Growing up in Birkenhead in the early 1900's
Updated: Mar 9
There must have been much talk at our home in Mt Albert about the coming move to another house but I remember none of it. The first I remember is that my sister Gladys and I spent a night in Mt Eden with my mother's youngest sister Rose, Mrs J W Court. Next morning we got off the tram in Queen St. to call on Uncle Fred Hutchinson, who was at that time the manager of the Queen St. branch of Hutchinson Bros Ltd. He had evidently been to Birkenhead for he drew us a map and told us to go to the ferry and get off at the second stop. This we did after asking when the ferry stopped at Northcote, if this was Birkenhead just to make sure.
From the wharf we started walking up the hill following the map. Past Arawa St. as I think it was called then and on to Dr Meikle's corner where, in later years I delighted in smelling the trumpet lily tree growing at the right. The next corner we later knew as Madam Chamber's, and there we turned right and on down the hill. At that time there were only three houses on the right, Tizard's, Paterson's Puriri Lodge so called because of the large tree which hung over the hedge and on till we came to a curved gateway with a long drive lined on the left with cabbage trees. I little guessed then how I was to detest picking up cabbage leaves even at 3 pence an armful. We heard a hammer tapping and for some reason that was what decided us that this was the right place. Sure enough the tapping was Auntie Fanny Hutchinson tacking down linoleum in the kitchen.
The house had been built by a Mr Newton who evidently expected to have a maid, for there was a small room off the kitchen which became known as the 'little room,'and was used as a store room for things which did not find a place in the dark walk-in pantry. In the garden were a number of what we called Monkey Apple trees, but which were really Eugenia and called Lillypilly in Australia, but the side hedge was Elegaegnus which was also used for the street boundaries all the way down the hill. This grew so rapidly that it needed frequent trimming so that one could seldom find the small fruit like pink jelly beans. From the gate, right down the boundary fence to the beach were large macrocarpa trees, one of which had many of the small twigs cleared from round the main trunk so that one could climb to the top for a fine look-out. This tree was beside a building which had originally been a buggy shed.
The orchard was beyond the dog kennels and their runs, but had a path round the left side of the fence. At the top of the bush which grew up the steep slope from the beach was a rewa-rewa tree, whose brown flower buds reminded me of bunches of small kid gloves. A narrow paddock was behind the orchard with trees here and there but those I remember most were a large kowhai with a bed of wild flags near it's base and a cabbage tree so old that its trunk was split leaving a large hole at the base. A flight of steps ran down to the beach and there my mother taught me to swim that summer while I was still five. She let me float with her hand under my head. Near the boundary of the next property was a hollow in an oblong shape which we understood had been made by Maoris using that position instead of the more obvious one on the point to the left. Whares were said to have been built over them.
Our point was the edge of Willow Bay, so named because of willows planted on the frontage of one of the properties. Many properties had paths running through bush to the beach both from Marama Terrace and Arawa St. The other end of the bay was Needles Eye, to which a public path and steps ran down from Arawa St. There was a plank across the Eye and a springboard on the outer edge. As can be imagined this had plenty of use during summer when the tide was in. When it was out there was a stretch of mud with green weed and crab holes. Later on I found a big shallow cave further along towards the wharf and there were oysters to be cracked from the rocks and also green anenomes. Still further along nearly to the reserve was a small indent where grew red anenomes which I saw nowhere else.
That first year there were three to go to Northcote School, for Gladys was in Std 5 and Norman Std 3. Rowland was already at Symonds St Grammar. The usual way to school was by the school gully down the ponga steps and over the bridge. I cannot remember being ferried across on the bridge planks in a very high tide, but I do remember Norman giving me a pick-a-back and slipping when he put me down. On the other side the path was slippery clay so he scraped this from my hands with his pen knife.
Later I varied the route by walking up to Highbury and down from Zion Hill or coming home the Northcote way and along Church St to the Gas Works. A path led down to the beach bordered by a large area of sour stalks, a type of wild gladiolus whose stems, at the right time of the year, were good to chew. The brother of one girl told her she would get worms if she ate sour stalks but that did not stop us.
One lunchtime that first summer Gladys took me down the road from the school to a place where strawberries were sold from the gardens, we were given ours in cabbage leaves.
