My Home Town

My Home Town

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.

Rush Munroe’s Ice cream Garden 1926.

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 great grandfather, rear horse and cart he is sitting up high outside the then Hastings Post Office.

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.

Attendant to red queen.

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”.

Skippers Road, Skippers Canyon, New Zealand.

Skippers Road, Skippers Canyon, New Zealand.

A Road less travelled

Skippers Road has been described as New Zealand’s most dangerous road. It is a one way gravel road, carved out of the side of a canyon, with extreme hairpin bends and with the canyon wall on one side and a vertical drop down to the Shotover River on the other side. A more accurate description might well be the scariest road you will ever drive on, and if you are scared of heights, its not the road trip for you.

I was very fortunate to be meeting up with some old friends, A and J in Queenstown, who suggested a day trip into Skippers Canyon some 20km north of Queenstown.

I experienced a most exciting and interesting day, which included some of the most exceptional scenery around, a scary road and adventure and history. A is an experienced driver, who had navigated Skippers Road on previous occasions.

The road signs at the entrance to Skippers Road make it quite clear that this road is not for the faint hearted.

Since I am not one of the faint hearted (well not when the driver is an experienced 4WD driver who had navigated this road previously) these signs were of interest only and not off putting.

And so we descended into Skippers Canyon. The road was completed in 1891, and is approximately 22km in length. The road was carved by hand by early gold miners. Gold was discovered in 1862, and prior to completion of the road, access was by horses on pack track trails. Looking down the road to the first hairpin bend, I realised that if we were to encounter an oncoming vehicle, one driver would be required to reverse to the nearest spot where 2 vehicles could pass. Driving this road is not for a beginner.

The Shotover River is popular for white water rafting and jet boating. The rafters are transported into the canyon in small buses, which each tow a trailer full of rafts. Luckily we did not meet one of these. The launch site for the rafts is at Deep Creek, about 45 minutes drive from the start of Skippers Road. While we were watching rafts being launched, a helicopter arrived, carrying passengers for the jet boat.

The Shotover River was known as one of the richest gold bearing rivers in the world, although as there is no official data recording the amount of gold found, it is not possible to substantiate this claim.

Skippers Road may well seem to be a very narrow road, but we came upon an even narrower road near the Aurum Recreation Reserve. It even had a signpost with the name of the “road”, branching off Skippers Road, near a small waterfall.

During the gold rush, the settlement had a population of around 1000. A school opened in 1879, and at the settlement’s peak, there were 27 pupils attending the school. There were four main hotels in Skippers Canyon, and numerous “sly grogs” during the gold rush but by 1901, miners were leaving Skippers for the West Coast goldfields. The school closed in 1927 and by the 1940’s the settlement had been abandoned.

To visit the remains of the settlement, we crossed over Skippers Bridge, a suspension bridge 91 metres above the river. The bridge is only 2.2 metres wide. It was opened in 1901, ironically just as the miners were departing to the west coast.

Skippers Bridge

The remains of the settlement are within the Mt Aurum Recreation reserve. There is little left to see other than the schoolhouse and the Mt Aurum homestead, which have been preserved. We were the only people there, and it was almost impossible to visualize a settlement of 1000 people – and totally impossible to imagine the lives the people there led. They would not have experienced the tranquility and beauty of the place. When we visited, there were two old lilac trees in bloom – lilac is not native to the region, so someone, sometime, perhaps wished to create a little bit of home in the wilderness.

There has been some debate around whether Skippers Road is dangerous, or merely scary. The NZ Herald reported (12 March 2014) that a British driving firm “Driving Experience” labelled Skippers Road “as unbelievably scary as it is beautiful”. Their report gives Skippers Road an overall fear factor of 7 out of 10.

The image accompanying the NZ Herald Report.

I would have to weigh in on the side of scary, not dangerous. The tourist operator’s drivers are very skilled. My friend was very skilled. It could be dangerous, I suspect, if there was an influx of less experienced drivers on the road.

A, the skilful driver, and J, in Skippers Canyon.

I am very lucky to have had the experience of being driven over the road less travelled.

Living in Timber Mill Communities: 1934-1948

Living in Timber Mill Communities: 1934-1948

Max’s Story.

The milling of New Zealand native forests started with arrival of the first British Colonists in 1840 who cleared vast areas of native forest. The “immense woods, lofty trees and the finest timber” described by early explorers were reduced very rapidly.

The resulting environmental degradation left mountainous areas susceptible to erosion. Flying over the heavily milled areas between Taupo and Napier, the scars of erosion are still visible.

Max completed his education at Mt Albert Boys Grammar school during the depression. As he was unable to find employment in Auckland, he cycled to Taumaranui to seek work in the timber mills in the rugged King Country, a distance of around 240km today. It took him more than a week to cycle over largely unsealed roads, with steep, narrow, and winding mountainous roads on the final part of the journey. It is estimated that today it would take a cyclist 16 hours to complete the journey.

Max was to work in the timber milling industry for around 15 years.

