Topic: Wairoa Road, Bethlehem. The Perston Family

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In August of 2013 Warwick (Darby) Perston gave a presentation on his life growing up in the Wairoa road, Bethlehem region to the Papamoa Branch of the NZSG. The following draws on his notes and display.

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In recent years, as I have recounted events and experiences with friends and contemporaries, I have gradually come to realise how much our lives have changed in the comparatively short span of years since we were children. Although there are still many people alive who are old enough to have been our parents and who have witnessed far greater changes than I, I have felt a growing urge and responsibility to record some of the experiences and memories that I can recall having as a child and young person while living on Wairoa Road in the 1930s and 1940s. Much of what my sister and I have recorded on the following pages is, in the first instance, for our descendants to read if they are ever interested and, in the second instance, for anyone else who, in years to come, is curious about the daily lives led by people who once lived in the district. Although it is probable that readers will find much of our writing boring, there are some stories that could be worth recording.

Our father was born in Tauranga in 1900 and had many a tale to tell about life and associated characters in the district in the early part of the 20th century. Unfortunately, he was neither inclined nor able to record much of this information which would have had historical value today. Not many years before he died, a person from either an historical society or a Tauranga District High School reunion committee, interviewed him and recorded some of his stories on a tape recorder. Although he was usually a good talker, he found it a bit difficult to recount many of his stories in a formal situation and much was therefore unrecorded. It is interesting to note that Dad was born about 3 years before the Wright brothers flew the first powered aeroplane and that he was only 69 when Man reached the Moon. He also saw and remembered details of the first car that came to Tauranga. Mum, although some years younger than Dad, also had childhood experiences to relate that were never recorded. One was about driving down the beach in a car with her parents, when her family went camping at The Mount. There was no road to The Mount in those days.

Many of our neighbours had known hardship either before they began farming on Wairoa and Crawford Roads or while they were getting themselves established there. Some of those farmers were veterans of WW1 who worked very hard and who eventually owned good productive properties. As far as I am aware few, if any, of our neighbours ever recorded their stories, which is a great pity because they are now lost forever.
It is largely because preceding generations in NZ regarded their lives as being too mundane to record that we have lost so much history. This has also been another reason for us to write these pages, no matter how dull they may seem to be at the present time.

Our family and our neighbours lived in a rural environment. As youngsters, our lives revolved around a world of dogs, cows, horses, pigs and poultry etc. Although cars and other mechanical vehicles were becoming increasingly common, there were still many people who moved around the countryside on horses or in horsedrawn vehicles. Mobs of cattle and, occasionally sheep, being driven along roads and highways were common events. Most stock that was destined, either for the freezing works or for other localities, was moved by rail. A majority of travellers moved by train or by bus and not many cars made long distance trips. Bikes were common transport for people of all ages and many people walked long distances from one place to another simply because there were no alternatives.

Overseas trips were rare events, made almost exclusively by ship. To travel to the UK, it took something like 4 to 6 weeks. Even Australia was at least 3 days away by boat, (usually the Wanganella or Wahine). To most of our neighbours and friends, international travel was unaffordable, anyway. We lived in a country with a population of only one and a half million people where the pace of life was adjusted to the times and available resources.

The 1930s were mostly depression years when few people were well off. These were followed by the war years of the early 1940s which were not much better. Along with most of the people around us, we lived a frugal lifestyle in which uses were found for many of the free resources that came our way. Superphosphate sacks (super bags), sugar bags, 4 gallon kerosene tins, flour bags, old newspapers, tobacco and match tins, No. 8 wire and 40 lb apple cases were put to all sorts of uses as covers, containers, kindling, handles, lavatory paper, etc. Having these things around us and making use of them was taken for granted and was an unquestioned part of our lives.

Because few of our friends, neighbours or relatives were much better off than we were, we accepted our situation as being quite normal and seldom questioned it. Some neighbours had cars but we didn’t. That was OK. Some acquired a few modern conveniences that we didn’t have. That was OK too. We were sometimes told by our parents that we couldn’t afford certain things and we just accepted what they said. That was how things were. In later years, by the time we had acquired modern conveniences, we had developed a sense of values and really appreciated what we had.

Most youngsters of our age were brought up to refer to our seniors as Mr, Mrs or Miss. The few exceptions were family friends who had asked to be called by their first names or other people who had done likewise. Our parents would not tolerate our being rude or impudent to our seniors.
We were also raised to have respect for authority such as police and schoolteachers. I remember imagining that every policeman I saw, was ready to slap me in jail. As I grew older, I gradually came to realise that most police were quite nice people. Honesty was a requirement that our parents placed upon us although we did manage to raid the odd orchard here and there. Fruit was often fair game but stealing money or other property was unthinkable. The world that we lived in was so honest that we never locked our house when we were away and I don’t think Grandad or our neighbours did either.

In writing the following pages, we have not attempted to create a literary masterpiece but have tried to confine our stories to what actually happened in our day and have limited our descriptions of the personalities of people who were involved. Character descriptions are time consuming and are only impressions of observers. They can also be factually incorrect. Most references to weights, measures and money are in imperial units which were the standards in those days. It didn’t seem appropriate to discuss events that happened so long go in terms of metrics that we now use.
Although, in these times, it is not politically correct to refer to Japanese as “Japs”, during the war they were our hated enemy for whom any derogatory name was OK. In the following pages, where I have recorded my childhood recollections of WW2 I have, therefore, used the name “Japs” which was what most people called them at that time.


Our paternal grandfather, Henry John Perston (Grandad), was a first generation New Zealander who was born at Onehunga in 1870. His father, Robert Morris Perston emigrated to NZ from Largs, near Glasgow, in the early 1860s and married Fanny Hall who was also an immigrant to NZ and who came from Cootehill in Ireland. Four children, of whom our grandfather was the eldest and who was the only one to eventually marry, were born of the marriage. In 1878 their father died and this was followed, several years later, by their mother marrying a Mr Courtney. Three children were born of that marriage.

What Grandad worked at during his earlier life, is not certain but he may have been involved, through one of his uncles by marriage, a Mr Gibbons, in the kauri timber industry. It is known, however, that by 1897 he was farming at “Ferncliff”, a property at Tauriko near Tauranga. We still have his diaries dating from that year. From reference to old letters and other correspondence, it appears that Ferncliff may have been purchased and owned by a family trust and that Grandad became the manager. Grandad married Ada Darby in 1899 and our father, Robert Morris Vincent Perston (Morris) was born in 1900. Ada died in 1903 shortly after giving birth to a second child who also did not survive.

Grandad did not return to Ferncliff after his wife’s death but chose to live most of the time in Tauranga. It is understood that he, at one time, farmed a small block at Judea, which he either owned or leased, and that he bought two 50 acre blocks of undeveloped land for 200 pounds each on Wairoa Road on 3rd March 1906. He couldn’t afford to own the two blocks so he sold one (the better of the two) quite early on. The land that he bought from the Crown had probably been a part of the large block of Maori land that had been confiscated by an earlier government in the wake of the NZ Land Wars.

The eastern boundary of the Wairoa Rd property that he retained was the Wairoa River which is tidal at that point and continues to be so for several miles upstream towards the Kaimai. At least two thirds of the property was low lying riverflat which, I understand, was covered in a predominant mixture of manuka and briar rose. There were also old stumps and logs on the flood plain which were either partly buried or were lying on the surface. All this unwanted rubbish had to be cleared and burnt ahead of back breaking draining, grassing and fencing. Presumably, the hillside and the land above, also carried a similar mixture of vegetation but with some bracken fern component, although probably without the stumps and logs. During periods of sustained heavy rain, the river often flooded over the flats and this was made worse if the rain happened to coincide with a spring tide and/or an easterly storm.

Some of the hillside terraces, between the flats and the top land, had been inhabited by Maori, probably going back many hundreds of years. At one point, just above the flats, there was an old Maori pa just inside the northern neighbour’s property and it is certain that hangi stones and shell middens, on our farm, could be attributed to people centred on that pa. Although the farm was only about 5 ½ miles from Tauranga which is only a few minutes by car in today’s world, Grandad and Dad usually lived in the ”shanty” when they were working there because it was too far to ride to and from town each day. The “shanty” was a small earth floored building with few or no amenities. I remember it well with its having been turned into a tool and harness shed by the time I was born. It continued in that function for many years thereafter.

A major item of development on the farm was the formation of a road, around the hillside, from the top land to the river flats below. The road was the vital link between the higher and lower parts of the farm but took some time to construct with scoops and various other horsedrawn implements. This undertaking was probably assisted with plain old spades and shovels. However, after sidecasting many hundreds of cubic yards of earth, a very respectable road was built with an adequate carriageway and to a gentle gradient. In later years when neighbours brought their motor driven machinery to the farm to assist with hay and silage making, the road was of a sufficient standard to carry those vehicles.

During the twenty years or so that the Wairoa Rd farm was being developed, Grandad and Dad generated income from other sources. Grandad bought a seed drill and did contracting jobs. He was also hired on a casual basis to do property valuations for the Crown. Sometimes these jobs took him to other parts of the Bay of Plenty e.g. Opotiki on at least one occasion. Dad spent quite a lot of time driving sheep and cattle throughout the Bay of Plenty and also to the Waikato. He made at least one trip by scow from Tauranga to Auckland with a boatload of cattle or sheep. On many occasions he drove stock from Tauranga to Ngongotaha through the Tauranga Direct Road. Occasionally, he even rode to Rotorua and back to Tauranga, within 24 hours. He bought 140 acres of scrub land on Minden which he used as a run off for stock in which he sometimes traded. He sold Minden some time in the mid 1940s for one hundred and forty pounds (I think).

I do not know when dairying first took place on the Wairoa Road farm but I do know that cows were being milked there by 1932 and that a cowshed and a two roomed cottage had both been built. In that year Dad married our mother, Betty Prior, who had been assisting her uncle with farming her grandmother’s property at Te Puna. Before going to Te Puna, Mum had spent time as an assistant to a dental mechanic and had also nursed for a short period. Mum and Dad moved into the cottage on the Wairoa Road farm and took over the milking and the management of the property sometime in 1932.

Although Dad had put much effort into the development of Wairoa Rd, the farm always stayed very much as Grandad’s property. In 1933 I was born and, in 1940, my sister Phillippa (Pip) was born.



As mentioned before, the cottage had only two rooms i.e a kitchen which also served as a living and sitting room and also as a sometime bedroom for the occasional single visitor who might come to stay. A settee in the kitchen doubled as the ”spare bed” when required.
Dad and Mum’s bedroom was the other room in the house while mine was part of a short passageway which connected the two rooms.

I can still remember my first cot being made of an old packing case with the base mattress being a washed super (fertiliser) bag that had been nailed up between the legs of the cot. A mattress and bedding were placed on top of the super bag and the result was a warm, cosy bed for a small boy. When I outgrew the cot, my parents bought a small bed from neighbours whose children had outgrown it.

Although the cottage had no electricity, the cowshed was connected and both the milking machine and the cream separator were driven by electric motors. Such were the priorities in those days.

House lighting was provided mainly by a kerosene lamp that stood on one corner of the kitchen table and also by candles stuck into aluminium candlesticks. The table was made of kauri planks and the slightly tapered stout legs had been turned on a lathe with decorative rings close to floor level. A single brass tap over the sink, connected to a six hundred gallon corrugated iron tank which caught rain from the roof, was the only source of water in the house. The bench was a wide kauri plank into which the enamel sink had been set.

A woodburning Dover stove was used for cooking and for heating water in saucepans for cleaning dishes and for baths. A kettle was the one permanent utensil on top of the stove. The water in the kettle was always hot but it could quickly be brought to the boil for cups of tea or to wash the dishes, by an extra stoke of the fire. I think we may have had a copper for washing clothes but I can also remember Mum boiling up kerosene tins on the stove. A rack, set above the stove within the bricked inset fireplace area, was constantly in use as a clothes and nappy dryer. The bath was a galvanised steel tub with handles at each end. When it wasn’t in use, it was left outside. Mum also used the tub for washing clothes. Baths were infrequent events which took place, probably no more often than once a week but we did have more regular sponge downs.

Waste sink water from the house was disposed of by an open drain which took it to the edge of the hill and, from that point, it ran freely onto the farmland below. With there being no electricity in the house, we had neither a refrigerator nor a radio. We didn’t have a telephone either. Perishable foods were kept in a “safe” which was a small cupboard that protruded from the shady south wall of the house and which was ventilated with zinc mesh, allowing the breeze to blow through it. It was reasonably effective in its intended function but food needed to be cycled frequently. In those times, safes were a common part of many kitchens because refrigerators had not been in wide use when most of the houses in our neighbourhood had been built.

Our lavatory (they were not politely referred to as “toilets” in those days) was a “long drop”, situated 10 to 15 yards from the house and housed in a small corrugated iron shed. Many of the old newspapers and magazines found their way out there to be used in lieu of toilet rolls and to be re- read in the comfort of a hard wooden seat installed in the spider infested shed. Although our lavatory arrangements were common to very many rural families of that era, they were not so easily accepted by our relatives and visitors, particularly women, from the towns. The big fat spiders in residence, often scared the daylights out of them. Actually, the spiders did a great job of controlling the flies.


Our first cowshed was built on a terrace above the flats but was below the farm road and was some distance from the county road. The shed was constructed mainly of corrugated iron with wooden bail doors. Grandad, who would never spend a penny when he could get away with less, had built the bail doors with gaps between the boards in order to economise with the timber (that was Dad’s story anyway). One of the results of the economy was that, often when Dad had finally got a new cow or heifer into the shed, it could see daylight through the bail doors and tried to make a break for the wide open spaces beyond. Despite much leg roping and chaining, a number of animals did succeed in breaking their way out of the shed, followed by barking dogs trying to head them off and by Dad’s choice language. To cover such eventualities, Dad kept spare boards, hammer, nails and a saw in the shed with which to make running repairs. After many years of such treatment, the bail doors were all patched and flimsy and easy targets for unruly cows.

The shed floor had originally been concreted but, gradually, over the years, a number of potholes had formed which filled with dirty black water. Dad was not strong on shed maintenance and the potholes kept enlarging. Sometimes when cows kicked their cups off they landed, still sucking, into the holes. It did therefore happen, occasionally, that water from the holes found its way into the milk vat and then through the cream separator. Hygiene was not a major priority in our shed and Dad was not often much concerned by what had happened. He used to get quite upset though when his cream test occasionally came back from the factory 1st or 2nd grade. He always expected the grade to be “finest” and if it wasn’t, he reckoned that “the bloody factory manager had it in for him”. On looking back, Dad either had more friends in the factory than he realised or the grading system was not particularly efficient. I suspect that the latter was the case.

Water for washing up in the shed was heated in a wood fuelled copper which was set into the bank, just outside the shed door. This was lit each morning at the start of milking and the water, although not usually boiling, was hot enough at the finish of milking to wash the separator, vat and other parts of the milking plant.

