Monday, April 27, 2015

To the Emerald Isle

Aran Isle Farm-house

Our trip to Ireland in 1984 was more than a tourist choice. It was a real attempt to visit the birthplaces of our ancestors in Cork and Sligo. But little did we realize just how much the whole month in the Republic would endear us to the Irish people, and what great memories we still have of that green and pleasant land.

We had flown from NZ to Greece, where we lived for three weeks on Skiathos before travelling overland via Volos, Trikkala, Meteora and Corfu, where we activated our Eurail passes. These took us to Italy, Switzerland, Austria and France, and so on the last day of the passes we boarded a ship at Le Havre bound for Ireland.

Dolmen at Carlow

When I first met my wife Norah's parents, Charlie and Isa Donald, I imagined that they were both totally Scottish, judging from their accents and the stories of their birth and young life in Glasgow, but little I knew about her mother's interesting history and lineage. Her father was John Orange, probably from Londonderry originally, and her mother Elinor Murphy, the oldest of a Cork family. So to say that Norah was half-Irish and half-Scottish is as correct as you can be, for her whole maternal side is from Cork, and her paternal side Donalds of the Isles. 

The Old Cork Asylum
 In the early 1890s, Hanora and Timothy Murphy moved to Glasgow, where the youngest of their children were born, and when Elinor was hardly a teenager. But she was to die when only 20, leaving her only child, the 2-year-old Isa, who was then brought up by her grandparents Hanorah (aka Norah) and Tim. Isa was loved and treated by that family as one of their own, as indeed she was, and her uncles, more like brothers in age, would look out for her and protect her no matter what. She always said she felt safe in the Gorbals, and everyone knew her. Her father, John Orange, was a seaman, who in later years took up his mother's maiden name of Laverty, which even appears on his funeral record. Isa often accompanied her grandmother back to Cork on holidays, and Hanora actually died there around 1910.

From Killarney to the Gap of Dunloe
My paternal grandmother Sarah Tooey came from Sligo to NZ around 1880 “into service”, and spent the rest of her life in Dunedin. So though we were bound for Cork and Sligo as essential calling-places, we went north to Dublin to begin our Irish ramble. We may have imagined it, but from that very first day Norah seemed to be accepted and recognized as Irish, people often being surprised to learn that she was a New Zealander. We must have walked miles around Dublin in those first few days, and one of the wonderful days we spent watching the grand final of Gaelic Football at Croke Park. We had invited an Australian girl to join us, and she knew nothing about the game, except that it was something like Australian Rules. Two friendly locals stood right behind us, and focussed their attentions on our attractive companion, explaining in detail every move on the pitch. The ground was sold out, and reminded us of the boisterous Lancaster Park crowds back home.

Our next aim was Waterford, and a possible visit to the crystal factory. We had bought in NZ Irish Rambler tickets, which gave us prepaid travel on any bus or train in the country. We had heard that Carlow, on the way to Waterford, was the locale of an ancient dolmen, and there we alighted, leaving our luggage at the station and walking .. walking .. walking.. the several kilometres to Browne's Dolmen, and it was well worth the effort. On the way back we were treated to a first-hand view of that marvellous Irish contest, where the contestants throw underarm a solid ball from point to point across country, the winner being the thrower who gets there in the smallest number of throws. We had seen a demonstration in our own backyard by an Irish friend a few years before when his underarm throw of an old tennis ball almost caved in the door of our toolshed! It is done with some kind of timing like karate, and it is almost impossible to believe the speed they generate.

We eventually got to Waterford, the home town of one of our best friends, and so enjoyed our factory tour. We bought three beautifully cut decanters, and trusted the factory people to freight them home to our family, which they did without fault.

The Rock of Cashel

 And so to Cork, of which we had heard so much from Norah's mother, where we settled in to a B & B on Military Hill, very much in that part of the city known in the 19th century by Norah's Murphy ancestors. Further up the hill we found Gardner's Hill and the Old Youghal Road, even closer to where they all lived. Another happy discovery in Cork was Kelly's Kitchen, in one of the main streets, where we joined masses of the ordinary people at lunch on long tables with white cloths. It was a great working-class restaurant, where you could sit beside anyone, and enjoy not only the wholesome meal, but as well the lively chat and conversation that seems typical of this country. One woman we met more than once had explained that she worked “at the macket”, and hoped that we would visit her there in the street later in the week. That we did, and got two huge red apples for our pains. She was delighted that we had thought her important enough to seek out, and so she was.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lloyd Upton: Au Revoir, Mon Ami

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and family of Lloyd, I am proud to have been asked to share with you some of my memories of a cherished friend and colleague. I first met Lloyd at a teachers' refresher course, when he was teaching in Nelson, and I was impressed by the clarity of his perception of the statements of others. As a mutual friend has said, Lloyd could always see the ambiguities before other people had understood the literal meaning.

(Standing at right: Lloyd Upton)

My love for French, born as it was by the great work of a wonderful teacher, was rekindled in my friendship with Lloyd. That teacher's name was Ivan Garden, who taught me French from age 12 to age 16, using the audio-visual approach so dear to Lloyd's heart also. On our first day with Monsieur le jardin, he entered the classroom, saying ,"Bonjour mes élèves." When we didn't understand, he went out, and re-entered with "Bonjour mes élèves ", then wrote it in French on the blackboard. Then he said it again, followed by "Bonjour M. Le Professeur."
He then proceeded to speak to us in French for the next five years. He gave us French names. I was Monsieur la gelee. Trevor Bridges was Monsieur Le Pont Mr Garden was years ahead of his time. Imagine my delight when I came across him again when my own children attended Burnside High School, who had employed him as a relieving teacher when he was about 80 years old.

A lovely memory described by Lloyd involved his older son Marc when he was very young, less than 5. Lloyd was chasing him to get him ready for bed, and Marc cried out as he fled out the front door of 15 Bryndwr Rd, "Au revoir, Papa!" But he immediately spied his little neighbour by the fence, and shouted out," G'day. How are you?"

The children of Cecile and Lloyd were, and no doubt still are, beautifully bilingual, and what a treasure that is. They will never forget their loving parents, nor will they undervalue either of their two languages.

(From left:  Melva Doran, Norah Jelley, Cecile Upton)

Another abiding memory of Cecile's family relates to our brief stay in Brive-la-Gaillarde in France. I called Cecile's family in a nearby town, only to discover that a senior member, probably Cecile's father, was at the point of death, or maybe had just died. I believe I spoke to Cecile's brother, who, when I suggested I speak in French, said. "No, you speak in bad French and I will speak in bad English." So you see I am still doing it.

But you have heard enough from me. I know that you all share my sorrow at his passing, and my real pride in knowing and remembering him. Merci, mon ami.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Norah (1925-2015)

Norah and I first met in January 1951, when we were both selected to run for Otago against Canterbury in Christchurch.  She wondered who this Jelley guy was, as he had never run for Otago before.  In fact Hawkes Bay-Poverty Bay later claimed me to run for them in the NZ Championships 3-mile.   I had been running for Dannevirke Harriers for three years.   We both won our events at Christchurch, and noticed each other for the first time.

That year, 1951, was an exciting one for both of us.   Our mutual attraction and friendship blossomed, and our Saturday nights  to movies and to dances helped us both to realise that getting married might be the very best idea.   There were times when we danced to tunes like "It's the Loveliest Night of the Year" so happily and so much in love, that we often had to escape the dance hall to enjoy each other's company alone, and usually in the open air.    Norah was club captain of the champion athletic club Otago Ladies, as well as a crucial member of the 4 x 100 yd relay team which set a NZ record in 1948, a time which stood for nearly three seasons.   Again we both travelled in the Otago team, this time to Oamaru, where Norah had run previously, to the North Otago Championships.   On this occasion we knew each other much better than on the previous occasion, and came back to Dunedin by train, as a recognized couple in the eyes of the other team members.

I once asked Norah whether she had ever considered living in the country, and she wanted to know why I would ask such a question.   My thinly disguised purpose was to tell her that some country schools had teacher's residences, and while it wasn't quite a proposal as such, she recognised it as one, and hoped that I would ask her father to approve of the idea.   We didn't consider that her father's approval was required as it might have been in years gone by, but I did tell him one night that we were hoping to marry in December, and what would he think about that.    The Glaswegian was delighted, and he set out to tell the world.  Norah really appreciated his being asked.     Norah being a coat machinist and her sister Isobel a trouser machinist, they were looking forward to making their father a new suit for the wedding, and so they did, and superlatively well.