Taringamotu Totara Sawmill Company, Oruaiwi NZ.

Max obtained employment as an Orderman at Taringamotu Totara Sawmill Company in the township of Oruaiwi, in 1934.

An Orderman is responsible for the fulfilling of orders by the selection of material for cutting to required sizes and lengths, and checking and measuring completed orders and compiling for despatch. The role of an Orderman suited Max very well. He only had one arm, so the jobs involving sawing and chopping were probably not open to him, although he was pretty competent with a saw and an axe.

Oruaiwi, also known as Waituhi, was a small settlement in the valley of the Taringamotu River. The houses were wooden, with corrugated iron chimneys, and a bush railway track ran through the settlement.

Leaving his home in Auckland Max must surely have found Oruaiwi somewhat of a challenge, although he seems to have found the life in remote milling towns enjoyable. The single men’s accommodation was pretty basic, but it was a pretty blokey atmosphere, which Max enjoyed all of his life.

Oruaiwi Township
Max at Oruaiwi

Smyth Bros & Boryer Limited, Arohena, NZ.

Max moved to Arohena in 1936, to work for Smyth Bros & Boryer, Sawmillers & Timber Merchants. Apart from a working holiday in Australia in 1940, he worked for that company until March 1945 as a timber orderman, and then from 1943, he also worked in the office on timber invoice work for half of each working day. The timbers milled were rimu, white pine, totara and matai.

“Arohena had a school, tennis court and a hall, a shop, a row of family homes and a line of single men’s huts and the cookhouse. There was a mill office and the mill owner’s house.

The mill building was behind a big timber yard. It incorporated the log skid, locomotive terminal, and repair and truck sheds. …. The large area of sawn, stacked and labeled timber was criss crossed by hand truck lines. Truck roads transversed the area to allow for loading of customer orders. Circular turntables re-aligned the tram tracks for direction changes, and Max Bridges, holding his clip board under the stump of his missing arm, kept law and order, and recorded the incomings and outgoings of the timber. He later married our primer teacher, Cecelia O’Neill, and they had a garage at Arapuni when the mill closed.” (To Arohena from Chunuk Bair – Untitled

Arohena is in the Waikato area, which was less isolated than the King Country and the social life was, by all accounts, much livelier than was possible in Oruaiwi. Socials and dances were held in the local hall, and in the neighbouring villages of Pukeatua, Kihikihi and Arapuni. Max and his co-workers also went to the pictures, in Arapuni. The picture theatre was an old corrugated iron shed with numerous holes in the roof and walls. Max used to tell children that the theatre had twinkling stars on the roof, which made it sound rather splendid. He had to confess to the disappointed children that the stars could only be seen through the holes in the roof.

Max also enjoyed fishing on the nearby Waikato River and Arapuni Lake. He was a dedicated fisherman all of his life.

A re-enactment of the Battle of Orekau -“Rewi’s Last Stand” was filmed near Arohena, in 1940 and Max had a “bit” role as a British Soldier. Originally a silent film made in 1925 it was a historical drama based on the last stand of Rewi Maniapoto at Orekau, between 31 March and 2 April, 1864.

Site of the Battle of Orakau

Max married Cecelia O’Neill in Te Awamutu on 10 April 1941. Cecelia was a teacher at the Arohena school, by then a two roomed school. Max moved from the single men’s huts and he and Cecelia lived in one of the unpainted wooden houses provided by the mill owners to married staff. Their daughter was born while they were living in Arohena.

Max, second from right – Arohena

Arohena today is a farming community, with little sign of its former timber milling history.

G.L. Briggs & Sons, Briggsvale, NSW

Max left New Zealand on 10 May, 1940 on the Monterey bound for Sydney, via Melbourne. His occupation was listed as an Orderman.

His ultimate destination was Briggsvale on the Dorrigo Plateau in Northern New South Wales, where he was to work at the sawmill there. The journey from Sydney to Briggsvale by train would have taken more than a day. The train from Sydney to Glenreagh was an overnight trip, and he would then have had to get the train from Glenreagh to Briggsvale.

Ulong Railway Station – on the line from Glenreagh to Briggsvale, which Max would have passed through. (Picture credit Margaret Anne Block)

G.L. Briggs & Sons established a sawmill at Briggsvale in 1923, an isolated spot in the middle of virgin forest. Max worked on the planer, tallying and sorting timber. When Max worked at Briggsvale, there were around 150 residents. The village, comprising staff cottages and barracks was situated next to the mill.

Max and his workmates would catch the train to Dorrigo for social events – sport and the local pub.

Class A Climax geared locomotive, Briggsvale.

Max revisited Briggsvale in 1975 with Cecelia and his daughter. He identified the remains of the single men’s quarters and the cookhouse. The mill building, though in a state of disrepair, was still standing.

Max’s daughter and granddaughter recently visited Briggsvale. No one appears to live there now. It was necessary to bush bash and trespass to access the site. The site had not changed a lot since 1975, but it was not possible to re-identify the cookhouse site, or the single men’s quarters.

