Topic: Arrival of the Rorke Family in New Zealand by Jinty Rorke (1976)

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In 2007 Tauranga historian Jean Euphemia Finlayson (Jinty) Rorke told the story of her arrival in New Zealand with her family. Jinty passed away, aged 71, on Wednesday 5 February 2014 following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Looking strange ? See an archived version here

October 1976 we were en route from Fiji to New Zealand on board our yacht Palantir. Not a bad voyage, although we had one nasty gale, during which our 2 and 4-year-old daughters disported themselves in the cabin, holding onto the handrails, and shrieking with laughter as waves reared up and cascaded down on top of us.

Eventually we caught a brief glimpse of Cape Brett. The clouds on the horizon closed over, and the longed for land vanished, failing to reappear, no matter how long we sailed on. Then as night fell we spied the flashing light of Tiritirimatangi. Then, oh dear, it too vanished. Was it a power cut, were we drifting backwards, or was Aotearoa being carried away from us? (Later we heard that the light on Tiritiri had indeed failed that night!)

In the morning a light westerly carried us past Great Barrier Island, which looked idyllic with its white sand beaches and green hillsides. Then the Mercury Islands, another night sailing along the Coromandel coast past Slipper Island, and finally an early morning radio call to the Port of Tauranga, to say we would be arriving that day. “What time?” they asked. “Midday” replied David, fingers crossed, hoping that the breeze would hold. We skirted the Matakana bar and sailed into the channel between Mauao and Matakana Island, so reminiscent of the passes we had negotiated into the lagoons of the Tuamotu and other coral atolls of French Polynesia.

Tauranga resident and long time radio ham John Wightman stood on the base track around the Mount, waving to us as we entered, a mere 15 minutes late. This was lucky indeed, as waiting on the dock in Pilot Bay was a group of customs and immigration officials, complete with drug sniffing dog. Kirsty and Cathy became very excited at the thought that a dog would come on board, but were disappointed when it was led away without a sniff. We must have looked unlikely drug runners.

Formalities over, we sailed on up the harbour and anchored off the yacht club building (now the Harbourside restaurant) just north of the railway bridge in the middle of the afternoon. There was, of course, no road bridge and the main yacht anchorage was off The Strand. The view from the CBD was made much more interesting by all the small boats.

tauranga cbd postcard. Tauranga Central Business District with the Railway Bridge to the left

Almost the first thing I did was phone Mollie Mune, mother of well known actor and director Ian Mune, with whom we had been in correspondence since Tahiti. She arranged to meet us next day, and also told an old sailing friend of hers, Peter Densem, of our arrival.

In the middle of the night we were awoken by the most terrifying noise. Still half asleep, and thinking we were still at sea, and about to be run down by a steamer David leapt out of bed and out of the fore hatch. No ship, of course, just a train crossing the Matapihi rail bridge!

Next day, the Friday before Labour Weekend, Mollie arrived at the dock and took us to the Bay of Plenty Savings Bank at the bottom of Devonport Road. The weather, as we now realise is typical of the long weekend, was miserable, windy and cold. After eight years in the tropics, and without winter clothes, we were freezing. And the world seemed to have been turned on its head. Usually after leaving the air conditioned comfort of a bank we wanted to turn round and go back in to enjoy the coolness. Now we wanted to retreat into the warmth.

arrival tauranga 1976. The Rorkes at Sulphur Point slipway, summer 1976/7.  From left: Jinty, Cathy, David, Kirsty

In 1976 there was a small supermarket, Saveway Discount Market, on the corner of Willow Street and Harington Street, so we were able to buy some fresh food before Tauranga, and indeed the whole country, shut down for three days. It seemed ironic to have finally reached civilisation only to have it snatched away from us again.

We were within walking distance (just, for a 2-year-old) of Memorial Park, and took advantage of the children’s playground. Some of the most popular items – from memory a railway engine, and a rocket – have now been removed because they were too dangerous.

One of our first ports of call was the library. Here we were treated with a great deal of suspicion because we were living on a yacht. I guess they thought we would sail away with the books. There was a ramp leading from one side of the building to the other, which made a lovely noise if you jumped on it or ran down it. The girls were often shushed by one particular librarian of the old school. The children’s library was upstairs. Books were issued and returned here by the children’s staff, who gave excellent service under Isobel Weeninck. The library, which was very popular, stayed open until 9 o’clock on Fridays, to fit in with the late night shopping.

Next to the library on the corner of Wharf and Willow Streets was the Town Hall, built in 1914 and demolished in 1987. A steep flight of steps led up to the front doors, often closed, which bore a notice announcing that within lay the Archives and Sladden library. I was often tempted to go in, but with two small children in tow never did, little imagining that in 1980 I would be working there.

town hall library 1983. Town Hall and Library (right) 1983

On the north east corner of the intersection was the Bank of New Zealand, now, of course, converted into the Art Gallery. Next to it, further down Wharf Street, was the Bank of New South Wales. The NZ Herald office and the Sunrise café were opposite.

The Strand was still a fairly old fashioned shabby shopping street, with a variety of stores, three hotels, a pharmacy, Bay Outfitters on the corner of Harington Street. The most upmarket of them all was Charles Hartley’s, which sold gowns and gloves, hats and blouses to those who could afford them. The temptation to take the children into the shop when you wished to make a purchase was great: your money and an invoice were put into a cylinder, which, on the tug of a handle, was whisked away up to the cashier in her glass sided office. She made the correct change, then sent the brass cylinder back down to the desk, where the shop attendant handed over the cash.