I did a lot of running that year, much of it from the Donalds' house in Corstorphine to the Jelley house in Mornington, and my best performances were recorded on track and cross-country.   Norah's sisters, Isobel and Mary, were self-appointed bridesmaids, my best man was Lloyd Swanson, who had been at Teachers' College with me, during which time we did holiday work in the tobacco fields of Riwaka, and biked home to Dunedin on bikes which had exactly one gear each.   Mine was my brother Charlie's original racing bike, on a fixed gear.   Any track cyclist will know how hard that must have been riding up the Motueka Valley and over Lewis Pass.   The groomsman was a young St Kilda runner whom I had been coaching, Warren Cooper, later to be better known as a Cabinet Minister and Mayor of Queenstown.  I had promised him that if he did at least half of the training I was doing, he would make the Otago cross-country team in August.  He simply did not believe that, but did the work, made the team, and came 5th in the junior Nationals at Wingatui.

We didn't allow our Motueka honeymoon to interrupt our running training, and a few weeks later I decided to challenge Norah over 100 yards for the family title.  We held the event on the Caledonian Ground, with a proper starter, judges and finishing tape.   I was so confident of my speed at the end of distance races that I thought I could probably mow her down in time to win.   However, she got such a fine start that she had about five yards on me before I was into my stride, and all I saw of her after that was her back.  She still held the 5-yard advantage at the tape.

House-hunting had not been at all rewarding, so we settled for my Mum's Ocean View crib, which had no kitchen or laundry as we now know them.   Norah did so well at managing that little place, that we stayed there for 17 months, until I scored a country school with a house, at Whitecliffs, Canterbury.   Our daughter Denise had been born in December 1952, and we had the doubtful asset of our old Oakland car, which used to boil over on the way to town, before it got to Lookout Point.    We travelled to South Malvern (Whitecliffs) in the Oakland, with our lovely little 5-month old daughter.   When we arrived, our bedroom furniture and old lounge suite had arrived before us, and the School Committee men had set them all up, and already warmed the house.    Our bedroom was the one they chose for us, and it was a good choice.  It was a cold old villa with a long linoleum-clad passage, but for us it was our first house, and we made the best of it.    Denise learned to slide up and down the passage, as this was more effective than crawling.

South Malvern was a sole-charge school, with up to 34 pupils of all ages.  That is the hardest work I have ever done.   (See earlier blog on those years)

 When Denise was two, our son Kevin made his presence felt, and he arrived in August, with Norah feeling quite glad that she hadn't been pregnant through the hot, dry Whitecliffs summer.   We both used our bikes, especially when the Oakland had disappeared, and sometimes went as far as Coalgate 4 miles away, with the kids in little seats on the bikes.   On one of these occasions, Denise as a 4-year-old planted a named tree in the Schools Plantation.   This is now a forest, with individual trees unrecognizable.    The constant stress of a big sole-charge was taking its toll, and led me to apply for 2-teacher schools, the one I secured being Stillwater Junction, on the West Coast.    My assistant teacher there was a 22-year-old Rugby winger, tennis player, and fine pianist John Patrick, who has become a lifelong friend.   John and I would sometimes meet at the tennis court at 6 am on a summer morning, and play till 8 before school.

Our schoolhouse was a new bungalow, which had been occupied only a year or two by the outgoing teacher, and Norah found it such a lovely, modern, comfortable home.

While we were there we bought a middle-aged Ford Prefect, which we drove to Dunedin one holiday without staying a night anywhere in between.     Denise started school at Stillwater, and would say Goodbye to Daddy when he went to school, only to join in with her peers later to say Good Morning Mr Jelley in the typical sing-song fashion.    Before Denise turned five, Norah would take both children into Greymouth in the bus, have lunch in town, and return before school was out.   She was a great caring mother who thought of nothing but the good and welfare of her family.  I will always be grateful to her for that, and feel fortunate to have met her in the first place.

At Stillwater, as well as at Whitecliffs, we played a lot of tennis, and the Blog story entitled Geometry Lesson, is about the Stillwater tennis court.   Families we got to know through tennis particularly included the Moffitts, the Fensoms, and the Bankses.    Cliff Moffitt was the local storekeeper, who delivered for miles around, including to Moana, Nelson Creek and the Grey Valley, and he and I played quite a bit of tennis ball golf on the schoolhouse  lawn.     When we eventually moved to Christchurch, mainly to ensure better educational and vocational futures for our kids, Cliff told me I was crazy.   I don't believe we were.

I was appointed to Elmwood Normal in May 1959, and when Kevin was old enough to start school, our local Kendal School had not yet opened.   So I took him to Elmwood, and Norah would bike or bus there at 2 pm to pick him up.  It was a busy time, but again it was Norah's thorough care and attention to her children's welfare which got us through it successfully.

We lived in that Charlcott St house for 30 years, and while I was finishing degree work and working full-time, Norah did absolutely everything in the home and in the garden, and it was a lovely, welcoming place to come to.  I repeat that I was fortunate to be sharing life with her at such a crucial time in the lives of Denise and Kevin.     When we went to UK on a study tour which I had organized from work, Denise was working and living in Worcester UK, and Kevin came with a friend to see a bit of Europe.  We all met together in London, where we secured a flat for Kevin and his mate the day before they arrived.   Denise then took him up to Worcester for a weekend.   It was a happy occasion.

We then helped to re-draft the plans of a new house in Maidstone Rd behind the Waimairi Rd shops.  We made the whole house one metre wider than it was on the plan, transforming it into an excellent roomy retirement home.   However, the night-time noise from the service lane, and a loud music problem from next door made us think again, and so we shifted to an even better home here in Parklands.    Also, since 1980, we have enjoyed the marriages of Denise and Kevin to fine young people, Ian McGregor and Suzanne O'Brien, with whom we have got on magnificently.  For about 30 years they have all gathered at our place for Xmas tea, and they have done the work to free up Norah completely.   Each couple produced a son and a daughter, and these four grand-children have been a joy to us.   This quite old photo is about the only one which shows Norah with her four grand-children in the 90s.

Norah has always been a family person.  She not only loved her own children, their spouses and their children, but also kept up a permanent loving interest in her own brother and sisters and their families.  The younger of her two sisters Mary, suffered from the onset of hydatids at a time when it had been almost eradicated in NZ, but was harmed and weakened by it for 38 years before she died in 2005 while still managing Southland Radio.    The middle sister Isobel and Norah were extremely close, and in their sporting years in Dunedin, practically inseparable.   They have kept their close relationship intact, and on our fridge to this day, there is a magnet message which says, "There's no friend like a sister, and no better sister than you,"  They would both have agreed with that.

Norah died peacefully in hospital on the day before her 90th birthday in February 2015, and I had been with her just hours before.   She had been full of energy then as she berated the nurses for trying to get a line into her arm.  But apparently she calmed right down in the early morning, and closed her eyes for the last time.  A heart event, probably caused by poor blood flow, was the apparent cause, and did not seem to have awakened her.   When we married, we said something like, "Love, honour and cherish, till death us do part."
And for 63 years, that promise has been kept.  What a treasured memory!


Other photos:

Norah's French Haircut 1979

Kevin, Suzanne, Ian, Denise & Grant 1984
(all with wrong jerseys we sent)

Norah (left), Isobel (right), Cousin Beryl (centre)
at Surfer's Paradise 1988

At Norah's birthday 2012
(Su, Becky,Denise, Aaron, Stan, Norah, Ian)

With our Grand-daughters 2014
(Anna, Becky, Denise, Ian)

Norah's and my Great-granddaughter Dita
with Becky, Kevin and me

Thursday, August 02, 2012

High School Memories

I started in 1939, following two elder brothers, who had made their name as untidy users of pen and ink. So Mickey Watt, brother of the more frequently ridiculed Dreamy Watt, asked me if I was therefore Inky No. 3. I so proved to be!

