Topic: There She Blows by Mary Gaskin

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Wellington, known as the Windy City, ‘twas where I was born. I blew in on June 25th 1921 and was christened Frances May Cole.

I was from pioneer stock as my great-great grandfather, together with his family, arrived on the Gertrude in 1841. My great-grandfather William Barnes was a boy of fifteen. His daughter Harriet Frances (my grandmother) then married Thomas Cole. I clearly remember my great-grandfather sitting by the wood range in a captain’s chair. He had a distinctive white beard and lived to the age of 95.

My mother, the eldest of five children, was born inEnglandand had her third birthday coming toNew Zealand. Her father, my other grandfather, was considered to be the black sheep of the family and was packed off toNew Zealand. His two brothers owned an iron foundry inBirmingham. Proof of their work – the large iron gates to the entrance of Queen’s Wharf inWellington.

To celebrate QueenVictoria’s Jubilee the foundry was given the task of making miniature copper kettles for all the children on the royal estates. One was held back and inscribed with Eliza on the handle and an ornate E on the side by another uncle, a jeweller and engraver, and given to my mother. I still have it.

My mother, an intelligent woman, a true royalist with a bent for history was one of the first women to receive a scholarship toVictoriaUniversityand was unable to accept as her father determined she should go to work and earn her keep. She became a tailor, dressmaker and milliner and she sewed for us all. I can remember her making Dad a suit and my going away clothes. She took out an insurance for me of two shillings a time and when I was seventeen bought me a Singer sewing machine in a cabinet.

Education was important to her and I don’t know how many times we four children were taken into town to the Opera House or St James Theatre to see an opera, pantomime or ballet. We saw them all – even the great Pavlova!

I learnt elocution and my sister and I were taught the piano and my brothers the violin. All these were in classes as it was the cheapest way until we were proficient enough to go privately. I can’t thank my mother enough for the good grounding she gave me.

My parents were both disciplinarians and my father had a very quick temper. I remember feeling the weight of his hand after a Guy Fawkes Night. My siblings had been told not to go into the paddock next morning to look for unexploded crackers.  I knew nothing of this and off I went searching for live crackers. The hiding I got was unfair.

My mother, too, stood no nonsense and I can remember the time I returned home. I had decided not to go to school that day as my new friend was allowed to stay home whenever she wanted – I was five. Mum turned me round and with a twig in her hand let me have it across the back of my legs all the way back to school. I never tried to play hooky again! 

There was also a dog collar hanging from the brass rod above the range to keep us in order. Other families  used razor strops, belts or wooden spoons to chastise their children. That was how children were disciplined in the 1920s and 30s. I used to smack my children around the backs of their legs. How times have changed. Still my parents were good parents.

We were raised on a small farm on Parkvale Road, Karori. It consisted of a flat area for the house a large hay paddock, vegetable gardens, grandma’s flower garden and fowl houses. There were three hills. May’s Hill, Snowy’s Hill and the Cow’s Hill. Snowy was a large pet sheep who lived for years and was always accompanied by a so called pet lamb that disappeared near Christmas. My mother never ate roast lamb during Christmas and New Year. It was years after when I discovered why! 

We lived well enough off the land due to the long hours and hard work performed by my parents and grandmother. Surplus milk was separated daily and the resulting cream churned into butter by my grandmother, most of which was sold together with eggs. We children played our part.

Growing up in the early years was carefree enough. My brothers and I were called at 6am to deliver milk around our neighbourhood. I particularly remember frosty mornings, stamping on ice covering pot holes in the road and fighting against rain and gusty wind. By the time I was 13 I had a bicycle and delivered milk much further afield. It all started when I was able to walk well enough to carry a billy of milk across the road to our neighbours. May the Milk Maid – that was me.

This job’ finished when I started work.

Each Saturday we were expected to gather six armfuls of fire wood, which Dad would inspect. Once my younger brother found a large branch, dragged it home and divided it into six piles. Dad realised what had occurred and sent him off for six more loads!  He was a tough man. My sister once asked dad why he had us getting so much wood. His reply? “It kept you from getting into mischief.”

My three siblings were each given sixpence a week for the pictures but not me. I did babysitting for the neighbours, also for sixpence and I had a Sports Post round on an early Saturday evening. In the winter when the weather suddenly turned cold Dad would send us up the hill with covers for the cows. I never liked the job as some of the cows were bad tempered. I didn’t mind old Pet as she was very docile. I helped feed the chooks and gather eggs. Once I remember crawling into a covered pen to retrieve an egg and being attacked by a big whiteLeghorn rooster!

It was all hands on deck at haymaking time. Dad scythed the long grass in our hay paddock and once down the road we children had to turn it daily until it dried. Dad built a large cart with shafts that served to transport the hay into a huge barn next to the cow sheds. What fun we had with Dad pulling and us pushing the laden cart to the hay shed. Then as Dad forked in the hay we trampled it down.

A stream flowed between Snowy’s hill and the cow’s hill with the undergrowth hiding a waterfall – it was magic. I returned some years later to find it fell only four or five feet. The magic had gone. Just below the road on the flat ran another stony stream. We used to take a Golden Syrup tin and purloined matches, catch crawlies from under the stones, cook them and eat them - delicious!

On the hillside was a karaka bush where we played – a veritable wonderland under the glow of bright yellow berries. We were cautioned never to eat them. To the side of Snowy’s hill was a large konini tree. I loved to climb along its bough and eat the succulent purple berries.

My parents were keen on sport – both played hockey, my father with distinction. No wonder I took it up. I would have liked to play cricket as well, but my mother told me, “Ladies don’t play cricket!” She never did know I played for my house, Bowen at college and once actually on the Basin Reserve.

Primary school in the 1920s was for me a worrying time as I always wanted to do well. Classes were large. In Standard 6 we had forty two!  Some of us were given small plots to garden, competing with others. Anzac Day was observed with wreath laying. I always made a large wreath with karaka leavers and hydrangeas. I also entered posies and gent’s buttonholes in the Karori Flower Show.

I won a scholarship with another girl toMarsdenCollegebut was unable to accept as it would have cost too much to keep me there. Instead I was sent toWellingtonTechnicalCollege, enrolling in a Special Commercial course learning History, Geography, English, French, Science, Shorthand, Typing, Book keeping and Office Routine. This kept me on my toes for three years.

During the last year there was a polio epidemic. Our school work was done from home. I still remember the smell of methylated spirits on our Banda printed question papers.

Today the farm has gone. Numerous homes dot the land and it is hard to determine where our home once stood but come rain or shine, whether northerly or southerly at least the wind remains constant. There she blows!



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