Above Left: Briggsvale in the 1970’s. Right: Briggsvale 2020

Max came back to New Zealand from Sydney on the Awatea, arriving in Auckland on 3 November 1940. He returned to his employment in Arohena.

Tarawera Timber Co Ltd., Te Haroto.

Moving to Te Haroto in 1945, Max was employed as an Assistant Yardman. His duties “besides classing, tallying and loading lorries, included the making out of specifications for each load”. (Reference from Tarawera Timber Co. Ltd, dated March 14, 1947.) His wage was six pounds per week.

Napier Taupo Road winding down to Te Haroto. (Credit – Whites Aviation)

Te Haroto is situated on the Napier-Taupo Road, in Hawkes Bay. In 1945 the road was narrow, unsealed and steep in parts. The hairpin bends were the stuff of legend. The big timber trucks frequently had to reverse a couple of times to get around the worst of the bends. Driving that road was not for the faint hearted. Cars would have to follow timber trucks for many miles before there was any opportunity to overtake. Radiators were apt to boil – there were numerous spots along the road, signposted, where they could be topped up from a stream. Bridges were narrow one way affairs, the downhill traffic being required to give way to those vehicles labouring uphill. Max had an old de Soto car, which managed the road pretty well.

Max and Cecelia initially lived in one of three little wooden cottages, built right beside the Napier Taupo Road. It must have been less than pleasant, with timber lorries constantly rumbling past on the unsealed road.

Conditions were primitive. Cooking was done on a fuel stove, with no temperature gauge. Cecelia used to wave her hand in the oven to guess what the temperature was. Great skill was required to keep the stove at a constant temperature.

The laundry consisted of a copper and a pair of concrete tubs, and was in an outbuilding with only cold water available. There was no time to cook on washing day, so Monday was washing day as there was always left over roast from Sunday, which was either eaten cold or minced and turned into something else.

A fire had to be lit under the copper, and when the water was boiling, in would go the items being washed. A wooden stick was used to stir the items around, and to lift them out into the tubs. A wooden scrubbing board was utilised to totally clean the boiled items. They were then rinsed and the white items were lifted into the second tub, which had a blue bag dissolved in it, to keep them white. There was no wringer, so all the laundry had to be wrung out by hand.

Old house at Te Haroto, which is much like Max and Cecelia’s house.

Ultimately, Cecelia ran the single men’s cookhouse, and they moved into the accommodation right at the mill. Cecelia had attended university, and held a BA. She was also a trained schoolteacher. Cooking for all the single men on a fuel stove in a remote timber mill community would surely not have been how she had envisaged her future.

Cecelia’s home town was Hastings, in Hawkes Bay. At least in Te Haroto she was closer to her family, and could often get a lift on a timber lorry to visit them.

Social activities included various sport, socials, and occasional concerts. The concert performers were generally people from the community who could play a musical instrument or sing. One performer played two instruments at the same time, a guitar and a mouth organ (held to his mouth by a strap).

Agricultural shows were held annually, which attracted people from the whole area. The shows always had woodchopping competitions, sporting activities, food stalls and a beer tent. Occasionally they featured Scottish dancing competitions. The highland fling and the sword dance from old Scotland would surely have been somewhat strange in a remote New Zealand timber milling community.

At the Te Haroto Show, 1946 – note the motor vehicles which navigated the local roads.

Max could see that the future of milling native timber was limited. Fire and logging had rapidly depleted native forests. Deforestation was becoming more environmentally contentious, particularly in areas where erosion had become a problem in the early 1940’s. The work was physically hard, with long hours and not well paid. He left Te Haroto after 15 years work in the timber milling industry in 1947. He made lifelong friends while living in the remote timber milling communities, and he always spoke fondly of his time in these communities.

A great tree comes down on hills already stripped of bush (Page 59 “The Way we Were Pictorial Memories of early NZ – Hawkes Bay/East Coast)

In New Zealand, native forests now have some legal protection. Native forest logging ended on public land in 2002. Logging of native trees is governed by a permit system. Exotic forests were planted, mainly pinus radiata to satisfy timber needs, one of the earliest being Kiangaroa, in the North Island.

Max enjoyed working and living in remote saw milling communities. He made lifelong friends, and he always spoke fondly of his time working at the timber mills.

Portugal – In Search of Ancestors – Part 2.

Portugal – In Search of Ancestors – Part 2.

Those of us whose ancestors emigrated to the new world in search of a better life generally have a very mixed ancestry.

My ancestors were predominantly from Ireland. I also have English, Scottish and Portugese ancestry. Searching for them, and travelling to the places they came from and researching what their lives may have been like, has been most enjoyable. Particularly the travel.

The Portugese ancestors are elusive.

I have been unable to verify where in Portugal my great grandfather, Antonio Joseph Thomas came from. One branch of the family say he was from Portalegre. A person bearing the same name as my great grandfather, was naturalized on 16 June 1886, in Auckland. That Antonio is stated as having been born in the Azores. His occupation at that time was a painter.