 I was good at Maths and Languages, but hopeless at Science, which I could never fathom out, so was caned by Blobs Anderson for failing in two or three consecutive Science tests. Blobs was not respected as a teacher, but I remember him warning us not to experiment with explosive mixtures of chemicals like KNO3 and Sulphur (?), or we might end up like Cumberpatch, a boy who ignored such warnings. Blobs would point ominously at an orange stain on the white plaster ceiling, saying'”That's Cumberpatch!”
Our renowned Gym teacher J P Northey was a legend indeed. When a new boy Alister Sword, from Scotland, joined our 4th form, JP wrongly perceived him as a country village lad, and tried to impress him by quoting the population of Dunedin (c. 80000), saying, “How many in your village boy?” Sword's answer “Two million, sir.” floored JP completely.
On a later occasion, Midda Nordey (sic) used Don Ashton, one of our form's stronger and more mature boys, as his model opponent in boxing instruction. “Hit me boy!” said Northey several times, getting in response a weak straight left from Ashton, who was reluctant to hit a teacher with any venom. Northey put down both hands on the last occasion, but Ashton, riled by the abuse and humiliation, led with his token left, then swung hard with his right, almost knocking the teacher to the ground. At this, Northey boxed Ashton seriously all round the gym, with the rest of us standing like a sheepish mob in the centre aghast at this dreadful spectacle. A teacher would lose his job for such an action today.
When I was in the Lower 6th (today's 6th Form), I was saved from a caning by a boy called J B H Fitzwilliam. We had all been chatting away, while Dreamy Watt droned on from a textbook, when suddenly he shouted at me to come out for punishment, calling me the “ring-leader”. Dreamy grabbed his cane from behind the cupboard, when Fitzwilliam, all 6 feet of him, strode to the front, crying out, “You leave him alone! You're only picking on him because he's the smallest!” Dreamy retreated in confusion with “All right, boy. Sit down. Sit down. “ .. and to me “Don't do it again, Jelley.”
The two best teachers I had were Ivan “Grub” Garden, my French teacher for five years, and W J “Nigger” Martyn, my maths teacher for almost as long. Known by his nickname, Mr Martyn was the subject of boy-published booklets entitled “Niggerisms”, which were collections of Nigger's most memorable sayings, delivered in the deepest of bass voices often imitated by the class clowns. Once when the Lower Sixth staged a feigned lack of all knowledge and understanding, his questions became easier and easier, but not a hand went up, until Pickering in the front row gave a pre-arranged signal, and we all knew all the answers. During the mental strike, Nigger would say things in his deep deep voice like “It seems that some mysterious wave of stupidity has passed over the class.” How right he was.
Nigger used to go home to Roslyn for lunch, and just as he emerged from the long shelter shed onto Littlebourne Ground, he was seen to press his stopwatch; then again on his return. We often wondered what his record time was!
Years later, when I alighted from a Dunedin-bound train at Oamaru, I saw Nigger, much older and very frail, standing by the station. I approached him, and he recognized me immediately. I had the greatest respect for him.
“Grub” Garden was way ahead of his time as a foreign language teacher. He came into our IIIA class in February 1939, and said, “Bonjour, mes élèves.” Our mumbled incorrect answer was so bad that he merely walked out, and tried again, this time, writing the sentence on the blackboard as well. He then wrote “Bonjour Monsieur le professeur”, which we repeated with wrong pronunciations. Very soon we got it right, and for the next five years, he hardly ever spoke to us in English. He gave us French names like M. la gelée, M. le rouge-gorge (Robertson), M. la brèche (Gapper), M. le maréchal (Marshall), etc. I have retained my French, which I practise regularly on a chat room on the internet, and was thrilled to meet Grub again when he turned up, in his eighties, as a relieving teacher at Burnside High School, where our children and grandchildren attended. He gave me the same knowing grin that I remembered so well.
Our Rector was H P (Percy) Kidson, a highly-principled but stern man who apparently found it very hard to smile or laugh. When amused by my sudden withdrawal from the Speech Contest after losing all my top teeth to caries, he almost smirked as he intoned, “Ah, Jelley, what could be described as an unforeseen contingency.”
On another occasion he descended almost to absurdity when berating the whole school assembly for some bad behaviour reported from the town, when he declared; “After all, this is a school for the sons of gentlemen!”
But in our 6th Form year (7th form today), the six of us, including Alister Sword and Ted McCoy, really enjoyed our weekly hour with the Rector, as he shared with us his love for and knowledge of English Literature, and poetry in particular. He spoke of “vowel music”, the poet's gift for varying the vowel sounds in a phrase or line for greater effect. It's a nice concept.
Other teachers had nicknames like Creeper Bailey, whose soft shoes would allow him to walk up the aisle behind you when you were not paying attention; Bo Botting, famous for his rounds system in class; Queenie Cox for his perceived effeminacy; and Doc Sheen, a good Latin and English teacher who later became Director of Education.
In sport, Rugby and cricket were given ridiculous priority, with prefects often being chosen from people who had made the 1st XV and the 1st XI. Being so small in stature, I was often in my final two years, appointed captain of the lowest weight Rugby grade, with my team mates being all 3rd and 4th formers. It didn't make me any better at the game. My real opportunity in sport came after I came 3rd in the Half-mile Walk, later becoming a track walker for a year or two, before taking up running seriously.
My overall impression of OBHS was of an institution half-paralysed by tradition and rules. Thank goodness for the warmth and humanity of Flo and her mother at the tuckshop!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Yon Perfect Southern Lass

Through all my youth Dunedin toon has been sae fu‘ of beauty,
Tae find that paragon sae fair, has been ma bounden duty.
Ah‘ve lo‘ed them a‘, and tracked them doon, thro' daylight hoors an‘ darkness,
And when they‘re in my arms again, I‘ve marvelled at their starkness.

The perfect lass, Ah‘ll tell ye noo, my memory‘s fast recedin‘,
Is made from mony a charmer frae the suburbs o‘ Dunedin.
And as I sit at Stuart‘s foot, my back turned on the kirkin‘,
Ah‘ll put her all togither, as my mind like fever‘s workin‘.

Her hair belonged to Mosgiel‘s Jean, whose lovely auburn tresses,
Wad make me wish she lived in toon, at handier addresses.
Her eyes belonged to Caversham, where Alice lived in splendour,
She only had to open them, to have me sigh so tender.

Her ankles are from Woodhaugh‘s Claire, and as I walked behind her,
She need not turn her face to me, those well-turned pins would find her.
The hips and thighs of ample Sal, who wooed me round St Kilda,
Were all the contours I traversed, with heavenly form they filled her.

Anither love was Roslyn‘s Rose, her waist and bosom famous,
And when a lass has parts like that, it‘s simple fare to tame us.
The lips belonged to Belleknowes Jane, her kiss was so inviting,
I couldna stop at ane alone, my fervent needs requiting.

The twinkling feet and lively legs were Caversham‘s Ramona‘s,
We‘d dance sae crazy, all oor friends were ready to disown us.
The slinky arms from Maori Hill belonged to little Mavis,
As roond ma neck they slid their way; ‘twould take a prayer to save us.
And last, those hands, that precious touch, of Olive from the City,
Her magic fingers twined in mine, to leave her was a pity.

But the most essential item of this fine eclectic creature,
Is the mind which ticks within her; it‘s her all-important feature.
As Dunedin men admire her from her head down to her toes,
May the brain of Mayor Sukhinder now direct her as she goes.

So get your mindies working, and just weave this wondrous being,
And as I sit here; face the pub; you‘ll doubtless be agreeing.
In man‘s imagination you can take it all in turns,
To walk aboot the Octagon wi' the girl of Robbie Burns.

(photo - Don Spittle)

- Slidge (2004)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

After Hours

Billy Molloy looked nervously across at his wife as she slammed the last dish in the cupboard. The kids were in bed, thank God, all except Ngaire of course. And where the hell was she on a filthy night like this? Safe in the pictures at Greymouth, as she’ll probably try to tell us? Or up on the Taylorville back road with that young Mitchell in his 1953 Velox?! It’ll be a bloody miracle if she gets to seventeen without a disaster.

Rita Molloy, stolid and miserable, poked the fire unmercifully, picked up her knitting, and settled down with the 3YZ Request Session as if Billy didn’t exist. Nice boy, that Terry Mitchell – nice family altogether – she could do a lot worse. Oh, yes, my Ngaire can look after herself. Even when her husband got up to peer under the water-marked holland blind, she didn’t flinch.

The steady three-day rain was still tinning away on the roof, gutters spilling down past the window to run under the house, and a huge reflecting pool of black splashing in the pile of coal at the gate. He could just see the misty lemon blob of the nearest street light and the downward driving lines of the familiar rain.

She won’t care if I go along to the pub. Won’t miss me, anyway. Better than sitting here chained to the kennel. Down in the mine all day, wet walls, sweaty, shiny workmates, all grunts and heaves, soggy sandwiches and thermos tea, - - pick, shovel,fuse,blast, drill and sweat! What for? To sit here with more grunts from her, and the water trying its best to come straight through the bloody roof. Aw, bugger it!

Rita shrugged out a knowing derisive snort as he grabbed for his oilskin behind the door. “Down to Wallsend for a jug” was quite redundant, and “Won’t be long” was unconvincing. She never was much of a girl for the pub.

There was the usual crowd in the bar, long after most of the pubs in the country had closed, and Roy Williams, the pubkeeper, leaned over all confidential-like, tea-towel over his shoulder. Heard about the new cop at Taylorville? Yeah, came over all cobbery, told me to close at eleven and he wouldn’t worry me. Eleven be buggered, let ‘im bloody try! The usual, Billy? O.K. - comin’ up.

