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”.