Many people of European descent who were born in New Zealand after it became a Colony of Great Britain in 1840, have ancestors who made the long voyage by sailing ship to start new lives. I published the story of my search for Irish ancestors, among whom were James and Mary O’Neill, on this site on 7 December, 2019. travelwithgma.wordpress.com/category/ireland
This then is the story of their life in New Zealand.
The family embarked at Plymouth for transshipment to New Zealand on 29 September,1877, on an assisted passage, at a cost of forty nine pounds sixteen shillings. James and Mary accompanied by two daughters Mary aged 5 and Bridget (Delia)aged 3, arrived in Napier on 4 January 1878 on the Renfrewshire, after a voyage of 97 days. Their son Edmond, aged 17 months, died of diarrhoea on the voyage on 31 October 1877, and was buried at sea, in the vicinity of the Canary Islands. Five other children died on the voyage.
It is hard to imagine what daily life on the ship was like. The Renfrewshire does not look big enough to have carried 204 passengers plus crew and cargo – 300 tons of cargo were unloaded in Napier.
After such a long voyage, the family must have been looking forward to disembarking. According to the ship’s master, “when the Renfrewshire arrived at the Port of Napier, everyone was in complete health, and … all on board were up, dressed, and ready to go on shore.” It would have been very disappointing to find that the ship had been placed in quarantine because of an earlier outbreak of scarlet fever on board, and that they would not be disembarking for up to another 21 days. The ship was provided with fresh provisions, and arrangements were made for friends and family on shore to communicate with the ship.
Prior to disembarkation, all of the passengers clothes and possessions were fumigated. Mary would have been very busy, as “all the women then had to wash all their clothes and bedding after fumigation”.
A petition was drawn up by the Renfrewshire immigrants, complaining of being wrongfully detained in quarantine in Napier and was presented to the Minister for Immigration at Wellington. James and Mary must have signed the petition, as it was reported that all of the passengers had done so.
I imagine that the family was somewhat overwhelmed, still no doubt mourning the loss of their son, finally being disembarked to the Park Island quarantine station on 17 January, 1878, after 13 days in quarantine. The Barracks Masters book records show their arrival at Park Island, and fortunately for the family, their departure later the same day. The immigrant’s luggage was loaded onto drays to be taken to the Depot, and immigrants “were marched all into town to the Depot.”
The records stated that they were to go to a “friend’s residence in Napier.”
The Napier James and Mary would have seen on arrival. (Images – Alexander Turnbull Library Wellington)
Several of Mary’s siblings had already arrived Napier. It is possible that, on leaving the barracks, James and Mary stayed with one of them.
James was initially employed by Thomas Purvis Russell, a land owner at Woburn, Waipukurau. Woburn Station comprised 25,737 acres in 1851 – much larger than any farm James had worked on in Ireland. The Station ran sheep and cattle, and had 5 horses. The first sheep were merinos, imported from New South Wales.
In around 1878 Woburn was being cleared from a wilderness in which Maori hunted pigs, snared birds, fished Lake Hatuma and planted scattered patches of kumera and taro. A very alien landscape for James and Mary, who had been living around the Ballingarry area in Ireland.
The photographs from Woburn Station are held by the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
James worked as a labourer and had the responsibility for the transport of timber to outlying areas and goods and supplies from Napier. James work involved ploughing and it is recorded in the Hawkes Bay Herald (24 June 1880) that James O,Neill was placed third in a single furrow ploughing competition for which he received a prize of a guinea (one pound one shilling). There is a small cottage near the woolshed which was formerly used for accommodating workers which dates from the 19th century. It would be similar to the house James and Mary and their children lived in.
It is not clear how long James and Mary lived at Woburn. Their son Martin was born at Woburn in January 1880. They had at least four more children, all born in Hastings – William 1882, Margaret (Maggie) 1884, Catherine (Katie) 1887 and Johanna 1889. Johanna died in 1890.
James attended a land auction for the lots in a plan of subdivision of the Township of East Hastings, held at the Criterion Hotel, Napier on 4 September, 1879. The owner of the land being auctioned was Thomas Tanner. James purchased Lot numbers 69 and 70 for 34 pounds. Lots 69 and 70 were in Karamu Road, on the corner of Avenue Road East. The address was 301 Karamu Road, Hastings.