Miss Wilson was the teacher during my primer one year, though that class was always called the Babies. A favourite game was statues which involved standing in a row on a seat while one girl pulled each in turn off. Those pulled at once became "Statues" and the puller chose one she thought best to take her place. I cannot remember the Primer 2 teacher but the small room was built with the floor in steps so that each row of desks was higher than the row in front. One incident from that year remains in my memory, for one Monday morning we were not allowed in until the blackboard had been cleaned of RUDE WORDS, written sometime during the weekend by two boys who lived nearby. Many years later I met one of the boys and mentioned this to him. He replied, "I do not remember that incident."
We hadn't lived in Marama Terrace for very long before our uncle, J W Court, bought the vacant property next door, but later sold it and bought instead the house which belonged to Tizards at the top of the hill. Thereafter, in our house, this was referred to as Up above, while we lived Down below. The section next door was divided into four, the two back ones being reached by a right-of-way shared by them. Next to our house Mr Bert Turner built a house and in front his brother Arundel always known as Del. The sections higher up just below Paterson's were sold, the one in front to Mr Powell and the back one to Mr Cole. These back ones, of course had a beach frontage and at the beginning of the bush in Mr Bert Turner's place was a horse chestnut tree. This was a novelty with its prickly hedgehog fruit.
It had been a custom for all the families to assemble at our grandparents' home in Herne Bay on Christmas Day but that first one was so stormy and the harbour so rough that no one was brave enough to go with our father until I said I would. He took me downstairs to the men's cabin where I remember that the panels between the windows were filled with paintings of New Zealand birds and I was later told had been painted by Lindaur. I believe that ferry, was the Britannia which was later scrapped paintings and all.
Just prior to this, on the last day of school, I was scared to go in case I had failed, an awful prospect. However, Norman came home to say I had passed and was to skip the top primer and go into Std 1. I have decided since then that this was not wise for I was the youngest in the class and bigger girls reminded me that I was too young to hear their secrets.
The house 'up above' where my uncle and aunt lived can still be seen in a different location for much later it was moved to a section opposite the top of Marama Tce after a new one had been built on the property. This meant alterations to the garden which had been very well laid out, with both a tennis court and croquet green. In the orchard, apple and pear trees had been trained espalier and so long before that supports were no longer needed. Beside the croquet green grew the best satuma plums I have ever tasted. At one time the Misses Tizard had taught small children in what must have been an early kindergarten for there was a school room built near the back door and a large enclosed yard for playing.
In 1911, in Std 1 the teacher was a young man fresh from Teachers' College. My only memory of him is that he did not let me leave the room when I put up my hand and then asked me why there was a puddle on the floor. During this year Mr Taylor, the Headmaster retired and a boy named George Satchell, who painted very well presented one of his works. I was chosen to read a tribute to Mrs Taylor and to give her a bunch of violets. I remember rehearsing the reading and thought that I must have been chosen as the best reader but have since wondered if it was because my father was, at that time the Chairman of the School Committee. Probably that was the same year when the committee planted trees on Northcote Point on Arbour Day and my father was given a gum tree to plant on our point. It was planted and protected from our cow, Kitty, by a small fence. Kitty thought anything behind a fence must be sweeter and was determined to eat it until, in despair, the fence was removed. From that day she did not touch it and the tree flourished. The next headmaster was Mr Frank Murphy always known as Spud. I have forgotten to mention a memory from the end of 1910. During this year I was in the Infant class at the Zion Hill Sunday School with Miss Unsworth as teacher. The concert at the end of the year was a great event with classes competing for a prize which was probably a shield. While most of our class were on a see-saw singing 'See Saw Margery Daw' I was chosen to sing Little Bo Peep. My mother made me a long blue dress with a high yoke with artificial flowers in my hair and on the crook which was bound with blue velvet ribbon. I can't remember whether we had not rehearsed on the stage but, on the night, when I was standing in a side room by myself while the others did their part I was quite sure everyone had forgotten me and no one knew how nearly I walked on before the right time. My mother told me years later that she and the rest of the family sat in the Hall dreading the high F in the song for, in practising at home that note was always flat. How relieved they were when, for once, I got it right. Of course, our item was judged best but a bigger girl told me, "of course they would give it to the babies."