Carrying the cream up from the shed to the cans on the stand by Wairoa Road, added little to the hygiene of the operation either. From the separator, the cream was run into 4 gallon kerosene tins from which the tops had been cut, number 8 wire handles added, and which were afterwards lugged up the hill to the stand. In summer, there was normally a lot of seeding paspalum grass on the track up the hill. A plentiful population of little black grassflies inhabited the paspalum also and it was inevitable that plenty of grass seeds, flies and other insects speckled the cream by the time it reached the road. Before Dad poured the cream from the tins into the cans, there was the morning ritual of dipping his forefinger into the tins, getting the offending foreign bodies to stick to his finger and then flicking them onto the ground. Waiting dogs were always keen to lick up the flecks of cream. I am sure that not all the specks were captured and I don’t think Dad really appreciated just how good that factory manager was to him.

We kept pigs which were fattened, largely, on the skim milk that was a by-product of the cream separating process. A shallow gully separated the cowshed from the pig paddock and the skim milk was gravity fed into the pigs’ 44 gallon drum by a series of 9 inch boards nailed into V configurations that were perched on top of poles, spaced at regular intervals along the line. The skim milk flume system vaguely resembled a Roman aqueduct but, there, the similarity ended. The dogs which were invariably part of the livestock around the cowshed at milking time, used to eagerly await the sound of the separator being started and, when the skim milk started flowing, they jostled to gulp their share at the open flume. The chooks used to join the line up too. On very hot days the boards often buckled which opened gaps in the system, causing the milk to flow onto the ground. This problem was easily fixed. A few handsfull of mud from the cowshed drain below the flumes, were scooped up and plastered into the gaps, allowing the milk to continue on its way to the drum. If that treatment didn’t work on the first occasion, it was repeated until most of the milk continued to the pig drum.  In the hot summer weather, a layer of curd formed on the top of the drum which the more adventurous chooks stole by flying onto the rim. Some overbalanced, got bogged in the curd and drowned there.

In 1947, the old cowshed was replaced with a new building which was located in one of the top paddocks, only a hundred yards or so from Wairoa Road and between Grandad’s and our house. From then on, the cows climbed the hill to be milked and the cream cans were barrowed across to the shed, to be filled directly. There was no more lugging of kerosene tins up the hill and the grassflies missed out in a big way. The cow yard was concreted, there was a new concrete floor without potholes and the bail doors were new and without gaps. According to Dad, Grandad wanted to bring the bail doors from the old cowshed and install them in the new one. Dad told Grandad that “ there were going to be proper bloody doors or none at all”. He won the day.


The entire farm was literally driven by horse power. Apart from Grandad’s car and an old single banger Masport engine that drove the firewood saw, there were no internal combustion engines on the property. Dad was an exceptionally good horse handler and all operations on the farm were carried out with horse drawn implements. Ploughing, discing, scarifying, mowing, hayraking, haysweeping, harrowing, topdressing etc. all had their particular implements to which the horses were hitched at the appropriate times and seasons. In the earlier years, hay making involved building stacks which required the ground crew to pitch the hay up to the stack builders with forks. When the stack became too high, Dad parked the spring cart under the stack and the hay was two staged, firstly onto the cart and then up to the stack builders.

Sometime in the late 1930s, Dad and Grandad went all high tech and bought a Booth McDonald hay stacker. This was a steel crane-like structure which was horse operated and which eliminated all pitching of hay or silage onto stacks with forks. Jean, our quiet old draught mare, was always used as the ”whip horse” which meant that she was hitched to the winch rope and hoisted grab loads of hay or silage up to the stack builders. Jean was no pushover either. She certainly had a mind of her own, sometimes refusing to budge unless the grab man lightened the load, usually of green silage which was always heavy stuff to handle. The job on the whip horse was deemed to be suitable for a youngster to carry out and it was, therefore, at about 10 years of age that I was given this responsibility. Becoming expert at the job was not without its share of tribulations. I was a bit of a dreamer at that age, finding it difficult to concentrate on the real world for any but brief periods of time. However I was often abruptly brought back to earth by shouts and swearing from those working around the stacks and who were invariably supported by Dad. Yes, my ears were sometimes at risk from clipping until I eventually learnt to keep my mind on the job.

Each year, Dad went to the annual horse sale at Te Puke where he usually bought two unbroken horses, one a draught and the other a hack or riding horse. Some horses were quite wild and they jumped fences and took off all over the farm. It was usually my job to try to get the horses up the hill and into the yard while Dad patrolled around the edge of the hill to shout instructions to me and the dogs. Of course, no matter what I did or how fast I ran, it was never the right thing, according to Dad. It sometimes took an hour or more to get the new horses up the hill and into the yard. Once there, they were roped and mouthed and generally broken in over the following weeks or months. During much of that time I had to hold the horses with ropes while they were shod, clipped or otherwise handled. Dad was fairly impatient with my efforts at assisting him and, I must say that, with some of the wilder horses, I had a few close shaves from being trampled underfoot. Unlike my sister, Pip, I grew up without relating much to horses. All the running and chasing of animals must have had some benefits though. When I went to Tauranga College, I did quite well at middle distance running without putting much effort into training.


By far the most used useful horse-drawn implement on the farm was the *konaki. This was a hybrid vehicle, somewhere between a sledge and a wagon. The front end of the konaki was a solid chunk of wood, about 20inches x 14 inches x 14 inches, which was fastened with a heavy bolt nearly at the end of the solid rectangular pole which was the basic chassis member of the vehicle. The chunk of wood skidded along the ground and swivelled, as required, on the heavy bolt. This skid also had a stout steel horizontal loop attached to its front end onto which a swingletree or horse drawbar was attached. Towards the back end of the konaki, an axle, on the end of which were two stout laminated wooden wheels, was attached to the basic pole member. Sitting on top of this basic construction was a deck which had sides but which was open at each end. In the era of horse drawn implements, konakis were commonly used on farms in the district and there were many variations set around the basic pattern. The effect of the front skid was to act as a kind of brake preventing the konaki from over- running the horses on downhill slopes.

*As I recall reading, sometime in the distant past, the name “konaki” could have been derived from a word “koneke” which Maori called a type of sledge that was hauled manually from place to place. (This information may be incorrect).

Seldom were the days when Dad did not harness either one or two horses to the konaki to carry out some job on the farm. Feeding out hay and silage in winter, carting the stacker to the hay paddock, collecting loads of firewood, bringing loads of rotten silage to the potato paddock, carrying drums of skim milk from the neighbours, carting manure to the topdresser etc. were only a few jobs for which this versatile implement was used.

After WWII, most of our neighbours gradually mechanised with tractors but Dad didn’t relate well to machinery and doggedly stuck to his horses and konaki. Among the neighbours, over the years, Dad and his konaki became an institution with Dad being the object of much good natured ribbing from them. He did, however, have the last laugh on at least one occasion in the 1950s. One day when he was helping a neighbour with haymaking, nearly everyone in the paddock decided that Morris should upskill and receive some instruction on how to drive one of the tractors that were there. After initial resistance followed by his reluctantly agreeing and after a bit of basic instruction, he set off from the stack and drove around the paddock. On the return trip, while he was chugging very slowly along in low gear, he pointed the tractor straight at the stack and yelled out “how do you stop this bloody thing ??” These words struck panic into everybody around the stack and the site was immediately abandoned with the builders even jumping from the stack. After driving a few more yards, Dad deftly depressed the clutch and threw the tractor out of gear, coming to rest just a few feet from the stack. After the torrent of abuse from his workmates subsided, they all rolled around on the ground with laughter at Dad’s prank, leading them to believe that he was about to crash into the stack. Yes, the crafty old bugger did know a bit more about driving than the neighbours ever suspected.


Although the neighbours were an independent lot, they were always there to help each other in times of need. Hay and silage making was a cooperative effort among various groups of neighbours who worked in with each other. There were, perhaps, 3 or 4 such groups on our road who worked together and who shared their horses (later tractors and farm trucks) and any implements that might be needed. There were jobs to be done, with no one ever feeling that he had not received as much time as he had given his neighbour. Occasionally, when neighbours were sick, there were always people ready to render assistance. It was a good system which fostered good relationships and fellowship.

One of my enduring memories as a boy of 3 or 4 years old was Mum and Dad and, of course, I, sometimes being invited over to Mr and Mrs Carey’s place to listen to wrestling matches between Lofty Blomfield, George Walker or Earl McCready. Lofty was a Kiwi and Earl was a Canadian and these two had many epic battles. George Walker was another top wrestler of that time too. Unlike later wrestling farces, their matches were always clean and in earnest. Lofty’s specialty hold was the “Octopus Clamp” but I cannot remember what McCready’s was. Being so young, I was put to sleep while the wrestlers fought it out but always inquired, upon being woken, who had won. As was normal in those days, the strongest drink consumed during those evenings was tea. Most people just didn’t have the money to spend on alcohol but they still enjoyed the company of others and the simple pleasures of life.

While all these activities were in progress on and around the farm, Mum worked very hard, mostly in the home, cooking meals, knitting garments, washing clothes, feeding haymakers and generally supporting the family.
Rather than discussing Mum’s role, at this point, I think it would be appropriate to devote a separate section to her later on in these reminiscences.


The metalled county road past our farm had to be graded periodically. Mr Baikie, a long time acquaintance of Dad, was the usual grader driver and he would often stop and ask the small boy who was standing at the gate watching the impressive machine, whether he would like a ride in his grader. After always asking my parents whether I could go on a trip with Mr Baikie, I sometimes went up and down the road in his magic machine. Such pleasure for a small boy!


My maternal grandparents lived in Thames until I was 6 or 7 years old. Mum and I stayed with them on several occasions and we always travelled there by train from Te Puna railway station. How we got to the station, I cannot remember but it is probable that either Dad took us there in the spring cart or that we walked. We travelled to Paeroa Junction where we changed trains for Thames . On the line to Paeroa, the train went through the tunnel between Waikino and Karangahake. In the days of steam, all windows had to be closed to keep out the smoke and soot from the engine. I don’t think Mum enjoyed the tunnel but I certainly looked forward to travelling through it and always asked her when we would be getting there. One moment the train was in daytime, the next it was in night time and suddenly it was in daytime again. Great stuff!

When my grand parents moved to Auckland, I went to stay there on at least one occasion. Again, the trip was by train which took all day and, with trains nearly always being several hours late during the war years, it was dark when we got there, even in mid summer. My grand parents must have hired a taxi to take us back to their house because I can remember lights, on the way, shining from a building that would have been at least 5 stories high and telling my grand parents to “look at the tall building”. Nan was quite embarrassed by her country hick grandson’s remarks and told me to keep quiet. Until that time, I had never seen a building taller than 2 stories and even they were not that common, either. While staying in Auckland, I travelled into Queen St in trams, went to the pictures, rode a few lifts and was taken to a childrens’ play ground at Balmoral (I think). I also remember seeing American Jeeps and other army vehicles, almost everywhere around Auckland.
All these activities were a tremendous change in environment for a kid from Wairoa Road.
At the end of the holidays, I was put on the Taneatua Express and sent home.



In 1938, after I had turned 5, I started school at Bethlehem. In those days Bethlehem was classified as a “Native School”, probably because the majority of pupils were Maori who came from the Wairoa Pa and Bethlehem settlements and also from the Wairoa Road and Wairoa Bridge localities. I cannot recall the number of teachers or approximately how many pupils there were when I started school but I hadn’t been there long when Maori children from Judea and Cambridge Road, who had been attending Otumoetai School, were bused each day to Bethlehem. At that point, I think Bethlehem became a 5 teacher school and the school roll rose to be possibly between 60 and 80 pupils.
The reasons for bringing the Judea and Cambridge Road children to Bethlehem were never, or needed to be explained to us and, indeed, we usually accepted things as they happened without question. Native schools enjoyed some advantages over mainstream schools. Books and stationery were free and, I suspect, some of the health monitoring that was received by the Maori pupils was not available in the mainstream schools. It was probably because of native schools’ systems that the Judea children were brought to Bethlehem to benefit from advantages that were not available to them at Otumoetai.


Our head teachers were Mr and Mrs Dale who lived in the schoolhouse which still stands to this day and which is now used as a Kohanga Reo. The schoolhouse is likely to be at least 100 years old by now. Mr Dale taught Standards 5 and 6 and Mrs Dale had charge of the infant school. Other teachers taught the classes in between.

Although, at the time, we were far too young to appreciate just what great people the Dales were, as I have reflected in my more mature years, I have become aware of their special qualities. Before coming to Bethlehem, they taught on Matakana Island where there was no electric power or many of the amenities that we take for granted these days. Mr Dale sometimes used to remind us of how lucky we were in comparison with his former Matakana Island pupils whom he frequently taught with sums and writing on the beach. To the Dales, Bethlehem must have been “easy street” after Matakana.

Mrs Dale always kept a store of clean, used clothing on hand to dress children in who had become wet through weather and puddles or who had had toilet accidents, as sometimes happened. Hakihaki (sores), nits and kutus were big items at the school, all of which were quietly dealt with by Mrs Dale during her regular Friday afternoon inspections. She had a huge tin of brown ointment, probably with a high sulphur content, which was applied to the hakihaki and I think that kerosene was the cure for kutus (although I can’t remember whether she actually applied this remedy, herself. Perhaps it was Lysol, Jeyes Fluid, Camfosa or some other disinfectant that was used in those days.).
Some of the boys would appear, usually on a Monday morning, with all their hair shorn off. This action was often taken to reduce or combat kutu infestations. If all the hair had been removed, the haircut style was referred to as a “full moon” or, if a small tuft had been left on the front of the head, the haircut was a “half moon”.

Mr Dale would sometimes call older Maori pupils to his desk and ask them whether they would like to leave school because they had turned 14, which was the legal leaving age in those days. A number of those older pupils were quite physically mature but were not achieving much academically. Some had reached only standard 4 or 5. To most, the fact that they were 14 was news to them because few knew their birthdays or even how old they were. Most accepted the opportunity to leave school. Mr Dale would then ask the pupils what kind of jobs they would like and would follow up by arranging apprenticeships, jobs in orchards, farm and domestic work and all kinds of employment. Unless a pupil left school by just not turning up, I cannot recall any leaving without Mr Dale arranging a job for them. Those were mostly the war years when labour was scarce with jobs not being too hard to find but those circumstances do not detract from just how dedicated those two teachers were. They were more than just teachers, they could almost be regarded as missionaries of their time. Although the Dales owned a car, petrol was rationed during the war years and Mr Dale’s main means of transport around the district was by bike on which he became a familiar figure.

To the Maori pupils Mr Dale was sometimes known as “Teira” (Dale) but never to his face. Another teacher was known as “Miss Teno” and another as “Miss Duckneck”, both for reasons that I never knew.

In the primers, we had slates and blackboards to write on which were probably fairly standard items of equipment in most schools of that era. Slates were easily cracked or broken, as were the slate pencils. During the war years, slates were phased out with blackboards taking over as the main writing medium. In the standards, pupils graduated to exercise books, pencils and pens. Blackboards were still used sometimes for drawing classes but stocks of coloured chalk vanished during the war, leaving only white chalk. When black boards were being dusted clean after use, finger nails were sometimes accidently scratched over the surface, making a screeching noise. I still get shivers up my spine when I remember that sound.