Above: Early views of Hastings.
James built a house, stables and depot for his carrying business on the land. Initially water supplies were difficult, with daily supplies carried from Heretaunga Street. James is said to have transported timber for his new home in the goods he carted from Woburn to Napier/Hastings. The home remained in the family until 1940 when it was sold to NZ Railways for development into a bus depot. When the house was demolished in the 1940’s it was found to have been built with wooden pegs and had roof trusses which were screwed together.
James established a successful horse and cart carrying business in Hastings. He held the lucrative Royal Mail contract, for which he used an express cart. When he was joined in the business by his son William, a further low cart was was used for general cartage. James and William were well known for their contribution to the operation of the Hastings Volunteer fire brigade. Their horses were available to pull the appliances, and when not required were left to graze at leisure in the streets. It was a well known joke that firemen not only had to put out the fire, but also had to find the O’Neill horses afterwards.
James was prominent in the Hibernian Club in Hastings, which held its preliminary meeting at Kelly’s Hotel, Hastings in 1884. He occupied all of the offices in the Hastings Lodge. He was active in the Hastings Volunteer fire brigade and supported his sons in their involvement with the Rover Rugby Football Club.
The Hastings Parish of the Catholic Church began in 1882, and James and Mary would have been parishioners. A new Church was opened in 1895 which James would have attended, as did his children and great grandchildren. I took my first communion in that Church, and spent many unhappy hours there. The only part I understood was the sermon, as the mass was said in Latin. I did love the building though. Many family weddings and funerals were held in this Church. Sadly the Church was destroyed by fire in 1992, 100 years after the foundation stone was laid.
We are left to imagine what Mary’s life was like. From the hardships of the voyage to New Zealand, to life that would have been very challenging at Woburn and then to a home in Hastings where initially the water supply was difficult and having babies every couple of years. To add to the burden, Mary, to assist with family income, was kept busy as a midwife and in general nursing duties. In 1892, already suffering from consumption, she developed influenza and died on 20 April, 1892. Pity the older daughters -Mary and Delia, who became responsible for the rearing of the family.
James died on 10 July, 1920 at home in Karamu Road. His obituary can be found at Hawkes Bay Tribune July 10, 1920.
James left an estate of 1100 pounds. Probate of his will dated 5 February 1913 was granted to Denis Murnane, farmer of Meeanee (James brother in law, who married Mary’s sister Johanna in 1880) and his son William O’Neill. (Will and Probate record on Archway Archives New Zealand). Among his bequests was to his son William of “all his horse harnesses, carts and other conveyances, horse food, horse covers and all other plant and implements used for and in connection with my carrying business.”
Garry O’Neill, grandson of James and Mary for information about Woburn Station, and oral family history: M.B. Boyd “City of the Plains – A History of Hastings” published 1984 – page 125: Knowledge Bank – Hawkes Bay Digital Archives Trust – many references: Hastings Library.
Having concluded that I don’t really have a home town (in) travelwithgma.wordpress.com/2022/02/15 – it was suggested to me, by Dr Jody Thompson, that there could be a third possibility for claiming a place as a home town. Dr Thompson suggested that maybe a home town could be where your heart and soul I had previously concluded that a connection to a place where I had not lived was not sufficient for that place to be my home town. Nor could I claim the place where I grew up, because I hated that place with a passion.
Being a “head” person, not a “heart and soul” person, I had not considered the possibility of a home town being where my heart and soul was, although I had referred to London as my soul city on occasion.
I knew London well, long before I visited it. Growing up in a country colonized by the British, the school curriculum was very anglo-centric. Kings and Queens of England and the history of Britain were taught, rather than the history of New Zealand-Aotearoa. It was as if the history of Aotearoa only commenced with the British invasion. Geographic features of of Britain were familiar. Our reading books were generally set in England, written by British writers. Enid Blyton made Cornwall pretty familiar, Peter Pan bought Kensington Gardens to life.
My Nursery Rhymes were set in London and other areas in the UK. I was very happy to finally hear the bells of St Clemens (of oranges and Lemons fame), London Bridge (is falling down), York (The Grand Old Duke of York), and many many more.
Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury writers made Hyde Park Gate and Bloomsbury familiar. My first visit to the British Museum did not feel like a first visit. I had read about and seen images of a lot of the items held there.