The smoke was thick in the little square room, big villa windows onto the verandah, blinds pulled hard down, no outside lights, and the good old phone to warn you of the ‘flying squad’ as it shot through Kaiata or Stillwater.

Like a club it was, with the buzz and shout of the beer-talk, the loud-mouthed skite and pickled confidences, man to man, arm around the neck, “cos I trust y’ see?”, but more to keep the balance really. One lot of regulars played 45’s under the unsubtle light, the whole rowdy scene a going concern, good for the pub, good for the miners, the real social life of the Coast.

Then there was one long blast of the front door-bell. The noise stuttered, dwindled and was gone. It’s that new cop! Quick, out the back! Says Roy.

It’ll be a bit wet, but it won’t be for long. Billy fairly scampered out with the others in single file, jugs, glasses and all, Roy swabbing the bar like a flash, two of the Ngahere lads grabbing brooms, and the scene was set.

Over the back porch went the others, straight into the dark,damp,towering bush, up the wet, black, earthy bank, pulling on grass and supplejacks, swearing at blackberry and lawyer, grabbing the sticky, dirty tree-trunks, as they scurried for perfect cover in the night.

And there they crouched facing the pub, as the rain hammered down on the sheds and lean-to, pouring, soaking and dripping through the heavy leaves, into their hair, down their necks, as they pulled up their coat collars in vain. Someone was hushed as he started to abuse the new cop.

It seemed like hours, and Billy felt he was still down the mine – only this was worse. In the bush in the rain at midnight surrounded by fools like himself. But they all knew the drill. Roy would pitch a yarn about leaving the cleaning-up till pretty late, offer the policeman a drink, or even a bottle of Scotch to keep him sweet, see him out the front, then call them all back in to continue the night. What bloody fools we’ll all look at home, back from the pub like drowned rats! Billy could already hear Rita’s biting wisdom, and wished he’d stayed with the Request Session.

Then Roy’s voice! O.K. Come on in! It must’ve been a false alarm. There wasn’t even a car!
Then the swearing really started, as they trooped crazily in, shaking themselves in the hall as the lights came on, back to the bar for an hour or two and the roaring fire. Like Billy to a man, no-one was wife-bound just yet for a while. It came as quite a surprise to most of them there when the last man in shut the door quietly behind him, turned the key in the lock, and took their names and addresses.

Billy Molloy often thought about that rainy night in the bush . . . . “He didn’t last long, that new cop, and anyway, we never got our names in the paper like they did over the hill. All a bit of a dag really.” Rita Molloy always reckoned they were a bit tough on him. “What’s wrong with making you all obey the law just for once in your life? And it’s only for boozing!” Never was much of a girl for the pub.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


It was a dirty trick, Colin reckoned. He must've seen us on the beach. Anyway, it wasn't his beach, it was our beach. Our grandfather walked along it at low-tide nearly every day, and he picked up all the funny-shaped pieces of driftwood, and he found the dead albatross with the six-foot wingspan. That stupid pilot probably never played on a beach. He wouldn't know how to make a sea-weed ball, or take a catch at mid-wicket when you're running through the breakers. He wasn't standing on top of the sand-hills during the big sea. Our grandfather was. And he saw the sloping sand-hill fall away beneath his feet, and wondered whether his little lean-to house was going to be next to go.

"Look at that plane!", someone shouted, and we all looked too high, then lower, right down against the shadow of Blackhead, and the plane looked huge, bearing down on our beach, its two frail wings rocking slightly in the wind as though not quite under control. We'd never seen a plane at such close quarters. "He's going to land on the beach! Quick, get up to the sand-hill!", shouted our big brother Wally,and we ran.

Maybe he was going to land on the beach, but I don't reckon so, claims Colin to this day. It was blowing a gusty easterly off the sea that day, and the weeks of easy weather had planed the beach down to a pleasant powdery white, warm under the bare feet, and coloured near the tide-mark by the orange grit patches and their lovely wind-swept corrugations. Wally was in charge of the four of us, and wasn't letting us go swimming without Mum or Grandad around. We'd all been down to the end of the beach already, paddled across the beck just beneath the black bridge, and dug some racing cars out of the sand. But the tide was going out, and we couldn't be bothered chasing it, so Dave ran home for the big kite, and he and Wally got it going and played out the enormous ball of string they'd brought from Dunedin. Colin and Jean mucked about with a sort of hut in the lupins for a while, then went out to see how high they'd got the kite.


It was a big white kite, a bought one, with the word "ACE" in huge red capital letters right across its face, and Wally and Dave, who were pretty good scientists, had made a long cloth tail of ripped-up sheets, tied with red ribbons. It made it pretty heavy, but it was stable, and this day it climbed and climbed proudly on the breeze, as Wally let more and more string off the stick, until he got to the end of it, and it was the highest kite we'd ever had! We all stood there on the beach, our beach, the wind pinning the shirts to our backs, so proud, with our feet apart, hands on hips, mouths open and eyes squinting in the glare of the bright sky. The highest kite we'd ever had!

Wally reckoned the sand could hold the stick, and we could have a game of cricket before it was time to go home, or if the truth be known before Mum appeared at the top of the sand-hill crying out like the seagulls to her brood. He dug the stick savagely into the sand, stamped all around it, then we all made a big pile of sand, until the stick was well and truly buried under a heavy hillock.

You had to have at least a dozen sea-weed balls for a decent game of beach cricket, as they didn't last forever, but Wally and Dave were pretty good at carving them into neat little spheres, then putting little sister Jean behind the driftwood stumps, and sending Colin, the smallest, to paddle at mid-wicket after his short first innings. Then they'd do most of the batting and bowling, as well as shouting directions and generally abusing the fielders, both of them.

Jean it was, bored with her unexciting role, and exhausted after long runs to the south as the batsman ran dozens of byes, who saw the plane first. "Look at that plane!" The four children rushed to the doubtful shelter of the lupins, and stood there, mouths open with simple astonishment, as the crazy biplane, engine now roaring as it loomed and lurched toward them just off the ground, enormous like the albatross, as it climbed again below the kite.

He snipped it off as neat as if with scissors, he did, that grinning mad pilot, and off he went above our beach, with our kite, our "ACE", the highest kite we'd ever had! The boys shouted and waved their fists, and the long, long string came drifting, drifting down, blowing sadly in the wind.

"He did it on purpose!" said Dave angrily, back in Grandad's little house. "He was laughing at us!" cried Jean. "It was dangerous low flying," was Wally's calm judgment. "He shouldn't of been on our beach!" repeated Colin for the third or fourth time. "He's a robber!" "Wash that sand off your feet before you come in this house!" said Mum.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Memories of Green Island 1946

I often wonder how I survived that year! My mother was not at all well, I struggled in my probationary year with a large Std 2 class, and I persisted in re-sitting a University unit failed the year before. Even at the tender age of 19, I could never understand why anything could be right just because it was the opinion of a so-called superior, be he headmaster or inspector.I am glad that this attitude still remains with me, even though it has caused me more than one argument or confrontation since. Perhaps my running with the Mornington Harriers and our winning of the Otago teams title for the first time may have just saved me from mental and physical collapse!

The headmaster at the time was the religious, upright, fearsome and authoritarian Bill Barham, whose heavy size ten tread along the school corridors was dreaded by children and staff alike. My fellow P.A. and friend Helen Logie shared my fear, though she was nursed along a little more kindly, I believe, by the Infant Mistress, the imposing and motherly Miss Monaghan. Another friend on the staff was Norman Frew, a year ahead of us, who simply hated the thought of old Bigboots bearing down upon him. From our point of view, the Head seemed to spend nearly all his time inspecting and examining us in order to reveal the shortcomings, inefficiencies and defects that he believed were all too common in the "youth of today".

I still remember many of the children in my first class, notably the Parata twins Atanui and Hurene, who were a little bit "agin’ the government". Nui, the more aggressive and confident of the two, would take on anyone or anything, including me, and would also rescue her twin sister in class by whispering the required answer just loud enough for Rene to receive. At times I was amazed that Nui had even heard the question. It was my first experience of that uncanny communication often reported among twins. Then there was Irene Graham, my first experience of a girl not easy to manage, as she seemed to foment strife among other girls by changing her "best friend" almost daily. A chip on her shoulder she certainly had, and we never really hit it off. Brian Anderson was an interesting individual who once regaled the class with a morning talk about his pet kangaroo, which I suspect was a fantasy. But he did it most convincingly. Colin McKay was one of those rewarding pupils who always seemed to want to learn and want to do well. I met him in later life, and he was still the same positive, nice guy that he was at age 8. Others included Kevin Downey (from a Welfare home I think), Brenda McGee, Lorraine Duncan, Robbie Watson, Joy Winder, Beverley Smith, Verna Geddes (a sincere and delightful country girl from a farm at the start of the Brighton Road), Tommy Mitchell (maybe a little older than the rest), Elizabeth Campbell (always keen to please, and lived almost next to the school), Gary Woodford (from a famous cycling family on the Brighton Rd), a Tippetts boy from Abbotsford, Anna Bremner (a pale and quiet child whom I met years later with her baby and pram in a Green Island shop).