Bethlehem was a “native” school and, as such, quite a bit of Maori culture was taught there. Contrary to what has often been preached in later years by activists about Maori pupils “being thrashed for speaking their own language”, that was definitely not the case at Bethlehem. I can state categorically that I never saw even one pupil treated in that manner, for that reason. For issues of general discipline, all kids, Maori and Pakeha, were sometimes given the strap or the stick but never for speaking Maori. Certainly, Maori language lessons were not part of the curriculum and the pupils were not encouraged to speak Maori either. However, ladies from neighbouring settlements were often invited by the Dales to teach poi dances, stick games and crafts to the girls and a Maori teacher taught haka to the boys. At end of year school concerts, Maori items were a big part of the programme. Yes, and many of the items were performed in the Maori language too! I can recall Mrs Dale organising and helping pupils to make piupiu for a concert. In the classroom, also, we were taught Maori songs and I could sing the Maori version of “God Defend New Zealand” many years before I knew the English version or even that one existed. I also participated in school haka but I didn’t understand the meanings of most of the words. In addition, visiting school inspectors would sometimes introduce new Maori games or items of Maori culture to the school. Without admitting that he did, I suspect that Mr Dale understood quite a bit of the Maori language too.

While on the subject of end of year school concerts, I remember that most of the primers were invited to take the floor to sing an impromptu song. Usually the items were bits and pieces of the popular songs of the day (a bit like pop hits of today). If the other children were like I was, they could probably understand very few of the actual words or comprehend their meaning. But on we went, parroting what we had heard other people singing and we probably enjoyed the melodies anyway.

At my first school concert (aged 5), I was overlooked and was not invited to give an item. I felt left out of the action and protested to Mrs Dale who then smilingly apologised and got me up on the floor to sing my song. After more than 66 years, I can still remember the words of the song that my parents had taught me and which I sang on that occasion. The words are as follows:

“Creep, creep, all you little Maori boys,
Do not make the slightest noise.
In that mountain lives a mighty wizard
Who captures little girls and boys.
You mustn’t go near,
There’ll be trouble if you do,
Even just now he may break the bushes through,
That place is ta-pu, ta-pu”

My parents, in later years, told me that many of the Maori ladies who were present, were highly amused by my item and laughed and applauded loudly. My parents were also greatly amused by their precocious son’s performance. (I can even remember the tune to the song, to this day).
I wonder just how politically correct that song would be in today’s society. It was quite acceptable in 1938 though!.


The pupils were always nervous just prior to inspectors’ visits. The teachers must have been a shrewd bunch because they brainwashed us into believing that we were the group being inspected and that all sorts of punishments awaited us if we didn’t behave while the inspectors were at the school. As a result of our teachers’ bluff, we always turned on our best behaviour but we couldn’t believe that such nice inspectors would do such terrible things to us. It wasn’t until some years later that we realised that we had been conned and that it was really the teachers’ performances that were under scrutiny. Their bluff worked perfectly.


We didn’t have swimming baths at school but, during the hot month of February, we all went down to the tidal Bethlehem Beach, in part of the estuary of the Wairoa River, for our swims. Out of school hours, the Wairoa Maori children would go down to the Wairoa Bridge where swimming togs were not obligatory attire for them and where modesty was hardly an issue. At school though, everyone was required to observe a level of “decency” which often meant pupils bringing old clothes in which to swim. Some of the boys would cut sugar bags in half and then diagonally cut the corners out of the half bags. With legs poked through the missing corners and held up with belts, the bags made quite respectable swimming togs.

We mainly taught ourselves to swim, both in the river, out of school hours and at Bethlehem Beach. We had no school swimming sports but we were encouraged to gain achievement certificates for swimming particular distances e.g 25, 50, 100, 220, 440 yards etc. There were probably longer distances too but I can’t remember them. Bethlehem Beach was tidal and, if one was lucky on the day, one could gain a certificate with very little effort if the direction of the current was flowing down the course.


Early in the 40s, malted milk was mixed and dished out to the kids. It was delivered to the school in bulk in huge tin containers that must have held many pounds of the powder. We were told by the teachers to bring our own mugs to school so that we could drink all the healthy milk that was going to start being given to us on a certain day. We brought an assortment of chipped enamel mugs which were marked somehow, or were identified by the owners, according to the pattern of chips and appearance of the mugs etc. On the appointed day, either at morning play time or at lunch time, the milk powder was mixed with cold water in a basin and was ladled into our mugs. I wasn’t alone in thinking the malted milk was the most revolting muck that I had ever tasted, with its lumps and watery consistency. I can still recall seeing the blackberry bushes, behind the school, dripping with white malted milk after the kids had fired most of the first brew into them and the teachers threatening us about our behaviour. This must have gone on for a few weeks or months without the children getting to like the stuff any better. In the end the teachers got the message and malted milk was discontinued without anyone complaining that it had gone. Stocks of the powder continued to be held for sometime and some of the older boys used to raid the tins and eat the dry powder which was actually quite sweet and tasty. They seemed to enjoy it better that way than having it mixed with water.Sometime later, proper milk was delivered to the school in pint bottles with cardboard tops. This was far more popular than malted milk, with most of the kids drinking their pints each day. Milk continued to be delivered for a number of years, at least until I had finished school at Bethlehem and probably for some time afterwards.

Apples were nearly always enjoyed, even though they were often mushy Delicious variety. Sometimes we got Sturmer or other varieties that were not as sweet as the Delicious but, mostly, we liked those too. The apples always came in 40 pound wooden boxes (or “cases” as they were usually called). Each apple was wrapped in its own tissue paper to keep it separate from the others in case some went rotten. At home, whenever we bought a case of apples, most of the wrappings were saved and found their way into the long drop lavatory, to be used instead of the usual newspaper.


In the playground, there were always games of some sort in progress. Sophisticated and expensive equipment was virtually unknown and was not expected by anyone. Apart from rugby and basketballs (now netballs), old worn out tennis balls could form the basis for many team games. Cricket bats were hewn out of old boards and wickets were suitable sticks that had been gathered from anywhere. Rounders, a game slightly resembling softball, was played with broomsticks and boards for bats and, again, with an old tennis ball.

Kingasini (not sure how that is spelt) didn’t need any gear at all. One team took the field and it was up to the opposing team to race and dodge, one at a time, to the far boundary without being caught.
At the start of each winter, the older boys who wanted to play rugby and the girls who wanted to play basketball, put in sixpence each and a teacher would buy the appropriate balls for the season.

We received very little coaching in rugby but we had a lot of fun. Bare feet were standard equipment and team jerseys were unheard of. Teams were usually picked by the two captains facing each other at a distance of 6 to 10 feet and with each taking alternate steps until someone’s foot overlapped the opposition’s foot. From memory, the captain owning the overlapping foot, got first pick. No one knew the first thing about rugby rules. Games were played by inventing rules to suit the circumstances and were often a mixture of rugby and league with possibly a touch of soccer thrown in for good measure. It didn’t matter how many players were on each side and team positions were seldom identified. Occasionally Bethlehem would play Te Puna school but the games were usually a shambles. Frustrated coaches from each school would try to educate their pupils in the finer points of the game beforehand but this was often without much effect. The girls would usually play their counterparts at basketball, probably with much more knowledge and discipline about rules of their game.

Whipping tops was another game that was played. Tops were carved from wood, often manuka, and flax whips were plaited. Tops were set spinning by wrapping them in the ends of the whips which were flicked vigorously. Once tops were set in motion, they were whipped to keep them revolving for as long as possible. I think that contests between top owners were often fought out.

Another toy that was easily manufactured was the kumara gun. This was made by hollowing out a length of fig tree wood, about 8 inches long and up to 2 inches in outside diameter. A plunger, usually made of manuka, was fashioned to fit snugly inside the hollowed fig. Chunks of kumara were chewed until they were almost equal to the bore of the gun and were then banged into the delivery end. I think another piece of kumara was also banged into the barrel to create a pressure zone between the missile piece and the plunger but I cannot remember exactly. When the plunger was pushed with speed, the chunk of kumara was expelled with force towards some unfortunate victim. Owners of these lethal weapons often came to school with pockets bulging with kumara but, as often as not, would end up eating all their ammunition quite early in the day. To those who don’t know, raw kumara is not too bad to eat, at least it wasn’t when we were kids. Most families who lived in our predominantly rural district, had their own potato and kumara patches which provided owners of the guns with a plentiful and cheap source of ammunition.
I have a feeling that the teachers of the day were not in favour of the kumara guns and children were supposed to keep them at home. The guns worked quite well with potatoes too but they were softer and didn’t provide the same firepower as kumara. Potatoes were not, therefore, regarded with as much favour.

Hopscotch and skipping were also played and probably still are at most schools. Windmills were made by bending pieces of gum (eucalyptus) bark, boring a hole in the centre and threading them onto a twig or grass stalk. They worked amazingly well too when pointed into the wind or when the operator ran with them. Windmills were often decorated with coloured chalk to create multicoloured rings when they were in motion.
Toy aeroplanes and other toys were whittled from dried flax stalks and toy tractors were created from used wooden cotton reels. To make a tractor, all one needed was a thick rubber band or a strip of old bike tube, a half inch length of candle with the wick melted out, a tack or drawing pin, a 2 to 3 inches long stick and, of course, a cotton reel. When wound up, our tractors would climb over small mounds of earth and other objects and we sometimes entered them into battle with other tractors.

Shanghais and catapaults were often made and used at home but were definitely banned from school.
With little concrete around in those days, hard packed earth paths were common. Insects called “pennydoctors” often lived below the surfaces of such areas and made tiny exit or breathing holes to the ground surface. As youngsters, we sometimes went fishing for pennydoctors by poking soft blades of grass down the holes. When the grass began to wiggle, we swiftly pulled it out of the hole, usually with an unhappy pennydoctor clinging to it. We started pennydoctor wars by pushing captured ones into holes that were still occupied by others. This usually resulted in the invaders backing quickly out of enemy holes. This was probably an example of small things amusing small minds.

Marbles were sometimes played by boys but other games were more popular, probably because the gun marble players quickly ended up with everyone else’s marbles. There were "glassies" "steelies" (actually steel ball bearings) "bumblers" "dakes" etc.


During my first few years at Bethlehem, along with some other children who lived further up Wairoa Road, I rode to school in, or on the cream lorry which, in the milking season, made a daily trip to the butter factory at 11th Avenue in Tauranga. In addition to making a collection on our road, the lorry picked up cream at Wairoa and Bethlehem and, therefore, travelled right past the school. During winter, when the herds were dry, there was no cream lorry, requiring us to walk to and from school.
We usually climbed onto the tray of the lorry and did the trip amongst the cans which rattled and bounced around. Such was society’s confidence in making use of whatever systems were in place that no one ever questioned the safety of children riding on the cream lorry. I am not aware of any child being injured either. Of course, traffic moved comparatively slowly in those days and there wasn’t much of it either.

Gerald Bennett was the usual driver of the International lorry. I am not certain of my facts but I think that, at that time, there was a group on the radio named “Geraldo and his International Orchestra” and, of course, Gerald was the perfect subject for that name. Being named Gerald and driving an International lorry laden with rattling cream cans, he couldn’t miss out. Whatever the facts, Gerald got the title. Allen Lloyd has since confirmed that there was, indeed, an orchestra of that name.
In the afternoons, after school, there was no cream lorry returning to Wairoa Road so it was a matter of walking home. I can’t remember the distance between home and school but it probably wasn’t much more than a mile and a half. To a small child, however, it seemed a long way and it certainly had its hazards. There were big and tough Maori boys who weren’t averse to ganging up and doing a bit of bullying after school, particularly of Pakeha kids. Many were the times that I arrived home having been bullied for no reason at all.

Dad was not that sympathetic, taking the attitude that kids should learn to look after themselves. Mum, however, was far more protective and would try to comfort me. I think she even complained to the school about it. The effects were short lived but some years later, when I grew and was able to look after myself, there was no more bullying. I even grew big enough to enjoy settling a few old scores when I went to secondary school.

Not all Wairoa Road children travelled to school in the cream lorry. When I first started at Bethlehem, the Harrisons and Crawfords who were in the upper standards, rode their bikes to and from school each day. In those days, the entire lengths of Wairoa and Crawford Roads were metalled and were narrow and winding and each trip must have taken an hour or more, especially for the Crawfords. It should not be forgotten that, even though one rode a bike, there was still a lot of walking up hills to do. Most bikes had no gears and the loose metal made it fairly difficult to get traction on the hills. It was usually better to get off and push bikes up hills.

A few children occasionally rode horses to school. One boy from Wairoa Road was lent a horse by Miss McKenzie and he regularly rode to school. The Clarke girls from the Te Puna direction, also sometimes rode horses.

At some time in the early 40s, Dad bought me an old ¾ sized bike for one pound ten shillings. At the time, it was too big for me because I couldn’t touch the pedals, even with the seat at its lowest setting. Dad solved the problem by removing the bike seat and replacing it by wrapping sacking, stuffed with sheeps wool, around the seat area. Amongst the other kids, it was known as the “bag seater” From that time, when the bike didn’t have punctures, I often biked to and from school.

The standard of education at Bethlehem was as good as it could be for the times. Teachers often struggled with trying to teach older pupils who would rather have been working or, at least, been absent from school. Pupils who had a natural disposition towards learning were quietly encouraged to read good books and improve their academic standards. As a measure of the teachers’ efforts (Mr Dale in this case), several of us were placed in the “A” form when we entered Tauranga College upon completion of our primary schooling at Bethlehem.

Teaching of the three basic ”Rs” at Bethlehem must have been very good. Throughout my post school years my spelling and grammar have remained above average and my arithmetical skills have always served me well. I attribute these skills to the efforts our teachers put into drilling the basics into their pupils throughout their primary school years.


The reading of comics was an activity that was definitely discouraged by our teachers who did their best to promote good literature. Many of the pupils were not fluent in either English or Maori and the jargon that has always been part of comics conversation, certainly provided no assistance in developing proficiency in either language. In spite of our teachers’ attitudes towards this inferior literature, many comics were bought and read, particularly by Maori children. At home, Pip and I had access to good books which we read much of the time but, on special occasions, Mum bought comics for us. We also borrowed comics from other children. In spite of our elders’ disapproval of comics, Pip and I enjoyed them as much as did all the other kids.

Neighbours, over the road, subscribed to the Auckland Star newspaper which, prior to WW2, came with a childrens’ Saturday supplement. The neighbours’ family had long since grown and left home and the supplements were passed on to us. These contained the comic strips of nasty little buggers called “The Katzenjammer Kids” who spoke a language that was English with a strong German accent and who were forever playing tricks on their parents, causing them no end of grief. We thought this was great! Without doubt, they would not have been regarded as being politically correct, once the war started. In the same supplement, there were also strips of “Bringing up Father”, all about a wealthy old man who was forever being henpecked by his wife and his adult children, and “ Mr Dinglehoofer and his Dog”.
The Phantom and Tarzan appeared in various womens’ magazines and they performed amazing deeds in ridding the world of shysters and tyrants. They often served as hero characters in our play. The Phantom is still going and I am surprised, after at least 70 years of putting the world right, that there is anything left for him to do.

