Topic: Our Big Adventure by Lorraine Agnew

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Our Big Adventure by Lorraine Agnew was an entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

As a child in the 1940s all our Christmas and January holidays were spent under canvas at the Kopua Camping Ground at Raglan, apart from the two Christmases immediately before my two younger siblings were born in 1942 and 1944. We then had the luxury of a house near the wharf but with a muddy and uncomfortably shelly trek to the water.

The year of the polio epidemic, 1948, we stayed in a cottage in Lawrence’s Bay at Raglan for a longer period than usual with my father going back to Hamilton each week.

In the month preceding Christmas my mother would be busy making my sister and me new shorts, tops and togs, and shorts and tops and a sundress for herself.  I don’t recall my brother or my father having new home sewn shirts.

The flurry of baking Elsie’s fingers, rock cakes and Anzac biscuits to last us through two to three weeks was something I enjoyed helping with. I was preparing and baking in our coal range stove from about eight years of age.

Along with Christmas preparations my mother organised the packing of preserves and basic supplies including our pressure cooker, a jiffy iron, saucepans and a good sized frypan to cook the fish my father was going to catch.  This was all fitted into a 60 x 150cm green open shelved cupboard ready for re-stacking on arrival.

The essential collapsible safe was also included. Our camp cooking unit consisted of a square metal frame with a solid wooden top and a lower shelf and held the kerosene and white spirit burners.  Oh, how I hated those burners especially when the pressure cooker was performing its frenzied steamy dance. The essential pressure lamp was also packed.

The linen was packed into a low, faded blue chest, which I believe was a carpenter’s toolbox, and was utilised as a seat.  A canvas floor covering and some rugs were put down before the furniture was placed. We had a square green wooden table, which is still going, and stacker chairs and two beach loungers. (There was always a fight over these.) Thin mattresses, wirewove folding legged beds and a chest of drawers completed our indoor essentials.

Our very early years were spent in a square canvas tent and then, a collapsible plywood frame with walls and a door in the enclosed back area, was placed at the back wall of the 12x12 with extensions. This became our kitchen and dining room for many years. We had metal fasteners to secure the canvas at centre front.  Curtains could be drawn to enclose the sleeping areas at each extension end. 

We often had to dig trenches around the walls of the tent to take the water away during heavy deluges and sometimes the floor did get wet.  We swam in the rain and took some walks but looked forward to dry weather and getting back outside.

Usually we had Christmas dinner at home and went to Raglan on Boxing Day.  The road over the deviation was windy and loose metal in the early days.  I suffered from travel sickness and never enjoyed the 30-mile journey over or back.  We three children - and the dog - always had a hole made for use to sit in on the back of the truck, surrounded by the gear which was to be our home for the next few weeks.  In later years our father also took gear over for friends and sometimes it was difficult to find that space.

The first view of the harbour caused excitement and when we reached the top of the hill above the township we could barely contain ourselves.  I shall never fail to appreciate that scene – the township, the magnificent spread of water reaching out to the surf on the bar, the view of the aerodrome with our camping site squeezed between it and the long sandy stretch of beach where we swam.

We always camped on the edge of a pine tree perimeter on the west side of the camping grounds and the first thing we did when we arrived was to run through the trees, up the sand hill, and down onto the beach.  Oh, what joy!  Then there was the checking of who of our friends had arrived along the row.  Most of the families that camped there went every year.  I went every year until I was seventeen.

The camping ground was very rugged to start with.  There were groups of open fireplaces with a small roof where some families cooked all their meals using the fallen pine tree branches and cones.  A tap with an inevitable big puddle underneath was near our tent.  The toilets were primitive and we wished they were further away especially when the wind blew from the south. 

Lupin bushes covered much of the site and even when they were mown down still left nasty hard stubble behind.  My brother got lost in the lupins one time and caused a panic.  He was only playing tunnels!  As the grounds became a little more cleared more tents popped up around us but usually we had a reasonable amount of space around the tent.  For several years, however, we were so close we three children had an extra dose of bible readings each night from our neighbours.

From what we remember, we were free to roam anywhere, and this we did.  We did not venture over the walking bridge going to town or go to the beach by the bridge without adult supervision until we were much older.  We played on the beach behind our tent and our mother was often out there also, waiting for the tide to come in for a swim. 

We collected sacks of broken shells for our hens and pretty shells for crafts; played in and around the army pill-boxes and imagined Japanese submarines coming into the harbour. We dug holes in the sand for unwary walkers and scoured the tidal mudflats for starfish and stranded sea creatures. 

I was always fascinated by the wavy grooves left on the flats when the tide had gone out.  The channel was a long way out and it was quite a trek out there if we felt game enough, as you could get caught with little channels of water surrounding you on the incoming tide.

We always had an annual walk around the beach to Bryant Home, coming home tired and inevitably sunburnt.  We had explored the pools for huge crabs around the large rocks at Bryant Home beach, and the collection of stranded large round rocks and pools half way along Ocean Beach.  Some years these were exposed and the next were half hidden with deep pools around them. 

We often walked down the aerodrome, past the Kereopa family houses and the Chinese market garden, and enjoyed seeing the small planes coming in. Sometimes we had to move quickly against the fence if caught unawares.

Each morning someone had to be up before 8am and in the queue with our enamel billy to get our milk supply for the day.  We often went to town with our mother to get fresh bread from the bakery, meat from one of the two butchers and any other we needed.  There was a small shop in the camp where they sold ice creams and essential items.  Later they had bread delivered and also stocked milk.  There was a large kitchen area with power points and small stoves next to the store.  The kitchen became a popular meeting place for teenagers later on.

My father usually had at least two weeks’ holiday and as we had a small boat and outboard motor he went fishing most days.  We enjoyed many delicious fish meals.  I went flounder fishing with him many times but often didn’t really feel safe in the mud and dark conditions and couldn’t work out quite where we were. We collected pipis and mussels and occasionally rock oysters if we went across the harbour. 

I enjoyed all the little bays and inlets up the harbour and the waterfall and the flagpole at Wallis’s at Okete. Years later I camped with my guides on a headland I had first seen from a small boat twenty years before.

We had a Camp Committee that organised a sports day and several concerts and a beauty pageant.  Mr Forlong often showed outdoor movies.  I was pushed into the beauty pageants until I was about twelve and my brother and I along with two or three other children also sang at a few concerts – The Windmills Turning, Zip-A-Dee-Dooh-Dah and When a Swiss Boy Goes Calling on a Swiss Miss in June were among the songs my mother taught us for the concerts.

There are many other memories mainly about the folk we met, including Ted, the meteorologist who lived at the aerodrome, and his dog Paddy who visited us each day for a chat. 

I often think about the various families who came every year, those from the Huntly mining area, the men my father had worked with years before,  now here with their families, a school friend of my mother’s and the new families who became friends.  I formed some life long friendships during these years of visiting Raglan and treasure the memories of the fun times we had there.

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/32FU-96VK

 

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