Back to 1911. During this year my cousin Lynn Court, then two years old, had a very serious illness and before Christmas, I made up my mind to give her something special. I was allowed to go to town alone and did my shopping at Hutchinson's wholesale warehouse, situated in Fanshawe St. For my aunts I bought white celluloid thimbles which cost me tuppence each. Lynn's present was a trumpet made from a cow's horn. I think that cost sixpence. My other purchases I have forgotten. One did to have to bother about buying a ticket for the ferries in those days for one just walked through the gate saying "Season". After some years the management realised that some people had been saying this for years without paying the yearly family ticket. If one missed the ferry it was often quicker to walk along the wharves and catch the 'cargo boat', later called the vehicular ferry, than to wait for the next ferry. It amazes me now to think that no one worried about a small girl of six going to town shopping alone.
As I was not in another Zion Hill concert this must have been when the Methodist Church at Northcote was built and we attended there as it was closer. Until such time as the Sunday School was built this was held in the Masonic Hall. I remember one Sunday School picnic which was held on a farm at the foot of the Clay Hill. A monkey sitting on a post was a great attraction. The food was set out on trestles and I helped myself to a sandwich. This was spread far too thickly with mustard, something I had never tasted and thought terrible.
In 1912 Mrs McKay, then Miss Harvey, was our teacher and was a great favourite. Unfortunately she had to try to teach me to sew neatly. Girls, nowadays are not expected to make such tiny neat stitches. After one un-picking I told her, "at home I made a handkerchief and my father took it to work." Miss Harvey said I must sew more neatly at home. "I made it on the machine," I replied. She told this to my mother as a great joke. It was during this year that I was sent to the Office to open a telegram which had been delivered to the school for me. Both Mr Murphy and the first assistant watched me open it, curious to hear the news. I read, "Got him, coming home tomorrow" and explained to them that my father was buying me a black pomeranian for my own as I hated the fox terrior pups being sold. This was my first dog, Pete, and he ran free, one of his special friends being Madam Chambers up the road whom he visited every Sunday morning, while she was still in bed. At some later date, my brothers decided Pete's coat was too hot in the summer and cut it short. Next time he visited Madame Chambers she did not recognise him and ordered the strange dog out. When she heard the reason for his changed appearance she wanted to get him back to apologise.
Which year was Hayley's comet seen? Either this year or the one before. I remember walking down from 'up above' with my mother and father and seeing the strange sight in the sky. My father inevitably told children, "Fifty yards in front," and I was scared on ahead by myself. I was told it would come back in fifty years but, when it did not I made inquiries and now find I will not have long to wait.
The first pictures were about this time, being shown at a Hall near Highbury and, as a treat I was allowed to go with Gladys and Norman, one Saturday night. At one place during the main picture Gladys told me to close my eyes which I did, but she need not have saved me, for coming home Norman said, "Wasn't it good, that part where he stabbed her?"
At the bottom of the hill below our place there was a wooden bridge, where, at high tide people used to fish for piper. I am no fisherman but have never heard of these little fish anywhere else.
Every month at full moon the Band of Hope was held at the Methodist Church and we all signed the pledge never to drink alcohol. There were items of all kinds and I remember the pews being pulled out from the walls to allow marching, two abreast down the centre aisle and separate and round the sides. We had this type of marching at school with more room for manoeuvres and this seems to have been the origin of Marching Girls.
About this time we had a small launch named after me but I have few memories of her as I was too small to help with the work.
In Std 3 our teacher was Miss Vialous, who became so well-known as an exceptionally good teacher that her obituary was even copied in the Marlborough Express. From my one school photo I have counted that there were seventy children in this class but I have no memory of the cane ever being used. We all loved her very much.
Early this year my father's brother Will died at the early age of thirty eight. For three months his wife and second son, Colin lived with us, while the other two boys were with relations elsewhere. Colin's birthday was one day before mine, so, as a treat we were taken by my father, to Wirth's Circus in Freeman's Bay. The only item I remember was the one we were not allowed to watch but were told to sit down while all around us people stood up to watch a man who dived from the very top of the centre pole to a net spread on the ground. The tei tree at the Northcote end of the school Gully was alive with insects of all kinds, locusts, praying mantis and stick insects. One morning Colin collected as many of these as he could hold and set them free on the green serge curtain which divided the two classes in the long room. No one knew how so many insects had managed to come inside that day. I was sorry when Auntie Annie and Colin left to live in Herne Bay. Later this year a new girl came to our class named Connie Wallace, who became my first friend. The family lived in Northcote on the hill opposite us in a two storied concrete house. By the time winter came I was invited to go home with Connie at lunch time, taking my lunch and, was given a cup of cocoa.