There was a character called Ali Oop who appeared in some comic or other and who was a caveman armed with a piece of stone lashed to a big stick. Ali Oop’s muscles were all in the wrong places with his forearms and calves of his legs being huge and his upper arms and thighs being skinny. He spent much of his time administering summary justice to people who were not being nice to other people.
There were “Champion” comics and “Supreme “ comics, all of which contained the honourable deeds of their own particular heroes e.g. Standish Steele and Tiger Darrell, and, of course, there was Buck Rogers who zoomed around the universe in his spacecraft. There were lots of other comics too but I seldom saw or read them.

Trips to the movies (or the “pitchas”) were rare events. I was taken to some of the Walt Disney productions such as “Snow White”, “Bambi” and “Pinocchio” but, unlike many of the town and Maori children who went to the serials most Saturdays, Pip and I sometimes didn’t get to a picture from one year’s end to another. In the long run, it didn’t do us much harm, either. On one occasion, I must have been allowed to go to a Saturday matinee because I recall a scene being very tense with not a sound in the theatre while someone was stalking someone else. The silence was suddenly shattered by some kid letting off a tremendous ripper (probably deliberately), causing the whole audience to collapse with laughter which immediately destroyed the whole effect of the moment.

There were hit or pop songs, just as there are today, but I can’t recall many of them. Shirley Temple sang “The Good Ship Lollipop” and “The Codfish Ball” and someone sang “The Big Rock Candy Mountains” and “When There’s a Rainbow on the River”, etc. The song that I remember best of all was “Rum and Coca Cola” but, at the time, I could never understand why, or how, “both mother and daughter were working for the Yankee Dollar”.

During the war years, lots of patriotic songs came over the radio, particularly ones about America and heroic deeds of its servicemen. There were quite a lot about England too but they were not as flashy as the American stuff. One that has endured the test of time is Vera Lynn’s “White Cliffs of Dover”. The best NZ war song was “Maori Battalion” which most people seemed to know.



Tuberculosis (Tb or “consumption”) was prevalent among Maori families, in particular. Some families were decimated by this terrible scourge with as many as five or six children in certain families dying of the disease. I think this was the case with a Maori family that lived just down the road from us. I know that a lot of children from that family died within a few short years of each other and that Tb was in the household.

It was recognised that overcrowding in affected houses was a principal reason for the spread of Tb.
Once again, the Dales were pro-active in getting something done about the situation. They would take children aside, from affected houses, and quietly question them about their sleeping arrangements at home. In those days, the government sometimes provided one roomed tin huts for Tb victims as a means of removing them from the bedrooms and relieving general family congestion. I think that the victims still shared meals and had other contact with their families. The huts which were invariably painted green, had a fireplace and chimney and a window or two. They were erected in the backyards of the family homes for the occupation of their sick members.

I suspect that the Dales were instrumental in bringing certain family circumstances to the attention of government agencies, possibly the Health Department, who provided the huts. In the later 1940s and early 1950s, the Health Department conducted an all out war on Tb by testing all school pupils with reactors. There was vigorous follow up on any students who tested positive and, within a few short years, Tb had almost been consigned to history. Such was the success of this programme that several sanitoriums that treated the condition, actually closed for lack of patients.


“Summer Sickness” was a short lived, uncomfortable infection that caused the victims to have diarrhoea and vomiting for several days, usually in the warm months, On reflection, it probably had something to do with the widespread water storage systems that most households and, even the school had. At home, all our water was caught from the roof and channelled into a 600 gallon tank. Dad often referred to the water as “sparrow wine” which was probably a fair description. Periodically, he and Grandad cleaned out their respective tank strainers only to find mountains of decayed leaves, streamers of algae and even the remains of unfortunate birds that had gradually decomposed into the mix. The school installed a deep well pump but, even so, the water was still fed into a couple of tanks prior to use. I have a feeling that roof water continued to be fed into the tanks long after they were connected to the bore. On the farm, a spring fed “ram” was installed in the early 1940s. This pumped water to each of the two houses on the farm but the ram water continued to be delivered, before consumption, into the existing tank systems. “ Summer Sickness” was almost an annual illness that hit the community in those days but which is virtually unknown in modern society. Perhaps it is still with us but masquerades under a different name.


Little importance was placed on dental hygiene during this era. Although there was a school dental clinic at Tauranga Primary School which the Bethlehem pupils visited periodically, I cannot remember much education in the classes about how to look after teeth. Dentures or “false teeth” were very common among society in general, in fact they were so common that anyone older than about 30 who still had their own teeth, seemed to be unusual. Some of the Bethlehem pupils sported decayed second teeth before they had reached their teens and, indeed, some were even without their front teeth. At secondary school, which I later attended in Tauranga, at least one senior pupil even had dentures.
A common attitude among young persons was that they would get their teeth out in their early adulthood and replace them with “false teeth” which they appeared to regard as being superior to their own. This attitude was even actively supported by some parents and adults who had got rid of their own troublesome teeth.Fortunately, this attitude has changed radically during the past 45 or so years.
My sister and I were fortunate to have a mother who placed much importance on looking after one’s teeth and, as a consequence, we still retain remnants of our original sets.


Sicknesses such as pneumonia and appendicitis were quite serious and were generally considered to be life threatening, unlike today. I vaguely remember that infections were treated with sulfa drugs in those days.


With most of us walking around barefooted, we frequently got “stone bruises” on the soles of our feet. These started off as sore, throbbing patches of red inflammation which swelled within a few days and which usually needed to be pricked with a sewing needle to let the pus out. They were quite sore but were also quite common and seldom, if ever, required professional medical attention. Sometimes, they stayed for a week or more but they gradually healed and went away. Wairoa and Carmichaels Roads were metalled roads on which we walked or ran and were the probable reasons for our getting stone bruises. Since leaving Bethlehem School, nearly 60 years ago, I don’t think that I have even heard of stone bruises.


Boils were, generally, common. They were probably a result of a lack of bathing facilities which were common to many households. Maori people sometimes boiled up the pulp of ponga ferns and applied the mush as a poultice to the infected areas with, I recall, reasonably satisfactory results.
A heavy meat diet with few green vegetables, was also thought to be a contributing factor towards boils. Mum didn’t ever get boils but Dad and I did.


Poultices were often applied to infected sores and boils etc. A mixture of soap and sugar, applied to a rag and then tied around infected areas, was a common poultice. A slice of bread, soaked in hot water, was used in the same manner. Poultices were meant to draw poison from infections and probably were reasonably effective in doing so.


When I was very young, Mum regularly dosed me up with magnesia, cod liver and olive oils and malt. I never understood why I was made to swallow such frightful tasting muck when I wasn’t even sick, although I did quite like the malt. To this day, I don’t know the benefits that I was supposed to derive from taking all that terrible stuff. Once, when I was sick, I was given some castor oil but I would never have it again. It must have been a bad experience because I can still remember it.
These days I prefer my malt in another form which the Scots are so good at making.!

I think unplanned pregnancies should be regarded as more of a social issue than a health matter but I have included the subject in this section for want of a better place.
As primary school pupils, we were largely ignorant of the facts of life. We had all sorts of weird notions about how babies were conceived and born but we often talked about these subjects, not always with pure minds.

Some of the older Maori boys and girls at Bethlehem had probably reached puberty before they left school. I can remember one girl who left quite suddenly and, when I inquired sometime later about her reason for leaving, I was told by her Judea friends that she had had a “dropkick”.
A “dropkick”, as I found out later, was a baby born out of wedlock and , even in those days, the circumstances of conception were not generally regarded as big deal by Maori families. Such children were usually absorbed into their own or other families to be raised no differently from their other children.



In about 1934, a very nice lady spotted a small site on our farm near the road, which had an excellent view of the river and which she wanted to buy so that she could build a retirement home there. Grandad who had remained a widower since 1903, must have taken a fancy to the lady and, after turning on his best gentlemanly charm, they married. Yes, they built a house on the favoured site and came to live on the farm. And their house had electricity too!
I was only a baby when this happened and, therefore, spent many of my young years believing that the lady (Granny) was actually my real grandmother and, consequently, Dad’s mother. Despite never previously having been married, Granny adapted to the role of grandmother without any fuss at all. She always gave my sister and me, birthday and Christmas presents and spent much time just doing what grandmothers normally do. At earlier stages in her life, she had taught mathematics and other subjects at Woodford House and at Chilton St James private schools. She had travelled extensively and, I would guess, had some financial resources. At age about 8, I was extremely surprised to learn from Mum that Granny was not my real grandmother. For me, though, it made no difference and she continued to be
“my grandmother” for the rest of her life.


In 1936, Grandad and Granny bought a brand new Morris 8 car from Hewlett’s Garage in Tauranga. Grandad, at age 66, had never driven a car in his life but, instruction in how to do so, must have been part of the purchase package. For some weeks after delivery, Mr Hewlett used to come out to the farm and he and Grandad drove round and round the front paddock. I don’t know whether the story is correct but I was told in later years that Dad had parked the harrows, after use, in the paddock. Within several weeks, the grass had grown through the harrows making them invisible and yes, you guessed it, Grandad had driven over them in his nice new car during instruction. With the relationship between Dad and Grandad being brittle at the best of times, all hell broke loose over the harrows incident which left Dad and Grandad in a stand-off situation for some time afterwards.
Grandad never became a confident driver but it was to his credit that he began at the age he did. During his initial years at the wheel, he put the car over the bank on Wairoa Road on at least one occasion. No one was injured and the car was not badly damaged. He was so used to driving a gig or riding a horse from where he habitually surveyed the surrounding countryside that he found it difficult to concentrate on steering the car. He was an inveterate talker too, which sometimes led to lapses in his driving concentration.
In about 1955, or 1956, which was the year that Grandad died, he let his driving licence lapse and he sold the car. After nearly 20 years, it had registered only 23,000 miles on the clock.
Throughout his lifetime, Dad never learnt to drive or ever had any inclination to do so. When Mum and Dad eventually bought a car in the late 1950s, Mum got her licence and did all the driving.


In the latter 1930s, Granny became badly afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis which turned her into a serious cripple for the rest of her life. She spent time at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Rotorua and, for most of the war years, she and Grandad lived in Tauranga. I think that Granny’s health, with a requirement to be close to medical attention, had something to do with their living in town.


In the 1930s, most of our daily requirements were catered for by various rural services i.e a mailman, a breadman, a butcher and, I think, a grocer. On one occasion, the breadman arrived just on lunch time. Dad, who happened to be at the road, invited the breadman in for lunch and the invitation was quickly accepted. Mum often made large pots of very chunky marmalade from the fruit of the “poor mans orange” tree (a common name for grapefruit in those days) that grew on the farm and this was put on the table, along with the fresh bread that had just been delivered. The breadman was unstinting in his praise of Mum’s marmalade and, thereafter, often turned up at our fence around mid day, looking for an invitation for a bread and marmalade lunch. He was sometimes rewarded too.

The butcher, Mr Norman Skipper by name, set up a business next to Bethlehem School and immediately started home deliveries. He used to drive up through the paddocks in his van to each house, carrying large rolls of roast beef, chunks of corned silverside, garlands of sausages and anything else in the way of meat that a household might fancy. He even carried a set of hanging scales and a small chopping block in the van. I can still remember Mum asking for a two shilling roast or a half crown piece of corned beef. Of course, many of the cats and dogs in the district soon got to know Mr Skipper’s van, with the fringe benefits that went with it and they would circle around while customers were being served. They were often rewarded with various offcuts and went away happy animals.
Such was the level of service and goodwill in that era.

I can’t recall much about our pre war mailmen but I do remember them delivering all kinds of things such as small farm machinery parts from town, as well as letters and parcels. The mailman’s run stopped at the junction of Wairoa and Crawford Roads where there was a row of letter boxes belonging to families further up each road. For those of us who lived further back down Wairoa Road, the end of the mail run was always known as “the mail boxes”.

Our family's groceries were provided by Allens Beehive Stores which was located on the Strand in Tauranga. They probably had a delivery van but I cannot remember. I do recall though that when Dad periodically went to pay accounts of 4 to 5 pounds, he was usually given a large brown paper bag of loose chocolates and toffees as discount. Being a major beneficiary of the discount process, I always looked forward to Dad returning from town after he had paid the grocer.


I don’t think that people, generally, were diet conscious in our younger years. Cholesterol was never a discussion point. Perhaps it hadn’t even been identified in those days. Most families, ours included, ate a high proportion of fatty food such as bacon and eggs each morning, toast plastered with butter, fried bread and fried left over vegetables etc. At lunch times, there was usually bread, again plastered with butter which was topped off with marmalade or jam. Marmite, peanut butter and cold meat were sometimes eaten too.
At dinner times we often ate fatty corned beef, greasy roasts, and potatoes with lots of butter. Of course, there were plenty of vegetables as well. Puha and occasional watercress, both from the farm, were sometimes served up, particularly with corned beef.
Many meals were cooked with dripping that had either been bought from the butcher or had been saved in tins after it had been drained off roasts. Mutton and pork dripping wasn’t very appetising but we sometimes spread beef dripping on bread and, with sprinklings of salt and pepper, it wasn’t too bad to eat either. Cooking oil had scarcely been heard of in NZ in those days.
Before Mum bought meat, Dad often asked her to buy corned beef and roasts with “plenty of fat” on them. I am not so sure about Mum but Dad loved his fat. Although he continued with a high fat intake during most of his life, when he died aged almost 86, a high cholesterol level was not the cause.
There were few bread options available. White bread came in a variety of different shaped loaves e.g. sandwich, tank, barracoutta, twist, tin etc
Brown bread was the main alternative to white. Although it was generally believed that brown was healthier to eat than white bread, neither of our parents were keen on it, especially Dad. Brown bread was almost palatable when it was absolutely fresh but after a day, it became like sawdust. It was bloody awful and I didn’t like it at all. Fortunately, Mum didn’t buy it often because, I suspect, neither she nor Dad liked it either.
When we were still on rural bread delivery, we had a box nailed to a tree beside the road in which our bread was left. I sometimes collected the fresh loaves and, by the time I had got them to the house, I had picked out and eaten some of their soft centres, leaving only crust shells. Mum was not always happy with my behaviour but, mostly, my parents tolerated what I did. A number of friends from the same era, have admitted doing exactly what I used to do when they were kids too.
White currant loaves were available too but they went stale very quickly and were seldom bought by Mum.
During winter, most of our poultry went off the lay which reduced the egg supply on the farm for several months. Granny got around this, to some extent, by preserving eggs when they were plentiful. From memory, she applied a product named “Ovaline”, a sealant, to the egg shells and stored the treated eggs in a cool place until needed. I don’t think many of the preserved eggs were suitable to be eaten directly but they were certainly used for cooking.

