Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1998
I was born in Nelson City on 25 February 1900. The first five years of my life were spent with my elder sister and my parents at their homestead farm, Motakota. The farm was situated one mile north of Pakawau township, on a plateau facing east over Golden Bay. It included clumps of native bush of many varieties which was inhabited by native birds including kiwis, wekas, pigeons, kaka and many others. Warm and sheltered, with heavy rainfall, streams and springs, it was an environmental and ecological gem.
We had many kinds of farm animals. I learned to sit on a horse almost at the same time as I learned to walk. There was no electric light or cars. Horses provided the means of transport and the roads, which were primitive or non existent, mostly went along the hard sandy beach, where the tide went out for a mile. The farmers, sawmillers and coal miners literally lived off the land and sea. Golden Bay and the ocean coast were teeming with game birds, fish – from whitebait to whales – and shellfish. Our grocery requirements were mostly for bulk supplies of flour, sugar, tea and such like from Collingwood, twelve miles away. Coastal shipping – both steam and sail – went from Collingwood and Takaka around Separation Point to Nelson some one hundred miles away.
My father had a sheep and cattle run called Nguroa some twelve miles away on the ocean coast, through the coal mining township of Puponga. The run was almost back to back with the homestead property, with a steep mountain range in between. The only access to it was on horseback. The sheep were driven to Motakota to be shorn. My father was kept busy with contractors clearing the native bush to provide further grassland. Much valuable native bush such as kahikatea, rimu, rata and matai was felled and burnt. The district was sparsely settled, with farms and houses from half a mile to a mile apart. My parents had some very good friends located between Collingwood and Puponga.
My mother, who had been a teacher, was an enthusiastic kindergarten teacher for me over the five years or so before I went to primary school, and this was a great help to me. Children who have such parents are fortunate. Between the age of five or six and twelve years I attended the Pakawau Primary School and had to walk bare footed for about a mile across farmland to get there. There were about 20 pupils from primers to sixth standard. The women teachers were dedicated to teaching and were respected and obeyed. They had no cane and there were no discipline problems as the discipline started in the homes.
The teacher was also the local postmistress, with a post office about the size of a telephone box incorporated into the school. One day the teacher, when having her lunch in the post office, dropped a match into a methylated spirit lamp which she used to heat her drink. The mass of papers filed around the walls were quickly in flames. A pupil, who shall remain anonymous, seized the damp and dirty roller towel and extinguished the flames. Maybe he had seen and assisted his father to extinguish minor grass fires with sacks. Several of the teachers married local fanners and stayed in the district. The position was said to have good matrimonial prospects. Finding a suitable place for the teacher to stay was sometimes a problem and some of them stayed with us. They helped my mother and were like one of our family. My father was chairman of the school committee, as my grandfather had been before him. One of the pupils, again, anonymous was awarded a two year boarding scholarship to attend Nelson Boys' College. This was no doubt very welcome to his parents and reflected great credit on the teachers of a small country school.page 33
It may be appropriate for me to now say something about the operations of my father's farm and run at this period. He bred crossbred sheep and fat sheep which were shipped from Collingwood to Nelson butchers. Shearing was done with blades and scythes were used in haymaking. The wool bales were shipped on scows which sailed up near the shore and were loaded when me tide went out. They were shipped per Levin and Co to Nelson and on to London to be sold at auction. I can remember wool selling at four pence per pound and three years later at sixteen pence. War or rumours of war put up wool prices. He also bred Hereford cattle and sold them as stores to be fattened for Nelson butchers. There was not much arable farming, except for some winter feed, and it was carried out with horsedrawn ploughs.
In 1913 I started at Nelson College as a boarder. Harry Louis De Galle Fowler, Balliol College, Oxford, was a truly great headmaster. He did not have a cane and did not need one. He was respected and obeyed and when he came into a room there was immediate and absolute silence. He was completely in control of the college and modelled it on English traditions. Mrs Fowler had no official position, but in collaboration with the Matron she was mother to sick and homesick boarders, taking an interest in their welfare. When the Fowlers retired to Days Bay, Wellington, old boys visiting that city flocked across in the ferry boat to visit them.
Fowler recruited a team of assistant masters of the highest calibre, including specialists in English, Latin, French, maths and science. Their quality was such that a number of them were appointed headmasters of other leading New Zealand secondary schools. The masters were dedicated to instructing us in the basics of their subjects, and devoted much of their spare time to coaching us in the fundamentals of rugby, cricket, swimming, tennis, fives, rifle shooting and school cadets. Typical of these was JG McKay, a dour Scotsman who demanded and received commitment from rugby players.
The boarders went to their respective churches on Sunday, with me great majority going to me Anglican Cathedral. The Girls' College boarders sat on the opposite side with their headmistress nicknamed the Mighty Atom. The girl prefects were allowed to our annual Sports Day as a special privilege. To get to Nelson from Collingwood I had to travel by small coastal steamers, me Hinau, Lady Barkly and Wairoa, which had reciprocating steam engines. It could be very rough and the propeller raced madly when it came out of the water, and the engineer had to throttle off the steam until it hit the water again. Sometimes it was so rough that the steamer had to shelter at Astrolabe or one of the other bays.