My great grandfather’s occupation was stated on his marriage certificate as a Labourer. At the time of my grandmother’s birth he was recorded as a painter, on her marriage certificate a house painter, and his death certificate recorded his occupation as a retired painter. His death certificate also recorded the name of his father as Antonio Joseph Thomas.

Antonio Joseph Thomas (Tomaz) is a very common name in Portugal, and sifting through the records available is as difficult as tracking down the numerous Irish ancestors who carried the same name as hundreds of Irish non ancestors.

Antonio was 16 when he came to New Zealand. He was said to have been a seaman who jumped ship in Auckland.  There are a lot of records of a seaman named Antonio Thomas, who worked on coastal cargo boats around Australia, before and after his arrival in New Zealand.

My great grandfather married my great grandmother, Matilda, in Auckland in 1880. The marriage record does not record his place of birth. Portugal was noted as his place of birth on my grandmother’s birth certificate, and on Antonio’s death certificate. So – Portalegre or the Azores.

My visits to Portugal have not been in an effort to trace ancestors. Not speaking or reading the language makes that impossible. Rather, it was to experience a part of the world my ancestors had come from. I had always enjoyed the thought of having Portugese ancestry, and was interested in visiting places and seeing things my great grandfather may have visited and seen.

I first visited Lisbon some years ago when I was working in London. I had booked a hotel by Eduardo VII park. When I gave the taxi driver at the airport the address he indicated that was a very bad choice. I should not, under any circumstances, set foot in that park, as it was a very seedy part of Lisbon. I should take a taxi wherever I wished to go. His taxi of course.

I thought the park was a very pleasant place, and my first explorations of Lisbon were on foot, and through the park.

Antonio would not have seen The Castelo de Sao Jorge as it is now. The ramparts remained in ruins after an earthquake in 1755. What I saw was a result of a complete renovation began in 1938.

Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon.

The views over Lisbon and the Tagus River from the Castelo are magnificent. Perhaps Antonio enjoyed the view from the ruined ramparts.

Lisbon from Castelo de Sao Jorge

Antonio would have seen the triumphal arch on the north side of the Praca do Comercio.

Triumphal arch.

I did take a taxi to Belem. Not my airport taxi, and not because I was scared. With only three days in Lisbon, I needed to move about as quickly as possible.

Lisbon’s shipyards and docks were situated in Belem in the estuary of the Tagus River. The early Portugese explorers set out from these shipyards in the 15th-16th century. Antonio was a seaman. Did he embark on a ship in Belem when he left Portugal? If he did, he would have seen the Torre de Belem, completed in 1519. It was built as a fortress which guarded the estuary. It is a gem of a building, with openwork balconies and North African inspired watchtowers.

The Monument of the Discoveries was built at Belem to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, who died in 1460. The eastern side of the monument has statues of Portugese great explorers, and the western side has statues of of those people who empowered the 15th century age of discovery.

Of those explorers commemorated on the eastern side of the monument, I knew about Vasco da Gama who had discovered the sea route to India, Ferdinand Magellan, the first to circumnavigate the world and Bartolomeu Dias, the first to navigate the Cape of Good Hope. Perhaps my Portugese ancestry is responsible for my restless spirit and need to travel.

St Jeronimos Monastery in Belem was commissioned by Manuel 1 in 1501. It was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s voyage, and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for the success of the voyage. Vasco da Gama is entombed in the monastery. The monastery is a symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. It is a most pleasing confection of a building. Antonio would have been aware of this monastery if he had embarked from Portugal at Belem, but I doubt if he would have appreciated the architecture.

I love gargoyles. St Jeronimo has some wonderful examples.

I came across the Gulbenkian Museum quite by accident. It is situated north east of the supposedly dangerous Eduardo VII Park. What started as an accident turned into a magical experience. Think classical art including Egyptian, Greco Roman, Mesopotamian, Eastern Islamic, Armenian and Far eastern art, and so much more.

The museum is set in a park, and contains the private collection of an Armenian oil Magnate, Calouste Gulbenkian. The collection is outstanding.

I did not have enough time on this visit to spend much time in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, but I did manage to see Hieronymus Bosch’s “Temptations of St Anthony” triptych. Hieronymous Bosch is one of my all time favourite artists, and St Anthony was wonderfully gruesome.

There is an abundance of blokes on top of poles in Lisbon. There may have been a woman somewhere, but I didn’t see one.

I visited Portugal again a couple of years ago, this time with KT. I enjoyed revisiting Lisbon, and experienced a different Lisbon. KT was happy to accompany me on trawls of those parts of Lisbon which Antonio may have seen. She was also interested in the food and wine, and so I enjoyed much better dining and drinking experiences, although custard tarts are not up there on my list of favourites.

I had been very keen to visit Sintra. Lord Byron visited in 1809, and referred to Sintra in Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage “Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes in variegated maze of mount and Glen”. I wanted to see that glorious Eden.

