Topic: The Satin that Dreams are Made of by Gwyneth Jones

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At the tiny mining settlement where I spent my childhood a Maori family called Taumarunui lived with other Maori families in a gully of native bush beside the entrance to the Pukemiro coalmine. Despite being offered mine houses they had preferred to build their own dwellings from all manner of scrap materials from the mine. The empty wooden dynamite crates, cardboard boxes and tarpaulins that covered the wagons of coal, were amongst some of the items that formed their shelters.

Mrs. Taumarunui was a tall lady with black hair and beautiful smooth skin. There were three children. Kueani, the eldest, hardly ever attended school so, even though she was thirteen years old, she was still in my class. Moana was the next girl and Sammy Taumarunui was the youngest. They had all inherited their mother’s beautiful skin and tall figure.

Because those were war years, with rationing of even the essentials, dress material was impossible to obtain, but by some wizardry Allen’s Drapery Store in Huntly had acquired some bolts of satin. Word spread quickly to the outlying coalmining villages that this material was available for sale at sixpence a yard. On receiving this news the miners’ wives crammed the passenger train to Huntly next morning with hopes of purchasing some of the precious fabric.

But they were all disappointed, after standing for hours in a queue outside Allen’s Drapery store, for Mr. Allen himself finally announced that all the stock had been sold. The women trudged despondently back to the railway station to catch the afternoon train back to Pukemiro.

After about a week most of the women, including my mother, were over their disappointment at missing out on the satin material. Then, early one sunny morning Mrs. Taumarunui and her three children appeared on the brow of the hill above the mine. They stood for some time in silhouette with the sun gleaming on their shiny satin dresses. Then they turned onto the gravel track that served as a road to the Pukemiro Township. They walked slowly and in file as a mother duck would with her ducklings.

Mrs. Taumarunui led the way followed by Kueani, then Moana, and, tagging along in the rear, young Sammy Taumarunui.  As a rule the Maori people took a shortcut to the township, which didn’t require using the metal road at all; but there was a purpose to Mrs. Taumarunui’s intention to pass the mine houses this morning.

All housework stopped as the miners’ wives hurried to their windows to behold the sight. It was clear that Mrs. Taumarunui had been one of the successful purchasers of Mr. Allen's satin material as they were all resplendent in purple satin dresses with nicely gathered skirts. Perfectly miserable at the end of the line was Sammy, clothed only in a huge pair of billowing satin trousers that came well down past his knees.

The womenfolk were not amused for even though, through pursed lips, they all agreed they would never have chosen the colour purple, they were annoyed and puzzled as to how Mrs. Taumarunui had beaten them to purchase the satin material.

The next time Kueani and I walked to school together I asked her how her mother had managed to buy the satin material when everyone else from the area had missed out. Kueani told me that when Mrs. Taumarunui heard there was material for sale she had not waited for the morning train but instead had walked the twelve miles along the railway line into Huntly arriving while there was still a choice of many colours. She added that her mother had hand sewn each garment by only the light of a candle flame.



About the writer: Gwyneth Jones had her first novel While Their Souls Slumbered published in 1998, and was then writing for the magazines New Zealand Memories and Rainbow News.

When Coal Was King, the history of the Pukemiro and Glen Afton townships and coal mines was published in 2002, the first in a series of four that will record the ‘History of the Waikato Coal Mines’. The second, The End of an Era, the history of the Glen Massey township and coal mines was published in 2010, and she is currently working on At the Coal Face, the history of Huntly, and Rotowaro: Lake of Coal, the history of Rotowaro and surrounding districts.

Gwyneth was President of the Uxbridge Writers in Howick for some time before moving to Tauranga, where she is now a much-valued member of Tauranga Writers.

‘The Satin that Dreams are Made of’ 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.



This page Archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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