1913 was the year of a waterfront strike of which the part I remember most was that no sugar was allowed to be delivered to Auckland shops from the Chelsea Sugar Works. Our father stayed in town, sleeping at the warehouse and I was told, had four Policemen to guard him when he went out. Sugar was brought by road from Chelsea and stored under our house, with one of the dogs, Briggs, to guard it. One day as I came home from school, Auntie Eva, a single aunt who lived with Auntie Rose Court, as Auntie Fanny did with us, met me at their gate and told me to hurry home if I wanted to see my father. I imagined myself as being like the Cavalier boy in the picture being questioned by the Roundheads, "When did you last see your father?" The sugar under our house was taken to Auckland by launch but was still there overnight and my mother gave Rowland a small lady's revolver to put under his pillow in case of any intruders. Late that night, long after Rowland was asleep she remembered that this was the night the nightman came and had to pass Rowland's window. What if he woke and challenged him? Fortunately he did not wake. On the night the launch started to cross the harbour, Uncle Fred rowed from Herne Bay to meet it to tell them the strikers were on the beach waiting. Down went the anchor and they waited until the coast was clear then the sugar was safely landed and carted to the warehouse.
Over our back door was an awning on a wooden frame. One wet day I remember the canvas filled and just as I came home from school it overflowed drenching me even more than I was already. I stepped into the kitchen wailing, "Norman did it" for I was quite sure he must have planned it. Down the road from the school there was a bakehouse with Mrs McKenzie's store on the opposite corner. Many children were given threepence to buy stale cakes from the bakehouse for lunch. I begged and begged but it was not until my mother and father were away that I persuaded Auntie Fanny to let me do the same. Such a big bag of yesterday's cakes but, by the end of the afternoon I was very sorry for myself. I managed to reach home and then lost the lot and felt better. In Std 4 in 1914 our teacher was Miss Newbiggen who found it necessary to cane a lot. She told us that once, when she was a girl there was a noise like cannons and people thought the Russians were bombarding the country. It turned out the noise was the Tarawera eruption.
With three adults in our place and three "up above" there was never any shortage of four people to play whist or five hundred either at one house or the other. Also, I think they must have had season tickets for the Liedertaffel, later changed to the Auckland Male Choir. I remember begging to go once and then being very tired and bored before the evening was over. Sometime that year an evening was held at our home for senior members of the staff of Hutchinson Bros and people were engaged to entertain them. The only item I remember was a man who played the piano and, to my surprise, bent his head and played some notes with his nose. It was my job to go to the gate each morning to collect the Herald and, one morning I read that an Archduke had been shot in Serbia. I thought that was a very long way away and nothing to do with us. About this time I discovered that I could not read with my right eye and was taken first to an optician and then to a specialist, Dr Pabst in Wellesley St. As I waited with my mother in the waiting room I saw Grammar boys walking down from school and said "Look!... There's Norman and he's lost his cap again." The Dr said I had a lazy eye and tried to make it work by covering the good one. I looked above and below the dark glass till green silk was added to make it impossible to do that. For six weeks I was in misery and expected to be read to continually. Aunties Fan and Gertie at Herne Bay offered to teach me to do poker work if I would spend a day with them, so off I went, by ferry and tram and then walked till I got there but could not manage much with one weak eye especially as pokerworkers at that time had to be pumped to keep the point hot. Covering the eye did no good as I was too old, so back to school I went with the wonderful excuse for getting out of sewing which I said, untruthfully made my head ache. A girl who wore glasses made the same excuse and we joined the boys in gardening at sewing time or doing brushwork on wet days. This was the most stylised form of painting that can be imagined. The point of the brush just touched the paper and then pressed down and raised again to a point. A twig of tei tree in flower was a favourite subject with grey or black paper to paint on. There were no local libraries at the time so I always begged for books for birthdays or Christmas presents. I remember Rowland findng me reading one of Jules Verne's books, 'To the Moon and Round it' and he complained to mother that it was far too old for me.
