Topic: Friisy’s Story by Barbara Dobson

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Barbara Dobson's entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

Friisy’s Story - by Barbara Dobson

  When my much-loved grandmother passed away in 1976 the Mount News reported:

 With the death last week of Mrs Margaret Anne Friis (nee Woodward), Mount Maunganui lost a loveable near nonagenarian, who was held in affection and esteem by a wide circle of friends and residents…

Always known affectionately as ‘Friisy’ this dear little lady became a legend at Mount Maunganui for her quiet dedication to the many organisations to which she belonged and her selfless devotion to her church, which dominated her devout life…

 The Mount had not always been her home.

Born Margaret Ann Woodward in Wimbledon, London on 7th Feb 1887, life’s journey took her from city life in England to rural Hawkes Bay, a farm in Reporoa, and then a busy ‘retirement’ in Mount Maunganui.

This is her story—some of it told in her own words written during that busy retirement.

 ‘It was during the First World War. I was working in a grocery store in Bournemouth, Hants, England. A lot of New Zealand soldiers were billeted there. Well, it was my luck to meet one of the NZ Engineers. We got engaged but before a NZ soldier got married in England he had to get permission from the army. We happened to be rather unlucky as we sent off for permission but before it came Bert was sent off to France.

‘He was wounded on July 29 1917, and was sent back to England. We got married on Sept 19th 1917. It was a pretty wet day but it did not make any difference to our happiness. We were not allowed any icing on our wedding cake as a war was on.’

 Margaret married Bertie William Friis in St Clements Church, Bournemouth. Two months later they were en route to New Zealand on board the Ruahine, arriving in Auckland in January 1918.

 ‘An uncle and aunt of Bert's met us at the wharf and took us all over Auckland. I might say at this moment I felt a bit homesick. All perfect strangers except Bert. Anyhow I soon got over that, realising I was in the best place at such a time.

‘From there we went to Dannevirke where Bert's mother lived. Another great fuss was made of us…as I was the second war bride to arrive. His mother was a dear old soul. After a short stay with her we got a four roomed cottage which we paid 5/- per week for. Bert’s first job was gate keeper at the races…’

 Life in rural Dannevirke was different to the sophisticated city life to which Margaret was accustomed.

 ‘After six months we went to work on a farm at Umutaoroa seven miles from Dannevirke. They were very nice people. We had a six roomed house there.

‘We got a gig and a flighty mare. Bert took her round the paddock several times before we went to town to calm her down. When we were ready to come home the fun started. She would come down the high street of Dannevirke on her hind legs. One afternoon…the mare bolted with me still sitting there. I did not know what to do... Some men ran out of a milking shed and stopped her. I walked the rest of the way home two or three miles…’

 In 1920 Bert was one of fifteen returned soldiers who were allocated farms in Reporoa through a ballot system. Bert went ahead to Reporoa to prepare a place for them to live on the undeveloped farm land leaving Margaret in Dannevirke, expecting her first child. A baby boy was born that September:

‘When he was a month old I came from Dannevirke to Rotorua travelling all night and most of the day…Bert arrived with an open wagon with two horses, so the following day we started off early in the morning…. We were lucky it was a fine day but dark when we got there…We got nearly home when Bert said I think you had better get out and walk, as it will be too rough for the baby. I could not see where I was going, falling in rabbit holes and what have you. At last we got home, just two little rooms and a lean-to, an open fire place, no convenience what so ever, but it was home.

‘We soon improved on the house…We had a lot of trouble with our farm at first. It was bush sick. We lost quite a lot of stock. We had a very hard frost the first year. We put in a lot of potatoes and lost all of them. I might say here I always helped in the milking shed, staying there until a month before [the babies] were due then back again when they were a month old.’

 Margaret’s faith was always strong and attending church services a weekly ritual:

 ‘When we first went on the farm we had church service in the wool shed and our seats were bags of chaff. One day some people had their furniture stored there and told us we could have a loan of their piano for the hymns but my second baby was not keen on music. When we started to sing he howled so I had to take him outside until the hymn was over. I might mention my first baby was the first baby on the settlement… After having church services in the wool shed we shifted to the hall…Then from there we got a church but we still had a mile to walk across paddocks, pushing the pram, or two miles around the road.’

