Eastern Capers etc. by June Allen by June Allen - Read Online



A fascinating trip down memory lane in a New Zealand seaside town. The young people in the mid 20th century made the most of outdoor leisure time on the rivers and wonderful white sand beaches. The author recalls how mother shopped at the grocery store before the time of supermarkets. As she read from her shopping list the grocer put each item on his counter. Afternoon movies were a staple form of entertainment for the young people; they enjoyed the antics of The Three Stooges and wondered at the speed of Roy Roger's horse, Trigger. The book recounts many humorous memories, as well as telling of food restrictions following the 2nd World War. The author graduated as a teacher in 1958 and tells of her experiences teaching in a small country school.

Published: June Allen on
ISBN: 9780994127976
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Eastern Capers etc. - June Allen

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Part one: My early years 1940 – 1947

Part two: I learn more 1948 – 1954

Part three: Expanding my horizons; life is fun 1955 - 1960

My Early Years 1940-1947

A service car rumbled up the winding road. Each gear change down lurched us into yet a noisier rumble and vibration. The contents of the fizzy drink my grandma had bought me were left at the side of the road. That was the only time in my young life I was given a fizzy drink, and I felt bloated after half a small bottle.

The old bus, old by anyone’s terms, was called a service car. It took mail and goods to outlying places as well as passengers returning to their homes up the coast after a day’s shopping in town. ‘Town’ was Gisborne. The service car offered no creature comforts. It was to get you there, and that’s it. The driver, a cheerful fellow, handled the heavy creature and its massive gear box with skill. Calling it a ‘coach’ would have been too smart a word for the lumbering vehicle.

We were off to visit my Grandma’s very good friend who was the matron at Te Puia hospital. The hospital no longer exists and the hotel is a shadow of its former self. I find it even sadder that the thermal pools were in disrepair the last time I visited the Coast. And yet Te Puia Springs is still one of the many beautiful places in this part of the country. Visitors can enjoy a beer at the hotel where the locals’ mugs hang behind the bar.

Take the road to your right if you’re driving north, and you will go down to the almost deserted settlement of Waipiro Bay. The church spire at Waipiro has a Ratana symbol, and the stand of Norfolk pines just above the beach are the grandest I have ever seen. Norfolk pines have a proud history in New Zealand. As an early fundraising campaign for the Melanesian Mission Governor George Grey organised that churches in New Zealand import pine seeds from Norfolk Island. That tiny island was a centre for the Anglican Mission. The oldest Norfolk pines found in New Zealand are usually the consequence of this fundraising, and mark old homesteads and places of historical significance.

Going further north, through Ruatoria and then Tikitiki, one comes to Te Araroa, New Zealand’s most easterly township. A visit to the general store brings back memories of a general store of yesteryear. The uneven timber floor has been a joy to walk on. There are stacks of goods from fishing rods to socks, frozen peas to coat hangers. It’s all there - postcards for those looking for a souvenir, potatoes for the householder who doesn’t have a potato patch in his backyard.

From Te Araroa one may go even further eastwards, along twenty two kilometres of mostly unsealed road to the East Cape lighthouse and be the first to see the sun rise. Take time to walk up more than seven hundred steps to the top of the hill and the lighthouse, and from there you have a most stunning view across the South Pacific. It was a manned lighthouse with three keepers until it became fully automated in 1985.

Family summers at the beach.

My Uncle Bert and his family pitched a simple tent each summer at Makarori Beach. It is windswept and not very safe for swimming, but the crashing waves are a great backdrop for happy family picnics. Spinifex seed cases roll and whirl along the sand in the wind, and ‘bunny tail’ grasses are there for the taking.

In the early 1940s gentlemen wore their long dark trousers throughout the year, even to the beach. They’d remove their jackets as a concession to the heat thus revealing braces criss-crossing their shirts. Rolled up white shirt sleeves cooled them, too. My grandfather and his brother would have their beer, poured from quart bottles into a tall glass. That was their way to relax after weeks and months of business dealings. Aged in their mid-fifties, sitting on a canvas deck chair around the tent was their way of making the most of summer. Only one of the younger women ever put on a bathing costume and ventured into the water for a dip. That was Olive, my father’s cousin.

Driving north from Gisborne one comes across Wainui Beach first. Wainui is a suburban area now. You then drive further and over the hill to Makarori Beach and thence to Tatapouri. There was a pub at Tatapouri, and besides the lure of a beer, my grandfather’s reason to go as far as that on a Sunday was for clay pigeon shooting. This was held at the south corner of the beach. The shotguns were aimed towards the shelter of the hill which lessened the risk of stray bullets hitting anything other than the clay discs which hurtled from the trap.