The British Royal Family were revered in New Zealand – possibly because of the percentage of immigrants from the UK. Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London were constantly pictured in newspapers and magazines as were Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and of course members of the British Royal Family.
My ancestors mostly came from the UK, (Ireland, Scotland and England, with one outlier from Portugal.) A lot of my English ancestors were born and lived in Southwark, London after their migration from Suffolk a couple of hundred years ago. I have previously written about my search for Uk ancestors – see travelwithgma.word.press.com/2020/02/09
I was an adult when I first visited London. The red double decker buses, with destinations such as, for example, High Street Kensington, Trafalgar Square, Oxford Street and Regent Street felt familiar, as did all the major landmarks. I was quite at home in London. I have visited London on numerous occasions, with new discoveries on each visit. Threadneedle Street, Poultry Lane, the various Royal Parks, Dulwich Gallery, Frederick Leighton’s House and the Wallace Collection.
I lived and worked in London for a couple of years. In some respects it felt like coming home. I lived in several different areas in London, so got to know those areas very well.
My first residence was a little apartment in Bruton Lane, Mayfair – joy. Bruton Lane was off Bruton Street, a few steps from Bond Street. Berkeley Square was at the other end of Bruton Street.
There was a mock tudor pub on the corner of Bruton Street and Bruton Lane, the Coach and Horses, which is apparently the oldest building on Bruton Street. The food served in that pub was excellent. A picturesque pub, serving good food and only a minute walk from home was a delight.
I have very happy memories of a visit from NZ cousins while living in Bruton Lane. We decided to go to dinner one night at a “restaurant” in Berkeley Square (A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square). We did not realise that the second floor restaurant which we had noticed was the dining room of a private club. The receptionist looked a touch startled to be confronted by 3 people, one on crutches, not dressed in accordance with the dress code, asking for a table. To her credit, she let us in, and didn’t tell us it was a private club. Pretty cool for Mayfair. I don’t recall what we ate, but I do recall cousin Ken asking the waitress if she had heard many nightingales singing. She looked blank. You know Ken said, “A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square”. She was too young to remember a song written in 1939.
We were actually at Morton’s Club, which had a magnificent view overlooking the length of Berkeley Square, from north to south.
I then lived in Middlesex Street (Petticoat Lane) for a few months. Hearing the Cockney accents as the traders set up their stalls was quite surreal. I had not previously spent any time in this part of London. My explorations were an adventure. Spitafields market and Brick Lane with its Indian Restaurants were a quite different experience.
My longest time in an area was at Putney Bridge, in a beautiful Mews House in Church Gate alongside All Saints Church, Fulham, beside the River Thames. The tower of the church dates back to 1440. The Bishops Park and Palace in Southwark was over the back fence. I frequently walked or rode a bike along the Thames Path, sometimes cycling as far as Richmond.
The graveyard at All Saints came alive in spring. A host of golden daffodils appeared. Wordsworth’s Wandering Lonely as a Cloud came to mind every time I saw them. Although the graveyard did not contain ten thousand daffodils, those in the graveyard “tossed their heads in sprightly dance” and although “my heart with pleasure filled” I did not actually dance with the daffodils.
The second and third floor windows of my Mews House looked out over All Saints and Putney Bridge. The view over Putney Bridge was ever changing and I never tired of looking at it. Morning mists in winter and at night, when it was lit up with red London buses travelling across it provided the loveliest of visions.
I could have climbed over the back fence into the gardens of the Bishops Palace in Fulham, but I resisted the temptation, and walked to the entrance. The gardens are the second oldest botanical gardens in London, and contain riverside gardens and a walled garden. I spent a lot of time in those gardens.
Sloane Gardens, Sloane Square
My final residence in London was an apartment in Sloane Gardens. Sloane Square and the Kings Road provided much entertainment and interest.
How good was it to be able to walk to the Chelsea Flower Show. This was the year Mary Reynolds became the youngest person to win a medal. She created the Celtic Sanctuary.
It was from this location that I was dragged kicking and screaming back to the Antipodes, bound for Botany Bay.