1915 brought many changes. The country was at war and my father and Rowland had enlisted in the A.S.C., Uncle Stan Hutchinson having taken over the running of Hutchinson Bros. At school the first assistant, Joey Braithwaite, who had seemed permanent had also enlisted and our new teacher was Mr Turbott, soon known as Tommy. Mr Braithwaite had grown daffodils from seed in beds by the flag pole. I was told but have never verified it, that daffodils take seven years from seed to flower so he must have expected to stay at Northcote for a long time. Tommy Turbot was a very thorough teacher and I remember green rolls like blinds with words printed in white paint. These were sample letters, one in reply to an invitation, another applying for a job and the like. We had to write our own letters using these as examples. As had happened earlier, when we were invited to enter for an essay competition I was always chosen and then, to my disgust, I had to re-write for bad writing. It was decided that it was time we had lessons in cooking and laundry and the boys in woodwork. Most schools had this for half a day once a week but we had no manual training school so had a whole day once a fortnight at Devonport School. This meant that Mr Turbott had to come to Birkenhead on an earlier ferry to travel with us to town and then on the Devonport one and the same in reverse going home. While on the way we used the time to do the arithmetic we would have had at school that day. During one laundry session I remember the teacher telling us that one should iron up to one inch of the sides of blouse sleeves and then open the sleeve the other way and iron that strip. In this way there would be no crease. The young pupil teacher looked at her blouse sleeve where there was a very definite crease.
In those days we had a week's holiday at Easter and my mother took me to Rotorua with Auntie Rose and Jack. On leaving there, mother and I spent the weekend at Hamilton for my father who was in camp at Claudelands was to join us at the hotel. I was on an upstairs verandah watching for him when a young couple, also staying the hotel, asked for whom was I watching. When I told them I was watching for my father they laughed and said that he would not come. I was shocked and said that of course he would, he had SAID he would. That is my first memory of realising how important being reliable has always been to me. Before my father left for the war there was a farewell dinner for Hutchinson Bros employees with little silk Union Jacks on the tables and he was presented with an illuminated address. There were items but the only one I remember was 'We'll come up from Somerset' sung by a quartet known as the Lyric Four in costume.
That year a combined schools' concert was held in the Town Hall trained by the City organist, Maugan Barnett. Only Std 5 children from Northcote School were allowed to be in it as Std 6 were studying hard for the Proficiency exam at the end of the year. Mr Turbott tested our voices and those good enough learnt the songs at school first. Among the items were included songs from all the allied countries among them being Rule Britannia, the Marsellaise, Men of Harleck, the Maple Leaf and many more. We had several rehearsals on the platform at the Town Hall and were told to be sure to wear white dresses on the night. An unusual outing that year was a class visit to the theatre for a Williamson's company was playing Seven Little Australians at the old Opera House. It took a lot of pleading to convince Mr Turbott that we should go but at last we had permission and went to a matinee. I realised that parts from other books by Ethel Turner had been put into that play. Such was my first introduction to the theatre which I had imagined more than a little wicked, like going to the Races.
At the beginning of the school year in 1916 we were very pleased to find that we were again to have Mr Turbott as teacher but a new classroom had been built on the east side at the rear of the existing rooms. Before this I had lost my friend Connie Wallace for they had moved to Remuera. We thought we would be together again next year at Grammar but, alas, that was the year the Epsom Girls Grammar opened. For the first two years girls in the fifth forms changed to the Howe St. school but in our third year the Epsom school had its own fifth form. I did not miss out on hot cocoa at lunch time in winter when in Std 6 for there was a small shop opposite the school with a large room behind the shop. Here a trestle table was set up with forms on each side and we could buy a cup of cocoa for 3d.
This year the Proficiency exam at the end of the year loomed ahead and some sat for the Junior Scholarship. As so much importance was put on passing these exams I think the fortnightly trips to Devonport must have been only the year before. At the end of the year I begged for a holiday and my mother decided to take me to Algies Beach. A number of families went there year after year so I felt rather an outsider among children who already knew each other well. We met Mrs Usher there with Len and Gordon who had not yet had the accident with the train in which he was to lose his leg. Mother and Mrs Usher had much in common including both being Methodists and later when the Ushers came to live in Birkdale, the friendship continued. We thought nothing of walking the four miles to visit them and then walking back. I did not really enjoy that holiday for those other children were too sophisticated for me and I was glad to return home.