 The Reporoa years were challenging and hardship the norm. Margaret’s city upbringing did little to prepare her for many of the chores that became her responsibility. But her strong character, her ability to adapt and learn and her capacity for hard work contributed to the conversion of that bush block into a thriving farm. Soon the farm supplied most of their food. Margaret made her own yeast from potatoes, baked bread, and made butter. Bert cured bacon, which then hung from hooks in the kitchen.

Nothing was wasted—tea towels were made from calico flour bags and aprons from sugar sacks. As her family grew, Margaret made dresses for her three daughters, and shirts and shorts for her three sons on the old treadle sewing machine. She even made their winter coats! She also crocheted, making petticoats for the girls with flannelette bodices and crocheted skirts. Her sewing prowess was much envied.

 ‘As time went on we managed to get a car and would go into Rotorua once a month to do our shopping…

‘In those days farming was much harder than it is today. One year we milked 85 in a three-cow plant. It took ages to milk…We started ploughing with a one-furrow plough. I had to drive the horse until one or two furrows were done then Bert could manage himself…

‘We had a busy life and I used to be very tired when night came. It was quite a common occurrence for me to fall asleep on my knees saying my prayers at night. Bert would wake up and say, “Have you not got to bed yet?" but I never let on what had happened.’

 In 1942, after twenty-four years of farming Bert and Margaret retired to Mount Maunganui. Margaret had fallen in love with the seaside community on an earlier visit, and without much persuasion Bert agreed to buy a place there. The house at 5 Pacific Avenue was close to the beach and to town. After the comparative isolation of Reporoa it was heaven! The house at first was tiny—just a kitchen/living area, one bedroom and a large verandah protected from the weather by roll-down canvas awnings. There was no bathroom or toilet inside the house. Fern covered the section, and they had to slash a path to the outside toilet.

Everything they needed was right there at The Mount and Margaret and Bert discovered new interests. Bert had a small dinghy and enjoyed fishing in the harbour—Margaret often accompanying him. Once an inside bathroom was built the old outhouse was converted into a smoke house to cure the fish. Gradually they cleared the fern and created an extensive vegetable garden.

At last they had time for themselves—although Margaret devoted much of her time to working for others through charitable work. She remained passionate about her church and saw the beginnings of what is now St Peter’s Anglican Church in Victoria Road. At first this was a small wooden building, where the congregation shared services with other denominations until, thanks to various fundraising activities in which Margaret was an active participant, the new church was built in 1956.

Her involvement didn’t stop at fundraising—she donated the brass processional cross, and took charge of the Lady Chapel, crocheting edging for the altar cloths, laundering and starching them each week and arranging the flowers. This became known as ‘Friisy’s Altar.’

The local Red Cross also benefited from Margaret’s generous nature and in 1972 her service to the Mount Maunganui Red Cross was recognised when she was awarded their twenty year service medal. The Bay of Plenty Times (7 Aug 1972) reported:

 …Now in her 80s Mrs Friis was a foundation member of the Mount sub-centre which was formed in the late 1940s. She has been a committee member ever since, never missing a meeting…’

 She was also an active member of the Mount Senior Citizens Club where she enjoyed the social gatherings. Margaret always walked the several kilometres there and back, even in her eighties.

Letters back and forth to England were the only way to keep in touch with the family Margaret had left behind. She never saw her parents again—her mother died in 1925 and her father in 1948. It was not until 1955 that Margaret and Bert made the sea voyage back to England. It was to be their only trip and the last time Margaret saw her three siblings.

Her beloved Bert passed away on September 8th, 1958 after a short illness. He was 74. They had enjoyed 41 years together.

Friisy lived for another eighteen years. She died on June 15th, 1976 aged eighty nine.



The Married Life of Margaret Ann written in 1964 by Margaret Friis.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 20-16:

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Friisy’s Story by Barbara Dobson

Year:c.1940, c.1950, c.1960, and c.1970
First Names:Barbara
Last Name:Dobson