We had a School Concert that year, in the old Cinema on the Fairfield road. My class did verse-speaking, which they were very good at. It involved them speaking clearly with good enunciation, as well as memorizing some pretty good poetry, both of these aims being worthy of pursuit, even today, I suggest! The ones in the front row on stage each held a large white card bearing a huge black capital letter, which they kept concealed till the conductor (me) raised his baton. Each child then made sure that the little pencilled stick man on the back of the card was not upside down, and the whole big sign went right across the stage, spelling "STD 2 VERSE SPEAKING". They were trained like a choir to watch the conductor, and to react appropriately to the various baton signs and movements, and the results were well worth listening to. Our masterpiece was an extract from "The Pied Piper" which I still know by heart. I wonder if they do!

Into the street the piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while.
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And blue and green his sharp eyes twinkled,
Like a candle flame where salt is sprinkled.
And ere three notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered,
And the muttering grew to a grumbling,
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling,
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling!
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives,
Followed the Piper for their lives!

Perhaps the most dramatic memory from 1946, though, was the visit to New Zealand of the world’s first active service jet fighter plane the Gloster Meteor.

We all assembled in the playground as the Meteor did its things over Dunedin, and we hardly got a glimpse of it. Then some bright spark, probably Ralph Park, rang through to Taieri Aerodrome to find out whether we might get a closer look at it as it returned to base. The pilot must have been contacted, for a closer look we surely got, as the plane roared in quite low over the village, only to go into a fast vertical climb right over the school. Some of the littlies were lying on the ground by this time, and every mouth was wide open, as the Meteor did a U-turn, and a fast dive straight back toward the ground. Not only had we never seen an aircraft without propellers before, but neither had we known that a diving plane could go so fast, and level out so smoothly.
I will never forget it!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Whakahoro - my memorable year

(text first published in Whanganui River Annual 2001)
I can never forget 1947. Leaving my hometown of Dunedin and heading for my
first country school, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as they say, full
of the crusading eagerness of youth.
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As Ethne Davidson had discovered before me, it was certainly "in the country".
Unlike Ethne, I stepped down from the Limited at Raurimu with no-one to
meet me, and spent the night sitting on a little cane-backed chair in the station,
only to be awakened every time a train came through a neighbouring station by
the dead-awakening clanging of the tablet machine alarm. I can still see the
top snowclad face of Ruapehu shining in the moonlight for hour after hour.

Raurimu Spiral :Photo taken 24/1/57 by Whites Aviation.
(Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library necessary before re-use of this image.)

Like one of the Annual's earlier contributors, I knew that it was a mere
40k to Whakahoro, but the mailtruck had covered almost 200k up every side
road, to every mailbox, to every cream stand, by the time Mousie Shaw pointed
across the Retaruke and said, "There's where you'll be staying!" It had been
a 5-hour trip! And as he eased the truck up the gentle slope toward the
farm gate, I saw the Hayes family, all except Mum, waiting to meet "the new
teacher". Old Fred himself, complete with a long piece of grass hanging from
his mouth, a week or more of black stubble all over his tough and experienced
face, was perched on the gate itself, with the kids on the grass in front of
him. "We're a bit rough and ready," he barked, "but just take us as you find
The kids loaded my trunk onto a home-made barrow, and were clearly eager to
show me the bridge, the like of which I had never imagined, let alone
encountered. It was a swingbridge about 30 metres above the water, and more
than 30 metres long. The huge rectangular uprights looked pretty solid and
permanent, and at first glance the "cables" appeared to be about 50mm thick,
and well able to take the load. Closer examination showed that each cable was
in fact a bunch of No. 8 or No. 10 wires held together at intervals. Freddy
used to joke about it, saying that you'd have plenty of time to get off the
bridge if they went, as you'd hear each wire snapping in turn "ping - ping -
ping -...", and the kids would shriek with laughter and take up the tale.
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But the worst aspect of the old bridge at that time was the neglected
decking. Fred had renewed a few vital planks, but while I was there about a
third of the planks were lying in place without being nailed down, so that
you dare not stand on one end of a plank. Another third were properly fixed,
and the remaining third missing altogether. The views one got through some of
these gaping holes of the wet papa boulders below were enough to send a new
chum into a quivering mess. The Hayes family delighted in telling me that
Bill Lacy, well over six feet and with the typical Lacy assertiveness,
actually crawled the last metres of his first crossing. I wasn't much better,
as the kids galloped ahead of me with the laden barrow, causing the bridge to
buck and weave, and the city lad wondering why he had ever volunteered for
country service!
Mrs Hayes welcomed me like a son and a guest, and I was the only one who
slept with sheets. The boys slept on the verandah, sheltered by some
makeshift sacking nailed between the verandah posts, and for extra bedding, a
cow cover or two, and they were quite happy with that. After I'd been
boarding there a few weeks I could cycle down the drive, down the twisty
track, onto the bridge, then stay three planks from the right to halfway,
cross the bridge, then stay three from the left to complete the crossing. I
couldn't always stay on the bike up the muddy track to the road, but the
bridge was no longer a worry. Years later, of course, the old bridge
collapsed while two of the Hayes boys were taking a mob of sheep across, and
it was actually the tall timber supports that failed in the finish, rather
than the wire cables.
The little prefab school was still quite new when I took over. The nine
children, four Hayes, two Lacys, two Wilsons and one little Dobbs, lined up
outside to say "Good Morning", and I heard for the first time the refrain
that was to be repeated for more than a month, "This is how Miss Dron did
Whakahoro 1947

Whakahoro School 1947:
Don Wilson, Bob Hayes, Jill Hayes, Bunny Lacy, Rodney Hayes, Isla Hayes, Clare Wilson, Claire Lacy, Jenny Dobbs

We had a rough rugby post out on the paddock which ended at the
Whanganui River bank, and Bob Hayes would kick goals with his bare feet.
The Hayes kids would walk, or ride the pony, three miles to school, while
the others lived quite handy. The Lacys lived across the Retaruke, and had
to walk up to the traffic bridge that figures in your 2000 issue. It was on that
little piece of road that I saw some wonderful glow-worm displays as I walked
home to Lacys when I boarded there. Bob and Jill Hayes, in particular, taught
me volumes about nature, knowing all the native trees, and Bob could even
show me the glow-worms during the day!
Every weekend I would be invited to go "pig-untin", and I held out for a
while on the grounds of not being very keen to kill things anyway. I was a
teetotaller too, fresh from my Methodist adolescence, and again the Hayes
kids roared aloud so honestly when I first said "Don't touch the stuff
actually." Fred Hayes' reply, "You will before you leave this place!", turned
out to be prophetic. I gave in on the pig-hunting too, and this was another
eye-opener for the green youth from town. When Spot or Blue would scent a
pig, and be off through the bracken and the bush, we'd all stand and listen,
waiting for the barking which signalled a bail-up. Then off we'd go, three or
four men and as many kids, straight up through the bush, gradient or no
gradient, just heading towards the sound. I ran quite well in Wanganui that
year across country, and I'm sure the pig-hunting had something to do with
I also trained after school on the road and over the farmland, one of the
best courses being up the winding track behind the Hayes woolshed, and
across the rugged and undulating top country which joined the Hayes place
to that of the Lacys on the north bank of the Retaruke. I was running across
this uneven land one afternoon when I heard someone yelling and cursing on
the hill opposite. It was Bill Lacy, who had come in from Owhango to work on
some of his stock at Whakahoro. The language was so florid, unprintable and
entertaining that I sat on a rock overlooking the valley, and watched the
drama. It was ".. crazy bloody bitch!" and "... wait till I get you, you
stupid, bloody mongrel!" and "... half-witted piebald bastard!" until
eventually the dog managed to get the whole mob moving quite nicely down
the hillside by barking above them. Just when Bill had run out of swearwords,
and had succeeded in getting the dog to obey him, the dog in question got it
into his head to run straight down the hill, splitting the flock in two, and
sending the demented sheep in all directions. Bill Lacy threw down his hat,and
roared to the world in general, "You Protestant cur!!" I could hardly run for
While I boarded with the Hayes family, I was aghast at the workload that
fell to the lot of Mrs Hayes and her children. Their father had told his kids
that if they milked the cows, they'd get the cream cheque at the end of the
year. Whether they ever saw the money is anyone's guess. There were 24 cows
while I was there, and four kids, ranging from Blondie (Isla) at 6 to Bob who
was about 12. Blondie's tender years cut no ice with the others, who knew
only too well that 24 divided by 4 equalled 6, and there she was, out there
in the Autumn cold, barefoot in a muddy yard, no cow-shed, no legropes,
stalking her six cows around the punga-fenced enclosure, and taking twice as
long as the others to do so, morning and night. In school, by 11 am,
Blondie's head would drop and I'd often let her sleep. Maybe she was the
reason I learned how to milk, and for a while she could sleep in in the
morning and stay awake long enough to learn how to read. Isla was to become
a prize-winning horse rider over jumps, before the onset of multiple sclerosis,
of which she died while still a young woman.
I was never much of a swimmer, but Jumbo (Donald) Hayes and I crossed the
Whanganui one morning as part of a shearing team to muster and shear a
small number of sheep just opposite Wade's Landing. They took a rowing boat
over, and a hand-operated horse clipper converted to take a handpiece. I spent
the whole morning winding the handle of this contraption, and I can't even
remember whose sheep they were or who did the shearing. But we returned
by boat, with a couple of half-filled woolbales, and I was most relieved that
Jumbo hadn't challenged me to the return swim.