Fortunately for me – it was not “farewell to England forever”. I visit London at least annually, sometimes for up to 3 months. During these visits, I have become familiar with Islington, Primrose Hill and Richmond. When my flight arrives at Heathrow, I feel as if I am home. I don’t feel like that when my flight touches down at Sydney on my return. It takes me weeks to recover from my my return.
What is it about London which makes it a contender for my home town of the heart and soul? Is it possible to claim a town as a home town on the basis of heart and soul?
Growing up in London would have provided a totally different life than the life I experienced in London. Post war London looks pretty grim. Rationing was still in place. Post war, a little village in New Zealand showed no signs of the destruction London experienced. There was no rationing. The air was fresh and clean, and the rivers were not polluted.
What did London have that I would have found far more to my taste than what was offered by life in a village in New Zealand?
I have always loved cities. I was always in my happy place in a city, be it a small city like Hastings (which I attempted to appropriate as my home town), or better still, Auckland – when we arrived in Auckland in summer, I used to wind the car windows down (yes, wind) to smell the melting bitumen. Very evocative for a kid from the country where the roads were not sealed.
Visiting the Auckland Museum was one of the pleasures to be had in that city. There were shops, a lot of shops. The Farmers Trading Company, with a rooftop playground was a little paradise. There were lots of people. The anonymity of living in a city would have been so much more to my taste than the curtain twitchers reporting on my every move to my parents.
Living in a small village provided little exposure to culture. The first ever live performance I experienced was attending a performance by the World Famous Hogarth Puppets at the Municipal Theatre in Hastings. I was entranced – not just with the puppets, but with the whole experience. The Art Noveau interior felt very fancy.
The New Zealand Ballet Company came to Putaruru once. I can’t remember what they performed, but I do recall the thrill of “going to the ballet.” Attending a performance of Lay Bayadere at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden a lifetime later, bought back the memories of my very first ballet attendance in Putaruru.
The only musical I ever attended in Aotearoa was a performance of My Fair Lady in Auckland, in about 1961. I have never forgotten the magic of that night. Travelling to Auckland, dressing up and attending a plush theatre (well plush after the corrugated iron picture theatre I attended), and savouring every moment of the performance.
Live music performances were almost non existent, unless you can count one of the West boys playing a guitar and mouth organ simultaneously at the local hall.
Compare these cultural experiences with those available in London. I had a friend who had grown up in London at the time I was living it a little village. Coincidentally, she had lived around the corner from my house in Putney Bridge, so the Fulham Bishops Palace, park and garden were in her back garden. She went to the theatre and attended concerts. She visited the British Museum. The movie theatre she attended was not made of corrugated iron. She frequented the wonderful royal parks and gardens. London was always her home town, despite not having lived there for a long time.
If I had grown up in London, I would very happily claim it as my home town, but I didn’t grow up in London. I am sorry Dr Thompson, the head has overruled the heart and soul – I could not in all honesty claim London as my home town, but I rejoice in the fact that Charlie, the newest member of the family can claim London as her home town.
A comment on My Home Town blog (published 2002/02/15) has provided me with a home town. “Allover” is my home town. Thank you mitchteemly.
New Zealand – Aotearoa: Hastings, Arapuni or Nowhere really.
I was inspired to reconsider whether I did, in fact have a Home Town, after re-reading a series of articles, initially published in a New Zealand magazine “North and South”, a selection of which were republished in a book “My Home Town – New Zealand Remembers when” in 1991.
When I first read the collection in 1991, I dismissed the notion that I had a home town. I recently re-read the book. I was still inclined to the view that I didn’t have a home town. A “home country” seems easier to me to identify. It would generally be the place where you were born and possibly grew up in, although even this presents some difficulties, if like me, you have lived in several countries, and are currently living in a country where you have spent more time than the country in which you were born and grew up in.
When I am asked where I came from in New Zealand, I tend to answer “nowhere really”. I qualify that answer by conceding that there is one place in New Zealand I do have a connection with, and that is Hastings, although I never lived there. Is a connection sufficient, on its own, for somewhere to be a home town?
My mother’s grandparents were among the early settlers in Hastings and Napier. Three of them were from Ireland and one from Scotland, all arriving in New Zealand between 1878 and 1883. My grandfather was born in Hastings and my grandmother in Napier. When they married they lived in Hastings. My mother and her two sisters were born and grew up in Hastings. Other than her older sister living in Christchurch for a couple of years to attend University and teacher’s college, both sisters lived in Hastings all their lives.