KT and I caught a train to Sintra. We took so long to locate the correct railway station that by the time we got to Sintra it was nearly lunch time. Sharing the sites with the multitudes meant that the queues for entry to the palaces were were up to an hour long.

We headed to the Palacio Nacional da Pena which is situated in the hills of the Serra de Sintra. This palace is a fantastical colourful extravagance. It has domes, towers and a drawbridge. It is very brightly painted, yellow here, red there. It sits on a rocky outcrop, where once a castle stood.

The palace has an entrance guarded by a magnificent mythical gargoyle. Elaborate stone carvings and beautiful tiles add to the fantasyland feel of the palace.

I could not imagine that Antonio would have visited the palace. From what I have heard of him, even if he had, he would have had no appreciation for the art and architecture.

Our late arrival, and the hoards of people resulted in not having the time to explore other fabulous palaces, but we did see some of them whilst driving out to the coast. Monserrate was one of these.

The Palace of Monserrate.

KT and I caught a train from Lisbon to Porto. The lift up to the platform was very slow. I don’t do slow if there is an alternative. The escalator beckoned. While sailing regally up the escalator, suitcase safely tucked beside me, the suitcase decided it would prefer to stay in Lisbon, though not on its own. It flipped backwards and knocked me down with it. What followed was a most spectacular backflip. Two backward rolls later, I end up sailing feet first up the escalator. KT had the grace not to laugh at the sight of Gma coming up the escalator feet first.

Bleeding profusely, I arrive on the platform, with people flocking around suggesting calling an ambulance. The injuries were minor and I was not planning on missing the train to Porto.

Our hotel in Porto had been alerted to the arrival of the wounded Gma. An upgraded room was a great consolation prize.

If Antonio had visited Porto, there is much of Porto that he would recognise today. The riverside district, medieval Ribeira with its cobbled narrow streets would not have looked much different.

The Cais da Ribeira, with its bustling restaurants and bars is a perfect place to stroll along, eat or sit with a drink, watch the river traffic and observe people. The raised embankment which facilitates the riverfront promenade, would post date Antonio, so he would not have experienced the leisurely stroll KT and I had. I suspect he never experienced an icy cold gin and tonic in his life, let alone in Porto.

Gin and Tonic on the Cais da Ribeira, Porto.

I love ceramic tiles. I have been collecting them on my travels for years. Portugal produces blue and white tiles like I have never encountered. Porto is a tile lover’s heaven.

The Igreja do Carmo was built between 1756 and 1768 in the Rococo Baroque Style. It is adorned with blue azulejos tiles. The tiles pay tribute to “our lady” and tell the story of the church’s foundation.

The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso is a church built in 1739, but the azulejo tiles were only added in 1932. The tiles represent the life of St Ildefonso.

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, Porto.

Portugal is known for its catholic culture. It is doubtful that Antonio was a catholic. His children from his relationship with my great grandmother, Matilda were not catholic.

Igreja Sao Francisco is a gothic style church with an opulent baroque interior, which appears to be covered in gold, due to the gilded wooden carvings. A particularly gruesome carving of the Martyrs of Morocco took my eye. Heads were being severed from the unfortunate martyrs bodies. Those already severed were rolling about at the feet of those yet to lose their heads.

One of the altarpieces represents the family tree of Jesus, showing his descent from the Kings of Judah and Israel. At the top of the tree is Jesus, with Mary and Joseph. The 12 Kings of Judah are connected through the branches. Jesse of Bethlehem is reclining at the foot of the tree.

Igreja Sao Francisco was deconsecrated in the 19th century. It has been said that the opulence of the interior became a bit of an embarrassment to an order who take a vow of poverty.

The narrow cobbled streets, churches, shops, merchants houses and cellars for storing port along the banks of the Douro river would have looked very much the same to Antonio as they did to me. Only the Dom Luis 1 bridge, which was completed in 1886 was built after his departure from Portugal.

I enjoyed looking at the graffiti around Porto. I wonder if there was a version of modern graffiti around in Antonio’s days.

Antonio, by all accounts, was not a very nice man. He deserted my great grandmother and their 8 living children in around 1900. He failed to comply with a court order requiring him to support my great grandmother, Matilda, for which he received a three month suspended jail sentence. He had several more children from another relationship. His descendants from that relationship say he was born in Portalegre, Portugal. They also say that he returned to Portugal in order to obtain money which was his share of of his father’s property in Portugal. If this is so, he may well have been in parts of Portugal I visited.

I am inclined to believe that the descendants of Antonio’s second family would know more about him than I do. They would have known him for longer than his first family knew him, and he may have shared more details of his life with them. They also may well have a different view of his character.

As more records become available, I may find out more about Antonio. I certainly plan to visit Portugal again, even if I do not.

Travels with Lolly Girl.

Travels with Lolly Girl.

New Zealand, Istanbul, Oslo, England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Australia


Lolly girl and gma go back a long way. Further than I care to think about. From child brides in a small parochial country at the end of the earth, to mature travellers. Having dispensed with the child grooms, and seen our children grow up and move on, we had no ties. The world was our oyster.