I had a lot of time for Jumbo. He was about 16 at the time, and returned
home to help on the farm during that year. We shared a bedroom, and Jumbo
wouldn't hear of my offering him one of my sheets to make his life a bit more
comfortable. "I'd bloody well freeze with a sheet around me face!" was his
explanation. He was an intelligent and powerful young man, who understood
and perceived more clearly than his younger brothers and sisters the stress
and strain that was being put on their mother in particular. I had experienced
tension in the home as a child myself, but I was not prepared for the worn-out
spectacle of a household drudge that Mrs Hayes had become. She was an
accomplished pianist, and had concert experience, but the constant battle
against hostile conditions and inadequate resources was wearing her down. In
the short time I was there I grew to like and respect her, for where would
they have been without her? Jumbo was in fact a kind of silent threat to his
father, and he was big enough and brave enough to challenge his Dad if ever
he went too far in his treatment of people or animals.

My efforts to get to Wanganui from time to time to run with the harriers
and compete in particular races left some interesting memories. The
Dempseys, who lived about three miles up the Retaruke, had rung to offer
me a lift to Raurimu if I could get to their place. So Frank Lacy saddled up
a horse for me, and I rode to Dempseys after school on a Friday. The real
drama was enacted on the return journey, when I decided to hitch-hike on the
Sunday from Raurimu to Dempseys wearing an overcoat and carrying a little
leather suitcase, not the ideal gear for a long walk! I'm now not sure how
long it took, but I passed through Kaitieke, the Owhango turnoff, the
Kawautahi turnoff, the Upper Retaruke turnoff, and Dobbs's Bluff without
seeing a single car. Even the stamina born of hundreds of miles of running
was wearing extremely thin when I staggered onto Mrs Dempsey's verandah
after my 40-kilometre trudge. "Oh, you poor boy!" said she, and her tea and
cakes were a godsend.
However, my troubles were not entirely over! For out there in a 20-acre
paddock, stood my horse, and when I approached him to saddle up, he lifted
his head, swivelled around, and trotted away to the far corner of the soft,
uneven field, giving me no option but to walk again. At least he stood still
this time, and I walked him onto the road for the 5k ride home to Lacys'.
Like Isla Hayes in school, I simply couldn't stay awake, and fortunately this
quiet, homeward-bound steed carried me home undirected.
When I speak of Whakahoro, my wife reminds me that I'm living in the past;
yet she enjoys her own reminiscences likewise. But that unique valley does
hold a special place in my memory, for some of the reasons suggested above.
So what a thrill it was in recent times to find on the Internet, a 4-picture
spread of the Hayes house and the infamous Berryman Bridge, which had replaced the old one in the 80s.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Treasurer

When I was 20 I played cricket for Kaitieke. I don't even remember who we played against – probably Raurimu and others. But two things I will never forget. One was the lovely dark blue cricket cap, with the gold KCC monogram, a cap which I kept for many years before it disappeared unaccountably. The other was the function and duties of the club Treasurer, whose actual name escapes me. But I do recall that he was the proud owner of a sweet little coupe car, possibly a Model A roadster with a dicky seat.

Now apparently when the club officers were elected, someone called the Secretary would embrace both jobs normally held by Secretary and Treasurer, including the handling of subs, receipts, and club finances, as well as minutes and correspondence. Then what did the Treasurer do, you might ask? To clarify this peculiar arrangement, allow me to describe one particular match, when the Treasurer's role was so critical.

The King Country was of course, a dry district, where the Licensing Laws prohibited the sale and supply of alcoholic beverages. This did not signify that those who lived there were denied the pleasures of a homely tipple, and indeed the Kaitieke-Retaruke area was not by any means a collection of teetotallers. People would order their 2-dozen crates of beer from Wanganui or further afield, and the transfer of generous quantities of liquor of all sorts from Raurimu Railway Station to their destinations involved Mousie Shaw with his mail-truck, and plenty of urgent private excursions over the hill from Kaitieke.

Now right opposite the Kaitieke School, was a long rough-hewn kind of counter on shiny macrocarpa posts, serving no purpose apparent to anyone but an experienced local, but on the day of this match its purpose became clear to me. The job of the Treasurer was to make sure that by 6 pm on the day of any home match, an ample supply of beer was to arrive from the railhead, and be laid out on the long counter for rapid sale immediately after the game. This is why we saw his little car speeding towards Raurimu during the afternoon, and it turned out that he had no interest in the game of cricket whatsoever. Round about 5.45 pm, the Treasurer re-appeared, unloaded his car, stocked up the counter, covering the table with the large brown bottles which were so common in those days.

The moment the umpire called Stumps, both teams surged across the road, and bought for cash the number of bottles each man thought he could consume. The Treasurer then whipped all the crates back in the car, and drove off. He had already checked on the location and activities of any Taumarunui police patrols, and would have had reliable information on the margins of safety for his operation. But it was as smooth as silk. The Treasurer of the Kaitieke Cricket Club would have no further duties until the next home match.

As for the consumers, once they owned their own beer, they were quite carefree about where they consumed it, and most of it was enjoyed there and then, as we all lounged about in the long grass on both sides of the road. I remember Joe Karam (the lawyer's father?) galloping through on his fine white hunter, to the cheers of the half-sozzled mob, and young Len Ryan (sadly lost later at Tangiwai) and I attempting to bike-race back to the Post Office, but converging in the first ten metres before resigning from the race as we both splattered onto the roadway.

One thing is crystal clear. To have a successful local cricket team, you must have a first-class Treasurer.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Coonoor & Makuri

At the ripe old age of 21, I had just been appointed to my second sole-charge school, having spent a year in the heart of the King Country. I had learned a lot in the Retaruke Valley, including how to go pig-hunting, how to drink beer, how to ride horses, and why not to interfere between husband and wife in a domestic argument! I'd also experienced the remoteness of a cul-de-sac valley, whose children regarded Ohakune as "the big smoke". I was also beginning to learn that every child was a unique individual with his or her own learning needs and learning style.

Arriving in Pahiatua on a Sunday afternoon, little did I realize that the whole Diamond family had driven forty miles to Mass that morning, had been inspected by their meticulous aunt and cross-examined by their grandmother, and were already church- and travel-weary by the time they confronted their new teacher in the 1939 Ford V8 which was to bring on my car-sickness so efficiently over the next few years. Marie was already away at Sacred Heart College, and the bright and curious eyes that darted around me that day belonged to Rosalie, Michael, Paul and Eleanor, ranging in ages from about 10 to 5. On the way out through Ngaturi and Makuri, I was impressed with the greenness of the farms, and the interesting rolling yet rugged scenery - enough patches of bush and glimpses of river to break any monotony, but nothing as forbidding and threatening as the enveloping bush-covered ridges and sheer papa bluffs that had dwarfed me in the King Country. This looked a "green and pleasant land" indeed in comparison. Drina Diamond (and I would never have called her that!) was trim and polite and the essence of courtesy, as she quietly pumped out the details of my background and interests; was she monitoring the young fellow that was going to be trusted with her kids, or was she just trying to include me in the conversation and put me at ease? Probably the latter, to give her her due, but boy, she sure asked a lot of questions. Joe, at the wheel, occasionally grunted his agreement, or was it a laugh, and once or twice barked at the two boys, threatening to flail them within an inch of their life if they didn't stop needling each other. Meanwhile the V8 zoomed, lurched and floated its way around the snaking, shingle road between Makuri and Coonoor, picking up my stomach on its return journey as the notorious cross-springing did its evil work.

