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Let's go shopping

Introduction: I considered a way to talk about the shops in old Highbury - at least old when I first knew it. Just writing about this shop then that shop would be boring so I have injected some events and people to make the story, I would hope, come alive. This story is dedicated to my late mother, Doreen Potter, featuring as Mum.

The Story:

Come on says Mum, there’s shopping to do, Easter Weekend starts tomorrow and we need food in the house. You can bring your mates but we need to get going.

So down Mokoia Road we walk with Mum towing her trundler. Mrs Kindley is working in her garden. I ask why the school building says Forbear and Persevere and am told that they will explain it when I go there in a few months. Bill Grant’s green car, that some call the Hornet, is coming up Hutton Road. He sounds the horn - ooogha, and waves.

Emmy Bartulovich and Daisy Moore are already returning with their trundlers brimming. They must have a catering job to do - we wonder who is getting married.

We pause at the Fruit Shop by the Dairy and fill some bags that we will collect on the way back.

The Fire siren, atop the Fire Station sounds, and we pause to watch the engine roar out down through Highbury.

We stop at the Highbury Post Office. John and Coral Malcolm are in there. Some signs say, 'apply next teller' - what does that mean I wonder? Some paper stickers advise to conserve forms as paper is scarce and I’m told that’s a leftover from the war.

Outside the Post Office we notice Olly Wood’s truck climbing the hill carrying our sacks of fowl feed from the Farmers. That’s good, we were getting rather short for our Black Orpingtons.

Next stop down past the Blue and White store is Yarnton’s where Mr Yarnton sells Mum a few yards of fabric, cotton, and buttons.

Then its on to the Stationers where Charlie Neads also runs a lending library. Next door is the Shoe Shop where Mr Callan is fitting shoes for Mrs Farrington from next door. Marj. Mumme is browsing.

At the Four Square housewives are filling bags with groceries, and more are being unloaded from a truck double parked outside - blocking the road as usual. We are told to wait outside and mind the trundler. Down the hill comes the bus driven by Mr Prisk with destination of Halls Corner. The vehicular ferry must have docked; we deduce this from the small burst of traffic coming up Hauraki St. Wrightson’s Bread Delivery truck passes. There are lots of people around with most stopping and talking to each other. We hear that 'bridge' word a lot. What’s that all about we wonder. Barrett and Durhams Carrier truck passes with Glad at the wheel.

There’s Tommy Halcrow at his land agents making up some more yellow For Sale signs - yet today there are many more signs than usual. We wonder what could be on.

At Lanes Bakery the bread has come in, the shop is crowded with people buying the Raised Tins and Sydney Flats. The ladies work speedily to serve the customers. Mum, while chatting to Poppy Leabourne, agrees to buy a packet of iced animal biscuits for us - lunch will be good.

We pass Droughts Stationers and cross Rawene Road to the reserve on the corner of Hauraki St, noting Tom Halliday’s bus marked Wharf passing us. We hope he is having a good day.

We pass the red phone boxes and inside the reserve is the Great War memorial and the band rotunda. Mum disappears into the small council building to pay the rates, telling us to wait outside. Betty Durham and Stuart come out the door and pass us. It always takes ages to pay rates so we rush past the JP McPhail seat, and down the path into the library. The Librarian Nell Fisher smiles in a way that also tells us to be quiet. We marvel at the tidy shelving, the various departments in the small area, and glance for any new books that may have appeared. Its time to leave and we race back to the council chambers in time to see Mum having a brief chat to the Mayor, Cliff Utting. But he is saying that he can’t stop as there is much to be done for the opening of the harbour bridge in a few weeks.

Now we know - so that’s what this 'bridge' word is all about. People have wondered what this will be like; no ferries, going straight over, there are rumours that the bus company will be replacing 'Wharf' with 'City' on the bus signs. Some are even saying that people will still want to travel by ferry. The Borough Council is apparently going to ask for a skeleton ferry service to be kept going against the day when the bridge is too small. There has been an uproar over the right of people to walk over the bridge before it carries traffic - John Allum said that no-one would walk over his bridge - the people have won.