Lake Taupo, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehi

Gma dispensed with the husband, and escaped the small parochial country fairly early in the piece. Lolly girl still lives in the small parochial country, but that country has matured, and is currently a far kinder place than the place to which gma escaped.

Lolly girl and I are not alike, but the differences make for a harmonious relationship. I am a relaxed traveller. Lolly girl, on the other hand, is a very anxious traveller. Her anxieties have occasionally saved us from disaster when my relaxed mode of operation would have had us stranded.

On a recent visit to Oslo, my city mapper took us to a wharf from which we were to depart on a trip around the fjords. Gma is happily sitting in the sun, relaxed and not bothering about the fact that there was no boat in sight, and no people. Lolly girl, getting anxious about no boat and no people indicates that she is going to “make enquiries”. Gma rolls her eyes, and continues to lounge in the sun. Turns out that we are on the wrong wharf, and only just had time to get to the correct wharf, where a queue of thousands were waiting for the boat. Last on, meant worst seats.

Early on we had travelled together to London, and around places nearby. Lolly girl was born in a south coast seaside town in Sussex, and had migrated with her family to the parochial country at the end of the world as a child. She was moderately comfortable travelling in the country of her birth, where the language was similar to that of the parochial country. She was less comfortable with the journey.

On one occasion the landing at Heathrow was aborted and our plane roared up into the fog covering London – an obstacle on the runway we were told. As we circled past Windsor Castle for the third time, Lolly Girl was extremely anxious. “What if we run out of fuel”. We won’t, we will go elsewhere to land”. “Nooo, we can’t X is waiting at Heathrow to meet us.”

Lolly Girl’s biggest challenge was joining Gma in Istanbul. Gma had been travelling in Eastern Turkey, and was returning to the antipodes from Istanbul. Lolly Girl was in London, and had to travel on her own, and get herself from the airport to the hotel in Istanbul. Neither Lolly Girl or Gma could believe it when she booked on line, and actually hit the “buy” button on the airline site.

There followed a few weeks of “oh my god, what have I done” from Lolly Girl, which ramped up when demonstrations began in Taksim Square. Our hotel was in Sultanahmet on Kennedy Cardesi, just down the hill from the Blue Mosque. Geographically we were a reasonable distance from Taksim Square, so after consulting the map, Lolly Girl relaxed – kind of.

Lolly Girl emerged, triumphant from the taxi at the hotel in Istanbul, ready to explore. She took everything in her stride. The incredible beauty of the mosques overcame any residual anxiety Lolly Girl had for her first encounter with Islam.

We were sitting on the terrace of our hotel, overlooking the Sea of Marmara one evening, when the relaxed mode moved abruptly to not relaxed. Plumes of smoke could be seen from Taksim Square, and what appeared to be a naval boat came chugging into view.

A glass of wine restored equilubrium, even though the smoke from Taksim Square was still billowing. The boat had disappeared from view.

After an epic fail of our GPS in Scotland – which instead of taking us north toward Ballater, took us up a road which became narrower and narrower and then turned into a track, ending at the grand gates of a mansion beyond, Lolly Girl decided we needed paper maps as a back up. Gma does further eye rolls, but Lolly girl was not daunted.

As it happened, it was as well that Lolly Girl had paper maps when we got to Ireland. The GPS was unable to cope with numerous places, and on several occasions took us up a roads which led nowhere near our destination. It was beyond the ability of the GPS to take us to a village in Kilkenny, where a part of my family had originated. Actually, it was also beyond the ability of Lolly Girl and her paper maps to get us there. We retired, hurt, to a pub for lunch. Lolly girl accosted a staff member for directions, and we finally made it to Galmoy.

Gma considers it a huge fail if directions have to be sought, and refuses to ever ask for assistance. It is very fortuitous for our travels that Lolly Girl is happy to ask for directions. If she wasn’t, we would be driving around in ever diminishing circles forever, never getting to our destination.

The distrust of the GPS can have some issues. On a trip to the Lake District, the GPS was working well. Lolly Girl nevertheless had the paper maps to hand. Approaching huge roundabouts, just as the GPS lady started instructing which exit to take, Lolly Girl would instruct me which exit she thought we should take, drowning out the GPS lady, and occasionally had the GPS lady hysterically yelling at us take a U turn. Finally we had to decide which of the GPS or Lolly Girl was excess to requirements.

Gma generally drives. One year Lolly Girl borrowed a car in London, which she had to drive. The car was a Porsche Boxter S.

Lolly Girl was anxious about the drive out of London, and most anxious about driving a Porsche. Our first journey was to York. We did all right under the circumstances. Going through a red light on a roundabout 5 minutes from home set the pace.

Driving up the M1 was memorable. Here we were in the Porsche crawling in the far left lane, with every other vehicle overtaking us, including big trucks and buses, the latter towering over us like a huge block of flats on wheels. Our windows seemed to be level with the top of their tyres.

