Topic: The Little White Cottage by Heather Burnan

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He looked longingly at the old cottage one more time before turning to go inside. Deep down Albert knew that the farm along the road, with the little white cottage, would one day be his; but he couldn’t imagine how that would happen in the near future.

Hands washed and boots off gave him freedom to sit at the large, scrubbed, wooden table to eat his lunch alongside his sister and her husband. Albert had only arrived in New Zealand six months prior, travelling by boat from England to Wellington.  He had then taken another six days to get up to Wellsford where he was to help his sisters’ husband on their farm at Waiteitei.

To start with Albert spent his days scything the reeds and digging out tree stumps.  Day after day he would be in the searing hot sun, wielding tools as inroads were made on the untamed land.  By nightfall Albert and his brother-in-law would crawl back home, exhausted and ready to fall asleep the minute their heads touched the soft feather pillow.

As the weeks went by they began to plough the raped lands with plans for planting Lucerne, Maze and Millet seeds.  By now the farm jobs were more varied and their days became tolerably interesting.  A day planting potatoes with the hope of selling some became a great incentive to keep up the hard work.

On one of the days Albert had off, he hitched up the horse and gig and headed for town.  Days like these were good days off the farm, if the weather was fine.  But it was raining on this particular day and the road was sodden with sticky clay, and holes big enough to stop the horse in mid-stride.  On the way Albert’s gig dropped down into one of the large bog holes and he had to wait for another farmer to come along and lend him a hand. 

After this unexpected frustration he finally made it to the Dairy Company in Helensville, where he was able to shop for everything that he would need for the next few weeks.  A chat to the shopkeeper and a drink of homemade lemonade with a friend completed his day. There wasn’t much to see on the journey home, though several farmers had bought land along the way, and were clearing it in preparation for dairying. So it was always good to stop and say a quick ‘hello’ as he passed by and to encourage each other as farmers do.

Albert stayed with Margaret and Bill for five years.  Those years were productive for the farm and he was proud of the efforts he had made to help turn scrubby, rough land into a farm with cows and calves and enough feed to get the family through the winter.  Margaret had convinced the men to dig her a large garden and before long they had marrows and pumpkins sitting prettily amongst the big green leaves, along with all the other vegetables. Milk from the cows, eggs from the chooks, and an abundance of fresh veggies saw the three of them self sufficient and very content.

One day Bill told Albert that he had been talking to the neighbour across the road and had heard that old Mr. Newbury just walked out of his farm because he couldn’t cope with paying the mortgage and developing the land.  Albert thought his dream may be finally coming true! He promptly went and arranged to shift into the little white cottage that he so loved, and to work on the farm. 

Setting up residence in this quaint little house was a delight for Albert as he thought of all the things he could do to improve the property.  The thought of scything reeds, digging out tree stumps, ploughing, and planting didn’t deter his eagerness. And Margaret and Bill were still close neighbours and would help him get the farm in order just as he had helped them.

It wasn’t long before Albert had once again settled into a routine that suited him.  He worked on the farm from sun-up to sundown and at night he would sit by the log fire pondering on how he was to secure the farm for himself. One particular bright, sunny morning the postman rode up on his horse. As he and Albert had their morning catch-up the postman told Albert about gum digging in Mangawhai.  It seemed to be a lucrative job at the time and Albert was keen to try his hand at it.

So off he went the very next day with his tent and his horse.  He stayed at Mangawhai for a few weeks at a time working extremely hard digging out gum and selling it by the pound. Gum digging was tiring and time-consuming, but this could be the way he would get enough money to buy his farm outright, so he persevered. At the end of each night he would cook up a quick dinner then crawl into his tent for much needed sleep, knowing that the weekend would see him burning the candle as he worked on cutting rushes back on the farm.

Occasionally Albert would take his horse and ride into town to visit with friends, and it was one of those weekends that saw him end up at a public house for the evening.  Here he met a lovely young lady by the name of Rose Kathleen and soon they fell in love.  Rose had also come out from England so they quickly had a history between them and a short courtship later saw them happily married.

Rose Kathleen was not that keen on Albert digging for gum though, as it took him away from home so regularly. Subsequently Albert went back to developing the farm, concentrating on building and preparing the land.  Before long he had a calf shed and had bred some animals for dairying.

The farm was looking well loved, and Rose was pregnant with their first child, when a letter came from the government to say that the farm finally belonged to Albert and Rose.  What a wonderful day it was for them both as they sat in their wicker furniture on the verandah of their little white cottage in Waiteitei. 

As Albert looked back that night, he rejoiced in his good fortune.  He thanked his parents for encouraging him to take the long journey into the unknown. He would be forever grateful to Bill and Margaret for taking him in on his arrival in New Zealand. And he was thankful for the inadvertent demise of Mr. Newbury and the fortuitous opportunity that opened up for him to take over the farm. 

Albert was one of the many happy migrants to New Zealand in the early 1900s, and alongside Rose Kathleen, he went on to be an active part of their local community.

 

 

‘The Little White Cottage’ was written 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. You can read Heather Burnan’s blog online at www.burnanaround.wordpress.com.

 

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/A2XT-BFSL

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