I am not sure in which year Mr Clement Wragge with his wife and son Kismet, arrived in Birkenhead but he bought the third house on the left side of Arawa St as a dwelling and the fourth as a museum. Mrs Wragge, an Indian princess, showed visitors round and explained the exhibits. She wore a beautiful sari and I remember my mother was charged one shilling, with sixpence for me. All down that side of the street, Mr Wragge planted Buttercup trees, whose flowers were very gay but I was told later that the Council had removed them. The sloping gardens were laid out in paths with names like Lover's Walk with seats at intervals. Banana palms were planted and an advertisement said 'Bring your children to Wragge's Gardens and let them pick bananas', however, I have no memory of seeing ripe ones. Once I saw Kismet and another boy whom he said was his cousin clambering through the bush on our cliff and of course demanded to know what they were doing. Kismet replied that I should be glad to see them for they were planting seeds of trees, I did not see anything unusual grow. Mr Wragge was a Fellow of the Royal Astrological Society and, every day phoned his predictions about the weather to the Auckland papers. I suppose it would be to the Star for publication in the evening. Therefore there would be two predictions, his and one from the Met. office and they did not always agree. In later years I was told that Kismet became the youngest member of the same society but found he was wasting too much time on the phone so stopped sending in predictions.
1917 was my first year at Howe St Grammar which meant a fifteen minute walk to the ferry, twenty minutes to town and then a tram to the top of Pitt St which was the first section. Coming home we usually walked to save our pennies. On the lawn near the school buildings was a large oak tree which had a look of permanence not possible in the gardens which were made on much of the sloping ground. I was very sorry to hear that the oak had been removed in later years. Miss Blanche Butler, the Head Mistress, was a most impressive figure. I still have a mental picture of all the forms lined up for assembly with some in the gallery. When all was still the door of Miss Butler's study would open and she would walk, with head high the length of the hall on to the platform. She had very definite ideas on suitable behaviour and told us that a lady .always put on her gloves before leaving her bedroom! One afternoon, not perhaps during that first year I was walking down Upper Queen St with another girl, both eating ice creams. A tram passed and there was Miss Butler!! We were sure she had seen us and expected trouble. This was a Friday and we had to wait until Monday morning but either she had not seen us or thought the suspense would have been punishment enough for we heard nothing. The school Swimming Sports were held at Point Erin Baths and I remember in particulur waiting with bated breath when the Corfu dive was in progress. A life belt was fastened about two thirds of the way towards the deep end and held in position by ropes. The contestents dived in the deep end, swam under water and tried to come up through the life belt. A few could do this but that was a race for which I never entered. This was another time when hot cocoa was provided to warm up shivering contestants. Mrs Heap was the Phys Ed teacher, but it was given a far more ordinary name then. She was the Drill teacher and was known to everyone as Sally. She gave a mark to girls she considered were improved with six marks, earning the coveted drill badge to be sewn on one's gym tunic. It seemed to me that girls who attended her Saturday morning dancing class were the ones who gained the six marks. I could get to five but was never given the last one. On wet days there was dancing in the hall with waltzes to the music of the piano played by one of the older girls. 'The Blue Danube' and the 'Gold and Silver Waltz' always remind me of those lunch times when I hear them on the radio. A favourite place to eat one's lunch on a cold wet day was on the stairs that led to the basement for, on the landing was a warm furnace tended by the janitor who lived in rooms on the Howe St side of the bottom floor. Later, when these rooms were needed for classrooms he and his family were lodged in a house on the other side of the street. On the side of the hill above the school was the Cocoa House, where other drinks were also sold but I do not remember it ever being anything like a present day Tuck Shop.
I dreaded the day when Sally Heap began testing eyesight for I knew she would never accept that I had already been through the business of going to a specialist. Sure enough, I was sent to Miss Butler and failed to convince her also. My mother had to visit the school and I was sent to a different specialist who thought I should wear glasses to prevent my good eye being over worked. How I hated wearing them and still feel they were useless.
During 1918 my father and Norman came home from the war, but the Influenza Epidemic was already raging when they arrived. I had 'flu' in the early stages for about a fortnight and remember feeling better one day and back in bed the next. Soon the Northcote Side School was used as a hospital, for all the schools were closed. One of the shelter sheds was used as a wash house ... no washing machines then ... and the other was the morgue. I remember climbing to the top of the macrocarpa tree by the gate to watch a funeral leaving from higher up the street.