We then journeyed south to visit the seaside town which Lolly Girl had come from, in Sussex. Lolly Girl was far more relaxed – the A roads suited her better than the M1. It had been snowing heavily, but the roads were cleared. Lolly Girl’s friends were not relaxed about a Porsche being parked in the street, so their car was unceremoniously moved onto the street to allow the Porsche to be locked into the garage.

It was rather fun emerging from the Porsche at country petrol stations. We whooshed into the forecourt – the young male attendants came rushing out. The looks on their faces when Lolly Girl and Gma unfolded themselves out of the car was priceless.

Gma is generally the travel agent and tour group leader. A more agreeable travelling companion than Lolly Girl would be hard to find. No matter how hideous the accommodation or travel turns out, she does not complain. Gma had booked a serviced apartment in Reykjavic. It looked very pleasant on its website, and was very close to everything. Emerging from the airport bus, Gma was quite suprised at the direction the city tripper was taking us. It certainly wasn’t the direction Gma thought it would be.

It turned out that the serviced apartment owners had several buildings, and put us in a different building than Gma had booked. The apartment was a hovel, for which we had paid non hovel prices. Lolly Girl was extremely kind about the hovel, and its smell, although she did produce a bottle of french perfume which was liberally sprayed around the hovel.

The act of travelling makes Lolly Girl anxious. We were catching a train from Copenhagen to Oslo, with a change at Gothenburg. On reaching the Copenhagen railway station, Lolly Girl zips off to ascertain which platform we were departing from. “Its not on the list of departures.” We were early, so sat down to wait, with Lolly Girl darting off to check departures. Anxiety sets in when trains later than ours are on the board.

Gma goes off to check the departures board, found the train and platform. Seems Lolly Girl was looking at the arrivals screen. When we arrived in Gothenburg, our train for Oslo was there, but locked. We did have about 45 minutes, but because it was not possible to reserve seats, people started standing in front of locked doors to make sure they got their seat of choice, and somewhere to stow their bags. Gma was consuming coffee and not inclined to move from her sunny spot to stand in a wind tunnel for 20 minutes. Lolly Girl put up with Gma’s indolence for fully 5 minutes, then moved off to stand behind the first person in the line at the locked door of choice.

Gma idly wondered if Lolly Girl had any idea of the scrum which eventuates when the doors open, and thought about warning her that coming in from the side was more effective if you were not the first person in the queue, and that using your suitcase as a weapon was required.

The doors open. Gma loses sight of Lolly Girl as the crowd surges forward, the side flanks moving in with precision. By the time Gma gets on the train, Lolly Girl has secured the 2 best seats in the carriage, and has obtained spots for the bags. Gma is duly grateful, and graciously declines the offer to sit at the window. Lolly girl is quite shaken by the experience of kill or be killed, although she most admirably was not killed, and reigned triumphant.

Some of Gmas happiest travel experiences have been with Lolly Girl. Getting drunk and disorderly with Lolly Girl around the world for the rest of Gma’s travelling life would be a joy.


Heretaunga Street, Hastings after the earthquake.

Hawkes Bay, New Zealand – 3 February 1931

Cel’s Story.

On 3 February, 1931 I set out for my first day at Hastings High School with my sister Mary, who was in her second year.  I was 13 years old. It was a typical Hawkes Bay summer day, very hot and overcast making everything seem very oppressive.

The high school consisted of two single level wings, a boy’s wing and a girl’s wing.  There was also a two level administration wing with tall parapets at the side of the building to make it look taller.

Just before 11am I was in the science lab buying my books.  Suddenly I heard a noise like an express train coming at full speed. Actually it was an earthquake. There was no warning, no rumblings just that sudden violence making a heavy roaring sound as it struck us.  We were all thrown to the floor.  Bottles of chemicals used in science experiments stored on open shelves were falling and breaking.  There was a strong smell of chemicals.  The noise was indescribable. People were screaming, and everyone was crawling towards the door.

The teacher had a very deep voice, and was calling “stand back boys, let the girls out first”.  There was no way the boys were going to subscribe to this.  Their instinct for survival was strong and we all finished up in a heap by the door, which had jammed. Two and a half minutes is an eternity when the earth is moving violently, and you are trapped in a room.

Suddenly the violence ceased, and we were able to open the science lab door and join all the pupils on the front lawn of the school.

The first aftershock came as we assembled on the lawn.  It was almost as strong as the first earthquake.  I watched the tall parapets separating from the main building and then clapping back against the main building before collapsing onto the roof.

One of the girls who was missing was discovered absolutely catatonic, still sitting at her desk in a state of shock, too afraid to move.

The pupils were sent home.  Mary and I walked home to Avenue Road West along the main road, Heretaunga Street.  It was only then that the enormity of the disaster registered.  There were very few buildings still standing.  There were no undamaged buildings.  Bricks and rubble covered the street.  Utter devastation.

Our father, Bill O’Neill, was a horse and cart carrier and wore a leather apron when working.  Imagine the horror of walking past a shop which had totally collapsed and seeing a pair of legs and part of a leather apron protruding from the rubble.  We grabbed hold of the feet, and were trying to pull “daddy” out.  A man passing by told us there was nothing more we could do for the owner of the legs, and to go home.

