Topic: Surfboards, donkeys and too much sun by Judith Doyle

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Surfboards, donkeys and too much sun


We painted our flat wooden surfboards different colours. Smallest surfboard for my younger sister, larger for my two older brothers while my parents had their boards professionally painted in snazzy diamond patterns. Those surfboards not only bring back childhood holidays to me but also represent a different and simpler era of surfing in particular and of New Zealand in general.

For this was Mount Maunganui, Bay of Plenty, in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s — before, during and after World War II.

Family photos tell me that I was at the Mount as a baby and a small child. A memorable photo dated 1935 shows me as a toddler perched on the back of a donkey with my two brothers.

During the summers of WWII we went to The Mount minus Dad who was away in camp. A local came round in the evening to check that we had blacked out the windows thoroughly, leaving not a glimmer of light to beam out to the enemy across the sea.

After the war, the whole family reinstated the tradition of long summer holidays at The Mount, plus cousins various. Even part of my honeymoon was spent there.

The adventure of those holidays started before we even got there. Suitcases, boxes, chilli-bins of food, beach gear and Christmas presents were crammed into the trailer. The car, an old 1920s Citroen, was equally chockablock with the five of us and Floss, the Scottish terrier, though sometimes the two boys went by train to Tauranga to ease the load on the car.

We'd leave Hamilton and chug up the Kaimai Range heading for Tauranga and the Mount. The water in the radiator would start steaming near the top of the Kaimais and we would pause at a stream and be sent to fetch water, waiting until the sizzling water had cooled a bit before adding it. On one trip we had punctures en route.

We rented the same bach for years, on the ocean waterfront between the Mount and the Blowhole — a finger of land where rough seas made a saltwater spout at one end. The property had a long sloping lawn, of that tough paspalum grass, sloping down to the road. Here we would pitch the tent for visitors.

I remember the sun porch/living room at the front of the bach with its big windows facing the sea. The back room also has stuck in my memory — a polite parlour with over-stuffed patterned armchairs and pictures on the wall of prim Victorian children in frilly white pinafores.

I dare say kitchen arrangements were as inadequate as they usually were those days in holiday baches. But that was not my department.

The beach was.

With our surfboards and a canvas bag of beach clobber, we would walk over the dunes, jumping from iceplant to iceplant to avoid the hot sand stinging the soles of our bare feet. The family possie would be established on the beach and then we would sally forth to surf.

The trick was to catch a wave just before it broke. Then lying flat on the surfboard, you were carried into shore well forward of the wave, until you felt the sand on your legs and stomach.

If waves were breaking further out, you would try to catch them in a froth of white, getting salt water up your nose, down your throat and into your eyes. One of my father's friends used to experiment with a stand-on surfboard. Revolutionary in the 1940s and 50s, that was. He persevered for years, with heavy boards, of various designs, getting thoroughly knocked around in the process. Long since gone now, he would have revelled in the lighter modern surfboards!

Then there were forts to be built. Wait till the tide is coming in; position it a few metres up from where the waves were reaching and get building. Castle, moat, protective wall, more protective walls … the timeless occupation of children on a beach.

There were pipis to be collected at low tide from the ocean beach. They would be placed overnight in a bucket of fresh water with a handful of porridge oats in it. The pipis were expected to open their shells a little, put out those fat white tongues to grab some sustenance and expel the sand at the same time. I wasn't fussy about a few grains of sand, actually. With some vinegar and buttered bread, they were delicious.

Sometimes we were more ambitious and walked through an avenue of tall fennel plants to the jetty at the foot of the Mount and fished for spotties. The fennel had a sweet sickly smell and years later, cooking fennel bulbs in my London kitchen, it took me a long time to remember why the aroma reminded me of home.

At the jetty, we would cut up pipi tongues for bait. Dangling our legs and our fishing lines over the side of the wharf we would, from time to time, catch a spottie. Not for eating, however.

But when my father arranged a 'proper' fishing trip and the fishing boat would round the Mount and head out towards Mayor Island, we certainly caught (and ate) a good many respectably-sized fish. We would trawl for trevally when the boat was on the move and catch terakihi, schnapper and the occasional hapuka when stationary.

Occasionally my father would pay threepence for us to have a ride on the donkeys, kept by Taffy the Welshman near the foot of the Mount. They were trained to plod at a given pace and a given distance along the beach; round a particular rock and back again. That was their defined course; they were programmed for it and were not going to change. When my brothers managed to coerce them back to the bach on one occasion, this was considered a major achievement.

I remember hours and hours of sunbathing, stretched out on the sands or on the lawn near the bach. We applied oil to frizzle our skins even more thoroughly. Sometimes there would be blisters and often the skins of our back and legs would peel.

I have paid over these last few years for those concentrated sunbathing days with a variety of suspicious facial spots, and a couple of full-blown skin cancers to be dealt with. Sunhats were not part of our summer wardrobe back in those early days.

Christmas at the beach did not have the rituals and traditions that celebrating at home might have had. We did go hunting for a tree and with a lot of homemade decorations, it did pass muster — just — as a Christmas tree. Santa Claus did manage a stocking of goodies at the end of the bed. But hot weather, the lure of the sea and the shortcomings of the kitchen combined to make it an informal affair.

New Year's Eve became a big deal as we grew into teenage years and our social life took off — not difficult at The Mount. Bonfires on the beach, goings-on in the sand dunes, dances in the local hall…

I was thirteen when I acquired a 7-foot P-class sailing dinghy. They were then known as 'Taurangas' because they had been 'born' there.  On The Mount's sheltered harbour 'mucking about in boats' was another activity to be fitted into those precious weeks.

Then there were the walks on the Mount itself. We would often do the shorter walk on the pathway round its base, always anti-clockwise for some reason — from the ocean beach to the harbour. At least once per holiday we would climb to its 232-metre summit, on a path that wound round and round to the top. It took a couple of hours, passed old Maori fortifications and flocks of sheep, and ended with a stunning view of Matakana Island, Tauranga Harbour and the scallops of beach to the east.

I've never been back to The Mount since the 1950s. So I haven't seen the huge commercial wharf with large vessels taking timber and kiwifruit to the world. Nor have I seen the chemical plant using timber by-products nor the biggest salt processing plant in the country. I know that some apartments have replaced those wooden baches and the spread-eagled old Oceanside Hotel.

On a Mount Maunganui website I took a virtual walk, courtesy of the Internet, round the base of the Mount and was comforted to find that the land- and seascape look as serene and striking as ever.



Family photos from Judith Doyle show beach scenes on Mount Maunganui and herself as a child with her father.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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Surfboards, donkeys and too much sun by Judith Doyle

Year:c.1930, c.1940, and c.1950
Note:About the author: Judith Doyle trained as a journalist on the Auckland Star after graduating from Auckland University. She then worked as a journalist in Britain for ten years. Back in New Zealand she edited a tourist weekly and later was press officer with the New Zealand Tourist Department before setting up a freelance travel writing business. She has written travel features for publications in New Zealand, Australia and Britain; has contributed to two anthologies and has written three travel books: Pay for your Travel by Writing (GP Publications, 1997); Older and Bolder (New Holland Publishers, 2004) and Tea with my Tapas (Renaissance Publishing, 2007
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Surfboards, donkeys and too much sun by Judith Doyle by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License