We passed Mrs Moore's place, and this was the cue for Joe to tell me for the first time that marvellous tale told by Mrs Moore (when she was the teacher Miss Rankin) against herself. Young Lou was the youngest of a long line of his family that had gone to the Coonoor School, and his family were known for their slowness of speech. Joe wasn't exactly a quick talker himself, but when he mimicked Lou's father and brothers, it was " a reeeealll rustic draaawwwwl" indeed. At last Lou turned five, and went slowly to school, and that first day came slowly home. They all said, very slowly, "Well, Lou. ...... how was schoooool?" And Lou replied, "Ohh, it was all right, but she kept on saying, hurry up Lou, and there was plenty of time." I was later to call at Mrs Moore's place several times, along with the Diamonds' nephew Joe Turnbull and Vic Souness on our way to table tennis, as we all privately imagined that her daughter Dorothy might just fall in love with one of us. My brother and I even helped to paint her roof one weekend, but in the context of our fantasies it was all to no avail, as an older and a wiser man eventually won the day.

My first impression of Coonoor itself, a collection of farms strung out along four unsealed roads that all came together near the school, was a hilly, slightly unkempt sheep country, absolutely strewn with dead timber, as though the settlers had earlier carved out their farms and just left the trees lying to die. The Diamonds were the first house up the road that led over to the East Coast over the Puketoi Range, their only near neighbours being the Verrys, who had no children of school age when I left there in 1950. I used to run up that road for harrier training, and was once picked up bodily in the gale at the top of the range as I turned to enjoy the tail wind home.

                               Coonoor 1948

On the Makuri road, were Norm and Dom Conway, again with no children at the school, and I was told that they came from a long-standing Coonoor family. Both these men and their wives had a good rapport with the Diamond kids in particular, who called them "uncles" and "aunts" in a sociable way. There might have been a Catholic fellow-feeling there too, I imagine. Opposite Dom Conway was Mollie Welch, who had been tragically widowed just before I arrived, in the days when alcoholics were blamed and talked about rather than treated or helped, and her two really nice kids Helen and Frank were still at the school. Frank Welch and Paul Diamond, when they were little boys together coined a memorable phrase when they were pretending to be their fathers. The one acting as Joe Diamond would ask Wallie Welch to help him, and in 4-yr-old language it came out as "Gizza herp, Wally!", and this request for assistance is still regularly used in our household, and probably in Diamonds' as well. It says a lot for Mollie Welch that she had brought up such good and well-balanced kids when really she was battling the odds.

The other two roads went more or less westwards from the school corner. One was the main road to Dannevirke, the only house being that of Arthur and Elsie Brown, with whom I also boarded during my three year stay. Now there's another family I can never forget, for the way in which, like the Diamonds, they made me feel as though I was one of theirs. Their two older children, Dorothy and Alan, were at the school in 1948, later to be joined by Janet in 1950 and Richard just after I left Coonoor. Elsie Brown, until her death in 2004 in her 90s, was continually inviting us to stay with her when in the North Island. She was a fine, thoughtful and loving family woman, who worked just as hard with her home and children as her tempestuous Arthur did on the farm. Some of the most memorable stories of Coonoor are centred around her fourth child Richard, who in his pre-school years was a holy terror indeed. Not only fearless but imaginative, and rather deaf to any threats or injunctions from his many elders! He had the slightly comic-humorous facial expressions of his father, who continually marvelled at this uncontrollable but lovable child.

On one occasion Richard, when about two, wandered down the drive onto the Dannevirke road, sat in the middle between the heaps of shingle, and played happily with the stones, pouring them from one hand to the other in a dream of pure happiness. At the same time, a laden sheep-truck was roaring past the school, round the S-bend beside the roadman's house, and was already picking up speed on the downhill, when the driver saw Richard's little back and tousled fair hair right in his path. Applying all the brakes and swearwords that he could command, he brought the awful weight to a sliding halt just inches from the boy, who turned his head and looked unconcernedly at the front bumper bar. The driver leapt out of the cab, and carried Richard in to his mother, saying "Does this belong to you?" He was white with shock and anger. The Browns wondered in those early stages whether Richard may in fact have been deaf, as this would explain his apparent lack of comprehension of almost every parental instruction!

Richard was the one who put both hands on the hot stove after being warned not to do so, then did it again after a hospital stay, just after his bandages had been removed. He was also the one who worried his mother sick one day by being missing for hours at the age of about three. On our return from school, we all joined the search parties, into the patches of bush, down by the stream, up the road to the wool-shed, and up through the cow-paddock to the higher parts of the farm. Round about tea-time, Dorothy found him, curled up in one of the dog-kennels asleep with the dog. I am told that he developed, as most kids do, into a perfectly normal, effective adult, in spite of us all. But Mrs Brown occasionally wondered how she kept her sanity.

The fourth road from the school corner was the famous Makairo Track, again with only Harry Smith's, later to be Billy Murphy's farmhouse on the Coonoor side of the bush-covered range. The Murphys lived there during my last year at Coonoor, and the smallest one Raywynne made her name by delivering a "morning talk" which gave away fairly sensitive family details concerning the time and state of inebriation of her father's return home the previous night. This was re-told at the Diamonds' table that night with great glee.


Then right opposite the school was the roadman's house, occupied for many years by the Roils, the only Roil family in those parts! They were pretty hard-up, as the meagre pay of Mr Roil was supposed to support his wife and a whole string of adult children, who seldom left home for greener pastures. The youngest, Les, was about to leave school when I arrived, and to say that he had trouble with reading would be an educational understatement. Les was a nice guy, and a wonderful uncle to his sister's baby boy, but he left Coonoor School, the only one he ever went to, practically illiterate. The other kids may have sniggered in their own homes about Les's lack of intellectual achievements, but at school they treated him with liking and respect, and actually helped the new teacher to understand the kind of work that Les should be doing. I understand that he, too, developed into an effective working man, able to manage his own life and work with more success than some graduates I have known.

The Roils left Coonoor under a cloud unfortunately, involving some questionable dealings with the killing of sheep for meat, but one thing is certain, and that is, that the whole family were not aware of what had been going on, and nothing will change my opinion of Mrs Roil, a generous and loyal wife and mother, who would feed anyone at any time. My first afternoon tea there was an entertainment in itself. I was thrown a scone, the butter came sliding down the long table in a big tin, followed by the jam the same way, accompanied by hoots of laughter from Jim, Les, Mary and Doreen, who were just waiting for me to look embarrassed. I had learned early in my life to fit in with the people I was with, and that served me well that day. I passed their test by hoeing into the scones, and rolling the butter tin back to Jim.

The successor to Tom Roil was Les Deadman, whose arrival meant that the roll of the school leapt up from 11 to 14. The oldest girl Merle was a freckled red-head with the personality of a sociable gossip, and not blessed at that age with a lot of tact or diplomacy. Her mother was of the same ilk, and one week-end at a school working-bee, when we planted those lawsoniana and lonicera trees that fronted the school so handsomely when I re-visited fourteen years later, she was amazed and aghast to witness a Diamond boy and a Deadman girl, play-acting in the school paddock in their birthday suits. They were in fact cave-people. Her interpretation of that harmless incident was blown up into a federal case, with the school-teacher being dragged into the argument, and poor Merle getting a thrashing at her mother's behest from her hapless Dad. Mrs Deadman's summing-up and justification for all this was "She's not goin' to start that young, she'll start young enough as it is!" In a crazy fit of generosity, I once found myself looking after the Deadman children after school until late in the evening, while the parents let a rental car trip through the Wairarapa go to their head.

Les Deadman once saved the Coonoor School from being destroyed by fire, while it was fully occupied! The kids in the standard classes were busy at their exams, the Romesse heater was almost red-hot keeping the school warm, and there was a coating of snow on the whole district. The sheet of asbestos behind the stove had not prevented the match-lining behind it from getting hotter and hotter, and when Les looked casually over from his morning cuppa, he noticed a growing patch of black on the outside weatherboards, with a thin spiral of smoke where smoke shouldn't be. My first hint of anything wrong was the sight of Les Deadman running shouting past the window, "The school's on fire, the school's on fire!". We got the kids and then the fire out in double quick time, and I really can't remember where all the water came from, or how we managed to get it onto the hot spot. But the interrupted examinees thought it was all pretty exciting.

I remember clearly the first day the third Brown child Janet started school. We had photographs of all the children up on the wall along with a short biography, and Janet's first task was to line up for her mug-shot. As I struggled to frame the little cutey in the box camera, complete with striped cardigan and school pinny, the others pressed around behind me, shouting, "Smile, Janet! Smile, Janet!" I waited for her to oblige, but Janet replied with her cultured lisp, her long I-sounds modelled on her mother's Kentish tones, "Ai've no tender to thmaile!" I still have that photo, which records faithfully her honest determination to withstand peer pressure. Good on you, Janet, and I bet you grew up that way, too!

