Looking back on it, our Hawkes Bay childhood was quite rural even though we lived in a town. There was not much entertainment other than what you made for yourself. I know I went to the ballet with my mother when I was four and Margaret and I were taken to the ballet in Napier by our aunt on one occasion but I think that was about it. The ballet when I was four was wonderful as they had some way of illuminating the costumes. All I can remember is the luminous costumes of the dancers.
We had a car as did many New Zealanders after the War. Ours was an office car, i.e. it belonged to my father’s employer but he was the inspector who drove around assessing insurance risks. We were allowed to use the car at weekends so we went out a lot. My mother did not drive until much later in life. She had one driving lesson from a neighbour of my grandparents in Wellington but it ended when she trapped Margaret’s hand in the door. My paternal grandmother drove and often took us out in her Morris Minor and my aunt had a Citroen, as did my uncle.
At weekends we often drove out into the countryside. Depending on the time of year, we went looking for lambs or mushrooms. I now know that we did not necessarily go very far on these trips. I think a lot of them were across the Heretaunga plain just outside Hastings. This area is now covered in vineyards but in those days it was sheep farming territory. We would pull up on the side of the road, get out of the car and watch the lambs frolicking in the paddocks. In autumn we would keep our eyes open for mushrooms as there were no cultivated mushrooms to buy in the shops. You found them in the paddocks and then you could take some of the peelings and plant them in your lawn for a repeat crop. I cannot remember how we got into the paddocks but it may have meant climbing over a fence.
In summer we regularly went on picnics. We often went to a river, taking a picnic lunch with us. There were several large rivers near Hastings and we would go to a place called Pakowhai, near where my father had grown up, or to the Tukituki river behind Havelock North.
Occasionally we would go for a ‘tea picnic’ as my father had some flexibility in his working hours.
View from Te Mata peak looking across the Tukituki river
We also used to go to the beaches for picnics but beaches in the Napier area were awful. They were very shingly and had all been thrown up in the 1931 earthquake. They were not really suitable for small children. Instead we would go to the beaches on the road that went in the direction of Cape Kidnappers. We went to Hamoana, Te Awanga and Clifton. Clifton was the end of the road and had a camping ground. I can remember going there to a children’s picnic organised by the boy scouts. My father was a Rover Scout leader so the Boy Scouts were an important part of our life at that time.
Hasting had its share of festivals and regular events. One was the blossom festival which took place in September. It was a whole week of festivities. There was a competition for decorated shop windows which made trips into the town more interesting. The week culminated in a wonderful procession of decorated ‘floats’ on the Saturday. All the different organizations took part as well as businesses. The ‘floats’ were lorries that were decorated so that you could not recognise them. They generally had a theme and there were people in costume on them. The decorations included ‘blossom’ made from crepe paper which we children were involved in making through school, the brownies etc. One year I was in hospital and I can remember making blossoms all week: crepe paper which you folded and then wound florists’ wire round to secure them into flowers.
The procession also had bands and marching girls. New Zealand’s Celtic origins were always reflected in its celebrations. This was particularly true in Hastings where at Easter we had the Highland Games. This was a festival with Scottish, Welsh and Irish dancing. I cannot remember much else about it but it was held in a park on the edge of town on the road to Havelock North. It was a national event with bands, dancers and marching girls coming from other areas to compete. We learnt early about the different types of band, the main ones being silver, although they were often referred to as ‘brass bands’, and ‘pipe bands’ which were Scottish bagpipes plus drums. My grandfather was very fond of bands. I think it was probably his military background but there was a famous occasion in Wellington when he took Margaret and me to see the Black Watch band play in the town hall. I have a vague memory of it but much clearer memories of the song my grandfather made up.
We went to see the Black Watch band but all the seats were taken.
We had to sit about the floor until our tails were aching.
The most important events in Hawkes Bay were the A and P shows. These were the showcase for the agricultural industry. There were two shows: the main one was in October (spring) and lasted two days and then there was an autumn show on a Saturday in March. The spring show was so important that one day of it was a public holiday. The showgrounds were between Hastings and Napier in the grounds of a splendid colonial house. Our family were members of the Hawkes Bay Farmers which meant we had tickets in the members’ car park. Picnics featured here too. I can remember the highlight of the food was the bacon and egg pie my mother used to make. I also remember cold boiled new potatoes. We took a rug and sat on that. We did not have picnic chairs and we certainly did not buy food at the show. There were of course plenty of people selling ice cream and candy floss.
The show itself had lots of exhibits. These ranged from animals that were kept in long sheds, my main memory of which is the awful smell! There was farm machinery which was even more boring than the rows of penned animals. The farmers’ wives also exhibited their produce so there was a large shed with displays of home-made cakes, jam and other preserves and some home dressmaking items. I found this much more interesting than the stock! There was also a traditional English range of entertainments. Our favourite was the merry-go-round which was one that had horses on it. There were dodgems, coconut shies, a hall of mirrors and lots of other stands. And people sold cheap items such as kupie dolls on sticks and small wind mills on sticks. These were aimed at children. One year it was so wet that we did not go to the spring show but I think my father must have because he brought us home windmills and we ran up and down the drive trying to make them turn.
From the farmers’ point of view, the programme of events was probably the highlight. This also reflected the UK origins of the population. Obviously there were all the classes for animals but I have better memories of wood chopping competitions, sheep shearing and sheepdog trials. I can remember seeing Godfrey Bowen, the country’s leading shearer, in action. There were also horse riding events because pony clubs were popular. These activities did not mean much to us ‘townies’ but we could appreciate the show jumping.
Because Hawkes Bay, particularly the Heretaunga Plain area, had such good soils it was a major fruit growing area. The idea was to buy your fruit and vegetables direct from the farmer. We used to patronize a couple of people: our tomatoes came from Mr Frizzell down Pakowhai Road, near where my father had grown up, and our peaches came from Mrs Low, mother of George Low who was a member of the 1953 Everest exhibition. We were very proud of this indirect connection. The tomatoes were grown in glasshouses which had the most wonderful perfume from the plants. I think we may have bought sweet corn direct too, although what I remember about that is that when we moved to Wellington we had to buy it from the greengrocer. This prompted my mother to say that she thought it was very expensive in Wellington. The same thing went for asparagus. My memory of Mrs Low’s farm was that it had a cattle stop which you had to cross over on foot. This used to frighten me because I was afraid my foot would not be big enough to reach across two rungs. I had bad coordination so any physical activity was a challenge including jumping over streams and climbing anything.
When writing this, I found a wonderful film on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?
The year it covers is 1952 when we were there. Do take a look.