School lunches, made up by Mum, were meals that I prefer to forget. They were usually so unappetising that I often threw mine away and went hungry. Bovo (a yeast extract similar to Vegemite) and “hundreds and thousands” were two of the spreads that Mum constantly used on my sandwiches and which I came to hate. Even some of the Maori boys whose parents seldom gave them lunches, often turned down my offers of free sandwiches. Occasionally, Mum hardboiled eggs for sandwiches or as extras for lunches and, if I was really lucky, I got meat or cheese. Those were the good days. Anything was preferable to Bovo and “hundreds and thousands”

In our day, fruit could not be stored for long periods but was consumed as it came in season. Apples and pears were probably the only fruits that could be found outside their normal seasons but they were usually mushy and not very nice. In spite of an absence of storage technology, there were usually some kinds of fresh fruit available for most of the year. Of course, in summer and autumn, there was an abundance of fruit of all kinds but in the later months, citrus was the mainstay. Chinese gooseberries and feijoas (just making their appearance) were also sometimes available in the colder months. Most people grew fruit of some kind and this was often shared around friends and neighbours. Fruit was plentiful and generally taken for granted by nearly everybody.
Dad, being a great fruit fan, was always planting branches of fruit trees around the farm. Sometimes they grew and bore fruit and sometimes they died or were killed by stock. Some branches he got from neighbours, some he cut off our existing trees and seedlings he dug up from roadsides while he was out riding.
We had a loquat tree that bore good crops every few years. Mum made deep pies from the fruit when it was plentiful but Pip and I enjoyed the fresh loquats just as much. We also had nectarines, peaches, plums, tree tomatoes (tamarillos) both red and yellow, apples and poor mans orange (grapefruit).
Mum often bottled surplus summer fruit for the winter seasons, which was always enjoyed for pudding.
One of Dad’s friends, Hector Clarke, who farmed near the Te Puna Railway Station, had a large home orchard which produced a great variety of fruit. Sometimes when Dad was nearby, either on his horse or in his spring cart, he would visit the orchard to pick apples and pears to bring home. A number of apple varieties, seldom if ever heard of today, grew there. Among them were russet, northern spy, docherty (sp) and gravenstein. Although they were great to eat, they probably had short shelf lives which made them unsuitable as commercial crops.


The only telephone that I can first remember on Wairoa Road, was owned by the Misses Baker who lived just down the road and who were two retired school teacher sisters from Bethlehem School (before Mr and Mrs Dale) I don’t think the lines went any further up the road than their place. Many of the neighbours went to their house to make phone calls and many messages for the community came through that phone. Sometimes the messages were urgent.
During the mid to late 1930s, the phone line was extended right up Wairoa and Crawford roads with a total of 12 subscribers being connected to the single party line. Mum and Dad still didn't get one but Grandad and Granny got a brand new Ericsson phone in a solid oak cabinet which was fastened to a plank nailed above one of the windows. Their number was 198K with their call ring being ”long, short, long”. When one needed to use the phone, they picked up the receiver and said ”Working?” to check whether the line was engaged. If the line was busy, it was a matter of waiting until they had finished and had “rung off” which was done with a short turn of the handle that rang the phones in all the other subscribers’ homes. When the line was clear, one could either ring exchange with one long turn of the handle and ask for a number on another line or directly phone other subscribers on the same line by turning the handle in the right combinations to ring their personal numbers. All party line numbers were based on Morse Code. Toll and international calls were made by contacting exchange and asking for a number connected through another exchange. Toll calls, being expensive were not made often, while international calls were made only in extreme circumstances. Instead of tolls and internationals, telegrams and cablegrams were normally used. If toll calls were lodged with exchange, the caller had to be prepared to wait for long periods for connection, sometimes for an hour or more.
Although our telephone systems were often frustrating and slow to use, they were far better than having no communications at all. In the occasional emergency, such as needing an ambulance etc., people who were already speaking on the line would quickly hang up, if asked to. It is highly likely that lives were saved by having even such a basic phone service.


I was six years old when Mum began to ask me how I would like a little sister or brother to play with. I thought that it sounded like a good idea and got quite excited when I was told that one was on the way. The anticipated event duly took place on April 17 1940, after I had turned seven, but it wasn’t a brother or a sister that arrived, it was a BABY that slept much of the time, pooed its nappies and sometimes cried. Where was this playmate that I had been promised? Other families got BABIES but I had been promised a playmate and one hadn’t turned up. This was how my sister Phillippa (Pip) became part of our family and I had to get used to the idea that she would not be able to participate in my activities until she was quite a lot older. We became good friends later in life.
Just prior to Pip’s arrival, two more rooms were added to our house, thereby doubling its area. I even got my own bedroom. Luxury indeed! But still no electricity.

As a baby I had slept in an old blue cane pram which was hung in a farm shed when I outgrew it. Whether or not Mum and Dad expected to use it again, I do not know, but it was retrieved from the shed and again pressed into service, when Pip arrived. As Pip grew, the pram became unsuitable for her and she began to need a pushchair which our parents could not afford. Dad took the axles and wheels off the pram, bolted them to a wooden box and made a pair of shafts which were used for pushing the vehicle. This cart had no suspension but Pip coped quite well with being jolted along the metal road whenever Mum took her out in it. Eventually, Pip outgrew the cart, so I converted it into a trolley which ended up as a wreck with bent wheels after it broke away from me while I was towing it up a steep hill.
As she grew, Pip became very good with animals, particularly with horses. She often rode Jean, the draughthorse, around the farm and was lent a pony for a time by Miss McKenzie. Pip went to a circus when she was about 8 or 9 and saw a girl performer riding while standing on her horse’s back. Pip was impressed and, willing to try most things, it wasn’t long before she was cantering around while standing on the pony.

When she was older, Dad bought Pip a horse of her own named Monty on whom she sometimes accompanied Dad to local hunts. Monty and Dad were two independent personalities who sometimes clashed but Pip could do anything with Monty. Pip had her own playmates among neighbours’ children. Families, on the road, came and went, some through sharemilking and others through buying and selling, mostly the smaller farms. Among these transitory families, there were sometimes girls of Pip’s age with whom she played. Some of her friends stayed in the area for several years and she formed enduring friendships with them.
One day Suzanne, from across the road, came over to play with Pip. It was a hot day and, while the two girls were roaming around the farm, they spied a small puddle in which they decided to cool off. They stripped, had a great time in the puddle and then returned to the house, covered in mud and probably with no clothes on. I heard Mum give a yell when she saw the two girls and then saw her holding her nose. The two little buggers had gone for their swim in a pig wallow and they had arrived home smelling like pigs. They were too filthy and smelly to bring inside, so Mum washed them outside in the tub. Pip thought the whole affair was a huge joke.


We kept ducks and hens which lived “free range” around the cowshed and Grandad also kept chooks in a run near his house. The cowshed chooks nested in holes in the bank or in other suitable spots. Sometimes we didn’t find their nests and the hens would appear with a brood of chickens which frequently found their way into the oven after they had grown.
The Khaki Campbell ducks were usually shut into a small pen overnight where they laid their eggs. We often ate the duck eggs and, after all these years, I still prefer duck eggs to hen eggs. For many years, maize was grown on the farm and this was used to feed the poultry and the pigs. Occasionally, Maori families from down the road came to buy surplus eggs from Mum which she sold for sixpence a dozen with a few extra thrown in.


In mid summer, before the maize was ripe, we picked cobs which Mum boiled and which we enjoyed with salt, pepper and butter. I don’t think that I had ever heard of sweet corn in those days but ordinary maize, at the right stage of maturity, was pretty good to eat, and still is. Although the majority of people in those days ate maize as a matter of course, not many of today’s generation are even aware that it is almost as good as sweet corn.


Throughout late summer and autumn, after rain, large crops of mushrooms usually grew all over the farm, particularly on the river flats. Sometimes we picked several kerosene tins full each day and, after eating piles of mushrooms each morning for weeks, we often got sick of them. We gave them away to friends in town or to whoever wanted them and, one year, I even sold some to a Chinese vegetable shop in town for one shilling a pound which was serious money to me.


The Tauranga district had the reputation of having a mild climate and, generally, this was correct. However, we still got heavy frosts, particularly on the river flats. It was quite common for puddles to be iced over after frosts and to see small icicles stuck onto shady road banks when we were on our way to school. Sometimes on cold days, I did wear shoes and socks to school but, even so, I usually had them off and into my school bag by lunch time. One boy, who lived only a few hundred yards from school, arrived one morning with a chunk of ice that had formed in a plate of water that he had left outside overnight. It could have been up to ¾ of an inch thick which would indicate how severe some of our frosts were. In the other direction, at the top of Crawford Road, frosts could be so heavy that they stayed unthawed all day in shady places.


Miss McKenzie who lived further up Wairoa Road, was a very nice lady who gave assistance to neighbours if they became sick and who was concerned about the welfare of less fortunate people than herself, particularly Maori people. On Sunday mornings, Miss McKenzie took Sunday School at her house for the younger children of families on Wairoa Road. I don’t think it mattered to her whose children turned up at her place or what churches their families belonged to but it did end up with all protestants. Up to about 8 children attended each Sunday and we sang hymns, listened to bible stories and said prayers. Dad wasn’t concerned whether I went or not but Mum made sure that I attended.
When we got older (perhaps 8 or 9), we went to Bethlehem School where Miss Fox conducted Sunday School. Because I went to school there 5 days a week, I was not that keen on making yet another trip on Sunday. Miss Fox was also a nice lady who had spent a number of years as a church missionary in Melanesia. She would sometimes tell us about her work there which was always interesting.
Although I didn’t grow up to be a religious person, I think that Sunday School didn’t do me much harm in the long run. It was good of both ladies to give up their time to try to teach us some principles in life.
Mum occasionally went to church if there was a service at Bethlehem School but Granny was quietly religious and attended services as often as her health allowed her. The Anglican minister sometimes called to see her at home where he administered communion.



I can still remember Grandad coming down to the cowshed, where I was playing, for the morning’s milk and overhearing him tell Dad that the war had started. Although I had no real idea of what a war was, I knew that it must have been something very serious from the way they spoke. My mental impression of a war, at my age, was of a lot of men getting into a large hall and booting and punching the hell out of each other.
In the weeks and months that followed the announcement life, as we had known it, began to change. Soldiers in uniform started to appear all over the place, khaki vehicles were on the roads, men were leaving their families and going into the army and army camps were set up in many places.


Mum’s brother, Phil, volunteered for the army and went away with the first echelon, later to fight in Greece, Crete and North Africa and to return virtually physically unscathed. My aunt Margaret (Mum’s and Phil’s elder sister) had trained as a nursing sister in the years prior to the war and she also volunteered to go to NZ military hospitals in North Africa and Italy. While serving in Egypt, Margaret met and married a soldier in the NZ army. Both returned to NZ near the end of the war. Mum’s younger sister, Pam, became a WREN further on into the war but did not serve overseas. In about 1944 she did, however, marry a sailor in the British navy who was stationed in Auckland. Before the war ended, she went to England to live. The husband of a family friend was killed in North Africa and other people known by my family, lost their lives, including a relative.

While German invasions were taking place in Greece and Crete, neither my grandmother nor any other members of Phil’s family heard from him for quite some time. With all the bad reports of the war coming from that sector, everyone was very concerned about Phil. One morning, my grandmother opened her NZ Herald and, among all the photos of the war, was one of a group of NZ soldiers arriving back in Egypt after being evacuated from Crete. The soldier nearest the camera was Phil who was receiving rations as he stepped off the boat (See the next page). That photo was the first confirmation that Phil was still alive and, as could be imagined, our family was extremely happy and relieved to know that he had survived. Compared with many other families who lost several members, ours was extremely lucky during the war.


The Mount aerodrome was taken over by the military and planes began to appear over our countryside. Tiger Moths, Harvards, Airspeed Oxfords and Lockheed Hudsons all became familiar sights. There were plenty of other types of planes too but we often didn’t know their names. After the end of the war, though, some Mustangs started flying around which were definitely the fastest planes that any of us had ever seen. Actually, they were the fastest piston engined planes ever built.

One Sunday afternoon while Dad was milking and his friend, Marshall, had come to visit, there was suddenly a hell of a noise from a squadron of Tiger Moths that were flying at low level down the river from the direction of the Kaimai. While we watched, we saw one of the planes land in a paddock on Mr Charlie Moffat’s farm across the river. It didn’t take off again and we could just make out the two airmen walking around the plane. Marshall decided to investigate so he walked across the flats to our boat with me in tow and we rowed upriver and landed near to where the plane was sitting. Because Mr Moffat never appeared, we were the first people on the scene. It appeared that the pilots were acting the fool by flying so low and that this plane had flown into power lines that were strung across the river, not far up from our farm. After crash landing, the plane had bounced over a ditch and over some rough ground before coming to rest with a length of power line or fence wire still trailing from it. The paddock was quite furrowed along the landing path of the plane but the plane, itself, didn’t appear to have been too badly damaged.This was the first time in my life that I had actually touched an aeroplane or even seen one at close quarters and I was quite excited about it all.
The pilot asked Marshall whether he and his crewman could come home with us so that he could phone the aerodrome and report what had happened. Understandably, he was very nervous, no doubt about what discipline he would face but also about the possibility that the accident could have been much worse, even fatal.

While all this was going on, Dad was still trying to round up all his cows which had been spooked by the noisy planes and had bolted out of the shed and cow yard. Dogs were barking and Dad was cursing aeroplanes but eventually, things returned to normal and milking was finished.
Mum provided dinner for the airmen while they waited for an airforce vehicle to collect them. Next day, we saw a crew of men with vehicles, dismantling the Tiger Moth across the river, and taking it away. The only thing that we ever heard afterwards about the Tiger Moths was that they were brand new and were on their delivery flight to the Mount aerodrome from somewhere down south.
(After the end of the war, in 1946 or 47, the first jet aircraft toured NZ. It was a Gloster Meteor, piloted by Squadron Leader McKay, which screamed at low level over Tauranga. We saw it from the college. Hell, it was impressive!)


Community send offs for servicemen going overseas, were frequent events. A common way of showing appreciation to these men was to present them with a money belt, containing cash and cheques, contributed by their supportive communities. I was too young to actually attend any of these send offs but sometimes overheard my parents talking about them.


Rationing for the civilian population was introduced with meat, butter, sugar, clothing, petrol and tyres being just some of the items. There was often grumbling about these impositions but, compared with the people who lived in war torn countries, we didn’t know that we were alive. It was illegal to make butter, even if one lived on a dairy farm, but we acquired a butter churn and made plenty for ourselves during the war years. Dad and Mum liked their butter and “no bloody government was going to tell them what to do with their cream”. Not a very patriotic attitude to take, really! It was my job to turn the churn handle but, in hot summer weather, it was difficult to get the cream to turn into butter and a heap of “grease” usually resulted.
Many of the small commercial items that we had taken for granted in pre- war years, gradually disappeared. Tobacco, cigarettes and wax matches had all been packaged in tins but cardboard packets replaced these and also a number of similarly packaged commodities. Our school exercise books which had been of white paper with a red margin line, about an inch in from the left edge of the paper, were replaced with grey recycled paper with no margins. Instead of writing on alternate lines, as we had been taught to do, we wrote on every line to conserve paper. Our education didn’t suffer much from these economies either.
Replacements for worn out bike tyres and tubes were difficult to obtain with applications for permits to purchase these items having to be made through an ever expanding government bureaucracy. We didn’t own a car but I believe that car tyres were almost impossible to obtain.


