I didn’t know anything about my iwi until I got here. I’m still looking into it and working on it.”
Norm hopes to be at Turanga Health for a few more years but is already scoping out his resource shed successor. He reckons there’s three younger Turanga Health tāne he could trust with his keys - but he isn’t revealing who just yet!
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