During 1919 my father and Uncle Will Court combined to buy a launch with a contribution also from both my brothers, for Rowland was by then home from the War. It was 39ft long and was bought from Mr Charles Court. It had been named after his wife Gladys, and a medallion with G on it, was on each side of the bow. It would have been a pity to remove these so a name beginning with G had to be found. After much hunting in the back pages of a dictionary among the derivations, the name Gispa was chosen. Rowland was married soon after and could spare little time from his garden to help with the up-keep. At first it was possible to find a boy willing to be a crew member but once a boy is old enough to own a small boat of his own he does not want to be crew member on someone else's boat. Before long I was the one Norman had as his main helper. In those days men worked on Saturday mornings and I had the job of rowing out and putting up the icecream cover over the cockpit and polishing all the brass. There was a painted ventilator cover for ordinary use but a shining brass one for when on a weekend cruise. Cooking on board was in those days far less elaborate than it is now and Norman was chief cook as well as engineer.
In winter, the Gispa was in a Harbour Board shed at Mechanics Bay and I remember Saturday afternoons scraping her bottom. Those three seasons of launch trips were highlights which I have never forgotten. Among my memories of the Gispa is a time when we visited Rangitoto and, for the first and only time I walked to the top. Another cruise took us across the Gulf to Coromandel while, for a time, a hammer head shark swam beside us near enough to have been to0uched by a boat hook. Norman had rigged up a moveable search light and it was fascinating on a dark night, when the light was shone over the side, all kinds of marine creatures faced inwards, with their heads in the circle of light and their tails moving gently just enough to keep them still. At Coromandel I remember all the empty pubs and a church with one side propped up with long poles like telegraph poles. Back again and up the river, the Wade , I think, where we went to the pictures, taking cushions for we had been warned the seats were very hard. Never, since those days have I seen phosphorescence spreading out from the bows of a launch at night nor counted eleven sharks basking on the surface, when the sea was like a mill pond. Once we went to Mansion Bay at Kawau and found a place where there were plenty of oysters. When I was looking forward to a good feed we were warned not to touch. There had been a copper mine in the vicinity and they may have been poisonous. I regretted very much that the Gispa went out of our lives after only three seasons.
I think the most exciting part of going to Grammar on the ferry was when there was such a thick fog that some people were scared to leave the wharf. To be in the middle of a cloud and feel the ferry creeping along until, in the distance, came the clanging of the iron circle on the Northcote wharf. This enabled the captain to find his way and tie up for more passengers. Then off again on the longer trip to the city with much hooting from other ferries. Eventually, we would arrive and have a fool-proof excuse for being late.
In those days I belonged to the Bible Class at the Northcote Methodist Church and sometimes we walked to Zion Hill to join in socials on a Saturday night. No dancing in those days except a sort of Folk dance, of which one I remember as the 'Jolly Miller who lived on the River Dee.' Sometimes there were recitations but, when I once heard, 'The Wreck of the Hesperus' I thought that too outdated even then. Walking to Birkdale for a picnic was not considered anything of an effort for the parents of one of our number had a bach there.
After that year we were all on the way to growing up,
I really should not leave out my dinghy which my mother bought during the latter years of the War. I can still see the man rowing it round from Sulphur Beach and watching it coming nearer and nearer. I was allowed to put it on Mr Cole's slip for painting and I did this with the outside white, and the seats and floor boards fawn. In the bow seat I bored a hole large enough to hold a broomstick for a mast. On this I fastened a cotton sail like a blind. This had to be rolled up while I rowed out and let out with ropes at the lower corner as I sailed back with the wind behind me. Jack Court had a similar sail on his dinghy and once, in a howling gale, Auntie Rose watched us sailing back from Northcote wharf and was afraid we would be drowned.
While at Grammar I had a bike put together by Fred Tonar, from bits and pieces for £4.00. I had to pedal as hard as I could for the gear wheel was so small. Later, it was far more fun to swap with a friend who had a horse but no bike, or else to avoid any pedalling by holding on to her stirrup. This was exciting on a flat road as between Milford and Takapuna but, no doubt very dangerous, especially once when my bike skidded in the sand.
Veda Inglis, Picton, 1980
Since completing these memories I have remembered someone who should be mentioned. This is Miss Hunter, who was Post Mistress for many years. I do not know when she came to Birkenhead nor when she left but she was certainly there during the years of the First World War. Later, as the district grew there was talk of a man being appointed while she was to be moved, to a smaller place. There was great indignation as she was very popular. She lived in the house which adjoined the Post Office with her sister and niece.