Our mailman installed a “gas producer” in his car to eliminate the requirement for petrol. In those days, cars nearly all had running boards and mudguards that protruded from their main bodies. Sections were sometimes cut out of front mudguards and cylinders, which produced coal gas, were inset into the removed sections. Sometimes the cylinders were mounted on front or rear bumpers. The cylinders contained small fireboxes that were fed with coal or coke. The resultant gas was captured and then cycled through the engine of the vehicle instead of petrol. Presumably, the gas was ignited by spark plugs, in the same manner as petrol engines. Gas producers were not universal substitutes for petrol but they were still fairly common and it was not unusual to see drivers pulled to roadsides, stoking their cylinders with coke or coal, supplies of which they carried in car boots. Compared with petrol, gas cars appeared to be grossly underpowered, an observation which was strongly supported by the rapidity with which owners disposed of them when petrol once again became available in post war years. Even our mailman, still with the same car, quickly converted his back to petrol.
However one regards the inefficiencies of that fuel system, it certainly did partly fill a gap during an era of fuel shortages and appeared to be particularly suited to vehicles engaged in regular service runs at that time.


For the first two years of the war, I was far too young to comprehend what was happening on the other side of the world. I knew the news wasn’t good and that Germans and Italians were nasty people but I didn’t really understand. After Japan entered the war, in 1941, I remember a growing awareness of what was happening and also an increasing concern that the Japs might come here. Dad and most of his neighbour friends joined the Te Puna Home Guard. Perhaps they were in the Home Guard before the Japanese came into the war but I can’t remember. I can remember though that Dad, initially, wore an armband with H G on it and that, later on, he was issued with a tunic uniform with brass buttons, buckles and webbing and that my contribution to the war effort was to polish all that brass with Brasso until it gleamed. If Dad didn’t think it was clean enough, back would come the tunic and other gear with a threat about the safety of my ear. I had to polish his boots too, with copious quantities of black Nugget. Later on in the war, battledress uniforms were issued which had no brass trappings but there was no let up on the boots. Dad was issued with a .303 rifle which he and I used to clean together with a “pull through”. I think that rifle was replaced later with an American .300 calibre firearm.
Periodically and out of the blue, would come emergency callouts, usually late at night, for Dad to be ready in 20 minutes to be picked up at the gate with full equipment. As the Japs worked their way south through the Pacific and came closer and closer to NZ, no one was ever certain whether the callouts were just exercises or the real thing. I know that I was always nervous that the Japs had actually landed whenever there was a callout. Whenever this happened, I used to wake up next morning and ask whether the Japs were here and was immensely relieved to be told that they weren’t.
With Dad being away, perhaps for a day or two, Mum would have to milk the cows and do other necessary jobs in his absence. I guess that members of other families also had to plug similar gaps with managing their farms while their menfolk were absent.


At school, we had a few emergency evacuation exercises which involved running out of the school building and lying in previously prepared hollows under a barberry hedge with our fingers jammed in our ears. The fingers were meant to dampen the noise of bombs dropping in the school grounds! Among many of the pupils, these emergency exercises were not taken seriously and there was much giggling and laughing which the teachers could not suppress.


The old concrete Wairoa River bridge was one lane and was about 175 yards long. It was reasoned that the bridge would have strategic importance to an invading force and that measures must be taken to block their advance. The army, therefore, built two big concrete blocks on each side of the road, on the south end of the bridge. Each block had an inset slot about 4 feet square which faced the other, across the road. Suspended by a wire rope, at an angle of about 75 degrees and swivelled in one of the slots, was a massive pine log that towered across the road. The planned strategy was that, as invaders approached, the wire would be cut and the log would fall with the top end fitting neatly into the concrete slot on the opposite side of the road. With all the invaders’ troops, tanks and vehicles brought to an abrupt halt on the bridge, explosive charges would be ignited, blowing the bridge to eternity and perhaps reversing the tide of war! To an impressionable young lad and his friends, this was heady stuff!

As the war progressed and the possibility that Japan could invade NZ, became real, the government took various measures to impede their advance, should they arrive here. In addition to building the structures at the Wairoa Bridge, the army dug a deep ditch which began at the Waimapu River (I am not absolutely certain about that) and extended to the Wairoa River, ending opposite our boatshed. The work was carried out mostly with large draglines and probably with some bulldozers too. The purpose of the ditch was to act as a tank trap to isolate the Tauranga isthmus.

One evening Dad received a phone call telling him that the army had decided to continue the ditch on our side of the river. The caller told Dad that a section of the ditch would pass between the rear of Grandad’s house, where we were living at the time, and the detached wash house which was only 10-15 feet from the house. With the ditch in that location, it would have meant that, immediately on opening our back door, we would have plunged straight down a 10 to 15 foot deep bank. The conversation continued for some time with Dad becoming increasingly agitated until he began to have suspicions about the caller’s voice belonging to a person he knew. Suddenly, he let strip with a torrent of abuse at the person on the other end of the phone, telling him that he knew who he was. They both, then, had a tremendous laugh which continued for some time. Indeed, the caller was a farmer friend from Te Puna who had been conscripted into the Reserve and who was working on the ditch. He knew the layout around Grandad’s house and took the opportunity to phone Dad to wind him up with a plausible story about continuing the ditch through our backyard. Dad, who was forever having other people on, had been completely bluffed for a while but still enjoyed the joke against himself.


As the war progressed, I was also growing older and becoming more aware of what was actually happening. A milestone in my understanding occurred with the battle of El Alamein. I remember Mum arriving home after being in town and walking up Wairoa Road from where the bus had dropped her at Wairoa Bridge. She was very cheerful and told me that our side had got “Rommel on the run”.
From that time until the end of the war, I read the newspapers and felt thrills when I saw photos of thousands of Italian and, rather less, German prisoners of war. There were also photos and articles about the war in the Pacific with great American warships, aircraft and soldiers liberating islands, one by one, from the Japs. Soldiers, American and Kiwi, were a common sight as were long convoys of army vehicles on our roads. Jeeps and other left-hand drive military vehicles, confirmed that the American army really was here.


Dad had a very good friend, called Marshall, who came for dinner nearly every Sunday night. On one occasion at the stage when the Japs were rapidly advancing in the Pacific, I overheard Marshall telling my parents about a Mt Maunganui fisherman who had been fishing off Mayor Island and who had seen a long grey ship at a distance. My recollection is that the fisherman had been asleep on his boat and the ship was there when he woke in the early morning. He wasted no time high tailing for home where he must have notified appropriate authorities. It would seem that his story was greeted with some scepticism. We never heard what action was taken but his account of seeing the ship was verified, after the war had ended, when a Japanese officer on the ship gave an interview to news media. The ship was a large submarine which carried a seaplane, probably collapsible, which was discharged into the sea and which took off and flew, unchallenged, over Auckland in the early hours of the morning. After reconnoitring the city, the seaplane returned to its ship where it was taken aboard and the submarine departed. I cannot remember whether it went by surface or was submerged but it was probably the latter. I do remember the officer’s name who, I think, was the pilot of the plane. It was Lieutenant Susumu Ito.
This story is supported by my wife, Pamela, who was living at the Mount at the time and who heard that a certain Captain Munro was the fisherman involved. In spite of being instructed to maintain secrecy about war matters in those years, the fisherman’s encounter with the submarine seemed to be widely known.


Accounts of the war years are numerous and I do not, therefore, intend to dwell much longer on the subject except to mention two momentous events i.e. the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the day WWII ended.

I can remember the huge headlines in the Herald telling us that a special kind of bomb, never before used in warfare, had been dropped on Hiroshima and that the scale of devastation was unbelievable. Terms such as radioactivity, radiation burns etc. entered our vocabulary without many understanding what they meant. I do know that there was, generally, little sympathy for the bloody Japs who had been our enemies and who had been incinerated by the bomb. This was despite the fact that most of the victims were probably innocent civilians who had had little to do with waging war in the Pacific. Such are the hatreds and inhumanities that war breeds. Aerial photos, taken soon after the bombing, and onsite photos and accounts, gathered after Japan’s surrender, demonstrated the awesome power that had been unleashed. As a youngster, I was hugely impressed. After the dropping of that bomb, the world was never the same again.


In 1945, I was in Standard 6 and in my last year at Bethlehem School. We had been told at school that Japan would probably sign a surrender on that particular day. The event would be marked by sirens being sounded in Tauranga but which would still be heard at Bethlehem. Sometime in the afternoon we heard the sirens which immediately excited the senior children and, I suggest, the teachers too who did their best to appear composed. After a short break listening to the sirens, we were ordered back to lessons with the promise that the next, or one of the following days, would be a general holiday when we could all go into Tauranga to celebrate at the Domain.
What a day that was! There were rides for kids on fire engines, a never ending supply of free ice cream, soft drinks, lollies, tacky toys, whistles, paper hats and all sorts of other goodies to indulge kids. My enduring memory of a grinning Nick, one of the Bethlehem School pupils, is seeing him carrying the bottom end of a cardboard cylinder of ice cream, which he had been given, in the direction of home. He probably had enough ice cream in that cylinder to fill 20 to 30 cones, an undreamed of windfall for a young lad.
After the end of the war, life gradually returned to normal but rationing of a number of foodstuffs and petrol etc, was maintained for some years afterwards.

At the start of the 1940s, Boys Brigade was started with meetings held at the school. I didn’t belong because I was too young and too far away to attend evening meetings. Boys Brigade didn’t run for long before it folded but was replaced, soon after, with Boy Scouts, also with its evening meetings at Bethlehem School.
I think that I joined scouts, right at the start because I remember going to jamborees, out on hikes and to summer camps at Lake Rotoma, over a number of years. Our scoutmaster was Mr Gordon Carmichael who farmed at Bethlehem and who was dedicated to getting the troop to function. In those days, there were few concerns about queers, perverts, homos or other undesirables infiltrating scouts and Mr Carmichael was,  certainly, none of those. We often organised our own hikes when we waded across the estuary to Otumoetai Point from the end of Levers Road. There were no concerns that adults didn’t accompany us and few that we might get caught in the incoming tide etc. We usually took spuds, sausages and bread with old Maltexo tins made into billies and lengths of No 8 wire as toasting forks. All these goodies were stuffed into sugar bags that were often made into pikau bags to be worn as packs. Had our mothers dished up similar tucker to our own scorched products, we would have considered ourselves hard done by but, because we had cooked the tucker ourselves, we ate it and thought it was great.
One night, before our regular scout meeting started at the school, we lit a fire on the road verge and, while we were playing around it, one of the older scouts who had left school, produced a pistol that fired .22 calibre bullets. He pointed it at other boys and acted in a stupid and irresponsible manner. I had seen this pistol before, at his work place, together with another heavier weapon that fired .44 or .45 calibre bullets.

Well, one of the scouts must have mentioned the incident to his parents. I arrived home one afternoon after being out somewhere on my bike and Dad met me at Grandad’s gate with a slightly amused look on his face and told me that Constable Watts was inside and wanted to speak to me. I stood in so much awe of police that I nearly dirtied my pants on the spot . I was shown into Grandad’s sitting room where this great big policeman was seated at a table. Without knowing what he wanted to see me about, I felt guilty, anyway. Actually, he was a very nice man and he soon made me feel at ease. He gradually teased my version of the pistol incident out of me while Dad and Grandad, certain that his useless grandson had committed himself to a life of crime, looked on. Just as the constable was preparing to end the interview, I mentioned in all innocence “And ****** has another gun, too” The constable’s eyes rolled back in his head slightly as he shot a glance at Dad and asked me how I knew. “I have seen it” I replied. After quietly obtaining as many details from me as he could, about the other pistol, Constable Watts departed, no doubt to pay a visit to the owner of the firearms.

Several days later, I happened to bike past the firearms owner and he glared at me. I would guess that the constable had seen him by then.  In later years, after I became aware of the seriousness of the situation, I  wondered just how such a young person managed to come into possession of such dangerous weapons. Certainly, it was wartime but it is difficult to imagine how pistols could go missing from tight systems.

As scouts, we sometimes went to summer camps at Lake Rotoma. To get there, we caught a goods train in Tauranga that was headed for Taneatua and stayed on it until we arrived at Edgecumbe. From Edgecumbe, we sat on the open deck of a timber truck until we reached Rotoma along a metalled road. The complete trip seemed to take up most of the day because the train stopped and shunted livestock at most of the small railway stations (that don’t even exist today). That was how things were in those days and we didn’t know differently.

The camps were a lot of fun with sleeping in tents, cooking our own feeds, going on hikes through the bush and also for swims at the soda springs at the other end of the lake. We met scouts from other parts of the Bay of Plenty and formed good friendships.

During one camp, the Boys Brigade also had a camp, not far away, and we decided to raid them one night. We crept through the bush, surrounded them and then attacked. One of their lot came towards me armed with a slasher but, as I was armed with a large stick, I didn’t back off. We had a sword fight but the contest was uneven because my opponent kept on breaking and cutting bits off my stick until I had only a short stub left. I felt a thump on my hand and when I looked, I saw that my finger had been cut quite deeply. Actually, I was damn lucky that it wasn’t worse. Anyway, the war was immediately called off and my finger was doctored up by a B.B leader. After that incident, the BB and scouts socialised quite a bit and got on well together. When I got home, my parents wanted to know how I cut my finger and I told them all sorts of lies about how it happened. I don’t think I fooled them though. To this day, I still have the scar on my little finger.