My mother followed her older sister to University and Teacher’s College in Christchurch. She returned to Hastings to teach for a period at Mahora school. Her “country service” then took her to Arohena, where she met and married my father.
I was born in Hastings. My parents at that time were living in Te Haroto, a timber milling settlement situated on the notorious “Napier-Taupo” road, with no hospital or medical facilities. My mother came to Hastings to stay with her parents before my birth. I spent the first 14 days of my life in Hastings.
I spent 2 months in Hastings in 1954 preceding the death of my grandmother. My mother came to Hastings from Arapuni, where we then lived, to help care for my grandmother.
I had the great misfortune to attend St Josephs convent school for those 2 months. My grandfather, mother and her 2 sisters had attended St Josephs. My 3 cousins were pupils at St Josephs. Sister Kevin was my teacher. I cannot imagine how Sister Kevin could ever have entered the kingdom of heaven. She was cruel and unkind. Getting hit on the fingers by Sister Kevin, with a lead lined ruler, for not being able to spell “crucifix” was, I thought, a great injustice for a child who had never attended a catholic school.
Humiliation was, she thought, her greatest weapon. She had taught my grandfather, my mother and her 2 sisters, and at that time my eldest cousin, 6 months younger than me, was in her class. Compared to them, I was the village idiot. Luckily for me, my sense of self esteem and worth overcame Sister Kevins unkindness.
Hastings was where I spent all of my school holidays. The 6 weeks holiday at Christmas was magical. I recall long hot sunny days, swimming in the various rivers, and best of all spending time with my cousins at Te Awanga, where my Aunt and Uncle had a caravan at Burden’s camping ground – a paradise. My uncle built a boat for my cousins. We could row around the lagoon, or up the Maraetotara River, as far as the bridge on the road to Clifton. Swimming in the lagoon, then walking over a very rickety bridge to the ocean, navigating the shingle beach to poke our toes in the sea was always exciting. I still remember sleeping in the caravan annex in a bunk bed hearing the waves crashing in on the beach – so exotic for a country kid who lived a long way from the nearest beach.
Many happy hours were spent at Cornwall Park. The main attraction for me was a big paddling pool, the highest slippery dip ever, a seesaw and swings. Climbing on the lions (at the King George V drinking fountain – commissioned by the Council in 1911 to celebrate the coronation of the British King George V), was a necessary activity on visits to the park. Several generations of my family have been photographed sitting astride a lion. The trees were spectacular, and some were perfect for climbing. Ponds, gardens, a kiosk and a cricket pitch added to the magic. Windsor Park, with boats to hire was also a happy place.
Roller skating was a novelty. My cousins lived close to Queen’s Square, which had a band rotunda in the centre, with 4 paved paths radiating from it to each corner of the square. Perfect for roller skating.
Visiting the three “old” Aunts in Napier was also a ritual. Afternoon tea, with sandwiches, scones and 3 kinds of cake was very special. It was wheeled in on a tea trolley. The Aunts had very beautiful delicate bone china, which was always used for afternoon tea. They also used cake forks, and if they were serving meringues, the meringue forks also appeared. I lived in fear of breaking my cup or plate, and trying to eat cake with a cake fork, without dropping crumbs on the floor took a level of skill I did not possess.
Rush Munro’s Ice Cream Garden in Heretaunga Street was a favourite. It was exotic – with goldfish ponds, roses and green trellised table booths, likened to a Japanese garden. The Ice Cream Garden was founded in 1926. The original garden was destroyed in the 1931 Hawkes Bay Earthquake, and re-established on its present site within a few weeks. My grandparents, mother and her sisters all frequented Rush Munro’s, as did my cousins. I always ordered a maple walnut sundae, and tried to eat it very slowly. I still visit Rush Munro’s Ice Cream Garden, but have moved on from the maple walnut sundae.
My great grandfather established a horse and cart carrying business in Hastings, which my grandfather took over. The Hastings library has photographs in their archive of them both with their horses and carts. They were also members of the Hastings Voluntary Fire Brigade. Christmas parties at the fire station were looked forward to for weeks. Santa sliding down the pole was a magical moment, as was his arrival in a fire engine.
