Topic: My Green Valley by Doreen Oldfield

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My Green Valley by Doreen Oldfield is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

 Archived version here. 


                            “How green was my valley

                              How blue were the skies.”


Whenever that tune repeats in my head, memory flies back to the hidden green valley of Orere - the Orere of eighty years ago.

The day when I hurried outside our little unpainted wooden house t stand by the big fence post, holding my school bag in my hand. I was five and a friend with a box Brownie camera took a photo of me and my older sister. I have it still; two country mice in their new sun hats. Photos were rare in those days and we were ‘proud as’ - as the teenagers say today.

That day Marion, my sister, was taking me to start school. I had never seen a school that I could remember. We ran along the metal road and into the neighbour’s farmyard, about a mile, I guess - a mile to a new world. Down the grassy slope to an old black barn, ex-shearing quarters, now filled with ten desks and a long blackboard. My new life had begun.

Here were our friends, Jean and Mary, and their brother Jack. All I remember about them is they had a flock of bantams running around our school that had probably nested in our building before we became the great educators of the future.

Here, too, were some big boys who already had a reputation of skiving off - truants, my father said with a grin. The teacher, an ancient little lady we thought (she was 21) could not hold them in thrall. They were not to be cowed by her whippy stick.

One day Charlie lifted her onto the cupboard, much to our delight, and walked out, never to return. He later became a successful farmer.

Many children in those days had a country school like ours where they learned the three Rs thoroughly and occasional got a swift whack with the whippy stick.

What they didn’t have was the glorious freedom of that green valley around them, the steep clay bank we were forbidden to climb. We kept to the south side on the way home, discarded our revolting black stockings and heavy, solid shoes, sorted out our hidden nikau palm fronds, arguing whose was whose. This was important; the longer the frond, the better the ride. No windsurfer today could compete with the thrill of our rides. Then away for slides down the precipitous bank, up and down, up and down. But not for too long. Mum might miss us. So stacking the palm fronds under an old ti tree for next day, we would don our gear again and trot innocently home.

Oh, the freedom of weekends or holidays when we were allowed to spend all day in the bush above our house. The farm’s green paddocks were dotted with sheep and the old house cow munched in contemplation. We would make jam sandwiches, wrap them in a page from the Herald, and toil up the long hill to what we called the kauri ship. Here we played imaginative games for hours, swinging on the supple jack, making houses under the rimu trees, picking up small buttons of kauri gun, treasure to be preserved for the future, scratching old trunks of dead trees for fungus to take home to a growing collection for the ‘poor Chinese,’ our mother told us.

Even though we felt we owned it all, the rolling hills and green pastures were really owned by the Cashmore family. The bush up the valleys was farmed for kauri, rimu and totara to be taken to the local mill and later shipped to the Cashmore mill in Auckland. The hum of the machinery dominated our days. Our father worked the big boiler engine up in the bush, the engine that dragged the fallen trees on massive wire ropes to the loading bay. Sometimes on a Saturday Dad would take us two girls on trips up to that far bush where kauri and rimu were being felled.

Saturday was a red letter day when he offered us a ride in ‘the old tin Lizzie’ as we called the truck, and we hurled at 20mph up the clay bush road. While Dad oiled his machinery in preparation for the coming week, Marion and I collected leaves and searched for katipo spiders and birds’ nests. We examined the clay slopes of crushed fern and broken branches where the logs had torn a path down the hillside.

Dad taught us the names of the trees and ferns, not that it seems to have stood the test of time, although I still know kauri and rimu. What does remain in my mind is the earthen smell of the torn soil and the buzz of bees swarming in the cabbage tree flowers, the creaks and groans of branches settling after the trees were felled, and the flutter of wild creatures we disturbed.

School called, though, and we were eventually domiciled in the old shearing shed on Norton’s property. We later learned this farm was owned by some other magnate in the city, but we called it ours as, like the valley, we felt we were part of it. Now we were going up in the world - we had a real loo, not a long drop. W also had a male teacher and there was no truancy with him. We would have named him a little Hitler if we had been aware of Hitler or the outside world. We learned our tables and long division, and me not yet in Standard 4. We played foot with the older boys and often had to scramble into the creek to rescue a miscued ball.

The creeks, like all bush waterways, flowed in gentle rhythm in good weather, but turned in the wet to raging torrents. In the summer we would find a swimming hole. In fact, all rivers were our treasure. With Mum we would climb over the nearest rag on a hot summer’s day and seek out clear pools to dive and swim in, then wander home by sunset, our legs almost too weary for us to drag ourselves off to bed under the old black woollen blankets. In winter we were forbidden to go anywhere near the old swing bridge. Today, sadly, it has been replaced by a concrete structure, but the valley stays the same.

The bush has been reclaimed by its own seedlings. The mill is nothing but a hillock feeding sheep. A few old fence posts lie in the grass, a memorial to busier days. Our house moved off to pastures new. But up on the base of Orere hill still stands the ancient and beautiful Cashmore homestead. The contours of the valley have not yet been invaded by new housing or 10-acre blocks.

When we left in 1936 the new Orere School was already being built nearer the beach. When I returned not more than ten years ago, as our cars swooped down the hill there before me spread out the untouched farm, the same green rolling hills and background of native bush and the old shearing shed.

The bush had regenerated and green grass grew again over the old clay road. While we stood by the new bridge the pungent smell of summer fern and woolly sheep reminded me once more, “How green was my valley, How blue were the skies.”


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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