Throughout the thirties and some of the war years, Mum had to struggle with an old wood burning stove, no electricity, no hot water system and none of the amenities that were being increasingly enjoyed by a number of her neighbours and friends.      
She made tea in a large tin billy and cooked for the haymakers. Sometimes she delivered these refreshments by riding the Little Mare down and back up the hill and, sometimes, she walked, carrying the load.      
Washing was often dried on the rack over the stove after being gathered in from the No. 8  wire clothes line, strung between two poles and raised or lowered by a “clothes prop” which was a light pole used to correct the sag in the middle of the line.     
Between cooking, heating bath water, doing washing, making cups of tea and drying clothes, Mum was forever stoking the Dover stove with wood to make it produce enough heat. She did the household ironing with a pair of “Mrs Potts Irons” which were heated on top of the stove and used alternately as their heat reduced.      
She often cut down old clothes to make something new out of them. A very kind lady up the road, Miss McKenzie, sometimes lent Mum a Singer sewing machine that was cranked by hand. Mum turned out quite a range of clothes for Pip and me on that machine. Sometime in my earlier childhood, Mum, through her aunt, heard of a treadle sewing machine that was for sale for ten shillings. I think the owners had upgraded to an electric model. Anyway, Mum persuaded Dad to buy it for her and from then on, all sorts of things rolled off the production line.     
Mum was a great knitter too. Sometimes she bought new wool and made garments but, during the war, wool wasn’t easy to get. She would then  unpick old woollen jerseys, wash and skein the wool and knit some new garment. The results usually rivalled woollies bought from a shop.  Her specialty was Fair Isle jerseys which she knitted for Pip and which attracted favourable comment from many people.     
Mum sometimes turned out sponge cakes, a variety of biscuits and other goodies on the old Dover stove but she wasn’t a slave to baking. Everyday meals started with Mum preparing porridge or Weet Bix for me and also for Pip when she got older, and probably bacon and eggs for herself and Dad. Sometimes I was allowed bacon, eggs and good old fried bread, in addition to the cereals. We had loads of eggs, both hen and duck, and a plentiful supply of cured bacon from our own pigs, so breakfast was not an expensive or difficult meal to prepare. Toast was made by opening the firebox on the stove and inserting bread slices on the end of a number 8 wire fork.     
Dad always liked his jams and marmalade. Mum frequently pressed the preserving pan into service, loaded with fruit from the plentiful supply that we had in the district. She preserved fruit too, which I always liked very much in the off seasons.     
Dinner at night was usually a fairly plain meal with either corned beef, roast beef, stews, topside etc. and plenty of vegetables. Dad liked his pudding so Mum usually turned out a jam roll or a duff, steamed in a saucepan.     

She had an excellent vegetable garden also with peas , beans, tomatoes and all kinds of greens. Dad took care of all the bulk or crop gardening i.e potatoes, pumpkins, sometimes kumara and watermelons etc but Mum was the house gardener.     

Yes, Mum certainly did a great job with the meagre resources that she had at her disposal. Occasionally, too, if Dad became ill, Mum would have to milk the cows on top of all her other chores.For the years that our grandparents were away from the farm, Mum, Dad, Pip and I moved into their house  where we lived until about the end of the war.      
We had electric lights, electric hot water, an electric iron, a good Shacklock wood range, a proper wash house with copper and concrete tubs and much more living space than we had had in our house. We also had a telephone.     
My maternal grandfather who was then working in a small radio manufacturing factory owned by his brother-in-law, in Auckland, bought Mum a second hand cabinet Gulbransen radio which he sent by rail to Te Puna Station. From that time on, we were able to listen to news of the war, parliament, music and, if Dad didn’t get me to go to the cowshed, I could listen to “The Childrens’Hour” which started at about 5 pm. We still didn’t have a fridge but the household safe was much bigger and better than the one in our other house.       Our grandparents’ house was very comfortable in comparison with the one that we had lived in previously and it made Mum’s life much easier.      

However, in about 1945, after we had been in their house for about 3 years, our grandparents decided to return to the farm. This meant that we had to return to our old house. At that point, Mum dug her heels in and said that she wouldn’t go back unless electricity was connected, a decent stove with wet back installed, a bathroom added on and a telephone connected. All this was going to cost Grandad money  which he hated spending but Mum hung out and eventually won the day. One could hardly blame her!     

Mum was quite a competent horsewoman. Although Dad did most of the riding in the family, in the early years of her marriage, Mum sometimes rode into town on the Little Mare or to see friends. Sometimes she and Dad went on rides together, even to Bay of Plenty Hunt Club meetings, although I don’t know whether she actually participated there. Mum had several friends who had hacks and who went riding around the district and she often went with them.     
After our grandparents returned to the farm they had a series of housekeepers and caregivers, some of  whom lived in the house and others who came daily. Sometimes they would leave at short notice, making it impossible to find immediate replacements. During the gaps between housekeepers, Mum would  step in and help in Grandad’s and Granny’s house .      


Mr Mack Campbell was a nice old gentleman who lived just down the road from us and who regularly went on Jerry Williams’ fishing excursions, out from the Tauranga jetty. Mr Campbell’s wife was a sister of the two Misses Baker. Sometimes Mr Campbell invited me to go with him and Mum and Dad were usually only too pleased to find the half crown boat fare for me because, most times, I arrived home with a sugar bag full of good sized tarakihi and schnapper. Sometimes we caught maomao, gurnard and other species but schnapper and tarakihi were the staple catches. Some of the old regular fishermen fished with heavier tackle and landed occasional hapuku. Crayfish would occasionally take our hooks and be hauled in but I was never lucky enough to get one.

The fishing boat always called at Salisbury Wharf and the Mount Jetty for passengers where sacks of tuatua bait were also loaded. The bait was distributed to passengers and was opened on the way out to the fishing grounds. Excursions went to several locations i.e. “Three Miles and Five Miles”, Motiti Island, Schooner Rock and, sometimes, Mayor Island.     
On several trips, I got seasick but I gradually learned how to overcome this and usually enjoyed my trips. I was never invited to go on Schooner Rock or Mayor Island trips by Mr Campbell but my parents would not have been able to afford the higher fares, anyway.     

American servicemen were sometimes billeted with families during the war years. Several American sailors who were staying in Tauranga under this arrangement, decided on a fishing trip with Jerry Williams on a day that I went with Mr Campbell. The sea turned a bit choppy and, although I was fine, some of the sailors, still dressed in their uniforms, ended up hanging over the side of the boat, getting rid of their breakfasts. I couldn’t help thinking how funny it was, seeing guys in genuine sailors’ uniforms, on a little old fishing boat, spewing their hearts out and sheepishly grinning at the other passengers. Many of the other passengers obviously thought it very amusing too.        



As previously mentioned, the eastern boundary of the farm was the Wairoa River. I can’t remember the distance along our river bank but it could have been as far as 30 chains. The width of the river beside the farm might have been up to 75 yards, so it was a considerable body of water that flowed past our property.       

With the major area of the farm being river flats and with the river being prone to flooding on a fairly regular basis, the family had to be conscious of the effects of rainstorms and spring tides. Dad used to get out of bed during nights of particularly heavy rains, let the dogs loose and ride his horse down to the flooded flats to drive the stock to higher ground. On at least one occasion, we lost a paddock of mown hay down the flooded river. On another occasion, a stack of hay was swept into a drain. One year, Dad planted a patch of pumpkins and watermelons on the flat which were all washed down the river in a flood and into the harbour where they floated around for some weeks.       

Logging of native timber on the Kaimai, where the Wairoa and its tributaries began, had been going on for decades. This was usually followed up by breaking in the land for farming. These activities continued throughout the 1930s and 1940s. It is almost certain that the clearing of native vegetation up on the Kaimai was the major factor in causing floods in the river. In the early years of my life, I can recall many logs floating down the river when it flooded and Dad trying to divert them towards our bank for future processing as firewood.      

 Before I was born, boats plied the Wairoa to load out timber and logs, upriver, at Tauriko wharf and take them to Tauranga. It is not widely known now that the name ”Tauriko” is not a genuine Maori place name but is actually a Maori-ised  derivative of the abbreviation for “Tauranga Rimu Company” which may have built and which certainly used the wharf for its activities.       

About 200 yards downstream of the present Wairoa River bridge, were the concrete foundations of what had once been a planing shed for sawn timber that had been ferried down from Tauriko. I never saw the shed when it was still standing but well remember the foundations being there.      



In the early 1940s Mr Jack Carter, at the end of Wairoa Road, owned a substantial area of self sown pines. Tuck and Watkins who were sawmillers at Sulphur Point in Tauranga, bought the trees and had them logged and rafted to their mill.  Over a period of some months, it became a familiar sight to see a launch named the “Eva” towing rafts of logs past our farm on its way to Tauranga. I was most impressed when Mr Carter, one day, said that “over a million feet of his logs had gone down the river” (a million of anything was a hell of a lot in those days). Because the river was quite shallow at low tide, around and below the bridge, the Eva took depth soundings and selected one particular bridge span to sail under when travelling the river. The Eva’s name was painted under the span and remained there until the bridge was demolished in the mid 1960s.

 Launches owned by Jerry Williams and also by Faulkner Bros, sometimes hauled barges of fertiliser and other requirements upriver to the Doidge farm which was without road access, being on the western bank of the river across from Tauriko. As a youngster, I was usually quite excited to see these boats, normally used as passenger ferries on Tauranga Harbour or as vessels for fishing trips, actually chugging past our farm. If we were working on the flats, Jerry or Barley Faulkner, both of whom knew Dad, would sometimes pull in to the river bank and have a chat.


Cleaning drains was an arduous and monotonous annual chore. It was one that, I am sure, Dad hated above all others but which had to be done if the farm was to kept in a fit state for animals to live on. Our farm was probably the lowest lying property along the river. Draining was possible only at low tide, therefore there were periods when it had to be put off for a while.

There were floodgates at junctions with the river on two of the main drains. These were the keys to keeping the flats reasonably dry and they, therefore, had to be kept in good working order with Dad attending to them almost every year.

A brown Persian cat turned up, from an unknown source, at our cowshed one day. Dad gave it milk and it decided to stay around. Granny, well read in classical literature, christened it “Medusa” but it eventually turned out to be a neutered “bloke”, so the name, even though it stuck, was inappropriate for the cat’s gender. One day when Dad was draining, he shovelled an eel out of the drain which writhed amongst the mud that had been tossed out. Dad called Medusa who came running across the paddocks and promptly attacked the eel and eventually ended up eating it. From that time on, Medusa always went with Dad when he was draining and had many a feast on the eels that were dug out of the drains. Medusa often went to the flats, even when there was no draining, and brought sizeable eels back to the cowshed. We thought that he must have caught them at night when they were slithering between drains or puddles. Medusa was the most independent and bad tempered cat that I ever knew. He would often attack when people tried to stroke him and he would never live at either our or our grandparents’ houses. The cowshed was his adopted home and that is where he stayed for a number of years, surviving on a diet of fresh milk, birds, eels and other titbits from Dad. There seemed to be a bond of mutual respect between Medusa and Dad, probably because Dad didn’t attempt to show the cat any physical affection. It was a strange relationship but it worked for them.



In our day, there were quite plentiful populations of kahawai, mullet and herrings in the river. The local Maori ladies were often to be seen sitting in favoured spots on the river banks with their bamboo rods, fishing for herrings. They didn’t catch large quantities of fish but they probably regularly got enough to feed their families.

For several years, large shoals of mullet created great disturbances on the surface of the river. There must have been thousands of these fish swarming from the harbour and estuary, at least as far upriver as our farm. Mullet are almost impossible to hook on a line but lend themselves to fairly easy netting (or more violent and instant methods of capture).

One Maori gentleman from Wairoa Pa favoured the instant method and after he had lit the fuse, he hung on a bit too long while waiting to see a shoal of fish before he threw the “jelly” into the river. BOOM! The lucky result of the explosion was that he lost only about two thirds of his hand and his thumb, fore and middle fingers. I say “lucky” because it was remarkable that he wasn’t killed in the explosion. Of course, his activities were highly illegal and the police took a great deal of interest in where he had obtained the gelignite and detonators. I don’t think that he was ever prosecuted though. I overheard Dad and his friends sometimes discussing the matter, from which I learnt quite a lot about what had happened. For several years afterwards, I often saw the gentleman riding his bike around the neighbourhood, holding onto the handlebars with one good hand and one that had only two fingers left on it.

 Dad had a lifelong friend, Marshall, who came to dinner every Sunday evening. Shortly after the man had lost part of his hand, I couldn’t help noticing Dad and Marshall speaking to each other in lowered voices and often talking about all the mullet that were still in the river. Mum obviously knew about what was happening and tried to exclude me from certain conversations. One Sunday, Marshall arrived with a very long, thick bamboo pole, most of which he had dragged behind his old 1920s Chev ute. The pole was taken down to the cowshed where it remained for several weeks.

Most children are not stupid and I don’t think that I was either. It hadn’t taken me long to work out that Dad and Marshall were preparing to blow some mullet but I maintained a completely innocent front, in case Dad threatened me if I told anyone.

One Sunday evening, Dad started milking a bit earlier than usual and Marshall turned up at the cowshed, also earlier than usual. After milking had finished, Dad, uncharacteristically, told me to go home to the house. I started up the hill but sat down and watched the two fishermen carry the bamboo pole across the flats to the river. They waited a while and I then saw Dad throw something into the water which was followed by a muffled explosion. About half an hour later Dad and Marshall appeared at the house to be greeted with eager looks from Mum. Alas, there were no fish. Later that evening, Marshall asked me whether I had heard a “bang” that afternoon. Of course, I was all innocence and “No-o-o-o, I hadn’t heard anything”.

Some years later when I was about 14, Dad and I were dismantling the old cowshed one day, when I picked up several small shiny tubes that had been sitting on some scantling. There were also some dried brown pieces of material that vaguely resembled raupo seed heads. I showed them to Dad who asked where the hell I had got them from. He said they were detonators and dried gelignite and it was just as well that some timber hadn’t fallen on them in case they had exploded. I asked Dad whether they were left over from his fishing expedition some years earlier and he asked me “how the hell I knew about that?” I told him that I had known all about it at the time and that I wasn’t as stupid as he thought but that I had never told anyone. We both had a good laugh.


THE BOAT        

We had a very nice 14 foot kauri clinker built dinghy which, I think, had been bought by Granny. It was kept in a semi open boatshed which covered a mud ramp that had been dug out by Grandad in the river bank. The oars, rowlocks and other spares were kept in a couple of wire loops that were suspended from the rafters of the shed. With the shed unable to be locked, security was non-existent but nothing was ever stolen.

There was an outboard motor,kept at Grandad’s woodshed, which Grandad didn’t relate to at all. As a preschooler, I often went on boating trips with my grandparents and can remember a grumpy Grandad still pulling and rewinding the starter cord on top of the motor, as the boat drifted downstream with the tide, past the Wairoa Bridge. Sometimes he did manage to fire the motor into action but he had to resort to oarpower on frequent occasions.

The boat also had a sail which was occasionally used on our river trips but I don’t recall much about sailing except for one occasion when Grandad was not quick enough to lower the mast as we passed under the bridge. This resulted in at least two feet of the mast being broken off and falling into the water beside the boat. As was usual, Grandad blamed everybody else in the boat.

Mum and Dad used the boat too. On the way up to Tauriko, wild peach trees grew in a tributary of the Wairoa. It was possible to row only a short distance up the tributary from the main river before encountering rocks and rapids but our parents managed to collect plenty of fruit during most seasons. On occasions Dad and his neighbour friends would row out to sand banks in the estuary between Bethlehem and Te Puna and collect sacks of cockles. On one return trip from the cockle beds, such was the weight of cockles and passengers that there were only a few inches of freeboard left between water and gunwale. They were fortunate that the boat stayed afloat.

As youngsters, Pip and I had to rely on family adults to take us on boat trips but, by the time I was about 12, I was strong enough to handle the oars and control the boat on short trips. During the next few years, my strength increased greatly, giving me the ability to row long distances to Otumoetai Point and back and also up the river, almost to Tauriko. For years after I left home, I continued to get great pleasure from rowing the boat on the river whenever I visited my family.