Another photo I have that recalls the spirit of Coonoor School shows the Diamonds, Browns, the Kerrs (who followed the Welches), and Graham Berry tearing around the school just for the teacher to get his picture. Rosalie Diamond, that angelic looking child with all the classroom virtues, described by her teachers as the perfect pupil just because she kept out of trouble and did her best to please, was out in front, with her brothers close on her heels. Everyone is laughing or shouting, and at top speed.

That same year, I wrote some parodies which they sang at the school concert in Browns' long villa passage. One was sung to the tune of Maori Battalion, and the Diamond family amazed me in Christchurch about 30 years later when they all sang it from memory! It went something like:

School of Coonoor work quite willingly,
School of Coonoor staunch and true,
School of Coonoor (?.............?)
Take the honour of your families with you,
And we'll work and play with heart and soul,
And we'll do our very best,
For home, for school and for district,
Oh - ay -
We'll do the job we've got to do well!
Another that night was sung to the tune of "Road to Gundagai"!
There's a road winding down many miles from
Dannevirke town
Into a place that's called Coonoor
Where the rangiora bushes
Hang o'er a stream that rushes
................ etc.

The distance from Diamonds' front gate to the school was always quoted as exactly a mile, though I questioned that from the start, judging from the time I could record running on this fast slightly down-hill mile! Some mornings, Michael would give me a minute start, and chase me on the old bone-shaker bike. There were times when we flashed across the line together, just in time to start school in a lather of sweat. I mentioned Graham Berry, who came to the school from Makuri as a Form II pupil in the same year as Rosalie. His parents, Mr & Mrs Ken Berry, had taken over the farm next to Corbins on the Makuri Rd, and one of Graham's comments at Coonoor almost brought the house down. We were sitting inside one lunch-hour with our sandwiches, when Graham suddenly asked, "Don't you have to chew thirty here?" Shocked silence! "Whadda y' mean, chew thirty?" "Well," said Graham, "At Makuri we were all bolting our lunches so we could get out and play footie, so Mrs Manchester made us chew every mouthful thirty times. It's called chewing thirty!" Rosalie nearly choked on a sandwich, and Paul and Michael hooted about it for days.

Farm work was a recreation for me, and I put in many hours in Joe Diamond's Donald wool-press, being so crazy fit from running that I was accused of making the bales too heavy. Joe could never quite understand how a city boy could prove to be such a great worker. He added, of course, "I s'pose it might be a different story if you were doing it all the time!" He was not a man to let a word of praise go to anyone's head. When I stayed at the Browns, Arthur too would encourage me to broaden my experience by getting up at 3 or 4 am and helping him to muster the Puketoi Range block next to Diamonds. I rode a very friendly little horse called Wairoa, a chestnut with a creamy mane, and enjoyed every minute of it. From Arthur's point of view it was probably good cheap labour, but I didn't see it that way at the time.

As for the quality of education that children received in the tiny school, it was probably not too bad. Joe Diamond in later years described me as"the last of the old school", realizing that I would probably take that as an insult. I still had a lot to learn about teaching, but I regarded it as my job to make sure they could write properly, spell correctly, do normal arithmetic, and know something about their country and the world in general. We also had fun in school, through phys.ed., music and art/craft. In later years I came to put far more emphasis on speaking and listening, and exposure to quality children's books. But even in 1948, before the world-wide explosion in children's literature, I tried to interest them in the age-old myths of Greek and Roman tradition, and some of the stories used by Shakespeare in his eternal plays. After having told them the story of his "Hamlet", they wouldn't let it rest until we had done an improvised version of the final Act. We had corpses all over the floor! The fact that most of these children went on to achieve well at secondary schools is probably more attributable to their parents' genes and home influence than to any specific teaching skills of mine.

But I certainly awakened Alan Brown's interest in gymnastics! They stood on their heads, formed pyramids, and did handstands. Years later, when Alan was recovering in Dunedin Hospital from a head operation (a tumour, I think), I was aghast when he leapt out of bed and did a headstand in his hospital room! At the age of five, he had come to Dunedin with my brother Arch and me for a school holiday, and we were vastly entertained by his naive wonderment at the sights and sounds of the wide world he had hardly seen before. When Arch tried to convince him that South Island sheep were the same size as North Island cows, and that instead of milking stools they used step-ladders, as the cows were even bigger, he turned to me in the train, eyes like saucers, "They're not, are they, Mr J?" We took him to the pictures in Christchurch, and he just couldn't understand how these huge people acting on the screen in front of him got there. He kept shouting, to our embarrassment, "How do they, Mr J, how do they?"

But life did not begin and end in Coonoor. The real social life for young adults was centred on Makuri. There was a thriving tennis club, and a cricket team that travelled to Waione, Pongaroa and Ora after scratching around for a full team until midnight every Friday. We didn't win very often, and as a reasonable defensive batsman, I often found myself batting out time in the second innings to avoid an outright defeat. I remember batting for an hour and twenty minutes on one occasion for the grand total of 7. Once when opening the batting with Arthur Brown, who had been a good schoolboy cricketer at Christchurch Boys in the early 20's, I witnessed one of the slowest LBW decisions in the history of the game. Arthur's footwork was not as fleet as in his youth, but he always got something in the way. He was never bowled out, and the lbw was his most common means of dismissal. I was the non-striker, so got a great view. Arthur played back with copy-book style, almost touching the stumps with both heels, his bat came down too late, and the ball rapped him low down on the pads right in front of the middle stump. The bowler screamed his appeal, and the umpire Tom Verry, not a long-sighted man and a close friend and neighbour of Arthur, leaned forward peering down the pitch to see if he could mentally re-construct the incident in question. He must have been thinking, "Gee, it must have been pretty close!" and "I wonder if Arthur got his bat to it. Gosh, he might have!" and "I wonder if it would have just missed the stumps." What seemed like minutes later, Tom slowly shook his head and raised the finger, saying with a tinge of uncertainty, "I'm afraid you're out, Arthur."

I was a fanatic for table tennis in those days, and the young people of Makuri didn't need much encouragement to join in in the establishment of a club at the old hall. We ran four or five tables, and the favourite event was a handicap tournament, where the merest beginner could win through to the final, and the scratch players might have to give them 20 points start in a game up to 21! I would sometimes push-bike to table tennis, play till midnight, be put up by the Cecil Berrys, then catch Ken Anderson's mail-truck back to Coonoor just in time for school. One evening I was cycling really fast from Joe Diamond's to Creamery Corner when I saw a possum on the road. Thinking that I could flatten it like a car does a rabbit, I aimed straight at him, as he stared into my strong dynamo light. In fact, it was like hitting a big rock, and I went clean over the handlebars, and it makes me wonder how we survived in those days without crash helmets. We didn't even have them on motor-bikes!

Occasionally, the table tennis or rugby lads would come back from Makuri to Coonoor at night looking for possums to shoot in the lights of the car, and I narrowly escaped being shot by Wilf Tilsley as I darted forward to get a better view. His finger had been moving on the trigger, when he saw my movement, and it was indeed a sobering experience.

I remember my time at Coonoor with great affection, mainly because of the warm and hospitable way in which I was treated by the Diamonds and the Browns, but also from the marvellous times I had with the "spinsters and bachelors of Makuri", as they described themselves on a gift I still have to this day. Names that need no effort to recall include: Charlie, Jean & May Douglas, whose mother also welcomed me as another son, Lola Berry & Roy Jury (who married), Beatrice Champion (she knew how to enjoy life), Joe Turnbull & Vic Souness (from Diamonds) ,Maurice Orr (one of our best table-tennisers), Peter & Janet Wilson (newly-weds then!!), Bede Alpass (never without his jeep), Laurence Dransfield (all-night parties?) ,Ian Whitta (married Jean Douglas), Leo Lindenhovius & Gerald Griffioen (from Holland), Michael Dinwiddie (from Christs College), but joined us for cricket in the holidays.

Joe Turnbull is a nephew of Joe Diamond, and I have kept occasional contact with him through the years. We visited him in Sydney when he was New Zealand Consul there, and he has had a varied and interesting diplomatic career, including Trinidad and Hong Kong. His year at Coonoor was a kind of finishing school between school and University, and we had a lot of fun together.

May Douglas, too, has kept in touch, and called in here just last Christmas. We also called on Charlie Douglas when he farmed just out of Te Awamutu, and recalled with glee the time we sent the women off to church, and claimed that we experienced more religion than they did, as we sat on the steps up the Pori Rd looking at the stars, and wondering what was beyond them. ..... I am still wondering that 55 years later.