When we got home the scene was chaotic.  The brick chimney had collapsed onto the roof.  The cupboard doors had all burst open, and the contents thrown onto the floor.  There were broken jars which had contained jams and preserves, stores, crockery and china strewn all over the kitchen floor.  All of the furniture had been knocked over, even the beds.  The wallpaper was cracked by the strain on the building.

My mother had been cleaning the bath when the earthquake hit.  She was hurled into the bath, luckily only sustaining bruises.

The brick chimneys on the houses had all collapsed, generally onto the roof, making it dangerous to stay in the house.

My younger sister, Kath had not arrived home, so mother had to go out and look for her. She had been too frightened to come home, and had gone to a friend’s house.  Her friend’s grandmother, a very devout Irish catholic widow, really believed that the angel Gabriel had sounded the last trumpet, and that the earthquake was heralding the end of the world.  She was pleading for someone to go with her to the cemetery, so that she would be there to greet her husband when the graves opened up.

We were relieved to discover that the legs did not belong to Daddy.  He had been home, but as a volunteer fireman, he was out with the fire brigade.  Fires had started soon after the earthquake hit.  All the men were out on rescue work in the town.  The women and children just sat on the grass strip in front of their houses. We were too frightened to go back into the house.

When the earthquake hit, Daddy was at the Pacific Hotel, loading barrels of beer in the cellar.  When he emerged, there was Tom his draught horse, standing quietly in the street, swishing his tail to get rid of flies. The dray was full of bricks from a collapsed building, but Tom had not moved.

Eventually we had to go into the house to drag mattresses out onto the lawn.  We slept on the ground, in the shelter of a hedge.  The ground was quivering almost continually, and there were regular strong aftershocks.

The next night we were just settling down when there was another very strong earthquake.  Everything that had not collapsed in Heretaunga Street then did.  We could hear the falling bricks from our home.  We could also see the fires.

A couple of days after the earthquake, each family was given an army bell tent.  We and our neighbours shared our tents.  One tent was used for dining, and the other two for sleeping.  Meals were cooked over a fire in the back yard. We obtained emergency food supplies at food agencies in the town.  One of our neighbour’s sons knew there were biscuits in a brown paper bag in their pantry He nagged and nagged his mother to let him go in and get them.  She finally relented, and he came out triumphantly waving the brown paper bag.  Imagine our disappointment to discover that he had grabbed a brown paper bag of sticky fly papers.  He wasn’t allowed a second chance.  He was not popular.

There was no power or gas.  The sewerage system was inoperative.  Luckily we had an artesian well in our back garden, so had access to a clean supply of water.  Our toilet facilities were a spade, a roll of paper and a request for privacy.

The local newspaper office was not completely destroyed.  It had one small printing press which was used to put out a daily news sheet, which was mainly a casualty list, and also details of when trains were running for those who were being evacuated.

After 2 weeks of living in tents, experiencing almost constant aftershocks, we were happy to be evacuated, and very relieved to find that the ground was not shaking in Palmerston North.  We came home as soon as our house was declared safe.  Kath did not want to enter the house.  She was terrified of sleeping in the house.  I was made to sleep with her, which I hated.  She has told me I was horrible to her.  I suppose she was telling the truth, but I can’t remember ever being horrible.

The schools opened fairly quickly. Army marquees were utilised as classrooms until the classrooms had been repaired and strengthened.  Coke braziers kept us warm during the winter.  The tents leaked, so we were sent home when it rained.  Once it was realised that rubbing the canvas with rulers exacerbated the leaking, we became diligent with our rulers.

It was months before there was any semblance of normality.

Cel’s family, early 1940’s. Back:  Bill and Mary.  Front: Kathleen, Violet and Cel.

(Cel recorded her story  on 24 October 1993, with Kath providing a commentary in the background.  Cel was telling her personal story, and not attempting to provide facts and statistics, as she said those details would be available elsewhere.)

Hastings High School’s “High School Booklet” 1932, contained photographs of the damage wrought by the earthquake. In particular, page 3 of the booklet shows photographs of the army marquees. It also includes a photograph of pupils sitting at their desks. That was most interesting, as it showed what uniform Cel and Mary would have been wearing. See LeedomC953_HastingsHighSchoolBooklet.pdf)

Cel was Dux (jointly) of Hastings High School in 1935 and her sister Mary was Dux in 1934

Cel’s Dux Plaque featuring the school emblem, the Huia – displayed in the writer’s study, some 85 years later.

Hastings High School became a boys’ school in the mid 1950’s.

September 2022: On a recent visit to Hastings my cousin’s, KJ and GI (Mary’s daughters) took me to Hastings (Boys) High School to view our mother’s names on the Dux honour boards. The school office was very accommodating, and escorted us to the hall where the honour boards were displayed. After viewing the honour boards, we discovered that Cel and Mary had both been prefects as well as Dux.