Makarori Beach has always looked wild and wonderful

Meanwhile Grandma would walk with me across the sandstone rocks if it was low tide, and we’d collect periwinkles. It was fun stepping over flat rocks to find yet another little pool that had been left by the outgoing tide. We’d gather up the little curled shells. Occasionally there’d be a hermit crab too, wandering along with his stolen home on his back.

Once home in Grandma’s flat in the middle of town she would sit with me at her kitchen table with a bowl of periwinkles and a pin. It was my chore to flick out the cats’ eyes so she could cook the seafood in fritters. I didn’t enjoy eating them very much. Maybe they weren’t cooked right. They were rather tough little bites. I shouldn’t really doubt my grandmother’s cooking; they may have been tough in any circumstance.

Even better seafood was garnered from Tatapouri. The rocky outcrops jutting into the ocean were teeming with crayfish. Grandma would pay the man sitting in his shed at the side of the road three shillings for a fresh crayfish. It was mouth-wateringly delicious.

There was a very sad incident along the coast in the mid 1940s, being a stranding on Wainui Beach. I was convinced that I’d heard that the creatures were mako sharks, but others think they would have been whales. Whatever the case, something like five large animals which had been swept ashore from the ocean were buried by bulldozers. What remained was huge mounds of sand on the beach. Whether that was in the same spot as the tragic stranding of 59 sperm whales at Okitu in 1970 is uncertain.

Some family background.

My paternal grandparents arrived in New Zealand in 1912. That was to visit my great uncles who had migrated from England about eight years earlier. My grandparents with their four year old son, my father, intended returning to Kent. The outbreak of World War I prevented their immediate return though, and so they stayed on. In the mid-1920s Grandma and Granddad took a lease on the boarding house still known as Waimare at the bottom of Rutene Road. Though rather tired looking now, its earlier grandeur is quite obvious. This large two storied weatherboard home has a wrap-around verandah and an elaborate wooden balustrade on both levels.

The beautiful old home with its iron roof overlooks the river although it’s now hemmed in by newer houses. My grandparents were living in a town apartment by the time I was born, but I know that her days at Waimare were fondly remembered by Grandma. The house is on the Kaiti side of the William Pettie bridge where this crosses the Waimata River. We used to cycle over the bridge to get to the Macrae Baths where our high school swimming sports were held.

My father grew up at Waimare because the boarding house was also their family home. He unwittingly, or maybe not, misled my mother when they were courting. My parents met and married in 1933 while they were both living in Westport. That was a long way from their roots. Dad had a job as limousine driver and my mother was staying with her married sister. The two women had grown up in Wellington. While they were courting Dad showed my mother a photograph of Waimare. This was where he lived with his parents. My mother had no qualms about marrying him. Yes, she thought she’d have a grand home to live in. When they finally arrived in Gisborne as a married couple and she discovered it was in fact a boarding house and was most disappointed – more than that, she never forgave him. But he was right, it was home to him. My father was always a salesman.

My mother and her sister were regarded as fashionable dressers when they were young, and that is no doubt in no small measure because they were Wellington girls. I remember the women’s hairstyles of the nineteen forties. Many had little ‘sausage roll curls’ across the top of the head, or at the sides, and their back hair was shoulder length.

My great aunt, on the other hand, a lady who had come out to New Zealand as a young widow, always wore her widow weeds, along with a small black hat. The hat was held to her head with a fancy hat pin which was her sole concession to fashion. I did once see her in other than black, and that was the navy dress sprinkled with a tiny white flower pattern which she wore to my wedding.

We called her Auntie Li, short for Eliza, but she was known to all others as Mrs Mercer. Auntie Li had a great influence on my upbringing. I really appreciated that she’d sit and talk with me and give me her full attention. Such things are never forgotten. Aunty Li had seen Queen Victoria parading in London on that monarch’s Diamond Jubilee. My great aunt had been a cook in a prestigious house in London before she came to New Zealand and was frequently visited by young ladies from a fashionable school nearby. The girls would come into her kitchen for a glass of milk and a chat. One day they brought a fair headed stranger with them whom Auntie Li later learned was the young Princess Wilhelmina from Holland.

My paternal grandfather was a keen lawn bowls man. He played at the club at the lower end of Rawiri Street, just up from the Esplanade.