Parking on the reclamation was free, and not busy. There was a wishing well on the harbour side of the Strand gardens, next to the Public Relations Office. Flower beds were planted with annuals, and often had a floral logo associated with a particular event. Even the steep banks outside the town hall were adorned with flower beds full of red and white petunias.

strand c1971. The Strand c.1971

In Willow Street were Hallensteins Men’s Wear Store and, more importantly, at number 114, Jack’s store. Inevitably everyone called the cheerful, whistling figure behind the counter Jack, but his name was actually Ron. He stocked fresh fruit and vegetables as well as all the basics: bread, jam, sauces, biscuits, household cleaners.

The Star Hotel, a shabby shadow of its former self, was a focal point at the foot of Devonport Road, on the corner of the Spring Street Mall, fondly known as Red Square from the red paving stones. Also fronting onto Red Square were Mackenzie’s variety store and the Regent Theatre on the south side, with the Sinel Pharmacy on the corner of Grey Street. Hannah’s shoe shop stood in the centre of the mall on the northern side and the Economic Cash Drapery (ECD) store on the corner.

spring street c1974. Spring Street Mall (aka "Red Square") c.1974

Goddard’s bookshop was located near the bottom of Devonport Road. Owned by Ray Goddard, it was an excellent bookshop for so small a city and had a small gift shop up above the main book store. Goddard’s Arcade is named after the shop which was demolished to make way for the development. Further up the road on the corner of the Piccadilly Arcade was Des Wilson’s Linen and Lingerie centre, now a shoe shop, and opposite the long established jewellers’ shop owned and run by the Stewart family. There was a modest restaurant in the Piccadilly Arcade, the only one we could find within walking distance of Palantir. We were mystified by the term BYO on the menu, not something we had encountered in the Virgin Islands, which were awash with rum, and had to nip out to try to find a bottle of something to drink.

Farmers Store and the Devon mall had already been constructed between Elizabeth Street and 1st Avenue. It was always rather too far away from the heart of town to be very popular, and the Devon mall concept has disappeared as Farmers has expanded.

Wardenburg’s furniture shop, which also stocked floor coverings and curtain fabric was well known for the annual wall hanging competition. Some spectacular quilts and woven hangings were displayed in the store each year.

The only shop open at weekends was the Thriftway supermarket on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Cameron Road. Friday night was late night shopping, and families used to wander round the then busy downtown area, meeting friends, shopping and choosing library books.

In December 1976 the Tauranga Historic Village and District Museum in opened its doors in 17th Avenue. Two years later (March 1979) along with hundreds of other residents we watched with interest as the tug Taioma was moved from the slipway at Sulphur Point along Cameron Road to the historic village.

Taioma on the move. Taioma on the move

We lived on board Palantir for several months, tied up bow to the jetty at the Sulphur Point slipway. The stern was held secure by ropes to two solid piles. We had the use of a shower and toilets in the building that housed the manager’s office. Our first Christmas, though, was spent in the comparative luxury of a borrowed flat on Cliff Road, very close to the slipway. These flats, near what had been a small dairy, have since been demolished.

Opposite were two railway houses, long since replaced by more expensive homes. The tennis/netball courts were well used, especially on Saturdays. The Women’s Bowling Club was always popular, and the rose gardens then as now, held a splendid display. At that time a statue of a small boy graced the pool, near the statue of Ceres. The Begonia House held a fine display of plants. There was a small aviary among the trees near the ramparts of the Monmouth Redoubt.

David got a position at Otumoetai College, teaching Maths, starting at the end of January 1977. On the strength of his job we were able to negotiate a mortgage from Cooney, Lees and Morgan in order to buy a two bed-roomed house on Grange Road, Otumoetai, in April 1977. I later became very familiar with Ed Morgan’s name in connection with legal work done representing the interests of Maori. The house seemed very spacious at first, and the girls found it bewildering after years in close proximity to us on the yacht. All the houses on Grange Road were on septic tanks still, and soon we were forced to find the money to pay to link up to the city’s sewerage system. We sold the Grange Road house in 1980, and had been in the new house in Dysart Road only a few months when we had to pay to join that property to the sewerage system too.

In 1977 parents were expected to enrol children at Kindergarten at the age of two. When we went to the Otumoetai Kindergarten in Karaka Road to ask for a place for Kirsty, we had to make a special case about how disadvantaged she had been, living in isolation on the yacht, in order to get her in for the few months before she started at Pillans Point School.

Once established in Otumoetai we shopped at the New World supermarket which was on the corner of Cherrywood Drive and Otumoetai Road (now a 4 Square store).

By the end of 1979 both Kirsty and Cathy had settled in at Pillans Point School, which was within easy walking distance of our Grange Road house. I applied to Sheila Morgan, who was the Librarian, for a position at the public library. Nothing was available at first, but in June 1980 I was offered the position of archivist. Miss Morgan’s main concern was not that I knew very little about the history of Tauranga and even less about the history of New Zealand, but that having arrived on a yacht we might disappear into the blue. I reassured her that we were ready to settle down, and that I would stay for a reasonable length of time. And after almost 28 years I think I have done just that!

by Jinty Rorke (November 2007)

This page was archived at perma cc in January 2017 https://perma:cc/yzd7-vc3y

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Arrival of the Rorke Family in New Zealand by Jinty Rorke (1976)

First Names:Jean Euphemia (Jinty)
Last Name:Rorke
Date of Birth:7 December 1942
Place of Birth:England
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Arrival of the Rorke Family in New Zealand by Jinty Rorke (1976) by Tauranga City Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License