My mother returned to Hastings to live after my father died. One of my cousins has always lived in the area. The other 2 cousins moved away, but both ultimately returned to live in the area.
My great grandparents, grandparents, mother and her 2 sisters and a brother and one of my brothers are all buried in the Hastings cemetery, along with numerous great aunts and uncles.
On any measure these family members could legitimately claim Hastings as their home town.
If I were to claim Hastings as my home town, having never lived there, it would have to be on the basis of family connection and continuity plus a lot of very happy memories, all including family. Would that be enough?
The only other candidate for my “home town” is Arapuni, a small village in the Waikato area. A dam and powerhouse were built at Arapuni between 1924 and 1929. The village was constructed to house the employees of the then New Zealand Electricity Department and their families.
The name Arapuni is derived from two maori names “Ara” meaning path and “puni” meaning blocked or covered. I did not know this when growing up, and I can find no basis for Arapuni being a blocked path.
My parents moved to Arapuni when I was 4, and I lived there until I left home. My father was not employed by the NZED – he and a partner owned a garage/petrol station in the village. We lived on what was then called “the back road”, an unsealed road on one side of which were houses privately owned. Initially we lived in the “tin house” – so called because it was constructed of corrugated iron. The outside “dunny” was a horror of the first order for a 4 year old. “There be monsters out there.”
Growing up in a place seems to qualify that place as a home town. It was certainly the basis for most of the contributors to “My Home Town” to identify their home town, even if they had not even lived in the place for all of their childhood. To decide why I am reluctant to identify Arapuni as my home town, it is necessary to recall my life there.
My formal schooling commenced at Arapuni Primary School. My mother was teaching there, despite the prohibition of married woman teaching – she was filling in until a suitable man or single woman was available. Her standards for me were so much higher than they were for the rest of the class, and I recall being pleased when a “suitable” single woman was appointed. Over all, I found Arapuni Primary school agreeable enough. At least it did not have a Sister Kevin.
The streets in Arapuni were mostly unsealed. There were no footpaths other than along the main road. There were 2 petrol/service stations, (the one my father was a partner in and the “corner” garage, owned by the Knox family) and 4 shops. Two grocery stores, George and Ann Watts, then the McAlpine family owned one and the Aikman family the other. The McGills were the butchers and the dairy was owned by Bob and Joyce Stephenson.
What did Arapuni have for me that Hastings did not. We had a lake. A very big lake. We swam in the lake near the village all through summer. We jumped off cliffs, near the dam into the lake. Sitting on the diving board, we fished for eels. My father had a boat, so we spent a lot of time on the lake. There were 3 places to swim. The closest was a landing a short distance from the dam and Bulmers Landing and Jones Landing. My favourite was the landing near the dam. I could ride my bike there. We could swim across the lake to the foot of a high rocky bluff opposite. There was a diving board and a lot less “water weed” than that found at the other two landings.
The power station, dam, diversion tunnel, swing bridge, outdoor station with the spillway below, the walk from the outdoor station to the buried forest all provided the possibility of a lot of grand adventures. The buried forest was a petrified forest and was fascinating. The forest had been buried by volcanic ash, from an eruption in Taupo said to have happened around 4,000 years ago. The petrified forest was revealed after the Waikato river was diverted in 1929.
Today, apparently only the dam and swing bridge is open to the public. The “dry” side of the dam has been fenced. The track down to the diversion tunnel has been closed off and there is no public access to my other adventure spots.
The saying that it takes a village to raise a child makes me shudder, even now. Gossips paradise. The anonymity of living in a city would have saved me from the curtain twitchers. My mother knew I had been smoking before I got home.
The village hall was the centre of a great deal of the social life in the village. Early humiliations included the annual flower show. Children could enter a “sand saucer” – a plate of sand, decorated with flowers. The more artistic created beautiful concoctions. My contributions never won a prize – rightly so. A few sad pansies poked into the sand could not compete with the concoctions, which included mirrors for lakes, which reflected the non sad flowers of the winners.
The dreaded “socials” were held in the village hall. I hated these so much that I would have done anything to get out of them. I cannot, and never have been able to dance well. I did learn ballroom dancing, so could shuffle through a waltz and foxtrot. I went through agonies at these socials – firstly praying that X or Y did not ask me for a dance . Secondly desperately thinking that even X or Y would be fine. It couldn’t get worse, but it did. Other kids fathers, feeling sorry for me would ask me to dance.
