Thursday, 25 November 2021
Growing Up in NZ in the 50s and 60s
Small NZ town living in the 50s and 60s. An essay on my childhood
The family house was built on a 2 acre property in the small township of Te Puke, New Zealand, and our Nana lived in a house right next door. We had a market garden where my father grew aubergines and strawberries and loads of other stuff and later this became an orchard. We also had a large chook house, a lawn tennis court and various other areas where we had a few turkeys, geese, ducks or even lambs at one time. The back of the property was a gulley with a small stream running through the bottom. We would fish for eels there, drag them excitingly up to the top lawn and then not know what to do with them. I doubt my poor mother knew what to do with an eel either, especially one still wriggling and writhing.
We had a large chook house at the top of the gulley. My father bought day old chicks and kept them in the window of the agricultural machinery shop he ran, under a special lamp to keep them warm and alive. When they were a week or so old he transferred them to the chook house. I kept away from this as much as possible. Chooks frightened me and still creep me out. There were times when I had to feed them and collect eggs. What a nightmare. I opened the door and threw the feed at them and crashed it shut again. Collecting eggs was done at a fast forward motion and with a long stick to poke the girls off their nest. There were various yards where the chooks lived outside and sometimes they had to be moved, at night when they had perched and gone to sleep. We all pitched in, even me. I can still remember holding on to their warm scaly legs as we took them from one holding to another. Stuff made for nightmares, for me.
We always had chooks wherever we lived and I can vaguely remember at around age 5 walking into a chook house with a piece of bread in my hand. A rooster suddenly lunged for the bread and took off leaving me screaming. Is that where my fear of chooks came from?
Chooks, eggs and produce from my father's market garden provided the money for our annual camping trips. We camped all over the north island and the top of the south island, Nelson and surrounds which was where he grew up.
My mother grew up in Wellington, the capitol, and we visited there as well. She had loads of relatives in and around the city, as did my father. We did the rounds and I met nearly all of my first cousins, most for the first and last time, till my father's funeral almost 60 years later. I grew up in the Bay of Plenty. Paradise, just as it sounds to be. The Bay has a mild climate, long sandy beaches, lakes, mountains, endless pine forests, boiling mud pools and geysers, all not far away.
It has now become the retirement capitol of NZ. Back then it was surfers paradise. Tanned blonde bods rode the waves on long heavy boards. Two of my brothers were surfing fanatics. All three were trout fishermen as well. They trekked the lakes and rivers around us and still do when they can catching and smoking rainbow and brown trout.
My father was an avid gardener and besides his roses and cyclamens, the large vegetable garden, the market garden, he always had a few exotic trees or shrubs as well. We had a banana passionfruit vine which twined around the back door, a persimmon tree, a mulberry tree, boysenberries. Feijoa trees lined the drive. I remember those aubergines, egg plant we called them, just as much as the chooks. They were an exotic 'fruit' back then. I wonder they sold. I can't remember my mother cooking them. She would have been greeted by howls of horror from her children. What I do remember is walking barefoot through the field and squishing through a rotten eggplant. Yick. And their hard hairy stems. It wasn't till I arrived in Greece that I met them again and learnt to eat them.
Recently we thought the house was up for sale again but it turns out to be a neighbour's house. Ours is named by Real Estate agents as the original homestead. The family built it in the 50's. Since then it has been remodelled inside but, from photos on the web, looks basically the same.
The house was down the end of a long driveway lined with the feijoa trees, and oleanders. When we grew up and moved out, my father was transferred to another town. The house had to be sold. The best way to do this was to make a subdivision. So our old driveway was widened into a road and the tennis court, orchards were sold as separate plots. There are now houses where the orchards, chooks and tennis court were.
The road we lived on was called Beatty Avenue. Named after Earl Beatty, Admiral of the Fleet, First Sea Lord of the Royal British Navy . The main street of our small town is named Jellicoe Street, after Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, also an Admiral of the Fleet, so my parents thought it fitting that their new road should be named Mountbatten Place, and so it is. Earl Mountbatten was also Admiral of the Fleet .
My father had a cousin who was Lord of the Fleet, Sir George Creasy. While googling 'Admirals of the Fleet' an ad popped up from amazon mentioning him. I clicked on it of course and discovered that an autograph of his is on sale there for 144 pounds plus 38 pounds shipping. Strange.
Google will provide you with information and photos of just about whatever your heart desires. I found photos of our old house as it is now.
The above photo is our outside seating area. It is just as it was when we were kids, except there were beds of colourful begonias around it too. The living room and the main bedroom both lead straight onto this outdoor terrace.
Inside of the lounge looking out. There used to be a fireplace in the middle of this room dividing the lounge from the dining room. Right beside the fireplace was an oubliette, as my father called it.
Oubliette means dungeon but this was a cupboard, open underneath and with a trapdoor on top. It could be filled with wood from underneath in the basement and upstairs we simply lifted the trapdoor and took out the wood as we needed it for the fire. A nifty idea of my father's.
The garden round the old house looks much the same as it was when we were kids. On the right was a mulberry tree under which we could eat breakfast in the summer time.
The only drawback about this land was the vast amount of lawn that had to be mowed and the lawn tennis court that had to be rolled by a tremendously, it seemed to me, heavy concrete roller to keep the court flat. Otherwise the ball bounced up in all directions. I mowed the sides down the drive and my Nana's lawn, although I'm sure I always had excuses to avoid this.
Our schools were 5 minutes away, the primary school just a walk over the rugby field and the High School was even closer. My mother was a teacher at the High School. She taught Shorthand and Typing but always reckoned that the girls should first have been schooled in grammar and spelling. For instance my mother noted, it is wrong to say something is 'very' unique. Unique means that it is a one and only, it's unique. It's either unique or it's not unique it can't be 'very' or 'less' or any other adjective or adverb. Never mind license and licence, capitol and capital and all the other traps that a good shorthand typist must not fall into if she wanted to keep her job. In those days there was only a horrible hard grey rubber which made the mistake even more noticeable. I shouldn't complain about google's spell checker. Now it's delete, delete , delete and no-one but me any the wiser.