Alas, during Cyclone Bernie in about 1962, the Wairoa reached a level that had probably never previously been experienced and the boat, together with its shed, was swept away forever. I think that the wreckage of the boat was later found somewhere in the harbour, but it was beyond repair and not claimed by Dad.


The river, probably more than any other environmental factor, influenced our life on the farm. It sometimes made the flats boggy in winter. It kept the flats reasonably green by providing moisture for grass during dry summers but was an ever-present threat to our animals and hay paddocks, should it flood. Our animals used the river as their prime source of drinking water. During the game season, Dad and his neighbours shot ducks, either from our boat or from the river bank. The river sometimes provided us with firewood logs which floated downstream with the tide and it was also the favourite haunt of the flock of geese that we kept for many years.
When I grew strong enough to handle our boat, I spent many happy days rowing up and down the river on my own, poking into the channels and islands below the road bridge. In the summer, I joined other school friends whose families had boats and we went swimming in the river from our craft.
Yes, the river was a magic place to have at our front door, although Dad and Grandad didn’t always share my enthusiasm when the farm was flooded or when there was mud up to the cows’ guts when they came in for milking.



Sometime in the late 30s or early 40s, Mr Campbell bought an old disused sand barge from Jerry Williams and had it towed to the small sandspit where Wairoa Road meets the river, just upstream of the bridge. The barge was possibly up to 40 feet long and was decked with large dimension creosoted planks. I think that it was for these that Mr Campbell bought the barge. Over a period of several years, he removed sections of the planks while the waterlogged barge remained stranded on the sandspit. A number of locals who enjoyed swimming in the river, used to dive off and sunbathe on what remained of the deck. After a number of years, the derelict barge became part of the landscape.
One afternoon when we were returning from school, we noticed that the barge had disappeared and, when I reached home, I heard why it was no longer in its usual place.
During a spring tide that day, the barge had floated off the sand spit and had drifted down the river. Someone had alerted Mr Campbell who had got hold of Dad and, together, they had taken off downriver in our  rowboat. I am not sure  what they had hoped to achieve with a 14 foot boat with a pair of oars against a 40 foot barge but they must have felt an obligation to try to do something. Mr Hector Clarke who had sizeable launch moored down the river, evidently saw what was happening or was alerted by a phone call and he joined the chase. He actually managed to tie a rope onto the barge and attempt to tow it. Even though Hector’s launch was quite powerful, it was no match against the half submerged barge which was being carried along on an outgoing tide. Just as the group was weighing up its options, Jerry Williams appeared downriver on one of his infrequent trips up to Tauriko. It was an amazing bit of luck that Jerry happened to appear just at the right place at the just the right time. He managed to secure the barge to his powerful boat and, together with Hector Clarke’s launch, they towed it back up river, past the sandspit to the bottom of our farm. Dad and Mr Campbell wired the barge to various willow trees that grew on the riverbank but it was moored on such an angle and was so submerged at high tide that no more timber was ever salvaged from it.
Over the ensuing years, the willow trees died or were uprooted by the huge weight of the waterlogged barge and it gradually slipped down into the bottom of the river. Presumably, it is still there after about 60 years with few people being aware of its presence and with even fewer knowing the story of how it came to be there.


I mentioned that we owned a flock of geese. I am not sure how we acquired the original birds, or even why, but I do remember that Mum and Granny were the two shareholders in what became an annual enterprise.      
I think that the initial flock comprised only about 6 geese but they proved to be good breeders that it wasn’t long before there were 70 to 80 birds by each Christmas. Roast goose was, in those days, a popular Christmas dinner with many people and, after Mum started advertising geese for sale in the week leading up to Christmas, the demand became quite heavy. Sale prices were “ten bob killed and unplucked and a quid, plucked”. Only the 4 month old birds were sold with the breeding birds    being kept for many years to keep the production line going. The old birds became very big and would have been as tough as old boots to eat, so that was another reason why they were not sold at Christmas.     
The young birds were a mass of down under their feathers and, because we had no fridge or cool room in which to store them, they could not be scalded or singed but had to be plucked dry. What a hell of a job that was and guess who had to do most of it? Yes, I had to do it and very rarely did I ever get a cut of the extra 10 bob plucking charge, either.     

Price tags on articles in clothing shops in town, always annoyed Dad. A shirt might be priced at 19 shillings and 11 pence (19/11d) or a pair of stockings at 6 shillings and 11 pence (6/11d) etc. (much the same as $6-99c etc. that we have today). I remember a mens’ outfitter from town phoning up one evening and inquiring about the prices of our geese. Dad, as quick as a flash, told him that a goose was 9/11 whereupon the outfitter remarked that 9/11 was a “strange sort of price to charge for a goose”. “No bloody stranger than some of the prices that you put on the clothes in your shop “ said Dad.
Dad and the outfitter had been acquaintances for many years and they both ended up having a good laugh although Dad had still made his point.      On another occasion a stroppy neighbour, who had recently moved in across the road, wanted a live goose to take away for Christmas. He came to our place to collect it and when Dad handed it to him, he complained that it wasn’t big enough. He said he wanted a “big one”. Dad took the goose back and told the neighbour to get into the yard and select his own, giving me a wink, guessing what sort of bird he would select The neighbour chased geese around the yard for several minutes before he grabbed a huge goose which he said he wanted. Dad asked him several times whether he was sure that he was satisfied with his goose and “yes, he was”. After paying his 10 bob, he departed with his honking purchase in a bag and Dad and I sat down and had a good laugh. The “big goose” that he had chosen was one of our breeders and was probably at least 10 years old. With all the roasting in the world, it would never have become as tender as even an old car tyre. The neighbour never, afterwards, mentioned the goose.    

Our geese, in common with most others, were powerful, nasty and vicious birds to handle. When they were rounded up and yarded for Christmas orders or to have their wings clipped, they would think nothing of reaching out with their necks and fastening onto anyone who got in with them. One of our cattle dogs  which decided to cross from one side of the yard to the other was attacked by a goose who latched onto one of his ears. The dog yelped but was powerless against the goose which wouldn’t let go. I can also remember Grandad losing a lot of skin from one hand while he was holding a goose that twisted its neck and fastened onto him. They often bruised our arms and legs by beating their wings against us, too. Mum often wore shorts during summer which was not always a good thing to do when catching geese in the yard.  This  sometimes resulted in her legs being scratched and bruised by the geese, but she tolerated the discomfort rather than change into trousers.     

THE  TURKEY        

Dad went riding on most Sundays, sometimes to go pig hunting and deer stalking “up at the bush” on Poripori Block. He didn’t often catch anything but he always enjoyed the ride with his dogs following. On one occasion, when he was returning empty handed, Jim Crawford snr whose farm Dad was passing, asked Dad whether he would like a live turkey gobbler to take home and fatten for Christmas. Dad gratefully accepted, thinking that turkey would make a nice change from goose which had been traditional fare for many years. Dad had a pikau sugar bag on his back in which he cut a slit and, after stuffing the gobbler into the bag, he poked its head and neck through the slit and rode home with the bird peering at the countryside from the horse.  

The gobbler, which was quite thin, was released into a pen with some chooks and fed generously with wheat and barley for at least two months. However, with Christmas looming, the gobbler was still as skinny as a razor blade and we contemplated a return to roast goose. However, Dad had other ideas. One night, after dark, he instructed me to find a torch and sugar bag and, with that done, we went to the chook run and caught our skinny gobbler and put him in the bag. Without my guessing what Dad intended, we walked several hundred yards up the road in the dark, carrying our gobbler and arrived at Ted’s chook run which was close to the road but some distance from his house. Now, Ted and Dad were not exactly enemies but they were not great friends either and it did not come as much of a surprise to me when I realised what Dad’s intentions were.

On one of his frequent riding expeditions Dad had noticed a big gobbler, in great condition, strutting his stuff in Ted’s chook run  and had decided on a plan of action, should our bird not come up to spec in time for Christmas.

Dad silently entered the run, briefly shone the torch to locate Ted’s gobbler which he caught and told me to “ let the other bugger go”. After stuffing Ted’s turkey into the sack, we returned home and liberated him in our run until Christmas. I was threatened with all kinds of terrible punishments if I ever breathed a word to anyone about what we had done.

Yes, and very nice the turkey was too when he came out of the oven and was carved into slices on Christmas Day. Quite a change from our usual goose!

Ted never had the slightest suspicion about what had happened but I felt guilty for some time afterwards whenever I met him or his family.


At the end of 1945, I completed my Standard 6 year at Bethlehem and was ready to go to college in Tauranga which I did at the beginning of 1946.       

Until 1946, the secondary department in Tauranga had been Tauranga District High School, located in the same grounds as Tauranga Primary School. In 1946, Tauranga College opened on its own site at “Hillsdene”, on Cameron Road with an initial roll of 353 pupils, boys and girls, drawn from the greater Tauranga district which extended west to about Pahoia, north to Tauranga township and Mt Maunganui, east to Papamoa and south to Ohauiti, Oropi and Omanawa-Kaimai. I was privileged to be a foundation pupil at the College when it opened.      

The bus that took us to college was Victor Transport, owned by Victor Smith. It was a Reo and was jammed with pupils, many of whom had to stand because there were not enough seats. Ray Lloyd and I were the only two college pupils from Wairoa Road who caught the bus which picked us up at the bridge. Another pupil from Wairoa Road, Nancy Harper, biked to college each day. Pip, my small sister, who had spent most of her first school year at Bethlehem, changed schools and went to Tauranga Primary, also on Vic's bus. Greshams bus moved the Mt Maunganui pupils to and from Faulkners Ferry, Kerrs Bus brought pupils from Omanawa and Kaimai and Colletts Bus brought pupils from Oropi and Pyes Pa.      

After having spent all my Bethlehem School years going mostlybarefooted, not wearing a uniform and being taught all three Rs by just one teacher, college was quite a change, moving to different rooms for each subject and being taught by a number of different teachers. I think I adapted to the new system fairly quickly and began to enjoy college quite well.       

During my two years there, I made friends with pupils from other districts and also did quite well in the athletics and swimming sports in my second year. I am sure, though, that I did not work as hard as I should have, either in the classroom or with my homework. By the time I was 14, I had grown tall, was quite physically mature and could do a man’s work. I, therefore, preferred helping around the farm rather than attending to my school work and this was not a good attitude.      

 I had outgrown my old bike by the time I went to college and needed a full sized model to get around on. When visiting a neighbour’s farm one day, I saw a nice bike parked up in his shed. I told Dad about it and he suggested that I  

made an offer of 10 pounds. The offer was reluctantly accepted by Mr Frank Deverall but it left me the proud owner of a solid machine with a back hub brake. It had big handlebars that I immediately reversed to point forwards, like bulls horns, which was the fashion in those days. I was just the modern young buck on that bike, I can tell you. I was even more proud of that bike because I had paid for it out of money that I had earned doing haymaking jobs. With a friend, Pat Nelson who was a keen bike rider, I rode my bike all over the Tauranga district for some years. Some days, I biked to school instead of going by bus.      

 At the end of 1947, a polio epidemic was sweeping through the country and all schools were suddenly closed several weeks early before the usual Christmas holidays. Because I was being sent to boarding school in Nelson in the next year, I never went back to Tauranga College again. I look back on my two years there as probably the happiest of all my school days.       


Some new people bought the farm across the road in about 1945 and the farmer, Mr Lin Haycock, owned a tractor and harvesting gear which he often contracted out. Sometimes being short of labour, Lin would take me with him on haymaking jobs where I was usually paid an hourly wage of 1/6d  and which was a fortune to me. I toiled very hard though and was usually assigned to a horse and sweep which was quite hard work. I certainly earned what I was paid! Lin taught me how to drive his tractor too. When it wasn’t being used for other purposes around hay paddocks, Lin attached a sweep to the front and occasionally let me do the hay sweeping. That was much better than following an old horsedrawn sweep to and from the haystack all day!



The summers of 1946 and 1947 were extremely dry. With the benefit of modern scientific knowledge about weather patterns, those years have now been identified as probable El Nino events. Grass on our farm, even on the river flats, was insufficient for our cows which decreased production drastically. The whole countryside turned brown with little grass anywhere. In those days, there was a fairly low traffic flow on Wairoa Road which made it reasonably safe to graze the herd on the side of the road and it became my regular duty to mind the cows while they were grazing there between milkings, over a period of weeks, during the summer.

In those days, from almost the end of Crawford Road to Poripori, and across much of Minden to Whakamarama, there were thousands of acres of undeveloped scrub and fern country. During at least one of the two summers, this vegetation caught alight and burnt across large areas of this land. In some cases, property was at risk. Along with a number of our neighbours, Dad was called upon to volunteer his time fighting the fires which they all did for some weeks. By this time, I was capable of running the cowshed and milking the cows, a duty that I shared with Mum while Dad was away at the fires. The neighbours and Dad spent several weeks firefighting and they used to arrive home late each evening, tired out, and leave again quite early, next morning. A bone of contention with the volunteers was that County Council employees were also assisting but they worked to union rules and were paid for what they did. The volunteers received nothing.

The weather was so generally dry in the upper North Island that NZ Forest Products had 35,000 acres of its pine forests, in the Wairakei-Taupo area, destroyed in one tremendous fire in the 1946 drought. In 1948, I was sent to board at Nelson College. Apart from returning for school holidays and for other visits to my parents after leaving school, I never returned to live at Wairoa Road.

Dad and Mum sold the old farm on the river in 1964 and moved to a smaller farm on Wairoa Road where they lived until 1978. They moved from there to a house and section at Bethlehem where they both lived until they died in 1986 and 1988, respectively. In the 40 years (as at the time of writing) since our farm on the river was sold, the property has been gradually subdivided into lots of various areas and, from the two houses that were there while it was in our family’s ownership, there are now 6 or 7. Two of those are replacements for our houses, both of which were either removed or demolished.

The farm has not been managed for dairying, almost from the time when our parents sold it but various other land uses have been, or are now practiced there. It appears that earthmoving machinery has smoothed out the terraces and that kiwifruit is planted on that piece of the farm. On another piece, behind where our old house stood, there is a plantation of eucalyptus trees. The river flats are used for dry stock and, perhaps, some cropping. It is probable that most, if not all, of the present residents have regular employment away from their holdings.

It is unlikely that anyone, now living on what was our old farm, is aware or even cares about the efforts that went into its initial development or is interested in the history of the closer community that once existed on Wairoa (and Crawford) Roads. From what was once a solid dairying community, there are now very few dairy herds left on either road.

For Pip and me, the old farm was our first home where we spent many happy times. Much of it no longer exists in the form that we once knew but the physical changes will never erase our memories of the special place where we lived, worked and played as children and enjoyed as young adults.

( Recorded 2001-2004).
( Revised in 2012 ).


This page archived at Perma CC in September of 2016:

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Wairoa Road, Bethlehem. The Perston Family

Year:c.1930 and c.1940

Latitude and Longitude coordinates: -37.7155881,176.09082890000002

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Wairoa Road, Bethlehem. The Perston Family by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License