I come from a family with a tradition of involvement in the Scouting movement. This began with my father who was as bad at sport as the rest of us! He went to the New Zealand equivalent of a public school and joined the school scout troop in order to avoid sport. He continued to be involved with scouting until he reached the age of forty when he abandoned it in favour of church activities. My childhood memories are full of the scouts, however, even before I was old enough to join the Brownies. When I was small my father ran the Rover group. This was for slightly older boys. They used to go camping a lot and I can remember my father going to the Scout Association property at Rissington which was into the ranges (hills) near Napier. I particularly remember this because he used to go in mid-winter when it was very cold and frosty.
There were also other occasions in Hastings when this interest impinged on the life of the whole family. I learnt the term ‘bottle drive’ very early. This appeared to be their main method of fund-raising: collecting empty bottles and getting the money back on them. I can remember going to the scout hut where they met on several occasions although I am not sure why. And of course I was brought up knowing I could become a Brownie. My mother had been both a Brownie and a girl guide and there were one or two badges lying around the house.
I joined the Brownies at the first opportunity when I was seven and a half and still living in Hastings. I only have hazy memories of this although I do remember being in a ‘fairy circle’ and I know I was properly enrolled and wore the uniform. The pack met in the church hall and I suspect it was a church group. However, my life in this pack was short as after six months we moved to Wellington. Joining a pack there was top of the list of things to do so I joined the Karori brownies, even though we were still living n Kelburn with my grandparents. I seem to remember we met after school in the church hall. My main memory is of the day the bus driver did not see me and I missed the bus home.
I think the Brownies were a very important part of my life, not least because it was a proper community group and I met girls who went to the ordinary state school, not just people at our school. I am still close friends with one or two of these people.
Because I joined at a young age, to start with there were not many people I knew but gradually most people from my class joined. I was a pretty successful brownie and gained my Golden Bar and Golden Hand as well as several proficiency badges. I particularly remember doing my ‘housewife’ badge. This meant going to the examiner’s house and cooking a meal. By this time my second cousin had also joined and she was taking the badge too. She was a very intelligent child so when told to cook rhubarb she did it with salt rather than sugar.
The atmosphere was greatly influenced by early twentieth century military life although as Brownies we did not go camping. I know that the sixes in Hastings were named after Maori fairies but the Karori ones were traditional English fairies and I was a sprite. Meetings began with us holding hands with other people in our six and dancing in a circle (I think). I became a sixer and this provided my grandfather with plenty of opportunities to work on my leadership skills. He had an army background and he saw my life in the Brownies as a chance to develop these! My parents had a number of friends who had leadership roles in the scouting movement. I remember someone called Ruth Herrick who was near the top of the hierarchy, and a man in Hastings who we lost touch with when we moved to Wellington. I learnt recently that Ruth Herrick was the daughter of my father’s childhood next door neighbours.
I was a much better Brownie than I was a Guide. I ‘went up’ to the local guide company shortly before my eleventh birthday but I only survived there for a couple of years. There were several reasons for this, some of them related to me rather than the guides. For example, my father always insisted in walking up to the hall to collect me (we met in the evening and did not own a car) which I found embarrassing. Very different from today when no-one would let eleven year olds walk half a mile in the dark! By then I had entered the ‘Upper School’ and was wearing stockings to school. My mother would not let me change into ankle socks for the guide meetings which I found even more embarrassing than being collected. But above all, guides required some athletic ability and I had absolutely none. Running a mile at ‘scouts’ pace’ which was one of the tests for the Second Class badge, nearly killed me. I only managed to pass a few of the tests but I do remember we did a St John’s ambulance badge in first aid and that was fine. There was a theory test which we did writing on the seats of the wooden chairs in the church hall, although it was open to cheating and there was a practical test which involved tying a sling.
We used to go on hikes on the hills around Wellington. Fine. And I learnt to cook sausages ‘inside out’ over a campfire although my father did not approve of this practice. I remember learning to make a fire using pieces of dried gorse to get it started. The highlight of my brief time in the guides was that I actually got to go to a camp!
This was held at the A and P showgrounds at Upper Hutt. I do not know how a group of us newbies came to be selected, especially as the camp appeared to be for several companies so we were not just with people from our company. We slept four to a tent and every night we sat round the campfire and sang songs such as ‘Ging, gang, goolie, goolie’ (that’s what I remember as its name but it probably wasn’t). During the day we undertook a variety of activities that I think were aimed at developing our bush skills as well as enabling some people to pass tests for their badges. My chief memory, however, is of the meals. Someone wrote the menus down in a strange language which we then had to interpret. I particularly remember ‘cackleberries on charcoal’. This proved to be scrambled eggs on toast.
Like many people I drifted away form the guides as other interests such as learning the piano began to be more important. A couple of my close friends continued until we were in the fourth form but even in the 1950s there were too many competing interests for most of us.