Topic: Tauranga (1948) by Sheila Armstrong

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Beckoning sea and a tiny sandy beach! What more could we want? We’d reached Tauranga Motor Camp, tucked away at the end of 7th Avenue.

The impulse to rush straight into the water was strong, but it was evening and we had to put up the tent. It had been a long drive up from Taranaki, and year-old Tony was hungry.

Allan and I looked around for somewhere to pitch our tent and chose a flat grassy area beside the beach. Big mistake! We hadn’t realised that this was a tidal estuary. We became aware of it when the sea started lapping at our feet in the middle of the night.  A mad scramble ensued to pull up the tent pegs and bundle up the tent.

It was too dark to put it up again and Tony was sleeping in the car, but there was no alternative, so Allan and I threw in our bedrolls, fortunately still dry, and climbed into our obliging old 1928 Essex car with little Tony. There’s a lot to be said for old model cars. We’d used it as a bedroom before. It was also useful with the seats laid flat, as a playpen to confine an energetic one-year old. It made a large area for him to crawl around.

We awoke to a sunny day and spread out our tent to dry. I put Tony in his pram and found my way to the cookhouse, where I made tea and warmed up some baked beans. Tony still enjoyed his Farex mixed with milk or sometimes with fruit juice. This was just as well as it was nutritious and quick and easy to prepare.

It wasn’t long before some friendly campers came to enquire how we were and to offer help.

“Sorry!” one woman apologised. “We should have warned you about the tide, but I was busy getting tea and didn’t notice at the time.”

I laughed. “It was all a bit of an adventure. We’ll know better next time.”

Tony was making happy noises and grabbing all the attention.

“How are you managing with a toddler?” asked another woman. “It must be hard with all the nappy washing. How on earth do you get them dry?”

“It’s not easy, but so far we’ve managed. It’ll be more difficult with winter approaching and then we’ll be in trouble.”

“The name’s Norma, by the way.” She patted Tony and smiled. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Sheila... My husband’s Allan and this little imp is Tony.”

“Do you mind me asking? Are you on holiday?”

“No. I wish we were. Allan’s just finished a farmers’ course at Massey Agricultural College and we’re looking for a job on a sheep farm.”

“I’m afraid you won’t have much luck here. Citrus orchards are being established, but they’re not employing much labour yet.”

Norma went off to fetch her husband and Allan emerged from under the bonnet of the car. We were introduced to Clive.

“I hear you’re looking for a job. As Norma says, there’s no work on sheep farms around here.”

“I’ll try my hand at anything. It’s time I earned some money.”

Other men joined us and were discussing the job market.

“What about the Post and Telegraph? They’re looking for men.”

There was a shortage of phones during the war and people were clamouring to be connected. Allan was recruited eagerly and became a linesman which he enjoyed. At last we had an income.

Many families were living in the Motor Camp until they could get a home of their own. Housing was scarce and they’d formed a little community who welcomed us in. We were sure we’d made the right decision to come to New Zealand.

Norma and Clive became good friends and we kept in touch for many years. One weekend when they were going away, they offered us the key to their cabin so we could dry Tony’s nappies. What a wonderful gesture when we’d only known them so briefly!

Tony thrived in the sunny climate even though it was now April. He took his first steps holding on to a low wall by the beach. Sometimes we drove over to The Mount where he was thrilled with his first sight of the ocean rollers and the endless expanse of sandy beach. This was a great place to practise his new-found skill of walking. He helped us make sand castles and was devastated when the tide washed them away.

Some days I wheeled Tony in to town in his old-fashioned pram and found the Plunket Society rooms where he was weighed and assessed. His Plunket book was filled in and his position on the growth-graph climbed. There was no doubt that he was doing well. The nurse suggested that I join the Mothers’ Club to meet people.

In 1948, Tauranga had a population of about 4,000 and consisted of a hotel and a few shops along The Strand with some stretching a little way up Cameron Road - a far cry from the prosperous city of today.

Life was indeed good and we could have stayed for ever, enjoying the happy laid-back life style, but Allan had set his mind on farming. The P & T Department offered him a rise, but he decided it was time to move on. There had to be a farm job for us somewhere. But it wasn’t until we reached Gisborne that our luck changed.

It was another six months before we returned to the lovely Bay of Plenty.

And this time we stayed.


About the writer: Sheila Armstrong has published two books of short stories, The Luck of the Draw and Travels with the Essex. She followed them with two historical novels about British Guiana, The Chill of the Tropics about British Guiana, and its sequel, Exodus from Demerara.

Greener Pastures is another novel, based on her early experiences of farming in the backblocks of New Zealand. My Two Grandmothers was written for her family.

‘Tauranga (1948)’ was Sheila’s entry for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.


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