We think we are going to look at the toys at Neary’s but Mum has other ideas. We cross Hauraki St and see the Kiwi Theatre just down the road. We know that 'The Pyjama Game' starring Doris Day is on this weekend. We know Mr Keith will be working away repairing radios in his shop, no doubt there will be a backlog of repairs wanted. The Park Dairy looks inviting but up the hill we go, past Oborn’s shoe shop, Wrightsons baking shop, the seed shop, Self Help, and into Highbury Hardware. Here we buy some tap washers from Wilf Dil and glance enviously at the shelves of this and that. Outside are shiny new lawn mowers.

Next door is Browns the Chemist; a most helpful man who is always available for assistance after hours, and he makes up a prescription for Mum. The label is typically vague 'The Mixture'. We compare each other’s weights on the tall scales, and double up to get even higher readings.

We head into Stotts the Butchers to be served by Hec Stott. Mavis Throll is there too. Hec expertly slices up the leg of lamb and chops on the butcher’s block, wraps them in brown paper and adds up the price with the pencil from behind his ear. I wonder why they have sawdust on the floor. At home we get sawdust from cutting up timber so how do they get it from cutting up meat?

We cross Glenfield Road.

Through Diddy Burford's window we see Johnny Norton in the barbers chair. The Auckland Savings Bank is busy, and Mr Empson at the IGA on the corner has his usual display of produce and tickets outside.

At the Fish Shop Mum declares we have been good and orders sixpence worth of chips for us - chips and animal biscuits for lunch - yum. People are saying that the fishing has gone to the pack - that the Japanese have got them all. Bah says Mum, my husband is going fishing tomorrow and he’ll get some.

Economy Meats, by Barfoot & Thompson, is the next stop to buy some sausages, and then we are on our way home. The trundler is now full. All around the shops Mum has been meeting people - everyone knows everyone. Unusually today there is common theme in the kerbside discussions - the bridge is opening.

By now the fire engine is back and the hoses are drying on the fence on the right of way to Hammond Place. Just past the school is the Bowling Club and the green corrugated iron fence by Mrs Brown’s place. Oh how we would love to pick up a stick and hear it go 'nunga nunga' along the fence. But that would be the end of our special lunch so we hold back.

Mrs Donovan and Mrs Gilfillan are exchanging recipes as we near the corner of Seddon Road where the tar seal peters out. Charlie Cameron is cutting his hedge. Anne Farrington is checking her letterbox.

Ahead we can see the Council Grader turning into the works depot just as the Sugar Works 12 o’clock whistle sounds - what superb timing! The Chelsea bush behind stretches all the way to the harbour.

Mowats store at the top of the hill stands out proudly.

We arrive back at our place and wave to Mr & Mrs Bland sitting on their front verandah. A cream car pulls up outside; Katie Bland has come to visit them.

We go inside, eat our chips and animal biscuits while watching horses grazing on the old Swindail Farm. In the distance the newly opened War Memorial Park stretches out. All looks peaceful and rural.

But something is nagging at us - that bridge - what is it going to do to our way of life. For the first time we have our doubts…

Fast Forward to today

This is not a work of fiction. Every business name and person mentioned existed just before Easter 1959. Cliff Utting was the Mayor. The Bridge would open in May. The Kiwi was starring Doris Day. I have taken some license in placing those named at the shops. That illustrates how many people one would know back then.

And our lives would be transformed:

- Onewa Road became the main access road from the city, not Hauraki St

- The buses went 'straight over'

- Vehicular and passenger ferries ceased

- Sugar works ceased its sugar lighters and started using trucks to take refined sugar to the city

- The old Swindail farm became Willow Avenue (1961)

- Birkenhead (or rather Birkdale) hosted a Parade of Homes in Levesque St (1962)

- Chelsea Bush became the Chelsea Estate which didn’t sell so they changed it to Chatswood (starting 1967)

- Main roads were sealed

- Farmlets in Birkdale became housing Estates

- Many more shops were built in Highbury, most recently the Highpoint Mall

- Our Borough became a City, then was soaked up into North Shore City

- Traffic congestion in Highbury became a major problem and a bypass was built

- Many, many more people came to live here

And yet today there are still fragments of 1959 Highbury: Yarntons, the Stationers that was Neads, Dairy on the corner, Fish Shop, Barber Shop, Great War Memorial, Bowling Club.

But something else is very different - Once everyone knew everyone. Now I can stand for ages on the street and ask, 'Who are all these people?'

- Brian Potter, July 2004


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