I did have some triumphs along with the humiliations. I was commended for my portrayal of Wee Willy Winkie in a school play. I won a prize for best costume in some category at a fancy dress ball – I was a golliwog. My pretend skating when the school put on a performance of the Skaters Waltz was well received. I was an attendant to the red queen at a Queen Carnival, a fundraising event. Entering the hall, behind the red queen and walking along the red carpet was a triumph.
There were 2 churches in Arapuni, the Catholic Church and St Michaels and All Angels Anglican Church. There was one advantage of living in a village. Mass, in Latin was conducted on the second Saturday and fourth Sunday of the month – far more satisfactory than every Sunday. I did not envy my cousins’ opportunity to attend mass every Sunday.
Every Saturday night most of the residents and local farming families would go to the “pictures”. The Arapuni Picture Palace was operated by Arnold Darby, in a corrugated iron theatre. It cost 1/3d to see the movie. I was given 2/6d. Deciding on which lollies to buy with the change was difficult, and took a lot of careful thought.
The nearest town in which to shop was Putaruru. It was a very small dreary little town which was not fun to visit. Hamilton was our nearest big town. A day in Hamilton was sheer pleasure – it was on a par with Hastings.
My high school years were not the best years of my life. In fact the experience of attending Putaruru High School is up there as being among the worst years of my life. I was bored out of my brain. None of the work provided me with a challenge. I used to escape to the library whenever possible, and read my own books, covered with the school cover.
I am competitive. I want to win. I was not proficient at sport. I hated it – especially team sports, so it was impossible to win anything. I generally came in last. PE was a nightmare. The annual cross-country race through muddy paddocks was torture in the extreme. I shall be forever grateful to Joe Woods, the PE teacher, who told me to put a book under my shirt, stop off at the first tree and read until they came back.
Inevitably my boredom led to bad behaviour on my part. I spent a lot of time in the corridor. The headmaster was called Basher Burns for good reason. He didn’t bash the girls, but he did his best to belittle them. Caught in the corridor by basher resulted in all manner of pathetic insults. “Girl, come here”, “Girl, run around the quadrangle”. All of the classrooms looked out over the quadrangle, I was slightly plump and couldn’t run to save my life. I was not about to mortify myself, so I refused. My mother was contacted and requested to come and get me. Basher received a tongue lashing from my mother – punish bad behaviour she said, but do not use the punishment to try to humiliate a young person. I thought I was home and hosed. I got a tongue lashing on the way home.
Basher really surpassed himself one day, calling me “nothing but an Arapuni guttersnipe who would never amount to anything”. I cannot recall what I had done to deserve that. I was interested to learn that a guttersnipe was a scruffy and badly behaved child who spends most of their time on the street – belonging to or characteristic of the lowest social group in a city. I was neither scruffy nor did I spend most of my time on the street. My parents were well educated. My father ran a small business and my mother had attained a BA from Canterbury College. They actually knew the meaning of the word. Basher received another visit from my mother.
Putaruru High School can take no credit at all for my education. I take the credit for obtaining a post graduate degree in Law, and practising law for many years.
Arapuni should have been an idyllic place to live as a child. My brother only has good memories of growing up there. I feel oppressed even by the memory. Married women who lived in Arapuni did not have careers, no matter how well educated they were, or how unsuited they were to living a totally domesticated life. Few of them had access to a car. They couldn’t escape.
My mother did not feel oppressed. My parents always had a car, and she could escape. Escape she did. She was very political, and I recall a lot of stimulating political discussions. Even so, I knew that that life would be a death sentence for me. It took a little while, but I eventually managed to escape the death sentence.
So, do I have a home town? Much as I would love to claim Hastings as my home town, I have concluded that my home town would have to be a place I had lived. A connection with a place is not enough to claim that place as a home town.
I revisited Arapuni a few years ago, with my mother. Even after 40 years, I felt a dark cloud descending as we drove into the village. A home town for me could not be somewhere which still invites the black dog onto my shoulder as Arapuni does.
I have not changed my mind. I do not have a home town in the sense portrayed in “My Home Town – New Zealand Remembers when”.