Topic: Tauranga in the 1950s – an Immigrant Childhood by Trish McBride

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

We disembarked from the Captain Cook in Wellington in June 1952, spent an uncomfortable night on the Limited, transferred to a bus in Frankton, and set off on the last leg of the journey over the Kaimais to our new home in Tauranga. The road was unsealed, the weather was appalling, and the bus broke down at Tauriko.  My parents were unimpressed. I was numb. Where were the magical weather and the semi-tropical paradise for which we’d left our home in Lancaster, England?

Fortunately, my uncle arrived to collect us in his car and take us to his home where I’d again be seeing my lovely cousins and aunt. Before we got there, we stopped at the dairy in what is now 15th Avenue and I had my first New Zealand ice-cream – a raspberry ripple, pure heaven.

On my temporary bed was a ruler made from beautiful native timbers. The other item, a plastic box, puzzled me, until I heard that it was for my school lunch. That sounded good; I’d been a reluctant consumer of unpalatable school dinners back home. Then I remembered having been coached on the boat not to say ‘back home’, because people here wouldn’t like it. That took practice. We had also on the way learned to sing God Defend New Zealand.

Soon the sun appeared, the sea sparkled, the palm trees along The Strand were exotic, and some of the expected magic emerged. In town, kuia with moko still smoked their pipes on the footpaths. The citrus trees had shiny ladybirds. Fantails were exquisite. The beaches were blissful. I fell in love with the place. 

I was nine. I went to school with my five year old sister at St Mary’s Convent down Morris St (13th Avenue). Some wonderful new experiences, and some that were puzzling. I loved the swimming lessons in the sea past the feathery toitoi at the end of the playing field, listening to the piano pupils playing Für Elise after school, and especially loved The School Journal. It really helped me get a handle on this new country. The nuns were all Irish, and the first song I learned here was Mountains of Mourne. They were kind, and good teachers.

 Fruit had me baffled – an array of things never seen in post-war England. The only peaches I’d ever seen were slippery golden crescents from a tin. Here they were big, round and furry, and following the other kids’ example I learned to eat them skin and all. They also ate lemons, skin and all. So when I was given my first Chinese gooseberry (called kiwifruit only later) I dutifully ate that likewise and had a sore mouth for a few days. Passionfruit and tree tomatoes (tamarillos) were delicious. And no, the skins of those weren’t edible.

An even more puzzling happening was when a men’s rugby team visited school. That much I understood, but then they lined up across the front of the classroom and went mad. They jumped and yelled and shouted and pulled weird faces.  It was scary, but all the other kids seemed to be unworried, enjoying it even, and clapped when they’d all returned to normal. So I said nothing, and filed it away as a mystery. It was some years before I realised I’d that day seen my first haka.

I always loved history and got a buzz out of being taught in an old classroom which had been a house where Bishop Pompallier, the first Catholic Bishop of New Zealand, had once stayed.

We soon went to live in Greerton which was a very small village then.  A dairy, a post office, a stationer’s and little else. Until Bill Bongard opened his pharmacy, I had to ride my bike to Faulkner’s on the corner of 11th Avenue to collect any prescriptions we needed. We lived in Mansels Road, and there were occasionally still sheep herded along there to the abattoir.  Once, an ailing sheep got left behind. My kind-hearted little sister ‘adopted’ it, and was only persuaded to relinquish it to the owners when she was promised a kitten.

Another joy was the school A & P show, again a totally new concept. There was a paddock behind our place, and the owner used to get four calves to rear each year.  A friend and I ‘tamed’ two of them once. ‘Mine’ was a beautiful creamy Jersey with melting brown eyes. I called her Bambi. The owner was actually happy to have the calves accustomed to being handled, and for us to get them used to bridles. On the big day Bambi and I had a ride to school in another parent’s truck. The farmer was even happier when Bambi came home with two ribbons. Even more resale valued added. I was thrilled to have participated, and what’s more, my sand-saucer decorated with tiny garden flowers had got a prize too.

Secondary school broadened my horizons, and began a number of friendships that have lasted till now. We were in the co-ed class at the then co-ed Tauranga College. I still love those wonderful trees. The route to school passed by the site of the Battle of Gate Pa. Cameron Road was much narrower then, and the actual trenches from the battle, only 90 or so years previously, were still clearly visible under a row of macrocarpas. Social studies visits to The Elms, where the officers had dined the previous evening, and to Monmouth Redoubt, made it all seem sad and very real.

We learned about the Maori chivalry in moving closer to make it more convenient for the British to fight, and the heroic Maori woman who had tended the wounded on both sides. We were still then learning about The Maori Wars, where the settlers were the injured innocents.  I’m glad the terminology has changed. Our lovely next-door neighbour, 80-ish then, remembered being frightened as a child by stories of Te Kooti’s rampages, including the murder of Rev Vӧlkner in Opotiki, just a few years before she was born.

During the school holidays a group of us often biked to Mount Maunganui. This was considerably more of an expedition than it is now. There was no causeway, and certainly no bridge. It was 20 miles round through Welcome Bay. On arrival, we’d tether the bikes together and climb the Mount.  It was before the present tracks, and we used to go straight up the town side. Sandwiches at the top, an easier descent, then back to Tauranga on the ferry. What energy.

This was also before the days of Mount Maunganui College. Pupils from there used to get the ferry to attend college in Tauranga.

Travel to and fro is so different now.  I remember standing on the point at Maungatapu hearing with some incredulity from a friend’s engineer father that they were planning a causeway to the other side. But it happened, by-passing Welcome Bay and halving the driving time. And then eventually came the Harbour Bridge, and now it is so easy. Other roads were developed later too: Fraser Street used to stop near Merrivale, and to get across from Roys Road, we had to go down a pathway and across a paddock. Along the path was a tree that produced the sweetest little plums. And of course the various motorways and by-passes hadn’t been even thought of.

We went to church at St Mary’s when it was still the little old wooden church at street level on First Avenue.  The Sound of Music family, the von Trapps, came to visit once and sang to the congregation – quite beautiful. Later a major storm blew the building off its foundations with the curate inside. Fortunately he wasn’t damaged. Then the first new church was built at the top of the rise, to be followed eventually by the present complex.

And so we gradually became Kiwis. My father served on the Home and School Association, grew our veggies, became a skilled handyman. My mother learned to make banana cakes, unheard of in England then. And learned that when people said ‘Hurray’ when you were leaving, it didn’t mean they were glad to see the back of you.  She was quite miffed the first few times. I wondered much later whether it was a colloquial condensation of haere ra. And my youngest sister was born, our genuine Kiwi.

After seven years in Tauranga, the family moved to Wellington where I’ve lived ever since. The occasional visits back have always been nostalgic. But new phase of my relationship with the area began recently when one of my daughters, her husband and family moved to Tauranga. Especially as their youngest son has just been born there. Grandma had to be around for that occasion.  

My family doings have come full circle, back to where we started 61 years ago, to my New Zealand home town. 

Ko Captain Cook te waka

Ko Mauao te maunga

Ko Waimapu te awa


This page archived at Perma Cc in October of 2016:

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Tauranga in the 1950s – an Immigrant Childhood by Trish McBride


Latitude and Longitude coordinates: -37.68779749999999,176.16512950000003

javascript needs to be on to use Google Maps
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Tauranga in the 1950s – an Immigrant Childhood by Trish McBride by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License